Fighting him, avoiding him… hugging him? Mastriano’s relationship with GOP leaders reflects Trump’s rise.

PHILADELPHIA – GOP leaders rushed to stop him in primary. When he did win, some polls unexpectedly showed him within reach of his Democratic rival, and the Republican establishment started to get him hot.

But then he was engulfed in controversy — the very kind that GOP insiders had previously worried could ruin his chances.

The nominee is hopeful Pennsylvania governor Doug Mastriano, but this year he’s following a path Republicans recognize from their early months of getting used to Donald Trump as party leader in 2016.

In an election season when inflation and high gas prices have given most Republicans a head start, Mastriano has come under fire in recent weeks for his ties to a far-right social media platform. 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. Mastiano too Gab CEO Andrew Torba told in an interview“Thank God for what you’ve done,” and paid the site $5,000 for “consulting” services.

“People who weren’t happy with his nomination — here’s why,” said Josh Novotney, a GOP consultant in Pennsylvania. “Because it’s like, ‘When is the other shoe going to fall? What else is there?’ is what I think more people say and think.”

The reaction to the episode within the Republican Party has taken on a Trump-esque quality. Some party insiders grumble about what they see as Mastriano’s casual flaw, largely private, and a small handful of Republican candidates in competitive districts distance themselves from him. But most GOP leaders, at least publicly, seem to remain on Mastriano’s side.

“The man 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 some recent mass murderers? ” said Sam DeMarco, chairman of the Republican Party in Allegheny County, one of the most populous areas in the state. “I thought Senator Mastriano was doing the right thing and saying, ‘Hey, these people don’t speak for me.'”

While Republican officials in the state have not let him down in the race against Democratic nominee for governor, Josh Shapiro, Mastriano has been forced to try to contain the fallout from the Gab controversy. Torba, the CEO of Gab, has made anti-Semitic comments, saying it is his “policy not to interview journalists who are not Christian or outlets who are not Christian, and Doug has a very similar media strategy of not doing interviews.” with these people.”

In response, Mastriano said in a statement on Twitter that Torba “does not speak on my behalf” and that “I reject anti-Semitism in any form.” And he seems to have deleted his Gab account.

Mastriano also discussed the matter at a recent campaign stop and on a conservative YouTube show. “We have to have a level playing field here. The ADL… they said Twitter had 4.2 million anti-Semitic tweets in one year. Okay, I’m calling on my opponent Josh Shapiro to get off Twitter, to get off Twitter,” he told Chris Wyatt.

(In a statement for this story, Shapiro spokesman Will Simons said, “Mastriano’s warm embrace of extremists such as Andrew Torba, the Three Percenters and QAnon is further proof that he is far too dangerous to be governor of Pennsylvania.”)

Mastriano has also cleaned up behind the scenes. During a fundraiser for the governor candidate last Wednesday in suburban Philadelphia, Mastriano addressed the reports on Gab, said Andy Reilly, a Republican National Committee member who hosted the event.

“He only, immediately, early in his remarks condemned anti-Semitism, said what he believed, said he had spent his life in the military and worked with people of all faiths, and he is a strong believer in protecting the faith.” of people and even to protect people who are atheists from not having a faith,” Reilly said. “If you’re in the military for 30 years, you’d never even survive if you had such hateful beliefs.”

While some wish he could have condemned Gab more quickly and forcefully, Mastriano’s efforts thus far seem to have been successful in preventing major defectors from his party. Last Thursday, Mastriano met in person with Congressmen from Pennsylvania in Washington, DC. He posted the statement on Gab hours later, announcing this week that all but one of the state’s nine GOP House members endorsed him.

“Pennsylvania families are struggling to get gas in their cars and food on their tables,” they said in a joint statement. “Progressive policies supported by Joe Biden and Josh Shapiro have resulted in fewer jobs, higher crime rates, rampant drug addiction and less freedom for Pennsylvania’s hard-working families.”

Christopher Nicholas, a longtime GOP consultant in Pennsylvania, said the Gab controversy hasn’t stopped Republicans from rallying behind Mastriano in the post-primary period.

“People who know about the Gab stuff are people who would never support Mastriano already, and that was reason No. 217,” he said, adding that although Mastriano took a while to get his statement out about Gab , it’s a “good” answer.

Reilly said the response among Republicans was that “just because he used it to advertise doesn’t mean he embraced the views” and “nobody has come to me to complain about it.”

Blake Marles, president of the Northeast Central Republican Alliance in Pennsylvania, said, “I have no idea what Doug’s history has been with different ethnic or racial groups as a leader in the military. I can’t imagine they would have been negative in any way or he wouldn’t have become a colonel.”

He called Torba “anti-Semitic” and said Mastriano made a “political mistake, but I don’t know if it was a mistake worth knowing”.

Insofar as Republicans express their frustration with Mastriano’s ties to Gab, so far this has largely been done behind closed doors, not in public recriminations. Some GOP insiders said the incident was exactly the kind they feared would happen when they opposed him in the primaries. Others have even compared it to constantly having to respond to Trump’s explosive comments.

“I’m just shaking my head,” said a Pennsylvania Republican county chair who asked for anonymity to speak candidly. “Does he really want to win this?”

One GOP activist who has spoken publicly about his concerns is Matt Brooks, executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition. Last month, he urged Mastriano “to end his association with Gab, a social network rightly viewed by Jewish Americans as a cesspool of bigotry and anti-Semitism.”

A few Republican elected officials in swing districts have also kept Mastriano at bay. State Representative Todd Stephens, who represents parts of Philadelphia’s moderate suburbs, posted on Facebook that the Gab CEO made “disgusting, anti-Semitic remarks” and “[n]nothing less than a total rejection is justified.”

Another Republican in the suburbs of Philadelphia, Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, was the only GOP House member of the state who did not endorse Mastriano. He was also not present at the meeting with him last week, according to multiple sources, although a member of staff has left.

Nancy McCarty, a Fitzpatrick spokesperson, said he was “attended an intelligence meeting” at the time and “has yet to meet and/or speak to Senator Mastriano about his plan for Pennsylvania, but hopes to have the opportunity to do so sooner.” ” to the fall elections.”

sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), who is retiring this year, has not said whether he supports Mastriano. In 2016, Toomey declined to reveal whether he would support Trump until Election Day, when he announced he had voted for him.

Mastriano’s campaign, which has refused to contact 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 the 2022 Pennsylvania Republican Senate primaries and often campaigned with Mastriano, spent at least $3,000 on “online services.” Rep. Majorie Taylor Greene‘s (R-Ga.) campaign last year paid at least $36,000 for “digital marketing.”

Perhaps most prominent after Mastriano is Mark Finchem, an Arizona state legislator and conspiracy theorist for the 2020 election who captured the Republican Party’s nomination for Secretary of State on Tuesday. Finchem, who has an active account on Gab under the name “AZHoneyBadger,” proudly praises Torba’s endorsement on his campaign website.

Finchem was part of a list of Arizona candidates Torba said he supported, including state legislator Wendy Rogers, who was censored by the state Senate after speaking about hanging “traitors” on the gallows at a white nationalist conference. . Rogers, who endorsed Mastriano, also won her primary Tuesday.

But for other candidates on that slate, Torba was a bridge too far. A spokesperson for Kari Lake, the Trump-backed former TV host who is leading the race for the governor who is too close, told the Arizona Mirror that the [campaign] absolutely condemns bigotry in all its forms, especially anti-Semitism. We never asked for this approval.” (Lake has a Gab account, but she hasn’t posted to it since early January.)

Blake Masters, the GOP Senate nominee in Arizona, also said in a statement to the Mirror: “I’ve never heard of this man and I reject his support,” saying the media were the only people asking for his approval. gifts because he was a “nobody”.

Zach Montellaro contributed to this report.

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