With only weeks left until Arizonans head to the polls to vote in the primary election on Aug. 28, perhaps no question on the ballot is more nationally consequential than Arizona’s senatorial race. The seat, which incumbent Republican Sen. Jeff Flake made available following his announced retirement in October, is being jockeyed for by five noteworthy candidates.
On the Democratic side, we have Phoenix-based attorney Deedra Abboud and U.S. Rep. Kyrsten Sinema. On the Republican side, we have U.S. Rep. Martha McSally, former Arizona state Sen. Kelli Ward, and former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio.
With respects to Republicans, the latest polls indicate McSally is up eight percentage points over Ward and Arpaio, and for good reason. She is a highly decorated retired combat pilot, a steadfast conservative and an effective representative.
In addition to her esteemed qualifications, I believe there is actually an additional rationale that helps account for her substantial lead, considering the fact that all three hold similar views.
When we look at President Trump’s job-approval rating – which is consistently low, hovering in the low 40s – and each of the GOP candidates’ staunch embrace of the president, what we see is an inverse correlation between these two variables: the more embracive and sycophantic candidates are toward the president, the lower they are in the polls.
Take Ward and Arpaio, for example. It is obvious that they are both not only faithful Trump supporters, but are quite obsequious toward him. They speak of his presidency in glowing terms, align their agendas closely with his, and attempt to garner support based on the president’s current public sentiment.
Every time the president makes his opinions known publicly, Ward and Arpaio are usually right behind him in an attempt to align their political campaigns with his message.
Ward, for example, was seen championing former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, a Trump proxy, at an event at the JW Marriott back in November . Clearly, Ward’s strategy was to assemble support from local Republicans, while also espousing Trumpian-like qualities into her campaign.
Arpaio, on the other hand — lest we forget that he was pardoned by Trump for a contempt-of-court conviction — went on to say publicly that if he were elected to the Senate, he would support the president’s agenda 100 percent on virtually any issue. Which begs the question, why is he even running for Congress if he’s not going to exercise independent thought.
This level of embrace is not good strategy.
Despite Trump’s many conservative victories, his personal foibles and public demeanor are still what is seen as the most unpalatable thing about his presidency. If it weren’t for his arbitrary tweets, his impulsive remarks and unnecessary cultural battles, his approval rating would undoubtedly rise considerably, making an “embrace President Trump” strategy much more advantageous.
This is exactly why McSally is leading the polls and why she is the most likely to win the GOP primary. Voters are simply not going to want someone who fully embraces a deeply unpopular figure. While she certainly holds an affinity for Trump and his conservative agenda, she is not as overtly sycophantic as her opponents are toward him, and if you’re a conservative, this is what you want.
You want a senator who can create cohesion but still exercise independence from the executive. What you don’t want, however, is someone who is going to fawn and passively agree with whatever the president dictates, even when that elected official knows the president to be profoundly mistaken.