In a year when candidates are tripping all over themselves to be as Trump-like as possible, it’s hard to distinguish among the crowd. There’s J.D. Vance, the GOP’s nominee for U.S. Senate from Ohio, who has said that civil servants should be fired and replaced by Trump lackeys. Then there’s Mo Brooks, running for the Senate in Alabama who spoke at the January 6 rally, telling people to start “kicking ass.”
But you would be hard-pressed to top Doug Mastriano, the newly minted Republican nominee for governor in Pennsylvania.
Mastriano didn’t just show up at the January 6 rally. He arranged for busloads of Trump supporters to attend. Moreover, video has shown Mastriano passing through the breached barricades at the Capitol that day, although Mastriano insists he was a “moderating force”.
Mastriano is the epitome of the new direction of the Republican party. A retired Army colonel, Mastriano ran for state senator in 2018, but the pandemic gave him the opportunity to seize the spotlight. He grabbed attention with his constant attacks on masking mandates, while also attacking Rachel Levine, then the state secretary of health. (Levine, who is transgender, is now an official in the Biden administration.)
But Mastriano really came to prominence by promulgating the lie that the 2020 presidential election was stolen. He rode his participation in the Big Lie to an endorsement from Trump himself and a clear victory in the primary last week.
What distinguishes Mastriano from the rest of the mini-Trumps is the depth of his extremism. Unlike Vance and plenty of others, Mastriano isn’t a late convert to extremism. He’s a hard-core believer in the furthest political fringes, beliefs that would once have banished him from any major political party but that now qualify him as a Republican standard-bearer.
Mastriano is a Christian nationalist. While the religious right has become the core base of the GOP, Christian nationalism is an especially frightening variation that is rapidly gaining ground in the Republican ranks.
Mastriano has styled his campaign as a religious campaign to return America to Christ. “We have the power of God with us,” Mastriano told a “Patriots Arise for God and Country” rally. “We have Jesus Christ that we’re serving here. He’s guiding and directing our steps.”
There is no distinguishing religion from state in Mastriano’s world. He and his followers are engaged in a holy war, with God on their side. Anyone who disagrees with them is an enemy who needs to be destroyed. That extends to ministers who dared to criticize Mastriano. When some Lutheran ministers complained about a comment he made, Mastriano responded like a Puritan scold, “We can completely discount their allegations, because they have a form of godliness, but deny the power thereof.”
In short, Mastriano would invoke God to create the political world he wants. If that means overturning elections, he would gladly do it.
You can easily guess what that means for LGBTQ rights. In his weird thesis at the Air Force’s Air Command and Staff College in 2007, Mastriano created a fictional world where a left-wing “Hitlerian Putsch” would lead to the downfall of the country. A key factor was the “insertion of homosexuality into the military.” To make sure you know what Mastriano thinks about that, he defines homosexuality as “aberrant sexual conduct.”
The world that Mastriano describes is close to becoming a reality, but not in the way he thought. The putsch is the one that Mastriano and his followers would happily lead, using God to cloak their political extremism. They would usher in a world where only their view would matter, by undemocratic means if necessary.
If you look at politics as a horse race, Mastriano may look like a fluke. Certainly, Pennsylvania Democrats are hoping he is. They even ran ads bolstering his campaign because they wanted to run against him. Pennsylvania Republican leaders are largely appalled at Mastriano’s nomination and won’t be working hard for his election.
Of course, Democrats (and Republicans) thought the same about Donald Trump in 2016. That didn’t turn out so well.