Traditional conservatives fear 'Trumpist hardliners' have permanently 'taken over' Arizona's GOP: report
Former President Donald Trump suffered a major humiliation in Georgia when, in May, Gov. Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger crushed their “Stop the Steal” challengers in GOP primaries; Kemp, in fact, defeated the Trump-backed former Sen. David Perdue by a brutal 52 percent. But in Arizona, another key swing state that President Joe Biden won in 2020, there were much different outcomes in Republican primaries that found the most extreme, far-right “Stop the Steal” MAGA candidates defeating more traditional conservatives. The Big Lie promoters who are now competing with Democratic nominees in the general election in Arizona include gubernatorial nominee Kari Lake, secretary of state nominee Mark Finchem and state attorney general nominee Abraham Hamadeh.
Lake, Finchem and Hamadeh have all falsely claimed that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from Trump in Arizona through widespread voter fraud. It wasn’t; recount after recount has made it abundantly clear that Biden defeated Trump fair and square in Arizona, where on Election Night 2020, right-wing Fox News’ decision desk was the first to call the Grand Canyon State for Biden.
In an article published by Politico on August 18, Phoenix-based journalist Hank Stephenson — who co-founded the Arizona Agenda newsletter — describes a conflict within the Arizona GOP: far-right MAGA conspiracy theorists versus traditional conservatives. And Arizona’s traditional conservatives, according to Stephenson, fear that they’re losing the battle.
“When Arizona state lawmaker Mark Finchem, a 2020 election denier who deals in fringe legal theories, won the Republican nomination for secretary of state earlier this month, many of his GOP colleagues in the (Arizona) State Legislature couldn’t believe it,” Stephenson explains. “To be clear, they knew he would win — he had Donald Trump’s endorsement — but they were still stunned. Mark Finchem. Him. A back-bench lawmaker best known locally for his over-the-top drugstore cowboy get-ups and extreme ideas, Finchem would be in charge of the state’s elections should he win in November. That would also put him first in the line of succession for the governorship since Arizona doesn’t have a lieutenant governor.”
The political landscape in Arizona has changed dramatically from what it was back in the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s. In those days, Arizona was known for being a deep red state and was closely identified with Goldwater conservatism — as in Sen. Barry Goldwater and his successor, Sen. John McCain. Now, it is a swing state with two centrist Democratic U.S. senators: Kyrsten Sinema and Mark Kelly, who is running for reelection this year and is up against Trump-backed MAGA Republican Blake Masters.
These days, it isn’t uncommon to hear Arizona Democrats say that they miss the days of Goldwater/McCain conservatism — which is ironic in light of the fact that when Goldwater won the 1964 GOP presidential nomination, President Lyndon B. Johnson’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee (DNC) successfully painted him as an extremist who would get the U.S. into a nuclear war (the infamous “daisy ad” that sunk Goldwater’s 1964 campaign can be found on YouTube). But the MAGA Republicans of 2022 are way to the right of Goldwater, who was considered an arch-conservative in his day, and McCain. Democrat Sinema often praises McCain, who was proud to call himself a Goldwater conservative.
But while Arizona on the whole is much more of a swing state than it was 30 or 40 years ago, much of the Arizona GOP has been moving more and more to the MAGA far right.
“Trump’s slate of political insurgents swept the GOP nomination for every state office in which he offered his blessing, from the U.S. Senate down to state Senate races,” Stephenson explains. “After decades of civil war, the Arizona primaries mark a decisive swing in the state GOP’s balance of power. The center-right, pro-business wing of the party led by the late Sen. John McCain and Gov. Doug Ducey has been defeated, at least for now. Finchem and other far-right outsiders — the original Tea Party activists and the new Trumpist hardliners — have taken over…. Lake, a former TV news anchor, fended off more than $20 million in spending against her to narrowly capture the nomination, despite her opponent’s backing from Ducey, former GOP Gov. Jan Brewer and former Vice President Mike Pence.”
Stephenson warns that if Lake, Finchem and other MAGA Republicans are victorious in November and Trump runs for president in 2024, Trump could have “a slate of statewide officials who could steal the election for him” in Arizona.
Arizona State Sen. Paul Boyer, a conservative Republican who received death threats from MAGA extremists after refusing to go along with the Big Lie, decided not to seek reelection in 2022. Discussing the Arizona primary results with Politico, Boyer commented, “Abe Hamadeh for AG? Kari Lake for governor? It’s very simple. If you can fog up a mirror and win the ‘Arizona Apprentice,’ you’re good.”
Many Never Trump conservatives are hoping that if Democrats enjoy a lot of victories in Arizona in November, the Arizona GOP will move away from extremism. But Barrett Marson, a GOP consultant in the Grand Canyon State, isn’t so sure that MAGA losses in November would discourage the Arizona Republican Party from continuing to move in the direction.
Marson told Politico, “It may take a drubbing at the polls this year to get Republican voters off the Trump train. Or maybe they’ll just double down.”
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