Surviving the Meltdown

The Republicans look ready to implode— but in Nevada they may end up just fine

Illustration by Jesse Sutherland

Illustration by Jesse Sutherland

In its attempt to strangle, starve or otherwise maim Obamacare, the national Republican Party has proven itself willing to hold hostage both the functioning of the federal government, and—when the debt-ceiling discussion arrives later this month—the full faith and credit of the United States. In other words, the libertarian fantasy of a stateless state is very real to one of our two major national parties.

Nevada Republicans are somewhat less dramatic, but perhaps more interesting:

• The state party is disorganized and splintered. It ran up a debt, as Republicans invariably do. Robert Uithoven, who worked for the would-be presidential kingmaker Sheldon Adelson and former Governor Jim Gibbons, ran for state party chair. The incumbent, Michael McDonald, responded by attacking Uithoven’s supporters, including Governor Brian Sandoval and Senator Dean Heller—and then won the vote to keep his job. In criticizing Sandoval, he had support from the Nevada Policy Research Institute and other right-wing Republicans who think Sandoval likes taxes too much and blast him more than state Democratic leaders do.

• Sandoval draws fire from his party for the very policies that make him seem reasonable to others. Research firm IHS Global Insight predicts Nevada is one of just three states that won’t return to pre-recession employment levels until 2018. Republicans think that’s because taxes are too high. That leaves Sandoval trying to remind his party that he’s a great tax warrior, even though his centrist appeal comes from continuing the taxes passed in 2009.

• Sometimes reasonable isn’t so reasonable. Representatives Mark Amodei and Joe Heck, who also like to present themselves as clear-thinking men of moderation, voted with all but one other House Republican to keep the government operating only if Obamacare were defunded.

• Republicans are banking on low voter turnout. Assembly Minority Leader Pat Hickey of Reno said on a right-wing radio show, “We have some real opportunities in 2014. It is a great year in a non-presidential election. … Probably where we had a million voters out there in 2012, we have 700,000. A lot of minorities, a lot of younger people will not turn out in a non-presidential. It is a great year for Republicans.” Sad to say, he’s right on the history. Republicans did well in 2010 not only because they were energized, but also because too many Democratic voters stayed home. Also, other Republicans across the country have said much the same thing, and even backed voter suppression to emphasize the point. (Several Nevada Republicans condemned Hickey’s remarks.)

Taking all of this into account, you would think that Nevada, a purple state supposedly headed for pure blueness thanks to its Latino population and its generally effective Democratic apparatus, would be on its way to an era of Democratic ascendancy. But it’s just as likely that the GOP won’t lose much ground in the Silver State. Political experts expect Sandoval to be re-elected, benefiting in part from Democrats cowering in fear of him. Amodei’s district is becoming more Hispanic, but he should win. Democrats barely challenge Heck, a doctor, on his resistance to health care reform—or on the fact that he is one of the leaders in spending taxpayer money sending mail to taxpayers to tell us how little money he spends. Meanwhile, Hickey’s district has a 4,000-vote Republican advantage.

For every lefty email blast I get attacking Republicans, I get at least seven from right-wingers calling Obama a socialist who will seize my guns. Republicans may not know what they’re doing, but at least they know who they are, and they don’t mind telling us. Democrats don’t seem sure who they are, and they’re paying for it. Perhaps they could use some Obamacare. It will be good for us and help us live longer. It might even help their spines.

Michael Green is a professor of history at the College of Southern Nevada.