State Sen. Scott Wagner talks as if he’s the Donald Trump of Pennsylvania.
“Donald Trump is a visionary and he’s a leader,” Mr. Wagner once told the Tribune-Review’s Kevin Zwick. “He cares deeply about this country, and I care deeply about this country.”
So far it’s clear only that Mr. Wagner wants to be a Donald Trump, not that he is one.
That doesn’t stop him from thinking he can ride that longing into the governorship this fall, when Pennsylvania is one of 36 states holding elections for governor. Most of those states have GOP governors at the moment.
For Mr. Wagner, his first step is to win the state GOP’s endorsement when its central committee meets in Harrisburg this weekend.
The word from deep in the Keystone State is that he’s practically got that in the bag.
Even if he doesn’t get the endorsement, he can win the GOP’s formal nomination when the party’s registered Republicans vote in their closed primary election in May.
While there’s no tight correlation between party endorsement and primary election victory, maybe he can win without either. After all, the multimillionaire trash-hauling magnate is the only person ever to win a state Senate seat as a write-in candidate, doing so in a tiny-turnout special election in 2014.
Now, he’s the one candidate for the Pennsylvania GOP gubernatorial nomination who can boast — or lament — the endorsement of Steve Bannon, who was chief executive of Mr. Trump’s general election campaign and senior strategist at the White House. Until, that is, Mr. Trump fired him, at which point Mr. Bannon, in the full plenitude of his implacable loyalty, pronounced the Trump presidency effectively over.
To ordinary observers, Mr. Wagner should be sitting atop the heap.
Pennsylvania has had eight Democratic and 26 Republican governors since Abraham Lincoln — not necessarily Ronald Reagan conservatives in recent years, mind you, but certainly Republican in name.
It would really be great for Mr. Wagner to be the Donald Trump of a state that all the political hotshots said the real Donald Trump couldn’t possibly win in 2016.
It would be great, that is, if Mr. Wagner were in fact what he is in his own mind.
In his two state Senate years, he has accomplished nothing headline-worthy that is remotely Trumpian. He did go after a fellow Republican in leadership who he said was blocking anything that betrayed a whiff of conservatism.
A prominent Republican in the state who is no great fan of Mr. Wagner’s gave him what may fall into the category of reluctant compliment: “Yes, Scott Wagner hasn’t done anything spectacularly Trumpian as a freshman senator. At least if he gets to be governor, he’s the only one who can and will give an enema to the GOP establishment and the swamp in general.”
So far, however, Mr. Wagner has accomplished little to make him the DJT of Pa. He was one of several cosponsors of a measure to protect LGBTs rights – possibly at the expense of what some Christians think are their religious rights.
That’s probably not really Trumpian in the minds of most Trump supporters, even if it may be in Mr. Trump’s.
To clear the air of any ambient elitism, let us hereby stipulate that Mr. Wagner can be proud of having made a success of his stinky-but-useful business, though his company has been hit with a number of fines and violations of environmental standards.
Democrats may love to enumerate those violations for all to see, if he is the GOP’s endorsed candidate for governor.
At issue is whether some less-than-savory stuff in his past will make it difficult for the GOP to raise money for the fall elections and will hurt the party’s candidates “down-ticket.”
Less than savory like this one: Mr. Wagner was a bail bondsman before he founded a trash-collection business. While neither is a high-prestige line of work, that shouldn’t matter in populist America, right?
Wrong. Some of his GOP enemies betray just the faintest hint of disdain for his lines of work. That alone would put me on his side. But there’s more here than meets the left frontal lobe — initially, at least.
Mr. Wagner, like the rest of us, has a history, except that his is not like that of the rest of us.
Years ago, a man accused of child molestation got free on bail thanks to Mr. Wagner. He skipped bail and managed to get himself accused of sexually molesting yet another child.
Mr. Wagner’s fault?
Probably not; bondsmen provide bail, not moral makeovers.
But could Democrat can use this and other unfortunate events in the life of Scott Wagner to pillory his party if he heads the ticket? Probably.
Something else. Mr. Wagner stepped into it once when his daughter filed for protection from him. It was over an altercation during which she said he choked and shoved her around enough to cause bruises.
Can it be that the Democrats would stoop to playing that up, even though the daughter says her relationship with her dad is fine and has been for seven years? Yes.
And there’s another thing.
Mr. Wagner once called George Soros, the Democrats’ billionaire sugar daddy, a “Hungarian Jew.” Mr. Soros, a self-described atheist, was born to Hungarian Jewish parents. So what?
The assertion would be no big deal except in the context of an election campaign. You can almost hear the whispered insinuations of anti-Semitism.
Enough of listing reasons Mr. Wagner could hurt other GOP candidates this fall. His gubernatorial nomination rivals may have their own (as-yet undeclared) baggage. But at least one of them, the House speaker, has a record of legislative and political achievements to offset any negatives that may surface. Mr. Wagner does not.
Nor does he enjoy the affection of some of those who’ve shared dinner speaking and other political events with him. They say he pays them so little attention that they feel like hat racks standing next to him.
That’s not Trumpian by any stretch. But here’s Mr. Wagner out-Trumping Mr. Trump in aligning himself with the people who in 2016 told pollsters to go pound sand: “Donald Trump grew up in the New York real estate world. I grew up on a farm in York, Pennsylvania. I’m a blue-collar guy.”