DeWit quits, Trump bails, rally’s cut: It’s been a week for Arizona’s GOP

Former President Donald Trump, shown in a 2020 file photo, was supposed to headline an Arizona Republican Party rally and fundraiser Friday, but he had to back out at the last minute and the event was canceled. It was just the latest bad news in a long week for the state GOP/ (Photo by Shealah Craighead/The White House)

WASHINGTON – One day after its chairman was forced out over the leak of an embarrassing audio tape, the Arizona Republican Party got more bad news Thursday when former President Donald Trump backed out of a planned Friday fundraiser.

The rally, which was to have featured many of the state’s leading GOP candidates, was subsequently canceled – on the eve of the party’s annual meeting set for Saturday.

It’s been a week for the Arizona GOP.

Analysts see the latest upheaval as just another phase in the ongoing fight between the moderate and MAGA wings of the party, but they disagree on its long-term impact. One said the ouster of Chairman Jeff DeWit could hurt the party’s ability to raise funds and field candidates, but another thinks this week’s drama will be a nonfactor in this fall’s elections.

“It’s certainly a major blow to the state party. I believe this (Friday rally) was going to be a major fundraiser for them,” said Paul Bentz, senior vice president of research and strategy at HighGround Public Affairs Consultants. Bentz says the loss of DeWit is a “further solidification of the control that the Trump and MAGA segment have over the party.”

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Arizona political consultant Jason Rose disagrees.

“I don’t think it’s a more fractured Republican party,” Rose said. “One guy (DeWit) made a bold move that returned out to backfire. He made a mistake.”

The mistake Rose is referring to is DeWit’s March 2023 conversation with Kari Lake, the party’s 2022 nominee for governor. In an audio tape of that discussion that came out this week, DeWit urges Lake to stay out of the 2024 race for U.S. Senate – and appears to offer a bribe if she does.

At one point, DeWit asks, “Is there a number at which … ,” before Lake interjects, “I can be bought?”

DeWit then proposes Lake take a “pause” for two years and run for governor again in 2026. He says that break would be supplemented by “companies out there that could just put you (Lake) on the payroll and keep you out” of the Senate race.

Lake repeatedly turns down DeWit’s offers on the tape, saying, “$10 million, $20 million, $1 billion? No. This is not about the money, this is about our country.”

Lake went on to announce a Senate bid in October.

News of the tape broke earlier this week and DeWit announced his resignation Wednesday, in the face of what he called an “ultimatum from Lake’s team” to resign or they would release “a new, more damaging recording.”

In his resignation statement, however, DeWit decried what he called the “deceptive tactic” of releasing tape of an 11-month-old discussion that he said was taken out of context. DeWit said his intention in the March conversation was to “offer perspective, not coercion.”

Kari Lake speaks at the election night watch party in Scottsdale for Arizona Republicans in 2022, when she ran unsuccessfully for governor. (File photo by Drake Presto/Cronkite News)

“Our relationship was based on friendship, and the conversation that is now being scrutinized was an open, unguarded exchange between friends in the living room of her house,” DeWit’s statement said. “I genuinely believed I was offering a helpful perspective to someone I considered a friend.”

Rose believes the leaked tapes could help Lake “flex her independence and integrity where many people considered her to be a sycophant of Trump.”

“Any elected official, whether it be someone who is running for mayor or president of the United States, wants to convey that they’re independent and that they’re not beholden to anybody,” Rose said. “I think this story actually works to Kari Lake’s advantage in that regard. The big money tried to get Lake out of the race and she said no.”

While it may benefit Lake’s campaign, Bentz believes it could also be a win for Democrats. DeWit is a Trump supporter, but was seen as someone who could raise funds and help unite a fractured party.

“The logic with DeWit originally was that he would bring a business perspective to it and some campaign savvy as well as some Trump loyalty,” Bentz said. “DeWit inherited some pretty significant problems … a pretty fractured base. I just don’t really know if he was ever really able to get his arms around it.”

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He said state Republicans “used to be incredibly successful” at fundraising but have struggled in recent years under the leadership of MAGA party officials.

“Down the ticket, particularly for Democrats, this is good news for them because they’re likely to replace DeWit with someone who does not have a track record of raising money,” Bentz said.

That makes the cancellation of Friday’s rally particularly detrimental to the party in an election year, he said. Top tickets to the event at Dream City Church were going for more than $1,000.

News broke Thursday afternoon that Trump, who is in court this week as the defendant in a defamation trial in New York City, had backed out of the rally. Shortly thereafter, the party announced that the entire event – where Lake and others were to appear – would be canceled and refunds given.

The furor has grabbed headlines this week, but Rose thinks it will be a nonfactor come Election Day.

“Who is saying that now that DeWit is gone, Lake can’t win the Senate race? I don’t think anyone is saying that,” Rose said.

“It’s not ideal for Republicans that this happened, but s— happens in campaigns. No one is going to remember this in November,” he said.

Ian McKinney(he/him)
News Reporter, Washington, D.C.

Ian McKinney expects to graduate in May 2026 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and mass communication. McKinney worked as a production intern for KJZZ’s “The Show.” He loves to try new things, is competitive and prides himself on helping other people succeed.