PEORIA, Ariz. (AP) — Former President Donald Trump and his estranged vice president, Mike Pence, held rival campaign events in Arizona on Friday, turning the governor’s race into a broader referendum on the Republican Party’s future.
Trump and Pence both talked up the successes of their administration and hammered President Joe Biden, but neither directly addressed the other or the growing rift between them.
Pence, who this week added his name to a growing list of GOP establishment figures endorsing housing developer Karrin Taylor Robson, offered only an oblique critique of the Republicans still pushing the lie that Trump lost because of fraud.
If you elect Robson, Pence said, “you can send a deafening message heard all across America that the Republican Party is the party of the future.”
He was more direct later on Twitter: “Some people want this election to be about the past, but elections are always about the future. Democrats would love nothing more than for Republicans to take our eye off the ball and focus on days gone by.”
Robson says the 2020 elections “weren’t fair,” accusing “liberal judges” of changing the rules late in the cycle and the media and big tech of suppressing conservative voices. But she has stopped short of saying Trump lost because of fraud.
Her main rival, former television anchor Kari Lake, has embraced Trump’s election lies along with his combative approach to his political enemies and the media.
“No one understands better than Kari how to fight back against the fake news media and the radical left,” Trump said Friday evening during his own rally in Prescott Valley, one of the most conservative areas of Arizona.
Trump took aim at two Arizona Republicans who refused to go along with his efforts to remain in office after losing to Biden. He said state House Speaker Rusty Bowers, who testified last month to the House Jan. 6 committee, “participated against the Republican Party.” He said Gov. Doug Ducey has failed to secure the border with Mexico.
Robson is a lawyer and housing developer who is locking up support from mainstream GOP figures growing increasingly comfortable with breaking from Trump. In addition to Pence, her supporters include former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and term-limited Gov. Doug Ducey, who famously silenced a call from Trump while certifying Democrat Joe Biden’s 2020 presidential victory in Arizona.
Telegenic and already well-known from her decades anchoring the evening news in Phoenix, Lake has energized Trump’s most ardent supporters in Arizona. But she faces a potentially close contest with Robson, whose family’s vast fortune has allowed her to vastly outspend Lake with early voting underway.
“As your governor I want to bring those America First Trump policies here to Arizona” Lake said. “We’re going to secure that border. We are going to restore honesty and faith in our elections.”
Pence highlighted Lake’s past support for Barack Obama’s presidential campaign and a “not my president” meme the then-news anchor posted as Trump prepared for his 2017 inauguration.
“You need a governor that’s supported every conservative cause from Ronald Reagan to Donald Trump,” Pence said of Robson, who worked in the Reagan administration and raised money for Trump’s campaign along with her husband, housing developer Ed Robson, one of Arizona’s wealthiest residents.
Robson has also donated to Democrats.
Robson, Pence and Ducey also discussed border security during a second event in Tucson at the headquarters for the Border Patrol union, which staunchly supported Trump but broke with him and endorsed Robson.
“Securing the border takes two things: resources and will power,” Robson said. “President Trump and Vice President Pence already showed that it can be done.”
Trump and Pence have occasionally taken different sides in primaries this year, but this is the first time that they will have appeared in the same state on the same day to rally for their preferred candidates. The split-screen moment marks a more confrontational phase in their relationship as they both consider running for president in 2024.
It also comes just a day after the House Jan. 6 committee revealed new details about the violent insurrection at the U.S. Capitol that fractured the relationship between the two men. The committee recounted how Trump refused to call off the mob attacking the Capitol as Pence, just feet away from rioters, was whisked to safety.
The committee played audio from an unidentified White House security official who said Pence’s Secret Service agents “started to fear for their own lives” at the Capitol and left messages for their loved ones in case they didn’t survive. Shortly afterward, at 2:24 p.m. on Jan, 6, 2021, Trump tweeted that Pence didn’t have the “courage” to block or delay the election results as Congress was certifying Biden’s victory.
“Mike Pence let me down,” an unidentified White House employee testified Trump telling him at the end of the day on Jan. 6.
Trump did not talk about Pence Friday night, but did push back against earlier testimony by former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson, who said she saw a White House valet cleaning up a mess after an angry Trump smashed a plate and the remains of his lunch on a wall.
“They have me throwing food,” Trump said. “I don’t throw food in the White House. I don’t throw food anywhere. I eat the food.”
Trump and Pence will again cross paths next week as the former president returns to the nation’s capital for the first time since leaving the White House.
The Arizona primary is among Trump’s last opportunities to settle scores and install allies to lead states that may prove decisive if he decides to run again in 2024. Trump and Pence were also at odds in the primary for Georgia governor, where the Pence-backed incumbent Brian Kemp easily defeated former U.S. Sen. David Perdue, who had Trump’s support.
Arizona, a longtime Republican stronghold whose move toward the center accelerated during Trump’s presidency, was central Trump’s push to remain in power despite his loss. Trump pressed state officials to block the certification of Biden’s victory and, when he failed, his allies in Congress objected to counting the state’s 11 electoral votes.
Since the election, Trump supporters have recounted ballots and analyzed vote-counting machines in an attempt to prove something was amiss.
Federal and state election officials and Trump’s own attorney general have said there is no credible evidence the election was tainted. Trump’s allegations of fraud were also roundly rejected by courts, including by judges Trump appointed.