House Homeland Security Border and Maritime Security Subcommittee Chairwoman Rep. Martha McSally, R-Ariz., speaks during a news conference with House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va. on Capitol Hill in Washington, Jan. 10, 2018.
Jacquelyn Martin/AP Photo

Arizona’s McSally offers a case study in GOP primary politics

Rep. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.) represents Arizona’s 2nd congressional district, which is one of the most competitive in the Southwest. Indeed, when she first won her seat in 2014, the Arizona Republican eked out a 167-vote victory – a margin of 0.08% of the vote.

And with this in mind, McSally has been eager to present herself as a relative moderate in Republican politics, even co-sponsoring a center-right Republican bill called the “Recognizing America’s Children Act,” designed to create a pathway to citizenship for many young undocumented immigrants popularly known as Dreamers. She spent much of 2017 championing the bill.

McSally then became a Senate candidate, running in a statewide Republican primary. HuffPost noted what happened next.

Rep. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.) withdrew her co-sponsorship of immigration legislation that would help young undocumented immigrants, as she fends off challenges from the right in her bid for her party’s Senate nomination.

McSally is in a tight race for her party’s Senate nomination for the open seat being vacated by GOP Sen. Jeff Flake. The congresswoman has the backing of party leaders, but her opponents in the primary include conservative favorite Kelli Ward, who has the support of Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), former White House aide Steve Bannon and right-wing pundits Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham. Former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, another right-wing darling for his harsh opposition to undocumented immigration, is also in the race.

In theory, McSally could’ve used her less-reactionary position on immigration to differentiate herself from her rival GOP candidates, but aware of Arizona Republicans’ attitudes on this subject, she instead went to the House floor late last week to formally end her support for the moderate immigration legislation she backed for more than a year.

This is how Republican primaries work in 2018.

Also note, while McSally has apparently changed her mind about the “Recognizing America’s Children Act,” she also discovered a different bill that she likes far more. From the HuffPost report:

McSally spokeswoman Kelly Schibi said the congresswoman “wanted to clarify which legislative solution she backs wholeheartedly” – a bill she co-authored that does not include a path to citizenship for Dreamers and would dramatically overhaul the immigration system.

The bill, Securing America’s Future Act, would cut legal immigration, criminalize being in the U.S. without authorization and dramatically increase spending for border security and enforcement of immigration laws throughout the country. It would create a non-immigrant status for Dreamers that could be renewed indefinitely but wouldn’t provide a way for them to become citizens.

That bill, championed by Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), the far-right chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, enjoys Donald Trump’s backing – unlike the more moderate bill McSally co-sponsored until last week.

One wonders what the congresswoman might say if she wins the Republican primary in August, and has to start broadening her appeal again.