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What the Devil won't tell you

Canceling Arizona presidential primary ignores, not solves, Republican Party's problems

Don't believe the hyperventilating. It's not a blow to democracy that Republicans canceled their 2020 presidential preference election to pave the way for President Donald Trump to win the state's delegates by acclamation.

The party will hold a caucus limited to precinct committee members, though just about any Republican can become one. Hey, the GOP has been in favor of voter suppression for some time. At least they're being consistent.

Seriously, who cares?

A party gets to decide for itself what’s best for itself. It’s why I’ve never been a fan of open primaries that allow everyone to play in the game of selecting a party's candidate. I don’t get a say in who runs the Benevolent and Protective Order of the Elks and I shouldn’t. I’m not a fucking Elk. Case closed.

However, if I was an Elk and the lodge membership moved to shut off a vote on narcissistic, puss-dripping boil of a president lording over the BPOE with sadistic hostility and daddy issues, then I would very much care. It’s not enough that he is a dick to the Kiwanis (assuming being an Elk meant hating the Kiwanis first, last and always).

The state Republican Party is working a strategy with two prongs: 1) Find sand. 2) Shove your skull into it.

The Arizona GOP is curing its cancer by canceling its oncologist appointment. If no one tells them they're sick, they must be healthy, right?

That's what really happened when Arizona Republican Party Chairwoman Kelli Ward delivered to the Secretary of State's Office a letter stating their intent to withdraw from the 2020 presidential primary election.

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“Arizonans are excited and energized to send President Trump back to the White House for four more years," Ward said in a statement on Facebook. She then descended into the the fallacies about how the Toddler King has had unprecedented success for a first term. It's not in any way true, but being a Republican today is much more about creating a more livable alternate reality where what's hunky must be dory. 

Arizona Republicans have a problem. It ain’t former Massachusetts Gov. William Weld. It’s not former conservative superstar Mark Sanford and it’s not former flame-throwing ex-congressman Joe Walsh or any other would-be challenger to Trump. 

The problem should have been obvious when Ward dropped her letter off in Katie Hobbs' office and not Steve Gaynor's. Gaynor was the Republican who lost to Hobbs during last year's election. No Democrat had held the secretary of state's post in 24 years. Just like they hadn't held the superintendent of public instruction office in 24 years or a seat in the U.S. Senate in that time. All are now held by Democrats.

The Goldwater State now has more Democrats representing it in Washington than Republicans and those down-ticket losses can reflect a change in partisan leanings because they tend to be "low-information" races that typically follow party-line votes.

Appointed U.S. Sen. Martha McSally explained her loss to elected U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema at the polls with a campaign post-mortem placing the blame right in Trump’s slightly smaller than large-size fingers.

Gov. Doug Ducey survived that election, but it took a sustained public relations push touting how he championed school funding – traditionally a liberal position in Arizona – to hold his seat.

That's their problem. Their problem golfs too much and reads too little. There's the constant lying, the constant racism, the constant self-dealing, the constant war on immigrants, the constant immaturity, the constant genuflecting to Vladimir Putin and the constant name-calling. 

The upshot is that Democrats are starting to win Maricopa County. and that's the problem Republicans must face in Arizona.

I’ve pointed out in previous columns that other urban Republican strongholds have started trending hard deeper and deeper shades of blue. The city mice are turning left nationally. If that happens in Arizona, there aren’t enough country mice to make up the difference. Republicans can still carry Texas if they lose Harris County by 10 points. The state is bigger than Houston. Republicans will watch Arizona turn blue for decades if they lose Maricopa County by five.

Canceling a primary won’t change that "don"-namic.

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So what's the big deal?

There’s this thing, see, that’s called "recent political history." It shows that the whenever a party’s incumbent president faces a “real” primary challenge, the party loses the White House. It happened in 1968, when Eugene McCarthy challenged Lyndon Johnson and forced the president from the race ahead of Republican Richard Nixon’s victory over Johnson’s Veep Hubert Humphrey. It happened when Ronald Reagan challenged Gerald Ford, who lost to Jimmy Carter in November 1976. It happened to Carter when Edward Kennedy challenged him just before Ronald Reagan trounced Carter. And George H.W. Bush faced an insurgency from Pat Buchanan in 1992 before Clinton beat Numero 41.

So clearly, the path to victory is preventing a primary challenge, right?

That depends on the notions of correlative and causative factors.

I’m going to go out on a palo verde limb here and suggest that Vietnam, not McCarthy, weakened Johnson. I’m going to hazard a guess that the Iranian hostage crisis, sky-high gas prices and stagflation sank Carter’s presidency more than Kennedy. I’m going to throw this across the yard and see if the dog brings it back: The recession of 1991-92 and George H.W. Bush’s anemic reaction to it doomed his presidency more than Buchanan.

Had the parties short-circuited the nominating processes in 1968, 1980 and 1992, it would be hard to argue the results would have changed. In all three cases, the incumbents were wildly unpopular. Go back and look at their approval ratings on the Gallup site. Just about 40 percent of voters gave Bush, Carter and Johnson a thumbs-up on the job they were doing. Remind you of anyone?

Maybe, maybe, maybe Ford would have won if Reagan hadn’t run. Ford emerged from the primary some 30 points down to Carter and damn-near pulled off a miracle comeback.

Ford’s job approval also hovered around 40 percent throughout his election year but there was a change happening in the GOP in the mid-to-late 1970s. The conservatives were taking over. The Nelson Rockefellers and Gerry Fords were going extinct. Given that Ford was selected and never elected to national office, he was never going to avoid a challenge.

Flip 18,000 votes in Ohio and Hawaii and Ford would have won a full term.

The Republican Party rallied around Ford in the end but would they have if Ford canceled the primary? There's a similar shift happening right now and maybe — just maybe — the R's need to duke it out.

I know this much: Bernie Sanders supporters disgruntled over Hillary Clinton’s victory may have cost her the race but would Clinton’s problems have improved if Debbie Wasserman Schultz had canceled the primary outright?

That’s a hard case to make. Sanders lost because he failed to appeal to older African American voters in the South. Tribe Bernie invented a set of grievances to deflect the argument from their failures. Imagine if they had a full-fledged plot to destroy their right to be heard at the ballot?

Well, it would have been the Democrats right to do that – assuming it didn’t violate their bylaws. And if the GOP wants to rid themselves of cancer by canceling their oncology appointment, that’s up to them.


What Republicans don’t get to do is pretend this is a typical move for a party with an incumbent president facing opposition because a challenge is coming. 

Neither Barack Obama in 2012 nor George W. Bush in 2004 really had a major challenger and so those primaries were canceled. 

When Bill Clinton ran for reelection, not only did the Democrats hold a primary election that year, they had to cough up the cash to pay for it because the Arizona Legislature moved the date up in a way that violated Democratic National Committee rules protecting New Hampshire as the first primary state. So the Democrats held their own independent of the state on March 9.

I can forgive the local media and commentators for mistakenly saying the Democrats canceled the primary in 1996. No Democratic primary exists on the state's election web page, but one happened anyway.

Clinton defeated crackpot Lyndon LaRouche by a gazillion points. 

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Nobody cared. At all. 

Closing the door

Typically, parties shout, "Anybody out there?" before closing the door when no challenger answers the call.

Ward's move is more like, "Is anyone out there?" 

"We're right here!"

Slam! Lock!

But the nomination process is their property and if their peeps are OK with it, they can do that.

But it's not normal when a president has a legit challenger. Trump has one, plus two halves. One-half is former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld, an old-school moderate Northeasterner of the type the party has no use for these days. The other half is former Illinois Rep. Joe Walsh, a loudmouth former congressman who can be dismissed as a nuisance.

Former South Carolina U.S. Rep. and Gov. Mark Sanford is bona fide. Rush Limbaugh practically mourned Sanford's fall from grace because he fell in love with a woman he wasn't married to and got caught. "He could have been our JFK," Limbaugh said of Sanford. 

What? He's not now because of romantic drama? First off, that makes him your John F. Kennedy. Second, you now support the kitty-grabber-in-chief but Sanford needs to take another hike?

Sanford represents how the GOP saw itself for decades but doesn't anymore. He's anti-tax, pro free markets, says he's anti-deficit (believe it when I see it) and touts the rule of law in the name of limited government.

Trump and Ward say the party is now about high-tax trade wars, welfare farming, and all-powerful presidents who get to decide for themselves how big government should be because the law is for suckers and people of color.

If you don’t like it, lump it. "You’ll do as you're told" is pretty much the new Republican Party motto.

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The GOP is changing and the political universe is changing around it. Trump and his acolytes want one without the other and that’s the party’s real problem.

“It doesn’t matter if you like me,” the president is now fond of saying. “You have no choice but to vote for me.”

Yes they do Donald. Yes they do.

Blake Morlock is an award-winning columnist who worked in daily journalism for nearly 20 years and is a former communications director for the Pima County Democratic Party. Now he’s telling you things the Devil won’t.

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The Arizona Republican Party's problem isn't a primary, it's the man himself. (Trump in Louisville, Ky., Aug. 21, 2019)


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