Editor's Pick 29-04-2024 13:01 10 Views

Tensions grow between Trump and Lake in Arizona race for Senate

Former president Donald Trump has long had a soft spot for his acolyte Kari Lake, the expected GOP Senate nominee in Arizona, joking that Lake would pivot to his false claims that the 2020 election was stolen even if she was asked about the weather.

But since Lake jumped into the race, Trump has repeatedly expressed skepticism about her political prospects in a state he sees as key to his bid to return to the White House, and has shown annoyance with her frequent presence at his Florida resort, according to five people close to him, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe his comments.

At one point last year, after grumbling for months that she was at his Mar-a-Lago Club too often, Trump gently suggested to Lake that she should leave the club and hit the campaign trail in Arizona, according to a person with direct knowledge of his comments. Trump has also asked others if she can really win in Arizona and if she might drag down his own poll numbers as he seeks the presidency again in 2024, advisers said.

So far, there has been no public schism between Trump and Lake, and the Senate candidate was at Mar-a-Lago again this month for a fundraiser. But Trump’s frustration with Lake has only increased over the past year, heightening the tension between the presumptive GOP presidential nominee and one of his most prominent followers — casting doubt on whether Republicans can present a sufficiently united front to win a key U.S. Senate contest and a presidential battleground state.

Trump has now all but ruled out Lake as a vice-presidential pick, remarking to multiple advisers that he would not choose her as vice president because she lost the 2022 gubernatorial race in Arizona, which he believed was winnable. “She didn’t win,” he told one political ally over dinner at Mar-a-Lago earlier this year.

Trump’s top advisers were furious after a Lake ally released a recording of then-Arizona GOP Chairman Jeff DeWit encouraging her to stay out of the Senate race, which embarrassed the party chairman and led him to resign.

Trump was more surprised than angry when told about the January incident, according to three people familiar with his reaction. “She tapes everything?” he asked, sitting in a New Hampshire hotel suite before taking the stage on the night he won that state’s primary. “That’s good to know.”

The former television news anchor alienated some moderate Republicans in the state during her failed run for the governorship, when she spurned followers of the late GOP senator John McCain and later unsuccessfully sought to have her loss overturned in the courts. But her strong connection to right-wing voters made it all but certain she’d win a Republican primary once she announced her Senate run in October with Trump’s endorsement. Republicans hope to win control of the Senate this election cycle as they compete in a favorable map of red and purple states like Arizona, where President Biden’s approval rating is underwater.

After the Arizona Supreme Court revived a near-total abortion ban this month, both Trump and Lake initially used similar talking points in urging Republican lawmakers to repeal the unpopular 1864 law at the heart of the case, hoping to neutralize it as a campaign issue. Lake has more recently criticized state officials for not enforcing the law, however.

In January, Arizona Republicans were privately registering alarm to Trump about Lake’s candidacy. During one conversation, the former president asked for an assessment of his standing in the state, according to one person familiar with the conversation. The Republican told him that he was in good shape but that Lake was in trouble, largely because of her attacks on McCain Republicans, whom she urged to “get the hell out” of the GOP during her first run for office. (She has since said that this comment was made in jest.)

Asked a series of detailed questions for this story, the Trump campaign sent a statement through spokesman Jason Miller.

“Kari Lake is a Smart and Fearless Leader who will WIN in Arizona, and help us flip the Senate to Republican control. Kari’s Opponent, Ruben Gallego, is an Open Borders RADICAL, who is BAD on Inflation and SOFT on Terrorists and Crime,” the statement read, attributed to Trump.

Lake has also hired Miller to help her campaign.

“Kari Lake is running a strong campaign, raising the money necessary to win in November and highlighting the key issues that matter to voters: inflation and the border crisis,” Garrett Ventry, a senior adviser to the Lake campaign, said in a statement. “Kari is one of President Trump’s strongest allies. She continues to poll strongly against her Far-Left opponent, who is still widely unknown to Arizona voters.”

Some Republicans have argued that Lake and Trump will lift each other up on the ticket as they tap into their connection with the conservative grass roots. Trump and Lake each narrowly lost their races in the state — in 2020 for Trump and 2022 for Lake.

“I think Trump’s going to win Arizona. And so she’ll win, too,” said Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), who oversaw the National Republican Senatorial Committee in 2022, when the party lost a series of Senate races involving extreme candidates. “I think they’ll help each other.”

But privately, some GOP senators worry that Lake is not a strong candidate in Arizona against her expected rival, Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.), because she has alienated so many center-right and moderate Republicans, and because she continues to espouse the false claims that both the 2020 and 2022 elections were stolen, according to a person involved in multiple Senate races. When Lake has met with advisers to Senate leadership, she has argued that she is a team player — and said that’s why she is traveling the country to fundraise and help others, one person familiar with the conversations said.

Senators are not going to criticize her publicly, this person said, because they want Democrats to spend money in the state — and “she’s the candidate we have,” this person said.

“They keep saying she’s a team player and doing all this travel,” the person said. “Our position is, if you want to help the team, go home and win the seat.”

Since she announced her Senate campaign in October, Lake has made more than a dozen out-of-state trips, according to her social media posts and news reports. They include a Trump rally in Hialeah, Fla., in November, campaigning in Iowa in January and campaigning for GOP Senate candidate Bernie Moreno in Ohio in March. In April, she campaigned for former Trump official Brian Jack in Georgia and attended a fundraiser for herself in Huntsville, Ala.

Lake has also visited the southern border fewer times than Gallego since announcing her Senate bid, even as she has sought to make cracking down on illegal immigration a centerpiece of her message.

Republicans both inside and outside of the state said that Lake should be campaigning more aggressively in Arizona on border security and illegal immigration, given voters’ heightened concerns about those issues in the border state. “There’s definitely concern that she’s spending too much time out of Arizona stumping for other people and not spending time in state,” said one Republican strategist, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the race candidly.

“Kari Lake talks more about Democrats’, and specifically Ruben Gallego’s, support for open borders than any other candidate in the country,” NRSC spokesman Tate Mitchell said in a statement. “All The Washington Post needs to do to confirm that is to look at her Twitter feed or attend a Kari Lake event.”

Many Republicans also say Lake must quickly broaden her approach to connect with voters of all persuasions who are not deeply engaged in the political process but care about the direction of the state and country.

“She needs to get away from this idea that the Trump wing of the party is going to be enough to get her across the finish line in a general election,” said GOP consultant Chad Willems, who has managed successful statewide and local campaigns in the state for 25 years. “Especially when it comes to general elections here, you have to start talking about things that the broader electorate cares about, and Kari didn’t do that two years ago.”

Former Arizona GOP congressman John Shadegg said he has told Lake that she should focus on winning over middle-of-the-road voters.

“In my chats with her, I said, ‘Look, I’m glad you’re philosophically driven, but the reality is that most voters are not,’” he said, recalling one conversation. “When she talks to them in hard-right philosophical terms, that doesn’t get to them.”

Gallego is already airing television ads showcasing his military service — an effort that Lake has not matched, as her fundraising has lagged behind Gallego’s. She had about $2.5 million cash on hand at the end of last quarter, compared with nearly $10 million reported by the Gallego campaign.

But the out-of-state trips may help her with donations as she faces off against Gallego’s formidable fundraising haul.

“Every candidate has a number of different obligations, because you want to be able to raise the money to fund your campaign and sometimes that involves travel,” said Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), the Senate’s third-ranking Republican, who endorsed Lake and has campaigned with her. “She’s focused on Arizona.”

Lake’s appearance for Moreno in Ohio raised eyebrows in Washington, given that he is arguably in a better position in his race than she is in hers. Republican super PACs have already reserved tens of millions of dollars in airtime in Ohio to boost Moreno, but those reservations have not yet materialized to help Lake in purple Arizona, a lower-priority target where Republican candidates have not fared well in the past few cycles.

Lake has also been wrapped up in internal GOP mistrust about her in her home state.

After Lake launched her Senate campaign, she tried to mend fences with the same Republicans she denounced as “RINOs,” or Republicans in name only, during her unsuccessful 2022 campaign to be governor, in the hopes of unifying them behind her bid. She did not apologize for her comments, nor did she back away from baseless claims that the election was stolen from her, they said, leaving many of them underwhelmed — and unconvinced that she could win a general election.

By then, DeWit, the former state party chair, had told various Republicans that many voters would not take Lake seriously as a Senate candidate, saying she did not grasp complicated domestic and foreign issues, according to people aware of his comments who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss them.

Soon after, as Arizona Republicans prepared to gather for an annual meeting, a Lake ally released audio of what DeWit has described as edited pieces of his conversation with Lake. The move unleashed backlash against Lake from some of her own supporters, many of whom viewed DeWit as a loyal Trump ally who had dedicated the past decade to helping the former president.

The episode killed any desire by some elected Republicans in the state to communicate with her, fearing they could be secretly recorded.

“Whether they end up voting for Kari Lake or not, they don’t trust her,” one powerful Republican who holds office said. “They think they’re being recorded and it’s a running joke.”

Wingett Sanchez reported from Phoenix.

This post appeared first on The Washington Post
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