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Arizona Republicans Reprimand Prominent Members At Odds With Trump

SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:

Across the country, Republicans are debating the future of their party after losing the presidency. In Arizona, the state GOP decided to stick to the hard right this weekend as it reelected a staunch Trump supporter as chairwoman. Then it reprimanded several prominent Republicans, including the widow of former Senator John McCain. I'm joined now by Matthew Casey from member station KJZZ in Phoenix. Good morning, Matthew.

MATTHEW CASEY, BYLINE: Good morning, Sarah.

MCCAMMON: So you covered the events this weekend surrounding the Arizona GOP. What'd you observe?

CASEY: So state Republicans held an all-day meeting at a Phoenix church where Trump spoke last year. And the state GOP gave Kelli Ward two more years in charge. She spearheaded Trump's baseless legal fight here to overturn the election. And this is from her speech asking to be chairwoman again.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KELLI WARD: Are we going to reelect me and show the state, the country and the world that we are an America-first Arizona, or will we go back to the dark days before Trump?

CASEY: The state party then went on to censure three really big names - Governor Doug Ducey, former U.S. Senator Jeff Flake and Cindy McCain. She is, of course, the widow of the late Arizona Senator John McCain.

MCCAMMON: They were often the target of insults from former President Trump. Matthew, does that have anything to do with why Mrs. McCain and others were reprimanded this weekend?

CASEY: Well, they were all accused of different sins against the party and Trump, right? McCain and Jeff Flake both endorsed Democrat Joe Biden, and they spoke out against the former president. Governor Ducey got his slap on the wrist for pandemic restrictions that he put in place. Now, it's important to note these policies haven't pleased Democrats here, either, and Arizona is a COVID hot spot. Kirk Adams was Doug Ducey's chief of staff during his first term. He calls the people who voted in Saturday's meeting the most activist-based Republicans in Arizona. And he says the censures are really irrelevant.

KIRK ADAMS: What is consequential is we have the official Republican Party of the state of Arizona wasting their time on silly and senseless resolutions that only hurt the Republican brand and will drive more people from the party.

CASEY: So one key point about the potential impact of these censures - Senator McCain got the same punishment from the state party in 2014, but he still won reelection two years later.

MCCAMMON: And, of course, the late Senator McCain's Senate seat is now held by a Democrat. Arizona went for Joe Biden in November. How much is that turning purple, so to speak, a result of what's been going on within the state GOP?

CASEY: These losses happened while Ward led the state GOP, but I think it's really more about Trump because the Republican Party here did well further down the ticket in 2020. My colleague here at KJZZ named Jill Ryan, she reported last week that nearly 4,000 Arizona Republicans switched parties shortly after the U.S. Capitol riot. One Republican strategist told her that if the state GOP keeps dividing, there will come a point when they won't even be able to beat a progressive Democrat.

MCCAMMON: Yeah, briefly, what does it mean for the party if they continue to prize loyalty to Trump - in about 20 seconds?

CASEY: Well, Adams and others tell me that GOP is basically - the state GOP is basically sidelined and irrelevant for 2022. They do have hope that it can be fixed, though.

MCCAMMON: That's Matthew Casey of member station KJZZ in Phoenix. Thanks so much for being with us.

CASEY: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF TINGVALL TRIO'S "DANCE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.