Daily Iowan alum David Mastio talks media in the age of Trump

Mastio, Deputy Editorial Page Editor for USA Today, talks about the dangers of Trump and the future of the Republican party.


Katie Goodale

Dave Mastio, Deputy Editorial Page Editor for USA Today, poses for a zoom portrait from his home in Virginia on Monday, Nov. 2, 2020. Mastio is a University of Iow alum.

Rylee Wilson, News Editor

The Ethics & Politics Initiative, a donor-funded enterprise of The Daily Iowan, sent a photographer and editor to Washington D.C. to capture the nation’s capital on election night.

WASHINGTON — Ahead of Election Day, The Daily Iowan sat down with University of Iowa alum and USA Today columnist and editorial board member David Mastio to talk about the current state of the presidential election.

Mastio is a five-year Deputy Editorial Page Editor for USA Today, and wrote conservative columns in his time at the DI. He helped pen the organization’s editorial endorsing Joe Biden, the first time the newspaper in its 38-year history has endorsed a presidential candidate.

A staunch conservative, Mastio in 2016 broke with the Republican Party, to declare himself a “never Trumper,” and wrote a column lambasting the president before his election to office.

Graduating in 1995 from the UI School of Journalism, Mastio has never been one to keep his opinions to himself. His conservative columns often garnered controversy on campus — which he says gave him a thick skin ahead of his career in the journalism industry. He joined USA Today staff his senior year at the UI, and his journalism career included stops at the Washington Times, The Detroit News, and the Virginian Pilot, before returning to the USA Today as a commentary editor.

DI: What did you do during your time like at Iowa and at the DI? What are the things that you remember covering the most while you were there?

I was a conservative columnist for the DI. I had my own protest group who existed solely to get me fired by the newspaper. And there was an editor who stood up for me and wouldn’t fire me. One of my favorite columns that I wrote when I was there – I was taking one of the intro to journalism classes, and I had an avowedly socialist TA, who was teaching it, and so I wrote a column about what a dope he was while I was in his class and waiting for him to give me a grade. That was fun.

DI: USA Today endorsed a presidential candidate for the first time this year. Why?

Well, we think that there’s essentially a national emergency. Donald Trump is a threat to democracy. There’s so many ways that he’s awful. He’s allergic to the truth. He’s been a disaster on coronavirus, the biggest challenge he’s faced as president. He exacerbates racial tensions and divides Americans from each other. I can’t remember who said this but somebody said, the first thing a president should do is not not make things worse. And it seems like everything that Donald Trump touches and everything he speaks about, he makes it worse. Faced with a president who is so universally bad, the editorial board, as diverse as it is ideologically and racially, we came together and said, Donald Trump is not acceptable. It’s something that we hope we never do again. But Donald Trump is too dangerous to not speak up.

DI: Why was your policy to not endorse candidates? Do endorsements have value?

I think that for the top line elections, like President, Senator, Governor, House of Representatives – people know what they think. And they know what their values are, and how they should vote in relation to their values. I don’t think editorial boards endorsing in those kinds of races really add anything. For subjects that people know less about like your state representative or your county plebiscite, an editorial board can spend more time and get more deeply into the issues and provide a useful public service by endorsing, I just don’t think on bigger issues that they really offer that advantage.

DI: Where does the Republican Party go after this election? Is it headed further in Trump’s direction?

I think Trump has put his finger on some important things about trade, and about how the working class feel left out that are going to have to continue to be part of the Republican Party. I think there’s going to be a big struggle over cultural Trumpism – the disdain for facts, the press, the saying things to divide Americans. I think there’s going to be a real battle over the attitude of the Republican Party, whether it’s a party that’s about Building America up, or a party that’s about tearing Americans apart in order to advance its cultural point of view.

A lot depends on whether Trump stays a big part of the national conversation and how loyal the Trump base is to him after he’s become a loser. I think he’s gonna lose this election badly. And I’m probably going to get in trouble for making predictions, but I think it’s going to go very badly for him and I’m hoping that the Republican Party will reject him once he’s been exposed as a loser.

DI: What does election day look like for you? What will you be doing tomorrow?

It’s really a challenge because normally, most of what I work on is columns that have outside writers who are writing opinion columns for USA Today – we have four to six a day. On Tuesday night, there’s only going to be one issue that people care about. And chances are good that we’re not going to know what the results are. So how do you have strong opinions about not knowing what the results are that we can run in the next day’s paper? So it’s really a challenge.

Stay tuned for updates throughout the coming days.