In Arizona, Trump and Pence Offer Competing Views For Republicans' Futures : The NPR Politics Podcast The former president and vice president held separate rallies for candidates in Arizona's August Republican gubernatorial primary election, drawing a contrast in how each wants to guide the direction of the party. Mike Pence's preferred candidate, Karrin Taylor Robson, is supported by the state's outgoing governor, Doug Ducey, while Donald Trump's pick, Kari Lake, is running a campaign that mirrors many of his policies and, his falsehoods about the 2020 presidential election.

This episode: political correspondent Susan Davis, senior political editor and correspondent Domenico Montanaro, and KJZZ report Ben Giles.

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In Arizona, Trump and Pence Offer Competing Views For Republicans' Futures

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NATALIE: Hi, this is Natalie (ph) from Boston, Mass. I was so happy to learn that Scott Detrow named his new daughter Natalie, the best name in the world.

SUSAN DAVIS, HOST:

Aw.

NATALIE: Congratulations, Scott. And welcome to the world, Natalie. This podcast was recorded at...

DAVIS: 1:15 p.m. on Monday, July 25.

NATALIE: Things may have changed by the time you hear it. OK, here's the show.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE BIGTOP ORCHESTRA'S "TEETER BOARD: FOLIES BERGERE (MARCH AND TWO-STEP)")

DAVIS: Ah, that Boston accent - you just can't miss it.

DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: (Laughter) That's very sweet, though, and it is a very nice name.

DAVIS: It's a wonderful name. Hey there. It's the NPR POLITICS PODCAST. I'm Susan Davis. I cover politics.

MONTANARO: And I'm Domenico Montanaro, senior political editor and correspondent.

DAVIS: For Republicans, this year's primaries are a proxy war between former President Trump and those who'd like to see the party move past him, including his own vice president, Mike Pence. Trump and Pence held dueling rallies in the state of Arizona on Friday, where they're campaigning for opposing candidates in the state's gubernatorial primary.

(SOUNDBITE OF MONTAGE)

MIKE PENCE: I'm a Christian, a conservative and a Republican in that order. And I'm here because Arizona and America need Karrin Taylor Robson as the next governor of Arizona.

DONALD TRUMP: You are going to elect a truly great woman who I've gotten to know very well, Kari Lake, as your next governor.

PENCE: Look, I'm always happy to welcome converts to the Republican cause. But Arizonan Republicans don't need a governor that supported Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.

TRUMP: And in many ways - and I can say that truly in your state - in many ways, the RINOs are worse than the Democrats. Let me tell you that.

DAVIS: The great Ben Giles from member station KJZZ is covering this race, and he joins us now from Phoenix. Hey, Ben.

BEN GILES, BYLINE: Hey.

DAVIS: So tell us about these rallies. Where did they happen? And who are Trump and Pence in Arizona campaigning to support?

GILES: Well, so Pence, you heard, was there to back Karrin Taylor Robson. She's a developer, a more establishment candidate preferred by sort of the GOP power structure that's in place right now in Arizona. Trump, on the other hand, was there to back Kari Lake. She's a former local news anchor turned Republican who has really bought into Trump's election lies and has really vehemently supported Trump and those lies on the campaign trail.

Pence was at a tactical gear manufacturing facility in the Phoenix metro area in front of a small crowd, maybe about 250, 300 people. That - talking about establishment, this was a lot of the local politico types - lobbyists and businesspeople - either with money to gain from a Taylor Robson administration or maybe already invested in her campaign. Trump was in northern Arizona at a small arena with maybe 5- to 6,000 people there really pumped to see Lake and a slate of other election-denying candidates. And like most Trump rallies, it was more of a party than anything else.

DAVIS: Domenico, this just feels like we've seen this dynamic before. To me, it's an echo of 2016 in which you have the elites - right? - the party elites, the structural party, trying to find anyone but Trump. But the voters, the people, they love him. And they still very much want him to be involved in politics.

MONTANARO: Well, you go further back than that, and, you know, the Tea Party sort of stepping in is where Trump sort of picked up on. You know, you had Mitch McConnell who was, you know, really the primary force of the, quote-unquote, "Republican establishment," the Republican Senate leader trying to beat back the Tea Party. And he did it for a few cycles. But 2016 really showed the Trump takeover, and it's fairly complete. And you can see that up and down not just the ballot but the power structures within the states, including Arizona. And you see that in the crowd size there for Trump versus Pence. You see that in, you know, someone like Rusty Bowers, the state House speaker who testified before the January 6 committee, going back to Arizona and then being censured by his own state party. So really, you know, there is a faction that opposes Trump, but it is still well within the minority.

DAVIS: Ben, do you get a sense that these endorsements are having an impact on the race and sort of what's the state of polling there?

GILES: Well, one of the most recent polls showed Taylor Robson is trailing Lake still, but she's within the margin of error. That was before Pence's endorsement. So we don't really have a clear picture yet of, you know - is a Pence nod to Taylor Robson something that can get her across the finish line? Lake, on the other hand, has had Trump's endorsement for about 10 months now - since September of 2021. And that's really been sort of the steadying force in her campaign. She hasn't gained a lot of support since that endorsement. But talking about power structures in Arizona in particular, it's really solidified her base. And her base is also the actual Republican Party in Arizona, which is led by fellow election deniers like Chair Kelli Ward, who was there at the rally on Friday.

DAVIS: Is the big difference between these two candidates the question of the 2020 election? - because I was watching some ads, some Robson ads, and honestly, she sounds a lot like Trump in a lot of her ads - her immigration message, her border message. She's running on finishing the wall. I mean, is it really all just come down to this question of election denial?

GILES: Yeah. I'm glad you brought that up because at both of their campaign events on Friday, both Lake and Taylor Robson talked about a lot of the same policies. They want to surge the National Guard at the Arizona border with Mexico. They want to build the wall, which they can only do so much as a - you know, the state government here in Arizona. It's more of a federal issue, but that is kind of the dividing factor. And you heard that in the rallies on Friday. You heard current Arizona Governor Doug Ducey talk about trying to move past 2020, trying to look forward for the Republican Party. But at Trump's party in northern Arizona, it was all Trump won 2020. Trump was robbed. Trump won Arizona specifically, and we need Trump again in 2024.

DAVIS: This is obviously a primary dynamic. But Domenico, I wonder how you think this could play into the general because a lot of times - and this is true in both parties - you know, you have to play to the bases in primaries. And then you see in a general, you have to try to moderate or shift to the center. That's probably truer in a place like Arizona, which is increasingly more of a competitive, more of a purple state. I mean, what is the path to moderating here or is there even one?

MONTANARO: Yeah, a lot of these changing, you know, kind of new south states we can call them, more sunbelt states, we've seen that dynamic play out quite a bit. I think that Georgia is another example of that where, you know, President Biden won it narrowly, and we've seen some close elections and people having to make that pivot into a general election. Virginia was another example with the governor's race there the last cycle with Glenn Youngkin, the Republican, winning and having to sort of moderate his tone, keep Trump at a bit of a distance but still welcome his endorsement because, frankly, the fact is the middle, the swing voters in this country, whether it's in a purple state or a blue state or red state, has really shrunk. The people who you can win over from the other side, it's a really small number in single digits at this point. So you have to - being so polarized, you have to have your base fully behind you to have a full head of steam going into a general election and then hope you can pick up some of those independents and swing voters in the middle marginally to have them all together to put you over the edge for that 50 plus one.

GILES: But, Domenico, I think Arizona is a different beast than Virginia. And whether or not we see some moderating in the general election, that's going to depend entirely on who wins the primary. Kari Lake is not a candidate who's going to try to appeal to the middle. She's going to keep beating the drum for Trump, keep beating the drum for a stolen 2020 election. And there's a bunch of down-ballot races in Arizona, too, where you've got Republican candidates who aren't going to bend on stuff like election denialism.

If Taylor Robson wins on the other hand, then, yeah, you're going to see a much more natural shift to appeal to independent voters who are really crucial to winning the election in Arizona. And I think that's why you're seeing this establishment push for Taylor Robson. Because maybe the fear is Lake isn't going to make that shift, and Lake isn't going to have as good of a chance of winning in November.

DAVIS: All right. Let's take a quick break, and we'll talk more about this when we get back.

And we're back. And we should broaden this out a bit. This is a dynamic that's playing out well beyond Arizona. There's election deniers running in races up and down the ballot all over the country. And, Domenico, I think when we talk about a lot being at stake in an election - in any election, in this particular election, in the 2022 midterm elections - this seems to be a big factor of what's at stake.

MONTANARO: Yeah, I mean, no doubt about it. I mean, we've got a lot of Trump-endorsed candidates up and down the ballot all across the country from, you know, positions as high as governor on down to borough presidents, for example. You know, he wants to play in here. He is seen as the potential front-runner for the 2024 nomination if he wants it. He continues to tease it. And what is at stake really is the heart of the Republican Party. Now, everyone's going to declare a bit of victory on that because it looks like Republicans are favored to win the House, you know, whether or not they go Trump, whether or not they go moderate because of high inflation and gas prices. And you can guarantee that everybody is going to say, see, this is why we won in this place and that place.

DAVIS: It's still pretty amazing to me to see a former president and his vice president be going so hard against each other. It's just not something that we have really seen in modern politics. And I wonder from a sort of voter angle, Ben, the Arizonans you talk to, does it - do they notice it? Are they tuned in to this? And what do they think about it?

GILES: Well, I think the Pence endorsement is only going to go so far. It's going to maybe help out with some of those independent voters in the long run. Some independents in Arizona have the opportunity to select a Republican ballot for the primary. So maybe that's a pickup for Taylor Robson, maybe that helps her get across the finish line here by August 2, the primary date.

But the Trump base is just so solid, so rock solid. The voters that I spoke to in northern Arizona on Friday and the resounding applause that you heard every time there was a Trump candidate mentioned up and down the ballot - from what I heard on Friday afternoon, Trump voters are going to vote for whoever the former president tells them to.

DAVIS: It almost feels like Pence is trying to find an audience, you know? I think that even if you look at polling, like, Republicans don't think particularly highly of Mike Pence right now in a way that they do Trump. And I wonder what it says more about that dynamic, right? I mean, Pence doesn't deny the 2020 election. He is still in a - in some ways, loyal to the former president. He doesn't really criticize him directly. But he doesn't really seem to have much of an influence, or at least we haven't seen it play out yet.

MONTANARO: Yeah, this isn't exactly Jefferson versus Adams here, you know...

(LAUGHTER)

MONTANARO: ...Running against - the president versus vice president in the election of 1800. But, you know, yeah, Pence is still fairly well-liked among Republicans, you know, sixty-plus percent favorability rating in our latest NPR/PBS Newshour/Marist poll. But Trump is still slightly - you know, a bit higher than that, actually. And, you know, this is where the heart of the base of the party is. It's with Trump right now. And Pence, you know, was somebody who struggled, frankly - reminds me, honestly, of Joe Biden running in 2008. Really, you know, he got, like, 1% of the vote. Pence was never really the person who fired up any part of the base except for, you know, evangelical Christian, white conservatives. And that is why he was put on Trump's ticket. And whether that's enough to propel him in 2024, it doesn't look like it.

GILES: It was remarkable for me to actually listen to Pence on Friday. You know, he endorsed Karrin Taylor Robson in a fairly tame statement a week ago Monday. But on Friday, he really came out swinging and was trying to walk this line between, I'm going to brag about all the things Trump did; I'm going to brag about all the things we and Trump did during that administration. And he was propping up Karrin Taylor Robson as somebody who was supportive of Trump in 2016 and supportive of Trump of 2020, but then he's also trying to, you know, criticize Lake as this unreliable Republican. Well, Lake is very much a Republican in the mold of Trump as far as converting to the Republican cause and becoming, like, a celebrity here in Arizona the way Trump was nationally.

DAVIS: Ben, and it seems worth noting that Robson was a Trump-Pence ally.

GILES: And Pence went out of his way to make hay of that at their campaign event on Friday.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PENCE: No one worked harder for the Trump-Pence ticket in 2016 or in 2020 than Karrin Taylor Robson. She volunteered. She helped raise millions of dollars for our campaign. When we needed Karrin, Karrin was always there.

(APPLAUSE)

GILES: I mean, that really just shows Trump is really the gravity in the Republican Party. Even Pence, who was his vice president and is now actively seemingly campaigning against him, has to mention him in order to endorse the candidate he wants to win.

DAVIS: All right. Ben Giles from member station KJZZ, thanks so much for joining us today.

GILES: Thank you both.

DAVIS: We'll be back in your feeds tomorrow. I'm Susan Davis. I cover politics.

MONTANARO: And I'm Domenico Montanaro, senior political editor and correspondent.

DAVIS: And thanks for listening to the NPR POLITICS PODCAST.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE BIGTOP ORCHESTRA'S "TEETER BOARD: FOLIES BERGERE (MARCH AND TWO-STEP)")

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