Donald Trump on Tuesday endorsed election conspiracist Kari Lake in the heated Arizona Republican primary campaign to replace Gov. Doug Ducey as the ex-president continues his feud with Republican governors he feels did not support his election lies strongly enough.
Trump threw his support behind Lake, a former TV news anchor who first entered politics this year with rallies stoking false claims about the election and railing against masks, vaccine requirements and the media.
"Few can take on the Fake News Media like Kari," Trump said in a statement, praising Lake for opposing COVID restrictions and "Cancel Culture" and vowing that she will "end 'woke' curriculum in our schools."
The twice-impeached former president also took a shot at Ducey, who failed to try to overturn Trump's narrow 2020 defeat in Arizona and famously hung up on a call from Trump while certifying Joe Biden's victory.
Lake "will do a far better job than RINO [Republican in name only] Governor Doug Ducey — won't even be a contest!" Trump said.
Trump's endorsement came hours after Lake called for his image to be added to Mount Rushmore.
"Who thinks President Trump should be added to Mt. Rushmore?" Lake tweeted on Tuesday. "@govkristinoem can we make this happen?"
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Lake has raised her profile in Arizona Republican circles by backing the so-called "audit" of the election results in Maricopa County, which in fact found that Biden won the county by slightly more votes than had previously been reported. The audit found no proof of widespread fraud or irregularities but still sought to raise doubts about election procedures. Despite the absence of any evidence of fraud, Lake issued a one-word statement in response to the audit, demanding that officials "decertify" the election, which is not legally possible.
Trump's endorsement of the inexperienced newcomer could be risky. Lake still has to face state Treasurer Kimberly Yee, former Rep. Matt Salmon, R-Ariz., and Arizona Board of Regents member Karrin Taylor Robson, among others, in the crowded Republican primary to replace the term-limited Ducey. Some Republicans are concerned that nominating extremist candidates will cost Republicans in the general election in highly competitive states like Arizona and Georgia.
"I don't think Lake has any idea what she's doing," longtime Republican strategist Chuck Coughlin told the Arizona Republic. "But that's obviously not a requirement to win a primary in either party."
Lake has billed herself as the most conservative candidate in the race, but she left the Republican Party in 2006 and registered as a Democrat in 2008 after Barack Obama's victory in the Iowa caucuses. She donated to Obama's campaign and had earlier given money to John Kerry's 2004 presidential campaign. She changed her registration back to the GOP in 2012.
Salmon accused Lake of being a political opportunist after Trump's endorsement.
"She will parrot whatever convenient political slogan is on the teleprompter in front of her to get ahead," he said in a statement. "There is no doubt in my mind that Lake would betray President Trump and Republicans writ large the moment things get tough, just like she has done so many times in the past."
Former Arizona Republican Party chairman Robert Graham, a longtime Trump supporter, expressed concern that the former president's endorsement could invite new scrutiny of Lake.
"People haven't had time to vet her. And just wait and watch what comes out," he told the Arizona Mirror.
Democrats have spent much of the last year batting against election lies from Trump and his allies.
"Arizonans are sick and tired of our government being run by conspiracy theorists — like Kari Lake — who wasted our taxpayer dollars and breached voters' trust in their effort to discredit the 2020 election," Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, the leading Democratic gubernatorial contender, said in a statement.
Trump previously endorsed state Rep. Mark Finchem to replace Hobbs as secretary of state, which would put him in position to oversee the state's elections. Finchem is a hardcore Trump zealot who has been linked to extremist groups and was outside the Capitol during the Jan. 6 riot.
Along with Ducey, Trump has also directed his ire at Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, another Republican the ex-president has blamed for his defeat, believing that Kemp didn't do enough to reverse the outcome.
During a speech in Georgia last weekend, Trump called Kemp a "complete and total disaster on election integrity" and even suggested that Democrat Stacey Abrams "might be better than having your existing governor."
Georgia Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, a Republican who has pushed back against Trump's election lies, warned in a CNN op-ed that the former president threatens to "hijack our great state for his own selfish agenda."
"It might make for good theater, but it is setting back the conservative movement," he wrote. "If we keep it up, we are looking at another four years of President Biden calling the shots."