Opinion | The rise of Doug Mastriano digs the Republican party’s grave deeper into Christian nationalism


Pamela Smith | Visual Editor

Pennsylvania Republican gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano speaks at Turning Point Action’s “Unite and Win” rally Downtown on Aug. 19.

By Ebonee Rice-Nguyen, Senior Staff Columnist

As the midterm elections approach, Pennsylvania finds itself front and center of the political stage with the nomination of Republican Doug Mastriano for governor. 

As the weeks have passed media outlets have released more and more concerning details about Mastriano — images of him adorned in a Confederate uniform, an ad campaign on the far right social network GAB, and even an endorsement from an ultra-Orthodox rabbi who believes Hitler was part lizard. While it is easy to write off Mastriano as a punchline for Pennsylvanian politics, his campaign is evidence of a concerning strategy for the Republican party, one that doesn’t distance itself from Christian nationalism, but leans into it.

Prior to the pandemic, people considered Mastriano an ultra-right fringe politician, but as the COVID-19 pandemic progressed, Mastriano led the charge in criticizing state quarantining policies and mask mandates and gained a loyal following. Using Facebook videos, Mastriano was able to connect to thousands of viewers during the isolating months of the pandemic. Through these intimate videos — which he likened to FDR’s “fireside chats” — Mastriano was able to bond with Americans who were feeling isolated and anxious during the early months of the pandemic. It was this foundation of listeners that took Mastriano from the fringe of the Republican party to the spotlight. 

In 2020, Mastriano gained a stronger following as he continued to challenge the presidential election results. Aligning himself with former President Donald Trump, Mastriano quickly became a leader in the “Stop the Steal” campaign. As Mastriano continued to spout criticism of COVID-19 lockdowns and supposedly “rigged elections,” he staged all of these issues under the umbrella of a religious battle. Mastriano has built his campaign on the belief that America has a true Christian identity, one that Christians need to reclaim. For Mastriano, the separation of state and church is a myth. The candidate has even gone so far as to state, “In November we are going to take our state back, my God will make it so.” 

While Mastriano denies the claim that he is a Christian nationalist, he has repeatedly claimed the bedrock of America’s identity is a Christian one. Mastriano visited Washington, D.C. on Dec. 12 to participate in the “Jericho Marches” where conservative Christians, QAnon followers and white nationalists gathered to pray for God to keep Trump in office. While there, Mastriano asked his followers to, “Do what George Washington asked us to do in 1775. Appeal to Heaven. Pray to God. We need an intervention.” The phrase “Appeal to heaven” originates from a John Locke argument for the right to violent revolution in the face of tyranny. America saw how that ideology manifested at the Jan. 6 capital insurrection, an event Mastriano attended, and where one insurrectionist said the group was headed by an “Appeal to Heaven” flag. 

Mastriano has done little to pull back on the extreme Christian rhetoric as the midterm election approaches. Instead, he has leaned into his relationship with Trump, indicating that Trump’s rise to power using Christian nationalist thinking wasn’t a fluke, but rather a new standard for the Republican party. 

One of the main pillars of Trump’s campaign was his promise to white evangelical Christians to return Christianity to power. In January 2016, Trump visited Dordt University, a Christian college in Sioux Center, where he made sure to remind audiences that “Christianity is under tremendous siege.” The former president then went on to say, “Christianity will have power, you don’t need anybody else. You’re going to have somebody representing you very, very well. Remember that,” a statement that is both disturbing and eerily similar to the present statements spouted by Mastriano. 

The presence of Christian symbols and imagery were unmistakable at the Capitol insurrection on Jan. 6, as were the Confederate flags and antisemitic t-shirts interspersed through the crowd. The Trump presidency not only allowed but emboldened the relationship between extremism and white evangelical power. Trump also intensified anti-immigration rhetoric and Islamophobia within his party. But one of the largest stains his presidency left was the reshaping of the Christian faith as an ethnic identity, one that was under attack. 

In the years of his presidency, Trump consistently represented himself as a protector of the Christian right. A PEW study conducted in 2020, found that eight out of ten white evangelical Protestants said the phrase “fights for what I believe in” was an accurate phrase to describe Trump. 

Since 2008, white evangelicals groups have shrunk in population size and their core beliefs have become the minority in an America that is moving closer and closer to religious non-affiliation. As this group has gotten smaller, they have begun to feel threatened, believing themselves to be under attack from the left. It is this same line of thinking that supports the “Great Replacement Theory”and other white genocide theories that all justify the white nationalist agenda. But the Trump presidency was slow, if not resistant, to criticize these lines of thinking, allowing them to slip under the door and forever engrain themselves in the modern republican party. 

While the Trump presidency has ended, politicians like Mastriano have shown that they have no issue carrying the torch in his name. Politicians such as Majorie Taylor Greene and Lauren Boebert have painted themselves as warriors of this Christian identity. This new line of Republican politicians indicate that the party is not afraid to espouse conspiracies or extremist thinking in fear of losing support they now know there are those who will follow them, no matter how extreme. While their viewpoints were considered too extreme for the Republican party in previous midterms, the polarization of today’s politics has allowed these viewpoints to assimilate into the mainstream. The Trump presidency revealed a new strategy say the thing that will garner the most attention and say it as loud as you can. 

Mastriano has embodied this strategy. He has publicly announced that he would prohibit all abortion, even in instances of rape, incest or the possible death of the parent. He condems gay marriage and allowing same-sex couples to adopt children. He has denounced Islam and said, “Not all religions are created equal.” He has again and again used phrases like “our people” in interviews, solidifying who he stands for and who he is against. One supporter of Mastriano, Stan Hudson, told Politico that, “The people on our side, conservatives and the Christian community, they’re looking for a fighter, someone who will carry the banner of Judeo-Christian values. It seems the people of Pennsylvania have found that fighter in Mastriano.

While GOP insiders were reluctant to support Mastriano at first, they have now united around him, cementing him as the face of the Republican party no matter how much he encourages Christian nationalism. This means that even if Mastriano does not win, the Republican party can likely never go back toward a more moderate position. Instead, they will continue to move more and more toward the extremism that Trump opened the door to. In the following elections Republicans will need another Mastriano to protect this Christian identity, no matter the cost. 

Ebonee Rice-Nguyen writes primarily about political, social and cultural issues. Write to her at [email protected].