Outgoing Republican Gov. Doug Ducey of Arizona offered an implicit rebuke of the direction that former President Donald Trump has taken the GOP during a Tuesday speech at the Reagan Library, warning against leaders in his party who have morphed into “bullies” as well as candidates who are “more defined by their attitudes than the policies they propose.”
Ducey, who is finishing his second term as governor while serving as co-chairman of the Republican Governors Association, was the subject of a barrage of attacks from Trump after he rebuffed the former President’s entreaties to overturn Joe Biden’s narrow victory in Arizona. Without mentioning Trump’s name Tuesday night, the governor described the GOP as struggling for “direction and purpose” at this juncture when Trump still maintains a vise-like grip over the loyalty of the base and has hand-selected far-right candidates in many marquee midterm races – including in Arizona, where Ducey has seemed to come around to some of those same Trump picks.
The Arizona governor, who repeatedly declined national Republicans’ efforts to recruit him to run for Senate, predicted that the GOP would do well in November, but only because of what he described as Democrats’ “incompetence. ” Some Republicans have raised concerns that their nominees’ extreme positions on abortion and embrace of Trump’s election lies could jeopardize the party’s chances of taking control of the House and the Senate in November.
Ducey seemed to take particular aim at Trump’s attempts to stay in power after losing in 2020.
“It’s worth reminding ourselves, the point of winning elections isn’t just to win elections. It’s to govern with conservative ideals that preserve the American Dream and improve the lives of regular Americans,” he said in his speech.
He argued that a “dangerous strain of big government activism has taken hold” in his party and that a “good many small government conservatives have morphed into bullies – people who are very comfortable using government power to tell companies and people how to lead their lives,” which he noted is a departure from the more traditional Republican embrace of less intrusive government.
He added that “a vocal corner of conservative politics is defined more by attitude – and anger – than commitment to a specific set of ideals” and that “a growing segment of today’s conservatives are just as happy bossing us around and telling us – and businesses – how to lead our lives as the progressive left is.”
Ducey argued that Republicans should return to their roots by trying to persuade voters with a commitment to limited government and by embracing the attitude of “happy warriors,” suggesting that rhetoric laced with anger and grievance – a Trump hallmark – is the wrong approach.
“Being bullies isn’t the path,” he said. “Clearly neither is being royalists. We’re a nation that chose Constitution over King – and it’s best we keep it that way.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell unsuccessfully tried to recruit Ducey, who has remained popular in Arizona despite his rift with Trump, to run for the US Senate as the GOP tries to unseat incumbent Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly.
Trump taunted Ducey during that time, releasing a statement at one point saying that “MAGA will never accept RINO Governor Doug Ducey of Arizona running for the US Senate,” using the shorthand for “Republican in name only.”
This spring, Ducey joined several other high-profile GOP governors in an effort to elevate more mainstream GOP candidates for the midterm elections in what became a proxy battle between the GOP establishment and the Trump-led wing of the party. He went out on the campaign trail with Gov. Pete Ricketts of Nebraska and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie to support Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp in May as Trump was trying to sink Kemp’s chances of reelection. Kemp, who also rejected Trump’s calls to overturn Biden’s win in his state, was a rare Republican nationally to prevail against a Trump-backed primary challenger this year.
Ducey then endorsed Republican candidate Karrin Taylor Robson to succeed him as governor in Arizona, where he is term-limited, actively campaigning against Kari Lake, the Trump-backed candidate who echoed the former President’s lies about the election and ultimately won the GOP nomination. Ducey told CNN’s Dana Bash on “State of the Union” before the August primary that Lake was “misleading voters with no evidence” and described Robson as the “real conservative.”
But after the Arizona primary, he congratulated Lake in a series of tweets and noted that the Republican Governors Association was already active on the airwaves supporting her as he urged members of his party to come together. More recently, he endorsed Blake Masters, the Trump-backed GOP nominee for Senate, with an effusive statement calling him “fearless against the threats we face today.”