Kari Lake Caves to Reality, Sort Of
How the defeated Arizonan learned to love the mail-in vote.
UNDERSTAND TWO THINGS about Kari Lake: She’s a hardcore conspiracy theorist. And she lost her Arizona gubernatorial race by less than one percentage point.
These two facts explain why Lake hasn’t gone away, despite failing again in court on Tuesday to prove her wild election-fraud claims. She came too close to winning outright in a statewide election in an important swing state to give up the dream.
Yet what she did Tuesday after her latest court loss was decidedly out of character. Although she has long insisted that mail-in voting is a system rife with fraud, Lake said it was time for Republicans to embrace it and that she would lead the effort. In a press conference billed as a “big announcement”—leading many people to surmise mistakenly that she would announce a bid for the U.S. Senate—Lake said she is “officially launching the largest, most extensive ballot-chasing operation in our state’s history, and frankly, possibly in American history.”
And what is “ballot chasing,” exactly? Nothing but an aggressive term for getting out the vote. Basic nuts and bolts campaign work. But Kari Lake being Kari Lake, and perhaps as a way of saving face, she framed it as some no-holds-barred new technique.
She went on:
The courts just ruled that this corrupt election will stand. The courts just ruled that our elections can run lawlessly. The courts have ruled that anything goes. Well, we can play by those same rules. Okay? If anything goes, then anything goes. And we are going to start chasing ballots like you’ve never seen.
LAKE RECOGNIZES THIS IS a pivot, as she has relentlessly denigrated early-voting systems since former President Donald Trump lost his re-election in 2020. She is, in a way, caving to reality:
While you know how I feel about mail-in ballots, if this is the game we have to play, if we gotta work in their rigged system, we’ll work in their rigged system. 218,000 Republicans are on that list. And guess what? They didn’t vote in 2022. 332,000 independents are on that list. And they didn’t vote in 2022. If you do the math, that’s about half a million Republicans and independents who were mailed a ballot and let Election Day pass with that ballot sitting on their kitchen table.
We’re not gonna let that happen anymore. We’re not gonna let that happen. We will identify these voters, we will earn their vote, and then we will go out there and get their vote. We’ll make sure that vote makes it back down to the county where these criminals and crooks are operating. And you know what? We’re gonna inundate them with so many mail-in ballots, their heads are gonna spin.
Take out the “rigged system” chatter and casual accusations of criminal activity on behalf of local election officials, and she’s finally admitting what most people, her Republican backers included, long knew: that she is not going to be able to overturn elections in courts and can only win by turning out the votes. Which, if Lake channels her efforts more productively, may be achievable. Her Democratic opponent last year, now-Gov. Katie Hobbs, edged her out by only 17,000 votes. Turning out the mail-in vote could easily have made the difference for Lake.
FOR NOW, LAKE ISN’T SAYING whether she plans to turn those votes out for herself for a 2024 Senate campaign. Although she finds “joy” in the prospect of irritating reporters by running again, she said, “I haven’t made up my mind on that.”
Even though Lake lost to Hobbs by just a slim margin, it would be much harder for her to beat a more formidable Democratic opponent, even with an improved GOTV operation. Thus, Lake’s decision probably hinges on something entirely out of her control: Whether Democrat-turned-independent Arizona incumbent Sen. Kyrsten Sinema runs for re-election. Lake is much more likely to win a three-way contest, where the Democrats potentially split their vote between an independent Sinema and a Democratic candidate.
Focusing on GOTV efforts is a tried-and-true way for loser candidates to shore up support while keeping their name in play for future elections—just ask Democrat Stacey Abrams or Republican Kelly Loeffler. Possibly as another means of buying herself time, Lake said she hopes to appeal her court loss, taking her case all the way to the Supreme Court, although she declined to say what her legal path might be.
Meanwhile, Lake’s name is frequently mentioned as a potential vice presidential pick for Trump. Oddly enough, she appeared to dodge that as well in a recent interview. “I don’t think he needs a vice president. If there’s ever one president who’s so strong he doesn’t need one, it would be him,” Lake said.
As bizarre as that answer might seem—what does Lake think would happen if Trump won the presidency in 2024, became incapacitated, and there was no vice president?—in a sense, maybe it is another concession to reality. Deep down, Lake might know she’s damaged political goods. Maybe she finally realizes she can’t win any kind of competitive election, statewide or nationally, by telling voters not to believe in the results.