Trump's Arizona rally offers showdown with McCain, Flake

Trump's Arizona rally offers showdown with McCain, Flake
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President Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpSteve King defends Arpaio: 'I don't agree that profiling is wrong' Eminem leads anti-Trump chant at music fest Enraged Dems vow to protect ‘Dreamers’ program MORE is heading to Arizona next week, setting the stage for a battle with two of his most vociferous GOP critics — Arizona Sens. John McCainJohn McCainThe duty of loyalty would be different if Bannon had been Trump’s lawyer Battle begins over implementing Trump’s transgender ban Investigators warned of overworked sailors ahead of Navy ship crashes MORE and Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeArpaio: I 'didn't do anything wrong' Arpaio could challenge Flake in Arizona primary The Hill's 12:30 Report MORE.

Trump is scheduled to hold a rally Tuesday at the Phoenix Convention Center, and has already teased a big announcement, fueling speculation that he may endorse Arizona Treasurer Jeff DeWit as a primary challenger to Flake, who faces reelection next year.

In his new book, "Conscience of a Conservative," Flake called on Republicans to stand up to Trump if he is damaging the GOP.

He also criticized Trump for the “strange specter” of showing “affection for strongmen and authoritarians” such as Russian President Vladimir Putin and Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sissi.

McCain is a frequent antagonist for Trump and just weeks ago killed his ObamaCare repeal efforts in the Senate with a dramatic vote days after the disclosure that he has brain cancer.

Trump's pique with McCain was notable on Tuesday during a combative press conference in which he backtracked on his earlier condemnation of white supremacist groups for their role in Saturday's violence in Charlottesville, Va.

When a reporter asked Trump about McCain’s support for national security adviser H.R. McMaster, Trump responded sarcastically, “Sen. McCain? You mean the one who voted against ObamaCare?” 

“You mean Sen. McCain who voted against us getting good health care?” he added.

Michael Noble, a GOP strategist based in Phoenix, suggested the Phoenix rally could be a perfect moment for Trump, in front of a supportive crowd, to tear into either senator.

“I would not be surprised if I saw [Trump] taking shots at not only Flake but also McCain,” Noble said.

If Trump throws his political weight behind DeWit, Flake could face a more challenging Republican primary next year.

“That would be a big shakeup if he says [DeWit] is my guy, who would be very formidable against Jeff Flake,” Noble said.

Flake in a statement said, “The President of the United States is always welcome in Arizona.”
 
A Flake spokesman said the senator will be in Tucson Tuesday for a full day of previously scheduled meetings with Customs and Border Protection officials, county sheriffs and small business owners.
 
McCain’s office did not comment on Trump’s scheduled visit.

Arizona was one of Trump’s favorite stomping grounds during the 2016 presidential race and where his campaign first began to be taken seriously after he packed arenas with thousands of cheering supporters.

He held seven rallies in the state, where he touted his hardline approach to immigration and his signature proposal, building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Despite being a favorite in the state, Trump has come under fire by McCain and others over his comments following violence in Charlottesville, Va. last weekend after protesters and counter-protesters clashed at a white supremacist rally, leaving one dead and more than a dozen injured.

Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton on Wednesday called for Trump to reschedule the rally in light of the violence.

A statewide poll by Noble’s firm, OH Predictive Insights, showed Trump with a 47-percent approval rating late last month, significantly higher than the 34-percent nationwide approval rating reported by Gallup on Monday.

“Arizona was the place where Trump’s campaign became something that was real,” said Noble. “That was the launch pad because he came down here and said I’m going to build the wall.”

 

Trump’s political team has had Flake in its sights for months. White House officials met with DeWit, state Sen. Kelli Ward and a third possible GOP challenger, former Arizona Republican Party Chairman Robert Graham, earlier this year.

Robert Mercer, a billionaire and major Trump backer, has also given big money to a super PAC dedicated to defeating Flake in next year’s primary.

So far only Ward, who unsuccessfully challenged McCain in the 2016 GOP primary, has declared she intends to run against Flake for the Republican nomination.

Ward said she doesn’t believe Trump will endorse DeWit, arguing the rumor came from the same source that said she had a contentious meeting at the White House earlier this year.

“Nothing could be further from the truth so I wouldn’t trust it,” she told The Hill. 

But she said it wouldn’t be a surprise if Trump raps McCain and Flake, noting the SaddleBrooke Republican Club, a group based outside of Tucson, censured both senators this week.

“I know that he’s very disappointed, as we all are here in Arizona, that [McCain] decided to join with the Democrats and kill the efforts to get rid of ObamaCare,” Ward said of Trump.

McCain and Trump have feuded since the early days of Trump's presidential bids. Trump memorably insulted McCain, for years a prisoner of war in Vietnam, saying that he liked war heroes who weren't captured. 

Ward added that Trump has also “had a rather contentious relationship with Jeff Flake.”

“Jeff has been the ultimate Never-Trumper,” she said.   

She noted that Flake voted for third-party candidate Evan McMullin over Trump.

McCain won reelection last year and doesn’t face voters again until 2022.

Trump may also use next week’s Arizona rally, which is expected to draw thousands, as a stage to pardon former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who was convicted of contempt of court by a federal judge for not complying with an order to stop targeting illegal immigrants without reasonable suspicion.

Trump told Fox News that he is “seriously considering” a pardon for Arpaio, whom he praised as having “done a lot in the fight against illegal immigration.”

The president on Monday retweeted a Fox News story about a possible pardon of Arpaio.