Pennsylvania’s GOP Nominee for Governor Is Arguably the Scariest Man in Politics

Tuesday’s big GOP primary day has come and gone, and one terrifying threat to the republic has been replaced by another. Madison Cawthorn, the GQ model and pocket Nazi for North Carolina’s 11th district, was narrowly defeated in the primary by Chuck Edwards, a three-term GOP state senator, largely thanks to the efforts of conservative Sen. Thom Tillis, who had endured more than enough of Cawthorn’s disturbing antics. To this, we owe Tillis a nod of thanks; Cawthorn was going places, and none of them were good.

Exit Cawthorn, enter Doug Mastriano — the far right election denier who just won the Republican nomination in Pennsylvania’s gubernatorial race — and God help us all.

If you had shaken me awake on Tuesday morning and asked me who the most terrifying U.S. politician is, I may have surprised you by not replying, “Donald Trump.” The once and future orange pain in my ass is high on the list, to be sure, but there has always been something about Cawthorn’s slick delivery that has chilled me to the bone in a way Trump’s buffoonery never did. One always has the sense Trump knows he’s deploying a shtick, but with Cawthorn you realize that he means every word he says, and he hasn’t told you half of what he really thinks.

For a time there, Cawthorn gave every sense of being the GOP’s Chosen One. Elected in 2020 at age 25, he immediately became one of Trump’s favorites (“a terrific young man.… He’s going to be one of the greats”). He got a prime speaker’s slot at the 2020 Republican convention and spoke at the January 6 rally that preceded the sacking of the Capitol. Cawthorn’s gun-wielding racism lined up perfectly with a GOP base that has grown more fractious and violent by the day, and his embrace of Trump’s election lies made him bulletproof for a time in a caucus already burdened by the nonsense of Marjorie Taylor Greene and Paul Gosar.

There will always be a place in U.S. politics for handsome young men with no shame. Cawthorn and his highly toxic masculinity were rapidly gaining momentum. “It’s hard not to arrive at the conclusion that this is the future of the Republican Party,” New York Magazine writer Talia Lavin said following the 2020 election, “and the main of what it has to offer.”

Well, the man may be gone now to Fox or Newsmax or shooting reverse mortgage commercials with Tom Selleck in between ads for Aspercreme, but everything about him the bulk of Republican voters once liked still remain the top-tier values of that bloc… and into the void steps Doug Mastriano, who won the GOP nomination for Pennsylvania governor last night by almost 25 points.

Cawthorn cracked under the pressure of being the future of the party, but Mastriano is perfectly happy to be the present… and his present is raw Christian nationalism where elections don’t matter if his party has the muscle to overthrow the outcome. As much as any other Trump sycophant, Mastriano has labored to be seen as if he has moved mountains trying to change the results of the 2020 presidential election… yet all he has really done is showboat for the press. His own Pennsylvania Republican Party ejected him from an audit of the 2020 vote because, according to State Senate President Jake Corman, Mastriano was “only ever interested in politics and showmanship and not actually getting things done.”

Some other lowlights of the Mastriano phenomenon, courtesy of Popular Information:

In April 2022, Mastriano spoke at a far-right Christian conference, “Patriots Arise for God and Country,” which was organized by “Francine and Allen Fodsick, self-described prophets who have long promoted QAnon.” At the outset of the event, organizers played a video “claiming the world is experiencing a ‘great awakening’ that will expose ‘ritual child sacrifice’ and a ‘global satanic blood cult.’”

Mastriano’s position on abortion reflects his Christian nationalist worldview. Christian nationalism, the New Yorker reports, is rooted in “the idea that God intended America to be a Christian nation.” During his time as a military intelligence officer in Iraq and Afghanistan he “developed a dim view of Islam.” He has frequently “spread Islamophobic memes online,” including “a conspiracy theory that Ilhan Omar, the Democratic congresswoman from Minnesota, directed fellow-Muslims to throw a five-year-old over a balcony.”

After retiring from the military and successfully running for office in 2019, Mastriano “began attending events held by a movement called the New Apostolic Reformation.” Members of the New Apostolic Reformation believe “that God speaks to them directly, and that they have been tasked with battling real-world demons who control global leaders.”

Cawthorn and Mastriano arrived on the political scene at roughly the same time. What separates them appears to be Cawthorn’s aversion to work; Mastriano, by comparison, has hardly rested over the last two years, and is now an election away from assuming control over one of the most politically influential states in the union. Tuesday’s results represent further proof that the Republican Party has transformed into a metaphoric King Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster: Cut off one head, and another pops snarling into its place.