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On Scott Wagner’s wacky moment | John Baer

Just when you think you've seen it all in politics, along comes Scott Wagner.

GOP gubernatorial candidate Scott Wagner. JOSE F. MORENO / Staff Photographer
GOP gubernatorial candidate Scott Wagner. JOSE F. MORENO / Staff PhotographerRead more-- Staff

Let's agree the image of a candidate stomping "all over" an opponent's face with golf spikes is — even by today's standards of political discourse — jarring.

OK? Agreed?

Then no surprise that after GOP gubernatorial candidate Scott Wagner took to Facebook and told Gov. Wolf  he'd better get a catcher's mask for protection, that Wagner's video drew some attention.

As in CBS, NBC, the Washington Post, the (London) Telegraph and more.

Heck, even Golf Digest weighed in, wondering whether Wagner meant metal or soft spikes, and whether the video helps Wagner "dig into" his double-digit deficit in polls.

I'm thinking maybe not. I'm thinking it just helps show how teed off Wagner is.

Actually, the first thing I thought while watching the video was that the person who shot it and posted it should have suggested to Wagner or his campaign managers, "Yeah, see, I'm not so sure this is a good idea."

Turns out it was Facebook Live. Streamed as happening. Really not a good idea.

Standing outside, literally howling in the wind and pointing at a camera, Wagner took a shot without yelling fore: "Gov. Wolf, let me tell you, between now and Nov. 6 you better put a catcher's mask on your face because I'm going to stomp all over your face with golf spikes because I'm gonna win this for the state of Pennsylvania."

I'll set aside the mixed sports metaphor.

And I'm pretty sure Wagner doesn't intend to don a pair of cleated FootJoys and chase down the governor. Seems Wagner's suggesting some of his coming TV ads are going to inflict pain on Wolf.

But I don't recall another political, um, message as rough, raw and angry as this in modern Pennsylvania political history.

Then again, implied violence isn't new for Wagner, a multimillionaire self-proclaimed garbage man.

As a state senator in 2014, he talked of bringing a baseball bat to the Capitol to deal with leadership. During the 2015-16 state budget battle, he said Republicans 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." In 2017, he had a physical run-in with a political tracker during a speech at a country club.

But this tops all that. And in terms of national politics, couldn't be better timed.

It fits right in with escalating ugliness from both parties.

President Trump (who last Wednesday touted Wagner at a rally in Erie) calls Democrats "unhinged" and "wacko." Mitch McConnell speaks of a the "far-left mob." Hillary Clinton says Democrats can't be civil to Republicans. And Eric Holder, former President Barack Obama's attorney general, says when Republicans "go low, we kick them."

Golf spikes to the face just got added to the mix.

(The video was on Wagner's Facebook page about six hours Friday before it was pulled down and replaced with a non-apology apology, including Wagner saying, "I shouldn't have said what I said.")

It's clear that Wagner is frustrated, running in a no-profile race against an opponent who won't engage (that Alex Trebek "debate" doesn't count) beyond vastly outspending Wagner on TV and relentless needling on social media.

Wagner's rant apparently was fueled by billboard ads — he stood beneath one — from a liberal social welfare group, not Wolf's campaign, claiming that Wagner sued thousands of customers of his waste management company, Penn Waste.

Wagner insists that any such litigation was to collect unpaid bills.

But in the video, he also railed at Wolf for not debating, for negative ads, for all Wolf's campaign "stuff." And, yes, a little fire in leaders can be good. And Wolf could use at least some embers. Yet this rage approached apoplexy.

Which reminded me.

Back in July, I wrote that Wolf's campaign plan was to drive Wagner nuts by constantly calling him anti-women's rights, anti-education, anti-transparency for not releasing his tax returns, and "the very worst of Harrisburg" — and doing so online, on air, all the time.

I wrote that Wolf was "trying to bait Wagner into a mouth-frothing frenzy."

Looks as if it worked.