Mike Pence is trying to send a message in Arizona

You might not have expected that Mike Pence – the man who once praised Donald Trump 14 times in three minutes – would openly challenge his former boss. But 2022 appears to be a brave new world in Republican politics.

In the primaries for Arizona’s Republican governor, Pence is, in essence, campaigning against Trump. Former Vice President Karen Taylor Robson, a former developer and land use consultant, whose main opponent is Carrie Lake, endorsed the “Stop Theft” candidate. Yesterday, the two men showed up at the Grand Canyon: Pence praised Robson at small events in Tucson and suburban Phoenix. Trump presided over a walk along a lake in Prescott Valley, where he spoke about his usual set of political and personal grievances in front of thousands of worshipers.

This race isn’t the first time Pence has deviated from a Trump script, but it’s probably the most noteworthy. Robson and Lake represent a larger battle within the Republican Party, between the types of establishment, like Pence, who want to maintain a modicum of sanity in their party, and Trump’s gang of diehard fanatics eager to rig elections. By endorsing Robson, Pence appears eager to show that the Republican Party today can be a place for Americans who accept Trump but are implausible; Robson’s win in Arizona would serve as a data point to support this hypothesis.

However, these efforts may be too little, too late. Even if Lake and other prominent Trump endorsers lose — whether in the primaries or in November — the party has been reshaped in Trump’s image. An overwhelming number of Stop the Theft candidates are vying for state and local positions, and the Republican base demands that rowdy culture warriors be elected, not country-club conservatives. No number of Robsons, or Pences, will change that. “You have to separate person-to-person Trump from the Trump phenomenon,” said Sarah Longuel, Republican strategist and publisher of the conservative news site. the fort, tell me. “Trump this phenomenon changed the Republican Party wholesale.”

Pence has been trying for some time to distance himself from Trump — subtly, and without confronting the former president directly. In February, Pence said Trump was “wrong” in claiming that Pence had any authority as vice president to nullify the results of the 2020 election. Then, in May, Pence endorsed Brian Kemp for governor in the Georgia Republican primaries, despite the fact that Trump was Kemp criticizes for a while, supporting his opponent. (“In a desperate attempt to chase after his lost importance, Pence is parachuting into the races, hoping someone will take notice,” a Trump spokesperson said. New York times.) Kemp ended up winning every county in Georgia.

Now, in Arizona, Pence is locked in a much more visible proxy fight. The candidate he supports is a caricature of the Republican establishment: too boring, too rich, too conservative. Robson, who comes from a political family, was cautious about the “Stop Theft” speech, saying the 2020 election “wasn’t fair,” but she didn’t demand anything like revocation of diplomas. Henceforth, Lake could be better described as Trump in feminine form. (“Donald Trump showed us how to fight and I took some notes!” she said at the rally last night.) She’s been an anchor at a Phoenix Fox affiliate for 27 years, and has a certain star power that voters seem drawn to. Lake focused her entire campaign on the lie that Trump, not Biden, won in 2020. “We had a rigged election, a corrupt election, and we have an illegitimate president sitting in the White House,” she said in an interview with Fox. last month’s news.

So it may be tempting to view Pence’s support for Lake’s opponent as being rooted in a desire to protect democracy. But Pence’s motives seem more opportunistic. First, by endorsing Robson, Pence hopes to show that he is his own man, not just a vassal of Trump — a sign that he will likely run for president again in 2024, despite his apparent lack of voter turnout.

More than anything else, though, Pence is trying some measure of political damage control. He is trying – carefully and methodically – to carve out a different path for members of his party, one that will keep them separate from the bombing and election denial that Trump represents. “Some people want these elections to be about the past, but elections are always about the future,” Pence said chirp last night. “If the Republican Party allows itself to be consumed by yesterday’s grievances, we will lose.” It’s not about ignoring the former president, Barrett Marson, a Republican strategist from Arizona tells me. Pence “Don’t support Lake Curry because she’s crazy.”

Voters who once populated the fringes of the Republican Party are now front and center — and they’re shooting plenty of shots. “There is alarm from many corners of the old Republican Guard that they are being overrun by the cranks,” Longwell said. These geeks can be a political liability. Lake leads Robson in the primary polls, but in the general election against the presumptive Democratic nominee, Katie Hobbs, Robson polls Many Even better, according to OH Predictive Insights in Arizona. Other Trump-backed Republicans are running their own tight or losing races, including Herschel Walker in Georgia, Doug Mastriano and Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania. There are a lot of these conspiring candidates [that] Longwill said he puts Republicans at risk “in what should be an otherwise favorable environment for them.”

A Robson victory would surely reinforce the narrative that Pence and his Trump-weary allies have regained control of the party. The problem is that such a narrative is, at this point, unconvincing. The Republican Party has already been utterly parodied: Even the kinds of high-profile institutions that win primaries will be dwarfed by the sheer number of conspiracy-promoting, “Stop Theft” Republicans on the November ballot — many of whom will go on to win their elections in red zones. Safe. In Arizona, candidates like these are expected to take over for state capitols and the Senate, Chuck Coughlin, a Republican strategist there, told me.

The Overton window of accepted Republican candidates has moved several steps in Trump’s direction. So Robson – someone considered Enterprise selection– I agreed that the 2020 elections were unfair. Republican base demands that its leaders repeat their chosen lies, enjoy conspiracy theories, and above all, be prepared and enthusiastic to own liberation. Citing focus groups she ran recently, Longwill said, these voters aren’t demanding religious, conservative conservatives like Mike Pence. They root for Trump followers like Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem. “I don’t see an exhausted majority,” Longwill said. “I see an active group of Trump voters determined to find your next brawl.”

Yesterday, Pence praised Robson’s steadfast conservative stance in front of a crowd of 350 at a tactical gear plant outside of Phoenix. Talk for 20 minutes, according to Arizona Republic, “in a distinctive, low-key way.” But even as Pence spoke, several miles north, thousands of Trump fans were gathering. They’ve driven from nearby towns and faraway states, and waited in line for most of the day — undeterred by the approaching 100-degree weather — to file at the Findlay Toyota Center. For hours, they listened to speeches from Lake and the rest of the Trump-endorsed Arizona list, including US Senate candidate Blake Masters, who He said He wants to investigate and prosecute Anthony Fauci; And Secretary of State candidate Mark Fenchem who last night Call To withdraw testimony from the Arizona elections and arrest his political opponents.

When Trump finally got on stage, he was met with thunderous applause. “I ran twice, won twice, got better the second time,” he said early in his remarks. “Now we may have to do it again.” The crowd became unruly.

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