Kari Lake and Blake Masters Bring the Trump Train to Arizona

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Two years ago, Arizona was one of the five pivotal swing states that won President Joe Biden an Electoral College majority. On Tuesday, Donald Trump, still fighting to overturn and rewrite his humiliating defeat, succeeded in his campaign to drum out of the GOP’s upper strata in Arizona any politicians who doesn’t fully buy into his “Stop the Steal” lies about the 2020 result.

Outgoing Governor Doug Ducey, who roused the disgraced ex-president’s wrath by refusing to challenge certification of the Arizona election result, endorsed—along with most of the party’s establishment figures— Karrin Robson to be the GOP candidate in the race to succeed him. But Trump endorsed Kari Lake, a fiery and opportunistic television personality who has gone all in on Trumpism in recent years. While the votes are still being counted, at this point it looks like Lake has narrowly won.

In the race for US Senate nominee, Trump endorsed the extremist venture capitalist Blake Masters, a protégé of Silicon Valley billionaire and Trump adviser Peter Thiel. So, too, did neo-Nazi publisher Andrew Anglin, who founded The Daily Stormer nine years ago. Masters handily beat out his more moderate rivals, who hadn’t fully gotten with the plan in terms of their views on the validity of the 2020 election.

Trump also came out a winner in the race for the GOP candidate for Arizona secretary of state. He endorsed election-denier Mark Finchem, an extremist state rep whose previous claim to fame was introducing a bill last year, HCR 2033, that would have allowed legislators to overturn the will of the people in the state’s three most populous and Democratic-leaning counties—Maricopa, Pima, and Yuma—and simply choose whom to assign their electors to in a disputed presidential election. Finchem won a four-way race with more than 40 percent of the vote.

If elected in November, Finchem, a QAnon supporter and member of the extremist Oath Keepers militia, has pledged to end early voting (a critical part of the state’s electoral apparatus), to curtail or end the use of electronic voting machines, and to implement strict voter ID laws. He is one of several candidates for secretary of state around the country whom Trump has endorsed, apparently with the intent of entirely capturing vulnerable election apparatuses so as to make it easier to challenge unfavorable election results should the need arise.

All of which will make for an interesting three months in the run-up to the November midterm elections in a state that has for the past several election cycles been more purple than reliably red, which voted for Biden in 2020, and which currently has two Democratic senators.

For decades now, Arizona’s GOP has swung ever further rightward, even as the broader electorate in Arizona has gradually become more liberal. This week’s results simply accelerate long-standing trends.

Arizona’s GOP has a long and dishonorable record of tacking to the extreme right, especially in primary season, when red meat must be fed to the base. This is the state that produced Barry Goldwater and his extremist presidential candidacy of 1964. It is a state whose GOP leaders, a decade ago, passed SB 1070, arguably the most extreme anti-immigrant measure in the country at the time. It’s a state that sent white nationalist Representative Paul Gosar to D.C.—and propelled him to another primary victory yesterday with 65 percent of the vote, despite a string of recent actions in which Gosar has ever more explicitly tied his political fortune to racist and fascist ideologies and groups. It’s a state that embraces state senators such as Wendy Rogers, who routinely call for violence to be meted out against their political opponents. It’s the state that turned Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio—who specialized in terrorizing undocumented immigrants, and tormenting his jail inmates with the chain gang and a slew of other humiliation rituals—into an icon for the nativist right in America.

But it’s also a state that has, in recent years, seen one of the country’s most potent organizing efforts to counter far-right politicians and to raise the profile of progressives. Trade unions such as UNITE Here! Local 11 have helped coordinate huge get-out-the-vote efforts in recent elections and are already on the ground in Arizona working on the midterm election campaigns. Immigrants’ rights groups have succeeded in substantial voter registration efforts over the past decade. As a result, politics in Arizona in 2022 is a far cry from what it was even a decade ago. Blake Masters is hoping to unseat Democratic Senator Mark Kelly. Yet recent polling gives the incumbent a large lead over his opponent.

Kari Lake is hoping to succeed Doug Ducey. She talks incessantly about the supposed stealing of the 2020 election, and has already warned her supporters that if she loses in November, it will be because dead people voted against her. Seeking to position herself as a culture warrior, she has in recent months gone to war against drag queens and other targets of opportunity. Yet she is trailing Democratic Party candidate Katie Hobbs—currently Arizona’s secretary of state—by between 5 and 10 percent, according to a number of recent polls. There isn’t polling on Finchem’s race, but despite the flurry of loud GOP voices proclaiming fealty to the idea of a stolen election, even the GOP’s own officials in Maricopa County were unable to find evidence of systemic voter fraud impacting the 2020 vote. Given this, it’s hard to see how a delusionist of Finchem’s caliber will be able to build a viable electoral coalition that goes beyond the die-hard Republicans who have already gone down the conspiracy rabbit hole and drunk the Trumpian Kool-Aid.

Moreover, on key national issues, the far-right candidates the GOP has nominated are massively out of sync with public opinion. Lake, Finchem, Masters, all oppose abortion rights. Yet more than seven in 10 Arizonans believe in preserving reproductive freedoms. Eighty percent of Arizonans want a pathway to citizenship for DREAMers and for holders of Temporary Protected Status; on the subject of immigration, this puts them at loggerheads with all the leading GOP candidates. A large majority of Arizonans support raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour. A similarly large majority support a rapid transition to a clean energy economy. Again, the GOP opposes these changes.

There is, in other words, a pathway—albeit narrow—for the Democrats to consolidate their political takeover of Arizona in this election season. The party has nominated eminently sensible politicians to fight key races. By contrast, the GOP has opted for extremism.

In his bilious revenge campaign against the so-called RINOs surrounding Ducey, Trump has facilitated the triumph of the crackpot wing of Arizona’s GOP. It’s hard to see how this bodes well for the party in November’s general election.