On Saturday, the Arizona Republican Party decided to reprimand several of its members. Those members weren’t the four US House legislators who voted to overturn Joe Biden’s victory – a victory that a majority in their state voted for.
Instead, the State party, led by die-hard supporters of former President Donald Trump, censured three of its most prominent members – former Senator Jeff Flake; Cindy McCain, widow of former Senator John McCain; and Governor Doug Ducey – effectively, for not following that tough line.
Flake, McCain and Ducey were subject to individual resolutions condemning their vocal criticism of Trump. Ducey was also convicted for closing stores to prevent the coronavirus from spreading in the state and for unsupporting efforts to overturn the state’s results in the November 3 presidential race.
The measures taken during a seven-hour party conference are largely symbolic, but show a rift between the more moderate faction of the state-run GOP and its members further to the right, with support for Trump serving as a key metric.
Arizona faced some of the Trump campaign’s most controversial legal challenges over the November election outcome. Eight nationwide lawsuits against President Joe Biden’s narrow victory in the state have been dropped or dismissed.
And U.S. Republican lawmakers were in the process of challenging Arizona Electoral College certification on Wednesday, Jan. 6, when a maddening crowd of Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol to forcibly reverse the same results.
Biden was the first Democrat to wear Arizona in more than 20 years. The state’s two Senate seats have also switched from Republican to Democratic in the past three years.
The Republicans in Arizona had some disappointing years in the national elections, and this Trump targeting divide suggests a larger divide within the national Republican party. Legislators have a choice of continuing to support Trump in hopes of capitalizing on his strong base or removing him and the traces of his leadership from their platform.
McCain, Flake and Ducey represent a wing of the Arizona GOP. Kelli Ward represents someone else.
McCain and Flake have been criticized by their party friends in the past for being lukewarm to Trump. While he was still in office, Flake frequently criticized Trump, although he continued to support many elements of his agenda. Because of his criticism, he faced a significant primary challenge and declined to stand for re-election in 2018. This seat was won by the Democrat Kyrsten Sinema.
And McCain’s late husband and Trump had quarreled in the Senator’s later years. Trump famously criticized John McCain’s military service and mocked the time he spent as a prisoner of war, and the Senator firmly voted against Trump’s attempts to overturn Obamacare. Cindy McCain has since thrown her weight behind Trump’s opponents and supports same-sex marriage.
Flake and McCain also endorsed Biden’s presidential campaign.
On Twitter, McCain called her rebuke a “badge of honor”.
It is a great honor to be part of a group of Arizonans who have served our state and nation so well … and who, like my late husband, John, have been censored by the AZGOP. I will wear this as a badge of honor.
– Cindy McCain (@cindymccain) January 24, 2021
And Flake posted a photo of himself, McCain and Ducey at Biden’s inauguration, calling them “good company.”
Meanwhile, Ducey’s censorship is based on his efforts to limit the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic in his state, as well as on his defense of the state’s electoral processes, even as he linguistically supported Trump.
To date, there have been about 718,000 cases of Covid-19 in Arizona, and more than 12,000 Arizonans have died from the virus.
In addition to the censorship, the meeting on Saturday shows that the GOP of Arizona is setting up a right-wing extremist platform as a body. The party not only reprimanded three prominent members with more moderate policies, but also re-elected Kelli Ward as chairman of the state party.
Ward is a die-hard Trump loyalist who campaigned for Flake’s vacant position in the U.S. Senate in 2018, alongside Mike Cernovich, a Pizzagate conspiracy propagator.
Despite failing to win the party’s nomination for that Senate seat, she won re-election as chair that weekend, the New York Times reported, after playing a “taped call from Mr. Trump who enthusiastically supported her.”
The party also advocated several positions that put it at a distance from immigration policy, including ending the Deferred Action on the Arrival of Children (DACA) and revoking the birthright. They also passed a resolution to confirm that there are “only two genders”.
While these moves may not have the weight of a mandate in the State party, they can resonate elsewhere as the Republican Party competes with Trump’s legacy.
By the same token, other party leaders trying to take a more moderate route – and potentially their bottom in the GOP 2024 presidential primary – might find accord with the rebuked Arizona leaders.
That may be the case for Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, a Republican who heads a largely blue state and clashed with Trump in 2020 over coronavirus resources. Hogan was one of the few Republican leaders to call on Trump to allow the November election, and after the attempted uprising in the Capitol, Hogan called for Trump’s impeachment.
On Twitter, Hogan criticized the Republican Party of Arizona on Saturday and managed to grapple with the state’s blue 2020.
“It is shameful that a party should focus more on condemning Republicans who win elections than actually winning them,” he wrote of the three chastened Arizonans. “We need their votes to rebuild a big tent with a GOP in principle.”
Trump, meanwhile, is considering deepening the divide he has revealed in the party – allegedly considering starting his own political party.
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