Guest Editorial: Reading the Tea (Party) Leaves

by Alexander Lomax

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In case you missed it, former President Trump came to Phoenix this past weekend in a rally organized by the conservative group Turning Point USA. While Trump speaking isn’t notable by itself, what is notable is that the declared Republican candidates for Governor and Secretary of State were invited to address the crowd. Quite a bit could be gleaned from the crowd of Republican faithfuls and their reactions.

One immediate and clear takeaway: every gubernatorial candidate not named Kari Lake should be very concerned. In this weekend’s event, numerous outlets reported that support was overwhelming for Lake. The crowd busted out in cheers of “Kari! Kari!” several times. She received a standing ovation at the end of her speech. Combined with an extremely well attended kickoff event a month ago, her base of support is clearly significant. In contrast, the speeches from other gubernatorial candidates registered barely a blip in social media. When it comes to grassroots interest and party faithful support, it seems as though Kari Lake is the clear front-runner.

The other most immediate takeaway: Michelle Ugenti-Rita received precisely the opposite reaction from the crowd. A chorus of boos were consistent throughout her speech, embarrassingly forcing her to cut it short. Her ongoing tift with Kelly Townsend and their respective bill-destruction in the legislature is now coming back to bite her. Townsend may have used this opportunity to punch back, as it was speculated that she helped coordinate the cold reception for Ugenti-Rita. If Ugenti-Rita was wise, she would read the room and realize that SoS won’t happen, and she would absorb a hard-learned lesson in the ways of more effective intra-caucus politicking.

Lastly, if this is still the Party of Trump in 2022 and 2024, Doug Ducey should be concerned. During his speech, Trump took aim at Ducey himself, making him sound like a sniveling weenie begging for the former President’s support. Ducey tried to dance with the devil and assumed he wouldn’t get burned. Trump has the ability to significantly impede, if not outright destroy, Ducey’s attempts at higher office, and he seems to be reveling in the opportunity. This bodes extremely poorly for Ducey.

We still have a long way to go until November 2022, and plenty can change until then. But this weekend’s event gave us a very clear snapshot as to where the Arizona Republican Party is right now.