With just a few days left until Pennsylvania’s May 17 Republican primary concludes, Donald Trump bit the bullet and endorsed State Senator Doug Mastriano, a loyal foot soldier in Trump’s effort to overturn the 2020 election results, for the governorship.
In some respects, it was a no-brainer for the ex-president. As the Associated Press noted, Mastriano has long been the noisiest figure among the MAGA ultras in his state, a place where Trump’s plot to use state legislators to usurp Biden electors probably got further along than anywhere else:
Besides campaigning with key figures in Trump’s circle who have spread lies about the last election, Mastriano also floated a plan to let state lawmakers wipe out that election result and make their own decision on which candidate should receive the state’s electoral votes.
As a result he was subpoenaed by the U.S. House committee investigating the Capitol riot on Jan. 6, 2021.
As Trump himself put it in his endorsement statement, Mastriano was the Trumpiest of them all in the Keystone State: “He is a fighter like few others, and has been with me right from the beginning, and now I have an obligation to be with him.”
He’s also looking like a primary winner. Mastriano leads former congressman Lou Barletta (a Trump-backed Senate candidate in 2018; he won the GOP nomination but lost to incumbent Democrat Bob Casey) by a 26-15 margin (with two other candidates in double digits) in the RealClearPolitics polling averages. The general election, against Democratic attorney general Josh Shapiro, will be a lot tougher; Shapiro has made it clear he relishes a face-off with Mastriano by running ads featuring issue positions of the Trump favorite designed to help him among GOP voters while hurting him in November.
The trickiest thing about Trump’s maneuvers in Pennsylvania is the relationship between his gubernatorial and Senate choices. In his statement backing Mastriano, Trump said, “Doug Mastriano and Dr. Mehmet Oz will make an unbeatable team going into the most important Midterm Election in the history of our Country.” Unfortunately, Mastriano has endorsed and even campaigned with Oz rival Kathy Barnette (who endorsed Mastriano in turn). Barnette is another fiery MAGA extremist who has been surging in the polls and posing a threat to both Oz and the other big spender in the race, former hedge-fund titan David McCormick. Two days before he endorsed Barnette’s running mate, Trump issued a statement flatly saying, “Kathy Barnette will never be able to win the General Election against the Radical Left Democrats.” That’s also what an awful lot of Republicans in and beyond Pennsylvania are saying about Doug Mastriano. If both Trump’s statewide candidates in Pennsylvania win despite all this awkwardness, his status as a kingmaker will be burnished, at least until November. But Pennsylvania’s complex Republican politics could also represent a needle he could not thread.