[IN DEPTH]‘Never in a Million Years’: Arizona Republicans Grapple with the Rising Fringe

Mainstream Republicans once laughed at Mark Finchem. Now the 2020 election denier and his Trumpist allies are close to taking power.

By HANK STEPHENSON | POLITICO

(Editor’sNote:) Hank Stephenson is a journalist in Phoenix and co-founder of the Arizona Agenda, a newsletter about Arizona politics and government.

 When Arizona state lawmaker Mark Finchem, a 2020 election denier who deals in fringe legal theories, won the Republican nomination for secretary of state earlier this month, many of his GOP colleagues in the state Legislature couldn’t believe it.

To be clear, they knew he would win — he had Donald Trump’s endorsement — but they were still stunned. Mark Finchem. Him.

A back-bench lawmaker best known locally for his over-the-top drugstore cowboy get-ups and extreme ideas, Finchem would be in charge of the state’s elections should he win in November. That would also put him first in the line of succession for the governorship since Arizona doesn’t have a lieutenant governor.

“It’s basically from political gadfly within the Republican caucus to potentially the number two person in the state of Arizona,” says Arizona Republican Sen. T.J. Shope. “It’s a meteoric rise.”

“Never in a million years” would Paul Boyer, a fellow GOP state legislator, have imagined that Finchem would crush a field of qualified candidates and win a nomination to statewide office.

“Mark is known as the guy that’s probably the dumbest — well, there’s a long list, but one of the dumbest — legislators in the state House,” he says. (Finchem’s retort: Boyer is an “utter disgrace.”)

But Finchem’s rise makes sense in light of the broader shift within the Arizona Republican Party. Trump’s slate of political insurgents swept the GOP nomination for every state office in which he offered his blessing, from the U.S. Senate down to state Senate races.

After decades of civil war, the Arizona primaries mark a decisive swing in the state GOP’s balance of power. The center-right, pro-business wing of the party led by the late Sen. John McCain and Gov. Doug Ducey has been defeated, at least for now. Finchem and other far-right outsiders — the original tea party activists and the new Trumpist hard-liners — have taken over.

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