In just nine days, President Donald Trump might have poorly shuffle Arizona Republicans headed into a competing Senate race and hurt his own re-election thoughts in the state.
Trump’s attempts to unseat Sen. Jeff Flake in the state’s 2018 Republican primary have left Trump’s associates confused and divided over which of several probable anti-Flake candidates should obtain their support.
And the President’s judgment to pardon questionable former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio– softly, on a Friday night, with Hurricane Harvey set to create landfall in Texas as a Category 4 storm — bring Democrats such a potent tool to turn out Latino votes that it might not think that the GOP puts on the ballot.
The Arpaio pardon is assured to please Trump’s base — principally those who respect a strict crackdown on immigration, many of whom visited his campaign rally Tuesday night in Phoenix, the Maricopa County seat.
But it also could come at a lofty political cost.
While Maricopa is one of the few main urban nations in the United States that still backs Republican presidential candidates, Trump won by a paltry 3.4 percentage points there — much worse than the 12 points by which Mitt Romney bested former President Barack Obama in the nation in 2012.
Trump took the state by just 3.5 points — a smaller limit of winning than the classical swing states of North Carolina, Iowa, and Ohio.
Arpaio, meanwhile, was simply ousted last year after 24 years in office as Maricopa nation sheriff. Democratic contender Paul Penzone won 56% to Arpaio’s 44%.
That means a significant share of Trump’s supporters in Maricopa County — more than sufficient to swing the key county, which made up about half of Trump’s limit of winning and the whole state — voted against Arpaio last year.
Arpaio is an acutely controversial number, in part for his immigration sweeps that focused Latino neighborhoods and the conditions in his county jail, which combined an outdoor “Tent City” in the Arizona desert. He was condemned of criminal contempt last year for confronting a 2011 court order to stop detaining people based on distrust of their immigration quality with no evidence those people had devoted another crime.
“Regarding the Arpaio pardon, I would have favored that the President honor the judicial procedure and let it take its course,” Flake tweeted Friday night, in a confirmation of the political fallout of Trump’s pardoning of Arpaio.
Arizona’s leading senator, Republican John McCain, said in a comment on the pardon that “no one is above the law and the personals assigned with the advantage of being sworn law officers should always search to be beyond reproach in their need to fairly applying the laws they swore to uphold.”
“Mr. Arpaio was found convicted of criminal contempt for continuing to overly profile Latinos living in Arizona based on their recognized immigration status in violation of a judge’s orders,” McCain said. “The President has the rule to create this pardon, but doing so at this time blunts his claim for the respect of rule of law as Mr. Arpaio has shown no guilt for his actions.”
Democrats, meanwhile, came out swinging hard Friday night.
Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, the Democrat preparing to run for the Senate against Flake in 2018, tweeted: “I am disturbed by the President’s decision to pardon Joe Arpaio. Arpaio hurt Arizonans & cost taxpayers a good amount of grief & money. He should be held liable. No one is above the law.”
“Prejudice doesn’t gain a pardon,” said Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez. “Donald Trump just gave a free pass to his buddy Joe Arpaio, the nation’s most well-known agent of racism and bigotry, during a natural disaster that could hurt millions. That’s not presidential, that’s a wimped.”
Trump had mocked that the Arpaio pardon was coming at his campaign rally in Phoenix on Tuesday night.
At the same rally, he took a shot at Flake without mentioning him by name, calling the Republican senator “weak on borders, weak on crime” and alleging “nobody knows who the hell he is.”
But Trump, who has needed Flake ousted since 2016, telling Arizona Republicans before the election that he’d spend $10 million of his own money against the senator, might have a difficulty in that task, too.
On August 17, he tweeted approval for Kelli Ward, the timid former state senator who drew nearly 40% support in a primary against McCain last year and is running in 2018 against Flake.But Trump-adjusted Arizona Republicans who need to defeat Flake see Ward as a weak candidate. So Trump’s act organizers told hundreds of Ward supporters they couldn’t bring pro-Ward signs into his Tuesday-night rally. And Ward was only permitted in with the crowd.
Meanwhile, Trump met backstage with a group that combined former state GOP chair Robert Graham and state treasurer Jeff DeWit — both possible Flake challenges — as well as Rep. Trent Franks. The President adopted the group to decide soon who would run against the man he calls “the flake.”
But the different signals had already been sent. As news of the backstage huddle broke Wednesday afternoon, pro-Trump media personality Sean Hannity said in an interview with Ward on his radio show that she could defeat Flake.
“I’m delivering my support early behind you,” Hannity said.
That set off a hectic series of phone calls among Trump’s associates in Arizona, who were gearing up for a run against Flake — but by someone else.