Surely there were many reasons why he was crushed in the three-way contest. Perhaps roughly 80 percent of the state’s Republican voters spurned him because of his age—86—or, more likely, perhaps they correctly perceived that he’d cost the GOP a Senate seat in November, losing badly in a face-off with the moderate Democratic candidate (and congresswoman) Kyrsten Sinema. Clearly they’d prefer not to lose an open Senate seat in Arizona for the first time since 1976. And, most importantly, they appear to have recognized that Arizona is changing, that Arpaio’s antics don’t play well anymore with an electorate that’s becoming increasingly diverse.
There had long been abundant warning signs that Arpaio’s star was dimming. In the state’s most populous county, which includes Phoenix, he’d won reelection as sheriff by successively smaller percentages in 2004, 2008, and 2012—the latter barely breaking 50 percent. And in 2016, the voters, who are predominantly white in Maricopa County, finally threw him out. Only 43 percent deemed it wise to reelect a law enforcer who’d just been slapped by a federal judge with a charge of criminal contempt. Arpaio had been racially profiling Latino drivers since at least 2011, he had defied court orders to stop, and the ongoing case had already cost county taxpayers more than $70 million.
But like so many politicians who are loath to leave the stage, politicians discarded by the electorate but still drunk on vanity, Arpaio, in his forced retirement, nurtured the idea of taking his act statewide. Hence the decision to run for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Jeff Flake. Arizona was Donald Trump territory, after all—Trump won the state by an underwhelming 3 percent—and Arpaio, in his hostility toward undocumented immigrants, was Trump long before Trump. Plus, he was simpatico with Trump. Back in the days when Trump was lying about Barack Obama’s birth, Arpaio sent a posse to Hawaii in a bid to prove Trump right. And late one night in August 2017, shortly before Arpaio was slated to be sentenced for criminal contempt, Trump wielded his pardoning power and gifted him a get-out-of-jail-free card for his “admirable service to our nation.”
The pardon didn’t save him. He said the other day, “I never had a hero in my life until several months ago when I woke up after 75 years, and I found my hero. You know who that person is? Donald Trump.” But that didn’t save him. Indeed, Trump didn’t even endorse him. In the waning days of his Senate campaign, his bus was virtually empty and his campaign manager was driving it. The Arizona Republican lobbyist Stan Barnes told the Associated Press, “No one really understands why he’s in the race … This is the kind of thing that an 86-year-old egomaniac would do because no one can control him.” And the egomania was obvious in his remarks, boasting last weekend—to a rally of a dozen people—that “I’m known around the world,” and telling a reporter from Reuters that if he were elected to the Senate, “I’ll go to the toilet and I’ll have every TV camera in the universe—they all know me.”