GOP Congressman Ryan Costello Is Really Losing It

My congressman, Ryan Costello, is well-respected in my community. He’s a local boy who did good. He knows he represents a district that voted for Obama once and for Hillary Clinton. He doesn’t throw bombs and keeps away from right-wing media. He casts an occasional dissenting vote. He tries to sound reasonable about immigration policy. He opted out of attending Trump’s convention in Cleveland because of concerns about Trump’s behavior and rhetoric. It’s all sensible behavior for someone who most definitely represents a swing district. His predecessor, Jim Gerlach, survived some rough election cycles using the same basic playbook.

But Costello has been acting weird lately. He was supposed to be at the softball practice where his colleague Steve Scalise was shot and almost killed, but he missed his ride. After that, he became less accessible. He refused to attend a town hall meeting in Phoenixville, offering the implausible explanation that the sponsors’ inadequate security had created a death trap. Then he collapsed at the local gym when he read the headlines about it in the local newspaper.

Then, in January, he totally freaked out when a couple of canvassers came to his house and talked to his wife. He accused his likely opponent in the next election, Democrat Chrissy Houlahan, of sending the canvassers to his house in order to intimidate his family.

During the weekend, Costello wrote on Facebook that a “disturbing” political incident had taken place at his house. He claimed that two “associates” of Houlahan had gone onto his property on Saturday, snapped pictures of his home, and intimidated his wife. “Families should always be off limits,” he said. “We were able to get some footage of the incident and hope these individuals will be apprehended.”

It turned out that they hadn’t taken any pictures or mistreated his wife. They were just out doing normal canvassing work for Planned Parenthood.

I’ve tried to be at least a little sympathetic to Costello, understanding that his near-death experience might have traumatized him. But he’s kind of gone around the bend now that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has redrawn his district to include two heavily Democratic cities (West Chester and Reading), which puts his political future very much in doubt. He’s actually calling on the Republican-controlled state legislature to impeach members of the Supreme Court:

“It was a politically corrupted process instituted by a highly partisan state Supreme Court which has now put itself squarely in line for a very valid impeachment,” said U.S. Rep. Ryan Costello, a Chester County Republican whose district suddenly includes Reading and some surrounding suburbs…

… Costello said the state Supreme Court’s Democratic majority acted in blatantly partisan fashion.

“They did this to elect more Democrats,” Costello said. “There is nothing fair or impartial about this. It was just ruthless politics.”

He encouraged the state legislators to impeach the Supreme Court.

“If they (overstep) now, they will do it on other matters,” Costello said.

In a piece I wrote on Valentine’s Day, I basically agreed with Costello that this was a blatantly partisan move that invented the idea that gerrymandered districts violate the Pennsylvania Constitution. But I also pointed out this is the type of thing the Republicans have been doing all over the country without the slightest sign of moral misgivings or remorse.

Pennsylvania elects its supreme court judges, which has turned the court into a kind of legislature. In this day and age, even appointed judges act in a highly partisan way. And the state’s supreme court gets to decide what is constitutional and what is not. I guess they thought that gerrymandering has gotten too proficient in the computer age, which is in their right to conclude. I know they wouldn’t have come to the same conclusion if doing so would have benefitted the Republicans, which is why the court just diminished itself and lost respect and deference from half the state. The U.S. Supreme Court decided the same trade-off was worth it in Bush v. Gore. But it’s not an impeachable offense to throw away your reputation for impartiality and invite people to deny you the deference they gave you in the past.

Costello had already seemed to be coming unhinged, but this is the first time he’s sounded flat-out crazy. And, while this case may be confined to Pennsylvania, the way the Republicans have pushed the envelope with gerrymandering has invited a nationwide backlash which is now winding its way up to the U.S. Supreme Court. The conservatives have a majority on that court, but they may not side with the Republicans this time. If they don’t, it will be because even they can’t deny what the Pennsylvania court concluded, which is that the GOP has gone too far.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune.