Who’s Winning The Political War?
July 8, 2020
Last week saw Pennsylvania, like more than a few other states, hit the brakes on the return to life as it was before the Corona virus. Allegheny County, home to one-tenth of the state’s population, closed bars and restaurants for a week and imposed a ban on indoor sales of alcohol when they re-open, while a—possibly toothless—statewide order to wear masks at indoors events was issued. More telling, perhaps, is the reality that one will search nearly in vain for a store in most of Pennsylvania that does not display a “please wear a mask” sign.
It was little more than a sidebar, then, when the state Supreme Court dismissed a challenge by legislative Republicans to the Democratic governor’s authority to issue an open-ended declaration of emergency—but that sidebar raises an interesting question: who is winning the political messaging war in the midst of an undeniable crisis?
In private, even Democratic allies of Governor Tom Wolf grumble that a chief executive long seen as oddly detached from the mundane business of actually governing the Commonwealth, which among other things requires dealing with legislators even though many of whom may not belong to your political party, has been imperious, arbitrary, and disconcertingly opaque about the logic behind his decisions.
It follows from none of this that his decisions have either been uniformly wrong or wildly unpopular, of course, but it has done the Democrats few favors in crafting a narrative.
What then of House and Senate Republicans, who have held unbroken sway in Harrisburg for a decade?
From the beginning, they have been plagued by a noisy sliver of their own caucuses, who used rallies organized months ago by national organizations with more money than sense to carve out some utterly bizarre positions.
Even in more sober circles, the dictates of political discourse shaped by the character limit on Twitter gave rise to a far-from-helpful effort to demonize the term-limited governor; in a state long governed by notably pragmatic politicians it really ought not be difficult to lay out the case that the governor had not only exceeded his legislative authority but used a baseball bat when a scalpel would have served him better without references to George III or the East German secret police.
In doing so, they essentially ceded the field of play on any policy argument to the Governor.
Politically, the results were more mixed: Republicans satisfied the more over-caffeinated portion of their base and not at all coincidentally some noteworthy donors, Democrats did little to offend anyone else—and arguably barely bothered to show up for the contest at all—while the still far-from-trivial portion of Pennsylvania voters open to arguments from either party simply yawned before dawning a mask to venture outside.