Jun 3, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Why Trump endorsed Blake Masters in Arizona

Blake Masters
Screenshot: Fox News' "The Ingraham Angle"

Former President Trump endorsed election-denying venture capitalist Blake Masters in the Republican Senate primary in Arizona on Thursday after souring on two of his rivals.

Why it matters: In addition to being crucial for determining which party holds the Senate next year, Arizona has been ground zero for election conspiracy theories ever since President Biden eked out his 10,000-vote victory there in 2020.

  • All three Senate candidates — Masters, Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich, and businessman Jim Lamon — have vied for Trump's support in hopes it would give them the same critical edge J.D. Vance in Ohio and Dr. Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania enjoyed in the weeks after Trump's endorsements.

Context: Masters — a populist who has embraced a national abortion ban and argued the gender pay gap is a "left-wing narrative" — is far more conservative than most Republican senators.

  • He's also backed by tech billionaire Peter Thiel, who has endorsed GOP firebrands like Sen. Josh Hawley (who celebrated Trump's endorsement of Masters on Thursday) and Vance.
  • If he were to win the Aug. 2 primary, and subsequently a general election race against incumbent Sen. Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.), Masters would enter Congress as a hard-right, anti-institution MAGA-libertarian eager to take on Big Tech and illegal immigration.

Behind the scenes: Trump, who relishes being a kingmaker and wants to be involved in every race, quickly took a liking to Masters, sources familiar with the matter tell Axios.

  • Trump initially thought Masters wasn't great on TV but believes he's improved immensely in his public speaking and appreciates the way he's run his campaign so far.
  • One key factor was Masters' attendance at a screening of the 2020 election conspiracy documentary, "2,000 Mules," at Mar-a-Lago last month — a move Trump thought gave him an edge over the other candidates, according to two sources.
  • Masters is also the candidate people closest to Trump have been pushing the most, with many quick to point out the similarities between Masters and Vance.
  • Both Masters and Vance are Thiel-backed, populist venture capitalists who were considered underdogs in their respective Republican primaries.
  • Vance's success in Ohio following Trump's endorsement boded very well for Masters' chances, the sources said.

The other side: Trump didn't click with businessman Jim Lamon after they met in person at Mar-a-Lago, two sources familiar with their meeting told Axios.

  • Trump thought Lamon, who pushed his business bonafides, talked about himself too much, one of the sources said. He felt Lamon's attempts to compare himself to Trump were "off-putting," a third source explained to Axios.
  • Meanwhile, Trump felt Brnovich was "weak" on claims of 2020 election fraud as attorney general — and made those feelings known in his endorsement message, calling him "such a disappointment." (Lamon was not mentioned in the endorsement).
  • These feelings persisted, Trump's advisers say, even after Brnovich challenged the state Senate's audit of Maricopa County's 2020 election results by saying he believed the county demonstrated "serious vulnerabilities" in its handling of the election.
  • Trump's Save America PAC has issued nine statements about Brnovich since its inception. Six of them sharply criticized him for his handling of the 2020 Arizona election results.

What they're saying: “There is no candidate in this race who has fought harder to support the America First movement than me," Lamon said in a statement following Trump's endorsement.

  • "As a staunch supporter of President Trump’s America First policies, I am especially disappointed in his endorsement, but I don’t think Arizonans will nominate someone whose candidacy is a wholly owned subsidiary of a Big Tech, California billionaire, and who spent the majority of his adult life living and working in Silicon Valley until just a few years ago."
  • “Brnovich intends to fight and win this Primary Election and we look forward to working with President Trump to defeat Mark Kelly this fall," said Brandon Urness, Brnovich's campaign manager.
  • “Brnovich still has multiple ongoing investigations regarding the integrity of the 2020 election."
  • A spokesperson for Trump did not respond to requests for comment.
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