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Pa. Swing County Claims A Trump Lawyer, Impeachment Manager As Its Own

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Former President Donald Trump's impeachment trial starts today in the Senate. And two of the people driving the action have something in common. They both got there thanks to the turbulent politics of Montgomery County, Pa. On one side is congressional impeachment manager Madeleine Dean. On the other, one of Trump's lawyers, Bruce Castor. WHYY's Katie Meyer has more.

KATIE MEYER, BYLINE: Montgomery County is a large, wealthy suburb of Philadelphia. And Marcel Groen thinks there's a good reason why it's punching above its weight in the impeachment.

MARCEL GROEN: We're almost like the center of the universe.

MEYER: Groen's kind of kidding about that, but not totally. He led the Democratic Committee in Montco for decades. In the 90s, Democrats almost never won here. Now they dominate. In the 2020 election, Montgomery gave Joe Biden more Democratic votes than almost any other county in all-important Pennsylvania. So Groen says that while it's a coincidence that Castor and Dean are playing opposing roles in the impeachment, their presence is symbolic. On one hand, Dean's political career has traced the rise of Democrats in the suburbs.

GROEN: She's wonderful. She's a rising star, period.

MEYER: And Castor's career has followed Republicans' declining fortunes here, a bright start followed by a series of lost elections. Elizabeth Havey chairs Montgomery County's Republican Committee and isn't too surprised Castor took the job defending Trump.

ELIZABETH HAVEY: He has an opportunity to expand his reputation and expand his ability to get clients, maybe even get a job as a radio host or on television as a consultant.

MEYER: Havey is also one of the relatively few local Republicans still willing to say nice things about Castor on the record.

HAVEY: He came out and spoke with, you know, authority and was generally viewed as a very competent district attorney.

MEYER: After a successful stint as DA, Castor ran a bruising campaign for attorney general in which he alienated supporters and lost the primary. He later had a fraught tenure as a county commissioner, frequently tangling with fellow Republicans. I reached Castor recently while he was driving home from D.C. - in his Corvette, he noted. He insisted his political days are behind him.

BRUCE CASTOR: I'm probably too honest to be an elected official in statewide politics in Pennsylvania.

MEYER: On the other side of the spectrum, there's Madeleine Dean. She's been a blunt critic of Trump's for years. After the January 6 insurrection, she told WHYY he had to go.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

MADELEINE DEAN: There's nothing else that we can say. He is incredibly, dangerously imperiling our country, our Constitution, literally lives.

MEYER: Dean was an attorney and English professor who worked her way through local politics up to Congress. Many colleagues, like State Representative Mary Jo Daley, say they're not surprised she landed in a prominent role.

MARY JO DALEY: You know, she's a really hard worker, and she does her homework. She's always prepared. She's a very good speaker. You know, she's serious.

MEYER: Likewise, Castor's former colleagues say he's had a bumpy career. But in defending Trump, he may have finally found a job that suits him perfectly. For NPR News, I'm Katie Meyer in Philadelphia.

(SOUNDBITE OF TINGVALL TRIO'S "CIRKLAR") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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