Even running on his successful business record can't save Trump-like GOP candidate Scott Wagner's flailing campaign for governor in Pennsylvania.
Scott Wagner, the Republican nominee for governor in Pennsylvania, is a very Trump-like candidate. He gives his opponents insulting nicknames and talks about draining the swamp. His rhetoric is often truly repulsive — he once compared labor unions to Hitler, and when he was asked whether he thought women should have access to birth control, he said he'd have to ask his wife.
But unfortunately for Wagner, Trumpism is growing less and less popular in Pennsylvania. That might be why Wagner has chosen to campaign on his business career — one of his less offensive Trump-like qualities — and to unfairly malign the business career of his opponent, Democratic incumbent Gov. Tom Wolf.
Judging by the polls, however, this strategy isn't working at all.
In campaign ads, Wagner has frequently highlighted his business credentials as the founder of a large waste management empire called Penn Waste. He likes to compare the state of Pennsylvania to a corporation, and taxpayers to “customers.”
“Can you imagine if you had in the governor’s office someone who is a serial entrepreneur, a serial investor, and a super salesman?” Wagner asked Philadelphia Magazine in a January interview.
But Wagner's "I’ll run Pennsylvania like a business" strategy has a major flaw: His opponent, Wolf, is himself a very successful businessman.
Wolf is the former head of his family’s mega-successful cabinetry business, Wolf Home Products, of which he was CEO until running for governor.
Wagner also tried to attack Wolf's business cred in the Philadelphia Magazine interview.
“He didn’t start from scratch," Wagner said of Wolf. "He was a sixth-generation business owner. … I started with two trucks. I was the driver, I was the mechanic, and I was the sales rep.”
But while Wagner has attempted to push the story that he’s the self-made businessman and Wolf is the lazy heir, the reality is not quite that simple.
Wolf bought the company from his relatives in 1985 and grew it substantially, selling it in 2006. In 2009, with the company struggling, Wolf abandoned his plans to run for governor in 2010 and bought the company again. He ultimately ran for governor again, and won, in 2014.
As for Wagner, it turns out a construction magnate uncle, the founder of Kinsley Construction, had a hand in founding his company.
“Wagner likes to tell people he pulled himself up by his bootstraps, but he purposefully leaves out the fact that his rich uncle paid for the boots and the straps,” PA Democratic Party spokesperson Mike Mikus told City and State PA.
Either way, Wagner's weak strategy doesn’t appear to be working. Every poll taken of the race so far has Wolf leading Wagner by double digits.
And that’s part of a broader pattern in Pennsylvania. Democratic incumbent Sen. Bob Casey is significantly leading his Republican opponent Lou Barletta, and a group of strong congressional candidates, led by Chrissy Houlahan, Madeleine Dean and recent special election winner Conor Lamb, are in a good position to help deliver the House back to the Democrats.
As the New York Times pointed out Sunday, Pennsylvania plays an outsized role in the mythology of how Donald Trump was elected president.
We’ve all heard the story of how the GOP finally turned Pennsylvania red after years of trying, based on a lot of mythology about the “white working class” and coal miners. Just about every major newspaper has published a “deep dive from Trump country” sort of piece, usually reported from Western or Central Pennsylvania.
But Trump’s net approval rating stands at -6 in Pennsylvania, per Morning Consult.
That’s going to be hard for a Trump-like Republican candidate for governor to overcome — no matter how successful a businessman he was.