Now Joe Arpaio wants to run for Jeff Flake's Senate seat

Fresh from his presidential pardon, the controversial former Arizona lawman says he just might run for Senate

Published December 8, 2017 2:00PM (EST)

Joe Arpaio (GettyChip Somodevilla)
Joe Arpaio (GettyChip Somodevilla)

For anyone who can't stomach the idea of Roy Moore occupying a seat in the upper chamber of Congress, here are three words that may send a shiver down a spine: Senator Joe Arpaio.

Arpaio, the former Arizona sheriff who has had several brushes with the law of his own, is thinking about running for the open Senate seat that will be vacated at the end of 2018 by the retiring Jeff Flake. Arpaio told ABC News he was "strongly considering" mounting a run, and also told the Daily Beast Thursday that he wanted to take Flake's seat.

Given the Republican electorate's recent willingness to overlook controversial candidates like Donald Trump and Alabama's Roy Moore, he might have a chance.

Arpaio, 85, came back into the national spotlight in August after he was issued a presidential pardon by Trump for a contempt of court citation after he continued authorizing semi-official citizen "patrols" in defiance of a judge's order.

The July contempt sentence was the latest in a string of episodes during which Arpaio had run afoul of the criminal justice system in his desire to exact harsh punishments against inmates and illegal immigrants.

In 2008, Maricopa County, his former jurisdiction, was required to pay more than $1 million to a man that Arpaio's deputies had framed in a fake assassination plot against the sheriff in which deputies purchased bomb parts and delivered them to the defendant.

In a preview of Republican voters' seeming willingness to overlook numerous charges of sexual harassment against Trump, Arizona voters continued re-electing Arpaio despite the incident. They also seemed not to care about Arpaio losing court rulings for his operation of outdoor tent prisons which he called "concentration camps."

Several years later, Arpaio and Trump became political allies as the then-sheriff became the top law enforcement booster of Trump's conspiracy theory that former president Barack Obama had not been born in the United States. Arpaio became a hero to far-right Republicans for sending deputies to Hawaii and Africa in pursuit of proof that Obama had forged his birth certificate.

An Arpaio Senate run might also be a boon to Trump's former adviser Steve Bannon who has reportedly been seeking to find a better candidate for the Senate seat than Kelli Ward, a state senator who failed to gain significant traction in a previous campaign she had operated against Arizona's other U.S. senator, John McCain.

Bannon has been trying to encourage far-right candidates who will swear undying loyalty to Trump in several states. The president, meanwhile, has been trying to enlist Senate candidates on his own as well, reaching out to Maine's bellicose governor Paul LePage to encourage him to run against Angus King, a political independent who usually votes with Democrats.

Arizona Republic columnist Laurie Roberts cast doubt on the idea that Arpaio might right for Senate, citing the fact that he is 85, has become increasingly unpopular with Republican voters in recent years, and has become known locally for repeatedly trying to raise money for himself through fake campaigns that never materialize.

"This isn’t the first time that Arpaio has floated the idea that he would run for higher office. By my count, it's the sixth time," she wrote.

On the other hand, Trump himself was known for pretending to run for office as well. In 2015, he actually followed through. We all know what happened next.

In Roy Moore and Donald Trump's GOP, it would seem that anything is possible.

By Matthew Sheffield

Matthew Sheffield is a national correspondent for The Young Turks. He is also the host of the podcast "Theory of Change." You can follow him on Twitter.

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Related Topics ------------------------------------------

2018 Senate Elections Arizona Donald Trump Jeff Flake Joe Arpaio Roy Moore Trent Franks