Former President Trump and former Vice President Pence will hold dueling events for competing candidates in Arizona on Friday, setting up the first major proxy battle between the two men as they each position themselves for a potential 2024 White House run.
Trump has endorsed Kari Lake in Arizona’s GOP gubernatorial primary, as Lake has tied herself closely to the former president and his disproven claims of widespread election fraud in 2020. Pence has joined other establishment Republicans in backing Karrin Taylor Robson, Lake’s main rival.
While Pence previously backed Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) despite a Trump-supported primary challenge from David Perdue, the Arizona race will be the first time the two men have backed opposing candidates for an open seat in a statewide race.
Pence and outgoing Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R) will join Robson for events in Peoria and Tuscon on Friday. The latter will be at the National Border Patrol Council and will focus on border security.
Marc Short, who served as chief of staff for Pence, on Wednesday shared a social media post from Lake from 2017 in which she used the hashtag “#NotMyPresident” to describe Trump ahead of his inauguration.
Short’s jab at Lake is part of a broader effort among Robson and her supporters to paint Lake as an impostor and opportunist seeking to ride Trump’s brand to victory.
“Modern politics is full of charlatans and fakes, but Vice President Pence is the genuine article. He has never wavered in his conservative beliefs and commitment to our Constitution, and left a rock-solid legacy as Governor to which I will aspire,” Robson said in a statement announcing Pence’s endorsement.
Trump, meanwhile, will speak Friday night at a rally in Prescott Valley after a previously scheduled event in the state was canceled after the death of his first wife, Ivana Trump. Trump will be preceded by speakers that include Lake and Blake Masters, the former president’s preferred Senate candidate in Arizona.
“Arizona finally has a chance to have a GREAT Governor. Vote for Kari Lake – She has my Complete and Total Endorsement!” Trump posted on Truth Social, his fledgling social media network, on Thursday.
The primary battle between Robson and Lake has drawn the attention of Republicans around the country.
Lake has earned the backing of Trump acolytes like Michael Flynn, Mike Lindell and Rudy Giuliani. Robson meanwhile has the support of Pence, Ducey and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R).
The primary will essentially serve as a proxy battle between the Trump-wing of the party and those in the GOP who are hoping to move beyond the former president in the years to come, strategists said.
“If Karrin wins it clearly gives her an opportunity to narrate… another Republican agenda. What is it that Republicans believe? What are we fighting for? What are we talking about that moves the narrative beyond Trump?” said Chuck Coughlin, president of HighGround, Inc., and a longtime Arizona political consultant.
“And that’s really the opportunity that will be presented here. That’s what Ducey and Pence want to do. That’s the opportunity,” Coughlin said.
The field has narrowed after former Rep. Matt Salmon (R) dropped out of the race, likely to the benefit of Robson as she consolidated much of his support.
Coughlin said Lake’s focus has been very narrow, parroting Trump’s talking points about the 2020 election that appeal to the former president’s base but are unlikely to resonate with a wider audience.
Robson has tried to broaden her appeal among Republicans and some independents. She is likely to benefit from the support of Ducey, who Coughlin said had the approval of roughly 60 percent of Republicans in the state.
Pence’s endorsement could indicate something of a bandwagon effect among establishment Republicans that could help push Robson across the finish line in an extremely close race.
The Pence involvement in Arizona comes amid a broader trend of the former vice president positioning himself for a potential 2024 White House bid with frequent appearances in early primary states and speeches urging conservatives to lay out a forward-looking agenda, in contrast to Trump’s rigid focus on the 2020 election.
Pence on Tuesday and Wednesday met with House Republicans, who welcomed him with open arms but downplayed any discussion of Pence’s 2024 plans.
The former vice president will be in Washington, D.C., next Monday for a speech at the Heritage Foundation. The next day, Trump will be in the nation’s capital for the first time since leaving office to address the America First Policy Institute, which was created by former aides.
Should Robson win in the Aug. 2 primary, it could be a significant marker for Pence and others who appear to be testing the waters for whether the GOP is open to moving beyond Trump.
“I don’t know that people care that much if Pence has picked a different candidate here or there. I don’t think that will hinder Pence’s support,” said John Thomas, a GOP consultant. “To me, the bigger question is: Will he run, and if he’s running could he actually be the nominee?”
Source: The Hill