When the Monkey's Paw Curls
Pennsylvania Democrats wanted to run against Doug Mastriano. Careful what you wish for
Hillary Clinton wanted to face Donald Trump. As detailed in the leaked Pied Piper memo, the Clinton campaign specifically sought to legitimize the extremists in the Republican Party during the 2016 primary: “We need to be elevating [Trump, Ted Cruz, and Ben Carson] so that they are leaders of the pack and tell the press to [take] them seriously.” After Trump started picking up momentum, another meeting focused on how to “maximize” him, and Clinton’s staff thought he would be the easiest opponent to beat. This isn’t a tinfoil-hat theory, it’s a matter of public record.
You can say that the logic made sense at the time, and of course Clinton was not alone in underestimating Trump’s political potency. You can question how much of an impact the Democrats really had in shaping the Republican primary. You can even make the arguments that Clinton was likely to lose no matter whom she faced, and that Trump might have caused less material harm to the world as President than a more-calculating conservative would (though I can’t imagine either idea would be popular among her supporters). But for all the credit she gets for predicting the dangers of a Trump presidency, she inarguably abetted his rise to power. It’s a mistake that Democrats will never make again. Right?
Josh Shapiro wanted to face Doug Mastriano. Shapiro was unopposed on the Democratic side in the race to succeed Tom Wolf as Governor of Pennsylvania, and decided to play kingmaker in the Republican primary. Shapiro ran ads elevating Mastriano amongst a crowded field, propping him up as his main opponent. Lo and behold, Mastriano won the GOP’s gubernatorial nomination — and said he’d send Shapiro a thank-you card.
Shapiro’s reasons for promoting Mastriano aren’t a mystery. Mastriano is an unabashed extremist who is frequently described as a Christian nationalist. When he’s not using campaign funds to bus rioters to the Capitol, he’s musing about banning abortion and publishing the names and addresses of COVID patients. As purple Pennsylvania looks ahead to what’s been expected to be a very close election, his extremism is presumed to be a turn-off for independents and moderates; pundits and betting markets alike already see Mastriano’s nomination as a boon to Shapiro’s chances of winning.
Of course, the flipside is that Mastriano could win. The immediate implications of subjecting 13 million people to borderline-theocratic rule are terrifying enough on their own, but the consequences would ripple far beyond our fair commonwealth. In Pennsylvania, the Secretary of State is both appointed by the Governor and in charge of overseeing elections — so in 2024, the most-crucial swing state in the country could hold its election under the direct control of a man who believes in overturning the popular vote. To court such an outcome betrays the unseriousness with which the party so often takes the myriad national crises we face, yet this is the gamble Shapiro is making.
And yes, Shapiro really might lose. After all, Pennsylvania can legitimately go either way in statewide elections. It was just six years ago that an extremist demagogue carried the state amidst eerily similar dismissals of his chances here: Ed Rendell infamously proclaimed that twice as many voters would cross party lines for Clinton as would for Trump. There’s also the context of the typical midterm backlash against the President’s party and how unpopular Joe Biden and the Democrats are right now. To dismiss the possibility that the Republicans might win in November, even with a candidate as cartoonishly extremist as Mastriano, is to completely misread the present political environment.
This is what state Democrats have risked by boosting Mastriano. In an act of astounding hubris, Josh Shapiro made the paternalistic choice to risk the future of not just Pennsylvania but maybe the country in exchange for a marginal boost to his electoral odds. In so doing, he demonstrated a level of selfishness and poor judgment that should be disqualifying for the governorship of the country’s fifth-largest state — until you consider the alternative.
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