EDdie Palazuelos drove 200 miles and queued for five hours under the blazing sun to see Donald Trump at a campaign event for candidates he supports in the upcoming Republican primary in Arizona.
It is the fifth Trump rally the 27-year-old has attended since the former president lost the White House in 2020 — as Palazuelos vehemently believes the election was stolen. Any judge or legislator who concludes otherwise is “deliberately ignorant,” he said, citing the dozens of lawsuits and stories across the country that ruled out fraud.
“It is fundamental to improve our electoral system. That’s why Kari Lake is my #1 for governor, because she won’t stop talking about the election,” said Palazuelos, an IT worker from Tucson, as Abba’s hit The Winner Takes it All blasted through the speakers. “Of course Trump’s approval means something.”
How much it means is the big question.
In the Arizona governor’s race, candidate Kari Lake’s consistent and combative false claims about voter fraud were rewarded in January with a Trump endorsement, helping the former local Fox news anchor and Barack Obama supporter advance in the race for the Republican run. nomination.
But Trump’s visit on Friday also came as his former wingman Mike Pence spoke at two campaign events for Karrin Taylor Robson, Lake’s main rival in the main battlefield state, who no longer called the election corrupt.
Trump and Pence met in Arizona the day after the congressional committee investigating the Jan. 6 attempted coup said the then-president’s refusal to call off the violent mob for more than three hours was a dereliction of duty. The duel signals a proxy war for the future of the Republican party, and follows revelations Trump approved of — or at least was nonchalant about — the crowd chanting “hang Mike Pence.”
The duel between the parties underscores Arizona’s importance on the national stage, with the August 2 primaries likely to serve as a litmus test for Trump’s approval ahead of the midterm elections, where Republicans hope to win key state races and secure the control of the Senate and House.
“Trump continues to hold a firm grip on the Republican party in the state, but we’ll see if the Jan. 6 hearings have made enough of them decide they want something less bombastic,” said Julie Erfle, a Phoenix communications consultant. and political commentator.
Friday night’s Trump-Lake event took place about 90 miles north of Phoenix in the Prescott Valley, one of the reddest parts of the state, with deep-seated undercurrents of racism, including the presence of white supremacist groups such as the Proud Boys, the Three Percenters and the Oath Keepers.
Friday was the hottest day of the year yet, and several people passed out and needed medical attention. Once inside, the mood was festive as exhausted supporters refueled on popcorn, cheap nachos and small bottles of water costing $4.50.
It was mainly the Trump show, with appearances from several far-right conspiracy theorists, including MyPillow boss Mike Lindell, former Sheriff Joseph Arpaio, Trump’s Attorney General candidate Abe Hamadeh and Mark Finchem, a member of the militia group the Oath Keepers candidate for Secretary of State. . All of Trump’s endorsements have reiterated the false claims about the stolen 2020 election.
Trump took the stage to effusive applause, reiterating his usual baseless complaints about rampant electoral fraud by the so-called radical left. But the crowd seemed to hold on to every word.
“I will vote for all of Trump’s support, and for him in 2024. Pence? He’s a Rino and a traitor, not to be trusted,” said Kelly Ciccone, 58, referring to the abbreviation for Republican in name only.
Earlier in the day, Pence appeared at Taylor’s relatively small but vibrant campaign event in a Phoenix suburb of Peoria, along with outgoing Republican Governor Doug Ducey. Taylor, a pro-gun, anti-choice, anti-immigration developer, is quickly catching up in the polls after spending at least $13.5 million of her equity on the race.
It’s not the first time Pence has taken on his former boss. In May, he backed Georgia Governor Brian Kemp, who, like Ducey, has been repeatedly attacked by Trump for his refusal to reverse his state’s 2020 results. On that occasion, Kemp crushed Trump’s candidate David Perdue by more than 50 points.
It’s unclear if Pence, who has campaigned for candidates across the country, plans to make a presidential bid in 2024, but as the polls stand now, only Florida’s hard-core governor Ron DeSantis seems to be able to challenge Trump.
The 12 Republican voters interviewed by the Guardian were more or less evenly split between Trump, Pence and DeSantis as their picks for 2024.
“I probably wouldn’t vote for Trump again because of his alleged involvement on January 6. The country needs a lot of refurbishment. I don’t think going back is the solution,” said Kevin Coles, 30, a cybersecurity expert at the Taylor event.
It’s all to play for in Arizona. Coles is among about 20% of voters still undecided in the gubernatorial race, but the momentum is with Taylor, and her supporter Ducey, who is also co-chair of the Republican Governors Association, has seen his approval ratings rise to 60. % .
Pence didn’t criticize Trump — he even boasted of their joint performance in the White House. But backing Taylor against Lake will likely be seen as a combative move.
Next week, the former allies will go head-to-head in Washington with speeches on the post-2024 Republican agenda at rival conservative think tanks on Tuesday. It will be Trump’s first public appearance in the capital since he left the White House on Biden’s inauguration day on January 20, 2021.
“Nationally, this signals what we’re going to see in the 2024 Republican presidential primaries — a contest between the party’s Trump and Pence factions,” Erfle said.
“The two sides are not that different in terms of misogyny, racism and far-right nationalism. It’s more about choosing a personality cult that revolves around Trump or continuing democracy in some form.”