AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin Two layers of security fencing is shown encircling the Arizona Capitol Saturday, Jan. 16, 2021, in Phoenix. With the FBI warning of potential violence at all state capitols Sunday, Jan. 17, the ornate halls of government and symbols of democracy looked more like heavily guarded U.S. embassies in war-torn countries.
AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin

January was a tumultuous month for the Arizona GOP between the Capitol insurrection censure of three prominent members, and the impeachment trial.

More than 10,000 Arizona Republicans left the party in January — a historic month marked by the insurrection of the US Capitol, an impeachment trial, and the censure of three prominent Republicans. 

According to records maintained by the Arizona Secretary of State’s Office, 10,174 registered voters switched their political affiliation from Republican to another party during January.

Most former Republicans — 6,750 — chose to forego any party affiliation, while 1,374 switched to the Democratic Party and 1,108 opted for Independent. The Libertarians gained another 485 members from former Republicans and two individuals changed their registration to the Green Party. Another 554 voters opted for what the Secretary of State’s Office describes as a “non-recognized political party.”

In contrast, 2,484 people left the Democratic Party during the same timeframe. 

Despite the exodus, the Republican Party maintained its place as the most popular in the state with 1.5 million registered voters. The Democratic Party follows with 1.37 million, Libertarians with nearly 38,500, and more than 1.36 million are associated with a party not recognized by the state. 

While the numbers appear notable, Sophia Solis, a spokesperson for the Secretary of State’s Office, previously told The Copper Courier it’s difficult to determine whether the departures from the respective parties are abnormal. 

January Brought Insurrection, Inauguration, Censure 

There’s no way to know what caused the jump in departures, but January was an especially tumultuous month for the GOP in both Arizona and nationwide. States across the country reported similar shifts on par with Arizona, including fellow swing-state Pennsylvania. The first month of 2021 kicked off on Jan. 6 with the insurrection at the US Capitol. Two of the state’s four Republican congressman — Paul Gosar and Andy Biggs — were accused of playing major roles in the event that turned violent and left five people dead.

As The Copper Courier previously reported, the parties saw the biggest shift in the week following the attempted coup with nearly 5,000 Republicans switching parties.

Then came the censure of Cindy McCain, Gov. Doug Ducey, and former Sen. Jeff Flake on Jan. 23 during the party’s annual meeting for seemingly turning their back on Trump McCain called the censure an “honor.” 

“It is a high honor to be included in a group of Arizonans who have served our state and our nation so well … and who, like my late husband John, have been censured by the AZGOP. I’ll wear this as a badge of honor,” Cindy McCain, who is the widow of late-Sen. John McCain, said.

READ MORE: Arizona’s Extreme Far-Right Has Been Brewing for Years and the Attempted Capitol Coup Shows It Can’t Be Ignored

Party activists also reelected controversial chairwoman Kelli Ward during the same meeting. Ward has been a consistent driver of baseless claims of fraud in the 2020 general election and has relentlessly sued to overturn the results. Under her leadership, the party has grown increasingly more controversial and shifting further right. In the weeks following the election, a tweet posted to the party’s official Twitter account asked if supporters were willing to give their lives to fight the election’s results. 

Approximately 2,411 people left the party in the following week. 

On the Verge of Extreme

There’s no way to know definitively whether these events led to the mass exodus. 

A spokesperson for the Arizona GOP did not respond to inquiries from The Copper Courier about whether they were aware of the drop, their thoughts on the cause, and whether any steps were being made to address it. 

However, The Copper Courier spoke to multiple former Republicans about what drove them to leave the party and many cited what happened in January. For some, like former Republican John Hallgrimsson, it was the final straw after years of growing dissatisfied as the party shifted further toward the far right.

His disillusion with the party started with the nomination of Trump for president in 2016 and only grew in the following years. He couldn’t stomach the idea of voting for Trump in 2016 and instead wrote-in Utah independent Evan McMullin. He then voted for Biden in 2020. 

Then January happened, and Hallgrimsson could no longer recognize the Republican party that once belonged to McCain or Barry Goldwater. Instead, it was quickly slipping toward what the former Republican described as a “white nationalist party” on the verge of becoming even more extreme. 

“It was the combination of the terrorist storm of the Capitol and in the same week the Arizona Republican Party was not focusing on distancing themselves from that or how to retool and refocus on conservative values, but instead there was a focus on censuring McCain, Ducey, and Flake,” Hallgrimsson, who lives in Avondale, explained. 

“Out of self-defense, the Republican party should be thinking how we can move back to being centrist,” he added. 

He noted that many of the key players in the party — Ward. Biggs, and Gosar — were more focused on these antics instead of doing their jobs. Hallgrimsson lost hope that they would ever be able to return to traditional conservative values. 

Like thousands of others, Hallgrimsson switched his party registration to Independent on Jan. 10. 

He wasn’t surprised to hear he was part of a larger trend, but was shocked that there weren’t more. 

Have you switched political parties in recent weeks? Let reporter Bree Burkitt know at bree@couriernewsroom.com.