How Harassment and Trump Factored Into Pennsylvania GOP's Leadership Flip

Call it good news and bad news for President Donald Trump's reelection campaign when it comes to leadership of the Republican Party in Pennsylvania.
by | July 15, 2019 AT 8:17 AM
President Donald Trump and Pennsylvania Rep. Fred Keller arrive at a campaign rally in Montoursville, Pa. (AP/Matt Rourke)

By Chris Brennan

Call it good news and bad news for President Donald Trump's reelection campaign when it comes to leadership of the Republican Party in Pennsylvania.

Bernadette "Bernie" Comfort, who Trump's campaign had championed to take over as the state party's new leader, dropped her bid Friday for that post in return for being named chairwoman of the president's reelection effort in Pennsylvania.

Lawrence Tabas, the Philadelphia lawyer and former party general counsel who lost a bid for state chairman by two votes in 2017 to Valentino "Val" DiGiorgio III, will take over the top party post.

In a joint statement Friday, Tabas and Comfort said they share a goal of "unifying and strengthening our party and supporting President Trump's reelection efforts in the Commonwealth." They acknowledged that both candidates had "a great deal of support."

Trump, in a tweet Friday afternoon, endorsed the deal: "We have a GREAT TEAM in Pennsylvania! I'm proud to say that our good friends Lawrence Tabas & Bernadette 'Bernie' Comfort will now be working together to run the @PAGOP. Lawrence will be Chairman & Bernie will Chair my Pennsylvania campaign. We must have, & do, great UNITY in PA!"

Comfort had been interim chairman since DiGiorgio resigned June 25, shortly after The Inquirer reported claims from a former Philadelphia City Council candidate who accused him of sexual harassment. She will remain as vice chairman.

But her bid for the top spot prompted claims this week that she, as a party leader, ignored complaints about sexual harassment by DiGiorgio and an unnamed top Republican staffer. Comfort called those claims "patently false." DiGiorgio has not commented.

Friday's deal flips a proposal first floated two weeks ago, in which Comfort would have become the permanent party chairman and Tabas would serve as vice chairman and general counsel to the party.

Comfort's bid for the state party's top spot drew public support from Trump's camp, which had both emboldened her bid and rankled some who thought the presidential campaign meddling was an improper overreach.

Trump's campaign manager, Brad Parscale, advocated on social media for Comfort as chairman, along with Donald Trump Jr.; Ted Christian, a senior adviser to the president's campaign in the state; and David Urban, a senior adviser for Trump in 2016. Former U.S. representatives Lou Barletta and Tom Marino, who co-chaired Trump's 2016 campaign in Pennsylvania, also backed Comfort.

But with the race between her and Tabas turning contentious, party leaders started to worry the turmoil would spill over after the election for a new chairman, scheduled for Saturday afternoon in Hershey, and impair efforts for a repeat victory for Trump, who won Pennsylvania by just 0.73 percent in 2016.

Comfort served as co-chair of "Pennsylvania Women for Trump" in 2016. That coalition is set to relaunch Tuesday in King of Prussia in an event hosted by Lara Trump, the president's daughter-in-law, who serves as a senior campaign adviser.

(c)2019 The Philadelphia Inquirer