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Politically Uncorrected: Why the GOP Gubernatorial Primary seems so crazy

For many, national politics today seems bizarre. Indeed, viewed historically we are living through an abnormal moment, a chronically controversial president, deeply polarized political parties, bitterly divisive issues and an angry, frustrated electorate.

But for truly aberrational politics, Pennsylvania is ground zero. Earlier this year the state Supreme Court shocked almost everyone by drawing new congressional maps that threatened to turn the political world upside down.  Shortly afterward a Democratic neophyte running in a congressional special election in deep red western Pennsylvania actually turned that world upside down by winning in a district President Trump swept in 2016 by 20 points.

To complete this Republican trifecta of tribulation, the leading GOP gubernatorial candidates have now unleashed a bloody primary battle that seems all but certain to leave the party fatally wounded heading into the fall general election against incumbent governor Tom Wolf.

Featured prominently in this virtual GOP civil war between Scott Wagner and Paul Mango has been a series of vicious and brutal negative advertising. Not surprisingly, much of the media coverage has focused on these ads, their veracity and impact. The “horse race” has been the story – while the issues in the race have been largely ignored.

But missed in much of the coverage is the aberrant nature of the race. In fact, it’s supposed to be Democrats that have these smash mouth primaries tearing the party apart so thoroughly that party unity in the fall is often a bridge too far. Republicans in Pennsylvania just don’t act like this.

But not this year, not these Republican candidates and not this Republican Party!

So – as interesting as the “horse race” is – and as titillating as the “in your face” negative ads may be – let’s ask an even more interesting question: what the heck is going on here?

Why are the leading GOP gubernatorial candidates, Scott Wagner and Paul Mango, seemingly bent on destroying each other and any chance of victory in the fall? (A third candidate, Pittsburgh Attorney Laura Ellsworth, has eschewed the harsh negatives, but lacks significant resources.)

It’s well established that nasty spring primaries usually result in nasty fall defeats – especially if only one party endures the divisive primary. Equally established is the dominance of incumbents in Pennsylvania gubernatorial elections.  Precisely one incumbent governor has lost a bid for re-election in the past fifty years.

To a degree, the Pennsylvania GOP candidates are trying to thread an exceedingly fine needle – turning the merely implausible (beating an incumbent) into the nearly impossible (beating an incumbent after a brutal primary).

Moreover, the Republican Party’s own prestige is on the line as well. It’s been four decades since an endorsed Republican gubernatorial candidate lost a primary. While the negative ads have hurt both candidates, they have hurt party-endorsed Scott Wagner perhaps the most.

Normally, running against a relatively popular incumbent, the “out” party attracts weaker, underfunded often unknown challengers. But both leading GOP primary candidates are serious candidates, both well funded and well organized. Going into April, Wagner had some six million on hand while Mango had about three million.

So we have this baffling incongruity: two conservative Republican candidates, both trying to destroy the other for a chance to run against an incumbent neither is likely to beat.

Equally confounding is that the two of them essentially agree on most of the big issues, often struggling to find differences between themselves.

Are they looking ahead to 2022?  Wolf can’t run again; so being the GOP standard bearer in 2018 could be a leg up in 2022. But history scoffs at this. In the past half century only one gubernatorial candidate (Milton Shapp in 1966) has lost a general election and come back four years later to win. In Pennsylvania, winning a gubernatorial primary, but losing the fall election is a ticket to political oblivion.

So, two smart, rich, successful businessmen are spending a lot of money bludgeoning each other for the privilege of running against an incumbent likely to trounce either of them. Is that really what is going on here?

Not exactly – because these two smart, rich, successful guys are also loyal Trump conservatives, true believers who were early Trump supporters and now loudly and often proclaim their allegiance to the president. Wagner often compares himself to Trump and Mango trumpets Trump at every opportunity.

That makes this primary election one about ideology and commitment to a philosophy. It’s also about Trump, what he represents and what it now means to be a Republican. It’s about the soul of the Republican Party.

It’s about who gets to play Trump in Pennsylvania.

With stakes like these, a few million bucks, a couple of careers in tatters, or even losing the governorship is collateral damage.

Governor Wolf is probably enjoying this, but thousands of GOP primary voters aren’t.

25 Responses

  1. Bob Asher has lived long enough since he got out of prison to lead the total implosion of first his home in Montgomery County, from where the money flowed for the state GOP once upon a time, and then preside over the complete ruin for the Republican Party in all of Pennsylvania. When one of the major partys is headed by a criminal convicted of perjury, racketeering, bribery and conspiracy arising from a political corruption case, what do you think will eventually happen to that party? Only in PA. You can’t make this s**t up.

    1. He paid his debt to society and, thus, his input is valuable…regardless of whether one agrees with it.

      1. anytime sklaroff defends someone you can be sure they are part of the swamp.

  2. They should both be asking Wolf if he will start enforcing the death penalty and bring out Eric Frein (cop killer) has been convicted and under Wolf’s policy, no death penalty.
    They should ask Wolf if he supports Philly as a sanctuary city.
    Wolf is vulnerable but you wouldn’t know it from their primary statements focused only on each other.

    1. lonne83-

      Wolf issued a moratorium on the death penalty in PA. No one has been executed in PA in decades. Death penalty is dead.

      Wolf supports the cities and their local law enforcement/governments enforcing state/local laws, and leaving FEDERAL immigration enforcement to FEDERAL law enforcement personnel.

      Studies have shown that local police cannot get witnesses to come forward if the witnesses are immigrants afraid the police will turn them in. So, cities where police that try to enforce immigration policy, wind up with more crime and more unsolved crime.

      1. @ d2:

        document or rescind for, again, your rhetoric exceeds your credibility

      2. The Moratorium on the Death Penalty is logical, as it cost to much to adjudicate the penalty, but Wolf is reelected because Valerie DiGiorgio is running the party into the Iceberg in Pennsylvania!

  3. This Republican is disgusted with both Wagner and Mango and is thankful that there is an alternative. Laura Ellsworth would have a shot at beating Wolf. She is articulate and has a good grasp of issues facing the state. The press loves the “horse race” and never pays attention to the long shots. Wish it wasn’t so.

    1. (Yet the media writes about her only in parenthesis and doesn’t even bother to include her photo.) I enjoy her focus on ideas, even when I disagree. I’d love to hear her debate Wolf instead of watching the other two clowns.

      1. perhaps the horserace would expand participants if she polled beyond single-digits

        1. Wagner beat Katherine so bad she got a PFA on him? We got real winners in our party!

  4. Madonna again demonstrates his Dem/Lib-leanings, this time by engaging in an egalitarian argument that omits a key-observation.

    Mango has gone-negative on a personal level, but Wagner hasn’t.

    Whether it is due to desperation or to misplaced ideological self-portrayal, Mango is abandoning issues in the process, so sad.

    1. Maybe Wagner has not gone personal because his opponent is not the slimy thug like Wagner is.

  5. Justin Simmons 2022!! On the ticket with his Mom as the LG! His campaign manager can be Mr. Teddy, his stuffed bear!

  6. “Why the GOP Gubernatorial Primary seems so crazy”

    Because the candidates are f*cking crazy conservatives (yes, that’s redundant). The GOP is in a race to the bottom, and it starts with the “top” of the party in the White House, and finishes with the hypocritical/sycophantic GOP elected officials and candidates, all revealing the hollowness of “the conservative movement”.

    It’s Dem wave year, and an incumbent Dem governor. Neither of these two bozos has a shot.

  7. The Senator is a very vile and dangerous (literally) individual. He donated to liberal organizations, is siding with the democrats for stricter gun control, he sues people (many are elderly) that refuse to use his trash service. Mr. Wagner abused a daughter and 1 of his 4 wives, which, by the way, he owed 1 nearly $800,000 in child support. As sitting senator, he has missed 109 votes. No thanks! #Bully

    1. I’m surprised no one has asked Sen. Wagner about his donations to Planned Parenthood. Writing them checks and then going on to publicly oppose them, seems like strange behavior.

    2. Wagner has been violent with his own daughter, supports a radical LGBT agenda and is backing liberal GUN-Control ideas. Is he a true Republican or a Democrat in disguise?

      Val is running the GOP into the “Iceberg” as he’s such a lunatic he’s on record of backing Marco Rubio over the President? So we have a true
      “Clown-Show” as Val will assure “Dead-Beat” Dad Scott Wagner gets the nomination on May 15th…and the Governor Wolf just runs Mango’s ads against “Toxic Wagner” into an easy reelection effort…as Val has really assured defeat in November, via his asinine leadership…maybe he’ll get Marco Rubio to run as a last minute replacement as Scott Wagner goes to jail for beating Katherine Wagner again, as he’s done in the past?

      Yeah, fabulous party we got going? It’s a sure bet that Tom Wolf laughs at this whole nightmare, as the GOP Party in Pa. implodes and assures Tom Wolf a real easy reelection, in November!

      1. It seems like the Mango campaign spends all their time on the PoliticsPa comment section and not actually out talking to voters. No wonder they are down so big in the polls.

        1. Paul Mango will not Beat Scott Wagner. It’s a really good thing for Governor Wolf, as he can just repeat the Mango attack ads, as to “Toxic Wagner”, “Slum-Lord Scott”, “Bail-Bonder to the Megan’s Law Offender” and Abuser of Katherine Wagner, who “actually” took out a PFA on Scott Wagner as to his “chocking her”…Val DiGiorgio is running the ship right into the “Iceberg” with Scott Wagner…is it possible that Val is a Democrat in all reality, as he’s picked a Winner in his support of Scott Wagner, who may be in prison if he keeps beating Katherine?

        2. Scott Wagner can only be defeated by the negative attacks (of Mango), as it’s really only a “hope and a prayer” for Mango without party support and all of Val’s attacks on Mango…it’s really a given Wagner can only lose if he “fumbles the ball”; it’s the task of Mango to provide a “fumble opportunity”…the PFA the daughter filed on Wagner and the unpaid child support are issues to imploy to harp on dead-beat Dad issue and the insane fact of a daughter getting a PFA on the father, as Katherine Wagner did? It’s a real comedy act…as Governor Wolf giggles at this lunacy in the party?

          Is Val happy with this lunacy? He’s got to go, if he loses it all in November!

    3. Governor Tom Wolf is really enjoying this Republican Primary, as Scott Wagner has to defend beating his daughter (Katherine), his suing 84 Year-Old Women, his Toxic EPA record and Scott Wagner’s LGBT Agenda. It’s a pure “clown show” going on…and it’s a guarantee Gov. Wolf benefits, as he may even get Katherine Wagner to do ads for him about Father’s not “chocking their daughter’s out”, as a PSA on getting a PFA on your own Father—as Katherine Wagner has had to do as to “Violent Scott Wagner”…it’s all a real joke…as Governor Wolf simply must love this GOP Primary Race, which only helps him…

  8. Interesting argument, but by the time 2022 rolls around, anyone who associated themselves with Trump will be on top of the trash heap of history with the great orange one himself.

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