Two years ago the Arizona Republican Party elected far right, conspiracy monger Kelli Ward chairman... so it was inevitable yesterday that the party would censure more mainstream conservatives Governor Doug Ducey, former Senator Jeff Flake, and Cindy McCain. Ward-- who had been endorsed for reelection by Trump-- won, although it was close (51.5% to 48.5% for Sergio Arellano) and it took two ballots. Ducey, who is term-limited as governor, was thought to be the best challenger to freshman Senator Mark Kelly next year. He announced he isn't going to run, almost guaranteeing Kelly a full 6 year term in 2022.
Before the censure vote yesterday, the NY Times reported that the largely symbolic vote would just underscore a widening rift in Arizona between party officials who have made clear that their loyalty lies with Trump and those in the party who refused to support him or his effort to overturn the election results in the state. Ducey, Flake and McCain were all at Biden's inauguration, which further infuriated party extremists. McCain noted that as chairman of the Arizona Republican Party, Ward managed to turn Arizona blue in November for the first time since 1996. "Maybe she should be reminded that my husband never lost an Arizona election since his first win in 1982." One of the elections McCain won was against Ward herself who tried primarying him in 2016 from the right and lost with less than 40% of the vote. She then tried primarying Martha McSally two years later and only walked away with 27.6%.
And Arizona is hardly the only state where Trump and his crackpot followers are making trouble. Last night Josh Dawsey and Michael Scherer wrote that Señor Trumpanzee "threw himself back into politics this weekend by publicly endorsing a devoted and divisive acolyte in Arizona who has embraced his false election conspiracy theories and entertained the creation of a new 'MAGA Party.'... In recent weeks, Trump has entertained the idea of creating a third party, called the Patriot Party, and instructed his aides to prepare election challenges to lawmakers who crossed him in the final weeks in office, including Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY), Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R), Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Rep. Tom Rice (R-SC), according to people familiar with the plans."
Dawsey and Scherer reported that "Trump has told people that the third-party threat gives him leverage to prevent Republican senators from voting to convict him during the Senate impeachment trial. Trump advisers also say they plan to recruit opposing primary candidates and commission polling next week in districts of targeted lawmakers. Trump has more than $70 million in campaign cash banked to fund his political efforts."
I'm sure Republican senators love being threatened by Trump this way and I suspect some of them will react contrary to what Trump is hoping for. "The prospect of a divisive battle," the two Post reporters wrote, "threatens to widen a split in the Republican Party and has alarmed leaders in Washington, who have been pleading publicly to avoid any new rounds of internecine retribution. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Republican Party Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel are among the leaders who have worked to protect politicians like Cheney, who supported Trump’s second impeachment and now faces an internal effort to remove her from her role as the third-highest-ranking member of the House Republican leadership... The central issue between the warring party elements is whether Republicans will continue to organize themselves around fealty to Trump or whether a broader coalition should be built in the coming years that can welcome both his most avid supporters and those who have condemned his behavior. The scale and shape of the big tent built by Ronald Reagan, nurtured by George W. Bush and transformed by Trump is once again up for grabs, as the party finds itself without power at the White House, the House or the Senate for the first time since 2014."
As it now stands, the big tent is tearing at the edges. Business groups have called for a Grand Old Party purge of more extreme leaders, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has blamed Trump and other Republicans for provoking the U.S. Capitol riot and McCarthy has said Trump “bears responsibility” for the attack by not immediately denouncing the violence once it began-- although he later said he did not believe Trump provoked the riot.
Trump’s fiercest supporters in Congress, meanwhile, have continued to threaten and denounce those who criticize the former president, repeatedly raising the prospect of a more fundamental party division.
Adding to the conflict, Republican voters remain overwhelmingly supportive of Trump, suggesting strength in primary races that the establishment figures fear could prompt losses in competitive state and national races. A recent Washington Post-ABC News poll found that 6 in 10 Republicans believed the party should follow Trump’s leadership going forward, rather than chart a new path.
“Here’s a warning the GOP needs to hear,” tweeted Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), a newly elected member who has embraced Trump’s conspiratorial view and made supportive comments about the extremist group QAnon. “The vast majority of Republican voters, volunteers, and donors are no longer loyal to the GOP, Republican Party, and candidates just because they have an R by their name. Their loyalty now lies with Donald J Trump.”
The same tensions are also playing out in the states, where grass-roots party apparatuses have rebelled against calls to accept Biden as the duly elected president. The state party of Wyoming, where Cheney serves, previously demanded that the electoral college results be rejected in Congress.
...“In the first nine days after the riot, nearly 5,000 Arizona Republicans changed their party registration, compared with 719 Democrats, according to the secretary of state’s office. The pattern has continued since then at a reduced scale.
Neil G. Giuliano, the president of Greater Phoenix Leadership, a group of the state’s corporate leaders, says he personally knows more than a dozen people who have left the party after the attack on the Capitol and the decision by Republican lawmakers to endorse Trump’s false claims of fraud. The group put out a statement this month condemning as “reprehensible” the behavior of Ward, Gosar and Rep. Andy Biggs (R-AZ) for “disinformation and outright lies to reverse a fair and free election.” The two members of Congress were among the most vocal in seeking to deny Biden his electoral victory.
“They all know the truth,” Giuliano said about the Republican officials who nonetheless claimed the election result was fraudulent. “I can’t remember a time when there was something as serious as this that compelled CEOs to speak so strongly about what was going on in a political party.”
...Trump himself is likely to decide how vicious the coming fights will be. Since leaving office, he has played golf in Palm Beach while remaining focused on his political fortunes. In recent weeks, Trump has told advisers that he remains angry at both McConnell and McCarthy and has the popularity to drive down their support within the party. He is encouraging his most loyal Republican lawmakers and advisers to attack other Republicans for being disloyal-- and is launching an effort to blanket the airwaves during the impeachment trial, according to a person familiar with his efforts.
At the same time, he has told aides he plans to keep a lower profile over the next few months before ramping his public activities back up to fulfill his vague departing pledge, made at Joint Base Andrews on Inauguration Day, to “be back in some form.”
Conservative activists have grown concerned about Trump’s talk of a third-party split, which has been spreading over Facebook and through other messaging apps.
“A third party would lock in for a generation the left’s ascendancy in American politics,” said Tim Phillips, the president of Americans for Prosperity and an early tea party organizer. “If you look at what Republicans accomplished during the brief time they were in power-- generational tax reform, three Supreme Court justices, deregulation of the economy and energy policies to help America-- they had some key successes.”