PHOENIX — Former President Donald J. Trump returns on Saturday to Arizona, the cradle of his political movement, to lead a demonstration in the desert that will be striking evidence of how he elevated fringe beliefs and the politicians who spread them — even if other Republicans are openly concerned that voters will eventually punish their party for it.
Trump’s favorite candidate for governor, Kari Lake, is a first-time candidate for office and has threatened to imprison the state’s top election official. His chosen candidate to replace that election official, a Democrat, is a state legislator named Mark Finchem, who was outside the Capitol with a group of protesters on Jan. 6 as rioters tried to block the certification of the 2020 election. And one of his most staunch defenders in Congress is: Representative Paul Gosar, who was censored by his colleagues for posting an animated video online in which he killed a Democratic congressman and attacked President Biden.
Mr. Trump has invited all three to take the stage with him on Saturday for an evening that promises to be full of political revelry and retaliation, marking the former president’s unofficial debut in a midterm election year when he will try a crackdown. to exercise.
But as popular as the former president remains at the core of the GOP’s grassroots, his involvement in races from Arizona to Pennsylvania — and his inability to let go of his loss to Mr. Biden — is worrying veteran Republicans in Washington and beyond. They worry that Mr. Trump is jeopardizing their chances in what should be a very favorable political climate, with Democrats deeply divided on their policy agenda and Americans having a generally pessimistic view of Mr. Biden’s leadership and years after his presidency.
Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader and other senior party officials have in recent days expressed doubts about Mr Trump’s fixation on the latest election, saying it threatens to alienate the voters they need to win in the next one. elections in November.
Those concerns are especially acute in Arizona, where the far-right Trump-approved list of candidates could prove too extreme in a state that moved Democratic in the last election as voters turned out in droves to oppose Trump. The myth of widespread voter fraud is fueling Arizona’s multi-race campaigns, alarming Republicans who argue that admitting to the former president’s misrepresentations and falsehoods about 2020 will jeopardize the party’s long-term competitiveness.
“I’ve never seen so many Republicans run in a primary for Governor, Attorney General, Senate,” said Chuck Coughlin, a Republican consultant who spent two decades working on statewide races in Arizona. “Usually you get two, maybe three. But not five.”
For Republicans concerned about Trump’s influence over candidates they believe are ineligible, the basic math of such overcrowded primaries is hard to bear. A winner could prevail with just a third of the total vote — making it more than likely that a far-right candidate unpalatable to the wider electorate will win the nomination largely thanks to Mr Trump’s endorsement.
In a general election, Mr. Coughlin said, “If the race is about election integrity, and you have a Trumper and another person who believes in the election, the other person wins the race.”
Conservative activists in Arizona have long given Mr Trump the energy and ideas that formed the basis of his political movement. In 2011, when the real estate developer and reality TV star was testing the waters for a possible presidential campaign, his interest in the conspiracy theories that claimed former President Barack Obama’s birth certificate was a forgery led him to Arizona Tea Party activists and a state legislature. . They pushed for a state law to require political candidates to present their birth certificates before being eligible to vote. mr. Trump invited them to Trump Tower.
His attacks on undocumented immigrants helped endear him to voters in Arizona who have long supported politicians who vowed to crack down on illegal immigration. And a stretch of Arizona’s border with Mexico became home to part of Mr Trump’s unfinished landmark wall.
More recently, thanks to Mr. Finchem and other pro-Trump politicians, Arizona has been a hotbed of distortions about what happened in the 2020 election. Allies of the former president demanded an audit in the state’s largest county, alleging the official outcome had been compromised by fraud. But when the results of the review were released — in a report both commissioned and prepared by Trump supporters — it turned out that he actually got 261 fewer votes than first thought.
Yet the myth lives on. And those who question it are quickly targeted by the former president and his allies. They have attacked two prominent Arizona Republicans: Governor Doug Ducey and State Attorney General Mark Brnovich for their role in formally certifying Arizona’s election results.
Mr. Trump made a statement Friday, insisting that if Mr. Ducey were to decide to run for the United States Senate seat held by Mark Kelly, a Democrat, the governor would “never have my approval or the support of MAGA Nation.” ” would receive!
mr. Brnovich is running in those Senate primaries, and a Republican political group that supported one of his opponents recently ran an ad accusing the attorney general of “making excuses instead of backing our president” during the presidential election. 2020.
Few Republicans have been willing to publicly call out Mr. Trump for misleading his supporters in a state where all four Republicans in the House delegation voted to nullify the results of the election when Congress passed Congress on Jan. met to confirm the certification. Speaker at Mr. Trump’s meeting on Saturday, was the first member of the House to object that day.
Those who have broken ranks with their party include Stephen Richer, the Maricopa County recorder, who has created a political action committee to support Republicans running for state and local office and questioning the validity of the latter. accept elections. “Arizona’s elections weren’t stolen. We Republicans just had a presidential candidate who lost,” the group states on its website.
But even those who have resisted going along with Mr Trump’s false claims have been unable to completely sidestep the issue when faced with pressure from the president and his supporters.
When a group of 18 Republican attorneys general signed a far-fetched lawsuit from their Texas counterpart seeking to delay certification of the vote in four battlefield states that Mr. Trump lost, Mr. Brnovich did not join his colleagues. He stated at the time that the ‘rule of law’ prevails over politics. But as a Senate candidate who still holds the attorney general’s office, he has been investigating fraud claims at the behest of Trump supporters.
And with state lawmakers meeting again to begin their 2022 session, it looks like 2020 will still be on the minds of many Republicans. Pro-Trump lawmakers are expected to continue pushing for a vote to invalidate the results of the last election. But it will be an uphill battle. They don’t have enough support in the state Senate yet, and the governor’s office has said the legislature doesn’t have the power to do what Mr Trump’s most ardent supporters are demanding.