Column: Kari Lake talked smack about John McCain. Now she wants to take it back

FILE - Kari Lake, Republican candidate for Arizona governor, speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Dallas, Aug. 5, 2022. The Board of Supervisors in rural Cochise County in southeastern Arizona on Monday, Oct. 24 were debating a hand count of all ballots in the midterm election. A federal judge in August dismissed a lawsuit by Lake and Mark Finchem, Republican nominee for secretary of state, to require the state's officials to count ballots by hand in November because of unfounded claims of voting machine problems. (AP Photo/LM Otero, File)
Kari Lake attacked John McCain when it politically suited her. Now that she needs the support of his backers, she claims she was just kidding. (LM Otero / Associated Press)

Back when Kari Lake was a candidate for Arizona governor, she had some choice things to say about the late John McCain.

He was an arch-nemesis of Donald Trump and Lake, running as Trump in high heels, went after Arizona's longtime Republican senator with a vengeance.

"We drove a stake through the heart of the McCain machine," Lake told cheering supporters after winning the 2022 GOP primary, her jaw clenched as she pantomimed the fatal thrust.

She called McCain, who died of brain cancer in 2018, a loser and told his backers to "get the hell out" of a campaign event. She accused McCain's wife, Cindy, of being in cahoots with liberal billionaire George Soros to destroy America.

Never mind.

Turns out it was all just good fun.

The loser label was used "in jest," Lake, who's running for Senate after her failed bid for governor, said last week. "I think if John McCain — who had a great sense of humor — would have heard it, he would have laughed."

But McCain's daughter, Meghan, a fierce defender of his legacy, was not amused.

"Kari Lake is trying to walk back her continued attacks on my Dad (& family) and all of his loyal supporters, " McCain wrote in a social media post after Lake laid on the, um, whitewash in an interview on Phoenix radio station KTAR-FM. "Guess she realized she can't become a Senator without us.

"We see you for who you are," McCain added, "and are repulsed by it."

Read more: How suburbanites, Latinos and the ghost of John McCain turned Arizona into a presidential battleground

Lake's cringey response — "my dad passed away from cancer, too," she wrote on X — was an invitation to buy McCain "a beer, a coffee or lunch and pick your brain about how we can work together to strengthen our state."

McCain's reply was rather more emphatic: "NO PEACE, BITCH!"

It's not hard to understand Lake's change of heart.

Strike that. Change of heart suggests a level of introspection and sincerity that seems beyond her.

It's not hard to understand Lake's change of tone and attitude. There are glass panes that are less transparent.

She dove into the Senate race after apparently giving up hopes of becoming Trump's running mate. (So much for all that time spent hanging at Mar-a-Lago.)

The contest is expected to pit Lake against Democratic Rep. Ruben Gallego for the seat held by independent Sen. Kyrsten Sinema.

Sinema has yet to say if she'll seek reelection, but each passing day makes her candidacy appear less likely.

In a state nearly evenly split among Democrats, Republicans and those registered with neither party, "Kari Lake cannot win... without messaging and then getting the support of moderate Republicans and right-leaning independents," said Barrett Marson, an Arizona GOP strategist who is not supporting any candidate in the Senate race.

John McCain campaigning for president in 2008 with his daughter, Meghan
Meghan McCain, campaigning with her father, the late Sen. John McCain, during his 2008 presidential bid, rejected Lake's overture to put aside the past after Lake attacked him. (Stephan Savoia / Associated Press)

Those are the voters, he noted, "who propelled John McCain to more than a dozen statewide victories in his lifetime." In fact, though he was frequently on the outs with the far-right wing of the Republican Party — which today is Trump's political base — the former senator didn't lose a single Arizona election in his more than three-decade-long political career.

So Lake has gone from striking out at McCain to sucking up.

Many, though, aren't buying her attempted reconciliation.

"This amends tour is all deeply politically motivated and not sincere," said Chuck Coughlin, a former Republican pollster. The longtime McCain backer left the GOP and became an independent when Trump denigrated McCain for spending 5 1/2 years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam. "I don't know anyone I've met that believes she's sincere."

Lake's overture to the McCain family is only part of her attempted makeover.

After spending months asserting the gubernatorial election was stolen, Lake suggested she now wants to move on from her bogus claims. "I don't want to sit and look backwards," she said on KTAR.

But it may not be that simple.

Read more: Column: Kari Lake is a deceitful fraud. Now she'll have to defend her lies in court

A top election official, Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer, has filed a defamation suit against his fellow Republican over Lake’s incessant falsehoods about election fraud. In December, a judge rejected Lake's assertion her statements were "rhetorical hyperbole" — perhaps she thought "just joshing" wouldn't have had the same legal heft — and allowed the suit to proceed.

The Arizona Supreme Court is weighing Lake's appeal.

The courts have done a good job holding Trump's enablers, including disgraced attorney and fallen 9/11 hero Rudolph W. Giuliani, to account for lying and defaming others on his behalf.

Lake should be forced to pay up as well. Maybe it will force others to think twice before making such reckless and irresponsible claims.

As for her Senate bid, voters should consider what kind of person smears a war hero and deeply revered figure like McCain, insults his widow and then insists, when it's politically expedient, that it was all a lark and bygones should be bygones.

Her shameless, shameful actions and blatant attempt to Etch-A-Sketch away the past is an insult to anyone with even a modicum of intelligence.

There's nothing funny about such a phony.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.