Is the mega MAGA Arizona Republican Party here to stay?

By Alison Steinbach, Emily Sacia and Richard Ruelas || Arizona Republic

The Arizona Republican Party is at a crossroads after suffering high-profile defeats to Democrats in crucial statewide races, with the future uncertain.

The Democrats continue to hold both of Arizona’s U.S. Senate seats and this year won the state’s gubernatorial, secretary of state and attorney general races, though the AG race finish was so close it will get a recount.

Following the mounting election losses this cycle and in past, some prominent Arizona Republicans are calling for Arizona Republican Party chair Kelli Ward to resign immediately and for new leadership to pivot the state party away from the far-right ideology echoing former President Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again,” or MAGA, platform.

Ward does not plan to run for chair again in the January party leadership election, an Arizona Republican Party spokesperson said. She could still back someone with similar politics and approach, meaning perhaps not much would change at AZGOP HQ. And a larger challenge for any establishment or moderate Republicans interested in de-MAGA-izing the state party is that it remains loaded with rank-and-file activists who have supported the arch-conservative direction and may continue to do so despite the series of ballot-box defeats that indicate it is outside the mainstream in Arizona.

Sweeping out the MAGA-backers would not be easy. Party shifts have happened before, but came as a result of significant undertakings and months of ground-up effort, starting with recruiting and filling precinct committee member slots. The PCs are the ones who vote for their legislative district leadership teams and their state committee members, who choose the party chair, according to party bylaws.

Ward, who twice ran for the U.S. Senate but both times failed to win the GOP primary nomination, has come under fire for Republican losses in elections and for stoking past controversies and divisions. Her national profile grew after the deadly Jan. 6, 2021, U.S. Capitol riot and public scrutiny of the state party’s extremist messaging. She also had a role in creating a fake slate of presidential electors after President Joe Biden in 2020 became the first Democrat since 1996 to carry Arizona. More recently, Ward has been at the center of a closely watched court battle over the House Jan. 6 committee’s access to her phone records.

The struggle between the state party’s establishment and conservative wings is not new, and over the years has reflected a split between grassroots activists on the right and some of the party’s best-known elected officials, including at times former Sens. Barry Goldwater and John McCain, respectively the Republican presidential nominees in 1964 and 2008. A deep-rooted conservatism has long run through the state and Ward, though chair, is not responsible for those undercurrents.

But as a national lightning rod for controversy and with her divisive style, Ward has come to symbolize what many moderate Republicans see as an intolerable situation: the takeover of the Republican Party by an increasingly more right-wing camp that is out of touch with Arizona voters.

“There is no denying the simple fact that our party is rudderless and leaderless,” Phoenix real estate developer Karrin Taylor Robson, who ran for governor this year but lost to conservative Kari Lake in the GOP primary, said in a recent statement calling for Ward’s resignation. “We need a fresh start at the AZGOP, and it starts with new leadership at the top.”

Ward ceding control probably wouldn’t change that much, at least right away, given the base of people involved in party politics who hold similar views to her, some party insiders have told The Arizona Republic.

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