If feel-good positivity is your thing, you probably already know not to go looking for it in Pennsylvania state politics. But if you needed a reminder, Republican gubernatorial candidate Paul Mango was ready to help this weekend.
Mango, who’s hoping to win the GOP primary May 15 and go on to challenge incumbent Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf this November, has been struggling to gain a foothold in the race against Republican state senator Scott Wagner. Wagner’s already received the official state party endorsement and the accompanying resources, and he was leading Mango in GOP straw polls even before then.
As a result, Mango has recently begun to resort to full-on attacks over the airwaves against the frontrunner. In a particularly sharp ad published on his YouTube channel Thursday, Mango called Wagner names from “slumlord” to “deadbeat dad.”
“Greedy Wagner sued an 84-year-old woman who didn’t want his garbage service,” a disapproving narrator says, before video footage of Wagner seemingly attacking a campaign tracker plays. “And coming soon — violent Wagner.”
After state party officials urged Mango to take down the “despicable” spot, he doubled down, increasing the ad’s airtime purchases instead. And while the state GOP is concerned Mango’s attacks will hurt their chances of eventual victory against Wolf are probably well founded, it’s hard to sympathize with a party leadership that’s more than fine with dirty attacks when it stands to benefit.
In last month’s special election in the soon-to-be defunct 18th Pennsylvania congressional district, Republican affiliated groups spent more than nine million dollars to support Republican candidate Rick Saccone by tearing down his opponent, Democrat Conor Lamb. Many of the ads focused on a glib pun on Lamb’s last name, saying he would follow the agenda of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., like a sheep.
The accusation was a strange one, especially in light of Lamb’s explicit pledge to vote against retaining Pelosi as leader of Democrats in the House of Representatives. But there was no clamor among state Republicans to remove the misleading ads. Clearly, truth is less important than political advantage for the local GOP leadership — at least when it comes to campaigning.
Even in the gubernatorial race, Republican leadership appears oblivious to the hypocrisy of their sudden aversion to negative political ads. Admittedly, it’s hard to beat Republican attacks against Democratic gubernatorial candidate Tom Wolf in the 2014 race. In that contest, a party campaign flier circulated to voters insinuated a connection between Wolf and notorious Philadelphia abortion doctor and convicted infant murderer Kermit Gosnell.
Ads sponsored by state Republicans taking aim at Wolf haven’t reached quite that level of salacious negativity yet in this year’s race. But there’s no reason Pennsylvania’s GOP leadership won’t repeat history as soon as a candidate emerges victorious out of the primary field.
If Republicans want to make their demands that the anti-Wagner attack ads come down more credible, they might want to start by looking at how they campaign themselves. Fixing negativity in politics is a two-way street, and the GOP isn’t holding up its end.