The Skinny

Unconventional Hazards

With the GOP convention on the horizon, Trump continues to divide the Republican Party

It was another wack week with presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump continuing to divide a party he is supposed to be leading.

It really was a week that any other GOP presidential candidate would have dominated, with FBI Director James Comey announcing that he wouldn't recommend indicting presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton over her sloppy email management but adding that the investigation found that she and her colleagues "were extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive, highly classified information."

That's rich material to work with, but Trump instead found himself making an incoherent speech defending his odd support for former Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein while swatting at a mosquito buzzing around him. And then he traveled to Washington to meet with GOP senators, where he ran into Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake.

The meeting was behind closed doors, but details slipped out almost instantly via the Washington Post, which reported that when Flake was introduced to the Donald, sparks began to fly.

First Trump mentioned that he'd heard that Flake had been critical of him, which led Flake to say: "Yes, I'm the other senator from Arizona—the one who didn't get captured—and I want to talk to you about statements like that."

Flake was reminding Trump about the presidential hopeful's comments regarding John McCain. Last summer, Trump said McCain was only a war hero because he was captured by North Vietnamese troops.

"I like people who weren't captured," Trump said at the time.

The exchange between Trump and Flake got worse, with Trump threatening to go after Flake and Flake saying Trump should ease up on the all the anti-Hispanic rhetoric and Trump telling Flake he was going to lose his reelection fight and Flake telling Trump he's not running for reelection his year.

With moments like that, it's little wonder that Democrats are thinking that Trump could be such a disastrous candidate that Democratic candidates could win in places you wouldn't expect them to—like in Arizona, where political prognosticators think that Hillary has a shot at beating Trump.

While Southern Arizona's Congressional District 2, now represented by Republican Martha McSally, isn't at the top of the list of their targeted districts, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is even running some ads here as part of a new nationwide ad buy launched last week.

The ads are generic enough to work in almost any district where the Republican incumbent hasn't denounced Trump. In one ad, schoolyard bullies are taunting a kid and viewers are asked if it's OK if their representative is a sidekick of a bully. In another, average Republicans talk about their general disgust for Trump as their presidential nominee and wonder about the standards of anyone who would support him.

The ad will be running both in the Phoenix market and here in Southern Arizona, where McSally is seeking reelection against the winner of August's Democratic primary, which pits former state lawmakers Matt Heinz and Victoria Steele against each other.

While she captured the highly competitive CD2 by just 167 votes over Democratic incumbent Ron Barber in 2014, McSally is undeniably favored to win this year's race. The Cook Political Report has the seat in the "lean Republican" column and political forecaster Stu Rothenberg has it in the "Republican favored" category.

A former A-10 pilot and squadron commander, McSally has been one of the loudest voices in the fight to save the Warthog and the jobs it brings to Southern Arizona. Her military connections make her a favorite of the district's large veteran population. She's worked with local officials on efforts such as reversing plans to shut down Tucson's mail-processing operation. She's a rising GOP star in D.C. who regularly lands spots on the cable news nets.

We'll see where Heinz and Steele are on the fundraising front when campaign reports emerge this week, but neither one has come close to keeping pace with McSally, who remains one of the best fundraisers in the country. 

To sum it up: Few people are betting on McSally losing in November. Nonetheless, the DCCC's willingness to dump money into the region with this buy shows that Democrats aren't completely writing off CD2. Sure, the ads also benefit Democrat Tom O'Halleran in his race for the open and competitive seat in Congressional District 1, but Dems are holding out hope that in the Year of Trump, the national mood might just bring a wave powerful enough to sink even McSally.

McSally herself has continued to keep her distance from Trump. As she often does when facing tough political choices, McSally has neither denounced nor endorsed Trump. Instead, she's said that she needs more time to measure his character.

Republicans have basically four ways of dealing with Trump—and all of them have negative consequences in one way or another. They can go #NeverTrump and outright denounce him, as Jeb and Mitt—who aren't so concerned about having a political future—have done. They can withhold their support, as Flake has done. They can embrace him, even reluctantly, as McCain has done as he seeks to tamp down yet another challenge from the right in this year's GOP primary. Or they can do like McSally and just kind of pretend he's not out there, saying all these crazy things. But until or unless McSally denounces Trump, expect Democrats to connect her to his every outrage.

Zona Politics with Jim Nintzel airs at 8 a.m. Sunday on the CW Tucson, Channel 8 on Cox and Comcast and Channel 58 on Dish, DirecTV and broadcast. You can hear the show on KXCI, 91.3 FM, at 5 p.m. Sundays or watch it online at Guests on this week's episode will include the two Democrats running for the Congressional District 2 primary, former lawmakers Matt Heinz and Victoria Steele, and Pima County Board of Supervisors candidate Steve Christy.