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In Kari Lake and Tudor Dixon, the GOP offers a cynical alternative to Trump

Being a woman isn’t enough, but Republicans want you to think it is.
Photo diptych: Republican candidate for Michigan Governor Tudor Dixon and Arizona Republican nominee for Arizona governor Kari Lake.
The female Republican nominees putting a ‘pretty face on ugly politics’ are going after women's rights.MSNBC / AFP; Getty Images

Arizona Republican nominee for governor Kari Lake declared in a Sunday interview on CNN that she will accept the results of her state election in November — if she wins.

In that declaration, and in her refusal to say if she will accept election results if she loses the Arizona gubernatorial election, the former local TV news anchor was merely doing an impression of a previous candidate for office who ascended an escalator more than seven years ago, ushering in a new brand of made-for-TV politics. “I’m a reporter, I’ve been sitting on your side of the desk for a long time,” Lake told CNN’s Dana Bash, while casting skepticism on the U.S. electoral system.

These former media personalities have flipped the script on a country full of women desperate for representation by cynically offering themselves as an option, while actively working to diminish women’s rights.

As we enter the final stretch of the midterm election season, we’re seeing the party of Donald Trump forced to perform on the national stage without its notorious leader on the ballot to juice turnout. And the MAGA movement seems to have identified a new type of candidate to hold the front lines and fill the Trump-shaped hole: the hardline female media personality.

In a seemingly hostile political environment for women, with abortion rights and female bodily autonomy on the ballot, multiple states have far-right Republican female candidates like Lake in Arizona, Tudor Dixon in Michigan and Sarah Huckabee Sanders in Arkansas running for governor as Trump stand-ins, sometimes against female Democratic opponents. These former media personalities have flipped the script on a country full of women desperate for representation by cynically offering themselves as an option, while actively working to diminish women’s rights.

In the age of viral clips from even the most sparsely attended campaign events, it makes sense to promote candidates who have an innate understanding of media. In Lake and Dixon, the GOP has two pros at garnering coverage without having to pay for it — a tactic widely used by Trump in the run-up to the 2016 election and throughout his presidency. The current candidates also enjoy a standing invitation on Fox News; whenever they need a lift, a right-wing conspiracy theory podcast or talk radio show will help them deliver their pitch. Their natural skill at media makes them ideal candidates as Republicans try to figure out who they are in a post-Trump world.

It’s likely this is just the beginning of Republican candidates who understand that in order to win the party’s nomination and ultimately the general election, they have to be completely unapologetic in their rhetoric, like the Trumps, Alex Joneses and Tucker Carlsons of the world. The desire to “own the libs” conquers all social conventions, creating an environment free of apologies and regard for consequences. And it’s hard to see how more moderate Republicans can possibly compete with this level of media savvy.

In Lake and Dixon, the GOP has two pros at garnering coverage without having to pay for it — a tactic widely used by Trump in the run-up to the 2016 election.

And the prospect of putting a pretty, TV-ready face on ugly politics creates a huge obstacle for the future of feminist politics, tossing the basic idea of “elect more women” out the window. Being a woman isn’t enough, but Republicans want you to think it is.

“All along, Lake’s campaign has seemed like an audition — not just before the people of Arizona but before all of MAGA world,” The Atlantic’s Elaine Godfrey wrote recently. “If she wins on November 8, she will have proved that her smooth, put-together version of Trumpism works.” Godfrey describes the “seductive power to Lake’s voice: deep but still feminine; firm, even severe, but smooth. Like black tea with a little honey.”

The fact that Lake is a female facsimile of Trump is hinted at but not explicitly mentioned in the article. Yet her femininity is a crucial piece of what makes her so compelling as a character in the GOP pantheon and has enabled her to take on current Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs in a high-stakes race. Her softer touch to hardline policies makes her message easier for voters to swallow.

Lake left her job at the Phoenix Fox News affiliate KSAZ-TV in a dramatic video posted online in March 2021, after publicly expressing doubt about her network’s decision to call Arizona for Joe Biden on election night in 2020 and her concern over the supposed liberal bent to mainstream news. Since her departure and subsequent candidacy, she’s been a frequent guest on Steve Bannon’s podcast and Tucker Carlson’s show, and has appeared on programs hosted by QAnon devotees. The fact that Lake is so publicly and openly embracing the racist corners of the far right signifies that in post-Trump America, the bigot vote has become a legitimate voting bloc.

Dixon, a former host on conservative TV news network Real America’s Voice, has also built a career on Trump’s election lie, criticizing movements like Black Lives Matter, and advocating against reproductive justice. On Thursday, Dixon faced off with her Democratic opponent, incumbent Gretchen Whitmer, telling viewers that Whitmer "wants abortion to be your only option," rather than responding to a question about the 2020 election, which she has publicly stated she believes was stolen.

In an August interview, Dixon said survivors of rape who become pregnant from the assault can experience “healing” in giving birth, rather than terminating the pregnancy. While she has leaned in to the feminine ideal of being a mom, she’s also gone to great lengths to position herself as the candidate made of tougher stuff than Whitmer.

“The sad thing is Gretchen will tie your hands, put a gun to your head and ask if you’re ready to talk,” Lake said at a campaign event in September, in a reference to the 2020 plot by domestic terrorists to kidnap the sitting governor. “For someone so worried about being kidnapped, Gretchen Whitmer sure is good at taking business hostage and holding it for ransom.” It was reminiscent of Trump’s 2015 quip about the late Sen. John McCain: “He’s not a war hero. He was a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.”

The rise of Lake and Dixon, along with other female Republican gubernatorial candidates like Huckabee Sanders in Arkansas and Christine Drazan in Oregon, mirror political developments across the Atlantic, where Europe has seen a surge of similarly anti-abortion, anti-immigrant, pro-fascism women win elections. But as Molly Jong-Fast wrote recently in her newsletter after the election of proto-fascist Giorgia Meloni as prime minister of Italy, “Fascism isn’t, and can never be, feminist — no matter how much genderwashing a party does.”

And just as a woman following in the footsteps of Mussolini doesn’t signify a feminist victory, neither does a woman being elected to office after modeling her career after a man who has spent his life denigrating women and causing them harm. It will never signify a step forward for women when the politics required to emulate Trump encourage their subjugation and oppression.

This November, we’ll see a historic number of women governors elected in this country, providing a kind of twisted wish fulfillment of seeing more women in power. And it will reignite the age-old struggle between women who imagine a more unrestrained future, and those invested in maintaining the status quo.