- Republican Rep. Martha McSally of Arizona is likely the strongest candidate to run against a centrist Democrat in the contest for retiring Sen. Jeff Flake’s seat.
- But McSally, the establishment favourite, was critical of Trump until she announced her candidacy and has long been bankrolled by Never Trumpers.
- Her flip-flop on Trump and tack to the right on policy reflect the complicated politics of the GOP in 2018.
Republican Rep. Martha McSally of Arizona could play a key role in preventing a Democratic takeover of the Senate in November.
The former Air Force fighter pilot is leading in the polls (and in fundraising) against her two GOP primary opponents in the race to replace retiring GOP Sen. Jeff Flake, whose sustained criticism of the president made his reelection likely impossible.
But McSally has taken tens of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from prominent Never Trumpers and has a long history of criticising the president, whom she refused to endorse in 2016.
Even as she has embraced Trump and moved right on key policy issues – most notably immigration – since announcing her candidacy, the sources of McSally’s campaign cash reflect the complicated nature of this purple state battle.
Billionaire investor and top GOP donor Paul Singer has long promoted McSally, pouring hundreds of thousands of dollars into her campaigns through his investment firm and political groups, including Winning for Women.
Singer – an aggressive anti-Trumper – was also behind funding for Fusion GPS, the research firm that produced the salacious dossier concerning alleged ties between Trump’s campaign and Russia. The Washington Free Beacon, a conservative online news outlet funded by Singer, paid the firm to dig up dirt on multiple candidates, including Trump, during the 2016 primary elections.
But Singer, who once warned that Trump’s election would provoke a “widespread global depression,” has changed his tune since Trump’s election, donating $US1 million to the president’s inauguration and making amends with Trump at the White House.
After one of these meetings, the president acknowledged Singer “was very much involved with the anti-Trump or, as they say, ‘Never Trump,'” movement, but that the megadonor had “given us his total support and it’s all about unification.”
Trump hasn’t endorsed any candidate in the contest, and White House aides and other Republican officials have reportedly worked hard to prevent him from doing so.
McSally was also reportedly assured before she entered the race that the president wouldn’t endorse her opponents: Joe Arpaio, the former sheriff and immigration hardliner controversially pardoned by Trump, and Kelli Ward, a far-right former state senator who ran against GOP Sen. John McCain in 2016.
The party establishment, led by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, has remained firmly opposed to Ward and Arpaio, both of whom they view as fringe candidates who’d be blown away in a general election against Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, a centrist Democrat.
But Vice President Mike Pence gave Arpaio a boost earlier this month, praising the former sheriff at an event in Arizona for the pro-Trump group America First Policies.
Pence called Arpaio “a great friend of this president” and “a tireless champion of strong borders and the rule of law,” and added that he was “honored” to have him at the event.
And an array of Trump supporting, far-right groups remain aligned against McSally.
One of Trump’s most generous benefactors, the billionaire hedge fund manager Robert Mercer, donated $US300,000 to a pro-Ward super PAC last year.
“If the McConnell establishment runs another ‘Never Trumper’ in Arizona like Martha McSally, expect the full weight of the president’s America First movement to come down upon her like a ton of bricks,” Andy Surabian, an adviser to the Trump-aligned Great America Alliance and a close Bannon adviser, told US News last October.
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