KJZZ Friday NewsCap: Lake-DeWit tape exposes dysfunctional GOP leadership in Arizona

By Mark Brodie
Published: Friday, January 26, 2024 - 10:36am
Updated: Friday, January 26, 2024 - 5:50pm

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Gage Skidmore/CC BY 2.0
Kari Lake (left) and Jeff DeWit

KJZZ’s Friday NewsCap revisits some of the biggest stories of the week from Arizona and beyond.

Lorna Romero Ferguson of Elevate Strategies and and Democratic strategist Tony Cani joined This Show to talk about Jeff DeWit resigning as chair of the Arizona Republican Party amid charges of bribery, a new state effort to deal with immigration and more.

Lorna Romero Ferguson and Tony Cani in the KJZZ studio in January 2023
Amber Victoria Singer/KJZZ
Lorna Romero Ferguson and Tony Cani in the KJZZ studio in January 2023

On Jeff DeWit resigning as chair of the state Republican Party amid charges of bribery

MARK BRODIE: So Lorna, we have to start with Jeff DeWit, Kari Lake, secret recording. You guys both know the show is being recorded. So this is not just a private conversation amongst friends.

LORNA ROMERO FERGUSON: Thank you for the heads up. I appreciate it.

BRODIE: Yeah, there’s a lot obviously to unpack here. But Lorna, I’m curious, what are your 30,000-foot takeaways from all of the stuff that went down this week?

ROMERO FERGUSON: What a jam-packed five-minute audio clip that we were all blessed with this week. I mean, I just felt really uncomfortable listening to the entire thing because, one, the dialog was so dramatic from both of them. And two, if Jeff DeWit, if his goal was to convince Kari Lake not to run for the U.S. Senate — which, conversations like that happen all the time when you talk to potential candidates.

But what an odd way to approach it. And to talk about these “important, powerful people in the East Coast” and and then her making allegations that they’re going to kill her if if she doesn’t do what they want. I mean, the whole thing was just absolutely bizarre. And it just goes to show even more the dysfunction within the Republican Party, that these are the conversations that are being had behind closed doors.

BRODIE: Well, and also the number of times now-former chairman DeWit said some variation of “Don’t tell anyone. This conversation never happened.” To Lorna’s point, these conversations do happen from time to time, where somebody in a party will tell a candidate, “Hey, maybe it’s not your time. Maybe this would be a better office for you. This race doesn’t look so good for you.” But they don’t happen in this way.

TONY CANI: No, they don’t. They don’t happen in this way. To everybody who’s listening, normally what will happen is somebody will try and convince a bad candidate — which Kari Lake is — “Hey, maybe you shouldn’t run. Maybe this is a better opportunity for you. I’ll support you if you do this in two years instead of now,” this kind of stuff. You don’t hear somebody say, “Hey, name your price.” That that part’s not even normal, let alone the stuff about, you know, murder.

My big takeaway listening to this — aside from just the dysfunction — is how completely consumed with conspiracy theories the two most powerful Republicans in the state are. It just shows what’s happened when you’re surrounded by people that will continually push conspiracy theories. Apparently you just start to believe more and more and more. And it’s just like a dangerous thing for these people to be in power if this is the way they view the world. Because I’m saying I do not believe that Kari Lake would be murdered by these powerful rich people back East, right? Or maybe there are Republicans that are willing to do that kind of thing. I don’t think so. And so it just shows how she’s not prepared to be in any sort of public position.

BRODIE: Lorna, how does this impact her candidacy? I mean, she went on Rumble that night to talk about what happened and raise money off of it. How does this affect her Senate candidacy?

ROMERO FERGUSON: I mean, it gives her something new to talk about, right? She’s not beholden to the powerful, moderate Republicans or the globalists — however they want to frame them that day. So she’ll use that. She’s been using it to fundraise. Immediately a fundraising blast went out. And so that’s what she’s going to capitalize on. And so she’s just going to continue to use it in her stump speech to say, “Even people in my own party are trying to knock me out, even people who were once my allies, who were Trump supporters, etc.”

So, from a fundraising perspective, yeah, she’ll be able to see an infusion of cash. I mean, it only solidifies her existing base. A few months ago, we were talking about how she was making the attempt — and I do this in air quotes — to appeal to a broader audience and more of the moderate, centrist Republicans. This isn’t the way to do it necessarily, with this kind of narrative and these talking points.

And so I’m not sure what the long-term strategy is. And I think it just ends up bringing up more questions of, this absurd conversation happened ten months ago. Why did you sit on it for so long? If you were absolutely appalled by the behavior and the words coming out of Jeff DeWit’s mouth, why did you wait till now? I mean, that’s a legitimate question that she should answer.

BRODIE: So you both talked about party dysfunction, but I’m curious, what difference does that make in 2024? Does the fact that the state Republican Party is mired in this controversy and is now looking for a new leader, what kind of impact does that have on Republicans running?

ROMERO FERGUSON: Zero impact, because the party has been not effective for probably a decade, if not more. I mean, major donors have been putting their cash elsewhere, not through the party infrastructure. The only thing that the AZ GOP under the leadership of Kelli Ward and others, all they’ve done is lose Republican seats. We lost statewide seats significantly because they catered to the Trump rhetoric and the Trump element of the party and not tried to broaden their reach.

Some had hoped that maybe DeWit could bridge the gap. Obviously, we’re seeing where that’s ended up. But, the party in and of itself isn’t all of a sudden going to become some kind of functioning entity after this.

BRODIE: Tony, it’s worth mentioning that Jeff Dewit, to Lorna’s point, was seen as somebody who could work with both moderates and the Trump base. But it’s worth noting that he worked for Trump in his administration and worked on both of his campaigns. This is not some “squishy RINO” — to use a phrase that Kari Lake might use.

CANI: Yeah. He was the first person in Arizona to endorse Trump when he was looking for legitimacy. The thing that I think this is going to do, the Republican apparatus, the way Lorna is saying, that’s true. They’re terrible, right? But I think the way this impacts candidates is this is a big sexy story. This is the kind of thing that somebody is going to just remember. Even if they’re not political. It’s going to imprint in their mind.

And I think it’s just another in a string of these chaotic things that are branding the Republican Party as not serious, as maybe weird or dysfunctional and all that kind of stuff. It’s not like people are going to honor when they vote, they’re going to be like “Do you remember how that guy did XYZ?” But instead, it starts to convince people that Republicans can’t be trusted or there’s something weird going on with Republicans.

And I think that enough of this stuff happens, especially in Arizona, that it’s part of the reason why Democrats are winning in races that mathematically, if there was a normal Republican Party and a normal Democratic Party, would be more challenging for Democrats with the voter registration numbers. And so I think that that’s very significant.

BRODIE: Tony, do you think there are going to be more tapes coming out, either with Jeff DeWit or other people?

CANI: Oh, geez. I don’t know. I mean, I hear a lot of people hope that Stephen Richer in his defamation lawsuit against Kari Lake tries to subpoena some of these recordings so that they come out. I, of course, just as a person who likes the drama, would be really interested in that.

But I guess it depends on how much money thinks she thinks she can get from each one of these recordings that she releases for fundraising. And also whether or not there are people who she met with during her tours of mainstream Republican business-type people.

If they start turning on her, is she going to start releasing audio from the conversations that she secretly recorded of them when she was courting them? And so we’ll see. I don’t know who’s going to be willing to sit down with her and have a conversation if you’re worried that she’s going to be recording you.

BRODIE: So, Lorna, this makes tomorrow’s meeting of the state Republican Party just a touch more interesting, don’t you think?

ROMERO FERGUSON: Those are usually interesting, just in general, if you’ve ever participated or observed any of those. But yeah, a lot more interesting. Now they’re pushing their new slate of the Kari Lake-backed candidates. And at the end of the day, Kari Lake wanted to have a Republican Party leadership team that backed her 100%. That’s what’s going to end up happening. Great.

But again, like I said, the apparatus itself is not going to be a well-oiled, functioning machine to her benefit. It did not work out last election cycle for her. I don’t think it’s going to work out for her this upcoming election cycle. What I do think this creates, though, is an interesting environment where maybe Kyrsten Sinema is going, “Hmm, maybe as I’m considering if I’m going to jump in or not, all of this internal dysfunction within the AZ GOP, maybe there’s an opportunity to jump in and be the adult in the room.” I don’t know. If I was Kyrsten, I’d be looking at this a lot differently now.

BRODIE: That is really interesting. So one last thing on this: Former President Trump supposed to be in Phoenix this afternoon for a big fundraiser for the state party that was canceled, ostensibly because he had to be in court in New York. How significant is that? We talked about how the state party has not done a great job of fundraising. This is a big one for them. Is this a significant loss of fundraising for them?

ROMERO FERGUSON: I mean, it’s unfortunate for them, right? Nobody likes having to cancel a major event last minute, whatever. But I guess everyone should have probably thought about his legal calendar or court calendar, right?

CANI: I do love that the Republican Party’s party statement about this was, “Hey, listen, it wasn’t our drama that made him cancel. It’s not the DeWit-Lake thing, we promise. It’s the fact that he’s in court for, you know, whichever one of these —”

BRODIE: For the defamation lawsuit.

ROMERO FERGUSON: What a time to be alive, right?

CANI: “He’s the one. It’s his dysfunction, not ours. Vote for us.”

ROMERO FERGUSON: But Arizona is very important to Donald Trump, right? And so he will be back. He will make it up significantly. And he’ll get a good turnout, as he usually does in this state. Yes, it’s a minor setback for them, but they probably have more important things to focus on right now than the Freedom Festival.

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