Trump’s influence on Republican Party faces new test in Arizona

America Letter: Debate over 2020 election result likely to be centre stage in primary contest

Former US president Donald Trump’s contention that the 2020 presidential election was rigged has hit the big screen.

At several hundred cinemas across the country a film called 2,000 Mules sets out to show that Democratic operatives (or mules) were paid to collect and drop off absentee ballots illegally in states such as Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. This, it suggests, tipped the balance in favour of Joe Biden.

It contends mobile phone geolocation data tracked these “mules” to election drop-box sites.

Critics, however, have slammed the film and questioned the accuracy of the technology involved.

Naturally, it has been praised by Trump. But it remains to be seen whether its release gives new impetus to his conspiracy theory that the election was stolen from him.

In Georgia last week candidates backed by Trump and who solidly supported his rigged election story were crushed by establishment Republicans in key internal contests to run for the party in midterm elections in November.

Trump had badly wanted to see the unseating of the current governor Brian Kemp who he believed had been insufficiently enthusiastic about overturning Biden’s victory.

Another Trump target was Brad Raffensperger – the man he famously phoned to ask him to “find” 11,000 votes to allow him to win in Georgia.

Both men won easily.

It was arguably Trump’s biggest political setback since the 2020 election result. But it is premature to suggest his hold on the party is weakening.

Another big test may come in Arizona later this summer. It was a key state in 2020 and when TV networks called it for Biden it was the first real indication that Trump would lose. But the state has become fertile ground for Trump’s claims of vote rigging.

Arizona Republicans last week received a briefing from the Texas-based conservative group that provided research for the 2,000 Mules film.

The issue of loyalty to Trump and his assertions will play a key role in the Republican Party primary to run for the post of governor.

The current governor cannot run again due to term limits and the governorship contest has had more money spent on it than any other previous such election.

The likely Democratic Party candidate will be Katie Hobbs – the serving secretary of state who had the job of de facto chief election officer in Arizona, adding spice to a potential contest against result deniers.

Republican front-runner at the moment is former local Fox News TV presenter Kari Lake.

Trump endorsed her last year, arguing: “Few can take on the fake news media like Kari”.

Lake has jumped all-in to back Trump’s claims and has attacked the 2020 election as “crooked” and “corrupt”.

On a visit to Phoenix last week, professor emeritus of political science at Arizona State University Richard Herrera told The Irish Times that Lake was strident and enjoyed an early lead because of media attention and her ties to Trump.

He said like it or not, the issue of the 2020 election would be a big issue in the Republican primary.

“For some Arizona republicans, candidates have to take a position on that. Kari Lake has been very forceful, saying the election was stolen and would never happen on her watch. If it had happened when she was governor she would have made sure that president Trump would have been re-elected and so forth. By raising the issue so strongly, other candidates get asked by the media and her campaign to answer that question.”

He said another candidate Matt Salmon had tried to play the middle ground but had not been able to get a lot of traction.

He said a third candidate Karrin Robson had successfully raised and spent a lot of money and generated a lot of support. She had taken a hard stand (on voting issues) but would rather be talking about issues such as the economy at a time when Biden is struggling with inflation.

“They all have to talk about the border and immigration in order to get traction among Republican primary election voters.”

“In the primary elections you have a potentially different set of voters who turn out than in the general election. The primary elections are to nominate so the people who turn out tend to be very active and very strong party members on both sides of the spectrum. As a result if you have a significant group of voters such as those who support president Trump, even if they do not represent the entire Republican Party, there is enough of them to win a primary election. And so as we go into the general election they may not be as successful with that approach because now that block of ex-president Trump’s voters are not as significant given the Arizona population of voters.

“Primary elections are just different in kind than ... the general election and you get more strident Republicans, more strong Republicans in those primary elections and that can be a positive for people like Kari Lake and that is why it makes it hard for moderate republicans to win through primary elections in Arizona.”