Mastriano's victory in Pennsylvania: A bipartisan disaster

AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar

Republicans are mostly to blame, of course, since they’re the ones who nominated him and enabled him. (More on that below.) But Democrats had a hand in last night’s fiasco too, believe it or not.

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They say the parties can’t work together anymore, but when it comes to wrecking America they still manage to rise to the occasion.

Mastriano wasn’t the only “stop the steal” goon who won yesterday. Ted Budd, who was also endorsed by Trump, prevailed easily in the North Carolina Republican primary and both Mehmet Oz and Dave McCormick in Pennsylvania made assorted noises about doubting the 2020 results in their state. But Mastriano had distinguished himself by his zeal. He spent the post-election period in 2020 using his public power as a state senator to question the fairness of the election, then went to Washington to participate in Trump’s January 6 rally. Last night, with his party’s gubernatorial nomination in the bag, he and his cronies were already hinting at how he might abuse his power in 2024 to undo a Democratic victory in Pennsylvania:

The number of electoral votes the state has should be of little interest to a governor and his fans. The fact that it’s already on the minds of Mastriano supporters shows why they covet this office. Unlike in most states, the governor of Pennsylvania appoints the secretary of state, the official charged with overseeing the state’s elections. Gov. Mastriano will appoint a crank willing to do Trump’s bidding if necessary, since that’s how authoritarians and autocrats operate. Which means, if we get a replay of the 2020 results in Pennsylvania with Mastriano at the helm, that state — and this country — are going to melt down in the aftermath.

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All of this is foreseeable. Mastriano won easily anyway, with Donald Trump’s support, despite having spent next to nothing on the race. Rarely will we see a clearer example of how civically deranged the GOP has become.

It wasn’t just Trump who made Mastriano’s victory possible, though. The Philadelphia Inquirer has a must-read about how other GOP officials in Pennsylvania facilitated his rise to prominence, not because they’re all election truthers themselves but because they’re cowards who fear getting crossways with those who are.

Doug Mastriano first burst onto the national scene on Nov. 25, 2020, when he led a hearing in Gettysburg during which aggrieved Republican voters, Rudy Giuliani, and former President Donald Trump himself aired baseless allegations of fraud in the presidential election.

But Mastriano, a GOP state senator from Franklin County, couldn’t have pulled that off by himself: A colleague, State Sen. Dave Argall, let Mastriano use the panel he chaired to host the hearing…

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.

Even now, lawmakers and party officials who oppose his candidacy don’t denounce Mastriano or his ideas — they simply argue he can’t win a general election.

Mastriano was the only Pennsylvania legislator who went to Washington on January 6, the Inquirer notes, but eight of the state’s nine Republicans in Congress voted against certifying Biden’s victory that day and many other state legislators signed a letter calling for certification to be delayed. They built this Frankenstein because they feared Republican voters would turn them out of office if they told the truth about the election, that Biden won and Trump is a paranoid sore loser. Mastriano owes his victory to the cowardice and selfishness of his colleagues.

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But he owes a little of it to Democrats too.

A few days ago, his would-be Democratic opponent, Attorney General Josh Shapiro, started running an ad “attacking” Mastriano. Go watch it and see how much of an “attack” it is, knowing that Mastriano was about to face a very Trumpy primary electorate. Shapiro’s allies also sent out mailers to Republican voters promoting him along the same lines because they knew that touting Mastriano’s links to Trump and his efforts to overturn the election would make him more appealing to Republican primary voters, not less. (Like I said, civically deranged.) They wanted him to win the primary because they’re gambling that Mastriano’s radicalism will make him easy pickings for them in the general election.

And as I say, the stakes of that gamble if they lose are an unprecedented constitutional crisis in 2024 that risks destroying the country. That’s what they’re willing to tolerate in the name of making a gubernatorial race a little easier for their party.

Will Bunch, a columnist for The Philadelphia Inquirer, has accused the Shapiro campaign of playing a “dangerous game,” arguing that Mr. Mastriano’s support for conspiracy theories makes him a uniquely toxic candidate.

Shapiro’s team is making no apologies. “Both public and private polling indicates that Doug Mastriano is poised to become the Republican nominee on May 17,” said Will Simons, a campaign spokesman. “Our campaign is prepared to start the general election now and make sure Pennsylvanians know his real record.”

Meddling in an opposing primary can backfire, said Mike Murphy, a longtime Republican strategist who opposes Mr. Trump, calling Mr. Shapiro’s move “irresponsible.”

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No, it would have been merely “irresponsible” had Shapiro run a pro-Mastriano ad in a national environment portending a Democratic wave this fall. If you’re going to play games to enable a dangerous crank in the other party’s primary, you should do so only if victory in the fall is already all but assured. Running a pro-Mastriano ad in a national environment in which everything is breaking towards Republicans is insanely reckless and grotesque, not irresponsible. Mastriano could this election, especially if John Fetterman’s nomination in the Senate race ends up depressing black turnout:

“[Q]uite obviously, the Democratic Party in Pennsylvania does not really think that the ‘state of democracy’ is ‘fragile,'” writes Charles Cooke of Shapiro’s cynical ad strategy, “because, if it did think that, it wouldn’t have played Machiavellian games in a wave year.” The same point could be made about more anodyne Democratic gambits, like spending most of last year trying to re-create the Great Society agenda in a 50/50 Senate instead of focusing on fulfilling Biden’s pledge to restore normalcy to the country. If you’re truly worried that the other party is controlled by a cabal of authoritarian freaks, you don’t make moves that might give swing voters prudential reasons to prefer having the freaks in charge.

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As for the anti-Mastriano Republican establishment, Amanda Carpenter peers into her crystal ball and sees that past is prologue. Just as Mitch McConnell wimped out instead of encouraging Republicans to join with Democrats in disqualifying Trump at his impeachment trial last year, Republican pols in Pennsylvania will quietly hope that Shapiro and the Dems solve their Doug Mastriano problem for them by beating him this fall. But don’t expect any of them to speak out against Mastriano, and certainly don’t expect them to endorse Shapiro. If anything, most of them will back Mastriano for reasons of mindless partisan zombie careerism. Carpenter’s having flashbacks to 2016: “Voters give an absolutely abominable candidate the GOP nomination. People in high positions of Republican political power issue the requisite endorsements. These people all secretly hope the candidate will lose. Instead—holy guacamole—he wins.”

Either Republicans in PA should endorse the Democrat Shapiro or they should get to work in the state legislature creating some sort of check on the governor’s ability to overturn the results of an election when the outcome doesn’t suit him. If they don’t, God help Pennsylvanians — and Americans — in 2024.

Update: Civically deranged.

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David Strom 8:00 AM | July 25, 2024
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