For months now, the Republican Party in Alaska has made clear its intention to oust Senator Lisa Murkowski in 2022 for her vote to impeach former president Donald Trump for inciting the insurrection on January 6. On Saturday, the leaders of the state party, known as Alaska Republican State Central Committee, officially announced a midterm contender following a 58-17 vote to endorse Evangelical pastor Kelly Tshibaka.
The choice wasn’t exactly a surprise, considering that Trump himself endorsed Tshibaka last month and that the state GOP censured Murkowski in March for an impeachment vote that Trump called “disloyal.” Nevertheless, it does underscore the extent to which the party is purging members who do not support the former president following the attack on the Capitol on January 6. (A purported moderate, Murkowski still voted in line with the president’s agenda over 72 percent of the time.)
According to her early campaign rhetoric, Tshibaka is promising a level of fealty closer to 100 percent, describing herself on Twitter as an “unapologetic America First Conservative” prepared to “continue President Trump’s agenda that worked for Alaska and made our country great again!” Unlike Murkowski, she has put forward baseless allegations of voter fraud that would reveal Trump as the true winner in the 2020 election. Two decades prior, she wrote in favor of conversion therapy while at Harvard Law School in 2001 and claimed that homosexuality was caused by
“sexual molestation during childhood.” Fighting the good fight in the late-aught culture wars, the pastor later blogged that the Twilight franchise “is a perfect example of how the enemy twists, perverts, and ridicules the things of God” and that it “leaves us open to the enemy’s attacks.” To bring these ideas to the Senate, she has hired Trump advisers and former campaign managers Bill Stepien and Justin Clark and former campaign spokesman Tim Murtaugh.
While Tshibaka will enjoy the endorsement of an ex-president who won the state by ten points in November, the support of Trump and the state party doesn’t guarantee victory in the midterms, as Intelligencer wrote in March when Murkowski was censured for her impeachment vote:
In addition to Murkowski enjoying the name recognition that comes with having held her Senate seat since 2002, Alaskans in 2020 narrowly voted in favor of ranked-choice elections. The measure in place in 2022 will cancel party primaries, instead requiring both parties to nominate a candidate for the general election. The top four candidates who survive this open primary will then appear on the ticket in November. Ranked-choice primaries tend to help moderates and incumbents; Murkowski is both. And even if she were to ditch the Republicans next year, she has had success running as an independent before. In 2010, she lost the GOP primary only to win the general as a write-in candidate.
And while state Republicans and the man about Mar-a-Lago have flipped on Murkowski, GOP leaders in the Senate aren’t ready to risk losing a two-term incumbent just yet. The National Republican Senatorial Committee is still backing Murkowski, as is the Senate Leadership Fund aligned with Mitch McConnell — a group that spent close to $500 million to seat GOP candidates in 2020. With McConnell and Trump on opposing sides of the midterm race, the struggle of MAGA versus moderate among conservatives in Alaska is shaping up to be a magnet for national attention far away from Washington.