Kari Lake Inevitable Republican Nominee
The Arizona gubernatorial loser is back to lose the Senate.
Yet another installment in our America has weak political parties series.
POLITICO (“National Republicans knew Lake was unbeatable. So they joined her.“):
Kari Lake launched her long-awaited Senate campaign with a 50-minute speech on Tuesday that bore little resemblance to the fire and brimstone candidacy that marked her gubernatorial bid two years ago.
Appearing in an airplane hangar in 94-degree heat, the former TV anchor devoted much of her address to lamenting rising inflation, gas prices and the border crisis. The script suggested a candidate keenly invested in trying to tweak her image. It contained just one passing reference to the election fraud claims that she has harped on so much that they came to politically define her.
Lake’s efforts to recast herself, much like her candidacy as a whole, presents a conundrum for Republicans. Many had hoped that she would leave the political stage after her defeat in 2022, convinced that she blew a winnable race by waging such a vicious, unapologetic campaign that dwelled on conspiracies.
But as Lake began to openly consider a Senate bid, it also became evident that the party had no mechanism or leverage for stopping her even if they wanted to. Party operatives traded around private polling that showed Lake was unbeatable in a primary and that hits against her did not put a dent in her numbers, according to a person familiar with the data.
Those who had run against her in the past said they had no appetite to challenge her again in the present.
“She’s the kind of person that doesn’t just run to win. She runs to destroy,” said former Rep. Matt Salmon (R-Ariz.), who dropped out of the 2022 governor’s race and endorsed the establishment candidate, Karrin Taylor Robson, to try to avoid opening a path to victory for Lake. Robson ended up losing in the primary.
Salmon recalled that Lake once accused him of wanting children with special needs to be sexually assaulted because he didn’t believe in putting cameras in the classroom. “To walk through the kind of sewage that you have to walk through to campaign against Kari Lake — it’s not a pleasant prospect,” he said. Running against her now, he added, would be a “suicide mission.”
The question is whether she can really move beyond her base in a race that becomes complicated by the possibility of an unprecedented three-way contest. Rep. Ruben Gallego is the likely Democratic nominee, but incumbent Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, who switched to an independent, has not revealed whether or not she plans to run again and has until April to file for reelection.
Outwardly, GOP operatives in D.C. and Arizona hope Lake’s recalibration works. Privately, they are not sure. She could easily be lured into discussing a variety of issues that could turn off voters beyond her base. And Democrats plan to attack her on her past statements and current policy proposals.
“I think her ceiling’s in the mid to low 30s. I have a hard time seeing her get 38 percent of the general election in a three-way race,” said Chuck Coughlin, a longtime Arizona operative. Still she could, he said, “If she’s less contemptuous and more aspirational, which I don’t really see her being.”
Others are even less hopeful that a blend of MAGA and mainstream could work.
“I don’t think she has any prospect of actually being elected,” said Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah). “The people of Arizona are smarter than that.”
The fact that awful, unelectable people keep winning Republican primaries for statewide races they’re likely to lose is a function of a rabid base. Still, in a more rational system, national and state parties would have more control over who runs under their banner.
While this is good news for those who want Democrats to win elections, it’s bad news for the country and, certainly, for the vast majority of voters who aren’t involved enough in politics to vote in primaries. Arizona is not a MAGA state but its people have had a MAGA candidate as one of only two choices for governor, and likely for Senator.