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Arizona senate candidates reject immigration proposal from president they are trying to emulate

Ward and Arpaio, two hard-right candidates in the race, are rejecting Trump's immigration proposal for being too friendly to immigrants.

Dr. Kelli Ward speaks with supporters at the American Conservative Union's CPAC conference at National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Md., on Thursday, March 3, 2016. CREDIT: Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call
Dr. Kelli Ward speaks with supporters at the American Conservative Union's CPAC conference at National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Md., on Thursday, March 3, 2016. CREDIT: Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call

In Arizona, two hard-right extremist candidates are vying for a Senate seat using the Trump playbook — promoting anti-immigrant policies, leaning into explosive, offensive rhetoric, and running on the express purpose of fighting the Republican establishment. But as a fight for so-called “Dreamers” rages on in Washington, that playbook has forced them to break with the president they are trying to emulate.

Last week, President Trump proposed legislation that would provide a path to citizenship for as many as 1.8 million young undocumented immigrants known as Dreamers in exchange for funding for a border wall, dramatically slashing legal immigration, and a crackdown on other undocumented immigrants living in the United States.

The White House has painted the proposal as an “extremely generous” take-it-or-leave-it proposal, and Kelli Ward and Joe Arpaio, both of whom are running for Senate in Arizona, say they’d leave it, arguing the proposal is too friendly to immigrants.

On Friday, Arpaio, the former Maricopa county sheriff who ran a jail he called a “concentration camp” where he tortured hundreds of immigrants and minorities, told ABC he has his own plan for the Dreamers.

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“I would deport these Dreamers and let them see the country they came from, be ambassadors to our country, and later on give them kind of a fast track to come back into the United States legally and that would take care of a lot of issues,” Arpaio said, adding that he’s “always been against amnesty.”

Arpaio did say he hasn’t actually read Trump’s proposal — “I don’t know all the facts about what the president said but, you know, he does change his mind so until I see everything in writing I’m not going to get into it” — but his plan for DACA recipients is dramatically different than the president’s. Kelli Ward, former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon’s pick for the seat, says she is familiar with the proposal and doesn’t support it.

Ward says the proposal goes “too far,” suggesting in a television appearance on a local news station Sunday that Dreamers are a violent population.

“That population has to be vetted, and any criminal elements that are within it have to be taken care of, have to be deported or incarcerated,” Ward said.

When the local anchor reminded Ward DACA recipients are already vetted, Ward cited the story of a man named Grant Ronnebeck, an Arizona man who was killed while working late night at a convenience store after a dispute over cigarettes. Ward claims in the interview that the man who killed Ronnebeck was in the “DACA population,” though the anchor corrects her, saying he was not a DACA recipient.

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Nonetheless, Ward declares, “That’s why we have to stop the madness and secure the southern border first and foremost.”

In an interview with Breitbart News Saturday, Ward flatly rejected Trump’s proposed immigration plan, saying, “We have to learn from our history. In 1986, Ronald Reagan — great president, amazing conservative, lover of liberty and of America — granted amnesty; and Ed Rollins, who is helping me with my campaign, told me that President Reagan’s biggest regret as president was granting amnesty and then trusting Congress to deliver on border security. It didn’t happen then, and it’s not going to happen now if we do this in the wrong order.”

A “permanent solution” and “comprehensive immigration reform,” Ward argued, are just code for amnesty.

Ward and Arpaio are locked in a competitive primary with Rep. Martha McSally (R-AZ), the establishment favorite for the seat who has been singing the praises of Trump’s proposal. McSally told Fox Business that Trump’s offer of a path to citizenship for Dreamers displays leadership, and that Democrats who object to the proposal “don’t care” about DACA recipients and other young immigrants who would be granted citizenship under the proposal.

In another interview, McSally called Trump a “master negotiator” and said she wants to address the root causes of “why we have a DACA population in the first place.” She argued on Twitter that “we have to drag the Senate to the right.”

The Arpaio-Ward-McSally primary embodies one of the central and stranger dynamics of Congressional races across the country: Running the Trump playbook has come to mean, at times, defying Trump himself, while establishment darlings sing his praises.

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Arpaio and Ward face an uphill battle, too. On Sunday, Tim Phillips, the president of Americans for Prosperity — the conservative political advocacy group in the United States funded by the Koch brothers — said they are prepping the “largest investment ever” in the midterm cycle. A spokesperson for the Koch network told The National Review that they were prepared to spend up to $400 million on the midterm cycle — 60 percent more than the group spent in 2018.

And Americans for Prosperity appears poised to put their thumb on the scale in Arizona, where they have full time staff and Koch fundraisers have begun to throw money into the Senate race supporting McSally.

But whether McSally can secure Trump’s support is another question. McSally didn’t endorse Trump in 2016, and she only really embraced him once it became clear she was going to run for Senate. Trump also has a soft spot for Arpaio. The former sheriff has been a fan of Trump since the beginning, and, last August, Trump pardoned Arpaio after he was convicted of criminal contempt.