Donald Trump whipping up anger ahead of big Arizona rally

Daily Telegraph UK,
Publish Date
Sun, 16 Jan 2022, 11:31am
If Donald Trump seeks re-election in 2024, Arizona may offer him a road map back to the White House. Photo / Getty Images
If Donald Trump seeks re-election in 2024, Arizona may offer him a road map back to the White House. Photo / Getty Images

Donald Trump whipping up anger ahead of big Arizona rally

Daily Telegraph UK,
Publish Date
Sun, 16 Jan 2022, 11:31am

If Donald Trump seeks re-election in 2024, Arizona may offer him a road map back to the White House. 

It was here in the Grand Canyon State that Trump's 2020 hopes were first dashed, when his favourite network Fox News called the state, and with it the election, for Joe Biden. 

And it was that narrow upset that has made Arizona ground zero for Trump's push to challenge Biden's legitimacy. 

The 75-year-old former Republican president was scheduled to descend on Arizona later today, to whip up anger among the conservative grassroots for his first rally of the year to test the water for a potential future presidential campaign. 

He was expected to be joined on stage by two of his most loyal lieutenants in the state – the leading candidate for governor, Kari Lake, and Mark Finchem, who pushed to overturn local election results and is running for secretary of state – Arizona's top election official. 

In the final tally in 2020, Biden beat Trump by fewer than 10,500 votes, making him only the second Democrat to win the state in more than 70 years. 

But a months-long, almost $6 million audit commissioned by the Republican-controlled state legislature confirming that result has done little to convince many of Trump's supporters here. 

The mass protests against a Democrat-engineered "coup" that broke out in the capital Phoenix following the 2020 election have since dissipated. 

But take a stroll along the palm tree-lined boulevards of the Valley of the Sun and it is clear that the anger persists – and it has precipitated a call to action. 

The occasional "stop the steal" poster – a reference to election rigging – can be seen affixed to a car windscreen, while local TV stations bombard viewers with campaign videos from politicians pledging to curb corrupt voting practices. 

Political commentators have suggested this may be a winning formula in Trump's strategy of mobilising voters in a handful of states he would need to flip to win power in 2024. 

The former president's push to endorse candidates who espouse his unsubstantiated claims – such as Lake and Finchem – has had a marked effect on statewide races. Purveyors of Trump's "stop the steal" movement now populate many of them. 

Once overlooked election administration roles like the secretary of state have also taken on a new significance since Trump villainised the office holders who rejected his claims in swing states where he narrowly lost. 

In most US states, the secretary of state is the chief election official, and oversees the voting procedures and ballot counting, as well as certifying election results. 

Aware that the issue fires up his base, Trump has continued to press his disputed claims of a stolen election whenever he appears in public. 

He has centred his claims of voter fraud in Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin - all of which were decided for Biden by fewer than three percentage points, but gave him a decisive lead in the all-important electoral college. 

In Arizona, Michal Joyner, the 2nd vice chair of Maricopa County Republicans, said she found the 2020 election was still one of the first issues voters raised on the doorstep. 

"There's a large segment of people that still feel that the [voting] machines were corrupt and that blank ballots were dropped off in the middle of the night - and they're still talking about it," she said. 

Joyner, who stressed that she did not speak for the state party, said that while she hoped Republicans could "move on" from the fallout of the 2020 election, she understood why Trump kept returning to the theme. 

"It's like throwing meat to the tigers - you have those people that are rabid about it," she said. 

The issue of voting fraud has permeated races for election administration positions across the US, according to the non-profit Brennan Centre for Justice. 

In a report released this week, the Brennan Centre framed the current environment as "the first time in the modern era that questions about the legitimacy of elections have played such a prominent role in contests for election officials." 

In addition to Arizona, election denial has become a key campaign issue in five other battleground states with elections for secretary of state in 2022 - Georgia, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada and Wisconsin - according to the report. 

And these candidates have an audience - according to a recent Axios-Momentive poll, only 55 per cent of Americans accept that Biden legitimately won the 2020 election. 

Such is the scepticism in some parts of Arizona, that some election deniers have taken matters into their own hands. 

Liz Harris, a 50-year-old estate agent and Republican activist in Chandler, a suburb of Phoenix, said she was so distrustful of Biden's win that she launched a door-to-door canvassing effort, spending hours knocking on hundreds of doors to verify the state's database of registered voters. 

Harris claims that her private canvas, aided by hundreds of volunteers, uncovered "mass anomalies". 

Election experts have called the canvas "quasi-science", but Harris, like many other Republican voters in Arizona, remains unconvinced by the extensive statewide reviews which found no widespread irregularities. 

She grows tearful as she details tales of voting misconduct she has heard from friends and social media. 

"You can say this is anecdotal, but we have all these stories," she said. 

Who does she believe is behind this vote rigging? "Global elites," she said. "It's about keeping the powers in place who feel they can run a better world than anyone else," she said. 

Democrats have warned that having candidates who promote Trump's claims running for roles overseeing election processes in swing states could threaten the integrity of future elections. 

Biden himself has called out Republican plans to "subvert" elections, singling out the Georgia state lawmakers whom he claimed had made it easier for "their cronies to remove local election officials" in an impassioned speech in Atlanta earlier this week. 

Stan Barnes, a former Republican lawmaker and longtime political consultant in Arizona, agreed that the US is witnessing "unprecedented times" and acknowledged that Trump's continued dominance over the party had made it difficult for Republican candidates to disavow his claims. 

But he dismissed the Democrats' alarmist rhetoric as "overly cynical" and warned against fear mongering. 

"The first time I ever heard a presidential candidate for a major party claim the election was stolen was when Hillary Clinton did it in 2016. And we've already forgotten that... So I just don't buy the allegation by Donald Trump's opponents that democracy is in peril if a person endorsed by Trump ends up in an elected position that oversees elections," he said. 

"There are checks and balances in the system," he added. 

- by Rozina Sabur, Daily Telegraph UK