“Wow, what a great day,” Pence said as he went up on stage.
For several days, the split screen between Trump and Pence has been created not just as a major contender in the event of a swing with fallout for November, but as a test of the Republican Party’s post-Trump direction and a potential preview of the 2024 presidential primaries. In his most undermining of Trump yet in the midterms, Pence has been in state to support Karen Taylor Robson, the traditional Republican candidate for governor, while Trump rallied less than 90 miles away with her opponent, former TV anchor and electoral conspiracy theorist Carrie Lake. .
“This is the battle for the spirit of the Republican Party in Arizona,” said Barrett Marson, a state Republican political strategist.
However, what has been revealed more than anything else in Arizona is just how imbalanced that fight is — and how reluctant the former vice president is to separate from his former patron even when he actually does.
“I think he needs to walk a tightrope,” said Jack Duffy, a GOP Central Committee member from the Globe, after Pence issued his regular and sincere praise for the Trump-Pence administration’s accomplishments. “He can’t turn away a large voting group.”
The timing made it even weirder.
Leaving the event, one of the attendees shook her head and whispered: “His life was threatened. His life was threatened by his boss!”
Pence has said in previous public appearances that he does not have the power to nullify the election results in 2020 and said “there is almost no idea more un-American than the idea” he could do. He added that they may never “go face to face” with the insurgency.
But Pence remains indebted to the party in which a large majority of Republicans still believe Trump’s falsity that the election was rigged. In Arizona, a survey by the Republican company HighGround Inc. He found that two-thirds of the state’s likely primary Republican voters still believed the election was definitely or might have been hacked.
In that environment, there is little inevitable for Pence to repeat the fact that he was not. Last month, he was kicked out of a room in Ohio when reporters tried to ask him about January 11th. 6. He received no questions at his event here, and no counselor responded to a request for comment on his Thursday evening statement.
Speaking at a tactical gear manufacturer, Pence instead chose Robson as the champion of conservative politics, promising she would repeat in Arizona the accomplishments of the “four years of the Trump and Pence administrations.”
“No one has worked harder than Karen Taylor-Robson to get a Trump-Pence ticket in 2016 or 2020,” he said.
Pence criticized Lake — but for what he described as her lack of genuine conservative credentials, not her insistence on rigging the 2020 election.
Pence’s intervention in Arizona was not the first time he had challenged Trump in the midterm primaries. In Georgia, Pence campaigned on the eve of the primaries with Gov. Brian Kemp, who has become Trump’s enemy for refusing to pressure to sabotage the election results that showed President Joe Biden winning the state in 2020. But unlike Georgia, where Kemp had a big lead when Pence arrived, Pence comes to Robson in a race she could still lose.
Only recently has Robson, with her personal fortune sweeping the Arizona airwaves, chased Lake, the front-runner in the primaries, spending her big in recent weeks. The Robson campaign also benefited from the withdrawal of a third candidate: the former MP. Matt Salmon, who endorsed Robson. The Republican primary is now widely viewed, and the general election is expected to be competitive.
Chuck Coughlin, a veteran Republican strategist based in Phoenix, suggested that Pence might benefit from his Arizona run regardless of the outcome, as his appearance focuses public attention on anything other than Jan. 21. 6. After the event here, Pence was scheduled to travel with Robson to Tucson for an event focused on border security, a major issue in the primaries — and certainly in the 2024 Republican presidential primary.
“It’s definitely good for him,” Coughlin said. “It allows you to expand the narrative around what it means to be a Republican, and this is a good space for a penny and [Arizona Gov. Doug] Ducey and RGA and all those people, because they’re not Trump.”
Coughlin said, “Trump’s interest is to make everything about Trump. That’s what he wants to do. To the extent that you can narrate that with other ideas, it’s very helpful to build a narrative about the enthusiasm around the party around that.”
There are signs of at least some of that enthusiasm around Pence. Since he left the vice presidency, he has been well received by party activists at events in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. Earlier this week in Washington, some Republican members of the conservative Republican Study Committee praised him for resisting Trump’s efforts to nullify the election.
On Friday, Robson called Pence “a model of courage and conservative leadership,” and the audience applauded him over and over again.
But in the post-Trump Republican Party, Pence still occupies a political no-man’s-land — seen by some moderate Republicans as too attached to Trump, and by Trump supporters as insufficiently loyal to the Trump cause.
In a New York Times/Siena College poll last week, Pence had the 2024 preference for just 6% of Republican voters in the primaries, even with the senator. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and former UN ambassador Nikki Haley, but away from Trump and the governor of Florida. Ron DeSantis.
Bill Gates, the Maricopa County Republican Supervisor, said he avoided discussing the January events. 6, Pence “Maybe he’s doing what a lot of us do, which is trying to talk about the future.”
Over time, Gates said, the conversation surrounding the Republican Party may become “less and less.” [Trump] More about vision.
But given the loyalty of Trump’s party base today, it wasn’t clear to Gates whether endorsing Pence would benefit Robson. And he wasn’t the only Republican wondering about it.
When asked if Pence has a constituency in Arizona, Nathan Sproul, an Arizona-based Republican strategist, paused.
Doug Ducey said. “But I think that’s about her.”
With a large Trump crowd expected in Prescott Valley, hours after Pence spoke, Sproul said of Pence’s accounts, “I’m a little surprised they did the rallies on the same day, to be honest.”