What’s Schilling’s game?
Ex-Sox hurler talks Senate bid but his actions run counter
Curt Schilling is running. The question is for what.
Schilling, the bomb-throwing righty on and off the mound, has made no secret of his desire to be the guy to oust Sen. Elizabeth Warren. Indeed, on Tuesday on a Providence radio talk show and later in the day on NH1 in the Granite State, Schilling definitely said he’ll run in 2018 before adding a caveat – if his wife approves.
The way Schilling, who is also trying to get a new career as a talk radio host off the ground, is floating the trial balloons has political observers on both sides of the aisle pondering just what his endgame is.
“It seems to me [the announcement] is off the cuff, completely amateurish,” said Erin O’Brien, chair of the political science department at University of Massachusetts Boston and an avid sports fan. “It gives him an out if he doesn’t decide to run — and that out throws his wife under the bus.”
A WBUR/MassINC Polling Group survey earlier this week found Trump trailing Hillary Clinton by 26 percent among Massachusetts voters. That was unchanged from a poll last month which also found Schilling trailing Warren by a nearly identical 25 points in a hypothetical matchup. If Schilling is using Trump as a template here in Massachusetts, he’s got it down pat.
“This shows his lack of political acumen,” O’Brien said. “I don’t think he’s unelectable. He’s unelectable in Massachusetts…. I think he’s making a bad calculus. This guy is fueled by arrogance and overconfidence. I actually think he thinks he can win.”
But that supposes that is his goal. Schilling, who did not respond to a request for an interview via social media, just started a Saturday morning talk show on the Howie Carr Radio Network. He’s also been putting out a podcast and hosting live caller events on his Facebook and Periscope accounts. But he’s also looking to make a living and that may be as much as what’s behind his declarations as any real desire to become the conservative David taking on the liberal Goliath.
“Only Curt knows if he’s serious about doing this,” said Gene Hartigan, a Republican analyst for WBZ and former executive director of the Republican State Party. “Right now, he’s trying to establish himself as a conservative talk show host. He’s campaigning for his status as an entertainer. There’s a question if this is all being played out for the sake of the media.”
Schilling, who earned more than $114 million during his playing career, was fired earlier this year from his job as an analyst at ESPN after retweeting a meme mocking the issue of transgender individuals using bathrooms matching their sexual identity rather than their birth sex. Schilling had been earning $2 million a year and has been unable to land anything that even approaches that kind of money since.
And money is a problem for Schilling in a number of ways. The biggest albatross hanging around his neck is his decision to take $75 million in loan guarantees from the state of Rhode Island – he now says it was $49 million – to move his gaming company 38 Studios from Wayland to Providence. He recently settled his involvement by agreeing to pay $2.5 million.
The company ended up going bankrupt, which in turn depleted Schilling’s personal bank account. Unlike Trump, he’ll be entering any race without a financial safety net. While he’s a nationally known name, Schilling has done little to build the kinds of ties he needs within the GOP here and around the country to tap donors.
In 2008, Schilling’s wife, Shonda, gave $5,000 each to the Republican National Committee and the McCain-Palin Victory 2008 fund as well as $2,300 to McCain in 2008 and, in 2006, $1,000 to then-Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona. The Schillings lived in Arizona until 2003, when Curt Schilling was traded from the Arizona Diamondbacks to the Red Sox.
Schilling’s involvement in Massachusetts politics has been even more barren. According to the Office of Campaign and Political Finance, Schilling and his wife each gave the maximum $500 donations to Charlie Baker’s 2010 run for governor, which he lost to then-Gov. Deval Patrick.
“Sometimes people use some elections to prepare themselves for other elections,” said Hartigan, pointing out Brown’s move to New Hampshire and Schilling’s use of media outside Massachusetts to make his announcement. “We don’t know what his strategy is. Whenever you can float as many trial balloons as you can and it doesn’t cost you any money, that’s a plus.”
Peter Ubertaccio, a political science professor at Stonehill College and the director of the school’s Martin Institute for Law & Society, said Schilling is clearly taking a page out of the Trump guide for political campaigning, right down to the feverish use of social media to espouse opinions and answer even the smallest of perceived slights. Ubertaccio says many of those will likely come back and bite Schilling in the backside the same way Trump’s utterances caught on tape have undercut him.
“Like Trump, [Schilling] says just what pops in his head, doesn’t worry about who he offends,” said Ubertaccio. “People will overlook sloppy or misstatements but Schilling has made a recent career out of it, not doing your homework, speaking off the cuff, leveling insults.”But, said Ubertaccio, he may just be looking to pay the bills.
“He wants to transition from the playing field to being a conservative talk radio host,” he said. “This could serve that purpose very well. It does help his bottom line. His endgame could simply be building his brand.”