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Kari Lake's cruel quip about Paul Pelosi shows how she's refining Trumpism

Lake is more controlled and more poised than the average Trump pol. That makes her more dangerous.
Image: Republican gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake.
Arizona Republican gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake speaks at an election-night gathering in Scottsdale on Aug. 2.Justin Sullivan / Getty Images file

In an incisive profile in The Washington Post, Ruby Cramer observed that people often describe Arizona Republican gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake as “Donald Trump in heels,” but that she’s better understood as “Donald Trump with media training and polish.”

Cramer is right — Lake is refining Trumpism, and a recent cruel quip about political violence shows how.

Asked at a campaign stop on Monday about whether she’d increase school safety, Lake noted how the last state budget devoted about $50 million to increasing school safety, including sending armed officers to schools. Along the way, she also casually sprinkled in a joke making fun of a home intruder’s hammer attack on Nancy Pelosi’s 82-year-old husband in San Francisco.

Lake is trafficking in Trumpism, but making it sleeker.

“It is not impossible to protect our kids at school. They act like it is. Nancy Pelosi, well, she’s got protection when she’s in D.C. — apparently her house doesn’t have a lot of protection," Lake said, setting off hearty laughter from the crowd.

After pausing to let the laughter sink in, she continued: "If our lawmakers can have protection, if our politicians can have protection, if our athletes, then certainly the most important people in our lives — our children — should have protection."

Lake is trafficking in Trumpism, but making it sleeker. She cited an actual statistic about budget size, illustrating a decidedly non-Trumpian familiarity with how policy works. She made a coherent — even if misleading — case that children should be offered protection if elites are. And along the way, she normalized political violence by making a joke about the attack on the Pelosi household rather than condemning it, with the poise of a late-night talk show host.

Lake is a smart former news anchor. She surely knows that the suspect — who fractured Paul Pelosi’s skull — reportedly holds extremist right-wing views and said “Where is Nancy?” as he entered the home. She surely knows that citizens take cues from political leaders on ideology and their views on whether political violence is acceptable. She surely knows that the Trump era helped usher in a surge in extremist and vigilante violence in his name. She knew what she was doing, and she elevated it slightly with her personal qualities as a skilled orator.

We’ve seen other Republicans like Donald Trump Jr. make light of the attack on Paul Pelosi. But the difference is that Trump’s son is a clown. Lake is something more controlled, and more sinister.

Should Lake win the governor's race in Arizona — which is looking increasingly likely — she won't just pursue a hard right policy agenda in her state. She'll have a high-profile platform for cultivating the next stage of MAGA ideology and public presentation, and could make Trumpism more dangerous by making it slightly less rough around the edges.