The ‘Other Arizona’ Can’t Stand Trump

It might be news to Trump’s followers, but there are quite a few powerful Arizona Republicans who disagree with the mogul’s outrageous tough-talk on immigration. It’s just no one listens to them anymore.

03.22.16 5:00 AM ET

For pro-immigrant Republicans, Arizona can be a pretty frustrating place.  

All signs indicate that on Tuesday evening, Donald Trump will coast to an easy win in the state. He’ll owe thanks to some of the most explicitly xenophobic voices in American politics—namely birther sheriff Joe Arpaio and former Gov. Jan Brewer, a hero to the anti-immigrant right.

But despite the fact that right-wingers in the state have given America its angriest immigration foes, another Arizona has also empowered some of the most politically savvy (and conservative) advocates of immigrant rights. And—Trump win or not—the other Arizona isn’t going anywhere.

It’s a microcosm of nationwide tensions in the Republican Party: Does the GOP want to team up with the Chamber of Commerce and Hispanic groups, welcoming globalization and migration—or does it want to be a party of walls, tariffs, and reflexive protectionism?

Judging by Arizona poll numbers, it looks like the current answer is the latter. Trump leads by 13 points in the RealClearPolitics average, and even the perennial optimists at Team Cruz are hesitant to bet on an upset. (His own state director there, Constantin Querard, suggested to the AP last week that Arizona wasn’t really that big of a deal).

But despite his strong poll numbers, Trump has long faced committed opposition in the state from the comparably quieter side of the GOP. In fact, some of the Arizona’s most powerful Republicans chastised Trump as soon as he headed there at the beginning of his campaign.

Before a major Phoenix event last July, for instance, Sen. Jeff Flake told local Republicans that they shouldn’t host him because of his racist comments about Mexicans.

“As an elected Republican official, I’m disappointed the county party would host a speaker that so damages the party’s image,” Flake said at the time.

“It’s not just on the immigration side,” he added in an interview with The Washington Post a few days before the event. “Donald Trump is just about the last unapologetic birther in the country.”

Other leading Republicans in the state also stiff-armed the Trump Train. Flake and fellow Sen. John McCain both skipped his early July event in Phoenix, and the state’s governor, Doug Ducey, also skipped out on meeting with the mogul. And this January, Ducey appointed Clint Bolick to the state Supreme Court. Bolick, a libertarian attorney, co-authored Jeb Bush’s book calling for comprehensive immigration reform.

Flake and McCain, by the way, comprised one-quarter of the 2013 Gang of 8 that pushed (unsuccessfully) for comprehensive immigration reform legislation. It was one of Flake’s first major undertakings after he got elected in 2012—and now an albatross for McCain as he seeks re-election.

Activists on the right loathe McCain for his role in the push for the Gang of 8 bill. But on the left, his likely Democratic challenger, Ann Kirkpatrick, rolled out her first campaign ad of the cycle linking McCain to Trump—even though the two could hardly disagree more on immigration.

“Donald Trump is dangerous for America,” the spot intones. “But no matter what Donald Trump says, John McCain would support him for president.”

The Trump criticism isn’t just from elected Arizonans. Glenn Hamer, who heads the Arizona Chamber of Commerce, all but anti-endorsed Trump in a column published March 21. And though he didn’t mention Trump by name, he laid out an Arizona-specific case for open trade policies.

“Trade wars cause recessions,” he concluded. “They don’t make America great again.”

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Despite those efforts, conservative Phoenix politicos say pro-reform Republicans have largely given up on efforts to even change public opinion on immigration as long as Trump is poised to be the Republican nominee.

“It’s reflective of what’s happening across the country,” said Jaime Molera, who consulted for former Sen. Jon Kyl and heads a Phoenix government affairs firm. “Arizona’s no different. There’s a lot of anxiety on multiple areas, whether it’s foreign policy, the fear of terrorism, insecurity of our economic position—I think it’s created this angst, that people are gravitating to somebody like Trump who has the easy solution.”

But it wasn’t always this way—and, they hope, it won’t always be.

“Republicans and conservatives are somewhat schizophrenic when it comes to that issue,” Molera added, noting that in 2013 voters seemed more open to comprehensive immigration reform.

“That was starting to resonate, and I saw polling data that backed that up,” he continued. “But I think Donald Trump has taken all the air out of that issue and sucked it into his orbit.”

So Grand Canyon State Republicans obviously have—to at least a certain extent—an appetite for anti-Trumpism. But on Tuesday, it’s unlikely to win the day. Part of the reason may be that Republicans who favor pro-immigration policies have already lost. The only two competitive candidates left—Trump and Ted Cruz—both state that high- and low-skilled immigrants hurt American workers and steal their jobs. So Arizonans who don’t buy that have nowhere to go (except John Kasich, who polls at just 14 percent in the RCP average of the state and has largely ignored it). Sean Noble, a consultant based in Phoenix who has worked with Koch groups, said the state’s pro-immigrant Republicans are at a bit of a loss.

“You’ve got all those people who are not immigration hardliners,” he said, “Who kind of stand there going, ‘Where do I go?’”