MAGA Queen in the Making: Trump's 2024 Running Mate is Budding in Arizona
Compelling on camera, and cut-throat as a campaigner, Kari Lake embodies the next generation of the America First movement. Her timing may be just perfect.
When Donald Trump dropped into Arizona last summer for a conference organized to gripe about unfounded election fraud, the candidates running for governor made sure they were there to catch their share of MAGA fairy dust.
The state treasurer, a former congressman and a self-made businessman each took their turns and earned polite applause.
But it was the former local Fox affiliate television anchor with a 27-year-career in local news who had the audience rapt even before she started speaking.
“Kari! Kari!,” chanted the throng assembled inside the Arizona Federal Theatre. Later, they bestowed the only sustained ovation on Kari Lake.
They knew her and they loved her.
The king of crowd monitoring certainly took note.
“Wow,” Trump said. “This could be a big night for you.”
It was, at least, the seeds of something big.
Two months later, Trump announced his endorsement of Lake, heralding her unique ability to take on his favorite bete noire, the “Fake News”, and solidifying her as the front-runner for the Republican nomination for governor of Arizona in Tuesday’s primary.
“That’s why I go after the fake news because he showed us how to do it,” Lake said when she rallied with Trump two weeks ago.
Trump has made a slew of endorsements in races large and small this year as he attempts to flex his muscle over a party still under his thumb, but peering for other options.
Placing governing ability entirely aside, the 52-year-old Lake is the most naturally talented communicator of this year’s class of “America First” candidates and will be a national star on the right if she captures the governorship.
She’s withering but self-collected. She effortlessly deploys red hot MAGA rhetoric on stage, but can sound like a reasonable unifier one-on-one. She employs fierce discipline over her core message while understanding exactly how to package a readymade soundbite for TV.
“She is the Arizona Trump,” says Barrett Marson, a Republican operative who worked for one of Lake’s opponents and believes he’s on her “enemies list.” “A TV personality for decades. An election denier. She knows nothing about government and doesn’t have a real intellectual curiosity to find out. She is Trump.”
Lake “terrifies the political establishment,” responded her communications director, Ross Trumble, “and they don’t know how to cope with it. We’re looking forward to proving them all very wrong.”
She may even be better than Trump at the game, which should concern Democrats.
And it makes sense why.
Just as “The Apprentice” manufactured America’s readiness for Trump, local television provided Arizonans with an easy familiarity with Lake. Like Trump, Lake is running without any previous public service bonafides, allowing to cast herself as the unswerving outsider. Like Trump, Lake has shown affection for Democrats in the past — including Barack Obama — and there’s little evidence it’s hurt her among conservatives.
Her language is raw, direct and unsparing, often mimicking Trump’s own vernacular.
It’s the McCain “Mafia” working against her.
“Crooked” Karin Taylor Robson is her main primary rival, often simply referred to as “that woman.”
“Do Nothing” Ducey” is the term-limited GOP Gov. Doug Ducey, who is backing Robson and loathed by Trump.
The rest of Lake’s opponents? “Open-border globalists.”
Neighboring California? A “hellscape.”
And like her mentor, Lake has redefined her movement beyond traditional conservatism to being “pro-America” and “America First.”
“Like Trump, Lake has just the right mix of anger, inflated ego and infallibility,” wrote Julie Erfle of the Arizona Mirror.
Lake still has a primary and a general election to get through. (A final poll of the race released late Monday put her up 11 points over Robson.) But if she’s victorious and Trump follows through with plans to run for president in 2024, Lake will be a natural contender to round out his ticket.
First and foremost, she is an unyielding denier of the 2020 election result, a prerequisite condition for a true bond with Trump.
Her claims are irresponsible. She has dangerously said she would not have certified the 2020 result in Arizona, even after a $6 million audit reinforced Biden’s win in the state.
On Monday, the state attorney general — a Republican — released a letter calling claims of dead people on the voting rolls in Arizona “absurd.” In 282 cases, officials identified one deceased voter.
The evidence hasn’t stopped Lake from leaning into the spurious Trumpian narrative.
In the final weeks ahead of her own primary, Lake’s said, “We’re going to win this — unless they cheat,” a fail-safe premeditated excuse if she somehow falls.
Second, Lake is physically attractive and TV savvy. Tanned without the presence of fine lines on her face. A tightly coiffed pixie cut. Piercing eyes that exude warmth. Looking the part is as important as anything to Trump as we found out throughout his campaigns and administration. She is unflappable in most interviews and keeps her poise even when handling uncomfortable questions, like when she was an Obama supporter. (Her alibi: She wanted to end the war and knew McCain wouldn’t!) Her voice modulates well before an arena crowd; she doesn’t suffer from screeching syndrome that sometimes afflicts female candidates, if even unfairly.
Third, the policies she’s emphasizing fall neatly into Trump’s bailiwick. Election integrity, securing the border and halting the infestation of drug cartels, even promising to bomb their underground tunnels if need be. That’s just the type of an over-the-top policy prescription that Trump would embrace, even if he was unlikely to actually follow through with it.
It goes almost without saying that she would be a female chief executive from a battleground state, two other advantages whenever Trump’s Veepstakes process commences.
And she’s shameless about pouring absolute fawning praise over Trump.
“Everyone loves President Trump … They love that he puts America first and they love our campaign because we’re putting Arizona first,” she recently told podcaster Michael Malice.
Chuck Warren, who briefly consulted for Lake, said a run for governor truly wasn’t her plan when she abruptly quit her long career in mainstream journalism in the beginning of 2021.
It was instead a cadre of friends who came to her dangling the temptation of politics. Some urged a run for Congress or Senate, but she settled on remaining in state for a rarer shot at a wide open seat to become chief executive.
“If she gets elected, she’s going to be on par with Kristi Noem, others like that,” says Warren.
“I don’t think this was her original ideology. [But] she’s taken on the Donald Trump view of government and issues. I’m not sure there’s any space between them,” he says.
As I talked the Lake as VEEP scenario through with Marson, he began to envision a troubling scenario that could propel an even more vehement election denier to the governorship if Lake springboards quickly nationally.
“I mean, holy shit. Holy shit. If Mark Finchem is secretary of state and he becomes governor when she becomes vice president. Holy fuck. That’s even worse,” Marson said.
This, of course, is all several steps ahead of the process.
But if Lake is a winner on Tuesday night, bookmark this and revisit it come summer of 2024.