Faith in elections has risen for most Republicans since 2020. Not in Arizona.
PHOENIX — In a megachurch where the Arizona Republican Party met over the weekend to chart its course following heavy losses in the midterms, a package of resolutions was up for consideration, including one to censure Republican officials involved in running past elections.
The question on the floor was how.
Stepping to the microphone in the sanctuary, a man who introduced himself as a combat Vietnam veteran suggested that the way the party censures politicians — a punishment previously slapped on the late Sen. John McCain, his widow, Cindy, former Gov. Doug Ducey and former Sen. Jeff Flake, among others – was insufficient for the times.
Instead, he said, “We should duct tape people to a tree in a dog park, so the dogs can pee on them. And then, when they’re there for a few hours and they have to crap in their pants, they can wallow in their own shit.”
In Washington, the lesson many Republican political professionals expected their party to draw from a less-than-red-wave midterm was that the most hard-right politics of the Trump era were weighing them down – that general election voters were tiring of election denialism and, if not Donald Trump himself, his grievances about the 2020 election. Many high-profile candidates the former president rammed through the primaries last year lost in November, and in Arizona, the wreckage was particularly severe.
Kari Lake, a former TV anchor and one of the GOP’s most prominent election deniers, had become such an electrifying candidate that she was compelled to tamp down speculation about a vice presidential run. But then she lost. So did the hard-liners running for U.S. Senate, state attorney general and secretary of state. For too many independents and moderate Republican voters, they were a turn-off.
Arizona was a “perfect political science experiment” for the GOP nationally, Stan Barnes, a former state lawmaker and Republican consultant in Arizona, told me.
“We had the best candidate in anyone’s lifetime in Kari Lake, and she had the Republican wind at her back,” he said. “Yet, Kari lost. And I think the post-mortem is, you can’t stand on, ‘The whole system’s corrupt’ and ‘Elections are stolen’ as a platform for why people should vote for you.”
He said, “No matter what you or I think of the reality of it, if you want to win the election and you want to change things, it’s not the way to win.”
Yet denialism and its attendant conspiracies animate a large swath of the Republican Party — still. And if Arizona is any example, it suggests that a not insignificant percentage of the national electorate is determined to run the same doomed experiment again in 2024.
In “Ultra MAGA” hats and pins that read “Don’t California My Arizona,” about 2,000 convention-goers streamed into a sanctuary with red and blue backlighting and large screens flanking the stage. They wanted audits of the last election, or the one before that, or of the state party’s finances itself. Some complained about voting machines, including those Arizona Republicans had used themselves that day to elect the new party chair, Jeff DeWit, a former state treasurer and former Trump campaign chief operating officer.
Upstairs, an activist DeWit defeated, Steve Daniels, was sitting alone in the balcony with his unsubmitted ballot on the floor beside him. “Machines are fraud” he’d printed over it by hand in black ink.
Yet if it’s hard to hold your own elections when election denialism is your thing, DeWit was such a consensus choice that his victory was never really in doubt. It’s the elections Democrats won that the assembled Republicans assembled still have problems with. The party rejected a proposal to accept the results of the 2020 election and “not belabor or try to overturn old elections, but work to win upcoming ones.” It rejected a proposal to honor John McCain for being a “dedicated Arizona statesman and a lifelong Republican who embraced bipartisanship.” And it voted by a large margin to censure Republican elected officials in Maricopa County, including Stephen Richer, the county recorder, and Supervisor Bill Gates, for their part in overseeing previous elections.
For true believers, said Barrett Marson, a Republican strategist in the state, “it’s this whole chicken-and-egg thing. Did we lose the election because of denialism, or did Democrats fix the election?”
It doesn’t matter that it isn’t true, he said. “How do you combat that?”
Like many more traditionalist Republicans, Marson had thought the party’s losses in November might result in some introspection. But he wasn’t counting on it, anymore.
At this point, he said, “the party may have to die to be reborn.”
Last month, the nonpartisan Center for Election Innovation and Research released polling by Echelon Insights, a Republican firm, that showed Republican voters had become more confident in elections administration nationally than they were following the presidential election, especially when asked about elections in their home states, where 82 percent overall said they were run well. But in states where Republicans lost significant races — like Arizona — fewer Republicans expressed confidence in the process. In Arizona, just 56 percent of Republican voters said they were confident about how elections here were run.
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