IMAGE: White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon (L) and White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus (R) watch as U.S. President Donald Trump announces his nominee for the empty associate justice seat at the U.S. Supreme Court, at the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S. January 31, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
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Jeff Danziger lives in New York City. He is represented by CWS Syndicate and the Washington Post Writers Group. He is the recipient of the Herblock Prize and the Thomas Nast (Landau) Prize. He served in the US Army in Vietnam and was awarded the Bronze Star and the Air Medal. He has published eleven books of cartoons, a novel and a memoir. Visit him at DanzigerCartoons.
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You didn’t even have to be in the State of Pennsylvania to hear the sickening crunch of the slow-motion train wreck of Republican gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano’s campaign at the state capital in Harrisburg on Saturday. Only a few dozen people showed up for a rally Mastriano held on the capitol steps, and many of them appeared to be campaign volunteers, according to the New York Times.
Mastriano doesn’t really seem to have a campaign, according to reports in newspapers and on local television news shows over the last six months. Nor does he hold regular campaign events like speeches to crowds of supporters [see also: Harrisburg rally] or local civic organizations. He doesn’t give interviews to the media, either. In fact, he travels with a coterie of thuggish aides and candidate handlers whose sole job seems to be keeping the media at bay. He does like to speak at churches, where the press is almost always kept outside the sanctuary and cannot hear what Mastriano tells the congregations. When he does appear in a public setting, as he did two weeks ago at a luncheon in Pittsburgh, the press was “barred entirely,” according to a report in Vanity Fair, which had a reporter there attempting to cover the Mastriano campaign, with little apparent success.
At another campaign event in Pittsburgh recently, journalists were told “not to engage with Doug or Rebbie [Mastriano’s wife] and were physically blocked by campaign members and supporters,” according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The Philadelphia Inquirer put it this way in a recent report: “On the campaign trail with Mastriano, dissent is squelched. Questions are neither asked nor answered. Paranoia is rampant.” Mastriano assured his audience in Pittsburgh that when he is elected, “No longer will you have a governor reigning over you with terror and fear.”
You have to wonder what kind of fear the man is talking about, and who he’s afraid of.
Mastriano, who cultivates the reputation of a tough guy and is often photographed scowling at the camera when the media can get close enough, is a thick-chested former Army officer who served in Operation Desert Storm in 1991 and retired as a colonel while teaching at the Army War College in 2017.
At another campaign stop in Delaware County recently, a videographer hired by the Mastriano campaign threatened a woman attending the event who he heard utter the date, January 6. “What was the question that you shouted?” asked the videographer, who was wearing a “Project Veritas” hat and a Captain America T-shirt, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. “Did you make a statement?” The woman tried to explain that she was an innocent attendee: “I was just standing here,” she said. Interviewed by the Inquirer, the woman was “not a rabble-rouser, but a Mastriano loyalist. She was only saying that she saw him at the Capitol on the day of the insurrection — because she was there, too,” the paper reported.
Indeed, he was at the Capitol the day it was attacked on January 6. He wasn’t just an innocent bystander, either. Mastriano had paid for two busloads of people to travel to Washington with him. He claims that he did not enter the Capitol and that he did not see any police lines when he joined the mob outside the Capitol building. Of course, the police barricades had been pushed aside by then, and the Capitol police defending them had been attacked and beaten by the mob, with more than 140 of them injured during the approximately four-hour riot.
Mastriano was subpoenaed by the January 6 select committee in February of this year, and on September 1, sued the committee attempting to block its subpoena. The committee had sent him a letter with the subpoena, noting that in his public statements about his presence at the Capitol that day, Mastriano had said that he “witnessed ‘agitators … getting in the face of the police’ and ‘agitators … start pushing the police up the Capitol steps.’”
Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS), who chairs the select committee, wrote to Mastriano, “We would like to better understand these statements and expenditures, events that you witnessed or in which you participated, and communications we believe you may have had with national, state, and local officials” concerning the 2020 election. The “expenditures” apparently refer to the money Mastriano spent to charter the buses to attend the Trump rally and other monies spent for accommodations and food on January 5 and 6, when he led his delegation from Pennsylvania to Washington.
Mastriano has refused to be interviewed about his participation in the assault on the Capitol building. He has also refused to answer questions about a hearing he helped to organize that was held on November 25, 2020, in Gettysburg by the state Senate Republican policy committee that was attended by Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani. The hearing was one of several at which election deniers gave testimony about fake evidence of fraud that had been thrown out of court by judges hearing Trump lawsuits seeking to overturn the results of the election in Pennsylvania and other battleground states.
Mastriano’s lawsuit against the select committee is still pending, even as the committee has begun winding down its investigation in order to ready its report.
The New York Times yesterday described Mastriano’s campaign as “sputtering.” A recent poll by Muhlenberg College and CBS showed Democrat Josh Shapiro leading Mastriano by 11 points. The Republican candidate has had no television ads on the air in Pennsylvania since May. Shapiro has broadcast more than 23,000 ads in the state since the May primary. The Times also reports that the Republican Governors Association, which has contributed to the campaigns of Republican candidates in eight other states, has no plans to help Mastriano.
“We don’t fund lost causes and we don’t fund landslides,” Governor Doug Ducey of Arizona told an audience at Georgetown University recently. Ducey is the co-chair of the Republican Governors Association. “You have to show us something, you have to demonstrate that you can move numbers and you can raise resources,” Ducey told his audience, clearly referring to Mastriano, a candidate who has done neither.
Mastriano posted a Facebook video appeal for funds last Wednesday which, with only 4,700 page views, has gone exactly nowhere. “Really not finding a lot of support from national-level Republican organizations, so we’re calling on people across Pennsylvania and across the United States of America to give directly to our campaign,” Mastriano told his tiny Facebook audience. The Times reported that he was “glum-looking” in the video.
Previously, Mastriano had spent $5,000 trying to recruit supporters and small donations on the far-right social media site Gab, apparently without much success. A recent campaign finance report by Mastriano showed his campaign with $397,319. The finance report for the Shapiro campaign for the same time period showed him with $13.5 million on hand.
It's not hard to put a finger on what’s wrong with the Mastriano campaign. He doesn’t do media. He is surrounded by a wall of handlers and bodyguards whose job is to keep the press and even the public away from him, unless of course, the public has been vetted as supporters already by Mastriano’s advance team. He was recently accused of making an anti-Semitic attack on Shapiro when a video surfaced showing him saying, "This is something Josh Shapiro can't relate to. He grew up in a privileged neighborhood, attended one of the most privileged schools in the nation as a young man — not college, I'm talking about as a kid — sending his four kids to the same privileged, exclusive, elite school ... we talk about him having disdain for people like us. We saw that."
The school Mastriano referred to is a Jewish day school. Mastriano has previously come out for public funding of private education for children that would include Christian parochial schools, so there is little doubt which dog he was whistling to in his statement last week.
But perhaps the most telling detail about the Mastriano campaign is revealed in the rest of its finance report. Mastriano reported paying no salaries for campaign staff. None. But he did report making payments of some $43,000 to something called Misfit Creates, whose website claims it does something to help you “re-imagine your narrative.”
The website’s owner is Vishal Jetnarayan, who Mastriano’s campaign described in promotional emails as its campaign chairman. Although the Philadelphia NPR station WHYY describes Jetnarayan as “an unknown in Pennsylvania politics,” he is not unknown in Christian nationalist circles. He lives in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, the same town where Mastriano lives, and on a religious website he runs, Jetnarayan claims that he works in two churches and describes himself as a prophet who speaks directly with God and can help others become able to do the same thing.
Mastriano has also made campaign appearances with Julie Green, another self-described prophet who is well-known in arch-conservative fundamentalist Christian circles. According to WHYY, she has previously accused Nancy Pelosi of drinking the blood of children and prophesied that “a wide variety of politicians will be killed for committing treason.”
With nearly 20 prominent state Republican figures recently coming out against Mastriano and pledging to work for the Shapiro campaign, it was icing on the proverbial cake when Liz Cheney announced yesterday that she will campaign against Mastriano and Kari Lake, who is running for governor in Arizona, both of whom are prominent election deniers. "We have to make sure Mastriano doesn't win,” Cheney told a crowd at the Texas Tribune Festival in Austin on Saturday.
But Mastriano shouldn’t worry that Cheney and other Republicans have turned against him. He’s got those several dozen campaign workers and other supporters who turned out to hear him speak in Harrisburg on his team to stay.
Lucian K. Truscott IV, a graduate of West Point, has had a 50-year career as a journalist, novelist, and screenwriter. He has covered Watergate, the Stonewall riots, and wars in Lebanon, Iraq, and Afghanistan. He is also the author of five bestselling novels. You can subscribe to his daily columns at luciantruscott.substack.com and follow him on Twitter @LucianKTruscott and on Facebook at Lucian K. Truscott IV.
Reprinted with permission from Lucian Truscott Newsletter
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