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The images are mesmerizing. I can’t look away.
Kari Lake and Kelli Ward are mugging for RSBN, the YouTube hub in the Trump media universe – the so-called “Right Side Broadcasting Network.”
I’m thinking I’ve seen this show before, but where? I try to remember.
Oh, yes. The eighties. Televangelism. Tammy Faye and her flapping eye lashes. Jan, the Bible lady, and her atomic pink hair.
Never mind the hair. That’s a diversion.
The eyes are the giveaway. I know those eyes – earnest and on fire.
Lake and Ward think Republicans like me are 'liars'
Lake and Ward have become the most visible evangelists of Trump Republicanism in Arizona, one a former anchorwoman and now candidate for governor, the other the chair of the Arizona Republican Party.
On this day on RSBN, they are bringing back one of Trump’s greatest hits, “The Stolen Election of 2020,” and sticking it to conventional Republicans like myself who still care about stuffy old things such as free markets and objective reality.
Many insist the election was “free and fair,” says Ward. “There are (even) some Republicans that are saying they (were) ‘free and fair’ and they are liars. I’m just gonna tell you and YOU ... .”
Here she looks deeply into the camera and points her finger.
“They are liars, they are cheaters, they want to steal another election and they are in my party.”
In a more silky voice, Lake inveighs, “We’re beyond the point of holding back, because if we hold back one more day, one more month, we’re going to sit back after this last election and say, ‘Wow, we lost our country.’ ”
Ward, as seer and revelator, is obligated by a higher source to tell it straight: “My job is not to give cover to bad Republicans. It is to expose them and to try to bring them in the fold, and it is to kick their butt when necessary.”
Republicans who are more old school and low drama think this is sliced baloney, the same kind the televangelists served up from their TV studios and Crystal Cathedrals.
It will be short-lived.
Whackadoodles ran the AZ GOP years before Trump
“The conservative political movement, like any major social movement, has always had its share of cranks, grifters, and careerists,” wrote National Review’s Kevin D. Williamson two years ago.
“In 2016, the whackadoodles ended up actually running the Republican show for a minute, and the whackadoodle voice is at the moment quite prominent on the right, part of the intellectual race to the bottom led by social media and cable news.”
In Arizona, the whackadoodles took control of the Arizona Republican Party a decade before Trump. They were loud and eccentric and loved to censure John McCain. But they were never trusted with more power than say your average hamster, so they were perfectly adorable and easily ignored.
That changed when the Maricopa County Republican Party invited Donald Trump to speak at the Arizona Biltmore in 2015.
Trump then was still considered a pretender in the race for the White House, and his sometimes crude comments led more powerful Republicans such as U.S. Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake to protest.
“As an elected official and as a Republican, I’m not excited about this, to say the least,” said Flake. “I don’t think that [Trump’s] views are reflective of the party, particularly in Arizona, a border state.”
McCain, Flake were convinced it wouldn't last
The problem was Trump’s snide remarks about immigrants: “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems and they’re bringing those problems with us. [sic] They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”
Asked if Trump’s sudden popularity was sustainable, then-U.S. Sen. John McCain said, “I don’t think so. I just disagree with his comments about the, quote, Mexicans.”
But Trump would catch fire nationally and many of our local populists, such as Ward and later Lake, would ride his coattails.
That was then.
Trump today is twice impeached and fired after only after one term in office. He’s accused of provoking a riot at the U.S. Capitol. He may be angling for another run for president, but Republicans are growing colder by the day to him and his schemes to reverse the last election.
National populism that went up like a rocket, is now in descent. Soon the Kari Lakes and Kelli Wards will ride that fuselage earthward, no doubt to the thrum of “When Johnny Comes Marching Home.”
Georgia tells us it might all be coming to an end
Ward may, as she says, be straightening out the old-school Republicans, “doing everything I can to kick their butts.”
But last week they kicked hers.
In Georgia, a state long considered a peer to Arizona because of its demographic similarities, the old-school Republicans stomped Trump candidates for governor, secretary of state and attorney general. Brian Kemp won his primary for Georgia governor, beating Trump errand boy David Perdue by 52 points.
That’s not a landslide. That’s a collision of planets, an exploding ball of flame that can still be seen through the drapes at Mar-a-Lago.
If you’ve been buying what the Arizona GOP televangelists have been selling, this might be a good time to short.
As one Georgia Republican who voted Brian Kemp over Trump's David Perdue told The New York Times last week:
“The people who are supporting Perdue are living in the past. I want to live in the future.”
Phil Boas is an editorial columnist for The Arizona Republic. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Kari Lake and Kelli Ward's televangelism for Trump won't last