Mitch McConnell's super PAC goes on the offensive against Donald Trump-backed challenger to Jeff Flake

The Trump-McCain proxy war in Arizona heats up

Published August 22, 2017 11:10AM (EDT)

 (YouTube/Senate Leadership Fund)
(YouTube/Senate Leadership Fund)

Last week, President Donald Trump tweeted praise for Kelli Ward, a far-right Republican who ran against Sen. John McCain in the 2016 Senate primary and recently announced a bid to challenge fellow Arizona Republican Sen. Jeff Flake next year.

Now the Senate Leadership Fund, a super PAC established by allies of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, is responding to Trump's support for Ward with a harsh new ad that refers to her as "Chemtrail Kelli."

The ad accuses Ward of wasting taxpayer money on town hall meetings and legislation to discuss chemtrail conspiracy theories, points out that she claimed McCain was responsible for ISIS and notes that she asked McCain to resign after he was diagnosed with cancer so she could assume his seat.

"Not conservative, just crazy ideas," the ad concludes.

For the most part, the ad has its facts right. Ward did indeed claim that McCain was "directly responsible" for the rise of ISIS due to his "dangerously distracted foreign policy." She also urged McCain to resign after his cancer diagnosis on the grounds that "the likelihood that John McCain is going to be able to come back to the Senate and be at full force for the people of our state and the people of the United States is low" — and suggested that she be considered as a replacement.

Ward also did host a town hall in 2014 to discuss chemtrail conspiracy theories, although she later disavowed belief in them. That said, she has appeared on programs hosted by notorious conspiracy theorists, including Alex Jones himself.

McConnell's decision to openly attack Ward, in light of Trump's support for her over Flake, says a great deal about the growing breach between the president and the rest of his party. Flake has been an outspoken critic of Trump's conduct and policies and has a reputation as a comparative moderate Republican. By endorsing Ward, Trump is implicitly prioritizing removing disloyal Republicans from power over picking up Democratic seats and protecting incumbent Republicans from losing their reelection bids. This puts his strategic goals at odds with those of his own party.

By Matthew Rozsa

Matthew Rozsa is a staff writer for Salon. He holds an MA in History from Rutgers University-Newark and is ABD in his PhD program in History at Lehigh University. His work has appeared in Mic, Quartz and MSNBC.

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Chemtrail Kelli Donald Trump Jeff Flake John Mccain Kelli Ward Mitch Mcconnell Republican Party