Arpaio was pardoned by Trump in 2017 and last year mounted a run for the U.S. Senate. That faltered badly, thus providing what Michelle Cottle of the New York Times called “a fitting end to the public life of a truly sadistic man.”
Well, not exactly.
Arpaio recently said he intends to again seek the office he held for 24 years, hoping to wrest it from the man who defeated him, Paul Penzone. “I plan on winning,” Arpaio told Yahoo News in a recent phone conversation. “I am going to win."
Related: Joe Arpaio through the years
Joe Arpaio through the years
Joe Arpaio through the years
Joe Arpaio, sheriff of Maricopa County, in Arizona, and called 'America's Toughest Sheriff', had the controversial idea to set-up a 'Tent City' as an extension of the Maricopa County Jail. (Photo by Andrew Lichtenstein/Sygma via Getty Images)
PHOENIX, AZ - MAY 28: Prisoners dressed in stripped inmate informs walk under the hot Arizona sun at tent city jail opened near Phoenix by the Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Arpaio claims to be 'the toughest Sheriff in the United States.' (Photo credit should read JEAN-LOUP SENSE/AFP/Getty Images)
Teenage inmates inside a tent at the Maricopa County 'Pup Tent City' jail complex for juveniles in Phoenix December 23, 1998. Pup Tents is the third in a series of controversial Tent Cities that Sheriff Joe Arpaio has opened since 1993, all in an effort to ease jail overcrowding, provide more jail space for arrestees and save taxpayers millions of dollars. Males were introduced to Tent City in 1993, and convicted females went into Tents in 1995. The entire complex today houses about 1,400 convicted males and females. (photo by Mike Fiala)
PHOENIX - JULY 8: Barney, a three year old St. Bernard, stares out at inmates who have stopped by his cell for a visit at the jail's fourth floor Maricopa Animal Safe Hospice (MASH) July 8, 2005 in Phoenix, Arizona. 17 female inmates, whom volunteer and go through a formal interview process for the privileged duty of caring for the animals, care for 20 dogs and 31 cats in the five year old program started by Sheriff Joe Arpaio. The inmates have two days removed from their jail sentence for each day worked in the unit. The program takes in animals that have been abused, abandoned or are evidence in a criminal case and keeps them until they are adopted. Inmates feed, clean, groom and provide obedience lessons for the 587 animals (dogs, cats, birds, horses) that have gone through the hospice since it began. (Photo by Jeff Topping/Getty Images)
[UNVERIFIED CONTENT] Joe Arpaio, 'America's Toughest Sheriff' at the annual Fiesta del Sol parade in Phoenix.
PHOENIX - FEBRUARY 11: Maricopa County Sheriff Officer Joe Arpaio speaks during a news conference regarding an immigration raid his officers conducted at HMI Contracting February 11, 2009 in Phoenix, Arizona. Several undocumented workers were arrested after Arpaio ordered the raid on the company, which has a contract with the County Board of Supervisors to do landscaping at county buildings. (Photo by Joshua Lott/Getty Images)
PHOENIX, AZ - APRIL 17: Inmates walk as they are moved after being ordered by Maricopa County Sheriff Officer Joe Arpaio (R), looking on, to be placed into new housing to open up new beds for maximum security inmates on April 17, 2009 in Phoenix, Arizona. Arpaio has been facing criticism from Hispanic activists and lawmakers, alleging that Arpaio's crackdown methods on illegal immigrants involve racial profiling. (Photo by Joshua Lott/Getty Images)
PHOENIX, AZ - APRIL 17: Inmates walk as they are moved after being ordered by Maricopa County Sheriff Officer Joe Arpaio to be placed into new housing to open up new beds for maximum security inmates on April 17, 2009 in Phoenix, Arizona. Arpaio has been facing criticism from Hispanic activists and lawmakers, alleging that Arpaio's crackdown methods on illegal immigrants involve racial profiling. (Photo by Joshua Lott/Getty Images)
PHOENIX - APRIL 29: Maricopa County sheriff Joe Arpaio speaks to participants of the Border Security Expo on April 29, 2010 in Phoenix, Arizona. Arpaio, promoted by his supporters as 'America's Toughest Sheriff', voiced his support for Arizona's new immigration enforcement law. His deputies conduct frequent sweeps to arrest undocumented immigrants in his county, which includes the state capitol Phoenix. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
PHOENIX, AZ - APRIL 17: Maricopa County Sheriff Officer Joe Arpaio's name plate and business cards sit on his desk at his office on April 17, 2009 in Phoenix, Arizona. Arpaio has been facing criticism from Hispanic activists and lawmakers, alleging that Arpaio's crackdown methods on illegal immigrants involve racial profiling. (Photo by Joshua Lott/Getty Images)
PHOENIX - APRIL 30: Undocumented immigrant Jose Hechavaria (R), 43, stands with fellow prisoners in the yard of the Maricopa County Tent City Jail on April 30, 2010 in Phoenix, Arizona. Hechavaria, a 13-year resident of Arizona, said he was arrested by sheriff's deputies on a DUI charge and then held because of his illegal immigration statues. Some 200 undocumented immigrants are currently serving time in the facility. The controversial jail is run by Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who has been an outspoken critic of illegal immigration and a supporter of Arizona's new tough immigration law. Prisoners at the facility are fed twice a day, sleep in non-airconditioned tents and are issued striped prison uniforms and pink underwear and socks. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio speaks with a reporter outside his famous tent city jail for misdemeanor offenses May 3, 2010. A few hours later he officially announced he would not be running for Arizona Governor saying, I have come so far and accomplished so much in the past 18 years as Sheriff that to leave now just doesnï¿½t make sense,ï¿½ said Arpaio. 'Right now, we are standing in the cross-hairs of history in this state and as Sheriff of the most populous county in Arizona, there is much work yet to do.' AFP Photo/Paul J. Richards (Photo credit should read PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images)
Maricopa Country Detention Officer Rene Ansley holds up one of the pink boxer style underware male inmates wear inside Sheriff Joe Arpaio's tent city jail May 3, 2010, in Phoenix, Arizona. The inmates also have matching pink socks. This area of the tent city houses misdemeanor offenders. AFP Photo/Paul J. Richards (Photo credit should read PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images)
RANCHO BERNARDO, CA - AUGUST 10: Sheriff Joe Arpaio speaks during a visit to the Rancho Bernardo Inn on August 10, 2010 in Rancho Bernardo, California. Arpaio, who is Sheriff of Maricopa County in Arizona, gained national attention for using deputies to conduct raids to apprehend illegal immigrants and building large outdoor prison tents to house inmates. (Photo by Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images)
LAS VEGAS - OCTOBER 19: Maricopa County, Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio speaks at a Tea Party Express rally at Stoney's Rockin' Country October 19, 2010 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The tour, part of an initiative to get conservatives elected to the House and Senate, will move across country and conclude on November 1, 2010 in Concord, New Hampshire the day before the contentious mid-term elections (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
CRESTON, IA - DECEMBER 27: Texas governor and Republican candidate for president Rick Perry (C) walks with Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio (L) before a campaign stop at Adams Street Espresso on December 27, 2011 in Creston, Iowa. With one week to go before the Iowa caucuses, Rick Perry continues his bus tour through Iowa. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
PHOENIX, AZ - MARCH 11: Immigrant inmates line up for breakfast at the Maricopa County Tent City jail on March 11, 2013 in Phoenix, Arizona. Striped uniforms and pink undergarments are standard issue at the facility. The tent jail, run by Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, houses undocumented immigrants who are serving up to one year after being convicted of crime in the county. Although many of immigrants have lived in the U.S for years, often with families, most will be deported to Mexico after serving their sentences. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
PHOENIX, AZ - MARCH 11: Immigrant inmates walk for excercise at the Maricopa County Tent City jail on March 11, 2013 in Phoenix, Arizona. The striped uniforms and pink undergarments are standard issue at the facility. The tent jail, run by Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, houses undocumented immigrants who are serving up to one year after being convicted of crime in the county. Although many of immigrants have lived in the U.S for years, often with families, most will be deported to Mexico after serving their sentences. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
PHOENIX, AZ - JUNE 3: Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio salutes Muhannad Al Kusairy during a meeting at his office in Phoenix, Arizona on Monday, June 3, 2013. Al Kusairy is hoping to taking steps to become a Maricopa County Deputy Sheriff once he becomes a citizen. (Photo by Nikki Kahn/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
MARSHALLTOWN, IA - JANUARY 26: Sheriff Joe Arpaio (L) of Maricopa County, Arizona listens as Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks to the press prior to a rally on January 26, 2016 in Marshalltown, Iowa. Arpaio today announced his support for Trump's presidential bid. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
CLEVELAND, OH - JULY 19: Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio is surrounded by protesters and members of the media at the the site of the Republican National Convention (RNC) in downtown Cleveland on the second day of the convention on July 19, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. Many people have stayed away from downtown due to road closures and the fear of violence. An estimated 50,000 people are expected in Cleveland, including hundreds of protesters and members of the media. The four-day Republican National Convention kicked off on July 18. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
CLEVELAND, OH - JULY 21: Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio gestures to the crowd while delivering a speech on the fourth day of the Republican National Convention on July 21, 2016 at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump received the number of votes needed to secure the party's nomination. An estimated 50,000 people are expected in Cleveland, including hundreds of protesters and members of the media. The four-day Republican National Convention kicked off on July 18. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
CLEVELAND, OH - JULY 21:
Sheriff Joe Arpaio exits the stage after delivering a speech at the Republican National Convention on Thursday, July 21, 2016. (Photo by Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
CLEVELAND, OH - JULY 19: Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio takes part in the convention openings on the second day of the Republican National Convention on July 19, 2016 at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. An estimated 50,000 people are expected in Cleveland, including hundreds of protesters and members of the media. The four-day Republican National Convention kicked off on July 18. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
None of this deters Arpaio. “There's a lot of unfinished work to get done,” he said, though it is not clear how Penzone, a former Phoenix police officer, has failed to keep Maricopans safe. Some toughness must be missing. And toughness is what Arpaio always wanted to project, as when he called his Tent City jail a “concentration camp.” It was a point of pride.
Arpaio, at least, is confident he’ll win. “I'm not saying it’s in the bag,” the former sheriff said, speaking with the assurance of a frontrunner, a six-time incumbent, a presidential kingmaker. He knows what people say about him — he makes too many denunciations of the media not to.
“I’m not going back to be vindictive,” Arpaio said. He has punished enemies before. Maybe age has mellowed him. Probably it has not.
Arpaio is now 87 years old, making Trump, Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden — average age of nearly 76 — look like young men. And though his voice has grown shaky, it is still full of the same guile and disputation that made him a hero to the right and a villain to much of the rest of the country.
Arpaio says he has a secret: “I drink Italian olive oil,” declared the son of Italian immigrants, who was raised in Massachusetts. The more you talk to Arpaio, the more you hear the locutions of Six Corners, the neighborhood in Springfield, Mass., where he grew up. It is also home to Mulberry Street, made famous by Dr. Seuss.
But there isn’t much Seussian whimsy to Arpaio’s worldview. Things are grim in his world, the “American carnage” envisioned by Trump in his inaugural address long underway. His are the worries and fears of the Northeastern white working class, grafted onto the stark borderland landscape of Arizona.
He and Trump were both born on June 14, as Arpaio proudly points out. “President Trump is my hero,” he says, “and I am not ashamed to say it.”
Even before Trump was elected, Arpaio demonstrated that immigration policies that seemed excessively harsh to many — like his infamous tent cities, where detainees baked in relentless heat, as well as immigration raids — would play well to what he calls a “silent majority” of voters supposedly uneasy with the nation’s all-too-open borders.
The two also shared a singular obsession, their Moby-Dick a presumably faked birth certificate that showed Barack Obama to be a product of some nation other than the United States. Arpaio had been an early supporter of Trump’s “birtherism” conspiracy theory, going so far as to send Maricopa County officials to Hawaii in 2012 to “investigate” the matter.
Trump dropped the issue, however reluctantly, during the presidential campaign. Arpaio did not, and has not to this day.
“Why don’t you come down and look at all the evidence I have?” he said, hinting at some trove that not even Alex Jones has managed to unearth. “Let’s see the real birth certificate.”
Obama did produce his real birth certificate, many years ago, but that seems beside the point.
“I’m not a conspiracy guy. I’m not stupid,” Arpaio said with a somewhat touching hint of self-awareness. He then launched into an explanation about how he is a victim of the Clinton political machine, an explanation that includes the dossier of compromising Trump information compiled by the former British intelligence agent Christopher Steele and the law firm Perkins Coie, which paid for part of Steele’s work.
“You begin to wonder about corruption and swamps,” Arpaio said, explaining that he is a victim of Perkins Coie too. And also of George Soros, whom he accuses of funding Penzone’s campaign. In fact, Soros gave Penzone $2 million, but Arpaio neglects to mention that he had $12 million at the time, or that Penzone beat him by 10 points. This was no thinnest-of-margins loss that could have credibly kept Arpaio thinking Maricopa County longed for his return.
In case that was at all ambiguous, he finished last in 2018’s three-person Republican primary for the U.S. Senate.
And yet Trump and Arpaio recently met at a hotel in Phoenix, and though Arpaio wouldn’t say what the meeting was about, he announced his desire to run for Maricopa sheriff once more shortly after that meeting. The White House would not say whether Trump will endorse him.
As for Arpaio, he remains a true believer, his faith unshaken by anything that has transpired over the last two years. “That wall should be up there to the moon,” he said of Trump’s long-promised wall along the U.S.-Mexican border. At the same time, he seems to show some hesitation about Trump’s policy of separating children from their families. “It’s sad to separate families,” he conceded. The concession is small, but significant coming from the self-proclaimed America’s toughest sheriff. Not that he blames Trump for those images of children in cages. “Why isn’t Congress doing something?” he wondered.
And lest you call him a racist, Arpaio wants you to know that he has “grandkids with certain racial backgrounds, OK?” He means that they are Hispanic. And even Arpaio, the man who put prisoners in pink underwear, longs for a time of greater civility. “I got more done with blueberry pie and whiskey than with the big stick,” he said of working with Mexican authorities in the 1970s.
But in this age of deep political division, of accusation and recrimination, no amount of whiskey is going to convince Arpaio’s opponents that he has anything but malicious motives. But he is not done yet, drinking his olive oil, yearning to return to the desert, where he could once do as he pleased.