“Every daily newspaper in the state endorsed a different candidate beside me. It’s taking them a little time to get used to the idea that I was the people’s choice.” One could easily imagine Donald Trump saying that during one of his tirades against the press, or when he insists that, if “illegals” hadn’t cast ballots, he would have won the popular vote. But these words actually belong to former Arizona governor Evan Mecham, who served just fifteen months before the state Senate removed him from office in 1988 for questionable use of campaign contributions, diverting public funds to his car dealership, and obstructing justice. Mecham and Trump have a lot more in common than their disdain for reporters and a penchant for mixing their businesses with politics. Both perplexed the electorate, the media, and mainstream politicians about whether they were truly conservative. Mecham and Trump—and their followers—were and are undoubtedly a part of the American right. But despite claiming to be conservatives—Mecham did so constantly, while Trump only on a handful of occasions—their quixotic, conspiracy-minded, and often racist rhetoric frequently contradicted the traditions of conservative politics, even as it electrified many middle-class white voters.
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