Arizona’s Far-Right Has Completely Broken With Reality

Right-wing candidates are making the “big lie” about the 2020 election the focus of 2022 races.

GOLD CANYON, Ariz. — Toward the end of a candidate forum put on by a central Arizona GOP club this week, Mark Finchem, a candidate for secretary of state whose views about the 2020 election generally have no basis in reality, told the audience that he had “breaking news” to share.

Finchem then fed the crowd a remarkably brazen lie. He said that Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court had declared — at 10 p.m. EST on a federal holiday, no less — that mail-in ballots were unconstitutional. Finchem offered no further explanation of the major news he claimed had just happened. The crowd cheered and whooped in delight.

“That’s big, ladies and gentleman,” Finchem said, nearly drowned out by applause. “That’s huge. Huge. Wow.”

Was Finchem confused? Probably not. The closest approximation to what Finchem described happened in January, when three judges on a Commonwealth Court did, in fact, strike down Pennsylvania’s no-excuse mail voting law, which passed with bipartisan support in 2019. Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf appealed the decision. In March, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania said the law could stay in place during the appeals process to create less confusion ahead of the May 3 primary.

In June, the U.S. Supreme Court actually cleared the way for Pennsylvania to count undated mail-in ballots after the GOP Senate primary between Mehmet Oz and Dave McCormick came down to just a handful of votes, a ruling that was largely seen as a win for proponents of mail voting.

That was the latest development, however, making what Finchem said neither breaking news nor correct.

It was just one small example of the lies perpetuated by Finchem and other election-deniers running in this year’s midterm elections. And the crowd ate it up, underscoring the degree to which the “big lie” and easily debunked misinformation goes virtually unchallenged in the grassroots GOP.

Finchem, a state House member who has said he aspires to have “one of the most transparent campaigns out there,” didn’t respond to a request through his campaign to clarify what he meant by his “breaking news” about Pennsylvania.

Arizona’s primary is Aug. 2, and in no other state do the tentacles of election conspiracy run as deep as the place that originated an infamous partisan election audit.

Mark Finchem is running on a platform that puts front and center Donald Trump's "big lie" about a stolen election.
Mark Finchem is running on a platform that puts front and center Donald Trump's "big lie" about a stolen election.
Steve Helber/Associated Press

Finchem is running to become the state’s top election official with former President Donald Trump’s backing, but his remarks to the group were light on specifics about exactly how he thinks the 2020 election was stolen. The partisan audit sanctioned by the state legislature’s GOP majority actually uncovered more Democratic votes for President Joe Biden. By every metric, Republicans have come up short in proving something sinister happened in the 2020 election beyond their own lies.

“By noon [on Election Day], we knew that something was terribly wrong. We didn’t haven’t to wait for 15 minutes after the polls to close for Fox to call Arizona, we already knew something was terribly wrong. So within about five days, my constituents sent thousands of emails, hundreds of letters ... we lost track of the phone calls begging us to do something,” Finchem said.

Finchem claimed that as secretary of state, his objective would be free and fair elections for all Arizonans, regardless of political party.

“My job as secretary of state is to ensure that the moment I’m elected, I take off my political hat — not my cowboy hat,” Finchem said, a joke about the oversize western hat he often sports. “To make sure there’s never a thumb on the scale of fair elections. If a Democrat wins, a Democrat wins.”

But Finchem, a member of the anti-government militia group Oath Keepers, has already shown he doesn’t employ reasonable judgment when it comes to election outcomes.

“[Former U.S. Attorney General] Eric Holder is a criminal. [Georgia Gubernatorial candidate] Stacey Abrams is a criminal. [Former President] Barack Obama is a criminal,” Finchem asserted after encouraging the group to check out the widely discredited documentary “2,000 Mules” by right-wing commentator Dinesh D’Souza, which purports to show how Democratic ballot “mules” conspired to illegally collect and submit absentee ballots in swing states, including Arizona. Trump called D’Souza’s film “incredible” during a rally in Pennsylvania for Oz, and plenty of Republicans have followed his lead in praising the controversial film.

“Every one of you needs to see ‘2,000 Mules.’ It’s going to make your blood boil,” Finchem said, echoing what I’ve heard at numerous other grassroots gatherings since the documentary was released.

At the same forum in Gold Canyon, an upscale Phoenix suburb with breathtaking mountain views and funky cacti, Kari Lake, a former TV journalist and Trump’s pick for governor, said tackling election fraud is among her main priorities as governor.

“We’re that pioneer spirit in Arizona, so we weren’t going to sit by as they stole our election,” Lake said.

Who are “they” exactly? Lake and others seem to think it’s shadowy, Democrat-aligned forces that no one has been able to pin down in the nearly two years since the 2020 election.

“It was the patriots of Arizona who stood up and said we want a forensic audit,” she said, failing to mention how it turned up nothing but more proof that Biden won.

Republican Kari Lake is running for governor in tandem with secretary of state candidate Mark Finchem. Both are endorsed by Donald Trump.
Republican Kari Lake is running for governor in tandem with secretary of state candidate Mark Finchem. Both are endorsed by Donald Trump.
Mario Tama/Getty Images

The events that unfolded the next day in Washington provided a chilling counter to what I heard in Gold Canyon and elsewhere. During Tuesday’s Jan. 6 committee hearing, Russell “Rusty” Bowers, the Arizona House speaker who might not be in office much longer — Bowers is running for state Senate and must clear a GOP primary — described the pressure he was under to unlawfully declare Trump the 2020 winner.

“There was no evidence being presented of any strength ... anything that would say to me, ‘You have a doubt. Deny your oath.’ I will not do that,” Bowers said in an emotional testimony.

At a GOP club gathering in Tucson the next day, which was supposed to feature Republican Senate candidate Blake Masters, the Jan. 6 committee might as well have been convening in another universe.

Masters, who told the group he had to cancel due to a conflicting meeting with Trump, was replaced by a guest speaker from the pro-gun group Arizona Citizens Defense League who carried a pistol on his hip and talked about red-flag laws. (For an idea of how Masters’ candidacy is playing among at least a segment of the GOP grassroots, the chair of the Gold Canyon group described Trump’s decision to endorse Masters over Jim Lamon, a businessman who signed a document certifying he was a false 2020 elector, as a well-intentioned mistake. “He can’t be expected to be perfect with all these endorsements,” the Gold Canyon chair Pam Burks said at Monday’s event while introducing Lamon, a towering Alabama native who speaks in a quick southern drawl and talked about border security and Chinese manufacturing.)

The Tucson club met during lunchtime at a diner with an all-you-can-eat buffet. I asked a retiree from the friendly bunch if he had any opinion of Bowers, whose testimony tugged at heartstrings and epitomized the struggle that certain Republicans faced during Trump’s break with reality. Hard-right Republicans don’t like Bowers because he blocked GOP-sponsored election reform legislation.

The guy frowned.

“Meh,” he said. “He’s a tool.”

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