Pennsylvania's GOP gubernatorial candidate is a dangerous Christian nationalist
The GOP is fretting over Doug Mastriano, who believes the "power of God" will make him governor. But can anyone be certain he will lose?
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Republican Doug Mastriano won the GOP nomination for governor on Tuesday night, and scared the daylights of Republicans — who botched the entire nomination process — to the delight of Democrats, and the Democratic candidate Josh Shapiro, who currently serves as Pennsylvania’s attorney general and is quite popular.
I’m not from Pennsylvania. Nor do I profess to know the political landscape well.
But I am old enough to remember when everyone thought Donald Trump couldn’t win Pennsylvania — or the presidency.
Mastriano, a retired Army colonel who marched on the Capitol on January 6th and was subpoenaed by the January 6th committee in February, won by a whopping 23 points in a nine-person race. He got Trump’s endorsement later in the campaign, but he was already surging before that.
In April, Mastriano spoke at a Christian nationalist gathering in Gettysburg called “Patriots Arise for God and Country.” The event was organized by Francine and Allen Fosdick, who promote QAnon conspiracies, including accusing Democrats of being pedophiles, and describe themselves as “prophets.”
“Last year, it did seem like God abandoned many of us. I felt I did not hear his voice,” Mastriano, a GOP state senator from Franklin County who helped Trump in his effort to overturn the election by pushing to send a fake set of electors to the Electoral College, told those gathered.
He spoke of “persecution and oppression” that was experienced by those who tried to overturn the election and save the country from “being a dark, evil place.” At one of his rallies last month, Mastriano delivered his religious mantra to the faithful as he had done at most rallies:
The forces of darkness are hitting us really hard right now. We’re going to bring the state back to righteousness, this is our day, our hour to take our state back and renew the blessings of America.
And Mastriano’s victory speech this week began with a Christian nationalist invocation in which he again said the “power of God” would deliver his election as governor. He then mocked Pennsylvania’s former health commissioner, Rachel Levine, making an anti-trans remark (she’s now serving in the Biden administration as the highest ranking openly transgender public official, as assistant secretary for health). And he whined on about Covid restrictions and how Democrats made people suffer — and how all vaccine and other mandates would be over if he becomes governor.
Needless to say, Mastriano is fervently anti-abortion and anti-LGBTQ, and if elected would have a Republican legislature and the ability to pass draconian laws.
The Republican Party in Pennsylvania, which didn’t endorse anyone for governor, thought Mastriano couldn’t win. And so, as the Philadelphia Inquirer explains, fearful of his base, they didn’t try to stop him and only fueled his lies:
Instead of denouncing or rebutting Mastriano’s conspiracy theories, Republican leaders repeatedly cast doubt on the legitimacy of the  election, sometimes justifying their actions by pointing to the very voter concerns they had helped fan.
At the 11th hour Republican leaders in the state launched an effort to get voters behind what they saw as a more palatable candidate, but it was too late. Now they’re horrified, per The New York Times:
The aftershocks of Tuesday’s big primaries are still rumbling across Pennsylvania, but one impact is already clear: Republican voters’ choice of Doug Mastriano in the governor’s race is giving the G.O.P. fits.
Conversations with Republican strategists, donors and lobbyists in and outside of Pennsylvania in recent days reveal a party seething with anxiety, dissension and score-settling over Mastriano’s nomination.
In the run-up to Tuesday night, Republicans openly used words and phrases like “suicide mission,” “disaster” and “voyage of the Titanic” to convey just what a catastrophe they believed his candidacy will be for their party.
An adviser to several Republican governors, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said there was wide displeasure with the outcome, calling him unelectable.
And how will these shell-shocked Republicans respond? You better believe they will likely get right behind Mastriano, as they did with Trump in 2016 after first professing horror:
Will national Republicans help Mastriano or shun him? Right now, the major players in governor’s races appear to be waiting to see how the race develops before making that determination.
Some Republicans believe the national “tailwinds” blowing in their favor might help Mastriano win despite all of his weaknesses, but for now, Democrats are thrilled to be facing him in November.
Attorney General Josh Shapiro indeed is very well-liked and has a national profile, appearing on cable TV shows and taking on the Big Lie, all of which will help him with donors locally and across the country.
Shapiro performed better than Biden did in Pennsylvania. And the difference between him and Mastriano couldn’t be more stark: A Christian nationalist railing against abortion and promoting dangerous conspiracies including the Big Lie running against a Jewish-American, pro-choice defender of justice who fought attempts to subvert the vote.
But in this MAGA atmosphere in America, I wouldn’t trust anything. Democrats shouldn’t rest on their laurels. No matter what they’re saying now, Republican officials will rally behind Mastriano. And they’ll certainly be getting the vote out in Pennsylvania, because Mitch McConnell is razor-focused on the race for the open Senate seat, where Mehmet Oz and David McCormick are right now neck and neck to be the GOP candidate (votes are still being counted as of now), going up against Democrat John Fetterman. The GOP will be doing everything it can to get every last MAGA voter out.
And Christian nationalism is animating races across the country, galvanizing evangelicals around anti-government lies, white supremacist ideologies and QAnon conspiracies.As Michelle Boorstein at The Washington Post notes:
Along with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (who urged Americans to “put on the full armor of God” to fight coronavirus restrictions and anti-racism education in schools) and U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia (who said of Catholic refugee aid work that “Satan’s controlling the church”), Mastriano represents a brand of conservative Christian politics that is different from Jerry Falwell Sr.'s Moral Majority of the 1980s or George W. Bush’s Compassionate Conservatism of the 2000s, and has gained momentum since the presidency of Donald Trump.
With his motto “Free indeed!” — an excerpt from scripture that says freedom from sin is found in Jesus — Mastriano is a hero to some in this swing state who say they are fed up with church leaders as well as political parties they perceive as weak-willed, and with debates about religious liberty and the advantages of a diverse democracy.
Jordan Levy at BillyPenn, which covers Pennsylvania politics, reports that some Pennsylvania political observers in fact believe Mastriano could win the governor’s race, gaining a platform for higher office into national politics:
To Shapiro and state Democrats — and the Republican machine that attempted a hail mary to prevent Mastriano from taking the GOP nomination — [Mastriano’s] track record will turn off swing voters and help the Dems retain the Governor’s seat.
Others aren’t so sure. “I’m not convinced that his [Mastriano’s] brand of politics is enough to turn off the majority of the general electorate,” said Mustafa Rashed of Bellevue Strategies, a Pennsylvania political consulting firm.
Levy believes it will be an expensive race as both parties try to woo some of the same swing voters, as Pennsylvania, which has had more Democrats than Republicans nonetheless may be seeing the gap between voters of each party narrowing.
All of which is a message to Democrats not to take anything for granted. Hillary Clinton was a sure bet who was going to win in a landslide — until she didn’t. Don’t think the GOP won’t use every dirty trick in the book, as they do in every election.
Democrats have big issues to run on, and can’t fall into the GOP — and media — framing of inflation, inflation, inflation, as important as the issue is to address. The overturning of Roe v. Wade has caused a political earthquake. The January 6th committee will hold public hearings next month exposing how the GOP inspired an insurrection. The GOP is pushing a radical economic vision via Florida Senator Rick Scott’s insane plan. And Christian nationalism is clearly a threat to democracy.
Democrats have got to use it all.