President Donald Trump has thrown his support behind U.S. Senate candidate Kelly Ward, who’s challenging Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) in a Republican primary in 2018, putting his stamp of approval on yet another political figure with a history of anti-LGBTQ views.
Taking to Twitter, the president wrote: “Great to see that Dr. Kelli Ward is running against Flake Jeff Flake, who is WEAK on borders, crime and a non-factor in Senate. He’s toxic!”
Great to see that Dr. Kelli Ward is running against Flake Jeff Flake, who is WEAK on borders, crime and a non-factor in Senate. He's toxic!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 17, 2017
Trump, who is known for holding personal and often petty grudges against those he believes have wronged him, is primarily praising Ward’s candidacy because Flake criticized him following the failure of the U.S. Senate to approve a Trump-backed measure repealing the Affordable Care Act.
Writing in Politico on July 31, Flake criticized Trump’s approach to governing and encouraged his fellow Republicans to speak out against the president when he takes actions or makes statements that could do long-term damage to the Republican Party.
Now, Trump is heading to Arizona for a rally as he tries to urge Americans to support his policy priorities. And Ward is expected to be in attendance, as a sign of the president’s decision to snub Flake. Some even suspect he will issue a more formal endorsement of her at the rally.
The primary between Ward, a state senator who previously challenged Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in 2016, and Flake promises to prove divisive and could be a test for Republicans of how much they are able to distance themselves from the president without incurring a backlash from his most loyal voters.
Some establishment Republicans are panicked that if Ward wins the primary, she will have little appeal beyond Republican base voters, and risk the chance of losing the seat to Democrats, particularly if openly bisexual U.S. Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) runs for higher office. Already, a superPAC aligned with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), has started hitting Ward for what it calls her “embarrassing behavior” and “crazy ideas.”
The ad criticizes Ward for “wasting taxpayer dollars” to convene a hearing where Arizonans spoke about their concerns on “chemtrails,” emissions left by aircrafts as they fly through the sky. At the hearing, some residents expressed concerns — commonly voiced among right-leaning Internet communities — that the U.S. government is using the planes to spray secret chemicals for a host of nefarious purposes, including making people sick in order to benefit drug companies, using human beings as guinea pigs to test biological weapons, making people infertile as a form of population control, and even turning people (or at least frogs) gay.
Ward has since said she does not believe in the theory but wanted to provide a forum for constituents who did, calling the issue a “distraction.” However, it is precisely those types of views that led McCain to defeat her in a landslide. Unfortunately for Flake, he is only sports an 18 percent approval rating, and is particularly unpopular among more right-wing Republicans, which could endanger his standing in the primary.
The superPAC ad also knocks Ward for blaming McCain for the rise of ISIS, and calling on him to resign after being diagnosed with brain cancer, and saying that she should be appointed as his replacement.
“Chemtrail Kelli. Not conservative, just crazy ideas,” the ad concludes.
For the LGBTQ community, the strong possibility of Ward as U.S. senator (given Arizona’s strong Republican lean) should be especially concerning, not just in light of Flake’s support for some LGBTQ-friendly legislation, but because of Ward’s hostility towards the LGBTQ community.
During her time in the Arizona State Senate, Ward voted to approve legislation allowing people to claim “religious exemptions” and refuse to provide goods or services to people based on a business owner’s personal opposition to homosexuality or same-sex marriage. She later criticized former Gov. Jan Brewer (R) for vetoing that bill, calling the veto “one of the biggest disappointments during the time I served in the Arizona legislature,” reports GLAAD.
Ward opposes same-sex marriage, and has even tried to fundraise off of Kentucky Clerk Kim Davis’ refusal to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples and her subsequent jailing for defying a judge’s order. Ward spun the situation involving Davis to make it seem to her supporters as if Davis was jailed simply because of her “Christian” beliefs opposing homosexuality, rather than her defiance of the Supreme Court’s decision legalizing marriage equality.
Ward once claimed that the Obama administration “prioritizes the LGBT community above our veterans,” adding that “even though the LGBT community is small, they are given a huge microphone to change the culture of this country.” She has even criticized organizers of a pro-Trump rally for allowing a transgender Latina to address the crowd, writing in a message to organizers: “Joanne Lopez is speaking?! Really? Are we now about transgender issues in the GOP?”