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Is Kari Lake the Inheritor of the MAGA Coalition?

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin

Can Kari Lake become the inheritor of the MAGA coalition? The Atlantic posited that question about the Arizona Republican gubernatorial candidate in their profile piece. If the article was meant to damage or attack Lake, it did the opposite, and it proved why she's surged in the polls against her opponent, Katie Hobbs, who might be one of the most soporific and cagey Democrats on the ballot this year. Yet, is the publication trying to play some four-dimensional chess with this exposé? While she's Trump-endorsed, we all know how the former president allegedly reacts when others get better media coverage than he does. Also, the liberal media have become, as Matt Taibbi put it, the "kingmakers of suck," with every glowing piece about who they think should be the frontrunner in elections being the kiss of death to that specific campaign. From Stacey Abrams, Beto O'Rourke, Pete Buttigieg, and so forth, all these candidates got the royal treatment and failed to generate any sustainable groundswell. The same happens with rising stars in the Republican Party, so Florida Governor Ron DeSantis isn't taking the bait with the string of semi-positive stories about him ahead of the 2024 election. If there's a wave to the GOP nomination for DeSantis, he will ride it on his own merits. And Lake, being a former journalist, knows how these media types operate.

When you think of the publication, you immediately prepare for a dishonest grilling of Lake. You get the shoulder pads and the helmet on and prepare for abuse. Instead, you get a sense of Lake's humble beginnings, being one of nine children from rural Iowa. The part where you could see where The Atlantic was angling for a swipe was the several interviews with her former co-workers, one of which described her as "queen of the gays," noting her attending drag shows and donations to prominent Democrats. Everyone at the local Fox affiliate, where she worked for over 20 years, thought she was a liberal. That tone changed noticeably during the 2020 election, where she refused to declare Biden the winner of Arizona. Her co-host ran interference, noting he was taking orders from the mothership despite Lake's concerns if things possibly changed in the following days, which could breed distrust in elections.

While Lake is described as a performer who might be an inauthentic candidate, the piece later admits that all politics is an art form, selling yourself to voters in one of the most public and mercilessly scrutinized spectacles of the year. The publication noted that Lake adds a polish that Trump lacks, with the latter going down tangents unrelated to the issues at hand. But Trump is polished, and both are photogenic, with the added value of having the skill to command the room. Like Trump, Lake was said to be a little belittling to the production crew, "but she was good at her job, fluent and warm on camera. Viewers liked her."

The last part is a crucial detail regarding the sense of familiarity that Lake has with the voters of her state. Lake has the massive advantage that she's been featured in the living rooms of Arizonans for two decades. People know who Lake is—which makes any attacks on her character difficult as voters are skeptical that she's a lunatic, which is undoubtedly what Democrats are trying to sell here. Now that she's left her Fox-affiliated local network, she's gained points with voters, who know full well that journalism has changed since the first time Lake sat in the anchor's seat. The piece noted that Lake was finished as a television reporter and wanted to move on, which was met with mutual interest at Fox 10. The settlement she received was described as a "pot of gold." 

Still, compounding the message issues for Democrats in trying to attack her character is that Hobbs has engaged in a pervasive campaign of prevarication when asked if she would debate the former TV anchor. Hobbs says she refuses to be complicit in a media sideshow helmed by Lake, who she derides as a conspiracy theorist. Her loss, as a local PBS affiliate will now give Lake a 30-minute solo interview.

Yet, let's slow the roll here regarding Lake being the heir apparent to the Trump coalition. There is no heir if Trump is alive—and even if he were to wholly endorse Lake as the inheritor of what he's built since 2015, coalitions are not transferable. Hillary Clinton found out the hard way in 2016 when she thought the Obama base would happily support her run without reservation. Lake must also win the gubernatorial election before this becomes a legitimate debate. For now, one step at a time. She's a feisty, telegenic, pro-MAGA Republican who eviscerates the liberal media just as quickly as Trump, and she could become the next governor of Arizona. Let's see if she wins and how she governs first before we get into this "Lake is the next Trump" talk, and Ms. Lake would do well to keep her eye on the prize: thrashing Hobbs on Election Day.


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