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Pennsylvania Republicans Are Going to Nominate an Election Conspiracist for Governor

TFW when Dr. Oz is the most normal Republican in a state.
April 12, 2022
Pennsylvania Republicans Are Going to Nominate an Election Conspiracist for Governor
(Composite / Photos: GettyImages / Shutterstock)

LOL, if you thought Donald Trump’s endorsement of Dr. Mehmet Oz for Senate was the worst development in Pennsylvania’s 2022 GOP primaries, wait until you hear about the Republicans running for governor.

TL; DR: Pennsylvania Republicans will nominate a 2020 election conspiracist for governor in the May 17 primary. How can I be sure of that? Because they’re all election conspiracists. The only thing differentiating them is how far down the rabbit hole they go. And, there’s an excellent chance the nuttiest bunny of them all, Doug Mastriano, is going to win the primary.

Which means that Republicans might get a crackpot governing this swing state in 2024. What could possibly go wrong?

The name “Mastriano” should sound familiar. He’s the bald military vet Pennsylvania state senator who bused people to the Capitol on January 6, where he was scheduled to speak at a “Stop the Steal” rally. He was subpoenaed by the January 6th Committee for his participation in Trump’s phony elector scheme. He tried to bring an Arizona-style “audit” to his state in hopes of decertifying the election. Both of these actions should have made him a pariah. Instead, they increased his profile with Trump voters.

Most early polls showed that former congressman and Hazelton Mayor Lou Barletta held an edge on Mastriano, but Mastriano seems to have momentum. A Fox News poll conducted March 2-6 showed Barletta’s lead shrinking to one point; an Emerson College poll conducted March 26-28 showed Mastriano leading the race by 4 points.

He sure does like to put on a show. He announced his bid for governor with a 4-hour event described as a “political rally, rock concert, and Christian religious revival” that drew 1,500 people. Trump’s former National Security Advisor-turned-Q enthusiast Michael Flynn, who has endorsed Mastriano, spoke and reassured the crowd that “Jesus was a domestic terrorist.”

Mastriano maintains an active presence on Facebook, where he often posts videos and appears on Steve Bannon’s “War Room” podcast. Trump flunkies Liz Harrington and Jenna Ellis have traveled to Pennsylvania to headline campaign events for him. If anyone has momentum in the race, it’s Mastriano.

But what about Barletta? You might think he would be the “normal” Republican in the race. Think again. Barletta signed up to be an “alternate elector” in Trump’s attempted coup. And he’s always been a Trump man, too.

Back in 2016, Barletta, most well-known for his hardline anti-immigration stance, was one of the first members of Congress to endorse Trump. Trump returned the favor and put his stamp of approval on Barletta’s 2018 run for the Senate, which Barletta lost by 13 points to incumbent Democratic Sen. Bob Casey. Out of a job, Barletta stayed close to the Trump scene.

He chaired Pennsylvania’s GOP delegation for Trump’s 2020 nomination and stayed true to Trump through the post-election turmoil. After the election, Barletta called for a “full forensic audit.” On January 6th, he tweeted that “Congress must NOT certify while the integrity of this election is in question!”

The other candidates in the race—Bill McSwain, Dave White, and Jake Corman—aren’t any better. They’ve all played along with Trump’s election lies.

McSwain, a former Trump-appointed U.S. Attorney, roiled the Justice Department last summer when he sent Trump a letter seeking his endorsement in the race. McSwain sucked up to Trump by blaming former Attorney General Bill Barr for stopping him from pursuing an election-fraud investigation in his state.

McSwain wrote:

On Election Day and afterwards, our Office received various allegations of voter fraud and election irregularities. As part of my responsibilities as U.S. Attorney, I wanted to be transparent with the public and, of course, investigate fully any allegations. Attorney General Barr, however, instructed me not to make any public statements or put out any press releases regarding possible election irregularities. I was also given a directive to pass along serious allegations to the State Attorney General for investigation – the same State Attorney General who had already declared that you could not win.

I disagreed with that decision, but those were my orders. As a Marine infantry officer, I was trained to follow the chain of command and to respect the orders of my superiors, even when I disagree with them. Mr. President, public service is in my blood, and I would like to serve the people of Pennsylvania and restore conservative leadership to our state. I will be the Republican candidate for Governor with the best chance to win the general election in November 2022. Based on my background and experience, I am uniquely positioned to defeat Mr. Shapiro (the likely Democratic candidate) and would welcome the chance to discuss this with you in person. I would be honored to have your support.

Trump has since heralded McSwain’s letter at various rallies as evidence of fraud.

Meanwhile, Dave White kicked his campaign off with an ad asking, “If there wasn’t any fraud in the Pennsylvania election, why every time we call for an audit, do the Democrats cry like a little baby?”

Former Trump campaign manager and advisor Kellyanne Conway is assisting Jake Corman’s campaign. As the state Senate’s top Republican, Corman tangled with Mastriano over Mastriano’s demands for a state-led “forensic audit” of the election, which Corman eventually indulged and now takes credit for leading (it remains ongoing). Under Corman’s eye, the Pennsylvania Senate awarded a $270,000 no-bid contract to a Florida firm to produce a report by May 15. Two days before the primary election. What timing.

So, why hasn’t Trump endorsed one of these very fine people? All of the Republican candidates are willing—eager!—to spread Trump’s big election lie and promote the idea that something went wrong with Pennsylvania’s 2020 election. There’s just one big problem: None of them seems likely to win a general election.

Remember, Barletta got Trump’s endorsement in 2018 and lost, bigly. Corman, White, and McSwain are longshots in the primary, with none of them cracking double digits in polling. Which leaves Mastriano, the MAGA maniac who generates grassroots excitement—but is so outrageous that Corman banned him from attending private GOP meetings. Good luck with having Mastriano unite the party for the general election.

But the brutal fact is that the two leading candidates in Pennsylvania’s GOP gubernatorial primary were actual participants in Trump’s phony elector scheme.

And the other candidates aren’t drawing contrasts—they are following Mastriano’s lead, which says everything about who is really in control of the GOP.

Pretty soon, Dr. Oz might be considered the most normal Republican running statewide in Pennsylvania.

Amanda Carpenter

Amanda Carpenter is an author, a former communications director to Sen. Ted Cruz, and a former speechwriter to Sen. Jim DeMint. She was formerly a Bulwark political columnist.