Ex-President Trump to make election claims center stage in Arizona

WASHINGTON (The Hill): Former President Trump will address the one-year anniversary of the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol at a campaign rally in Arizona on Saturday, setting the tone for his wing of the GOP going into the midterm cycle.

The issues of election security and the 2022 election results will likely take center stage as his Democratic foes dig into the issue of voting rights.

Democrats and the former president’s critics predict he will continue to spread his unproven claim that the 2020 election was stolen from him as the House Jan. 6 Select Committee kicks into high gear.

Trump was originally supposed to hold a news conference at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Fla., as counterprogramming for a scheduled prayer service at the Capitol to commemorate the events of Jan. 6, but canceled it, saying he would instead touch on many of the themes he had planned to discuss at the news conference during the rally in Arizona.

The selection of Arizona as a rally location also fits the theme of Trump’s continuous and baseless claims about the last presidential election. Trump narrowly lost Arizona to President Biden in 2020. The state’s GOP-controlled Senate ordered an audit of the results in Maricopa County in the wake of the 2020 elections. The audit found that President Biden won the county by a larger margin than the final certified results showed.

“The problem for Trump is he’s going to be in Arizona, which he lost, so he’s going to be spending all of his time complaining,” said Republican strategist Keith Naughton.

“If there’s one thing we know about Trump, the only thing he likes more than winning is being a victim,” he continued.

The rally will also provide Trump ample opportunity to hit President Biden, who is grappling with the coronavirus crisis, escalating tension between Russia and Ukraine, and difficulties passing voting rights through the Senate.

“I can’t imagine at this point things going worse for the Democrats,” Naughton said.

However, Naughton warned that Trump could likely stray from more substantive issues, like national security.

“I think he’s going to spend most of his time complaining about the election, complaining about Mitch McConnell and Mike Rounds, and essentially stepping all over what should be the perfect message, which should be the perfect message which is going after Biden on these national security grounds and the hypocrisy of the Democrats,” Naughton said.

Other Republican strategists argue that the issue of election security and integrity are still top of mind for Republican primary voters, particularly Trump’s base.

“Voter integrity is a huge issue within the Republican grassroots and there are a lot of Republicans that are sort of out of touch with how a lot of Republicans feel about the 2020 election,” said Republican strategist Ford O’Connell.

“Republicans by and large feel that the 2020 election was riddled with problems and that those problems are not being addressed by Republicans in elected office, not just in Arizona but across the country,” he continued.

Trump made news this week after he attacked Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) for saying in a Sunday show interview that the 2020 election was fair.

“Is he crazy or just stupid? The numbers are conclusive, and the fraudulent and irregular votes are massive,” Trump said in a statement on Monday.

Trump’s first rally of the midterm year also comes as the Republican Senate primary field in Arizona heats up. Republican Jim Lamon has catered toward Trump and his base, supporting a number of lawsuits challenging the 2020 presidential election results. Lamon also called for the Jan. 6 House select committee to be shuttered in an op-ed last week.

Meanwhile, a super PAC backing GOP Senate candidate Blake Masters, Saving Arizona PAC, rolled out an ad last year hitting state Attorney General Mark Brnovich (R), who is also running in the primary, for not touting Trump’s election fraud claims enough. In September, Brnovich requested documents from both the state Senate and Maricopa County officials after the audit found Biden won Maricopa County in 2020.

On top of all of that, speculation has been growing that Gov. Doug Ducey (R), who is term-limited, may be considering jumping into the crowded primary. Ducey earned the ire of Trump in 2020 when he and Brnovich sat alongside Arizona’s Democratic Secretary of State Katie Hobbs when she certified the election results in 2020.

In an interview with NPR on Thursday, Trump slammed Arizona Republicans who accepted the 2020 election results as “RINOs,” an acronym for “Republicans in name only.” He did not mention Ducey or Brnovich by name.

Democrats in Arizona and Washington, D.C., say they are paying close attention to the intraparty politics playing out between Trump and the state’s GOP Senate primary.

 “Trump is creating chaos in Senate GOP primaries across the map – he’s elevating deeply flawed GOP candidates, escalating Republicans’ infighting, and forcing their candidates to attack each other over who can suck up to Trump the most,” said Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spokesperson Jazmin Vargas.

Republicans, on the other hand, say Trump’s visit to Arizona will only serve to help the party in what is expected to be a contentious Senate race.

“He is going to spotlight the battle in Arizona just like he’s going to spotlight the battle in Georgia and the battle in Florida,” O’Connell said. “If the Republicans want to take the Senate, they have to win in Arizona.”