A year ago, if you had predicted Cresent Hardy would be elected to Congress, Michele Fiore would be in (and out of) the leadership of the Nevada Assembly and Barbara Cegavske would be our secretary of state, you would have been sent to the Nevada State Home for the Prediction Impaired. And by now, you would have been released.
Hardy, Fiore and Cegavske are the poster children for the obvious political story of 2014—the Republican sweep at the polls—but they also represent the impact of that story. Amid all of the talk of who’s up and who’s down, we tend to forget that those elected to office are then put in a position to do something for us … or to us. And that just might be the most significant takeaway from the November election.
Led by surprise winners such as Hardy, the GOP strengthened its position in Washington, D.C., adding to its House majority while taking over the Senate. Hardy doesn’t figure to become the toast of 24/7 cable or a name on everybody’s lips, but he and his views exemplify what will be a more conservative Congress.
They also represent, from Nevada’s perspective, a more significant story: Harry Reid will no longer be the Senate majority leader. Whatever your opinion of Reid—and there are certainly those who love him and those who loathe him, even if many who loathe him don’t know exactly why—he’s still the key cog in Nevada’s delegation on Capitol Hill. That hasn’t changed. This hasn’t changed either: Reid is running for re-election in two years, and whatever he does between now and then will be viewed in that context.
At the same time, unless something unforeseen happens to change his mind, Governor Brian Sandoval won’t be Reid’s opponent. But until Sandoval definitively and publicly makes that proclamation, everything he does will be seen in the context of whether he might run against Reid.
Meanwhile, Fiore’s selection as majority leader, which was fraught with more twists than the entire set of Sherlock Holmes novels, speaks to Republican success in Nevada. The Assembly went from 27-15 Democratic to 25-17 Republican; the state Senate flipped, too, though that seemed more plausible.
What does all this mean, both in the game of politics and real life? For one thing, the Republican Party was successful for a bitterly divided group—and it is indeed divided, between the very conservative and the very, very conservative. That wasn’t necessarily a problem in Assembly and state Senate districts during the campaign, but it could be a big problem when they try to govern.
Still another problem is that Democrats, especially Hispanic Democrats, didn’t vote. Why they didn’t can be attributed to a combination of “midtermitis”—a disease that often afflicts Democrats who don’t understand that nonpresidential elections do matter—and anger that Democrats, and especially President Barack Obama, didn’t produce immigration reform. This, too, will affect what unfolds in 2015 as Democrats try to figure out how to convince Hispanics to return to the polls—and vote for them.
Republicans, of course, will have something to say about that, which brings us to Cegavske’s victory. Republicans also swept all six statewide offices in 2002, so it isn’t as though their 2014 victories are unprecedented. But the winners that year included Governor Kenny Guinn, Secretary of State Dean Heller and Attorney General Brian Sandoval, none of whom was known as tilting all the way to the right.
Conversely, no one can question the right-wing bona fides of Cegavske or Attorney General-elect Adam Laxalt. Take, for instance, Cegavske’s support for stricter voter ID laws, which many legislative Republicans seem likely to support, even if it might hurt them with Hispanic GOP voters. It’s conceivable that Sandoval will also back Cegavske’s plan, even though the national party has involved the governor in efforts to cultivate the Hispanic vote—assuming they’re permitted to vote.
Bottom line: Without question, the story of 2014 was how Republicans prevailed at the polls. But the story of 2015 will be about the success or failure of their policies—and what those results mean politically. Indeed, politics and policy are inseparable. Much may have changed, but that fact never will.
Michael Green is an associate professor of history at UNLV.