Among the more fringe candidates who muscled their way onto the sputtering G.O.P. rocket ship this year, Doug Mastriano, the Republican nominee for governor in Pennsylvania, might be the purest of MAGA true believers: an election-denying, vaccine-dismissing, QAnon-espousing, self-proclaimed Christian nationalist and Confederate cosplayer. As Larry Ceisler, a Philly-based political communications strategist told me about Mastriano, “He truly believes that God is talking to him. And God wants him to run MAGA.” Ceisler is a Democrat, but he’s not wrong: Mastriano led a prayer session on Jan 5., 2021, calling on God to help Trump “seize the power.” The next day, he marched on the Capitol.
Mastriano’s radical brand of post-Trumpian politics has been a tough sell with Pennsylvania’s general election voters. After beating nine less zany Republican rivals with a whopping 42.3 percent of the primary vote, Mastriano is now lagging his Democratic rival, the state attorney general Josh Shapiro, by somewhere between 3 and 11 points, depending on the poll. That’s worse than expected given the G.O.P.’s structural advantages this cycle, but it’s basically in line with Dr. Mehmet Oz’s performance against John Fetterman, also in Pennsylvania. And, frankly, it’s still within striking distance of Shapiro, especially if the polls are off. Mastriano still has time, in theory, to modulate some of his hard-right positions, as Blake Masters has done in Arizona, or to engage traditional media, to capture the moderate voters he needs.
But Mastriano, thus far, has evidenced zero ability to pivot. He barely has a relationship with the Republican Governors Association, the organization that’s supposed to be working on his behalf, and he’s been downright hostile toward the mainstream press—not just national outlets like The New York Times, but also local television and radio stations in Pennsylvania. Instead, he’s deliberately limited his media exposure to digital livestreams with far right internet personalities, such as Real America’s Voice and the Chris Stigall Show, and appearances on Newsmax, OAN and Steve Bannon’s War Room. His campaign rallies are functionally closed to the press. He’s beefed with Breitbart and ignored Fox News, very occasionally talking to their digital team but otherwise ignoring their cable arm.