Decades ago, Pogo famously said, "we have met the enemy, and it is us".
Today, we have met the enemy, and it is the Republican Party. In Arizona, though, the party has had a lot of help from Charlie Kirk and Turning Point USA.
The young conservative activist had a plan, and he wanted the veteran Arizona House speaker to push it.
The two men huddled at a barbecue joint in January as the activist — Tyler Bowyer, the chief operating officer of the pro-Trump youth group Turning Point USA — unspooled his demands: Republican legislators, he insisted, should carve up booming and fast-diversifying Maricopa County, diluting the power of Democrats in a state that had helped deliver Joe Biden the presidency.
But the Republican House speaker, Rusty Bowers, ultimately balked at redrawing the state’s map to seize partisan advantage. As the pair’s political differences grew, the activist, who was half the speaker’s age, vowed revenge.
“Rusty, I will be working toward ensuring you do not win your election in 2022,” Bowyer warned in a March text message obtained by The Washington Post. “I appreciate your service, I will do whatever it takes to ensure you are retired.”
Bowers ultimately lost his bid for re-election.
The takedown of one of the most powerful Republicans in the state illustrates the rise of Turning Point USA and its network of affiliates, which have pushed beyond their core mission of energizing college conservatives to turn Arizona into a laboratory for a new brand of Republican organizing. The decade-old nonprofit organization has helped transform the state GOP, seeking to elevate acolytes of former president Donald Trump and purge old-guard centrists who led in the tradition of the late Republican senator John McCain.
The group’s success is reflected in the Republican midterm election slate — nearly every statewide candidate and many of those farther down the ballot have embraced Trump’s false claims that the 2020 election was rigged. The political career of Kari Lake, the state’s GOP gubernatorial nominee, took off at a Turning Point event last year, and she has filled her campaign staff with former Turning Point employees. Lake has promised, if elected, to overhaul how votes are cast and counted in this pivotal swing state.
“They have a bigger impact than any other Republican group I know,” said Jeff DeWit, a former state treasurer in Arizona who served as chief operating officer for both of Trump’s presidential campaigns. “They’re more powerful than the RNC,” he said, referring to the Republican National Committee.
Founder Charlie Kirk, now 29, was the 10th-biggest “superspreader” of misinformation about the 2020 election on Twitter, according to the Election Integrity Partnership, a consortium of researchers. Kirk encouraged his followers to attend the Jan. 6, 2021, rally that preceded the assault on the U.S. Capitol, and a website promoting the rally listed Turning Point Action, the group’s political arm, as a backer.