Joe Arpaio is flirting with another campaign that will never happen, according to some political insiders, but he could still serve as an effective surrogate for rising conservative figures.
On August 28, the Washington Examiner launched a torrent of speculation on the former Maricopa County sheriff’s political future after proclaiming he might challenge Sen. Jeff Flake in the Republican primary for his seat.
The locals didn’t buy it though, as Arpaio has teased that he would run for governor on several occasions over the years, none of which ever materialized in a real campaign.
Arpaio said he hasn’t ruled out anything, which he reiterated during an interview with the Arizona Capitol Times.
“What’s definite is I’m sure going to help people, help them raise money, help the president, make sure he gets some support. That’s a given,” he said. “I’m going to get back on the campaign trail as far as helping other people.”
As for another run of his own, Arpaio’s longtime friend and former publicist Jason Rose said that’s “a flirtation that will not result in a date.”
“He might surprise us all, but he loves being the sheriff,” Rose said.
He loves it so much, he added, that “there has been serious discussion about running for sheriff again.”
Arpaio, in response to Rose’s comments, said: “Who? What’s he know? I don’t talk to him. Jason Rose? I haven’t talked to him in months. Disregard what he’s saying.”
He said he has not told anyone he would challenge current Sheriff Paul Penzone to regain his seat. Then again, he would not say whether he’d ruled that race out either.
For what it’s worth, Rose would advise against it after he “lost in his home base by a considerable margin” to Penzone.
“There was always a presumption that the sheriff was a formidable political force and could potentially wage an interesting race for governor or whatever he wanted to do,” he said. “In this case, the question is does the emperor have any clothes.”
Arpaio may be “done as far as running for office,” but political consultant Constantin Querard said his political identity will live on as a “celebrity endorser.”
Like former Republican Gov. Jan Brewer and others who left office with “a legion of fans” still behind them, Arpaio remains a “valuable commodity,” Querard said.
But President Donald Trump, who won Arpaio’s enthusiastic support early on and pardoned him from a criminal contempt of court conviction last month, may not be the best target for the sheriff’s dollars or his time.
“Now that Trump is president, I don’t know that Arpaio necessarily brings anything to Trump that Trump doesn’t already have,” Querard said. “Whatever Trump does, Joe Arpaio is not going to be able to change that. If Trump delivers, great. If Trump fails to deliver, having Arpaio say Trump’s great on border issues isn’t going to help Trump.”
Arpaio lent the president credibility on issues important to his base, which both men realistically share. Now, Trump has the “biggest microphone in the world” to talk about immigration, Querard said..
Candidates who do not command the same level of name recognition – and millions of Twitter followers – need Arpaio far more.
Querard said much of Arpaio’s negative publicity was focused in Maricopa County, so support for him improves the farther away he goes.
Arpaio should look to the national stage, he said, and find Republican primaries where he can tilt the odds in favor of the candidate more in line with his supporters. If the fervor that followed the Examiner article is any indication, an endorsement from “America’s Toughest Sheriff” will help a candidate dominate the news cycle for several days.
Chad Willems, Arpaio’s political adviser and campaign manager when there’s one to manage, would not name names, but said politicians across the country continue to seek the 85-year-old ex-sheriff’s endorsement.
Arpaio has more than $460,000 left in his “Elect Sheriff Joe Arpaio” campaign account, according to filings with the Maricopa County Recorder’s Office, but Willems said they have no immediate plans on how that money may be used.
He said the options are to return the money to donors, transfer them to a new political committee, transfer them to a political party or donate them to a nonprofit organization, not including Arpaio’s own Sheriff Joe Arpaio Action Fund.
Arpaio said he donates out of his own pockets to candidates he favors, but he’s “not out there raising money myself.”
He said he’s not “looking for a job,” and for a short time after he lost his latest re-election bid by about 10 points, he thought he was out of politics for good. But after seeing Trump attacked by both the Democrats and Republicans like Flake and Sen. John McCain, he decided the country needed him to keep speaking.
“I would hope senators support their president,” he said. “And I would hope even some Democrats would get out there and support our president, try to get things together, get this country back on track.”
While he’s busy weighing his political options, Arpaio is also working on a book – “Maybe Jason will buy ten copies,” he said. “Why would he know what I’m doing? He must be making it up.”
And early next year, he will accompany a tour group to Normandy.
“The Sheriff Joe Arpaio Tour” was originally scheduled for October, the same month Arpaio was slated to be sentenced for his contempt of court conviction. But he said too few people signed up for the excursion by Conservative Tours, a venture operated by former U.S. Senate Republican candidate from Massachusetts Kenneth Chase.
Still, Arpaio said it would be a great occasion to be a “celebrity” tour guide.