In Florence, Arizona last night, Trump, looking a little older and puffier, held his first rally of 2022. It's a small city about an hour and a half drive southeast of Phoenix. There are 8 prisons in the town, including several private prisons and it is the county seat of Pinal, Trump's biggest Arizona county win in 2020. The state is 58% fully vaccinated. Pinal, as you might guess, lags the state with just 51% vaccinated. With Pinal County's case load increasing by 251% in the last 2 weeks, last night's super-spreader event at Canyon Moon Ranch was like a chickenpox party for wing nuts. The Arizona Republic noted that the 93 minutes of baseless, rambling bullshit was "an updated version of Trump’s usual America-first rhetoric, long on personal boasts and lacking in subtlety."
It was a Fox News/Hate Talk radio audience and they embraced Trump's handpicked crackpot candidate for governor, former TV news anchor Kari Lake, whose message of cracking down on undocumented immigrants, canceling mask mandates and passing anti-abortion legislation resonated strongly with a crowd seething with grievances and anger. She claimed, falsely that she is up 30 points in the polls. The most current polling shows Democrat Katie Hobbs beating her 41-37% with 18% undecided.
After 2 hours of speeches for local politicians, Trump started-- right from his first sentences-- lying about a "rigged election" and asserting falsely that "I ran twice and I won twice." The NY Times' Jeremy Peters was in Florence for the occasion and reported that as popular as Señor Trumpanzee "remains with the core of the GOP’s base, his involvement in races from Arizona to Pennsylvania-- and his inability to let go of his loss to Biden-- has veteran Republicans in Washington and beyond concerned. They worry that Trump is imperiling their chances in what should be a highly advantageous political climate, with Democrats deeply divided over their policy agenda and Americans taking a generally pessimistic view of Biden’s leadership a year into his presidency."
Note to Peters on the "deeply divided" Democrats: One lone Blue Dog apostate, Jared Golden (ME), voted against Biden's Build Back Better bill and two uber-corrupt DINO conservatives, Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, oppose the bill in the Senate. Otherwise, the Democrats in Congress are united behind it. So deeply divided? Not really... but the phrase sort of rolls right off the tongue. Now, if you want to talk about really deep divisions...
Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, and other senior party officials have expressed their misgivings in recent days about Trump’s fixation on the last election, saying that it threatens to alienate the voters they need to win over in the next election in November.
Those worries are particularly acute in Arizona, where the far-right, Trump-endorsed slate of candidates could prove too extreme in a state that moved Democratic in the last election as voters came out in large numbers to oppose Trump. The myth of widespread voter fraud is animating Arizona campaigns in several races, alarming Republicans who argue that indulging the former president’s misrepresentations and falsehoods about 2020 is jeopardizing the party’s long-term competitiveness.
“I’ve never seen so many Republicans running in a primary for governor, attorney general, Senate,” said Chuck Coughlin, a Republican consultant who has worked on statewide races in Arizona for two decades. “Usually you get two, maybe three. But not five.”
At the rally on Saturday, every speaker who took the stage before Trump repeated a version of the false assertion that the vote in Arizona in 2020 was fraudulent. Gosar, the congressman, did so in perhaps the darkest language, invoking the image of a building storm, a metaphor commonly used by followers of the QAnon conspiracy theory. And he called for people involved in counting ballots in Arizona in 2020 to be imprisoned.
“Lock them up,” Gosar told the crowd. “That election was rotten to the core.”
For Republicans who are concerned about Trump’s influence on candidates they believe are unelectable, the basic math of such crowded primaries is difficult to stomach. A winner could prevail with just a third of the total vote-- which makes it more than likely a far-right candidate who is unpalatable to the broader electorate can win the nomination largely on Trump’s endorsement.
...Arizona has been a hotbed of distortions about the 2020 election. Allies of the former president demanded an audit in the state’s largest county, insisting that the official outcome had been compromised by fraud. But when the results of the review were released-- in a report both commissioned and produced by Trump supporters-- it ended up showing that he actually received 261 fewer votes than first thought.
Still, the myth lives on. And those who question it quickly become targets of the former president and his allies. They have attacked two prominent Arizona Republicans-- Gov. Doug Ducey and Attorney General Mark Brnovich for their roles in Arizona’s formal certification of its election results.
Trump issued a statement on Friday, insisting that if Ducey decided to run for the United States Senate seat occupied by Mark Kelly, a Democrat, the governor would “never have my endorsement or the support of MAGA Nation!”
Brnovich is running in that Senate primary, and a Republican political group supporting one of his opponents recently ran an ad accusing the attorney general of “making excuses instead of standing with our president” over the 2020 election.
Few Republicans have been willing to call Trump out publicly for misleading his supporters in a state where all four Republicans in its House delegation voted to overturn the results of the election when Congress convened to certify on Jan. 6. Gosar was the first House member to object that day.
Those who have broken ranks with their party include Stephen Richer, the Maricopa County recorder, who has started a political action committee to support Republicans running for state and local office who accept the validity of the last election. But even those who have resisted going along with Trump’s false claims have been unable to completely duck the issue when faced with pressure from the president and his supporters.
When a group of 18 Republican attorneys general signed onto a far-fetched lawsuit from their counterpart in Texas that sought to delay the certification of the vote in four battleground states that Trump lost, Brnovich did not join his colleagues. He declared at the time that the “rule of law” should prevail over politics. But as a candidate for Senate who still occupies the office of the attorney general, he has investigated claims of fraud at the behest of Trump supporters.