PHOENIX — The new chairman of Arizona's Republican Party says he's focused on winning elections in 2024, after two disastrous election cycles.
But in an interview on this weekend's "Sunday Square Off," Jeff DeWit, a former top campaign official for President Donald Trump, refused to say that Trump lost the presidential race in 2020 or that Trump-acolyte Kari Lake lost the race for governor in 2022.
"I'm focused on the future and I'm not even thinking about the past," DeWit said. "If I keep talking about the past, I'm going to keep splintering an already splintered party."
'Past' Is also party's present
But what DeWit calls the party's past is also its present. Election deniers still have a grip on the GOP.
Their conduct over the last three years has spawned death threats against elections officials and promoted distrust among Republican voters.
One independent analyst says election denial was a factor in Arizona Republicans' wipeout at the polls.
"People are not dealing with reality or not dealing with facts," said Tucson attorney Benny White, a widely respected voting analyst who worked with the Republican Party for years.
The party's primary voters nominated four Trump-endorsed election deniers for the top statewide offices last year. All four were defeated in the general election.
Disaffected GOP voters swung race
Maricopa County voters' rejection of election deniers helps to explain why Lake lost in November.
According to an analysis by White and his colleagues at The Audit Guys, Kari Lake lost 33,000 disaffected Republican voters in Maricopa County to her Democratic opponent, Katie Hobbs. Hobbs lost 8,000 Democratic supporters to Lake.
That net pickup of 25,000 votes in the state's largest county was more than enough to swing the election to Hobbs, who won statewide by 17,000 votes.
White says Republicans need to reckon with those results.
"We need to ... get candidates that deal with the issues really facing people, rather than trying to promote some conspiracy," he said.
"I read the election results of '22 as being the will of the people saying that they want to move on.... I just don't think that Mr. DeWit fully appreciates that yet."
DeWit himself sent a chill through mainstream Republicans the day after he was elected chair, with his public embrace of State Sen. Wendy Rogers of Flagstaff, a Christian nationalist who insists Lake is Arizona's governor.
Lake appears to be gearing up for the U.S. Senate race in 2024.
Cleanup after Ward's departure
Aside from hoping to reverse the party's disastrous election results, DeWit has some other unfinished business from Kelli Ward's four years as party chair: an appeal now before the Arizona Supreme Court to throw out Arizona's mail-in voting system, used by more than 80 percent of state voters.
"This is something we're going to re-evaluate, no question," DeWit said.
The Republican Party lawsuit has been tossed out by two lower courts.
The party's lawyers, including State Rep. Alexander Kolodin, filed the appeal with the Supreme Court on Jan. 28, the day Ward handed over the chairmanship to DeWit.
Campaign finance reports show the Republican Party has spent $250,000 on lawyers over the last two years.
Republican Party activists have raised questions about the party's spending under Ward.
"I wasn't a part of the previous spending, but I'm going to re-evaluate all the future spending," DeWit said.
Ward's role in attempts to overturn the 2020 election results could put her in legal jeopardy.
The U.S. Supreme Court allowed the January 6th committee to obtain her cellphone records.
The U.S. Justice Department has been investigating her role in the so-called "fake electors" scheme.
Who is Jeff DeWit?
DeWit did two stints with the Trump campaign, in 2016 and 2020, as a high-ranking operations manager, overseeing spending and events.
But he's no stranger to Arizona politics.
He was elected state treasurer in 2014 and later clashed with Republican Gov. Doug Ducey over the legality of Ducey's Prop 123.
The ballot proposition, ultimately approved by voters, allowed the state to pull more proceeds out of state trust land sales to fund education.
DeWit caught Trump's eye in 2015 when he became the first statewide elected official to endorse the future president. DeWit resigned as treasurer in early 2018 after winning U.S. Senate confirmation as NASA's chief financial officer.
Ties to major GOP benefactor
After the 2020 presidential campaign, DeWit worked for Jim Lamon, an eventual Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate in 2022, as chief investment officer at Lamon's construction business.
Lamon has been a big spender on Republican causes.
Over the last two years, Lamon's $650,000 in donations to the Arizona Republican Party has made him the party's largest individual donor, according to campaign finance reports.
Lamon also contributed to the partisan "audit" of Maricopa County's election results, as well as giving $2 million to a far-right group for voter registration.
'Not getting salary from anywhere'
On "Sunday Square Off," DeWit responded to Republican activists' claims that Lamon was paying him to serve in the unpaid, volunteer job of chairman.
"I'm not getting a salary from anywhere to do this job," he said.
DeWit, who is 50, lives with his wife and three school-age children in the West Valley. (The family starred in a 2014 campaign ad.)
He said he plans to serve as GOP chairman only through the 2024 election cycle.
"I can't say she's extremely happy about it," he said of his wife, "but she understands my motivation."
"Sunday Square Off" airs at 8 a.m. Sundays on 12News, after NBC's "Meet the Press" with Chuck Todd.