Republicans are in a bind. Aspiring office seekers who hope to remain in Donald Trump’s good graces must defer to the notion that the 2020 race was illegitimate without dispiriting their voters. They must make some perfunctory demonstration of their willingness to relitigate that race without humiliating themselves in that foolish pursuit. It’s a tough needle to thread, but Nevada’s Adam Laxalt seemed to have it figured out.
“A majority of Nevada voters know that we didn’t have a secure election,” the former state attorney general and U.S. Senate hopeful told a conservative news outlet. The claim was complicated by an audit conducted by the Republican secretary of state, which found just 20 cases of potential voter fraud out of the 4,000 that were alleged. But Laxalt, the one-time chairman of the Trump campaign in the Silver State and a Trump-endorsed candidate for Senate, paid his dues. He now limits his accusations of rampant voter fraud to the state’s Democrat-dominated counties. And yet, Republican primary voters with a taste for vengeance can tell when they’re being placated.
So, too, can retired Army Capt. Sam Brown, the veteran and political newcomer challenging Laxalt for the Nevada GOP’s Senate nomination. The candidate has outraised his opponent among small-dollar donors and is gaining momentum in the polls. Although the issue set animating Republican voters is broad and varied, Laxalt’s lack of enthusiasm for 2020 revanchism is playing a role. As NBC News recently reported, Brown has accused “Laxalt of dropping the ball by waiting too long to legally challenge the 2020 election results.” As a contributing factor to Brown’s surge, his advocacy for “election integrity” cannot be dismissed.
Nevada’s Senate race is still Laxalt’s to lose, but his unanticipated travails highlight the perils of inauthenticity. That’s not Doug Mastriano’s problem. The victor in the race for the GOP’s gubernatorial nomination in Pennsylvania made his vendetta against the outcome of the 2020 election into an animating ethos. His backward-looking crusade is so all-consuming that it has eclipsed nearly all other issues that Keystone State’s voters care about.
Mastriano is no pretender. On January 6, the candidate’s campaign paid to shuttle protesters to Washington D.C., where the candidate himself rallied outside the Capitol Building. Mastriano campaigned on a constellation of issues, but among them was a plan to once again audit 2020’s election outcome with the aim, perhaps, of finally getting his preferred result. As a candidate, he promised to cancel state contracts with “compromised voting machine companies.” He held a campaign event alongside former Trump adviser Steve Bannon and deemed it a “voter integrity conference.” There, as the York Daily Record reported, “attendees signed a petition upon entering the venue that would decertify Pennsylvania’s 2020 election results.”
The GOP gubernatorial nominee has made no secret of his intentions. “I get to appoint the secretary of state who’s delegated from me the power to make the corrections to elections, the voting logs, and everything,” Mastriano told a local radio host in March. “I could decertify every machine in the state with the stroke of a pen via the secretary of state.” Is it any wonder that, at Mastriano’s victory party, the nominee was filmed alongside a supporter celebrating not the prospect of Republican governance in Pennsylvania’s statehouse, but the ability to wield “20 electoral votes.”
Mastriano’s post-primary conduct provides no indication that he was just telling the GOP’s base voters what they want to hear. Even now, pitching his candidacy to Pennsylvania’s general electorate, Mastriano hasn’t recalibrated his messaging around “election integrity.” If elected, he has promised to eliminate no-excuse vote by mail provisions and wants to force each of his state’s registered voters to re-register—a maneuver some scholars believe to be a violation of the National Voter Registration Act and, quite possibly, a violation of provisions in the state and federal constitution.
You can say a lot about the conspiratorial mindset to which Mastriano is beholden, but you can’t say the man doesn’t believe his own hype. He’s not seeking to score cheap political points. Indeed, he’s likely diminishing his appeal by obsessing over an issue that has next to no relevance for most Pennsylvania voters. Like much of the nation, Pennsylvania’s voters prioritize pocketbook issues. They are focused on inflation, crime, health care, education, and local matters like a legislative fight over a proposed college voucher system. The state (and the national Republican Party) might be spared the headache of a Mastriano administration if only because his myopia will render him out of touch with voters’ chief priorities.
But nothing is guaranteed. Republicans who are beholden to the myths promoted by Donald Trump are earnest in their assumption that they’ve been cheated, and they found a true believer in Mastriano. He won’t be the last to cater to their paranoia.