President Donald Trump is pivoting to electoral politics after the first half of this week was consumed by negative reactions to his statements on the violence in Charlottesville, Va. On Thursday morning, he tweeted vague praise for a candidate who is in lockstep with his statements about the violence on "both sides."
Reigniting his feud with Senator Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., the president amplified the campaign of Flake's primary opponent, Dr. Kelli Ward.
Great to see that Dr. Kelli Ward is running against Flake Jeff Flake, who is WEAK on borders, crime and a non-factor in Senate. He's toxic!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 17, 2017
The president received criticism from several Republicans, including Senator Flake, following his repeated assertions that there was violence on both sides in the Charlottesville mob clashes between neo-Nazi white supremacists and leftist Antifa radicals.
Flake implied that the president was equivocating his condemnation of white supremacists by equally condemning Antifa.
We can’t claim to be the party of Lincoln if we equivocate in condemning white supremacy— Jeff Flake (@JeffFlake) August 16, 2017
Flake’s controversial primary opponent, Kelli Ward, is running an unabashedly anti-establishment and pro-Trump campaign for office. She, in contrast to Flake, is in full agreement with the president on the Charlottesville violence.
I agree - stop the hate, violence, & rhetoric on both sides - we need to stand together as Americans! ???? https://t.co/MZ1poe7ih4— Dr. Kelli Ward (@kelliwardaz)August 13, 2017
A recent poll of Senator Flake’s favorability with Arizona voters found that only 22 percent of Republicans approve of the senator, leaving him vulnerable to a primary challenge.
The president is eager to see Flake gone. Trump once floated the idea of spending $10 million to defeat Flake in the Republican primary, upset with Flake for refusing to support his 2016 presidential campaign. For the president, Sen. Flake stands as a constant critic and obstacle to his agenda. Flake drew the ire of President Trump with the release of his book, “Conscience of a Conservative: A Rejection of Destructive Politics and a Return to Principle,” criticizing the president’s nationalist populism as destructive of the conservative movement and the Republican Party.
Flake has also upset conservatives with a series of liberal votes during his tenure as a U.S. Senator. Sensing this, Trump seems ready to go all in against the senator.
The president is heading to Phoenix, Ariz., next week for a rally, during which he is expected to endorse a primary challenger to Senator Flake. The president has previously used these rallies to make major announcements, such as when West Virginia’s Democratic Governor Jim Justice announced he was switching parties to become a Republican in early August.
The Washington Times reported Wednesday that the president was leaning towards endorsing Arizona Treasurer Jeff DeWitt, but Thursday morning’s tweet suggests otherwise, and DeWitt has not declared his candidacy.
Dr. Ward is the only declared candidate against Flake. A former Arizona state senator, she ran unsuccessfully against Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., in the 2016 Republican primary for U.S. Senate.
She has been actively seeking President Trump’s support and met with White House officials about her campaign in June.