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Opinion Election denial is reaching new levels of absurdity in Arizona

A right-wing activist protests the election process in front of the Maricopa County Tabulation and Election Center in Phoenix on Nov. 14. (Jon Cherry/Getty Images)

The Trumpist belief that the 2020 election was fraudulent was always rooted in fiction. Now, following the midterm elections, some in Arizona are showing how deep into this fantasy world they have ventured.

Arizona is home for many of the most fervent true believers in the election fraud myth. Their ire is directed toward election authorities in Maricopa County, home of Phoenix, where roughly 60 percent of the state’s votes are cast. After the 2020 election, the purveyors of the fraud narrative pushed the state legislature to authorize the so-called audit of the county’s vote. That effort confirmed Joe Biden’s victory, but it did nothing to quell the faithful’s suspicions.

This led Arizona Republicans to nominate an entire slate of candidates for statewide office who contended that the election was stolen. The slate was led by former television news anchor Kari Lake, whose steadfast advocacy of the election fraud myth was so pervasive that Donald Trump praised her chutzpah. The former president even told Blake Masters, Arizona’s Republican Senate nominee, to emulate her. “Look at Kari,” he said to Masters in a taped phone call. “If they say ‘how is your family,’ she says the election was rigged and stolen.”

The fraud squad was thus shocked when most of their candidates were defeated. Lake, Masters and Mark Finchem — the Republican nominee for secretary of state, the office that oversees Arizona elections — all went down. Meanwhile, Abe Hamadeh, the Republican nominee for state attorney general, is trailing by a few hundred votes in a race that will likely go to recount. While Masters has conceded, Lake and Finchem have disputed the results and are pressuring the state’s outgoing attorney general, Mark Brnovich — who denied the claims of fraud in 2020 — to investigate.

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This rerun of history is descending into farce. One newly elected GOP state representative, Liz Harris, recently posted on Instagram that she would not cast any votes in the Arizona statehouse unless the midterm elections were redone. Her proof that the election was fraudulent? Unspecific allegations of “machine malfunctions” and “chain of custody issues.” The kicker was her claim that the reelection of Republican state Treasurer Kimberly Yee, who was not part of the fraud faction, was itself proof of fraud. “How can a Republican State Treasurer,” she argued in her post, “receive more votes than a Republican gubernatorial or Senate candidate?”

That’s an easy question to answer. Yee won for the same reason many Republicans have done better than Trump and his ultra-MAGA acolytes in the past few years: She appealed to GOP-leaning, college-educated voters who despise hardcore Trumpism. That’s why Trump lost in 2020; educated suburbanites nationwide turned against a man they viewed as beneath the dignity of the office. That’s also why Lake and her crew lost.

The results from Arizona’s 1st Congressional District bear this out. The seat contains Scottsdale and other well-off, highly educated Phoenix suburbs. Its voters reelected GOP Rep. David Schweikert and gave Yee more than 56 percent, as election analyst Drew Savicki reports. Yet they voted against all the other Republican statewide nominees, giving Democrats between 51 and 54 percent of the vote in every race. This is exactly what voters in these areas did in 2020, as Biden carried the seat with 50.1 percent. They will vote for a certain type of Republican, just not the uber-Trump backers they had on offer this year.

The same pattern held nationally this year. Trump-endorsed statewide candidates such as Georgia Senate candidate Herschel Walker and Pennsylvania Senate candidate Mehmet Oz did poorly in the educated suburbs around their states’ major cities. Philip Wallach of the American Enterprise Institute estimates that Trump-backed candidates in competitive House races ran five points behind the level mere partisanship would predict. All of the defeated Trumpy Arizonans lost by less than five points.

This doesn’t mean the elections were perfect. Some 60 Maricopa County voting centers had printer issues on Election Day that could have discouraged some people from voting. There are also sworn affidavits alleging that county election workers did not follow protocol in handling ballots as part of the county’s plan to work around the malfunctioning machines. It’s clear something went wrong in some areas.

But there’s no reason to believe this was either malicious or changed the outcomes of the elections. Incompetent election administration is unfortunately more common that most people believe. But the margins of each candidate’s defeat are so large that one cannot reasonably believe they are the result of these mistakes. As is often the case, the most obvious answer is the right one: moderate college-educated voters just aren’t into MAGA.

Republicans can win a national majority. But they cannot do so if they tout false election narratives and nominate extreme candidates. Arizona has been ground zero for the party’s fall into political perdition. Looking toward 2024, the race to replace Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema would be a good time for the state’s GOP to repent and receive the voters’ grace.

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