For those who think the political system works best when both Republicans and Democrats (and other parties, if possible) are healthy, the condition of Nevada’s Republican Party is disheartening. And unfortunately, most of its ill health is self-inflicted.
It’s hard to believe that it was just 10 months ago that the state GOP accomplished its greatest sweep since 1890, the last time Republicans took both houses of the Legislature and all state government offices elected statewide.
Granted, poor 2014 turnout by the Democratic base contributed to that result, but even with that factor, it’s unlikely the GOP could repeat today. Everywhere we turn, Republicans are attacking Republicans or even trying to recall Republicans.
A newcomer to the state, Jim Hartman, ran an essay in some newspapers harshly critical of Republican members of the 2015 Nevada Legislature for supporting presidential caucuses instead of a presidential primary. This may seem a thin reed on which to hang outrage, but he did: “Thanks to a few Assembly Republicans who couldn’t see the forest from the trees, Nevada’s 434,000 registered Republicans are essentially disenfranchised from choosing their preferred presidential nominee. They will be twice disenfranchised if the (party) repeats the undemocratic caucus fiascos they perpetrated in both 2008 and 2012. Should that occur, Nevada will likely lose its ‘first four’ status in the 2020 nomination process, a prospect sure to cause regret among those who didn’t see fit to fix what was ailing us while they still could.”
First of all, Nevada qualified for the first four because it is a caucus state and would lose that status if it went to a primary. Second, it’s difficult to see how Nevada Republicans could be disenfranchised by caucuses, which have been used by both parties every election year (not just in presidential years) since statehood — more than 70 times. Every resident who chooses to attend the caucuses can do so. More to the point, Hartman’s strong language seems unwarranted by a simple difference of opinion over which method of convention delegate selection to use.
As it happens, Hartman’s overreaction was followed by an overreaction from his fellow Douglas County Republican Shawn Meehan. Mr. Meehan began by disposing of Mr. Hartman: “Mr. Hartman is a resident of Douglas County but I have never seen him at any county or state Republican meetings. His lack of participation in the Nevada Republican Party while espousing recurring opinions critical of it makes one wonder who he is working for.”
Then Meehan turned to GOP leaders and denounced them — Gov. Brian Sandoval and Washoe County Sen. Ben Kieckhefer, to be specific.
As it happens, in another county, the Washoe Republican organization adopted a resolution that similarly criticizes party leaders, naming Sandoval, Kieckhefer, and four other legislative Republicans who, “due to their betrayal of the trust of Republicans, have made themselves unwelcome to enjoy the privilege of being honorary members of the Washoe County Republican Central Committee.”
The resolution further calls for “recall of any politician who voted for the tax increase (approved by the 2015 Nevada Legislature) who is not up for re-election. We further recommend the defeat at the polls of any politician who did vote for the tax increase and who is up for re-election.”
If this were carried out, the Nevada Republican Party would be decimated.
Kieckhefer, for one, is a rising star in the party who has put together a record that most in his home county of Washoe are likely to find admirable.
With Republicans eating their young, it’s difficult to keep straight who are the real Republicans. Those on the far right are fond of attacking merely conservative Republicans as RINOs (Republicans in name only). But former Nevada Republican chair Bob Cashell has said, “I knew Ronald Reagan. He asked me to join the Republican Party when I was a conservative Democrat, and I’m still a conservative Republican. … Ronald Reagan felt there was room for all of us in the tent to agree to disagree and not say vile things about each other. … The RINOs are the other people to the far, far right.”
And at the rate they’re going, those Republicans In Name Only are going to send the party into the next election crippled. Nevada political analyst Fred Lokken says they speak for “this 19th century mentality of ultra conservatives which is only a fraction of the population.” They are using the GOP as a vehicle for their own narrow agendas, not for a full Republican agenda.
Dennis Myers is a veteran Nevada journalist.