This column is reprinted from Robert Robb's Substack site. To visit that site, click here.
Journalist Dennis Welch recently asked Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer whether he was going to run for reelection. According to Welch, Richer laughed and then said: “Yeah, I think I am.”
This surprised me, not that I don’t think Richer richly deserves reelection if he wants it. To the extent there are indispensable men at historic moments, Richer was an indispensable man in battling back against the lies and misrepresentations about the election results in 2020 and 2022 in Maricopa County, a charge he took on with vigor and skill even though he wasn’t in office when the 2020 election occurred.
Richer is very smart, a quick study, and highly disciplined and thorough. He comprehensively inventoried and refuted every election-related fairy tale the MAGA conspiracists could concoct or weave.
The surprise was that anyone who has endured the abuse and threats thrown at Richer and the Republican members of the Board of Supervisors would be willing to sign up for reenlistment. They have all already done more than can reasonably, or even unreasonably, be asked of a human being in the form of public service.
However, I am left with this thought. Richer would undoubtedly be challenged by a MAGA conspiracist in the Republican primary for recorder. If he has the stomach for such a fight, his talents and fortitude might be put to higher and better use challenging Kari Lake for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate.
This is not to depreciate the importance of the county recorder position or race. In fact, the races for county recorder and the county board will arguably be the most important and consequential elections in 2024 for Arizona, despite still being a critical swing state for the presidency and control of both the U.S. Senate and House.
The MAGA conspiracists will undoubtedly mount a vigorous effort to capture control of the recorder’s office and the board, and thus control of the conduct of elections. The consequences of that, and knock-on policy implications, would have a seriously detrimental effect on the future trajectory of one of the nation’s most vibrant metro areas.
The Valley’s somnolent and largely leaderless business community needs to awaken to the stakes and seriousness of the threat.
However, given the current contours of our two-party system, preventing MAGA conspiracists from capturing county government probably will require electing Democrats, hopefully sensible ones.
There is a counterpoint to this gloomy assessment that should be acknowledged. In 2022, Supervisor Tom Galvin, a pragmatic conservative, did defeat MAGA opponents in a Republican primary. So, perhaps, given a choice, Republican primary voters might not always make the wrong one.
And that feeds into my thoughts about Richer giving a shot at the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate against Lake, who seems both an inevitable candidate and initial formidable frontrunner.
In reality, however, Lake has nothing going for her but right-wing grievance politics, threadbare election conspiracy theories, Donald Trump’s blessing, and the ability to wow a MAGA crowd.
Richer could be the ideal foil. It’s hard to think of anyone better positioned, and capable, of popping the Lake bubble, if it can be popped. At a minimum, he could offer GOP primary voters a responsible, pragmatic conservative alternative.
Richer knows the election conspiracy portfolio cold. He knows the answer to every delusion and excuse Lake will attempt to peddle. He’s a quick and thorough study. It wouldn’t take long for the contrast between Richer’s substance and Lake’s superficial demagoguery to be notably plain. If Richer could get the resources to make a contest of it, Lake’s political persona, which is sustained mostly by hot air, wouldn’t remain the same, I suspect even among the MAGA crowd.
And then there is this for Richer, assuming he truly has the stomach for a Republican primary in these times: He would still be refuting vacuous election conspiracy claims, but that wouldn’t be the only thing he would be doing. He would get to talk about other issues as well.
Before Reagan conservatives give up on the Republican Party as a hopeless Trump personality cult, they ought to give GOP primary voters true alternatives. That wasn’t done in the GOP gubernatorial primary in 2022.
Karrin Taylor Robson and Matt Salmon, both by track record pragmatic conservatives, ran claiming to be the more authentic MAGA candidate. Why anyone would think this was a winning strategy when the MAGA Man himself strongly endorsed Lake was always a mystery.
The other reason my thoughts turn to Richer is that he won’t flinch, or attempt to pander or finesse. He has staked his ground and defended it against all comers. We owe him a lot for that, including a respite from politics if he would prefer it.
Tim Scott may be offering GOP voters a true Reaganesque alternative in the presidential race. Richer could do the same for Arizona voters in the U.S. Senate race.
Could Richer win? I’m a Reagan conservative who has given up on the Republican Party, believing that Donald Trump has irredeemably corrupted it, intellectually and morally.
But, again, a counterpoint. It wasn’t that long ago that pragmatic conservatives routinely won contested primaries in Arizona and dominated general elections. In the Age of Trump, pragmatic conservatives have stopped running, or started pretending to be MAGA. Perhaps if pragmatic conservatives fought rather than capitulated, the Trump fever could be broken.
Now, I should say that I haven’t talked with Richer about any of this, or given him a heads up that this column was coming. And after this column is published, he may not be talking to me.
However, the surprise that, after all he has been through, he wasn’t necessarily through with elective politics, started me thinking. If Richer still has some fight in him, there’s a different ring he might consider.
Reach Robb at firstname.lastname@example.org.