Gov. Doug Ducey got a phone call as he rustled through papers to find where to put his signature to certify the 2020 election results on November 30.
He removed his cell phone from inside his suit jacket, scowled slightly, and silenced the “Hail to the Chief” ringtone to continue his duty as an elected official.
He may not have realized it at the moment, but ignoring that call may have ended a close relationship with the most powerful man in the world and escalated dissension in the Arizona Republican Party.
On the other end of the line was the White House – likely President Trump himself.
Ducey would not say that it was the president who gave him a ring, but did allow that Trump was on the other end when he called the White House back after the certification signing.
What exactly Trump told him, Ducey wouldn’t say. But it’s clear that Trump wasn’t pleased with Ducey for certifying the results of an election the president continues to dispute – results that give president-elect Joe Biden Arizona’s 11 electoral votes.
Trump lambasted his former ally on Twitter a few hours after Ducey ignored his call.
“Why is he rushing to put a Democrat in office, especially when so many horrible things concerning voter fraud are being revealed at the hearing going on right now. @OANN What is going on with @dougducey? Republicans will long remember!” Trump posted on November 30, following up with a retweet saying Ducey “has betrayed the people of Arizona” plus other attacks.
The hearing Trump referred to was happening two miles from the Executive Tower, where Ducey and other top officials did the certification. Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley, and eight other legislative Republicans were at the Hyatt Regency Phoenix, hosting Trump attorneys Rudy Giuliani and Jenna Ellis at an unofficial election fraud hearing that they couldn’t get permission to hold at the Capitol.
Giuliani and Ellis were ostensibly there to share evidence of fraud, with testimony from a line of witnesses that included an army colonel who said that the United States is facing “an unconventional warfare scenario” and a single poll observer from Tucson.
The tide began to turn on Ducey as Trump and his followers at the Legislature and Arizona Republican Party launched a sustained attack on the governor, who until November 30, did everything in his power to appease the president.
Ducey came into the governorship as a straight-laced businessman, but had grown to accept Trump’s favor, if out of respect for the president’s many fans in Arizona politics as much as anything else. He became so accustomed to hearing from the White House that he disclosed making “Hail to the Chief” his ringtone for when Trump or Vice President Mike Pence called.
“We’ve had so much outreach personally both from the president and vice president that I had to change the ringtone on my phone and it rings ‘Hail to the Chief’ because I didn’t want to miss another phone call directly from the White House,” Ducey said at the time.
Minutes after Ducey ignored the first call and had turned off the ringtone, his phone vibrated audibly against the desk. The governor grimaced – and ignored it again.
Ducey kept Trump at arm’s length from the 2016 campaign trail until Ducey was re-elected in 2018. But Ducey swiftly jumped on the Trump bandwagon in 2019, handing the president an early endorsement and attending multiple rallies during the pandemic that health officials viewed as super-spreader events. Ducey defended the rallies and his attendance as falling under the First Amendment.
Ducey also patted Trump on the back at every opportunity for the handling of the pandemic, taking multiple trips to the White House while COVID-19 continued to ravage Arizona.
But the 10-hour hearing at the Hyatt served moreover as an opportunity for the nine Republican lawmakers to rail against their party’s top officials – with of course the exception of state GOP Chair Kelli Ward, an enemy of the governor who populates her social media feeds with daily video screeds about the stolen election.
To Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley, and other like-minded Republicans, Ducey’s refusal to call the Legislature into a special session to audit the election, and the refusal of House Speaker Rusty Bowers and Senate President Karen Fann to assemble committees with subpoena power to do the same, constitutes an abdication of responsibility.
At the hearing, they readily embraced the legal theory that they have the right to withhold Arizona’s 11 presidential electors, disregarding Arizona’s “faithless elector” law, which requires the state’s Electoral College votes to go to the candidate who received the most votes in the state.
“I’m appalled by the inept actions and the rudeness . . . (of) leaders of our own party and the body,” said Rep. David Cook, R-Globe, at the Hyatt event, his voice raised. At one point, he apologized to Giuliani on behalf of the governor for ignoring his calls.
Senator-elect Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, a persistent agitator against legislative leadership, called the government despotic and tyrannical, and added that it was “the right of the people and their duty to throw off such government, to throw off those leaders who are saying no.”
That some Republicans would take Trump’s side in his political divorce with Ducey isn’t a shock.
Even before the November 3 election, complaints abounded that Ducey was too distant or uncaring about the priorities of Republican lawmakers outside leadership. He didn’t have the kind of back-slapping relationship that previous Republican governors had with the Legislature, and his eventual willingness to issue a stay-at-home order to combat COVID-19 – combined with his reticence to convene a special session – further alienated him from lawmakers who promised their constituents that they would get back to work.
Proposals for legislation to rein in his executive authority soon followed, another sticking point between lawmakers like Finchem and Bowers.
Those lawmakers who publicly criticized the governor may end up paying for it if their bills reach his desk, as Ducey has been known to use his veto power to keep the Legislature in line, like he did in 2018 when he went on a veto frenzy of 10 Republican-sponsored House bills in an attempt to force the Legislature to finish the state budget and pass his teacher pay raise plan.
Ducey still has his allies in the Legislature, though they haven’t done much to back him up publicly. Bowers has put out internal statements to lawmakers explaining that they are effectively powerless to change the results of the election, but has not made any effort to censure them publicly.
“(Ducey) ended up in hot water for saying everything right,” said Senator-elect T.J. Shope, R-Coolidge, one of the governor’s staunchest supporters at the Capitol. “At a time when we should be celebrating the victories we had, it’s crazy to be doing this.”
Ducey and his staff have been mum on those lawmakers directly, deferring Capitol Times to his Twitter thread defending the integrity of Arizona’s elections, as his response to Trump and others.
But he took a more direct approach to Ward — one of the most loyal Trump supporters — who shared the thread and told the governor to “shut the hell up.”
“The feeling is mutual to her,” Ducey said Dec. 2. “And practice what you preach.”