The twists and turns in the saga of Joe Arpaio, the controversial former sheriff pardoned by Donald Trump last week, continues as the newly-pardoned Arpaio floated the idea of challenging Jeff Flake, the Republican Senator from Arizona, in the Arizona primary
Jeff Flake is well known as one of Trump’s most vocal detractors and has been one of the few Republicans to openly decry many of the president’s views including the recent pardon of Joe Arpaio. Such open criticism has not gone down well, to the point that Trump actively supported Flake’s GOP rival, Kelli Ward.
If Arpaio were to enter the Republican primary, it would be a move that would complicate Jeff Flake’s hopes of re-election as it would lead to questions about whether Trump would support Arpaio’s candidacy. Having privately pledged to fund Kelli Ward with over $10 million to combat Flake, Donald Trump would certainly welcome Arpaio, a staunch Trump supporter long before his pardon, into the race even if it merely serves to deepen the growing rifts in the Republican Party.
It is likely that the Democrats would welcome such a move as well. Despite its traditionally Republican leanings, Arizona was a narrow win in 2016 with the Republicans winning the state by less than 4 percentage points. Jeff Flake is still deeply unpopular in his own state and with Trump’s nose-diving popularity, it is possible for the Democrats to steal a seat in their quest to regain control of both Houses in 2018. Arpaio’s entrance into the contest might help the Democrats steal the Grand Canyon State from Trump.
Arpaio has not confirmed if he is seriously considering his plan to challenge Jeff Flake, claiming that he and Trump have not spoken to each other. Nevertheless, the newly issued pardon for the former sheriff may spell trouble for Donald Trump and the GOP in the long term.
For now, Jeff Flake, along with many in Arizona, is anxiously hoping that the great shame of Arizona steers clear of political office.