A loose brick in Trump’s red wall

The Washington Post - - THURSDAY OPINION - GE­ORGE F. WILL [email protected]­post.com

Fele­cia Rotellini’s fa­ther, who is 104, was in­censed when his fam­ily took away his car keys two years ago. He was born in a Wy­oming com­pany town that no longer ex­ists be­cause the coal com­pany that owned the town is long gone. The town of Cam­bria, and else­where in Wy­oming, had many coal-min­ing im­mi­grants from Italy, in­clud­ing some rel­a­tives of Leon Panetta, the for­mer de­fense sec­re­tary, CIA di­rec­tor and White House chief of staff.

Rotellini’s fa­ther’s fa­ther was a union or­ga­nizer at a time when that was a more haz­ardous oc­cu­pa­tion than his day job of sub­sur­face min­ing. He died of black lung dis­ease. The or­ga­nizer’s grand­daugh­ter, an ap­ple that did not fall far from the tree, came by her pol­i­tics by fam­ily trans­mis­sion. She calls her­self “a John Kennedy Demo­crat.”

Petite in size but large in am­bi­tion, as chair of Ari­zona’s Demo­cratic Party she trav­els con­stantly in her ef­fort to de­liver the state’s 11 elec­toral votes (more than Wis­con­sin’s 10) to Joe Bi­den, who cur­rently has a lead of up to eight points over Pres­i­dent Trump in state polls. This is one of three states (the oth­ers are Texas and Ge­or­gia) where, for Democrats, to­mor­row is al­ways full of prom­ise but is al­ways a day away. In 2020, how­ever, Ari­zona, which has long been em­blem­atic of Sun Belt con­ser­vatism, might be where Democrats do unto Trump what he did unto them in 2016.

Then he won by car­ry­ing three states (Wis­con­sin, Michi­gan, Penn­syl­va­nia) that had voted Demo­cratic in at least six con­sec­u­tive pres­i­den­tial elec­tions. Ari­zona voted for Pres­i­dent Harry S. Tru­man in 1948. The next year, a har­bin­ger of its con­ser­va­tive­lib­er­tar­ian fu­ture, 40-year-old Barry Gold­wa­ter, was elected to the Phoenix city coun­cil, en route to the U.S. Se­nate in 1953 and the Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial nom­i­na­tion in 1964. Ari­zona was the only state to vote Repub­li­can in all 11 elec­tions be­tween 1952 and 1992.

It voted for Bill Clin­ton in 1996 but since then has re­mained in the Repub­li­can fold. In 2012, Mitt Rom­ney car­ried it by 9.1 per­cent­age points. But in 2016, Trump won 24 of his 30 states by larger mar­gins than the 3.6 per­cent­age points by which he de­feated Hil­lary Clin­ton (48.7 to 45.1 per­cent) in Ari­zona.

Un­der its cur­rent master, who holds it on a short leash, the Repub­li­can Party has dif­fi­cul­ties in sub­urbs, where ed­u­ca­tion lev­els are in­con­ve­niently (for Repub­li­cans) high and women have a pe­cu­liar ab­hor­rence of ig­no­rance coarsely ex­pressed. Phoenix, the na­tion’s fifth-largest city, has sub­urbs that are cities: Tempe is larger than Prov­i­dence, R.I., Scottsdale is larger than Salt Lake City, Mesa is larger than St. Louis, Glen­dale is larger than Des Moines. Phoenix and its sub­urbs are in Mari­copa County, where Hil­lary Clin­ton came within 45,000 votes of de­feat­ing Trump, and which in 2016 cast 60 per­cent of Ari­zona’s votes. An ad­di­tional 18 per­cent come from an­other two of the state’s 15 coun­ties, Pima (Tuc­son) and Co­conino (Flagstaff ).

In 2018, Ari­zona Democrats won a 5-to-4 ma­jor­ity in the U.S. House del­e­ga­tion and elected a Demo­cratic U.S. sen­a­tor, Kyrsten Sinema. This year the Demo­cratic can­di­date, for­mer astro­naut Mark Kelly, is fa­vored to de­feat Sen. Martha Mc­sally. She lost to Sinema but was later ap­pointed to fill the seat of the late John Mccain. The last time Ari­zona had two Demo­cratic se­na­tors was 1952, when tele­vi­sion sets were still nov­el­ties. Democrats need to gain only two state House seats and three state Se­nate seats to con­trol the leg­is­la­ture for the first time since 1966, when many tele­vi­sion sets were still black-and-white. The sec­re­tary of state and su­per­in­ten­dent of pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion are Democrats.

Ev­ery day an av­er­age of 200 peo­ple bring their pol­i­tics with them as they move to Phoenix. Ari­zona trails only Florida and Ne­vada among states with the low­est per­cent­age of na­tive-born res­i­dents.

Rotellini had the mis­for­tune to run for state at­tor­ney gen­eral in two dread­ful years for Democrats, 2010 (dur­ing the tea party back­lash against Ge­orge W. Bush’s Trou­bled As­set Re­lief Pro­gram — TARP — Oba­macare and other griev­ances) and 2014 (the midterm elec­tion dur­ing the sec­ond term of a pres­i­dent from her party). As she toils to turn Ari­zona blue, Trump is be­ing help­ful.

In his ex­u­ber­ant dis­re­gard of con­sti­tu­tional niceties, he “re­pur­posed” ( Wash­ing­ton’s pre­ferred eu­phemism for nullifying Congress’s power of the purse) $30 mil­lion ap­pro­pri­ated for con­struc­tion at Ari­zona’s U.S. Army Fort Huachuca to spend on his $18 bil­lion bor­der wall, which a ma­jor­ity of Ari­zo­nans op­pose.

Speak­ing of walls, this year Trump will have to spend time and money to hold Ari­zona, an­other in­creas­ingly loose brick in the red wall that has pro­tected Repub­li­cans’ in­creas­ingly nar­row path to 270 elec­toral votes. Two other such bricks are Texas and Ge­or­gia. Stay tuned.

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