Confirmed: Arizona governor names Martha McSally to replace Jon Kyl in the Senate

What’d I tell ya? What Mitch McConnell wants, Mitch McConnell (usually) gets.

Gov. Doug Ducey has appointed Martha McSally to fill the U.S. Senate seat that Sen. Jon Kyl will vacate at the end of the year.

The announcement from the Governor’s Office Tuesday sets up a unique dynamic in which Arizona will be represented in the Senate by former foes…

In determining who to appoint to replace Kyl, Ducey was thinking long term. More specifically, he was looking for a Republican who could run a strong campaign in two years and possibly again in 2022, at the conclusion of what would have been McCain’s six-year term.

Read this if you missed it last week. Ducey had misgivings about McSally, partly because Kyl’s successor will need to win not one but two elections to keep this seat for a full term. There’s the special election in 2020 to finish out the final two years of McCain’s term and then there’s a new election in 2022 for a full six-year stint. The natural choice for that task isn’t someone who just lost a tough race to a Democrat for Jeff Flake’s seat. But what choice did Ducey have, realistically? The only other top-tier candidate for the seat was his chief of staff, a man who’d never run a statewide race and had a fraction of the name recognition (and campaign dough) that McSally had. It’s fair to say that McSally isn’t an ideal bet for the party. It’s also fair to say that there isn’t a better one right now.

Supposedly Ducey and his staff were also annoyed at a memo circulated by Team McSally after election day in which they tried to shift blame for her defeat to external factors (Trump fatigue, etc). I don’t fully buy that. Shifting blame for defeat is what politicians do, especially when they’re young and in line for an appointment to a different seat that would require them to run again for office in two years. Why would McSally cop to having run a bad race if she wanted Ducey to trust her to win the next one? Maybe Team Ducey’s alleged annoyance at the memo was just a smokescreen for a deeper annoyance — namely, McSally refusing to pay due homage to John McCain before and after he died in August. The McCain family was allegedly “deeply irritated” about it. By way of illustration, here’s something that was tweeted Friday by Meghan McCain’s husband, Ben Domenech, and retweeted by Meg herself:

Ducey wasn’t about to compound the affront to the McCains by appointing McSally without their approval, or at least without the approval of Cindy McCian. Reportedly he urged McSally to make amends. Which, in the end, she did:

Martha McSally met with Cindy McCain Friday afternoon at her north Phoenix home, according to Republicans familiar with the conversation.

In the meeting, McSally apologized for not mentioning the senator’s name during President Donald Trump’s signing of the John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal 2019. McSally did not use McCain’s name in discussing the act when it was signed in August.

Cindy McCain expressed her appreciation for the apology and conveyed the importance of her late husband’s legacy and his service to Arizona, they said.

McSally’s hesitance to praise John McCain during the campaign was pure strategy, fearing that warm words for one of MAGA Nation’s least favorite senators might keep populists home on Election Day and tip the election to Sinema. In the end the election tipped to Sinema anyway and McSally had to go crawling to Cindy McCain for forgiveness. She’s lucky the GOP’s local bench is so thin and that she has an advocate as powerful as McConnell in her corner. Otherwise Ducey and the McCains might have quashed her chances for the appointment from the start and looked elsewhere. Even after Friday’s meeting, the NYT noted, Cindy McCain “still believes Ms. McSally is an imperfect option…”

If you missed it last month, read Ed’s take on the GOP’s Arizona debacle. Not only is the bench thin, McSally’s loss to Sinema marked the second time in two years that a Republican at the top of the ballot failed to win as much as 49 percent of the vote. Trump pulled 48.1 against Hillary, winning the state by a few points; McSally took 47.6 percent from Sinema, losing by a few. It’s comforting to believe that she lost because she ran a bad race but the ugly truth may be that Arizona really is a full-fledged purple state now. And if it is, its electoral votes will be precious in 2020, as there aren’t many places left on the map where the GOP could plausibly make up for losing it in a tight race. In fact, if McSally washes out again as a Senate candidate in 2020, the GOP’s hopes of regaining the seat may rest entirely on Doug Ducey himself. He’s term-limited as governor, having just won his second term in a walkover, and will be in his final year of office in 2022. McConnell and other party brokers will be begging him to run for the Senate to put at least one of Arizona’s Senate seats back in Republican hands.

Update: Cindy McCain is tactful in her reaction. Usually a statement like this would be a rhetorical high-five to the governor on a great pick. In this case, she “respects” Ducey’s decision.