Election 2022

Kari Lake's Defeat Is the Latest Disaster for Arizona's Trump-Backed Republicans

Voters rejected other Republicans who have cozied up to the former president, including Senate candidate Blake Masters and secretary of state candidate Mark Finchem.


After several days of ballot counting, the Arizona governor's race has ended with former President Donald Trump's preferred candidate losing. The Associated Press reported Monday that Republican Kari Lake was defeated by Democrat Katie Hobbs, who currently serves as Arizona's secretary of state.

"Arizonans know BS when they see it," Lake tweeted after media outlets and election observers began to call the race for Hobbs. Lake previously hinted that she might take issue with a loss, telling CNN's Dana Bash last month, "I'm going to win the election, and I will accept that result."

Lake, a longtime local news anchor whose campaign centerpieces included conspiracy theories about the 2020 presidential election and frequent attacks on the media, is one of several high-profile, Trump-endorsed Republicans who lost major statewide races in Arizona. She joins Senate candidate Blake Masters and secretary of state candidate Mark Finchem in that distinction; Abe Hamadeh, the Trump-endorsed Republican candidate for attorney general, slightly trails his Democratic opponent, though that race has not yet been called.

A recount in the gubernatorial race would be prompted under a new state law if Hobbs' lead falls to 0.5 percent or less of the total votes cast (she's currently up by 0.78 percent, per The New York Times). Lake and her allies have already suggested that Arizona's elections were tainted by malfeasance, which Republican election officials have rejected and a Maricopa County judge has rebuked. But Lake's loss isn't evidence of some grand conspiracy—it's simply the latest instance of Arizonans rejecting Trumpist conservatism.

Beyond election denialism, Lake campaigned on a smattering of big-government policies and frequently showed a willingness to wield state power to punish the people and ideas she disliked. She put forth a legally dubious plan to declare an invasion at the U.S.-Mexico border and fend off incoming migrants, promising to finish Trump's costly and ineffective border wall as well. She says "lying 'journalists' (propagandists)" should be "punished." Though she claims to support school choice, she also wants to "align state standards to the Hillsdale 1776 curriculum" and ban "critical race theory and other radical ideologies," making no distinction between public and private institutions. That attitude runs counter to actual support for school choice.

A Republican candidate with more moderate tendencies could've capitalized on Arizonans' concerns about inflation and the economy. If nothing else, President Joe Biden's abysmal approval ratings might've predicted a swing toward the right in Arizona. "Americans are remarkably unhappy with Democrats on issues including the economy and energy policy, and they were keen to support Republicans who ran actual campaigns based on ideas," J.D. Tuccille writes for Reason. "But GOP candidates who kept up the tired drumbeat of election denialism and cultish fealty to Donald Trump drew minimal enthusiasm across the country."

Even before the election, polls indicated that Lake and other Trump-endorsed candidates were focusing heavily on issues that Arizonans didn't prioritize. A CBS News/YouGov poll put the economy and inflation as the top issues among likely voters in Arizona, followed by immigration, a central plank of Lake's campaign. As for election issues—which 61 percent of likely voters called a very important issue—only 18 percent of surveyed registered voters said they wanted elected officials in Arizona to say Biden didn't win in 2020. The remaining 82 percent were split evenly between preferring elected officials who said Biden did win, and feeling that it didn't matter what they said.

With over one-third of Arizona voters being registered independents, Republicans and Democrats alike need to garner support beyond their bases in order to win state office. Taken through that lens, the losses of New Right candidates like Lake and Masters and the successes of low-key Democrats like Hobbs and Sen. Mark Kelly make a bit more sense. "Arizona is a conservative state," Republican strategist Barrett Marson told Arizona Republic columnist Laurie Roberts. "We are not a Trump state."

Indeed, the Arizona GOP's biggest winner so far has been a candidate Trump didn't endorse: Kimberly Yee, the Republican reelected state treasurer. Though she cozied up to the former president during a run for governor, her treasurer campaign took on a more staid tone and had little to do with Trump. As of this article's writing, Yee had the most votes of any Arizona candidate for Senate, governor, attorney general, secretary of state, or state treasurer, with over 95 percent of votes tallied in those statewide races. She leads her Democratic challenger by over 11 percentage points.

By no means is Hobbs' victory a win for supporters of small government. The Democrat will take office with a laundry list of priorities that would expand the size and expenditures of the state, from launching universal pre-kindergarten to rolling back the expansion of school vouchers. Though Hobbs says she won't raise taxes, she repeatedly supported tax increases as a state legislator. Questions about her transparency began to swirl after she refused to participate in a televised debate with Lake.

An introspective Arizona GOP would look at these election results with an eye to the future rather than a fixation on the past. Prioritizing the 2020 presidential election and unwavering devotion to Trump are clearly no way for Republicans to secure elected positions in the state. Conversely, an introspective Democratic Party would realize that its slim margins of victory are in large part the result of Republican disarray and not a compelling platform of its own. Without those adjustments, Arizona voters will continue to see candidates who have little love for the principles of small government and individual liberty.