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Kari Lake reminds us that charisma on TV can be one of the most dangerous weapons in the world

10 / 09 / 2022

Kari Lake, the election-denying Republican nominee for governor of Arizona, is someone I’ve known for 25 years. It’s no fun writing something critical about a person whom you were once friendly with. But at this point Kari is just too dangerous a TV talent — now contending politician — to ignore. Especially since she has the chance in a few weeks to become governor of one of the most important swing states in the country. 

We met 25 years ago while working as local news reporters at WHBF-TV in the Quad Cities, along the Illinois-Iowa border. Lake was confident, strikingly attractive on TV and, like the rest of us, in a rush to bolt out of there to a larger market. She got out first, making the quantum leap from the 101st ranked Quads to 12th ranked Phoenix.  

We kept in touch a bit over the years, and when I wrote a book about Congress in 2015, Lake kindly connected me to the political anchor at her FOX affiliate in Phoenix, John Hook. This led to my being a guest on his weekly political show, Sunday Newsmakers.  

Lake spent just over 20 years KSAZ-TV, leaving in 2021 to set up her first ever political run. She put effort into her local news career, but the biggest reason she was successful at it was because she had what it took: articulate enough, telegenic, ambitious and a great live-shot.  

Those four qualities comprise the quadruple threat in TV news. If you possess them, and you want to stay in the business, you will make it. 

But if you translate those traits into politics, they take on a whole new meaning. And I can tell you from a former career managing U.S. Senate, House and mayoral candidates, if your horse has even three of these qualities — you’ll be in the race. 

I wouldn’t be writing this about Lake if it were on the basis of where she stands on boilerplate issues. Like most statewide and federal races, it’s the usual divide on the usual questions. The pendulum swings back and forth in American politics. 

Lake released an extremely slick video last week; like I said, she gets television at a high level. Lake talks about her “great, close moment with God” as a child when she was told she would be on a plane one day. Then she goes on to the standard “Ronald Reagan was my hero” stuff and explains that’s why she registered as a Republican. 

(Lake changed her party affiliation from Republican to Independent in 2006, then back to Democrat in 2008 the day after Obama won the Iowa primary. She supported Kerry and Obama for president in 2004 and 2008, and then changed her registration back to Republican in 2012) 

Lake moves on in the video to say that she fell in love with the people of Arizona “and they fell in love with me, too.” She rails on “the COVID agenda,” and bemoans the business she was working in going from “unethical and bias to being completely immoral.” She says all of this with a straight face, then tells the story of opening the Bible one day in her office, and randomly reading a verse from 1 Timothy that told her what to do about all the “immorality”: 

“I remember getting the message, loud and clear. Ok, God. Message received. I got it. You want me to go.”

Then we see and hear the usual. Lake cradling guns. Cuddling Trump. Belting out the usual bromides: “We demand common sense, not communism!” “I’m not afraid of the globalists!” 

Since Lake’s been running, she’s engaged in plenty of the dishonesty that turns people off about politics. Over the weekend, she started doing her u-turn back toward the center on abortion. Then she falsely claimed that her opponent, Secy. of State Katie Hobbs, took a vote that would ensure “your kindergartner wouldn’t learn the Pledge of Allegiance, but your precious 5-year-old would be taught about sex.” Lake was asked for comment by the Arizona Republic, but provided no answer (politicians do this so you’ll print the lie, even though it’s a lie. I play along here to make a larger point).

But Lake’s hypocrisy and dishonesty on those kinds of issues are also not the basis of this article. I cut my teeth on Chicago politics. I’ve seen lots of stuff. It’s an arena that requires sharp elbows. Voters need to do their own research to see who’s telling the truth about the issues — and then decide for themselves whether or not they care. 

The reason that I am writing this article about Lake is that not only has she become the most vocal and well known proponent of The Big Lie about the 2020 Election — she also possesses the Trump-level talent on television that could enable her to make the cancer that is growing on our country far worse. For years. 

She has labeled her rivals “sickening” and “disqualifying” for not being able to say the last election was “stolen.”  Lake’s lies and wild threats about our elections being “totally fraudulent” (unless she wins) — are terribly treacherous to the future of American government. 

For a moment, set aside the labels of Republicans and Democrats. Set aside the political issues that consistently matter within an elected officeholder’s term in office: taxes, inflation, education, healthcare, choice, immigration, inflation, regulations, cost of college, etc., etc. Americans will always disagree on those things. We always have. So we vote, volunteer, donate, or all of the above. We choose leaders and then give them the authority to represent us in their decision-making. 

But when you have 299 candidates from one party denying 2020 election results that even former President Trump’s own administration deemed “the most secure in American history” — and who are planning to once again contest election returns next month before voters have even punched their ballots — remaining silent is not an option. 

Kari Lake, by virtue of her nomination, as well as the 11-Electoral Vote state of Arizona that she’s running in — and her Machiavellian charisma on TV — has become one of the most publicized and prolific liars among this election cycle’s field of election deniers. There’s no space here to comprehensively cite all of the lies; a simple click of a fact-check will give any reasonably minded adult all they need to know if they sincerely want to make an independent decision. 

Even prior to her primary election, Lake claimed that: “If we don’t win, there’s some cheating going on.” Besides this being a moronic claim that you might expect an eight-year-old (or Trump) to make about a board game they’re losing, it’s also just plain dangerous. If you’re an Arizonan and you truly care about whether the votes of American citizens will actually matter in future elections — no matter what person or faction you back — then you will factor this into whether or not to vote for Lake.

Because I used to manage campaigns and then wrote about politics for years after getting out of the game, these days I am often asked this question: “Do you think that these election-denying candidates actually believe what they’re saying?” 

The answer is no. If I could get all 299 of them to take individual polygraph tests insisting that the election was stolen, I’d bet every one of them $1,000 apiece that they’d fail. I would win above 95 percent. Conservatively.

So why do they lie? Most politicians, when they’re alone in the middle of the night, laying awake with only their own thoughts, that’s when they do their best to rationalize decisions they’ve had to make to win or stay in office. Part of that is pure politics; the thought that if you don’t win, there’s no majority power to exercise and without that you’re meaningless. 

Raw politics is one thing. It’s been around forever. And it’s hard sometimes to find the line — but it’s there. Yet WE are the ones who determine where it is — how much they can get away with.

If American leaders — possibly including Lake — cannot even agree on the basic facts surrounding election results, which in 2020 were vetted by thousands of election officials and then in over five-dozen U.S. Courts — without even a single finding of meaningful evidence — then we are lost. Period. 

In 30 days, American citizens once again have the constitutionally guaranteed right to express their public preferences in private voting booths. We’ve been doing it since 1788. Everyone has the right to have their votes counted, and often recounted as the law requires. Then they get sworn in and govern. At least that’s how it’s worked for a couple of centuries. 

On November 8, all voters would be wise to deeply consider what’s at stake over the long haul. Consider whether you want your voices and those of your loved ones to matter down the line. 

It’s actually a pretty simple proposition. The Beatles sang it far better and with far fewer words: “Think for yourself.”