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The Arizona Republican Party’s Anti-Democracy Experiment

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On the event held in Prescott by the Lions of Liberty, I asked Rose Sperry, the G.O.P. state committeewoman, which information outlet she most trusted. She immediately replied, “OAN” — One America News, the Trump-touting network that provided day by day coverage of “America’s Audit” in Arizona at the same time as one in all its show hosts, Christina Bobb, was helping to lift funds for and directly coordinate the operation between the Trump team and state officials.

One guest on OAN’s heavy rotation over the past yr has been the secretary of state candidate Mark Finchem, who appeared on a broadcast last September to debate the State Senate audit of the 2020 election, accompanied by a chyron that read, “Exposing the Crime of the Century.” In July, I drove to Fountain Hills, where Finchem was speaking at a candidate forum hosted by the Republican Women of the Hills. Finchem sidled as much as the microphone with a pistol conspicuously strapped to his right hip. After describing his work history in law enforcement, the private sector and Arizona politics, he then offered a special kind of qualification. With a smile, Finchem said, “The Atlantic put out a chunk yesterday: I’m probably the most dangerous person to democracy in America.”

The article Finchem was referring to didn’t designate him “probably the most dangerous person” — but somewhat as one in all “dozens” of election-denying candidates who “present probably the most significant threat to American democracy in a long time.” Regardless, the notion of Arizona’s G.O.P. secretary of state front-runner as a threat to democracy was received rapturously. Several women within the audience yelled out “Whooo!” and applauded.

Throughout Arizona’s 2022 political season, the proactive denigration of democracy amongst Republicans became a chorus that was not possible to disregard in meetings, speeches and rallies across the state. “By the best way,” Charlie Kirk made some extent of claiming on the fund-raiser in Goodyear, “we don’t have a democracy. OK? Simply to fact check. We’re a republic.” At a gathering in Mesa that I attended in July, held by the conservative group United Patriots AZ, the evening’s host, Jeffrey Crane, asked the audience, “Are we a democracy?” They responded loudly: “Nooooo! Republic!”

In each case, the very notion of democracy was raised not a lot to win a scholarly point but somewhat to shine a highlight on it as an offending object. When I discussed this emerging antagonism to McCain’s longtime state director, Bettina Nava, she was genuinely stunned. Reflecting on her former boss’s brand of conservatism, Nava told me: “At the basis of all of it was his deep belief within the experiment of democracy. Once I was his state director, we met with everybody. And there have been times when it was perfectly friendly and others where it was contentious. But he never shied away from it, because disagreement didn’t equal hate.” Nava feared for the Republican Party she once served. “In my lifetime, I never imagined this attack on democracy,” she said. “I’ve been asking myself: Will this movement die out with Trump? Or are we those that may die out? Are we the Whigs?”

Nava was describing a democracy reliant on a notion of comity that was not in evidence. As McCain’s grip on Arizona waned, Arizona conservatives began regularly to part ways together with his beloved democratic experiment. That experiment had worked previously, as long as the democratic principles in query redounded to the good thing about the state’s ruling conservative base. Arizona Republican legislators led the best way three a long time ago in championing early voting, and Republican voters overwhelmingly selected to solid their ballots by mail, at the very least until the 2020 election. But by Primary Day in August, many Arizona Republicans had come to view such conveniences, against all evidence, as a trap laid by a wily leftist conspiracy bent on engineering Democratic victories.

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