"Where in the hell is the loyalty?": GOP populists feud in Pennsylvania

AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin

The snake on the Gadsden flag is becoming an ouroboros.

Here’s an amazing clip from yesterday of a guy who went out on a limb for Trump in 2016. Tom Marino’s candidate, Lou Barletta, is running far behind Doug Mastriano in the Pennsylvania GOP gubernatorial primary and needed a J.D. Vance-style Trump endorsement bounce in the waning days of the race to give him a chance to win. Mastriano got the endorsement instead, all but sealing his victory.


What makes the clip amazing is that Marino ever expected loyalty from Trump. In a monarchy like the Republican Party, you owe loyalty to the king but the king owes you nothing.

Marino identifies one reason Trump endorsed Mastriano. He’s keen for voters to perceive his endorsement in Republican primaries as decisive so he’s prone to front-running, backing the candidate who’s likely to win anyway. That’s not a hard-and-fast rule — in races where his enemies are on the ballot he’ll back challengers regardless of their chances, as in Georgia. But in primaries where he’s ambivalent about the outcome, he tends to wait until he discerns which way the voter parade is marching before leaping out in front of it and congratulating himself for another brilliant pick.

There are other reasons for him to support Mastriano, though. Trump’s gotten enough grief from MAGA fans for endorsing a RINO, Dr. Oz, for Senate that he may regard backing a populist in the governor’s race as an act of atonement. And Mastriano is distinguished by the fact that he’s a hardcore “stop the steal” crank, to the point that he was present outside the Capitol on January 6. Insofar as believing the election was stolen has become the supreme test of loyalty to Trump, Trump *is* repaying loyalty by endorsing Mastriano.


He’s also laying the groundwork for stop the steal 2.0 in 2024. In Pennsylvania the official charged with overseeing elections — the secretary of state — is appointed by the governor instead of being directly elected by the people. If the next presidential election comes down to PA, Trump wants a nut like Mastriano in position to help him pull off a coup.

Marino and Barletta versus Trump and Mastriano isn’t the only populist civil war raging in Pennsylvania this weekend. At an event last night, Kathy Barnette took a shot at Fox News’s Oz-loving populist 9 p.m. guy.

Per CNN, she accused Hannity of “doing exactly what he and others have said about the left, he is sowing disinformation in order to suppress our vote, in order to steal an election.” It’s true that some of her Oz-aligned critics have grossly distorted things she’s said about Black Lives Matter and the police to make her sound left-wing. As a result, if she ends up losing, odds are high that she’ll accuse Oz, Hannity, and by extension Trump of effectively … rigging the election against her.


Barnette has had some practice at that, after all.

Salena Zito is on the ground in Pennsylvania and is surprised and dismayed to find populists demagoging other populists. I don’t know why. The modern American right is a revolutionary movement of sorts and revolutions eventually eat their own. The MAGA Girondins simply aren’t radical enough for the Jacobin wing:

Within days, conservative patriot groups were elbowing each other out of the way to support her on social media and trying to take credit for the energy that shifted to her candidacy. Suddenly, if you dare to question her, you are labeled a racist, a member of the establishment, or a Democratic plant.

One grassroots voter who admitted she would be happy with either Oz or McCormick said to me of some of her fellow Republicans, “No one cares about winning in the fall, they just want to win their little battles, they have a list of grievances they feel entitled to, and damn the torpedoes.”

It frustrated her that rage-voting would hand the country two more years of Democrats in the majority.

That’s the “respectable” populist objection to Barnette, echoed by Hannity and even Trump this past week. It’s not that she’s unfit for office. (Vive la revolution!) It’s that nominating her will lead to Democratic victory in this fall’s Senate race. Ironically, local Republican officials are fuming at Trump on those same grounds for having endorsed Mastriano. “Trump’s interference in Pennsylvania is going to cost us the governor’s office in the fall, which, by the way, is very important to hold when you are running for president in 2024, but there is a chance it could also cost us the Senate seat,” said one GOP activist to Zito. Another quipped, “Maybe Joe Biden’s not the only septuagenarian who should take a competency test?”


Blaming Trump is convenient, but the hard truth for party officials is that their voters simply prefer Mastriano. He’s spent next to nothing on the race, just $300,000 or so out of a total of $22 million across the field, yet stood atop that field with a 12-point lead in Fox News’s poll this week. Mastriano isn’t going to win because Trump endorsed him; Trump endorsed him because he’s going to win. And the reason he’s going to win is because Jacobin Republicans consider kookery a revolutionary virtue, proof positive of one’s alienation from the establishment.

They may end up with two for the price of one. Because Mastriano and Barnette have endorsed each other, there’s a chance that his supporters will drag her over the finish line on Tuesday night against Oz and Dave McCormick. That’s what the activist who spoke to Zito meant in claiming that Trump’s endorsement of Mastriano could end up costing the party a Senate seat in November.

I’ll leave you with Barnette defending some of her old tweets this morning on Fox, not very persuasively. “It’s reprehensible that she would tweet out something that is defamatory to an entire religion,” said Oz of one post in which Barnette wrote, “Pedophilia is a Cornerstone of Islam.” To MAGA Girondins, that tweet is a problem — but mainly because it makes her less electable. To MAGA Jacobins, it proves that “she fights!”


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