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Arizona's bonkers election audit sharply divides state Republicans

Republicans at the national level are confronting notable divisions, but GOP divisions in Arizona are considerably worse.
Image: Arizona Recounts 2020 Presidential Election Ballots
Former Secretary of State Ken Bennett, center, works to move ballots from the 2020 general election at Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix, on May 1, 2021.Courtney Pedroza / Getty Images file

The 2022 election cycle is bound to be an interesting one in the state of Arizona. The Grand Canyon State will host a wide-open gubernatorial race with no clear frontrunner; Sen. Mark Kelly (D) will seek a full term just two years after his special-election victory; and there will likely be other competitive contests and up and down the ballot.

Republicans have reason to feel anxious about their prospects. While Arizona has traditionally been a reliably red state, Democrats have won both of the state's U.S. Senate seats, and Joe Biden narrowly carried Arizona last fall -- becoming only the second Democratic presidential hopeful to win the state in the last seven decades.

All of which suggests Republicans in the state have every incentive to get their act together, broaden their appeal, and settle on a mainstream message and policy agenda. What GOP officials in Arizona are actually doing, however, are tearing each other apart. Politico noted over the weekend:

Republicans in the state are still divided over the results of the last election, months after President Joe Biden was sworn into office. An ongoing and extraordinary audit of the 2020 vote count in the state’s largest county — rooted in conspiracy theories and the false belief that Biden’s election was not legitimate — is deepening the schism six months after the election, with no clear end in sight.

One of the first signs of trouble came last week, when state Sen. Paul Boyer (R), who used to support his party's truly bonkers election audit, conceded that the process was making Arizona Republicans "look like idiots." The GOP state legislator added that he didn't realize how "ridiculous" the review would be.

As the week progressed, Jack Sellers, the Republican chairman of the board of supervisors in Maricopa County -- Arizona's most populous county, whose votes are the target of the GOP audit -- described the ongoing process as reaching a "dangerous" stage. Sellers went on to condemn his own party's "lies and half-truths" about the election results, and said Cyber Ninjas, the Florida-based firm Republicans hired to conduct this fiasco, “are in way over their heads.”

Around the same time, Maricopa County Supervisor Bill Gates, another lifelong Republican, was asked about his party's ongoing election audit. "My fear is that all of this is further tearing at the foundations of our democracy and tearing at people's faith in our electoral systems," he told the New York Times. "If there were fraud going on, if there was systematic corruption going on, I would be the first to speak out against it. But we have looked at this again and again and again with numerous audits here."

Evidently, a certain former president doesn't care. In fact, Donald Trump released a bizarre written statement on Saturday, claiming, "The entire Database of Maricopa County in Arizona has been DELETED! This is illegal.... Additionally, seals were broken on the boxes that hold the votes, ballots are missing, and worse." The former president went on to complain that his allied outlets, including Fox News and Newsmax, aren't alerting the public to these made-up developments.

In reality, Trump's claims were deranged, and Stephen Richer, the local Republican official who oversees Maricopa County's elections department, described the former president's nonsense as "unhinged." Richer added, “We can’t indulge these insane lies any longer. As a party. As a state. As a country."

As last week helped demonstrate, Republicans at the national level are confronting notable divisions of their own. Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), for example, was ousted from her GOP leadership post for daring to tell her party inconvenient truths about democracy, and the party was similarly split on whether to see Jan. 6 insurrectionist rioters as harmless and patriotic tourists.

But the divisions among Arizona Republicans are even more stark -- and they're likely to get worse. As the Associated Press reported, "Republican Senate President Karen Fann has demanded the Republican-dominated Maricopa County Board of Supervisors come to the Senate to answer questions raised by the private auditors she has hired."