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What the Devil won't tell you

Orange Crush: Trump broke McSally, GOP's stranglehold on Arizona

I earned this "I told you so": I warned Martha McSally but she wouldn’t listen. Hell, I almost wouldn’t listen.

Southeastern Arizona’s congresswoman conceded her U.S. Senate campaign to U.S. Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, the first Democrat in 30 years elected to the Senate from the Grand Canyon State, and the first woman ever.

It’s fine, Martha. You didn’t lose. Donald J. Trump beat you. He beat Lea Marquez Peterson's bid to replace you. He looks like he's electing Democrats Katie Hobbs, Sandra Kennedy and Kathy Hoffman to statewide office. A Democrat took your seat in Congress because Trump made the election all about him.

Republicans have a choice to make. Are they the party of Doug Ducey, who this Red State's voters still embrace,  or the party of MAGA, turning off everyone without a red hat? One has a bright future in the Sonoran Desert. The other does not.

Last January, when the Beltway political class and local Republicans were getting psyched out by The Donald, I was quoting the laws of politics. Midterms are bad for the party that wins the White House. I basically wrote the post-mortem on Jan. 23, 2017.

When McSally jumped in the race after U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake retired in frustration that Republicans were kowtowing to Trump, I warned her 2018 is not the year to run as a Republican. 

Anyone think McSally loses if Hillary Clinton had won in 2016? Never. She would have won under Marco Rubio. A Republican with proven crossover appeal and Amelia Earhart-like ceiling-breaking cred only loses stuck to a president who moms can't take out in public.

Trump exists in another dimension and he has demanded Republicans join him there. It’s a place where refugees are diseased and shithole invaders, the truth is whatever instant lie he just fell out of his mouth, and no one has ever been a better president than him. McSally had to follow him there or face the GOP wrath that kneecapped Flake. He even boasted that he, personally, "retired him" and he was "very proud." 

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Praise or die in the GOP primary. Praise and die in the suburbs come Election Day.

McSally donned the MAGA uniform, saluted and pivoted to the mortal threat of a migrant caravan. Voters took care of the rest.

Tsunami by any other name

On election night the punditry questioned or outright denied that a Blue Wave had rolled. It did. In fact, it was just a tsunami in that it had a very long wavelength. It might not have broken high but it rolled long and just kept surging. At bed ime on the East Coast on election night, Democrats looked they were winning 25-30 seats in the House of Representatives and losing as many as four in the U.S. Senate. Liberal heartthrobs Beto O’Rourke, Andrew Gillum and Stacy Abrams all went down to defeat.

Then Democratic fortunes in the Senate began to turn after midnight and the best Trump’s party can do is pick up two seats with a remedial map that was set up like a tee shot for Republicans to stroke. They duffed it. Eventually, Democrats won 35 to 40 seats in the House, flipped seven governorships and clawed back 370-plus legislative seats, which is a third of what was lost during the Barack Obama years.

If the GOP wants to call that a "Blue Trickle," that's fine. They can do that. Just don't cry "rigged system" in the looming wreckage of 2020.

In Arizona, the post-election-night results have proven more troubling for Republicans. Sinema came back and won. Democrats Hoffman and Hobbs reversed what seemed like narrow losses in their races for superintendent of public instruction and secretary of state, respectively. Kennedy jumped from a losing third to a winning first in her quest to return to the Arizona Corporation Commission. Former Democratic Tucson City Councilman Rodney Glassman is the odd man out as a relocated Phoenix Republican (voters have taste)

Those down-ticket races are big because voters’ partisan leanings are best reflected in their choices for lower profile races. In the Phoenix metro area, voters switched their allegiance from decades of rock-ribbed Republican voting.

Maricopa County is breaking blue as Sinema and the other women cruising statewide are narrowly carrying it. Republicans can not survive such a development long term. If the Valley turns purple, suddenly Pima County voters carry much more relevance, offsetting the trend of reddening rural Arizona. The Democrats will hold the majority of the state's combined House and Senate delegation for the first time since 1967.

Republicans had best hope that's temporary. Never mind the demographic shift turning Arizona blue. The 'burbs may be doing that a decade ahead of time.

Quick dive in a deep trend

I made this point on election night but I want to flesh it out with data:

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Among major urban areas, Phoenix has been a holdout for the GOP. Bob Dole carried Salt Lake County by 10 points in 1996 and eight years later, George W. Bush won it by two to one. Then Hillary Clinton won it by 10 percentage points and Democratic congressional candidates won the county by 12.

Harris County and Houston went for George W. Bush by 10 points. Barack Obama won it by 1,000 votes in 2012. Hillary Clinton won it by 162,000 votes and O’Rourke just carried it by 200,000 votes.

Maricopa County has remained alone among the major American population centers to stick with the GOP. If it’s shifting and following the trend and the suburbs are doing it. Well, Latinos can take the century off. There are enough country folk in Texas to keep Texas conservative. Republicans can’t lose the Valley of the Sun by 10 points and hold their majority.

That changes Arizona politics completely, if that goes down but let’s not get too crazy.

Trump tempted and received wrath when he asked suburbanites, “Are you a city mouse or a country mouse? Are you more pussy-grabber or #MeToo? Are refugees human beings or disease-ridden invaders? Do you really care how much I lie?”

Suburbia answered: "City, #, human, yes" to the preceding questions.

Ducey red, dying breeds

I still think Arizona is a red state because I think Doug Ducey’s form of Republican-in-the-same-universe conservatism still holds. I'm not sure though, if he's the not the last of a breed 

The Arizona Legislature stayed as-is (the Dems did pick up a couple of seats, but not enough to flip either the Arizona House or Senate), but often legislatures are the last to flip as states change. A lot of Southern legislatures were Democratic between the end of the Civil War and the Obama administration.

People didn’t vote for Sinema because they loved her. She’s in no way a champion flesh-presser and she refused to give voters anything to love about her. She ran the safest of campaigns, pledging to do nothing in a page right out of the old Democratic Leadership Council playbook. The Democratic Party has moved away from that, and Sinema may be the last of her kind, too.

If I were running statewide, I would rather be an R than a D … just maybe not in 2020. Arizona didn’t warm to Trump in 2016, handing him a narrow five-point victory but it doesn't have a problem with a reliably rightwing governor like Ducey who doesn't pick fights with reality. Republicans who aren't marching to a sociopathic tune can do just fine. 

Double down on delusion

When Republicans won in 1994, Bill Clinton adapted and moved to the center and roared to re-election in 1996. Obama reached for a grand compromise on deficit reduction after 2010 and cruised to victory two years later. Even Bush changed the course of the war in Iraq in 2006 after getting his “thumping” in his second term. They all knew they had just lost.

Trump is acting like he won and is moving on an imagined mandate of make-believe vindication. He fired Attorney General Jeff Sessions. He's ready to can Homeland Security's Kirstjen Nielsen and spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders. He's threatening to investigate House Democrats who practice oversight of his administration. He’s insisting that Puerto Rico’s hurricane aid be cut off in new spending bills. He turned vicious on the media, specifically to black women in the White House press corps. He mocked out at Republicans who lost and hadn’t shown him enough love. He’s trying to cast doubt on narrow election results here and in Florida.

But, credit the Cactus League Trumpers. Not even the Benghazi-invoking, MAGA-loving, lib-bashing Republicans in Arizona are calling late votes part of a rigged system like they are in Florida. Well, most aren't. Most of us know this happens every election year. People are trying to read into McSally’s traditionally generous concession that she must be up to something by not doubling down. Maybe she just knows how this works, having won a narrow recount election in 2014.

Trump has lived his whole adult life without ever confronting a loss because when he loses, he just says he won and is even Trumpier.

How is Arizona going to react to Nitro Trump, if they didn't like the original formula?

Two women walk on

Republicans can take heart in one aspect of Sinema's victory. They may have elected a reliably Republican vote. The senator-elect has shown zero penchant for standing up for her party's ideals or the ones she once proclaimed as her own. She has shown an eagerness to suck up the other side of the aisle.

She may want to double-check the voting, because the Green Party came this close to handing her defeat as 52 percent of Arizona (umm, wow) voted for the "leftists," but that's another column.

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As for McSally, I get it. GOP base voters abandoned Flake, U.S. Rep. Marc Sanford (R-S.C.) and Florida gubernatorial frontrunner Adam Putnum when Trump chirped a single tweet against them. McSally had little choice other than tie herself to the president if her goal was to win her primary. Ducey somehow managed to thread the needle, keeping enough distance from Trump to give himself some plausible deniability, but not outright rejecting the president. But McSally's primary path was littered with more traps than the incumbent governor's was.

McSally's getting props for her concession speech, which says something about the times when acting like a decent human being in the GOP is dubbed an act of singular heroism.

Seriously, though, I hope she's not done. I have a real soft spot for people I disagree with who think a lot. I don't pretend to represent a majority on many subjects and it helps to have serious minds at work representing the other side of the argument if set free to do so.

Maybe Ducey appoints her to serve out John McCain's term because Jon Kyl has said he's not necessarily into the idea of sticking it out. Maybe she runs for it in 2020. Yes, running three Senate campaigns in rapid succession is an exhausting prospect (whomever will be elected in 2020 would be up for election again when the balance of McCain's term runs out, in 2022). Maybe Trump taps her to be the next Homeland Security secretary, after he kicks Nielsen to the curb.

In the mean time, congresswoman, walk it off. Enjoy time with the dog. Then get back in the cockpit when you are free to file your own flight plan through a sky less orange.

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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have your say   

1 comment on this story

Nov 17, 2018, 10:52 pm
-0 +2

McSally lost because she never gave anyone a reason to support her. Some of us aren’t afraid of a person who “wears a tutu and questions authority.” We need a few more people in Congress who do,

If she wanted to run as “Trump’s Girl” one minute and “the first woman combat pilot” the next, don’t blame her loss on Trump, blame McSally. It’s her loss - and Arizona will be better off because of it.

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McSally, in her concession video.


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