2022 midterms

Arizona’s GOP Establishment Rejects Trump Pick Kari Lake

Karrin Taylor Robson is the GOP Establishment’s candidate against Trump’s Kari Lake. Photo-Illustration: Intelligencer. Photos: Getty Images; AP/Shutterstock

Arizona’s August 2 primaries could be a decisive moment in the ongoing drama over Donald Trump’s midterm endorsements. One of the ex-president’s more outlandish favorites, the protofascist Blake Masters, will test Trump’s perfect record in U.S. Senate primaries. But it’s more likely the ultra-MAGA cause could stumble in Arizona’s governor’s race, in which former local-news anchor Kari Lake won an early endorsement from the 45th president and has led recent polls while running a noisy campaign focused on vindicating Trump’s 2020 election fables.

Lake’s ability to stand out even in MAGA-land as an incessant backward-looking champion of Trump’s made-up 2020 election victory is probably attributable to Arizona’s status as the cloud-cuckoo-land of election revisionism. It’s the state where a faction of the GOP’s state legislative leadership insisted on conducting a shoddy and unproductive “audit” of the 2020 election in its largest (and most pro-Democratic) county. The wild atmosphere surrounding the “audit” has made even relatively responsible Republicans loath to accept the 2020 results while giving charlatans like Lake a huge spotlight.

Term-limited governor Doug Ducey has been an object of scorn for Team MAGA throughout this saga, beginning with his announcement on November 30, 2020, that he supported Democratic secretary of State Katie Hobbs’s certification of Joe Biden’s win. But Ducey has joined other members of what might be called the “less MAGA wing” of the Arizona GOP in opposing Lake as his successor. They have consolidated support behind the wealthy donor and housing developer Karrin Taylor Robson, who is giving Lake a self-financed run for her money.

The Robson boom gained steam in late June when former representative Matt Salmon, a familiar figure in Arizona conservative politics who had been running third in most polls, withdrew from the race and endorsed her. She was already being backed by right-wing former governor Jan Brewer while building a following among national conservative figures including Mike Huckabee and Newt Gingrich. Robson soon won Ducey’s backing and was most recently endorsed by former vice-president Mike Pence. Ducey took a nice, clean shot at Lake on CNN’s State of the Union: “Kari Lake is misleading voters with no evidence. She’s been tagged by her opponents with a nickname, ‘Fake Lake,’ which seems to be sticking and actually doing some damage.”

While Robson hasn’t backed efforts to overturn Biden’s election, she hasn’t exactly represented a profile in courage about Trump’s lies, either, as this statement in May made clear:

Joe Biden may be the president, but the election wasn’t fair. States across the country changed their voting rules in the weeks and months before the election; the mainstream media generally refused to cover stories harmful to Joe Biden; and Big Tech actively suppressed conservative voices. No wonder a sizable percentage of Arizona Republicans still feel the way they do about 2020.

Meanwhile, Lake is happy to have the strong support of the mad fringe of the Arizona GOP (e.g., Representative Paul Gosar and former sheriff Joe Arpaio) and its ultra-MAGA allies outside the state (e.g., Mike Lindell, Rudy Giuliani, Michael Flynn, and Marjorie Taylor Greene). As Ducey’s “Fake Lake” gibe indicates, she’s taken a lot of flack for reinventing herself as a right-wing culture warrior, as this Washington Post story from June 20 shows:

Arizona GOP gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake, who has attacked drag queens as dangerous to children, attended the shows of drag queen Richard Stevens for more than 20 years and once hired him to perform at her home, according to Stevens.

Stevens, who said he has performed across the country for 25 years as Barbra Seville, accused the Trump-endorsed Lake of being a “complete hypocrite.”

“I’ve performed for Kari’s birthday, I’ve performed in her home (with children present,) and I’ve performed for her at some of the seediest bars in Phoenix,” Stevens wrote on Facebook.

Robson is heavily outspending Lake and seems to have momentum, though Lake still led her 40 to 35 in the latest poll, from OH Predictive Insights. Ironically, since Lake is on record favoring the abolition of both voting by mail (long the dominant method of balloting in Arizona) and in-person early voting, she may be benefitting from votes already banked before Robson’s recent surge. Whoever wins this increasingly bitter primary will face a tough general-election opponent in Hobbs, the secretary of State, who is in a pretty good position to rebut either ultra-MAGA (Lake) or MAGA Lite (Robson) interpretations of the 2020 elections she supervised.

More on the Midterms

See All
Arizona’s GOP Establishment Rejects Trump Pick Kari Lake