Kari Lake savages her opponents like Trump does. That must change if she is to govern

Maricopa County officials are saying it will likely be Monday or later before we see the final tally in the 2022 midterm election and at last know if Kari Lake or Katie Hobbs will be governor.

Conventional wisdom says that votes cast Election Day will be counted last and will likely favor Lake. But I’m prepared to be surprised.

As we wait, I’m contemplating some interesting questions about Kari Lake.

Can she learn? Can she change?

Because the facts on the ground changed in American politics last Tuesday, and the Trump banner that emblazoned her campaign looks more threadbare by the hour.

Trump faceplants in the election

Much of American media believes that Donald Trump was the big loser in Tuesday’s election. His MAGA candidates lost marquee races in Pennsylvania, New York and Michigan.

Meanwhile, Republicans who put the most distance between themselves and Trump were Tuesday’s peak performers.

One of those, Ron DeSantis, sent Trump into spasms because the Florida governor would not kiss the pontiff’s ring. He didn’t ask for Trump’s endorsement. He didn’t want his stump speech, his rally or even his robocall.

He ignored Trump, and the former president raged. Then Trump answered the silence with a thug move: He threatened to divulge dark secrets about DeSantis if the governor decides to run for the 2024 Republican nomination for president.

Red vs. blue: Arizona's voting patterns in 2022 show familiar divide

That had all the charm of a Vito Corleone horse head – and pretty soon even Trump backers were recoiling.

Mark Tapscott, writing on the conservative website Instapundit, called it “the last straw in this corner. ... The tragedy is that Trump cannot see himself as others, including many who have supported him with passion, now see him, and make the necessary adjustments.”

Rupert Murdoch’s triad of U.S. conservative media – Fox News, the Wall Street Journal and the New York Post – celebrated a changing of the guard in the Republican Party, best summed up in the Post's front-page photo of DeSantis above the headline “DeFuture.”

Trump is a drag on the GOP brand

If that wasn’t insult enough, Trump’s old press secretary Kayleigh McEnany suggested he would delay his planned announcement of his 2024 presidential run until after the Georgia runoff, so he doesn’t provoke Georgia Democrats to turn out en masse to defeat Republican U.S. Senate candidate Herschel Walker.

Two years ago in the Georgia runoff, Trump so suppressed Republican turnout that he cost his party control of the U.S. Senate.

These are facts.

Donald Trump is shrinking. MAGA is a sell-stock. And Kari Lake is a full-immersion MAGA Republican.

Lake is an extraordinary speaker who has dazzled national media this election season. Some of her delivery is God-given, but most of it is learned and refined over years of reporting and anchoring television news. It may seem all façade, but it’s no small achievement.

If it were, all politicians would look and sound like her.

Lake mimics Trump in savaging opponents

Behind the delivery, however, is a Trump-like aggressiveness that wants to bludgeon all opponents. That might get you traction with the base in an election, but it won’t run a government.

Even with all the votes cast on Wednesday, Lake was still taking her sledgehammer to her perceived enemies – Arizona election managers. She told Tucker Carlson’s national Fox News audience that Maricopa County election officials “are the most incompetent in the country.”

“One of the reasons that I will win,” she said, “is the voters in Arizona are tired of shoddy elections that are run by imbeciles.”

Of Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer and Secretary of State Katie Hobbs she said, “We have two of the most incompetent people in all of government in this country running elections in Arizona.”

Her squalid insults reeked of Trump tactics and spoke to real trouble ahead.

Insults won't work so well leading a state

That kind of talk is red meat for the base, but a serious liability for anyone who aspires to manage all the competing interests of state government.

If Kari Lake is elected, she’ll take over an enterprise of more than 5,000-plus employees and an $18 billion budget. If she treats people the way she treats Republicans who run county government, she’ll find out quickly how effectively the people you scorn can jam the gears on your big ideas.

The governor of the state occupies the highest hill in Arizona managing the concerns of people of all professional, political, ethnic and religious persuasions.

A governor needs friends to advance an agenda and will learn to regret provoking enemies. Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, now a U.S. senator, used to say, “There is no margin in making enemies.”

Kari Lake seems committed to making as many as possible. If she does, she’ll never be able to govern.

There emerges a small glimmer of hope

On Wednesday, former Arizona Republic reporter Yvonne Wingett Sanchez, now with the Washington Post, tweeted that Lake was “holed up in transition meetings today and these notable GOP figures have been in and out of her office today: Eileen Klein, former Gov. Brewer chief of staff, Floyd Brown, of the Western Journal, Danny Seiden, with the Arizona chamber.”

While it may be presumptuous for Lake to transition to a job she has not yet won, it is a small but hopeful sign that she is bringing in the adults to advise her.

A name that no doubt leaps to many is Eileen Klein, one of the most respected political leaders and advisers in Arizona. She has served as state treasurer, president of the Arizona Board of Regents and chief of staff to Gov. Jan Brewer. She’s a no-nonsense chief executive who will understand instantly political excess and when to can it.

I don’t know if Klein has the inclination or time to advise a Lake administration, but it is going to take someone like her to rein in the sharp-edged impulses of Kari Lake.

If the final vote delivers Lake a victory, a prospect that remains very much in doubt as I write this, she will either change or she’ll sink. Because the people of Arizona will not tolerate for long a bully who occupies the big chair on the Ninth Floor.

Phil Boas is an editorial columnist with The Arizona Republic. Email him at phil.boas@arizonarepublic.com.

This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Can Kari Lake moderate her Trumpian antics if she wins the election?