Dean Heller and Adam Laxalt

Are Democrats Thinking Their Way Out of Victory?

Would you mind if Democrats learned to be mindless?

Nevada Democrats do seem to have their acts together. They kept their heads in 2016 when everyone around them was losing theirs, and accomplished a good deal of what they wanted at the 2017 legislature. And 2018 seems to be coming into focus.…

Representative Jacky Rosen will run for the Senate after only a few months in Congress, and the Democrat could face a serious primary challenge. Whoever wins faces a vulnerable Republican, Dean Heller, the only GOP Senator up for reelection in a state Hillary Clinton carried. Heller has managed to defend the Republican lack of transparency on health care legislation after falsely claiming Democrats did much the same thing on Obamacare. He also said both yes and no on how he’s going to vote on the un-Christian and anti-life bill his white male colleagues generated without a woman or person of color being involved before finally saying he wouldn’t vote for the bill in its current form with Governor Brian Sandoval standing next to him—because Heller is not only bipartisan, but brave.

County Commissioner Steve Sisolak has declared his candidacy for governor. He may face a Democratic primary—his commission colleague Chris Giunchigliani is making noises (this could make the commission meetings must-see-TV). The winner of that contest will face Adam Laxalt, grandson of a major Nevada political figure. He’s also the hirer of outside lawyers who charge the state hundreds of thousands of dollars to do legal work that Laxalt’s people would be able to do if they were members of the Nevada bar, and he is a defender of Sheldon Adelson’s interests to the point that a Gaming Control Board chairman who’s never had the whiff of a taint of a sniff of a scandal attached to him decided he’d better record a conversation with Laxalt.


Democrats think when they should act, and Republicans act when they should think.


These campaigns will unfold with Trump registering the lowest approval ratings of any president at this point in an administration since polling was done with an abacus. But Republicans have won each special election so far, so why not think it can continue?

Well, let’s be fair. In each election, the Democratic candidate did far better than she or he normally would. In Georgia and South Carolina, in blood-red districts, the Democratic House candidate came within three points of the Republican.

But Republicans still won, and the reason is simple. To quote Charlie Pierce, America’s best political blogger (well, my favorite, anyway): “Through decades of constant and unrelenting pressure, and through finagling with the franchise in a hundred ways in a thousand places, the Republicans have compressed the votes they need into an unmovable, diamond-hard core that will vote in robotic lockstep for whoever it is that wins a Republican primary. In American politics today, mindlessness is one of the strongest weapons you can have. Republicans vote for Republicans in Republican districts.”

That Democrats lack mindlessness can be proved even without referring to certain lefties in 2016. Consider the response to recent Democratic defeats from D. Taylor, the Unite Here leader who was the driving force behind the Culinary in Las Vegas for so many years. Besides properly attacking the president, the speaker, the Senate majority leader and the GOP congressional caucus, he declared, “Hope is not a strategy and ‘resisting’ is not a plan. The Democratic Party is out of excuses on its electoral performances.… In red states or blue states, Democrats should be able to compete—and win.”

As Pierce shows, some of that point is debatable, but then we recall his union didn’t do all it could in 2014, out of displeasure with some provisions of Obamacare and the lack of movement on immigration reform. The Culinary Union was being mindful when it needed to be mindless.

Heller is in the Senate because in 2012, Shelley Berkley ran 85,000 votes behind Barack Obama while Heller ran 26,000 ahead of Mitt Romney. She won Clark County by 60,000 while Obama took it by 100,000. Obama carried Washoe County by 7,000, Heller by 20,000. Both large counties bear some credit or blame, depending on your political views.

Berkley faced attacks over ethics, but also Washoe choosing the northerner over the southerner, regardless of party. Did Democrats ask themselves who would most strongly support Obama, or was more “acceptable”? A minimal number of Republicans ask those questions. If more did, we might have a more mindful president.

Laxalt’s grandfather ran smart campaigns. But he won his first statewide race, for lieutenant governor, when Democrats refused to unite behind his opponent because of previous political battles. They were mindful when they should have been mindless, and have paid for it ever since.

And thereby hangs the tale. Democrats think when they should act, and Republicans act when they should think. If Democrats don’t want Senator Heller and Governor Laxalt, they need to grasp that distinction.

Michael Green is an associate professor of history at UNLV

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