EDITORIAL: Use of 'dog whistle' shows politically incorrect Scott Wagner is desperate
It’s desperation time for Scott Wagner.
The York County Republican nominee for governor of Pennsylvania is trailing badly in the race against incumbent Democrat Tom Wolf.
The most recent Franklin & Marshall College poll gave Wolf, who is also from York County, a 17-point edge — 52 percent to 35 percent. The poll is one of six this year that show Wolf's lead ranging from 13 to 19 points.
In an election year when Democratic voters clearly appear more energized than Republicans, those are extremely worrisome numbers for Wagner.
"Dog whistles": So, it should not be surprising that the Wagner campaign is pulling out all the stops to close the gap — including the tired and pathetic formula of using political “dog whistles” to appeal to his base.
A “dog whistle,” for those not familiar with the term, is “a coded message communicated through words or phrases commonly understood by a particular group of people, but not by others.”
That is the Miriam Webster definition. “Dog whistles” typically have racial overtones.
For instance, when talking derisively about immigrants or welfare recipients, those are often seen as “dog-whistle” words for minorities, without using the specific terms for racial groups.
Blasting Wolf: In a heated Facebook Live video recently, Wagner brought out the "dog whistle" when he blasted Wolf's recent visit to Puerto Rico and said the effort was "bulls—."
Wolf was on a two-day trip to the U.S. territory to meet with Puerto Rican officials and business leaders to discuss economic ties and learn about continuing recovery efforts after Hurricane Maria last year.
In the video, Wagner questioned why Wolf was going to Puerto Rico "when the people of Pennsylvania aren't being served."
"I'm not trying to be politically correct, and I won't be politically correct," he said. "I'm about to say something that might offend some people. But if I offend you, so what. There are municipalities that are struggling, and the governor going to Puerto Rico is bulls—, pure bulls—."
Wagner added the governor should "be taking care of Pennsylvanians and not taking care of other areas," and he promised such actions wouldn't take place if he makes it to the governor's office come November.
Wagner’s comment came during his trip to Tioga County in northeastern Pennsylvania to inspect recent flood damage. He failed to mention that Wolf toured neighboring Bradford County on Aug. 15, just days after flooding devastated communities there.
We have to wonder if Wagner would’ve made the same comments if Wolf was visiting overwhelmingly white, English-speaking South Dakota, instead of a U.S. territory that is predominantly Hispanic?
We think not.
A few days later, a report emerged that a text sent from Ray Zaborney, a consultant with Wagner's campaign, showed a meme of transgender television personality Caitlyn Jenner. The text appeared to mock her gender transition.
Culture war: So, it’s fairly obvious that Wagner and his campaign have opted to engage in divisive, populist, cultural war in a last-ditch effort to bridge the chasm between himself and Wolf in the polls.
He believes that strategy worked for Donald Trump in 2016 and can work again in 2018, especially if he can provoke and scare the Trump base. He’s hoping anger and fear will be enough to motivate those voters to go to the polls in droves in November.
Trump proved the pollsters wrong in 2016, when he surprisingly won Pennsylvania and the presidency, and Wagner is hoping he can follow the same playbook in a few months.
The 2018 political landscape, however, appears to be dramatically different. Democrats were lazy and overconfident in 2016. That isn’t the case in 2018.
In a few months we’ll find who is right — and we’ll find out if desperation, "dog-whistle" politics can still produce winning results.