In an election season in which inflation and high gas prices have given most Republicans an edge, Mastriano has spent the past few weeks under fire for his ties to a media platform far-right social groups. He had an account this year on Gab, the site where Robert Bowers made violent anti-Semitic comments before the shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. Mastriano too said Gab CEO Andrew Torba in an interview“Thank goodness for what you did,” and paid the site $5,000 for “consulting” services.
“People who weren’t happy with his nomination — that’s why,” said Pennsylvania GOP consultant Josh Novotney. “Because it’s like, ‘When is the other shoe going to drop too? What else is there? is what I think more people are saying and thinking.
The response to the episode within the Republican Party took on a Trump-esque quality. Some party insiders are complaining about what they see as direct error by Mastriano, largely in private, and a small handful of Republican candidates in competitive precincts are distancing themselves from him. But most GOP leaders, at least publicly, seem to be sticking with Mastriano.
“The guy spent $5,000 – $5,000 – consulting or trying to advertise on a social media platform. How much does Josh Shapiro spend on Twitter, or how much does Josh Shapiro spend on Facebook, which has been used by a number of recent mass murderers? said Sam DeMarco, Republican Party chairman for Allegheny County, one of the most populous areas in the state. “I thought Senator Mastriano did the right thing and said, ‘Hey, these people don’t speak for me.'”
Although Republican state officials have not let him down in the race against Democratic gubernatorial candidate Josh Shapiro, Mastriano has been forced to try to contain the fallout from the Gab controversy. Torba, the CEO of Gab, made anti-Semitic comments and said that his “policy is not to conduct interviews with journalists who are not Christians or with media outlets that are not Christians, and Doug has a strategy very similar media where he doesn’t do interviews”. with these people.
In response, Mastriano said in a statement on Twitter that Torba “does not speak for me” and that “I reject anti-Semitism in all its forms.” And he seems to have deleted his Gab account.
Mastriano also discussed the matter during a recent campaign stop and on a conservative YouTube show. “We need to have a level playing field here. The ADL…they said Twitter in one year had 4.2 million anti-Semitic tweets. OK, I’m calling on my opponent Josh Shapiro to quit Twitter, quit Twitter,” he told Chris Wyatt.
(In a statement for this story, Shapiro’s spokesperson Will Simons said, “Mastriano’s warm embrace of extremists like Andrew Torba, the Three Percenters and QAnon is further proof that he is far too dangerous to be governor of Pennsylvania.”
Mastriano also cleaned up behind the scenes. At a fundraiser for the gubernatorial candidate last Wednesday in suburban Philadelphia, Mastriano addressed the reports about Gab, said Andy Reilly, a member of the Republican National Committee who organized the event.
“He went on his own, immediately, at the start of his comments, denounced anti-Semitism, said what he believed, said he had been in the army all his life and had worked with people of all faiths, and he’s a big believer in protecting people’s beliefs and even protecting atheist people from having no faith,” Reilly said. “Having 30 years in the military, you wouldn’t even survive if you had hateful beliefs like that.”
Although some would have liked him to condemn Gab more quickly and forcefully, Mastriano’s efforts appear to have succeeded in preventing any major defections from his party thus far. Last Thursday, Mastriano met privately with members of Congress from Pennsylvania in Washington, DC. He released the statement on Gab a few hours later, then announced this week that all nine members of the state’s House GOP had endorsed it, except one.
“Families in Pennsylvania are struggling to get gas in their cars and food on their tables,” they said in a joint statement. “The progressive policies supported by Joe Biden and Josh Shapiro have led to fewer jobs, higher crime rates, rampant drug addiction and less freedom for working families in Pennsylvania.”
Longtime Pennsylvania-based GOP consultant Christopher Nicholas said the Gab controversy hasn’t stopped Republicans from rallying behind Mastriano in the post-primary era.
“People who know about Gab’s stuff are people who were never going to support Mastriano before, and that was reason #217,” he said, adding that although Mastriano was slow to post his statement about Gab, that was a “good” answer.
Reilly said the reaction from Republicans was that “just because he used it to advertise doesn’t mean he embraced the opinions” and “no one came to me to get away with it.” complain”.
Blake Marles, president of the Northeast Central Republican Alliance in Pennsylvania, said, “I have no idea of Doug’s history with various ethnic or racial groups as an Army leader. I can’t imagine they would have been negative in any way or that he wouldn’t have become a colonel.
He called Torba an “anti-Semite” and said Mastriano had made a “political mistake, but I don’t know if it was a mistake of knowledge.”
To the extent that Republicans are venting their frustration over Mastriano’s ties to Gab, much of it is happening so far behind closed doors, not amid public recriminations. Some GOP insiders said the incident was precisely the kind of thing they feared would happen when they opposed him in the primary. Others have even compared it to being forced to constantly respond to Trump’s explosive comments.
“I’m just shaking my head,” said a Republican Pennsylvania county chairman who requested anonymity to speak candidly. “Does he really want to win this?”
One GOP activist who has spoken publicly about his concerns is Republican Jewish Coalition executive director Matt Brooks. Last month, he urged Mastriano “to end his association with Gab, a social network rightly viewed by American Jews as a cesspool of bigotry and anti-Semitism.”
A few Republican elected officials from rotating neighborhoods also kept Mastriano at bay. State Representative Todd Stephens, who represents parts of Philadelphia’s moderate suburbs, posted on Facebook that Gab’s CEO “made disgusting and anti-Semitic comments” and “[n]nothing short of total rejection is warranted.
Another Republican from suburban Philadelphia, Rep. Brian Fitzpatrickwas the only GOP in the state Member of the House who did not approve of Mastriano. He also did not attend the meeting with him last week, according to multiple sources, although a staff member did.
Nancy McCarty, spokeswoman for Fitzpatrick, said he was “attending an intelligence meeting” at the time and “has not yet met and/or spoken with Senator Mastriano regarding his plan for Pennsylvania, but hopes to have the chance to do so before the fall elections.
Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), who is retiring this year, did not say if he supported Mastriano. In 2016, Toomey refused to reveal whether he would support Trump until Election Day, when he announced he had voted for him.
Mastriano’s campaign, which declined to engage with most mainstream media outlets, did not respond to a request for comment.
Mastriano is part of a small but growing cohort of Republican candidates and elected officials with ties to Gab or its founder, Torba.
Kathy Barnette, who finished third in Pennsylvania’s 2022 Republican Senate primary and often campaigned with Mastriano, has spent at least $3,000 on “online services.” representing Majorie Taylor Greene(R-Ga.)’s campaign paid at least $36,000 last year for “digital marketing.”
Perhaps most important after Mastriano is Mark Finchem, an Arizona state legislator and 2020 election conspiracy theorist who won the Republican Party’s nomination for secretary of state on Tuesday. Finchem, who has an active account on Gab under the name “AZHoneyBadger”, proudly touts Torba’s endorsement on his campaign website.
Finchem was on a slate of Arizona candidates Torba said he backed, including state legislator Wendy Rogers, who was censured by the state Senate after talking about hanging ‘traitors’ on the gallows at a white nationalist conference. Rogers, whom Mastriano endorsed, also won his primary on Tuesday.
But for the other candidates on this list, Torba was a bridge too far. A spokesperson for Kari Lake, the former Trump-endorsed TV anchor who was a leader in the governor’s race too close to call, told the Arizona Mirror that the [campaign] absolutely denounces bigotry in all its forms, especially anti-Semitism. We never asked for this approval. (Lake has a Gab account, but she hasn’t posted on it since early January.)
Blake Masters, the GOP candidate for the Arizona Senate, also said in a statement to the Mirror that “I’ve never heard of this guy and I reject his support,” saying the only people who cared about his endorsement was the media because he was a “person”.
Zach Montellaro contributed to this report.