By Rudy Barnes, Jr.
The Pennsylvania and Georgia GOP gubernatorial primaries produced conflicting indicators of Trump’s future in the GOP. In Georgia Governor Brian Kemp defeated Trump’s endorsed candidate, David Perdue; and it wasn’t even close. In Pennsylvania, Doug Mastriano, a state senator and retired Air Force Colonel who was endorsed by Trump, won his primary.
Other Republican primaries produced mixed results, but gubernatorial primaries were especially important to Trump with his continued rantings on the “stolen” election in 2020. That’s because governors and election officials oversee election results. Since Georgia is a deep red state and Pennsylvania a swing state, both were critical to Trump’s political priorities.
There is also a stark contrast in the candidates on other fundamental issues, making the two primaries indicators of Trump’s future leadership in the Republican Party. Brian Kemp has a proven center-right record as governor and has distanced himself from Trump, while Mastriano is a Trump clone who has advocated radical right views dangerous to civil-military relations.
As a military officer, Mastriano was sworn to support and defend the Constitution; and in 2001 he wrote a thesis at the Air Force’s Command and Staff College that described the U.S. as “a people without vision or direction, and it concluded that only the U.S. military could save the country from the depredations of the country’s morally debauched civilian leaders.”
Peter Feavor, a former senior White House official who has written extensively on civil-military relations, said that Mastriano’s radical-right political views “stem from poisonous views and misunderstandings that he has held for a very long time.” Ironically, Mastriano has predicted the dangers to the Constitution as being a “left wing Hitlerian Putsch.”
Mastriano seems to have trouble distinguishing the left wing from Hitler’s right wing. The U.S. military is the last bastion of defense against foreign and domestic threats to freedom and democracy. The same was true in Germany until Hitler co-opted the Wehrmacht to promote Nazi tyranny. The sanctity of U.S. elections must be preserved against such tyranny.
The U.S. military is an authoritarian regime within a libertarian democracy, and as an extension of politics by other means America requires healthy civil-military relations to preserve freedom and democracy. Trump has praised Putin, but the Georgia primary indicates that the GOP will reject extremist radical-right politics and promote strong civil-military relations.
Both America and Russia will elect their top leaders in 2024, and mid-term elections in November will portrend the future of America’s politics. The Georgia Republican Primary has provided hope that the GOP will abandon its loyalty to Trump and begin promoting constructive partisan politics that can restore political legitimacy and maintain healthy civil-military relations.
In a 2001 thesis Doug Mastriano asserted that “morally debauched political leaders weren’t fit to oversee the U.S. military. Two decades before he became the Republican nominee for Pennsylvania governor, Mastriano’s thesis warned that the United States was vulnerable to a left-wing “Hitlerian Putsch” that would begin with the dismantling of the U.S. military and end with the destruction of the country’s democracy. The thesis is highly unusual for its doomsaying and often fearful point of view, and its prediction that only the U.S. military could save the country from the depredations of the country’s morally debauched civilian leaders. In it, Mastriano concluded that the U.S. military was the “only institution to prevent the destruction of the republic.” The document displays a disgust for anyone who doesn’t hold his view that homosexuality is a form of “aberrant sexual conduct” and presages the worldview that has led Mastriano to blame rampant fraud for Donald Trump’s 2020 defeat and to join a crowd headed toward the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. ‘If there was a hint of radicalism in me or far rightness in me, I’d never have had that kind of access to the nation’s most sensitive and destructive secrets,’ he told Stephen K. Bannon. ‘And so I’m just going to call them out. I’m not going to stand aside and let them create a narrative about me.’ As a state senator and candidate for governor, Mastriano, 58, has vowed to decertify voting machines in counties where he suspects the results are rigged and has asserted Pennsylvania’s majority-Republican legislature should have the right to choose which presidential electors to send to Washington. Mastriano traveled to D.C. on Jan. 6 and videos show him walking with a crowd toward the Capitol as one man removes a bike rack blocking the sidewalk; Mastriano has denied entering the Capitol. His ardent support for the former president’s false claims that the election was stolen earned him Trump’s last-minute endorsement in Pennsylvania’s GOP primary, which he won. Mastriano’s thesis is especially striking in its doubts that an apolitical U.S. military should fall under the control of elected, civilian leaders, a bedrock principle of American democracy that is drilled into U.S. military officers from the moment they take an oath to ‘support and defend” the U.S. Constitution. ‘It would erode everything that it purports to respect,’ said Tami Davis Biddle, a civilian professor at the U.S. Army War College who retired in 2021 as the Elihu Root Chair of Military Studies. ‘It’s Putinist before Putin.’ Mastriano’s essay is a broadside aimed at civilians whom he deems unfit to lead a morally superior U.S. military officer corps. He describes a future in which the military’s “macho-warrior spirit” and “conservative culture” are replaced by ‘a neo-pagan worldview. Like Rome, domestic moral decay and slothfulness proved to be a more formidable adversary than foreign armies,’ he wrote. Mastriano’s essay also foreshadows his embrace of baseless claims of rigged elections.” See https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2022/05/20/mastriano-thesis-hitlerian-putsch-pennsylvania/?utm. See also, Shapiro: ‘Dangerous’ Republican rival Mastriano could override will of voters at https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2022/may/22/pennsylvania-josh-shapiro-democrat-republican-rival-doug-mastriano.
Mastriano’s thesis and his current views provide a distorted view of military values. Most active duty and retired military personnel understand that the military is an authoritarian regime within a libertarian democracy, and the importance of civil-military relations and their duty to support and defend the Constitution and the concept of civilian supremacy. After I wrote an essay on military legitimacy that won the Excellence in Writing Award at the Army War College, Class of 1992, I expanded it into a book, Military Legitimacy: Might and Right in the New Millennium (Frank Cass, 1996). Chapters 3 and 5 focus on military values and standards of legitimacy. On civil-military relations, see pages 70, and 144-149. On page 113 I reference is made to the 1992 article by Charles Dunlap, Jr. that inspired Mastriano’s thesis.
On Georgia deals critical blows to Trump’s kingmaker status, see https://thehill.com/news/campaign/3501677-georgia-deals-critical-blow-to-trumps-kingmaker-status/.
See also, Georgia rebuffs Trump candidates for governor, attorney general and secretary of state, at
Jason Willick has asserted that Trump’s 2024 chances are even worse than Georgia suggests. See https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2022/05/25/trump-2024-republican-primary-chances/?utm_campaign=wp_todays_headlines&utm.
Max Boot has opined, We’re in danger of losing our democracy, but most Americans are in denial, See
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