OK, so the Cubs might be heading to the World Series (emphasis on the word "might") and Philadelphia has certainly tossed its old civic inferiority complex to the bottom of the Schuylkill River, but even in the 21st Century some things never change. Consider the Democratic Party and its remarkable knack for snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.
Here in the increasingly blue state of Pennsylvania, polls show that Democrat Hillary Clinton is pulling away from the GOP's Donald Trump -- thanks to near universal revulsion toward the Cheeto Jesus of American politics from the affluent eggheads of the Philly suburbs. But the party's U.S. Senate hopeful, Katie McGinty, may be slip-sliding away as she clings to the cuffs of Clinton's pants suit; poll show her chances of beating Republican incumbent Sen. Pat Toomey are only about 50-50, even in what may become a "wave" election for the Democrats everywhere else.
How are the Dems screwing this one up? Their biggest problem (in my humble opinion) is that they're running a single-issue campaign against Toomey. Actually, it's not even an issue. It's...a thing: Does the one-term Republican senator support, or does he not support, the short-fingered vulgarian of the 2016 election?
McGinty and the various Democratic and liberal "super PACs" supporting her in what will surely be the nation's most expensive Senate race have focused on little else besides tying Toomey to Trump. As a Pennsylvania journalist, my inbox is clogged daily by breathless emails from Camp McGinty, all challenging "Fraidy-Pat" Toomey (a name-calling ploy that makes fingernails across a chalkboard sound pleasant) on his Trump stance. For what it's worth, the news media has largely gone along for the ride, with scores of think pieces about our Hamlet-by-the-Lehigh.
For the record, the latest from Toomey -- in a statewide televised debate on Monday -- is that he will "probably" announce whether or not he supports Trump by Election Day (Election Day 2016?...I'm starting to wonder). As noted above, this is a thing, and not a trivial one. A number of Toomey's Republican Senate colleagues -- Susan Collins, Kelly Ayotte, Mark Kirk, and several others -- have made it clear they can't support Trump's misogyny or his threat to democratic ideals. Toomey's not angling for a chapter in the sequel to Profiles in Courage with his Trump waffling -- but I don't think his cowardice here matters as much to the average Pennsylvania voter as McGinty and her "brain trust" are betting here.
In reality, Toomey is gliding across the political landscape in disguise as a mild-mannered, bespectacled moderate -- a guy with "reasonable views" on issues like guns (despite his 'A' rating from the NRA until he loudly tacked to the center on just one piece, background checks) or climate change (although who cares if he agrees it's man-made when he won't do a damn thing about it?). Peel off that phony facade, and the former Tea Party fave is a poster child for the politics that have been destroying the middle class.
Toomey's basic strategy is Post-'80s Conservatism 101, but he does it more audaciously than most: Wave an American flag and puffed-up patriotism in the face of Pennsylvania's working-class voters, so hopefully they won't notice that his agenda is picking their pocket for the benefit of Wall Street -- where he started his career -- and his wealthy campaign benefactors.
No issue has animated Toomey in the last two years than a knee-jerk "Blue Lives Matter" response to the growing controversy over policing and racial equity in America, to the point where he's virtually become Sen. Pat Toomey (R-FOP). In 2014, Toomey showed off his true character by working to block a really good man -- Debo Adegbile, an child of poor immigrants who became a top lawyer -- from becoming the Justice Department's top civil-rights lawyer, at the behest of the Fraternal Order of Police. But in 2016, eager to capitalize on white backlash against the #BlackLivesMatter movement, Toomey jumped off the deep end.
When a growing number of experts and leaders -- police chiefs, civil libertarians, and finally President Obama -- agreed that America's police departments had become unnecessarily militarized, with armored personnel carriers (APCs), grenade launchers, even bayonets,, Toomey has fought to keep this ridiculous regime in place. He sponsored what he called the Lifesaving Gear for Police Act to resume the wasteful and unnecessary transfer of military hardware from the Pentagon to police departments. It was terrible legislation but arguably sound politics -- more effort to wrap Toomey in a "law and order" Nixonian and, yes, Trumpian, cloak so he could return to the Capitol in 2017 and push his real agenda.
Helping Wall Street.
With many Pennsylvanians still reeling from the 2008 financial crisis and the job losses that followed, no senator has worked harder than Pat Toomey to get rid of the protections like the Dodd-Frank Act that were passed to prevent Wall Street from screwing over the rest of America all over again. Many of Toomey's GOP Senate colleagues also want to repeal Dodd-Frank, but Toomey has taken his love for big banks to the next level.
For several years in the early 2010s, a top Toomey priority was rolling back a particular provision of the Dodd-Frank legislation that protects taxpayers from getting ripped off by big banks in a kind of pay-to-play scheme. Specifically, Toomey's legislation would bring back the bad "interest rate swap" deals that made huge profits for financiers but ultimately devastated many towns and school districts -- especially in Pennsylvania, the state that Toomey allegedly represents. For example, the cash-strapped Philadelphia School District lost $161 million, right at the same time it wasn't able to pay for school nurses or guidance counselors. Toomey tried (and thankfully was unsuccessful) to bring back these schemes that favored Wall Street over our kids. That's unbelievable.
It also could be the basis for a devastating political campaign. It can be done. Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren -- who understands the plight of the middle class and would be leading Trump by 25 points if she would have run for president this year -- made that case for McGinty earlier this year. Then she left and the Dems went back to all Trump, all the time. That seems like a gamble -- the political-strategy equivalent of an interest-rate swap.
Look, McGinty's far from an ideal candidate (full disclosure: I kind of swooned for one of her primary opponents). She seems a creation of some underground D.C. lab where elite centrist pro-business Democrats go to create mediocre office seekers. But in 2016, you can tell a lot about a candidate by the enemies they make. The Koch brothers and other right-wing billionaires are flooding the airways with an obscene amount of ads -- seriously, you can't enjoy a football game without that smug (bleep)hole dudebro bike messenger talking about "Shady Katie" every 90 seconds -- trying to keep McGinty out of Washington. That suggests that she'll fight for the things that Koch brothers abhor -- like a clean environment, an equitable economy, and workers' rights.
We've had six years to learn who Pat Toomey fights for. It's not me, or (unless you're a Wall Street trader who's reading this for some reason) you. And whether he votes for Donald Trump or Jill Stein or writes in Captain Crunch on November 8 isn't going to change that.