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How the hard-right turn in the Arizona GOP is an anti-democracy experiment

: [POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: In this interview, Terry Gross incorrectly says that Russia is a communist country. An earlier correction note mistakenly said Russian President Vladimir Putin was the head of the KGB during the country's communist era. In fact, he was a KGB officer.]

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. In his article, "The Arizona Republican Party's Anti-Democracy Experiment," my guest, Robert Draper, writes that Arizona first turned against the establishment. Now, it's set its sights on democracy - the principles, the process and even the word itself. He's been following Arizona state politics for the past year and watched as election deniers and conspiracy theorists beat their opponents in key Republican primary races, including secretary of state, the position that oversees elections.

Draper has been covering conservative politics for about 20 years and is the author of the books "To Start A War: How The Bush Administration Took America Into Iraq," "When The Tea Party Came To Town," and "Dead Certain: The Presidency Of George W Bush." His next book, "Weapons Of Mass Delusion: When The Republican Party Lost Its Mind," will be published in October. His new article about the Arizona Republican Party's swing to the far right is published in The New York Times Magazine and is already on the Times' website. We recorded our interview yesterday.

Robert Draper, welcome back to FRESH AIR.

ROBERT DRAPER: Thanks for having me on, Terry.

GROSS: Why did you decide to make Arizona your focus when looking at how the Republican Party has been swinging to the right?

DRAPER: Well, for a couple of reasons. Arizona was the first state to be called by Fox News as a swing state against Trump. And there was a lot of outrage that ensued in that state. The first so-called stop the steal protests were waged within Arizona. So I was interested for that reason. But then secondly, while spending time in Arizona, I began to learn about the Arizona conservative grassroots and how they had effectively taken over the party that had once been dominated by John McCain. So it was with that in mind that I began to spend additional time for The New York Times Magazine there. And what I learned was that that the good news, I suppose, was that the grassroots had taken control and that the bad news was the grassroots had taken control because of the sentiments that so many in the far right in the Arizona Republican Party maintain.

GROSS: Did most of the primary winners this month support overturning the election?

DRAPER: Uniformly, they did. And, in fact, anyone who did not was defeated. It's not simply that they said, yes, the election was stolen. They made it central to their campaign platform. Of course, Exhibit A on that is the Republican gubernatorial nominee, Kari Lake, who has spoken incessantly about how the election was stolen, has talked about how they need to find the perpetrators who did this and frog march them off to jail. The other prominent primary individual who has spoken about this, who also prevailed on the August the 2 primary in Arizona, was Mark Finchem, the nominee for secretary of state, who not only has maintained that the election was stolen and actually showed up to the Capitol and was filming the rioters on January the 6, but who has pledged that in his capacity as secretary of state, if he's elected, that he will do everything he can to revisit those election results and do away with anything that he believed may have contributed to fraud, such as early voting and drop boxes and the like.

GROSS: Yeah. And secretary of state oversees the election, so he'd have a lot of power when it comes to the next election if he wins secretary of state. He had a pretty active role in the attempt to overturn the election results in Arizona. And he was part of the scheme to have a fake slate of electors. Tell us about his role.

DRAPER: Well, what Finchem principally did or what he's especially known for is that after the early post-election lawsuits in Arizona failed - and there were three or four of them - then Finchem, insistent that there was fraud, took out his American Express card, called up the downtown Hyatt in Phoenix, and rented a large ballroom for $5,000, where he and Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani on November the 30 staged this so-called presentation of witnesses of people who were coming forward saying that I saw this act of fraud occur, that act of fraud. It was taking place as a kind of counterprogramming, because just down the street, as it were, in Phoenix, the electors were being certified in Phoenix.

So it was a kind of fruitless proposition, but it was meant to basically showcase this supposed fraud that, in fact, has never been proven. And in a lot of ways, it set the stage for what became this state Senate audit in Arizona, because it amassed all of this so-called evidence and was sort of left there on the table and continued to whet the appetite of people in the Arizona conservative community for some kind of reevaluation of the election.

So Finchem was a non-stop participant in this, and it's because of that that he, you know, a little-known state representative otherwise, gained the enthusiastic endorsement of Donald Trump to run for secretary of state. Trump called him a warrior. Trump said, you know, he's known the truth, Mark has, and has stayed on top of it. And I should say about Finchem that his fantastical notions about the election are very much in keeping with other conspiratorial notions that he has had relating to mask mandates. And he's also an avowed member of the Oath Keepers. And so to have someone like him in so prominent a position is a rather notable phenomenon that he's even a candidate at all, much less the nominee, is a notable phenomenon.

GROSS: And the Oath Keepers, that's a militia group, and its leader, Stewart Rhodes, who is one of the people who have been indicted for conspiracy.

DRAPER: That's right. The Oath Keepers are a paramilitary group composed of mainly former law enforcement officers, continually - heavily armed. A number of them showed up at the Capitol. And they have been charged with the most serious of offenses connected to January the 6, relating to sedition, meaning, you know, an organized attempt to overthrow the government. And Finchem, far from Finchem in any point, condemning the acts of Stewart Rhodes and other fellow Oath Keepers, he instead said, this is what happens when you upset people and when you steal the election from them. In essence, he was basically saying that these people were doing their patriotic duty and has in no way distanced himself from the violent activities that took place on January the 6.

GROSS: So a couple of weeks after Finchem and Rudy Giuliani did their presentation about how the election was fraudulent and Trump really won two weeks after that, he became one of the - can I say one of the official false electors? (Laughter).

DRAPER: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, phony elector.

GROSS: So describe what happened. Yeah.

DRAPER: Sure. Well, what happened was that in the middle of December, after all of the election suits had failed, a group of people headed by the state Republican Party chair, Kelli Ward, essentially appointed themselves electors and filmed themselves signing ballots basically saying Biden did not win the state. Trump won this state. And this was part of an organized effort that was taking place in a number of swing states. But once again, people like Kelli Ward, Mark Finchem and others who continue to play prominent roles in the Arizona Republican Party were in the dead center of it.

GROSS: And there's somebody else who won the primary this month in Arizona, and that's Jake Hoffman. He's on the Arizona state legislature. He was also one of the fake electors. And now he's vice chair of the State House Committee on Government and Elections. And he won the primary for state Senate. So tell us about him and his role in his attempt to overturn the election.

DRAPER: Well, so Jake Hoffman presents an unusual case because he was involved in multiple ways in efforts to overturn the election. But even more broadly to churn out disinformation, he was, as you were referencing, Terry, one of the people who was in the room with Kelli Ward and others signing these phony electoral slates, essentially saying that they were the true electors, entirely self-appointed. But it's also the case that a couple of years before them in 2018, Hoffman was, as he still is, the head of an organization called Rally Forge, which is a Republican media organization.

And they were tasked by Charlie Kirk, who is the head of the Phoenix-based conservative youth activist group Turning Point USA, to develop what is essentially a troll farm to send out misinformation and disinformation to try to dissuade Democrats from voting as Democrats and to consider voting for Green Party candidates instead so as to diminish the Democratic Party's prospects in 2018. They used, in some cases, teenagers in this troll farm, and so - often also during that election cycle and then in subsequent election - in 2020, said so many untruthful things that ultimately his Twitter account was banned. Again, far from this having any political repercussions, it has just made him another warrior in the far right. And as you mentioned, Terry, as a state representative, he became the vice chair of the elections committee and now has won a primary to be state Senate and, in all likelihood, will become a state senator.

GROSS: And you mentioned his disinformation campaigns. Apparently, Russian trolls from the Internet Research Agency retweeted a lot of the social media that he put out.

DRAPER: That's correct. The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence did a study of Russia and disinformation. And a curious entry in that is Charlie Kirk's Arizona-based Turning Point USA and how the IRA, as you mentioned, seized upon a number of the memes that were put out by Turning Point and Rally Forge and amplified those, the IRA did, believing that it would, you know, in sort of furtherance of anti-democratic goals. And so presumably unwittingly, Hoffman and Kirk and their respective organizations became a cog in the wheel for Russia-based disinformation. Sure.

GROSS: Well, let me reintroduce you here. If you're just joining us, my guest is Robert Draper. His new article in The New York Times Sunday magazine is titled "The Arizona Republican Party's Anti-Democracy Experiment." We'll be right back after a short break. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF JOAN JEANRENAUD'S "AXIS")

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to my interview with Robert Draper. His article, "The Arizona Republican Party's Anti-Democracy Experiment," is how the Republican Party in Arizona has swung to the far right, moved away from the Republican establishment and has won most of the primaries in the Republican primary earlier this month.

So of all the people who won in the Arizona Republican primary, they - you said they all believe that the election was really fraudulent and that Trump should have been reinstalled as president. What are some of the other beliefs that they share?

DRAPER: They share an aversion, to say the least, towards mask mandates, towards vaccines, a suspicion bordering on paranoia and accusatory rhetoric relating to the vaccines themselves and whether they're doing more harm than good. They believe, as well, that critical race theory has invaded our classrooms, that there is a kind of gender ideology such that our children are at risk of being essentially encouraged by the left to change their gender on a whim. They believe that in the classrooms our children are being taught to, as Charlie Kirk put it, to hate America and hate themselves. And so they essentially believe that the left has overtaken our society.

And, you know, what I came to realize in going to a lot of their campaign events and listening to people talk about them and listen to the questions that were being asked is that they feel that ever since the 2020 election, in their view, was stolen from them - again, a view that is not supported by any evidence - that democracy essentially has been weaponized against so-called regular Americans and that democracy is now an evil thing. And so the rhetoric that I heard Kari Lake, for example, employ about godlessness, the godless left and how we need God, guns and glory is really reflective of a different era, specifically the 1950s and during the so-called Red Scare, featuring Wisconsin U.S. Senator Joe McCarthy, whose name I actually heard invoked not once but twice at one event in Prescott, Ariz., where one of the speakers, an Oath Keeper and a grassroots activist, said that Joe McCarthy not only had it right, he understated the matter. And another individual said to me that she wished that Joe McCarthy were president today.

And I don't know that Kari Lake knows much of anything about McCarthy, but she and others in this rather extreme slate of conservatives, who were moved on to the general election after the August 2 primary, essentially are espousing a sort of dark and paranoid and anti-democratic worldview that was promulgated by the Wisconsin senator throughout the 1950s.

GROSS: Yeah, I mean, Joe McCarthy was the most famous of all of the, you know, communist hunters during the communist witch hunts. And he would smear people who he alleged were communists. They'd be blacklisted. They'd lose their career. They'd lose their income. They'd become outcasts in some circles. And, you know, a lot of people's lives were ruined...

DRAPER: Right. Yeah, that's right.

GROSS: ...Because of that. So to think that, oh, yeah, he should really be the president now - which is what one of his - one of the people you spoke to said - is just really shocking to me. But the other thing I really don't understand is, you know, communism in America doesn't seem to me like a particularly real threat. Who supports communism in America?

DRAPER: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, to me, a rather dispiriting phenomenon that I had not expected to encounter until I started spending all this time in Arizona was to go to these grassroots events and to hear individuals - sometimes candidates, sometimes precinct committee members who constitute the sort of activist base of the Republican Party in Arizona - proactively just say, you know, we're not a democracy. I don't know why people are saying we're a democracy. We're a constitutional republic. Quit saying we're a democracy. And at first I thought, OK, maybe this is some kind of snarky point of scholarship they're trying to win. But I began to realize, no, that's not it at all. They actually have come to view democracy as a sort of offending object, that democracy is a bad thing.

And I began then to ask some of these activists about it. And one of them said to me, well, to me, democracy means that if you get one vote more than 50%, then you get to have everything. You get to come and take my property - property, in this case, being a proxy also for you get to change my way of life. You get to, you know, change the school curriculum. You get to tell my child what gender they happen to be.

Now, how that has come to be equated with communism is unclear to me. But it is also true that along with these assaults - verbally speaking at least, but legislatively as well - on democracy, the word communist has been bandied about in ways I hadn't heard, you know, since, you know, the 1970s, I suppose. And it's - and where, again, Kari Lake and Blake Masters, the U.S. Senate candidate, Mark Finchem and others on the Arizona slate, really up and down the ballot, frequently refer to their enemies as communists. Communist is now the word that is most galvanizing and most attention-getting.

GROSS: So, like, a really ironic thing about this fight against communism that the far right is doing now is that a communist country, Russia, has been retweeting social media from the far right. So they're, in their own way, almost aligned with Putin. So it's - don't you think it's strange that they're the ones who are, you know, decrying communist infiltration of our country?

DRAPER: Yes. Yeah. No, it's certainly paradoxical. It's also paradoxical that this, you know, very rock-ribbed conservative Republican Party in the state of Arizona is so prone to Russia disinformation. And I had that said to me over and over by a number of long-time Republican operatives who said, you know, I think that Arizona is in the top seven, eight or nine when it comes to the number of - the percentage of its population that is senior - that's senior citizen. They have a lot of retirees that live in Arizona. So people have a lot of time on their hands, and so a lot of them sit on the internet. They're on Facebook, and they're reading a lot of things. And amongst conservatives who have come to reject the so-called mainstream media, they're very, very prone to information that confirms their biases. And they don't exactly fact-check this information.

So much of it has, in fact, come from - or at least been amplified by Russia-based social media, according to these Republicans that I've spoken to. And, you know, it's also very enemy of my enemy. I mean, I think that Trump has been accused - had so many associations with Russia, he and his campaign operation, and thus was accused of somehow, you know, being intertwined in a very unseemly way with Russia. That the left has, in the eyes of conservatives, has launched that argument means that maybe there's something not so bad about Russia. It means that Russia is being smeared the way that Trump is being smeared. So it's all quite convoluted. And to have the word communist used as the ultimate putdown, when essentially the one great promoter of that ideology, Vladimir Putin, is very much shaping their minds or at least, you know, putting out disinformation that can shape their minds - yeah, it's all a very, very paradoxical situation, to be sure.

GROSS: Let's take another break here. If you're just joining us, my guest is Robert Draper, and his new article in The New York Times magazine is titled "The Arizona Republican Party's Anti-Democracy Experiment." We'll be right back after a short break. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. Let's get back to the interview I recorded yesterday with Robert Draper. His article "The Arizona Republican Party's Anti-Democracy Experiment," about how Arizona state politics have moved to the far-right in the Republican Party, that's published in the New York Times Magazine and is already on the New York Times' website. Draper's next book will be titled "Weapons Of Mass Delusion: When The Republican Party Lost Its Mind." That will be published in October.

Robert, Arizona is a swing state. And that makes what happens in Arizona super important. But there's, like, swings in two directions at the same time in Arizona. You've got the Republican Party moving to the far-right. At the same time, you have a lot of people from California moving to Arizona. And you have two Democratic. U.S. senators from Arizona. So can you talk about those simultaneously opposite directions?

DRAPER: Sure. I mean, Arizona, as you mentioned, Terry, is a state that because of its low taxes, because it's, you know, sunny, to say the least, has attracted a lot of out-of-state visitors. And in particular, they are moving to Maricopa County, the mega county that includes Phoenix, and really where I think something like 60% of Arizona's overall electorate is. These people have brought with them, you know, their own values. And some of them come because they are very much in step with, say, Arizona's Republican Party values, but others are not. And the actual phrase Californication is used on websites and other Arizona conservative memes to express the sort of existential anxiety that a lot of Arizona conservatives feel about their values being taken over, being subsumed into California values.

So there's a lot of tension there. But the reality remains that Arizona, as you mentioned, in 2020, became a bona fide swing state. It's swung over to Joe Biden, albeit by not many votes at all, about 11,000 votes. And that was in large part because the suburban voters in the ring - suburban areas around Phoenix were turned off by Trump. And so in the face of that reality, in the face of the fact that, as you, again, mentioned, the state of Arizona has two Democratic senators, has a razor-thin Republican majority in both the state House and in the state Senate - you would think that given all of that, the Republican Party would descend into meditation and figure, you know, wow, we've got to do something to get those voters back.

Well, everything we've been talking about is, in fact, an indication of how they've repudiated that notion and have thought, no. Far from us to - far from any, you know, desire to moderate, we're going to purge those people who would even think about moderating, who, to us, are moderates. That would include our sitting governor, Doug Ducey, who was, in fact, censured. That would include the speaker of the House, Rusty Bowers, who, along with Ducey, refused to go along with this notion that 2020 had been stolen. He, too, was censured. He also was beaten in the primary, really thrashed by a far-right opponent. And for that matter, they have censured the wife - Cindy McCain, the wife of John McCain, who was this icon in Arizona Republican politics. So despite these demographic changes that are taking place, or perhaps because of them, perhaps in digging in their heels - the Republican Party has moved farther right even as the state itself has become, as one of its local pollsters, Mike Noble, calls it, magenta, the lightest shade of red.

GROSS: So do you think that's likely to hurt the Republican's chances in Arizona in the state elections?

DRAPER: We will see. I mean, that is the million-dollar question this November, because the headwinds facing the Democrats are considerable. Mark Kelly, the U.S. senator, is up for reelection. And he is certainly vulnerable - or, at least, you know, one would expect that he would be vulnerable. But now he'll be running against a guy named Blake Masters, who was a protege of the venture capitalist Peter Thiel, who is a 2020 election denier whose campaign signs that I saw festooning the highways of Arizona said things like, Blake Masters as U.S. senator will prosecute Fauci. Blake Masters as U.S. senator won't ask for your pronouns. And so whether that kind of culture war rhetoric is going to deny the Republicans a real opportunity to pick up a seat remains to be seen.

It's also the case - we were talking about Kari Lake earlier. And, I mean, Lake is a formidable presence because she's been a member of the media for a long time. She was a local Fox host for several years in the Phoenix area, very poised and can really hold the audience. But her rhetoric regarding - I mean, it's very, very - it's very party of retribution, lots of, you know, swaggering gun talk. And we're not going to let them California - you know, the California scum are not going to take over our party. Whether that's going to play remains to be seen. If it does not, then the hope among Arizona establishment Republicans that I talked to, their hope is that they will then be able to say, OK, is - have you learned now, you know? Have you learned that Trumpism, that MAGA-ism, that going all the way to the right and embracing crazy conspiracy theories is not going to work? Because we should have won these elections, and instead you handed it to them with your hot-blooded rhetoric.

GROSS: What's your understanding of how the far-right came to take over the Republican Party in Arizona? Was it a part of a larger Republican strategy that was well-funded by the RNC? Was it, like, more of an internal movement in Arizona, partly from the actual grassroots?

DRAPER: Well, so there was some funding done by right-wing organizations that were homegrown, that reside in Arizona. But a lot of it, Terry, was also complacency on the part of the establishment. And they had been asleep at the switch, it was described to me. And the people who control politics at the very base, the so-called precinct committeemen and women, those positions were just kind of occupied by status quo people. But then, over time, far-right people began to run for those positions. And they began to take them. And then they began to espouse certain things that were incorporated in the party platform.

And then ultimately, in the beginning of 2019, Kelli Ward became this, you know, grassroots maverick who launched this improbable campaign after having lost twice in U.S. Senate candidacies, first against McCain in 2016 and then in 2018 against Martha McSally. And the grassroots supported her, and she took over the party. And the moment that that happened, the party was all-in with Donald Trump. She visited Mar-a-Lago. She made sure that Trump was aware of her and the Arizona party's loyalties to Trump. She changed the name of - from the Arizona Republican Party to the Republican Party of Arizona, a rather subtle distinction, but one basically intended to say to the establishment, it's not your party anymore. And so now the party very much reflects her and the grassroots activists who have come to take it over.

And they have written, you know, and passed recently something that essentially invalidates the 2020 election or says that we do not recognize its results. So it's really as radical right as any state party can be in America. And it would be, in its own curious way, a kind of cool expression of democracy, because it is very grassroots - This does not come from a country club, it did not come from a smoke-filled room - but for the actual positions that they take and the actual philosophies that they espouse, which are fundamentally anti-democratic.

GROSS: Let's take another break here. If you're just joining us, my guest is Robert Draper. He's been covering conservative politics for about 20 years. His new article in The New York Times magazine is titled "The Arizona Republican Party's Anti-Democracy Experiment." We'll be right back. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to my interview with Robert Draper. His new article in The New York Times Magazine is titled "The Arizona Republican Party's Anti-Democracy Experiment." It's about the Republican Party in Arizona and how it swung far to the right. And, of course, Arizona is a swing state. Draper's next book is "Weapons Of Mass Delusion: When The Republican Party Lost Its Mind." And that will be published in October.

I want to get back to Kari Lake, who won the primary for governor in Arizona this month. And she's a really interesting case in the sense that she was on the Phoenix Fox affiliate for over 20 years. So she was, you know, a well-known figure. And when Obama was running in 2008, she supported him. So - but now she's saying that Fauci should be arrested for COVID-related offenses. She's advocated putting cameras in classrooms, so parents kind of know what kids are being taught so they can object if they want to. In June, she said, they kicked God out of schools and welcomed the drag queens. They took down our flag and replaced it with a rainbow. They seek to disarm Americans and militarize our enemies. Let's bring back the basics - gods, guns and glory. So she won the Republican gubernatorial primary in Arizona. How did she move from supporting Obama in 2008 to being so far on the right now?

DRAPER: Right. Well, more broadly, I mean, she was a - you know, she was a person who sort of espoused a a liberal ideology when she was on Fox, at least for several years. You mentioned the phrase of like they got kicked God of the schools and brought in the drag queens. When she said that, this in turn elicited a protest from an old friend of hers who was a drag performance artist in the Phoenix area and who, according to this individual, not only had spent a great deal of time and been photographed with Kari Lake like in the day, but who also was at Kari Lake's house performing in the presence of Kari Lake's children, something that Lake denies occurred. But she was, as you mentioned, a donor to Barack Obama's campaign.

And, you know, I wouldn't consider any of this worth noting, but for the fact that Kari Lake in 2021 says that she, like, left the media because she was so upset by the bias of the media. And now here she was, someone who was actually donating to a presidential campaign in 2008. By 2019, she had made an about face. In 2021, she left and launched this campaign. And she earned Trump's endorsement, I think, a few hours after she - Kari Lake - posted on Twitter her belief that Trump's likeness should be carved into Mount Rushmore. And I saw her at a Trump rally in January of this year in which she proclaimed to the crowd, with Trump standing next to her that if the Founding Fathers were alive today, they would all be Trump Republicans, that George Washington would be a Trump Republican.

And so she was all-in with Trump as there ever has been. And yet her rhetoric, I think, is far to the right of anything we even heard from Trump when it comes to things like having cameras in classrooms to monitor the doings of teachers, essentially viewing them as criminals and or potential criminals. And it's that kind of sort of, you know, again, anti-democratic sentiment that she espouses where we live in a godless environment and need to put God back in schools and need to look at anyone who objects to that notion as a member of the enemy within, which is actually a phrase that she has used. But it was a phrase that was popularized in the 1950s by Joe McCarthy.

GROSS: In a speech on the eve of the primary, she said, this is a battle between freedom and tyranny, between authoritarianism and liberty. That could be - that could have been in the speech of any Democrat.

DRAPER: Yeah. Yeah. No, that's right.

GROSS: But they mean different things.

DRAPER: They do mean different things. And then - but then she added something else - that Democrats tend not to say - for whatever else, the flaws of Democrats - which is between good and evil.

GROSS: Exactly.

DRAPER: And this is a rather animating feature of the Republican Party now. And it's that the left, the Democratic Party, the left is not so much, you know, foolish, wrong-headed, insincere, hypocritical, whatever. It's that they're incorrigible. It's that they're evil. And Charlie Kirk of Turning Point USA, I heard him say this - that you can't compromise with these people. You must defeat them because what they want to do is take your 8-year-old child and change his or her gender. And when you're confronted with that kind of evil, the only thing you can do is defeat them.

So to view an entire party in such a sort of dehumanized and demonized way is - has become part and parcel of the far right in the Republican Party. Again, notable that you're hearing it, that speech from the gubernatorial nominee for the state of Arizona. I mean, that was - that is what Lake said on the eve of her primary night, of her primary win. And to hear language so stark in peace time is a really, really notable phenomenon.

GROSS: Let's talk about Wendy Rogers, who won the primary for state senator. And you describe her as perhaps the most notorious Arizona Republican who was on the primary ballot. What made her notorious?

DRAPER: Rogers spoke at the white nationalist group America First PAC, AFPAC, headed by Nicholas Fuentes, this past February. And in her speech, she indicated that people who are unpatriotic, people who she deemed to be enemies of America, that gallows - new gallows needed to be built for them and that they needed to be executed in public. And that was among the most inflammatory things she had said but far from the only one. And it caused her own colleagues in the state Senate to decide that she had gone too far and to censure her.

Still, in all, she defeated, in the August 2 primary, another ultraconservative and election denier, Kelly Townsend, who - no moderate herself - had said that she was convinced that there would be people to try - who would try to steal the 2022 election and that she was exhorting people to monitor anyone who looks suspicious, to follow them to their car. She warned that people would be taking down their license plates. And so that Wendy Rogers - getting to the right of Wendy Rogers proved to be impossible for Kelly Townsend.

But Rogers, though she would appear to be a total outlier, really isn't in the sense, first of all, that she is a favorite of Donald Trump, and whenever Trump comes to Arizona, he mentions Wendy Rogers. And that, secondly, I mean, what she is essentially employing is just the most hot-blooded this-one-goes-to-11 kind of rhetoric that still is basically the staple rhetoric now of Arizona. She circulated a petition that legislators from, I believe, 25 or 27 states have signed, all saying that they will do audits of the 2020 election with the intent of invalidating the election. So though it may - so though her rhetoric itself may be extreme, her acts have been embraced in Arizona and beyond in right-wing circles.

GROSS: Let me reintroduce you again. If you're just joining us, my guest is Robert Draper, and his article, "The Arizona Republican Party's Anti-Democracy Experiment," is published in The New York Times Magazine. The article is already on the website. We'll be right back. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to my interview with Robert Draper. His article, "The Arizona Republican Party's Anti-Democracy Experiment," about the party's move to the far right in Arizona, is published in The New York Times Magazine and is on the website.

So when we look ahead to November, Kelli Ward is now the chair of the Republican Party in Arizona, and she's an election denier. Mark Finchem is the Republican candidate for secretary of state, which oversees the election. If he won and she remains the head of the Republican Party in Arizona, what are the possible ways that could shape the way the election is conducted and what the outcome is?

DRAPER: Sure. So the secretary - the current secretary of state, a Democrat, Katie Hobbs, you know, told us that there is no statutory ability of the secretary of state to somehow change the outcome, to invalidate the results. And that may be so, strictly speaking, legislatively speaking. But I do think that if you imagine a scenario in November where, for example, the gubernatorial nominee, Kari Lake, loses and, let's say, loses a close race to Katie Hobbs, it's hard to imagine that she won't cry fraud. I mean, she was crying fraud basically on primary night anyway just because votes were coming in late. And the votes that were coming in late were votes for Kari Lake, but she still was so upset by the process that she said, you know, what the hell is going on here?

And so at least in terms of undermining - I mean, at absolute least - and this is no small thing - the ability to undermine the faith of Arizonans in the electoral system, in the democratic process, is a legitimate concern that Finchem, Lake and others can really, really instill in people, that, you know, what's happening here is not on the up and up. As Finchem said to me on primary night - I cornered him, and it was when one of the counties, Pinal County, had - they had failed to print out enough ballots. And so people were turned away and told to come back later when the ballots were coming or they were saying that they could vote through an app. And, you know, this was - it was a screw-up by Pinal County. No question about it. But it's an overwhelmingly Republican county with Republican officials, and there was no reason to believe this was anything other than just, you know, incompetence.

But that's not what Finchem said. Finchem said to me, everything is suspect at this point. And so we can kind of take that phrase of his and place it, you know, as a sort of Damocles hanging over this November election. If Republicans don't win, they almost certainly will not say, as Liz Cheney said on the night of her primary, I concede. You know, I lost. The other person got more votes, and I congratulate them. That almost certainly will not be the case. And Republicans there have been acculturated to the notion that if they lose, fraud can only be the reason why.

GROSS: We talked earlier about how the Republican establishment lost power in Arizona, and the far right of the party basically took over. And I'm wondering if you think that the Republican Party created the far right and its power in the sense that it used scare tactics - it used fear of gay people and of immigration, of changing demographics - to rally the base and bring out the vote. But that base became more and more extreme, and you could argue it became more extreme through all the fear that was being fed to them. So do you think that the party is partially responsible for its own loss of power - you know, the establishment for its own loss of power in Arizona?

DRAPER: Without question. And I would also say that in that sense, Terry, Arizona operates as a microcosm of the national Republican Party and its relationship with Donald Trump. The notion that Trump hijacked the party is a, you know, kind of metaphorical construct that presupposes that the party had nothing whatsoever to do with Trump and is the perfect victim. And that's not the case. I mean, their - the rhetoric and the behavior of the Republican Party had essentially ceded the ground for Donald Trump well in advance of his arrival. And I would say that, just as you're pointing out, that's the case with Arizona, as well. The - it was not Wendy Rogers, it was not Kelli Ward, it was not Kari Lake who suddenly decided that the Republican Party should be anti-immigrant. It was - you know, Senate Bill 1070 passed during Governor Jan Brewer's administration. That essentially allowed, you know, the monitoring on the streets of Latinos - you know? - and stopping them really without cause.

There have been other voting restrictions that have been put in place both - you know, before 2020, certainly after it. But so, yeah, the atmosphere, you know, was not something that just, you know, was created in a whole cloth in an election cycle or two. So when the Frankenstein's monster, you know, destroyed Dr. Frankenstein, Dr. Frankenstein does bear some culpability. And that's certainly the case, not only in the Arizona party but I think writ large in the national party.

GROSS: Robert Draper, thank you so much for your reporting and for this interview. I appreciate it.

DRAPER: It's my pleasure, Terry.

GROSS: Robert Draper's article "The Arizona Republican Party's Anti-Democracy Experiment" is in The New York Times magazine. He has a new book that will be published in October called "Weapons Of Mass Delusion: When The Republican Party Lost Its Mind."

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Corrected: August 24, 2022 at 10:00 PM MDT
In this interview, Terry Gross incorrectly says that Russia is a communist country. An earlier correction note mistakenly said Russian President Vladimir Putin was the head of the KGB during the country's communist era. In fact, he was a KGB officer.
Combine an intelligent interviewer with a roster of guests that, according to the Chicago Tribune, would be prized by any talk-show host, and you're bound to get an interesting conversation. Fresh Air interviews, though, are in a category by themselves, distinguished by the unique approach of host and executive producer Terry Gross. "A remarkable blend of empathy and warmth, genuine curiosity and sharp intelligence," says the San Francisco Chronicle.