Lowden, Laxalt and the Gift of Irony

Sometimes political rhetoric doesn’t even make sense to the politicians

Nevada Republicans have of late provided a feast for connoisseurs of irony.

Recently, the GOP candidates for lieutenant governor, Mark Hutchison and Sue Lowden, debated on Jon Ralston’s TV show.

Lowden attacked Hutchison as pro-tax, which he isn’t. They agreed Obamacare is the end of Western civilization, but Lowden said Hutchison is for it because the state accepted it, while he pointed out he was the state’s lawyer in the lawsuit against it. They agreed that the Arizona legislation to discriminate against LGBT people, and anyone else for that matter, was fine, although Lowden didn’t know what was in the bill and decided the real issue is the danger of removing “under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance.

The two candidates were appealing (or pandering) to the base, which is well to the right. That makes sense: that’s who turns out in the primary.

Thus the ironies. When Lowden chaired the party in 2008, she and Bob Beers combined at the state convention to block those even further to the right than they are from taking over the party. When she ran for the Senate in 2010, she was too liberal for the base, which chose Sharron Angle. But now she represents that wing in this primary.

That’s partly because the Republican far right is upset with Governor Brian Sandoval, for much the same reason many on the far left have been upset with Barack Obama: He didn’t do everything exactly as they wished. But Sandoval will cruise to reelection, thanks to business, gaming and ad agency support (and to the Democratic Party folding like a $2 suitcase).

So, without Sandoval to attack, the far right has to do the next best thing: attack Hutchison, Sandoval’s personal choice for lieutenant governor. Hutchison’s voting record is conservative, but not conservative enough. The shift in focus from Sandoval to Hutchison is old political two-step: Critics have long refrained from attacking a popular politician and instead trained their sights on “the people around him.”

Meanwhile, Adam Laxalt, the GOP choice for attorney general, attacked the state’s failure to defend its constitutional amendment against gay marriage—meaning that he was critical of not only Catherine Cortez Masto, the Democrat he would like to succeed, but also two less likely culprits: Sandoval and Abraham Lincoln.

Sandoval has said Nevada’s ban on gay marriage, approved by the voters in 2000 and 2002, is “no longer defensible.” Cortez Masto declined to continue to defend the ban in court. Laxalt countered, in a statement published in the Las Vegas Sun, “In consecutive elections, the voters defined marriage as they saw fit, and it is now part of our Constitution. I believe if the voters want to amend that marriage definition within our Constitution, they have the ability and the right to do so.”

Back in the age of Lincoln, the Republican Party’s founders took the position that certain rights were so fundamental that they shouldn’t be left up to a vote of the people. Lincoln himself blamed the concept of popular sovereignty for a “gradual and steady debauching of public opinion.” It’s the same logic behind the Bill of Rights: Majority isn’t always right, and it doesn’t always rule.