Trump Rally highlights GOP tension over how to win in 2022

PHOENIX — Former President Donald J. Trump returns to Arizona, the birthplace of his political movement, on Saturday to headline a rally in the desert that will be a stark testament to how he uplifted fringe beliefs and politicians who propagated them — even as other Republicans openly fear that voters will end up punishing their party for it.

Mr. Trump’s favorite gubernatorial candidate, Kari Lake, is a first-time candidate who has threatened to jail the state’s top election official. His chosen candidate to replace that election official, a Democrat, is a state lawmaker named Mark Finchem, who was with a group of protesters outside the Capitol on Jan. 6 as rioters tried to block the certification of the 2020 election. And one of his staunchest defenders in Congress is Rep. Paul Gosar, who was censured by his colleagues for posting an animated video showing him killing a Democratic congresswoman and assaulting President Biden.

Mr Trump has invited all three to join him on stage on Saturday for an evening that promises to be full of revelry and political retaliation, marking the former president’s unofficial debut in a midterm election year during which he will try to exercise a heavy hand.

But as popular as the former president remains at the heart of the GOP base, his involvement in races from Arizona to Pennsylvania — and his failure to let go of his defeat by Mr. Biden — has veteran Republicans in Washington and beyond concerned. They fear that Mr. Trump will jeopardize their chances in what should be a very advantageous political climate, with Democrats deeply divided on their political program and Americans taking a generally pessimistic view of Mr. Biden’s leadership a year after the start of his presidency.

Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, and other senior party officials have expressed concern in recent days about Mr Trump’s fixation on the last election, saying it threatened to alienate voters they had need to win in the next election in November.

Those concerns are particularly acute in Arizona, where Trump’s endorsed far-right slate of candidates could prove too extreme in a state that moved Democrats in the last election as voters turned out in large numbers to s oppose Mr. Trump. The myth of widespread voter fraud animates Arizona’s campaigns in several races, alarming Republicans who argue that engaging in the former president’s misrepresentations and lies about 2020 jeopardizes the country’s long-term competitiveness. left.

“I’ve never seen so many Republicans run 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.

For Republicans who worry about Mr. Trump’s influence over candidates they deem ineligible, the basic calculations of these crowded primaries are hard to digest. A winner could win with just a third of the total vote – making it more than likely a far-right candidate unpleasant to the wider electorate wins the nomination largely thanks to Mr. Trump.

In a general election, Mr Coughlin said: ‘If the race is about election integrity and you have a Trumper and another person who believes in the election, the other person wins the race.’

Conservative activists in Arizona have long provided Mr. Trump with the energy and ideas that formed the foundation of his political movement. In 2011, as the real estate developer and reality TV star was testing the waters for a possible presidential campaign, his interest in conspiracy theories that the birth certificate of former President Barack Obama was a fake led to Arizona Tea Party activists and a state legislator. . They were pushing for a state law to require political candidates to produce their birth certificates before qualifying for the ballot. Mr. Trump invited them to Trump Tower.

His attacks on undocumented immigrants helped him endear himself to Arizona voters who had long backed politicians who had vowed to crack down on illegal immigration. And a stretch of Arizona’s border with Mexico has become home to part of Mr. Trump’s unfinished signature wall.

More recently, because of Mr. Finchem and other pro-Trump politicians, Arizona has been a hotbed of distortions about what happened in the 2020 election. The former president’s allies have demanded a audit in the state’s largest county, insisting the official result 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 he had in fact received 261 fewer votes than expected.

Yet the myth persists. And those who question it quickly become the targets of the former president and his allies. They attacked two prominent Arizona Republicans – Governor Doug Ducey and State Attorney General Mark Brnovich for their role in officially certifying Arizona’s election results.

Mr. Trump released a statement on Friday, insisting that if Mr. Ducey decided to run for the US Senate seat held by Mark Kelly, a Democrat, the governor would “never have my endorsement or the support of MAGA Nation.” !”

Mr. Brnovich is running in this Senate primary, and a Republican political group supporting one of his opponents recently ran an ad accusing the attorney general of “apologizing instead of standing with our president” during 2020 elections.

Few Republicans have been willing to call out Mr. Trump publicly for misleading his supporters in a state where all four Republicans in his House delegation voted to overturn the election results when Congress convened to certify on January 6. Mr. Gosar, a guest speaker at Mr. Trump’s rally on Saturday, was the first House member to object that day.

Those who broke ranks with their party include Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer, who created a political action committee to support Republican state and local candidates who accept the validity of the last election. “Arizona’s election was not stolen. We Republicans simply had a presidential candidate who lost,” the group states on its website.

But even those who stood up to Mr. Trump’s false claims were unable to completely dodge the issue in the face of pressure from the president and his supporters.

When a group of 18 Republican attorneys general signed a farcical lawsuit from their Texas counterpart that sought to delay certification of the vote in four battleground states that Mr. Trump lost, Mr. Brnovich did not join his colleagues. He said at the time that “the rule of law” should prevail over politics. But as a Senate candidate who still holds the attorney general’s office, he investigated allegations of fraud at the behest of Trump supporters.

And with state lawmakers reconvening to begin their 2022 session, it looks like 2020 will always be on the minds of many Republicans. Pro-Trump lawmakers are expected to continue pushing for a vote to invalidate the results of the last election. But it will be an uphill battle. They don’t yet have enough support in the state Senate, and the governor’s office has said the legislature lacks the power to do what Mr. Trump’s most ardent supporters are demanding.

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