I watched carefully a couple weeks ago to see how Congressman Conor Lamb would vote on a bill that the bishops of his Church described as “the most radical abortion bill of all time.” Nancy Pelosi’s bishop described the Women’s Health Protection Act, as “nothing short of child sacrifice.” But given how Lamb typical votes—that is, strict adherence to his party’s line—I expected he would support the bill. And he did. Along with literally almost every single Democrat in Congress (with only one exception).
Once upon a time, there would have been many Democrats joining Republicans in voting against such a bill, likely including even Senator Joe Biden, who for decades in the U.S. Senate supported the Hyde Amendment. Even Ted Kennedy was once pro-life. But now, the idea of a pro-life Democrat in Congress is nearly extinct. About 10 years ago, there were a handful. Now, there’s less than that.
That’s a reflection of the party’s overall drift. Today’s typical congressional Democrat, even most claiming to be moderate, plainly are not.
Conor Lamb is in that category. He’s a Democrat who has twice gotten elected as a moderate in a district that leans Republican. Though Lamb is not my congressman, what has struck me repeatedly from his first days in Congress, and especially since his reelection in November 2020, has been his strict adherence to the party line on nearly every vote. For someone claiming to be in the middle, he’s anything but. And that’s not an anecdotal assessment. It’s quantifiable.
The American Conservative Union has a well-known ranking system for members of Congress. On a score of 0 to 100, it ranks members for how conservative or liberal they are. A perfect liberal gets a 0, whereas a perfect conservative scores 100. A moderate scores around 50. Overall, Congress ranks at 45, which is precisely what one would expect of a Congress with a few more Democrats than Republicans. The ACU’s system is quite good. It genuinely wants to know who’s liberal and who’s conservative and who’s in between.
How does Conor Lamb rank? His ranking is a 9, which makes him extremely liberal. And that number hasn’t been fully updated in light of his most recent votes. The number will edge further down, closer to the likes of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Bernie Sanders and Nancy Pelosi. Even as Lamb portrays himself to voters as someone who will not rubber stamp Nancy Pelosi’s agenda.
What’s frustrating about this is not so much that Lamb is clearly a leftist politician. A liberal is a liberal, a conservative is a conservative. They are what they are. AOC and Bernie and Pelosi run as leftists, which is what they are; their voters get what they vote for. What’s frustrating is that he frames himself as a moderate, which he clearly is not.
The same is true for another Pennsylvania politician, Senator Robert Casey Jr., who has long campaigned as a moderate in the footsteps of his father, who was indeed a moderate, especially on abortion. The senior Casey was the country’s most high-profile pro-life Democrat, particularly when he famously stood up to the Clintons during the 1992 presidential campaign. And yet, Casey Jr. ranks a 7 in the ACU’s rankings. He’s actually to the left of Lamb.
By contrast, Senator Pat Toomey, who runs as a free-market conservative, has an ACU rating of 93. Toomey doesn’t falsely portray himself to Pennsylvania voters. He campaigns as a free-market conservative and proceeds to act as one.
Of course, this is all highly relevant to the 2022 U.S. Senate race in Pennsylvania, given that Toomey is retiring. Conor Lamb is running for that seat, and Pennsylvania voters from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia and Erie to Scranton can expect him to run as a moderate, which he demonstrably is not.
If Conor Lamb wants to honestly campaign as a moderate, then he needs to start voting like one. His record bespeaks something very different. Political moderation has long had a place in Pennsylvania politics. But the likes of Lamb (and Robert Casey Jr.) are besmirching the very idea.
Paul Kengor is professor of political science at Grove City College, where he is also senior director at the Institute for Faith & Freedom. A shorter version of this article originally appeared in the Pittsburgh Tribune Review.