EDITORIAL: Wagner is full of October surprises

York Dispatch Editorial Board

When it comes to “October surprises,” Republican gubernatorial candidate Scott Wagner does not appear to be at a loss. Twice this month, he has made announcements that had the potential to change the trajectory of one of the state’s highest-profile races.

Problem is, Wagner seems to have forgotten one chief component of any October surprise: It’s supposed to damage the other candidate’s campaign, not your own.

The damage following a video Wagner posted Friday on Facebook was certainly of the self-inflicted variety.

After a series of questionably accurate charges against his Democratic opponent, incumbent Gov. Tom Wolf, Wagner ended the roughly three-minute video by addressing Wolf thusly: “Between now and November 6, you better put a catcher’s mask on your face, because I’m going to stomp all over your face with golf spikes.”

Even in our Trumpian era of political coarseness and bullying, Wagner’s comments were beyond the pale — a fact that evidently occurred belatedly to the candidate, who later removed the video.

“Scott’s comments were not to be taken literally,” said Wagner campaign spokesman Andrew Romeo.

Not a bad bit of advice for a candidate who, in the past, has suggested that body heat may contribute to global warming and dismissed a recent Wolf trip to hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico as “pure bulls---.”

The violent metaphor is not uncharacteristic of Wagner. Recall, following a budget standoff in 2016, he said during a public speech that GOP lawmakers had Wolf “down on the floor with our foot on his throat and we let him up. Next time, we won’t let him up.”

A statesman, he ain’t.

Wagner himself told the Associated Press he used a poor choice of words in the Facebook video, and that his passion should not be confused with anger.

Nor should it be confused with gravitas.

A candidate for the state’s highest office ought to be able to campaign — and even criticize the opposition — without resorting to hostile street slurs.

Then again, maybe Wagner is just frustrated. That’s certainly how he sounded in the second of his recent surprises — an email to supporters in which the multimillionaire said he was “tapped out” and claimed a “small number of establishment Republicans” are working against his campaign. 

Republican Scott Wagner uses money to illustrate a point as fifth grader Haja Lewis looks on during a gubernatorial forum in Philadelphia, Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2018. Fourth- and fifth-graders from across Pennsylvania submitted questions for the state's gubernatorial candidates. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

In that message, Wagner captured not only the paranoia, but that combination of self-congratulations and self-pity that is the hallmark of the politician he esteems and emulates, President Donald Trump: “Everyone knows that I don’t need this job or the money,” Wagner wrote, “and I sure don’t need the public lynching.”

An odd tone to strike in a fundraising communication, to be sure.

Trump himself hasn’t lost faith. He praised Wagner during a visit to Erie last week. And one of the president’s Fox News favorites, Jeanine Pirro, hosted a fundraiser for Wagner right here in York last Wednesday.

Despite those endorsements, however, Wagner continues to trail Wolf badly in both the polls and the campaign coffers.

Of course, there are two more weeks left in October. Scott Wagner may yet have a surprise or two left up his sleeve.