Tom Corbett: Milquetoast Conservative, Atrocious Politician

That’s the assessment at The New Republic.

While we were on holiday, PhillyMag contributor Patrick Kerkstra appeared in The New Republic to explain to the rest of the nation why Gov. Tom Corbett is so extremely unpopular. Short answer: He’s been crappy on policy and politics. That doesn’t leave much, does it?

New Jersey’s Chris Christie is wildly popular in Philadelphia’s moderate suburbs, and Corbett may well have fared better statewide if he had managed to ram through some popular reforms like Christie’s public pension overhaul or Brian Sandoval’s shredding of teacher tenure and collective bargaining in Nevada. But Corbett hasn’t achieved anything of the sort. He’s a milquetoast conservative who has done little to improve the state’s long-term fiscal health, while maximizing pain in the here and now.

He’s also an atrocious politician.


Corbett’s a born introvert. His wife, Susan Corbett, told me back in 2011 for aPhiladelphia Magazine story that “it’s not unusual that we're at a party and Tom will be off in the corner with a dog while everybody else is chatting.” It’s not that he's totally devoid of charisma. He has striking blue eyes, wispy white hair, and he looks exactly like a Republican governor should. When he makes the effort, Corbett can be personable, even likable. But he rarely tries, it seems. He has very little personal connection to voters—a failing made all the more stark in comparison to former Democratic governor and state mascot Ed Rendell—and his relationships with Republican leaders in the statehouse are awkward at best.

You can trace some of Corbett's problems back to the 2010 election, when he kept going around telling reporters that Pennsylvania didn't have a jobs problem, it had a problem with excessive generosity in its unemployment insurance program: The papers were full of want ads, he said, so Pennsylvanians must be too lazy to go to work. Even then, it was apparent that the state's anemic job growth masked a shift from high-wage jobs to low-wage service jobs in fast food.  The gap between the problem and Corbett's diagnosis of it was too wide to bridge, and somehow he still got elected governor. The fact that we're now living with a governor whose chief economic accomplishment has been to continue the trend shouldn't be surprising. We got pretty much precisely what we elected.