Mastriano tries to dance to the middle

Philadelphia Inquirer/Philadelphia Daily New (AP)
FILE - Doug Mastriano, speaks at an event on July 1, 2022, at the state Capitol in Harrisburg, Pa. Pennsylvania's Republican governor nominee, Mastriano is appearing Tuesday before the Jan. 6 committee investigating the U.S. Capitol insurrection as the panel probes Donald Trump's efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election. (AP Photo/Marc Levy, File)

As the fall campaign season approaches, the Republican nominee for Pa. governor is trying to scrub his record to appear more palatable.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano will never be confused with the late pop singer Michael Jackson. That makes it all the more jarring to watch Mastriano figuratively mimic Jackson’s famed dance moves by trying to moonwalk away from some of his extreme positions.

In his brief and undistinguished career as a state senator, Mastriano staked out far-right positions on hot-button issues such as abortion and climate change. He latched onto Donald Trump’s election lies to help him rise from nowhere to becoming the Republican Party’s standard-bearer in Pennsylvania.

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Now that Mastriano is the GOP nominee for governor, he appears to be backpedaling from extreme positions in an effort to broaden his appeal in the general election. Many candidates tack toward the middle for a general election, but Mastriano has been so far out on the fringe it is all but impossible for him at this late date to attract voters who believe in facts, support women’s rights, and want judges to respect the Constitution, not use it as a cudgel to impose their will.

That may explain why Mastriano deleted more than a dozen posts from his Facebook campaign page in recent months, including one fallacious claim that called climate change a “theory” based on “pop science.”

Other posts deleted by Mastriano included one where he described the fight against abortion as “the most important issue of our lifetime.” Earlier this year, he called abortion his “No. 1 issue.”

But in more recent interviews with friendly media outlets, he has softened his stance, saying, “The people of Pennsylvania … decide what abortion looks like.” That’s true, but only in the sense that whomever “the people” elect governor will determine if women will continue to have access to abortion.

That’s because Republicans control both the state House and Senate and have tried to further restrict abortion only to be stopped by Gov. Tom Wolf, who has vetoed their efforts three times. If Mastriano is elected, there is little doubt that he would allow extreme abortion restrictions to become law.

In April, Mastriano said he would “move with alacrity” to sign legislation banning abortion after six weeks of pregnancy. He added that he would not “give way for exceptions” such as rape or incest.

His positions are so far afield from what the general electorate has said it wants that a number of state Republican leaders did not back him in the primary. They know Mastriano’s views are too extreme for most Pennsylvanians and have instead endorsed his Democratic opponent, Josh Shapiro, to be the next governor.

Still, Mastriano is trying to scrub his record to appear more palatable. He has deleted tweets promoting QAnon conspiracy theories and removed a proposed plan from his website to have the government disclose names and locations of people infected with COVID-19. So much for privacy.

Mastriano tried to distance himself from the despicable far-right social media site Gab, whose founder, Andrew Torba, has repeatedly made antisemitic remarks. But Mastriano’s campaign paid Gab $5,000 for advertising and consulting to help attract supporters.

The GOP nominee has not backed away from the one issue that has propelled him from unknown backbencher to the top of the Republican ticket: the lie that the 2020 presidential election was stolen.

Claims of election fraud have been debunked and rejected by dozens of courts. But Mastriano continues to push the bogus election falsehoods that are being promoted by Donald Trump.

Mastriano met with Trump in the Oval Office to discuss efforts to overturn the election. He marched with the insurrectionists on Jan. 6 and used thousands of dollars in campaign funds to bus protesters to Washington.

The House select committee investigating the facts surrounding the Jan. 6 insurrection has subpoenaed Mastriano to turn over documents and testify about what he knows. The New York Times reported Mastriano was the designated “point person” in Pennsylvania in the plot to use fake electors as part of Trump’s failed coup attempt.

If elected, Mastriano has boasted he will be able to influence the outcome of the 2024 presidential election. His plans include forcing voters to reregister, decertifying voting machines, and ending mail-in voting. Mastriano can try to polish his record all he wants, but his previous antidemocratic efforts should effectively disqualify him from holding any elected office.