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Arizona Likes Moderates And Conservatives Love Krysten Sinema (For Now)

Arizona has a history of electing moderates over the objections of activists.

Republicans love Krysten Sinema. The love affair deepened this week when Democrats threatened a censure vote against the popular Arizona senator but that wasn’t the beginning of the admiration that conservative voters have for Sinema.

Back in April, Salon compared Sinema to West Virginia’s Joe Manchin, one of the last Blue Dog Democrats, and in July Red State said she seemed “like the most conservative senator that Arizona has had in a decade.” This is ironic since Arizona’s previous senators were Republicans. Not counting appointees, Arizona had previously been represented by John McCain and Jeff Flake, two Republicans frequently derided as “Republicans-in-name-only.” 

It’s also ironic that, less than a year ago, Republicans were attacking Sinema as a socialist and a radical progressive. Today, many of the same people are cheering Sinema on for her conservative votes.

There are a few lessons that we can learn from the experience with Krysten Sinema. The first is that candidates are not always what they seem… or what their opponents pain them to be. Campaign mud slinging focuses on the most extreme and radical pieces of an opponent’s past. Few candidates are going to paint their opponent as a nice and reasonable person. 

Along the same line, Republicans attack all Democratic presidential candidates as radical socialists, just as they did Sinema. A thoughtful voter might reason that the Republican rhetoric was wrong once and it might be wrong again.

Second, I noticed years ago that when Republican “rinos ” are defeated, they are more likely to be replaced by Democrats than a more conservative Republican. When a state’s voters keep re-electing rinos, they usually want a moderate rather than the conservatives preferred by party activists. That seems to be the case with Arizona.

Third, as they say in Alabama, it’s all relative (I kid, I kid!). From an objective standpoint, Sinema is no conservative. Her 15 percent rating from the American Conservative Union is nowhere near the 67 percent rating of her fellow Arizona senator, Martha McSally. McCain (81 percent lifetime score) and Flake (93 percent lifetime score) voted much more conservatively than Sinema but were hated by the same people who love Sinema. 

It’s all relative. Sinema is conservative… for a Democrat, but McCain and Flake were liberal… for Republicans. Actually, Flake in particular was not very liberal. He just had the temerity to speak out against Donald Trump.

Republicans love Sinema now, but when she comes up for re-election they will probably see her as a socialist once again. Joe Manchin’s status as a conservative Democrat didn’t protect him from a bitter re-election fight in 2018 that he nearly lost.

The conundrum is that general election voters like moderates, but primary voters do not. Moderates are endangered species because they draw fire from both sides. They are attacked by party stalwarts in the primary and the opposing party in November.

The ultimate moral of the story is that, if Republicans want to win back Sinema’s seat, they need to find another rino to run against her. The tendency of the Republican primary base will be to nominate someone like convicted-and-pardoned former sheriff Joe Arpaio or “Chemtrail” Kelli Ward. If they listen to Arizona voters, however, Republicans will pick a moderate. In terms of votes, a moderate “Republican-in-name-only” is almost always better than a Democrat.

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