ARIZONA, USA — Arizona’s new Republican Party Chairman Jeff DeWit shared the stage over the weekend with the state’s most polarizing legislator known for anti-Semitic, hateful rhetoric and conspiracy theories.
It was DeWit’s first full day as the Republican Party’s new leader. His introduction and praise of Arizona State Senator Wendy Rogers prompted wild cheers at a political rally Sunday evening.
A record of white nationalism and conspiracies
Former Maricopa County Attorney Rick Romley, a lifelong Republican who rejects Trumpism, predicts DeWit’s decision to elevate extremists like Rogers will hurt the party.
“It’s really not a very good start to have individuals like Wendy Rogers and Kari Lake be beside him (DeWit) right after his election to be the party chair,” Romley said. “You are going to disenfranchise more and more Republicans. The party is going to shrink.”
Republican strategist Stan Barnes defended DeWit and said DeWit’s support of Rogers shows why politics is complicated.
“Jeff DeWit’s detractors, I’m sure, can find a lot of rocks to throw at this particular storyline. Some of those detractors are in the Republican Party. It’s a complicated amoeba that’s moving about and growing and trying to figure out what it wants to be,” Barnes said.
Rogers is a member of the Oath Keepers, labeled by the FBI as an anti-government militia. She promotes the “groyper” movement, a loose network of white nationalists, according to the nonpartisan Institute for Strategic Dialogue.
Rogers spoke at a white nationalist convention last year, and she uses social media to amplify conspiracy theories targeting immigrants, the Jewish community and the U.S. government. After the January 6 insurrection, Rogers blamed Antifa and later blamed the U.S. government and congress.
DeWit is viewed as a unifier
Asked if it’s simply wrong for DeWit to ally himself with Rogers, Barnes said it’s fair to criticize Rogers.
“Does Wendy Rogers have her detractors? Yes. Does she deserve them? Yes. But Jeff DeWit is the new party chairman and he’s doing what he thinks is right,” Barnes said.
Barnes said he is optimistic about the party under DeWit’s leadership. DeWit was considered the most moderate of three candidates vying for the chairmanship position and is viewed as someone who could unify factions in the party.
“DeWit represents a personality that gets along with other people and doesn’t represent the punch-you-in-the-face style everywhere he goes. It’s a step forward for the Republican Party,” Barnes said.
DeWit was the first statewide officeholder in the country to endorse Donald Trump for president in 2015. On Saturday, he had the endorsement of Kari Lake and Rogers to be the next chairman. Barnes said DeWit owed Rogers a gesture of support.
“Who would expect him the next day to distance himself from that person (Rogers)? Whoever expects that is not thinking politically,” Barnes said.
Rogers and Lake promote disinformation
A greater concern for Romley is how disinformation is influencing Republicans. Kari Lake, the other prime speaker at Sunday’s event, espouses false election conspiracies and refuses to acknowledge she lost the election for governor.
“I think it’s a bigger issue than just false information. I think it has real ramifications,” Romley said. “When individuals start failing to recognize what the truth is, it empowers individuals to do certain things that are absolutely improper and potentially against the law.”
Romley points to the scheme headed by former GOP Chair Kelli Ward in 2021 to appoint fake presidential electors from Arizona.
“There’s going to start being some intense criminal investigations of these individuals,” Romley said.
In October, Ward declined to answer questions by the congressional committee investigating the insurrection attempt.
Some Republicans, though not many, have publicly criticized Rogers and Lake. On January 3, State Senator T.J. Shope responded to a tweet by Lake that alleged the election was stolen.
“You’re delusional over your unnecessary loss that didn’t have to happen,” Shope wrote.
During last year’s statewide campaign, Romley endorsed Democratic candidates and railed against the GOP’s top candidates who did not accept the outcome of the 2020 presidential election.
“Crazy is not good for Arizona,” Romley said in October.
Rogers uses volatile, hateful rhetoric
Last year Rogers said officials who conducted the 2020 elections should be tried and hung.
“Convict them and use a newly built set of gallows. They have yet to be justly punished for the crimes they have committed,” Rogers said during an AFPAC white nationalist convention last year.
Rogers was also censured by her Republican and Democratic colleagues last year after she claimed the U.S. government was behind a mass shooting and then threatened lawmakers.
“What we do not condone is members threatening each other, to ruin each other, to incite violence,” said Senate President Karen Fann during the hearing.
The Arizona Republican Party and Jeff DeWit did not respond to requests for comment.
For all of her hateful rhetoric, Rogers raises money. She has received more donations than any other legislator. In 2020, then-Governor Ducey directed a political action committee to donate $500,000 to Rogers’ state legislative campaign.
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