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Epic Fail

Failed Coup Leader of the Year: Kari Lake

The Arizona Republican echoed all of Trump’s election denial strategies from 2020. But this time, none of them worked.

Jon Cherry/Bloomberg/Getty Images
Kari Lake speaking at an election-night rally in Scottsdale, Arizona

What if you tried to Stop the Steal and nobody came? The closing weeks of 2022 provided the answer, which was, mercifully, nothing, nothing at all like the 2020 election fallout. That was most apparent in Arizona, where Republican gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake had, more than nearly any other candidate, dedicated herself to preemptively fomenting the same conspiracy theories that drove Donald Trump’s Big Lie, but none of it materialized after she had, like him, so clearly lost. Even as some of the same scenes were revisited and the old players reassembled—the Maricopa County ballot tabulation center and Steve Bannon’s War Room, the last-chance “election fraud” lawyers and the inexplicably named Cyber Ninjas—and even though Lake has (still) refused to concede her loss, the multiday standoff never materialized. The election certification was barely ruffled. Rather than gaining the governorship, she achieved the worst Stop the Steal of 2022.

Like Trump in 2020, Lake and her supporters began casting doubt on the election outcome before voting had ended on November 8, first trying to spin problems with ballot printers into deliberate disenfranchisement (shades of the conspiracy theories about Dominion Voting Systems), then filing multiple lawsuits (the Kraken returns?) before ultimately demanding (and fundraising for) a do-over while also claiming, as the Lake campaign posted on Twitter on November 11, “We won this election on Election night.”

As the deadline for Arizona counties to certify the election results neared, a Lake war room assembled in Scottsdale. There, Trump-world types under various investigations munched pizza alongside staffers from the Trump-aligned Turning Point PAC, themselves tending self-inflicted midterm losses in Arizona. Lake had lost, but so had the rest of their statewide slate, including election deniers such as secretary of state candidate Mark Finchem.

As the war room vibe moved from what The Washington Post described as “giddy anticipation” to “grim resignation,” Lake’s supporters gathered in Phoenix calling for a “revote.” Joe Oltmann, a Colorado-based conservative podcast host known for making violent threats in the past, summoned his fans to Arizona, instructing them, “You make sure that when you’re out there and you shut it down, and you have 5,000 cars on the street, and you’re all out there having a barbecue, you’re well armed.” Far from “5,000 cars,” the crowd peaked at no more than a few hundred, as Arizona Right Watch reported, “and only the most dedicated few dozen stuck around.” That included members of the Scooby Doo Crew—an offshoot of the QAnon splinter group holding vigil for more than a year in Texas awaiting the return of JFK Jr.—who arrived in an R.V. made to look like the Scoobymobile, with Trump’s face added to the gang. The promised big names, like Bannon, didn’t show.

In the absence of real momentum, there were only conspiracy theories. Even these were repeats, as Jerod MacDonald-Evoy reported for the Arizona Mirror, like the one claiming that votes were fed to 165,000 chickens who were then set on fire to ensure the ballots’ destruction, first promulgated about the 2020 election but floated again by a “revote” guy when the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors met to certify the 2022 election. The board of supervisors did not buy the chicken story and by early December had certified the tally, as had the rest of the state. A “sham certification,” Lake pronounced on Steve Bannon’s War Room show, adding, “History will never forgive them.”

A last-minute lawsuit filed by attorneys who represented the Cyber Ninjas, who had pushed for an actual sham election audit in 2020, appeared in December. “The eyes of the Country are on Arizona,” Lake’s complaint contended, before claiming that “hundreds of thousands of illegal ballots infected the election,” therefore either she should be declared the winner or a new election should be held. This was a document not meant to win in court so much as trump the reality of an otherwise boring election. It’s desperate but no less concerning, then, when the candidate herself uses the lawsuit news to appeal to Twitter’s new owner. With Lake now reduced to complaining about tweets not getting “likes,” perhaps here ends the scammy redux of it all, in what passes this year for a victory.