Originally published in RealClear Politics.
Drive 30 minutes east from Pittsburgh, and you’ll enter Westmoreland County – one of Pennsylvania’s most conservative areas. Over the course of two decades, Westmoreland has become ground zero for the Rust Belt’s GOP shift. For perspective, in 1998 the county’s 136,700 registered Democratic voters dwarfed the 70,600 registered Republicans, propelling their candidates to wins in nearly every local, state, and national election. But in 2020, Donald Trump took 64% of the vote.
In May’s state primary, the Republican trend continued when Westmoreland voted by similar margins in support of a constitutional amendment curtailing Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf’s emergency powers – a clear rebuke of his excessive pandemic restrictions. Then, in a special election, county voters favored Leslie Rossi, a GOP state House candidate who had painted her home like an American flag and erected a 14-foot Trump cutout.
Since the Obama era, Westmoreland’s former Democrats have switched parties over issues related to economic populism and social conservatism. But last year’s social unrest and urban violence, including in Pittsburgh, led even more county Democrats to change their affiliation. In a paraphrase of Ronald Reagan’s classic remark, Westmoreland Sheriff James Albert put it this way when joining the GOP: “As a lifelong public servant and member of law enforcement, I have not left the Democratic Party, the Democratic Party has left me.”
Though Trump’s presidency fueled…