Media critics and experts have repeatedly warned that the political media's sloppy insistence on gossip and horse-race coverage while ignoring the public issues behind the politics is the "darkness" that democracy dies in, but when your entire industry is built around the sloppy version, it's difficult to do much else.
The Washington Post has a new baffling dispatch from Camp Horse Race, and it's a stumper. It’s usually easy to tell which political figures or groups are pushing the newest national gossip and on whose behalf, but that’s not the case with this story. This one is premised entirely on mean-spirited and seemingly delusional election denier Kari Lake, the Arizona Republican who ran for governor last year and who to this day believes she, and not Gov. Katie Hobbs, is the legitimate governor of her state. The piece is about national Republicans' supposed efforts to help her court moderates as opposed to, say, driving her out to the Sonoran desert with two Slim Jims and a can of hard lemonade and leaving her there.
It is very difficult to tell who's bullshitting who on this one, but the immediate suspicion is that everyone is bullshitting everyone, mostly for the sake of bullshitting us.
The outreach, made over the course of several weeks through in-person meetings and phone calls, is a welcome sign to Washington Republicans, who would like to see Lake broaden her MAGA base in the once reliably red state and help them retake the U.S. Senate in 2024.
Is it? Is it really a welcome sign? Do any of them really care if Lake “broadens her MAGA base,” as opposed to “falls down an open manhole and is never seen again?”
The whole premise of the story is that Lake has been calling important national Republicans and old primary enemies alike, looking for their support as she tries to convince Arizona Republicans that she is anything more than The Worst Person In Arizona. But it's not going well!
Lake has contacted her former primary rival, top GOP donors and past supporters, party officials and activists, and even a former senator as she tries to persuade them to coalesce around her. But Lake’s appeals for support have so far contained no actual apologies — and some Republicans say they are not likely to forgive her any time soon, complicating her path to victory in a state home to many moderate Republicans and independents whose support is key to winning.
To refresh everybody's memories, Lake is famous in politics for two things. The first is that she's among the most fervent pushers of election hoaxes in the party, to the point where it doesn't even look like a bit anymore: It looks like Lake has entirely untethered herself from reality and considers herself to be above the world's petty quarrels about what "truth" might be.
The second is that she has been among the nastiest campaigners in the country, even when it comes to campaigning against members of her own party, as well as her constant attacks on the late Sen. John McCain and his many fans. She bragged at one point that she had "driven a stake through the heart of the McCain machine," which was taken exactly as spitefully as it was meant to be.
So now, she's allegedly been calling up some of the very people she has been demonizing to the point of claiming they're not even legitimate Republicans and pressing them for endorsements so she can prove bygones are bygones. Those endorsements will prove she's somebody all of the rotten not-real Republican voters who like not-real Republicans like McCain should shut up and vote for now that she's running for Senate.
But she isn't apologizing, and she isn't giving anyone any real reason to expect she won't conduct this new 2024 race with the exact same pattern of radicalism, lies, delusions, cruelty, insults, violence promotion, and general dirtbaggery that she's so rightly famous for.
So it turns out they're skeptical. It turns out that they're all mulling whether or not to just give up on that Senate seat if the price for keeping it is having to buckle under and support this cartoonishly hateful sack of hoaxes.
As I said, usually there's some clue in these stories as to where they came from in that somebody, somewhere almost certainly called up reporters shopping any of the gossip, and it's usually whichever camp benefits most from its exposure. But this is a story that makes every single person in it look bad! Lake looks bad for a ham-fisted attempt to prove she can moderate by, mostly, pressuring other Republicans to say she has. The Republicans she met with, named and unnamed, look like absolute tools for even taking this spiteful, delusional crank's phone calls. She's basically trying to do to them what Donald Trump did to Ted Cruz: humiliating them all into phone-banking on her behalf.
It's a story that makes every Republican look bad precisely because this inside-the-palace gossip suggests both sides are shallow, power-hungry, and without any morals that will last longer than a campaign cycle.
The biggest hint we get we get is that Lake actually agreed to talk to the Post for this story, and one of the few actually named Republicans is pushing the premise with quite the sneer attached:
“She’s going to be the nominee unless an asteroid hits Arizona, and she’s going to need to consolidate Republicans in order to win,” Daniel Scarpinato, an Arizona Republican strategist, said. “If we’re going to talk about party unity, it’s a two-way street. At some point, people need to move on.”
Ah yes, the old two-way street where the radical crank gets to demonize everybody, and they need to get over it and move on for the sake of the glorious fatherland. Yeah, pound sand on that one, buddy.
But the other clue as to where this story came from is that Politico wrote up pretty much this exact story two weeks ago, and that one was pretty clearly shopped by the Lake campaign. That one contains the news that she's met with Sen. John Cornyn and other senators. They, at least, have impressed upon her the need to Please Not Be Batshit. They have also expressed a general willingness to support her if it's the only way to claw back a Senate seat.
So what we have here is a story that's probably from Lake's strategists. It exists primarily to put public pressure on all the Arizona Republicans she has publicly attacked and demonized to "unite" behind her. There’s added news that Republican senators she hasn't attacked are willing to boost her campaign, so why are all these election-stealing, baby-eating space aliens that she campaigned against last year still not willing to move on?
But it's premised on candidate Lake not flipping out on camera for an entire year-long campaign, such that these people she's trying to coax into her corner don't get burned the moment she starts up about how she's actually the legitimate governor of Arizona, or how John McCain wasn't a real Republican and she was the one who "drove a stake through the heart" of his legacy, or any number of other possible lapses into her true self.
Because when she does slip up and return to her old routines, every Republican who begrudgingly "moved on" from her past behavior is going to look like a chump—a huge, gullible, pie-on-the-face chump.
That could be a career-ender for any of them—and all for the sake of Kari Lake?
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