Befitting their very different electoral positions, Flake’s shot at Trump is more of a love tap while McCain’s is a hard jab.
You might assume they’re both dinging him here out of pure spite, given their frequent criticisms of the president in the past. Not so. Or at least, not so in Flake’s case.
Regarding the Arpaio pardon, I would have preferred that the President honor the judicial process and let it take its course.
— Jeff Flake (@JeffFlake) August 26, 2017
There’s a lot more to “the judicial process” in the case of pardons than just the sentencing Arpaio was scheduled to face on October 5. Read this post from a few days ago if you missed it to see just how unorthodox procedurally this pardon is. As for McCain:
“No one is above the law and the individuals entrusted with the privilege of being sworn law officers should always seek to be beyond reproach in their commitment to fairly enforcing the laws they swore to uphold. Mr. Arpaio was found guilty of criminal contempt for continuing to illegally profile Latinos living in Arizona based on their perceived immigration status in violation of a judge’s orders. The President has the authority to make this pardon, but doing so at this time undermines his claim for the respect of rule of law as Mr. Arpaio has shown no remorse for his actions.”
Trump tweeted about Arpaio too last night — but not for the first time:
I am pleased to inform you that I have just granted a full Pardon to 85 year old American patriot Sheriff Joe Arpaio. He kept Arizona safe!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 26, 2017
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 18, 2012
McCain was reelected last year and is battling cancer; he has nothing to lose by taking it to Trump over Arpaio. Flake does, of course. But … why would a Republican senator from Arpaio’s home state think it’s smart politically to publicly disagree with Trump on this? Don’t Republican voters — specifically, Trump voters — *love* Arpaio? Well, yes…
That’s a 72/6 rating if you’re scoring at home. The problem for Flake is that the wider Arizona electorate doesn’t like Arpaio. At all.
But a poll taken this week in Arizona, where people know Arpaio best, offers Trump little hope if he’s banking that voters nationwide will like his pardon more as they get to know more about Arpaio. OH Predictive Insights found that just 21 percent of Arizonans favored the pardon while 50 percent were against it. That is consistent with the fact that Arpaio lost re-election last year after being charged with criminal contempt, though he had not yet been convicted. Still, the large margin of public disagreement with Trump’s decision to pardon Arpaio is somewhat surprising given that both Maricopa County and Arizona overall narrowly went for Trump last year. This implies that Arpaio rubbing off on Trump could hurt the president both in this key swing state and nationwide as Arpaio becomes better known outside his home state.
Arpaio lost last year by nearly 10 points in a red county in a red state that handed a nice win to the man who just pardoned him. In other words, Flake was stuck. If he slammed Trump for the pardon, Trump fans in Arizona would have found yet another reason to hate him. If he sided with Trump on the pardon, the general electorate would have frowned. Flake knows full well too that Democrats are going to use this as a turnout tool for Latino voters in Arizona next year, urging them to punish Trump for forgiving Arpaio by handing Flake’s seat to Kyrsten Sinema instead. Trump knows that too, I’m sure. He just doesn’t care. As David Frum put it, “Trump notices that Flake has opposed him and criticized him. So Flake must be destroyed, regardless of consequences for Senate Republicans or even Trump’s own longer-term interests. In that goal, Trump has just succeeded.” The Arpaio pardon might well blow up Flake’s chances in the general election if it’s as potent a GOTV weapon for Latinos as the left is hoping. To the president, that probably just makes the pardon sweeter.
Ed claimed last night in this post that I predicted the timing of the pardon, sort of, in speculating that Trump would do it to pander to his base at a moment when they were annoyed at him for something. Sebastian Gorka’s resignation/firing does arguably fit that bill. Was that what drove the timing, though, or was he just trying to capitalize on the hurricane coverage to bury the story as best he could, knowing what the polls say in Arizona and nationally about Arpaio’s popularity? (I even saw a theory somewhere last night that Trump was *jealous* of all the hurricane coverage on TV and decided to muscle back into the spotlight with some Friday night news — Arpaio, Gorka, even the official orders to the military to institute the ban on transgender troops.) Whatever the truth about the timing, I think it’s undeniable that Trump also meant to signal with this pardon that he intends to hand out “get out of jail free” cards to the major players in Russiagate eventually, in case they find themselves in jeopardy of indictment or, more importantly to the White House, contempt for refusing to testify. Presidents typically wait towards the end of their terms to start handing out pardons. By acting so early in his, Trump’s showing that he intends to be more aggressive in handing them out to political allies, hint hint.
But don’t overthink this strategically. I’m sure his chief motive for the pardon was simply that he admires Arpaio, a lawman, outspoken border hawk, loyal campaign supporter, and, as noted, fellow Birther. This tweet in particular perfectly captures Arpaio’s appeal to the president:
The fact that Joe Arpaio and David Clarke are who Donald Trump thinks represent the best in American law enforcement speaks volumes.
— Varad Mehta (@varadmehta) August 26, 2017
Both Clarke and Arpaio are infamous for allegedly mistreating prisoners in their custody, which fits with Trump’s idea of what being “tough on crime” means. Take five minutes and scroll through this Twitter thread compiled last night by the Phoenix New Times, which has been covering Arpaio for decades, tracking the craziest and most sinister moments of his tenure as sheriff. If you can’t understand why a red state like Arizona would turn on a man who’s treated as a folk hero by Trump voters nationally, that thread will explain it. Arizonans know him best.