There is a parable about a man faced with drowning who prays for deliverance. He declines to be rescued by a boat and a helicopter only to drown. He complains to his Maker that his prayers were not answered only to be admonished, “I sent a boat and a helicopter, what more do you want?”
Doug Mastriano does not understand this parable.
The failed Pennsylvania Republican gubernatorial candidate appears to be gearing up to challenge incumbent Sen. Bob Casey in 2024. He claims to have prayed for guidance, claiming God will make the decision. But when you get wiped out by 15 points in the biggest open-seat rout for governor of Pennsylvania since 1946, it seems like a clear message from God to get out of politics and get a job at the local Walmart (now hiring — another message).
As a former campaign consultant, I can tell you that every candidate I have ever come across who prays about running for public office always gets a “Yes.” And so it is with Mastriano. The voice he is hearing is just his ego. Doug Mastriano is not on a divinely inspired mission; he is on an ego trip with no intention of trying to win.
To know this is to first understand that you should never take a politician’s words at face value. You have to match up words with actions to get to the truth. To that end, consider Mastriano’s record from 2022.
After gaining the Republican nomination, Mastriano could have defeated Democratic nominee Josh Shapiro. The midterm election in a president’s first term is always difficult, so he should have expected a tailwind from national politics. The portents in Pennsylvania are even better. The Keystone State is like a metronome, clicking back and forth in partisan results regularly.
Up until 2022, the Republican Party had never lost three straight gubernatorial races in Pennsylvania. The last time the Democrats won three in a row was in the early 19th century, predating the Republican Party, telegraph, railroad, and even the birth of President Joe Biden. Even though Donald Trump lost the state in 2020, Republicans won two of three statewide constitutional offices — and did so in spite of being hugely outspent. In 2021, Republicans won a Supreme Court race and a referendum to enact a constitutional amendment that limited a governor’s emergency powers.
In short, the stage was set for a Republican win.
To be sure, the Republican establishment was not pleased with Mastriano’s candidacy, viewing him as too conservative for a swing state like Pennsylvania. Significant parts of the conservative movement were dubious about Mastriano, as well. As the opposition fractured among the various squabbling factions in the GOP, Mastriano was able to win. Yet, all the losing primary candidates supported Mastriano in the general election.
Mastriano went into the general election with a united, but skeptical Republican Party. And he went on to prove all his skeptics right.
In a swing state like Pennsylvania, hardcore ideologues simply cannot win. Liberal opponent Shapiro edged toward the middle, turning away from the “defund the police” crowd and aggressively courting the unions. He made a particular effort with the building trade unions — a segment of labor that had been trending Republican over the past several years.
Unlike Shapiro, Mastriano did nothing to broaden his appeal or take his message to a wider audience. He spent his campaign communing with his Facebook fans and preaching fire and brimstone at the various Republican county dinners.
Mastriano refused to engage in local TV and print media. He would not debate Shapiro. Incredibly, Mastriano even declined to appear at the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry debate. A traditionally pro-Republican crowd, they would have been at worst neutral. Yet, Mastriano was a no-show, unwilling to risk standing before any crowd not entirely in his corner. For a candidate with a significant financial disadvantage, he should have grabbed any opportunity for free publicity.
And forget the excuse that Mastriano never had a chance.
Even though Republican results in 2022 were disappointing (to say the least), GOP gubernatorial candidates far outperformed federal candidates. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis romped to an easy win. In Georgia, Brian Kemp won handily, improving on his 2018 margin against Stacey Abrams, in spite of an all-out effort by national Democrats on her behalf — and ran far ahead of Herschel Walker. Joe Lombardo flipped Nevada. Neighboring Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine won in a landslide.
Other Republicans lost badly, but in overwhelmingly Democratic states. Mastriano stood out for his historic defeat. He was the worst-performing Republican running in a competitive state — and it was not close. Even Michigan’s Tudor Dixon, who was very conservative, running in an even more Democratic state, and heavily outspent, had a closer loss than Mastriano.
But 2022 was not really a loss for Mastriano. He got to travel on his donors’ dime. He could bask in the applause of the converted. He could promote his books. He appeared on Fox News. Until 2022, Mastriano was a nobody first-term state senator. Running for governor made him a somebody — and losing makes him a martyr.
Mastriano clearly wants to ride this wave for all it is worth. He likely figures he has one more loss in him until he turns into Rick Santorum. A U.S. Senate run means another 18 months of free travel, free publicity, and adulation. Mastriano definitely is not in this race to win it. Recent polling puts Casey up 16 points on Mastriano. Given the right rhetoric and a stunt or two, Mastriano can go down in a blaze of glory and enhance his martyrdom. That’s a perfect segue toward getting a book deal and becoming a professional talk show guest.
Need more proof that Mastriano has no interest in winning? In an interview with Politico, he talks about leading a movement of 2.2 million people and “keeping it alive.” Well, the last U.S. Senate winner in Pennsylvania in a presidential year needed over 2.9 million votes. So, how is Mastriano going to get the 700,000-plus votes he needs to win? The answer is that he has no plan and no intention of pursuing a plan to win.
For Mastriano, it’s really all about self-promotion. Conservatives and Republicans lose, but Doug Mastriano wins. Come to think of it, maybe Doug Mastriano does understand the parable of the drowning man. He just doesn’t care.