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Pennsylvania’s midterm race is everything that’s wrong with American politics

Doug Mastriano, the Republican candidate for governor, revels in conspiratorial and far-right rhetoric. And his party is OK with that.

By Emily Tamkin

WASHINGTON DC – There is no shortage of things wrong with US politics in 2022, and many of them are encapsulated by the Republicans’ gubernatorial candidate in Pennsylvania.

Doug Mastriano is the retired military officer and Pennsylvania state senator running to be its governor in this November’s midterm elections. He also vehemently denies the results of the 2020 presidential election, and attended the pro-Trump rally in Washington before the Capitol was stormed on 6 January 2021. He has reportedly paid Gab, a far-right social media site notorious for allowing conspiracy theories and hate speech to spread, thousands of dollars in consulting fees. He invited Jack Posobiec, the alt-right activist who has been accused of working with white supremacists, to speak at one of his “Restore Freedom” campaign rallies. He also attacked his Democratic rival, Josh Shapiro, for sending his children to a Jewish private school.

Recently, when Tulsi Gabbard announced that she was quitting the Democratic Party because it is run by an “elitist cabal”, Mastriano posted an image on social media in which an arrow pointed from the phrase “elitist cabal” to a photo of Shapiro along with the cast of the television show The West Wing, who were appearing at a fundraiser for the Jewish Democrat.

Over and over, Mastriano has shown us that he is staking his political campaign on conspiratorial, anti-democratic, far-right and anti-Semitic language. Whether he does this because he believes what he says or because he believes it is useful politically, is impossible to say. It is also a distinction without difference.

Have Republicans denounced Mastriano? Have they sworn up and down that this is not who they as a party are?

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They have not. While reports suggest that the Republican Governors Association does not intend to throw its resources behind Mastriano, and while the Republican Jewish Committee declined to endorse him, the state’s Republican national committeeman did hold a backyard fundraiser for him. Donald Trump endorsed him during the primary. The governor of Florida, Ron DeSantis, appeared at a rally for him. And while a September poll by Marist gave Shapiro a double-digit lead over Mastriano among likely voters, 85 per cent of Republicans in the state said they were supporting or leaning towards Mastriano. Some of those Republicans will be supporting him not in spite of his extremism, but because of it. Others perhaps believe he is better positioned to put in place the conservative policies they support, and are willing to overlook, say, the fact that he is an election denier simply because they prefer his tax policies.

“I’m for people that get the Republican nomination, and for winning, because if we win we get to decide what the agenda is, and they [the Republican senators] don’t,” said the Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell about this season’s Republican Senate candidates in an interview earlier this month. It does not matter, in other words, how extreme the candidate is. Though McConnell was speaking of the Senate, the general point is the same: he wants to win and the candidate quality – or whether that person will be able to do the job responsibly – doesn’t matter. Plenty of others in his party share that approach.

If the poll lead remains the same, Mastriano will probably lose. This should have made it easier for Republicans to break with him, to denounce him, or even just to challenge him. But they didn’t. That tells us less about Mastriano than it does about the rest of his party.

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