If you were looking for further confirmation of the intellectual and constitutional rot that’s taken hold at the heart of the Republican Party, then you don’t need to look much further than Dave Ball.

Ball is the chairman of the Republican Party in rural Washington County, Pa., southwest of Pittsburgh.

Ball made national headlines this week, saying the quiet part out loud as he weighed in on a growing movement among Keystone State Republicans to censure Republican Sen. Pat Toomey, who was one of seven Republican senators who voted to convict former President Donald Trump for inciting the deadly riot at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.

“We did not send him there to vote his conscience,” Ball told KDKA-TV in Pittsburgh. “We did not send him to do the right thing, whatever he said was doing. We sent him there to represent us, and we feel very strongly that he did not represent us.”

There are so many things wrong with what Ball said that it’s hard to know where to begin.

Suffice to say, if there was ever a time to vote one’s conscience, it’s when you’re called to determine the guilt or innocence of an authoritarian chief executive who spent months laying the groundwork for January’s deadly riot by filling his supporters’ heads with outright lies about voter fraud. Trump incited them on social media, during television appearances, and pugilistic rallies, and then set them loose to march on the Capitol to hang the vice president of the United States and assassinate the Speaker of the House.

Toomey, who is retiring in 2022, and the Republicans who stepped up and did the right thing, deserve the mildest of praise after years of complicity with the former administration. Unfortunately, Mar-a-Lago syndrome is now afflicting the hollowed-out soul of the GOP, and has taken a particularly pernicious hold at the local level.

Take for instance a man named Joe Gale, who declared his GOP candidacy for Pennsylvania governor in 2022. A county commissioner from Montgomery County in the heavily Democratic Philadelphia suburbs, Gale is a hardcore Trumper who wants to roll back the state’s mail-in balloting law.

He made national headlines last year for using official letterhead to put out a statement saying the Black Lives Matter movement and its supporters are “radical left-wing hate groups,” who are responsible for “urban domestic terror.”

Gale has promised to be an ideological enforcer, saying in a statement that “in the final days of Donald Trump’s sabotaged presidency and the bogus impeachment that followed, we have witnessed the beginning of a concerted effort by entrenched politicians and party bosses to return the Republican Party to the failed policies and platforms of the Bush, McCain and Romney era.”

As if that were not enough, the top-ranking Republican in Pennsylvania’s state Senate took to Twitter to denounce what he said was the creeping radicalism among his Democratic colleagues.

Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman has enough problems with the radicals in his own caucus, one of whom pushed false claims of voter fraud, attended the Trump rally before the riots, and bused his supporters down to Washington last month.

Corman also got called out by fact-checkers for saying that false election claims didn’t play “any role” in the deadly attack on the Capitol.

As of this writing, more than 12,000 Pennsylvania Republicans have deserted the GOP, according to a tally by the New York Times.

The GOP is in the midst of an identity crisis so severe that it could well end up ripping the party apart. The consequences of such a schism would be especially severe in Pennsylvania, which remains a must-win for Republicans if they hope to retake the Senate next year, and the White House beyond that.

Democrats, meanwhile, must be relishing the prospect of a GOP implosion, and are reminding themselves of that old political adage that, when your opponent is self-destructing, you get out of the way and let them.

The fuse has been lit.

An award-winning political journalist, John L. Micek is Editor-in-Chief of The Pennsylvania Capital-Star in Harrisburg. Email him at jmicek@penncapital-star.com and follow him on Twitter @ByJohnLMicek.

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