It’s April 2021, and Donald Trump still can’t get past his grudge with Republican Gov. Doug Ducey for refusing to overturn the 2020 election results in Arizona.
The ex-president is still so bothered by Ducey’s refusal to try to throw out Democratic votes in Arizona that he’s told associates he would gladly and personally spoil any of Ducey’s future political plans.
In recent weeks, the twice-impeached former president has gone so far as to tell some close associates that if Ducey decided to run for Senate and managed to lock up the Republican nomination in 2022, he would consider traveling to Arizona to campaign for Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly, according to two people familiar with the ex-president’s private rantings.
Neither of the sources believed the former president was being entirely serious, in the sense that Trump and his current political operation aren’t going to be “caught dead campaigning to keep the Senate more Democrat[ic],” as one of them said. But his offhand remarks drove home the point of how much Trump wishes to see the Arizona governor run out of the Republican Party.
In other conversations since his post-presidency began, he has repeatedly discussed the importance of hobbling Ducey’s future prospects at every possible turn, hoping to make the Arizona governor a pariah in his own party. His unwillingness to overturn the election results aside, Ducey has otherwise been a stalwart Trump supporter.
But on Friday, Trump teed off again on Ducey, issuing a statement praising Arizona state senators for pushing to audit ballots from November, while saying the governor has been “shockingly of zero help” and wants to “pretend” the election was free and fair. (Trump lost Arizona by less than 11,000 votes, but there is no credible evidence of systematic voter fraud in the state.)
Ducey, who is prohibited from seeking a third term as governor, has ruled out a Senate bid for now, but Trump’s deep antipathy for him—shared by his followers in Arizona—bodes poorly for the governor’s future political ambitions. The former president’s sustained urge to throttle the career of a fellow Trumpist Republican further underscores Trump’s aim to purge the GOP of those deemed insufficiently subservient.
A former CEO at the ice cream chain Coldstone Creamery, Ducey is considered among the GOP’s best prospects to run against Kelly, who defeated former Sen. Martha McSally (R-AZ) in November to win the seat once held by John McCain. Kelly is at the top of the GOP’s target list for 2022, and flipping his seat is central to their hopes of reclaiming the majority.
Speculation about Ducey’s plans heightened when he met with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) in Washington during Joe Biden’s January inauguration. But afterward, Ducey told The New York Times that he was not running for Senate—“it’s a no”—and was “100 percent” focused on serving as governor. Despite those seemingly definitive words, there’s persistent chatter in Arizona and Washington that Ducey hasn’t taken the idea off the table.
Since November, Ducey has faced withering criticism from the Trump faithful in Arizona for simply affirming that his state’s election was administered fairly and that Biden won. The Arizona Republican Party, one of the more extreme state parties in the country, voted in January to formally censure Ducey for allegedly failing to support Trump. They also reprimanded former Sen. Jeff Flake and Cindy McCain, the late senator’s widow, for good measure.
Trump has not weighed in yet on who he might want to run in Arizona, but at least one close ally of his, Rep. Andy Biggs (R-AZ), is said to be taking a serious look. Biggs is the current chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, the most loudly pro-Trump faction of the House GOP, and was a lead proponent of the conspiracy that the election was stolen from the former president.