Republican gubernatorial nominee Doug Mastriano with his wife Rebbie at a campaign rally Thursday, 9/15/22 in suburban Philadelphia (Capital-Star photo by Peter Hall).
By Steve Catanese
Doug Mastriano’s gubernatorial campaign died just as it was birthed – sad, deeply cynical, misguided, and incoherent. Lonely. It had a soul, to be sure. But this soul was as fertile as scorched earth, the fruit it bore tasting as bitter as one could expect from such soil. Its candidate nothing more than a milquetoast militant.
Evil can be banal – but rarely was it this boring. Say what you will about Trump, at least he made you laugh.
At its core, the Mastriano campaign will be remembered much like the candidate himself: an uncharismatic, staggeringly insecure reactionary with a penchant for lying. The inner circle of partisans Team Doug attracted were those cut from the same cloth as him – other reactionaries, culture war grifters, and deluded crusaders; individuals similarly riddled with antipathy towards most others, namely those who aren’t white or share an affinity for theocratic neo-fascism.
Much like his campaign, Mastriano’s academic career showed a laziness in effort and ingenuity, the combination of which bore an immaculately falsified dissertation. His thesis at military college was a cringe-worthy document akin to the Internet’s worst fan fiction; a rambling, homophobic rant that would shame anyone in their right mind.
Only a state as deeply gerrymandered as Pennsylvania was could produce such a boring insurrectionary from within its Senate.
Mastriano’s insular, reactionary nature clashed with that of Mehmet Oz, the TV doctor who, while also losing, promoted a more mainstream conservative image. While the headlines will focus on Mastriano’s obliteration by Josh Shapiro and Oz’s much tighter loss to John Fetterman, history should note their differing degrees of failure. It is astounding in modern elections to see such partisan vote splitting in statewide races – while Oz lost by nearly four points, Mastriano is on pace to lose by something like 14 percent.
By contrast, four years ago, GOP Senate candidate Lou Barletta ran only 1.5 points higher than gubernatorial candidate Scott Wagner. And in 2016, less than a point separated Pat Toomey and Donald Trump.
Such a corner-to-corner rebuke of a gubernatorial candidate exists outside the realm of Pennsylvania’s contentious redistricting process and showed the universal rejection of Mastriano’s extremist politics.
Thus, the Democrats had an unexpectedly good night, pushing against the popular narrative of the prominence of inflation as an issue over the creeping illiberalism that an odious figure like Mastriano promised. Outside of very local politics, the movement he loves will reject him. He may be good on all the issues, but the Trumpian wing of the Republican Party hates nothing more than a loser. And Mastriano lost badly.
Where will Doug go now? He’ll crawl back to Facebook and legislate on the side. He’ll continue to drift in and out of radical circles, hang out with neo-Confederate larpers, and be a boringly right-wing ideologue. His positions will remain illiberal. He’ll share nativist memes occasionally and uncharismatically stumble through public remarks when necessary.
Mastriano once said that God would make him Governor of Pennsylvania. The Christian Bible isn’t short on parables about where hubris gets you. With his new free time, he should consider reading some.
Steve Catanese is the president of SEIU Local 668, a labor union representing 19,000 workers across the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. A Western Pennsylvania native, he currently resides in Harrisburg.
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