During a Sunday night political rally that began with a prayer, Arizona's far-right Republican gubernatorial nominee, Kari Lake, quickly dived into insult comedy. The former Fox affiliate news anchor suggested her Democratic opponent, Katie Hobbs, looks better in a mask than without, made Trumpian puns about the names of other states' Democratic governors (Gavin Nuisance, Gretchen Witchmer), and, not least, declared that both Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Donald Trump possess "Big Dick Energy."
Somewhat lost beneath the juvenile wisecracks and name-calling were the few but troubling policy positions Lake mapped out. Should she win the governor's office in November, she said, she would ban homeless people from sleeping in tents near roadways; push for Arizona to return to a two-tiered education system, shunting some students away from general studies and into vocational ed; and "hire more cops and build more jails."
The purpose of Sunday's "Unite & Win" rally, hosted in downtown Phoenix by the right-wing political action group Turning Point Action — a spinoff of the youth-oriented organization Turning Point USA — was to use DeSantis' star-power to amplify the campaigns of Lake and far-right Republican U.S. Senate candidate Blake Masters, two weeks after both won their primary races. It's hardly the first time DeSantis has rallied on behalf of out-of-state Republicans. This April he appeared on a "tele-townhall" with Betsy DeVos to promote a school voucher plan in Michigan that Trump's former education secretary helped launch. But it's more evidence that DeSantis' support is becoming at least as valuable as Donald Trump's, if not more.
Turning Point Action's chief operating officer Tyler Bowyer set the stage for the adulation, declaring DeSantis "the beast of the East" and "the best governor that we have in this country." Another speaker, conservative talk show host James T. Harris, praised Lake by saying he believed she was cut from the same cloth as DeSantis. And Lake herself enthused that, after she'd heard people describe her as "the DeSantis of the West," she'd considered it the "greatest compliment" she could imagine, short of being called "Trump in a dress."
Coming close on the heels of the FBI search of Trump's Mar-a-Lago residence last week, the rally returned frequently to the topic as a source of outrage and threat. In his speech, Turning Point USA founder Charlie Kirk declared that the search — which he said was not just "third world tactics" but rather "fourth world stuff" — amounted to "the crossing of the Rubicon" and an "action that will never be able to be undone": the "desecration" and "invasion" of "a president's home over a paperwork dispute."
"That wasn't just a raid against Trump," Kirk continued. "That was a raid against your values. That was a raid against you. …That's a desecration of the conservative movement."
Kari Lake enthused that being called the "DeSantis of the West" was the "greatest compliment" she could imagine, at least short of "Trump in a dress."
Tying complaints about the search to another conservative talking point of the last week — a provision of the newly-passed Inflation Reduction Act that will fund the hiring of 87,000 new IRS agents, understood by many on the right as a plan for political persecution — Kirk said, "I can guarantee you this: that conservatives or people here tonight, that's who the IRS is going to go after."
"It's very clear they want to intimidate you. They want to silence you. They want to make you afraid that you might be the next person to receive an audit; that you might be the person at 4 a.m. where the FBI comes into your home," Kirk continued. "That right there — as we call it, the crossing of the Rubicon — is them saying to us, we now have an internal police state."
That claim was later echoed by DeSantis, who speculated, "What are those IRS agents going to do? They are going to be sicced on people the government doesn't like. They're going to be sicced on working people, contractors, restaurant owners, people that drive Ubers." DeSantis went on to claim that "They're gonna go after working people" and then use the money "they extract" to give rich people tax credits for buying electric cars.
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"But here's the good news," Kirk continued: "You live in a state that gets to determine all this. You live in the state that is now the battleground. Because as Arizona goes, America goes."
In an aside, Kirk also reminded the audience that the U.S. is "a republic, not a democracy. Big difference." As journalist Robert Draper noted in a New York Times feature about Arizona Republicans published on Monday, the insistence on calling the U.S. a republic has become ubiquitous among the state's conservatives, who have turned the word "democracy" into "a kind of shorthand and even a slur for Democrats themselves, for the left and all the positions espoused by the left." All of it, wrote Draper, is part of the Arizona GOP's "aggressive" refusal "to moderate itself," even as it faces a historic shift in the balance of political parties in the state, and an increasingly liberal electorate in some areas.
After hyping her recent primary victory as a "David versus Goliath" affair, Lake hastened to draw parallels between herself and DeSantis, saying, "We are going to be so effective in Arizona that someday they may call Gov. DeSantis 'The Lake of the East.'" She also talked at some length about how she thought DeSantis (and Trump, as a seeming afterthought) possessed "BDE" — a somewhat risqué internet slang term from several years ago that Lake adapted as "Big DeSantis Energy," tittering as she told her audience to "Ask your kids about it later." (Lest the joke go unheard, on Twitter, Lake subsequently wrote or shared five tweets referencing her "BDE" comments.")
After discussing DeSantis' alleged "BDE" at some length and joking, "Ask your kids about it later," Lake wrote or shared five tweets referencing the gag.
Suggesting that crime, immigration and homelessness in Arizona have reached such crisis levels that she was "afraid to walk across the parking lot at the grocery store during the day," Lake vowed to crack down on homeless people's campsites and on drug use, saying that "we need everyone to be contributing citizens here in our community." Lake also vowed that, alongside her support for Arizona's recent passage of universal school voucher eligibility — a move that, as Salon reported, is widely interpreted as an effort to undermine public education — she wants to institute "dual track education after 10th grade." Under this plan, students who don't plan on attending college will be diverted to "trade skill training, vocational training and certification" programs. That, Lake continued, would enable them to seek "the high-paying jobs that are out there on day one after high school."
"I'll be honest," she added. "Some of the dumbest people I know have college degrees. And some of the greatest people and richest people I know are in the trades."
Lake additionally wants her state to adopt the right-wing "patriotic education" curriculum of Hillsdale College, a deeply conservative Christian college in Michigan that has become a powerful influence in conservative politics. As Arizona's 12 News reported just this Sunday, during a 2021 speech Lake said, "I believe in the Hillsdale College curriculum." A Lake spokesperson told the outlet that Lake had picked Hillsdale's offerings "as an alternative to the biased, CRT-based indoctrination permeating current textbooks and lesson plans."
If Lake is elected, this affinity for Hillsdale's K-12 curricular offerings — which have been denounced by historians as revisionist or misleading — would put her in the company of Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee, who in January announced a partnership with Hillsdale to open new charter schools in that state, and DeSantis, whose administration looked to Hillsdale to help it revise the state's civics standards along more "patriotic" lines.
The main act, of course, was DeSantis himself, who strode onto stage to the tune of Rick Derringer's 2005 anthem "Real American" — once upon a time Hulk Hogan's WWE entrance song — and promptly predicted a coming "red wave" this November that would begin in Florida and end up sweeping both Masters and Lake into power.
Following the event's theme of "Unite & Win" — cautiously distinct from proposals to "unite the right" — DeSantis called on "every major Republican organization, from the Governors' Association to the National Senatorial Committee" to show up in Arizona to support its slate of MAGA candidates.
Most of DeSantis' talk was dedicated to a review of his own greatest hits in office, from calling up the National Guard during what he called the 2020 "George Floyd riots," to restricting voting access and gender-affirming medical care for trans people to severe restrictions on what and how K-12 public schools can teach. Among the new rules he mentioned was a provision to force all schools in the state to teach about "the evils of communism" (because, he claims, "the left wants it back"). Arizona subsequently followed in Florida's footsteps in passing its own anti-communist civics education initiative.
"Put on the full armor of God," said DeSantis, paraphrasing Ephesians and equating political foes with Satan: "Take a stand against the left's schemes."
In terms of more recent victories, DeSantis also bragged about his recent ousting of a Tampa-area prosecutor who said he wouldn't prosecute abortion cases. Although observers have said DeSantis lacks the legal authority to depose an elected official, and the prosecutor's firing will likely be overturned, that argument also resonates in Arizona, where a local election for Maricopa County attorney largely hinges on questions about the enforcement of abortion laws in a state poised to outlaw most or all abortions.
DeSantis also promised that, if Lake wins and follows through on her promise to "close" the border, he would send National Guard reservists from Florida to help.
In closing, DeSantis made reference to a Bible passage, Ephesians 6:10-17, that has long been a touchstone for evangelicals' belief in spiritual warfare but has also more recently become popular among adherents of the QAnon conspiracy theory. In both cases, it suggests a fight against demonic forces: "Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes." In his version, DeSantis adapted the language slightly to demonize his opponents: "So put on the full armor of God. Take a stand against the left's schemes."
It was a fitting crescendo to an event Charlie Kirk had cued up by admonishing conservatives to make even greater acts of political devotion. "Conservatism in America and reclaiming our country is no longer a spectator sport," Kirk said. "We need people in the arena. How do you know if you are in the arena? You know you are in the arena if you have lost something that you cared about recently in the fight for freedom: a friendship, a business contract." Or at least, he offered as an alternative, because you've given TPUSA some cash.