As the midterms draw closer, we speak with journalist Will Bunch about how extremist Republican candidates increasingly look like they could win. In Pennsylvania, the Republican gubernatorial candidate is Doug Mastriano, who attended the January 6 “Stop the Steal” rally and helped arrange buses for pro-Trump protesters to come, as well. He later worked with former President Trump’s legal team to overturn the 2020 election results. This comes as racist campaign ads sponsored by a new group called Citizens for Sanity continue to fill the airwaves. “The Democrats are running out of time, but I hope they find a way to counter this Republican message on crime, because I’m really worried that it’s proven to be very effective so far,” says Bunch.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to bring Will Bunch back into this conversation. You have written about this story at Penn State, as well as the rise of the far right across the country. We talked with you in the first segment about the senatorial debate last night. We didn’t talk about the gubernatorial debate, because it’s not happening. But in Pennsylvania, the Republican gubernatorial candidate, Doug Mastriano, who attended the January 6th “Stop the Steal” rally and helped arrange buses for pro-Trump protesters to go, as well, he later worked with former President Trump’s legal team to overturn the 2020 election results. Talk about this race that is playing out in Pennsylvania, and then, overall, not only about Mastriano but the power of the Proud Boys and other such groups across the country now.
WILL BUNCH: Yes. I mean, when people say the phrase “democracy is on the ballot in 2022,” I mean, nowhere is that more true than Pennsylvania. I mean, you accurately described Mastriano’s background as an election denier and somebody who was very much an active participant in January 6th and, in fact, is still being looked at and investigated for his role in that. But, you know, it goes much deeper than that. I mean, one thing is that Pennsylvania is a state where, as governor, he would be choosing the secretary of state. In other words, the person who oversees the 2024 elections in Pennsylvania would be chosen by a Governor Mastriano, if he wins. Amy, clearly, he would pick someone who shares his big lie 2020 election denial philosophy. So that’s pretty alarming. The other thing is, Mastriano has run with a full-on embrace of Christian nationalism. I mean —
AMY GOODMAN: Looks like Will Bunch just froze. Will, are you back with us? Will is speaking to us from Philadelphia. Will, continue with what you were saying.
WILL BUNCH: Yeah, you know, as well —
AMY GOODMAN: You froze for a minute.
WILL BUNCH: Yeah, sorry about that. Yeah, you know, Michael Flynn and Roger Stone were here Friday night in Pennsylvania to campaign for Mastriano. So, he hasn’t moved to the middle in this general election campaign at all. I mean, he has embraced his extremist roots, and he’s hoping that a big turnout of people who share his Christian nationalist philosophy is going to be what gets him over the top on Election Day. I mean —
AMY GOODMAN: Well, as we fix your microphone, I want to bring up a final comment, and that is — or an issue, your recent column for The Philadelphia Inquirer, where you look at the right-wing political TV ads that ran repeatedly during the recent baseball playoffs, saying the games were marred by, quote, “jarring interruptions from the most shockingly crude and, arguably, racist political ads since Willie Horton hit the small screen in 1988,” unquote. The anti-immigration ads were sponsored by a new group that calls itself Citizens for Sanity, linked to the America First Legal Foundation founded by former Trump adviser Stephen Miller. This is a part of the ad.
NARRATOR: Chaos. Humanitarian disaster. Hospitals overrun. Schools overwhelmed. The safety net shredded. Drug dealers and sex traffickers roaming free. A Third World country? No, Arizona. Joe Biden and Mark Kelly have thrown open the Southern border.
AMY GOODMAN: Citizens for Sanity has also funded billboards attacking Democrats nationwide and ads in newspapers. And there’s some pushback. The group Everytown for Gun Safety ran this ad against Pennsylvania Republican gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano, the ad highlighting Mastriano’s use of the right-wing social media platform Gab and its ties to the Pittsburgh Tree of Life synagogue shooter who killed 11 people.
NARRATOR: Before murdering 11 worshipers at this synagogue —
POLICE DISPATCH: Multiple gunshots are heard from the lobby.
NARRATOR: — the shooter posted his manifesto on Gab, a site for extremists who promote violence, white supremacy and antisemitism. Doug Mastriano paid thousands to the same site to recruit supporters. Mastriano is a far-right conspiracy theorist who compared gun safety measures to Nazi Germany. Doug Mastriano is just too extreme for Pennsylvania.
AMY GOODMAN: So, if you could comment on both of these, Will Bunch, that ad we just played on Mastriano and, before that, the ads that played during the playoffs of baseball.
WILL BUNCH: Yes. I mean, these ads have been very visible in Pennsylvania. And in fact, Citizens for Sanity unveiled a new crime ad that targets Philadelphia specifically, and it aired twice in the 10 minutes before the Fetterman-Oz debate last night. So they’re highly visible. I mean, these ads are violent. They’re racist. You know, I mean, they make the infamous Willie Horton ad from 1988 seem just remarkably tame in comparison.
And what’s disturbing is I just don’t — I don’t see the Democrats doing much to counter this, you know, to counter this message. I think the crime message is the reason that Oz has gotten back into the race. And, you know, in using this crime issue as a bludgeon, I think the Republicans have very successfully kind of muted the things that we’re talking about and what — the message of that Mastriano ad, which is about democracy being on the ballot, the threat from far-right extremism. You know, the Republicans are going for a certain kind of middle-class voter that is going to see the threat to democracy as abstract but is going to see the fear that’s engendered by these ads as being very real. So, you know, I mean, the Democrats are running out of time, but I hope they find a way to counter this Republican messaging on crime, because I’m really worried that it’s proving to be very effective so far, certainly here in Pennsylvania.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, Will Bunch, I want to thank you so much for being with us, Pulitzer Prize-winning national columnist for The Philadelphia Inquirer_, speaking to us from Philadelphia. We will link to your columnswill/.
WILL BUNCH: Thanks, Amy.
AMY GOODMAN: When we come back, we’ll look at record early voter turnout in Georgia with LaTosha Brown, co-founder of Black Voters Matter and Black Voters Matter Fund. Stay with us.