Doug Mastriano's campaign struggling to hide what a ginormous right-wing nut he is
Many Republicans think Doug Mastriano is 'a threat to democracy' and secretly 'hope Dems win': Ex-Ted Cruz aide
Doug Mastriano, the Republican candidate for Pennsylvania governor, was a no-show. He had been scheduled to speak over the weekend at the ReAwaken America Tour at its stop in Manheim, a small town in Lancaster County west of Philadelphia. Even Donald Trump took time to call into this Christian nationalist shindig, whose participants that didn't bother to hide their fascist longings. But even though Mastriano was scheduled to appear with other pro-insurrection figures, including Trump's former national security adviser Michael Flynn and MyPilllow CEO Mike Lindell, at the very last minute, Mastriano decided he was too busy to show up.

The likely real reason for Mastriano's hasty pull-out is evident in the tweets of HuffPost reporter Christopher Mathias, who spent two days at the conference. Even by the basement-level standards of a Trump loyalist like Mastriano — who was at the Capitol during the Jan. 6 insurrection — this gathering was a doozy. It wasn't just the usual slate of election denialists like Flynn and Lindell, along with Eric Trump and Roger Stone. This event featured book-burning preacher Greg Locke, who believes Harry Potter and Halloween are Satanic and told the crowd he was being persecuted by "BLM, antifa, witches and warlocks." Self-declared prophet Bo Polny declared that the "angel of death" would be coming for President Biden, Hillary Clinton and Chief Justice John Roberts, among others, by the end of the year. Trans people were described by another speaker as the work of Satan. Another denounced quantum physics as "demonic."

Mastriano is falling behind Josh Shapiro, Pennsylvania's Democratic attorney general, in the governor's race, largely due to the entirely correct perception that Mastriano is a Christian nationalist nutjob who wants to overthrow democracy and will try to steal the 2024 election for Trump, if he gains the power to do so. Indeed, Mastriano is performing even worse than the other major Republican running for statewide office, U.S. Senate candidate Dr. Mehmet Oz, even though Oz is a puppy-killer who seems to have barely spent any time in Pennsylvania before Trump suggested he run for the seat being vacated by Republican Sen. Pat Toomey. In order to win in this consummate swing state, Mastriano has to trick moderate and even some conservative-but-not-bananas voters into believing he can't really be that nuts. And that's a lot harder to pull off if he's on stage with people who claim that Bible-based numerology offers clear predictions that Trump will replace Biden in 2023.

Mastriano may have skipped this particular event, but don't think that means he's not fully on board with all this stuff. For one thing, Mathias' reporting suggests that the decision to back away was made at the last minute. The Mastriano campaign had a prominent booth at the event and then hastily packed up to leave before the program was over. Plus, as Mathias tweeted, "plenty of people in [Mastriano's] orbit, people who have spoken at his rallies, have been here all wknd." For instance, Julie Greene — a self-proclaimed "prophet" who has campaigned with Mastriano in the past — spoke at the event. Greene believes that Joe Biden is secretly dead and that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi "loves to drink the little children's blood."

Much has been made of the fact that Mastriano flat-out avoids all legitimate media, choosing to only appear on right-wing propaganda outlets. The assumption has largely been that Mastriano's working with a "turn out the base" theory of politics: If he can get the conspiracy-theory fanatics hyped, they will somehow outstrip the normal voters, who tend to turn out in lower numbers for the midterms.

In a recent interview with one of the far-right networks he deigns to speak to, Mastriano claimed that "the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia is grabbing homeless kids and ... experimenting on them with gender transitioning."

But it's likely something else is at play, as well: Mastriano's campaign is justifiably concerned about what would happen if he were subjected to questions from real journalists. Reporters from mainstream outlets like the Philadelphia Inquirer, after all, might ask questions about Mastriano's involvement in Jan. 6 and his unsubtle plans to invalidate the votes of Pennsylvanians in 2024, should they choose Biden over Trump once again. The campaign believes that Mastriano's best shot at winning in 2022 is to make sure ordinary voters know as little as possible about him, which is best achieved through a mainstream media blackout.

Even in friendly environs, Mastriano struggles to conceal what a lunatic he is. In a recent interview with one of the far-right networks he deigns to speak to, Mastriano falsely claimed that "the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia is grabbing homeless kids and kids in foster care, apparently, and experimenting on them with gender transitioning." He wasn't even asked about this. The interviewer, David Brody, falsely suggested that Josh Shapiro is a child molester, which should have been wacky enough for Mastriano. But no, the insurrection-enthusiast also had to work in a wild accusation against a venerable children's hospital. Even in the already weird world of right-wing conspiracy culture, he feels an irresistible impulse to take it to the next level.

Mastriano's campaign clearly understands the need to draw a curtain over his true personality and beliefs during the home stretch of campaign season. He was featured on Fox News last week and offered the softest of softball interviews by Tucker Carlson, the preeminent national expert on repackaging fascist ideas to make them sound palatable to mainstream conservatives. "You don't seem radical to me," Carlson said to Mastriano, after declaring that the accusations of radicalism from Mastriano's opponents were baseless.

As Matt Gertz at Media Matters noted, however, making this argument meant that "Carlson glossed over quite a lot":

The Republican gubernatorial nominee is a Trumpist insurrectionist who tried to use his power as state senator to overturn the 2020 presidential election, led busloads of protestors to Washington, D.C., on January 6, 2021, breached the grounds of the U.S. Capitol, and all but promised to subvert the 2024 election in the event the GOP nominee loses Pennsylvania. He has ties to Christian nationalism and a fondness for the Confederacy, and he has trafficked in anti-Muslim bigotry. His political associates include campaign consultant Andrew Torba, the virulent antisemite who owns the white-nationalist-friendly social media site Gab; campaign "prophet" Julie Green, who promotes particularly deranged conspiracy theories, including that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi drinks "children's blood"; and campaign surrogate Jack Posobiec, a conspiracy theorist who has collaborated with white nationalists and neo-Nazis and targeted Jewish people with antisemitic hate.

Carlson and his team are no doubt aware of that history. Feigning ignorance isn't just putting some spin on the ball; it's outright lying. Mastriano's campaign offers perhaps this election cycle's best example of how much the success of authoritarianism depends on regular people simply not paying attention.

Mastriano certainly isn't the only example, to be fair. His counterpart in Arizona, GOP gubernatorial nominee Kari Lake, was recently asked by Dana Bash on CNN if she will accept the results if she loses the election. "I'm going to win the election and accept that result," Lake said, smirking. Obviously, the plan from the outset has been to cry about "fraud" and a "rigged" election if she loses. Still, Lake understands that her little word games create just enough wiggle room for voters who want to vote Republican but are leery of associating with too much fascism.

As with Mastriano, the idea is to fool just enough people just long enough to secure power. Once these people and others like them are in office, then the masks can come off. If that happens, the election deniers will be secure enough to work toward their end goal, which is making sure that voters never get a say in who holds power again.