Still, Democrats certainly take the notion of a Sen. Masters seriously, even as it makes them shudder.
Joe Wolf, a Democratic consultant in Phoenix, calls Masters a “fascinating” candidate, adding, “He talks about the same issues as everyone else, but he talks about them so vastly differently.” Wolf points to a campaign video where Masters argues families used to get by on a single income but no longer can because of the rising cost of health care, college and housing — with Masters denouncing both corporate greed and a government that’s abandoned its people. For the first generation expected to earn less than their parents, who are watching inflation and home prices spike, that message resonates. In a different world, Wolf says, Masters might have been the most dynamic candidate on the ballot. But with his effusive praise for Trump and all things Trumpian, Masters has closed the door to real crossover appeal: “The taint of MAGA is too much.” And that’s not to mention his shock-value videos, like the one in which he stares into the camera lens and explains his guns are made “to kill people.”
“He kind of freaks me out,” Wolf says.
Still, Wolf acknowledges that if Masters makes it through the primary, he’ll have a decent chance at beating Kelly in the November election. The political environment is so bad for Democrats, he notes, that even a flawed Republican candidate can win.
Masters knows his videos freak out his opponents. That’s part of the fun. For too long, Republicans have cowered to the “blue check” crowd on Twitter, he says. In Masters’ telling, Mitt Romney was “Mr. Nice Guy,” as accommodating as possible to the press and the left, and they still ate him alive. Trump fought the media and liberal institutions head-on, and he won. That’s the biggest lesson Republicans should take from Trump, and it’s one that Carlson preaches constantly: Don’t cower. Don’t be afraid of being called a racist for loving America and prioritizing this country over others. Don’t give the media an inch. Take the offensive and fight.
If he and candidates like Vance can win in November, they’ll work to “rebuild” the Republican Party into an “American-first, pro-family, pro-worker” party, Masters vows. They’d join at least one other conservative populist who’s received funding from Thiel: Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri, who led the congressional challenge to Biden’s win on Jan. 6, and who has also endorsed Masters.
“It definitely looks more nationalistic, but I think it’s a healthy nationalism,” he says of the party he hopes to reshape. “There’s that N-word — nationalism — that you’re not supposed to say.”
I tell him I don’t think you’re supposed to refer to nationalism as the “N-word” either.
“I said that on purpose because it’s like this taboo: ‘You couldn’t possibly be a nationalist!’ But if you don’t think the job of an American official is to look out for America first, and Americans first, before the world or the international community or Botswana? Like what the fuck?”
Masters says a lot of things candidates aren’t supposed to say.
In addition to signal-boosting Ted Kaczynski, Masters has faced scrutiny for a 2006 essay he wrote for the libertarian site LewRockwell.com that was recently unearthed by Jewish Insider; it included a quote from the high-ranking Nazi official Hermann Goering and argued the U.S. hasn’t been involved in a just war in 140 years. In a statement to Jewish Insider, Masters said he didn’t endorse the Nazi leader’s views and that as an undergraduate anti-war activist, he went “too far” in denouncing so many American wars. But he also hit back at the “cheap journalist tactic” of “guilt by association.”
It would be easy for him to denounce the essay as misconstrued or the tone-deaf ravings of a dumb college kid. But that’s not his style. After the one-man debate, Masters brings up the Jewish Insider piece to me unbidden and defends his college writing. That he can’t quote a Nazi explaining how Nazis wrought the horror of war and genocide symbolizes everything that’s wrong with American politics right now, he says. That kind of cowering from thought-stifling cancel-culture warriors is what turned the right into a neutered force of blandness. Not to mention, he adds, that Adolf Hitler coined the phrase “the Big Lie.”