Why Arizona Sen. John McCain Endorsed Donald Trump, The Man Who Demeaned His Military Service, Ahead Of Today’s Primary Election — Quartz

Donald Trump has single-handedly transformed the red-hot, dependable Republican state of Arizona into a contested presidential battleground.

Staking his campaign on anti-immigrant rhetoric, Trump has emboldened xenophobes on the right to demand that Republicans embrace their racially tinged nationalism. Simultaneously, it annoys their Democratic opponents, especially Latino voters, who make up 22% of the Arizona electorate.

This is the dilemma that Trump has imposed on Republicans. And no one embodies that more than Arizona Senator John McCain, who faces a primary vote today.

Immigration is a lightning rod in Arizona, where more than three-tenths of the population is Latino, and about 14% were born abroad. And on that issue, the five-term U.S. senator and Vietnam War hero is known as a moderate Republican.

In 2013, McCain was part of the “Gang of Eight,” a bipartisan group of senators promoting comprehensive immigration reform, which included a “pathway to citizenship” — a set of requirements for unauthorized immigrants to gain citizenship. citizenship. He is known for denouncing Joe Arpaio, the Arizona sheriff infamous for his anti-immigrant patrols and general zeal for deportation.

In a normal presidential election year, McCain’s seat would almost certainly be secure, given Arizona’s staunchly Republican voting record: In 2012, Mitt Romney won the state by nine percentage points. A recent survey shows Hillary Clinton one percentage point ahead of Donald Trump.

This year is anything but normal.

McCain’s more tolerant stance on immigration doesn’t sit well with Trump supporters, which is why they’re backing Kelli Ward, a former Tea Partying senator, in the Republican primary. Ward attacks her rival as “invite the world to enter the United States, arguing that the “porous border” Arizona shares with Mexico “directly endangers Arizona’s children and families.”

Although McCain will likely beat Ward, he has a much bigger problem on the horizon: his Democratic opponent, Ann Kirkpatrick, in the race to retain her seat which has become unexpected closing. McCain currently leads by about eight percentage points; in 2010 he was re-elected by 24.2 points.

McCain needs Ward’s supporters to beat Kirkpatrick. However, Arizona’s relatively late primaries gave McCain just nine weeks to convert them to his cause. That’s probably why McCain vaguely but vocally backed Trump – even though the reality TV star denied McCain was a war hero, poked fun at his time in a prison camp in Vietnam and later , despised the parents of a dead Muslim soldier. .

Playing nice with Trump might neutralize McCain’s main opponent, but it also allows Kirkpatrick to appeal to moderate voters and his own base by tying McCain to Trump.

The anti-Trump vitriol is prompting grassroots Latino activists to register new voters – who will almost certainly support Kirkpatrick, as well as Hillary Clinton. McCain’s strategy also risks discouraging mainstream Republicans who insult Trump. Some conservative Arizonans are considering skipping this election rather than voting for Trump, a Republican from Scottsdale recently told the Washington Post.

The Arizona senator, who led his party just eight years ago as a presidential candidate, is not the only Republican torn between alienating the anti-immigrant populace from Trump or the Old school GOP. But he could be the most important casualty in the battle against the Republican Party that Trump appears to be winning.