The divisiveness, bitterness and even nuttiness of the 2016 campaign is on full display in Arizona.
Whatever political mess is going on in your state -- unless you happen to live in, say, North Carolina or Florida, where politics also appear dangerously out of control – is magnified here. Baking in the desert sun, Trump supporters seem unhinged, McCain backers appear confused and media are under the most severe attacks in memory.
You want strange? Sheriff Joe Arpaio, the notoriously tough lawman and staunch Trump supporter, infamous for his harsh treatment of Latinos, is running TV ads devoted solely to his deep passion for animals. The video shows suspected animal abusers being handcuffed and, in the words of the announcer, “taken straight to jail.”
To be clear: America needs more animal rights activists. But the bald contradiction in how Arpaio treats humans versus his overwhelming compassion for animals is jarring and depressing.
Arizona, which went solidly Republican in the last four presidential elections is now viewed as a toss-up. With a win possible, Hillary Clinton’s campaign is redirecting funds here and has dispatched the Democrats’ strongest campaigner, Michelle Obama, to the Arizona stump.
The state’s senior senator and former GOP standard bearer, John McCain, has spent more than a year in a name-calling feud with Donald Trump. The two have alternately offered support, and then withdrawn support for each other’s campaigns.
McCain is running for a sixth term against Democratic Congresswoman Ann Kirkpatrick. Trump, you’ll recall, once used the word “dummy” to describe McCain and on another occasion belittled his service during the Vietnam War, five years of which were spent as a POW.
As recently as Oct. 4 McCain continued to voice support for Trump. But the “Access Hollywood” tape was the final straw and McCain now says he can no longer back the party’s nominee.
Yet, there are plenty of “Hillary for Prison” signs in view here. And the TV ad seen most frequently in Arizona these days – other than Sheriff Joe’s pro-animal campaign – has young women declaring that Clinton will take away their guns.
The epicenter of this election turmoil is the Arizona Republic newspaper which, for the first time in its 125-year history, endorsed a Democrat for president. The paper’s president, Mi-Ai Parrish, concludes that Trump’s principles are “bad for the party, bad for Arizona, dangerous for America.”
Since the Clinton endorsement, the paper’s staff has been subjected to death threats. Anonymous callers have even invoked the name of Don Bolles, the Republic reporter assassinated by a car bomb four decades ago.
In a moving and courageous follow-up editorial, Parrish defended the paper’s anti-Trump position and vowed that she and her newsroom staff will not yield to threats, no matter how ominous or vile.
She cited her mother, an immigrant from Korea, who grew up without freedom to practice her religion, to express her views or to vote. “She raised a journalist,” Parrish wrote, “who understood not to take those rights for granted.”
No matter what Arizonans decide next month about Trump, McCain and Sheriff Joe, this bright red state might never be the same. As the chief of the Republic wrote after long deliberation, “We chose patriotism over party.”