Normally a party chairman or chairwoman who loses the state’s presidential election and the contested senate seat, without adding any new House seats (in a year where Republicans gained) would be considered a flop. Quite the contrary in the case of Arizona’s GOP Chairwoman Kelli Ward.
After receiving former President Donald Trump’s “complete and total endorsement,” Ward narrowly defeated future star Sergio Arellano by a mere 47 votes. The vote reflected the dual realities of Ward’s tenure: performance in the November 2020 election was not dismal—Republican Representatives such as Andy Biggs, Debbie Lesko, and Paul Gosar held their seats—but incumbent Martha McSally lost yet another race, this time to Democrat Mark Kelly, and Trump failed to carry a state he won by 3.5% and 90,000 votes in 2016, supposedly losing to Democrat Joe Biden by a mere 10,000 votes. (As with any statistics of the 2020 election, these numbers must be taken highly skeptically. For example, Trump got 400,000 more votes than in 2016, but somehow mysteriously Joe Biden managed to get 500,000 more than Hillary Clinton—out of a total of 4.2 million registered voters.)
The highly suspicious vote totals. Mark Kelly received 40,000 more votes than did Joe Biden and McSally got 2,000 more votes than Donald Trump. Other than fraud, the only explanation for such goofy results would be sharply divided parties . . . on both sides.
This was what Ward dealt with: a lingering odor of the John McCain cabal (embodied in the present with former wildly unpopular Senator Jeff Flake and McCain’s widow, Cindy McCain. They have fought (some argue, with Governor Doug Ducey’s clandestine support) an ongoing war with Ward and the majority Trump wing of the Arizona Republican Party. When Ward came into office, she had complained that all computer files had not been handed over and that large McCain donors were squeezing the Party out. Nevertheless, Ward’s achievements were numerous and significant:
*Republicans won key state offices in the Arizona Corporation Commission, Maricopa County Attorney, and Assessor. (Especially in the case of Adrian Fontes, the Democrat County Recorder who allegedly held open select voting locations in Democrat-controlled areas in the close 2018 defeat of Martha McSally, was an important gain).
*Despite the reluctance of traditional McCain-wing donors to contribute, Ward raised $23.5 million—four times what was raised just two years earlier.
*Most important, Ward led an insurgency that supported President Trump’s effort to examine and challenge voting irregularities in Arizona (along with Georgia, Nevada, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania). Out of those states, Ward was the most prominent GOP leader to force examinations of the data early—well within time for the Arizona legislature to act. It didn’t.
More as an acknowledgment of the impact of the China Virus, the sinking popularity of Governor Ducey due to self-inflicted wounds, and the questionable presidential election, Ward won the benefit of the doubt. One could say of her what was once said of Trump himself: “She fights!”
The Convention, though, went even further and passed a resolution censuring Ducey, Flake, and Cindy McCain. Typically, McCain was tone-deaf and took it as a “high honor to be included in a group of Arizonans who have served our state and our nation so well,” apparently referring to a disgraced Senator who left office voluntarily with a 19% approval rating and a current governor who at present stands no chance of getting elected to any political office.
Ducey had virtually ended any hopes he had of running for senate with his business-killing China Virus policies. Considerable evidence has emerged that the primary driver in his decision-making was how to best hoard federal Coronavirus relief funds for state coffers. But the icing on the anti-Ducey cake came when certified the state’s presidential election on the very day hearings were beginning with Arizona GOP legislatures into the “steal” as it was referred to.
Most significantly, the convention appeared to be divided over Ward only because of the November losses and not due to a strong presence of the McCain wing. Her challenger, Arellano, was a board member of Latinos for Trump from Tucson—a key area where Republicans must make headway while regaining their edge in Maricopa County. In other words, the issue seemed how to best advance MAGA, not retreat from it.
This will be a challenge in Arizona as of November’s numbers—again if they are to be believed—are indicative. More Californians, in particular, are flooding into the state to escape their Orwellian future in the Golden State. Normally this would be considered bad news for Republicans. However, just prior to the election, Richard Baris’s Big Data Polling found that while the previous generation of immigrants to Arizona from other states was decidedly liberal, the most recent generation was far more conservative. In other words, the new California exodus maybe conservatives giving up once and for all on the California dream.
Either way, Ward, Arellano—who joined her in a unity show on stage—and other Trumpers have their hands full as thousands of Republicans are shifting their voter identification out of the Republican Party in disgust not only with the unwillingness to fight the fraud but with GOP cowardice in the face of the Patriot Day protests on January 6th in the nation’s capital. While Biggs, Lesko, and Gosar have held firm; many other nationally known GOP leaders have folded like linguini at a boil.
Ward will have to acknowledge why they left without losing their support for a replacement for Democrat Kyrsten Sinema in 2022. And that will be a tough mountain to climb. Sinema, who is as far left ideologically as Nancy Pelosi, or perhaps even Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, is nevertheless a brilliant politician—probably Arizona’s best since Barry Goldwater. She repeatedly takes high-profile symbolic positions that endear her to Arizona’s more Republican older voters, without making the kinds of lunatic statements that Pelosi makes. Recently, in the wake of National Guard troops being forced to sleep in parking garages during Joe Biden’s inauguration, she and newly elected Kelly opened their Senate offices for Guard troops who were told to leave the Capitol.
Meanwhile, leading GOP senators—even some who defended Trump—have failed to do the same. These kinds of symbolic gestures play well with voters and leave a far bigger impact than fiery speeches or tweets.
Kelli Ward should be congratulated, not just on the job she has done, but on the very difficult task in front of her. Beyond her reelection, though, lies an unmistakable revolt in the desert and the death of McCainism.
Larry Schweikart is a native Arizonian, co-author with Michael Allen of the New York Times #1 bestseller, A Patriot’s History of the United States, author of Reagan: The American President, and founder of the Wild World of History homeschool and curriculum site (www.wildworldofhistory.com).