Column: It’s more than just a Senate race. Trump’s Big Lie and the Jan. 6 riot are on Nevada’s ballot
The Big Lie — the idea that the 2020 election was stolen, that a corrupt election system allowed it, that President Biden wrongly took office and former President Trump belongs in the White House — is on the ballot next month in Nevada.
But the state presents a test of whether one of those directly responsible for the reckless and corrosive lie that led to the Jan. 6 riot will get the punishment he deserves, or be rewarded by taking a seat in the U.S. Senate.
Republican Adam Laxalt faces Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, who is running for a second term and is widely considered her party’s most endangered incumbent. The contest appears to be a toss-up. The fact that control of the Senate may rest on the outcome makes the stakes that much higher.
Plenty of Republican candidates embraced Trump’s spurious election claims after the fact as a way to sate the party base and win a GOP primary. But Laxalt, a former state attorney general, didn’t just jump on the ex-president’s election-denying bandwagon. He helped build it.
As co-chairman of Trump’s Nevada campaign, Laxalt led efforts to overturn Biden’s 2020 victory in the state, filing a batch of groundless lawsuits, pushing phony claims of voter fraud and sowing unwarranted doubts about the integrity of balloting overseen by Nevada’s top election official, a fellow Republican.
After the Jan. 6 insurrection, which was stoked by those kinds of falsehoods, Laxalt accused the media of hyping the assault on the Capitol, and bemoaned not the death and destruction sown by the rioters, but rather Trump’s loss of a favorite megaphone.
“That fateful day in January when they pulled him off of social media and pulled him off of Twitter,” Laxalt lamented. “People felt that in their stomach.”
Republicans need just five more seats to take control of the House. The battle for the Senate could go into overtime.
More than any Senate candidate, Cortez Masto has made the Big Lie and Jan. 6 central to her campaign, running harrowing footage of the violence in TV ads and touting the support of law enforcement officials who’ve endorsed her campaign, in part because of her opponent’s recklessness.
“Laxalt could not bring himself to show an ounce of remorse for his actions,” Cortez Masto said at an appearance last week with peace officers in Las Vegas. “It is unforgivable, and Nevada will not forget his actions.”
That, however, is not altogether clear.
The state has some of the highest gas prices in the nation, grocery prices have soared, and rents have skyrocketed, making inflation a major concern for the many here living paycheck to paycheck. The economy may have bounced back from its pandemic depths, but it doesn’t feel that way to those still struggling to recover from the COVID-related shutdowns that decimated the tourist industry, the state’s lifeblood.
Crime is also at the top of many minds.
Without minimizing what happened Jan. 6, Pat Hickey, a former Republican state Assembly leader, suggested, “Nevadans may be more impacted by what happened on Oct. 6” — a reference to an apparently random attack last week on the Las Vegas Strip in which two people were stabbed to death and six were injured.
For some, the assault on the Capitol is just another issue, like education or immigration, seen through a partisan lens.
“They’ve blown it so far out of proportion,” said Republican Roland Anderson, a handyman in Henderson who, at age 77, blames inflation for preventing his retirement. “With the exception of a few weird people, which you always have in groups like that, I don’t think people there protesting were that disrespectful.”
Even some who recognize the horror of Jan. 6 have other priorities this election season.
“I believe it was an insurrection. I believe it was an attack on democracy and it just galls me how many people, especially on the Republican side, gloss over it,” said Patricia, 74, a retired high school English teacher, who stopped to chat outside a branch library in Henderson, an upscale Las Vegas suburb. (She asked not to use her last name, to avoid harassment on social media.)
But it’s abortion, Patricia said, that’s driving her away from Laxalt, who celebrated the overturning of Roe vs. Wade and the end of a 49-year constitutional right to abortion.
“I believe a woman has a right to choose what happens to her body,” she said. “Even though [Cortez Masto] is a little more liberal than I like, I stand with her on women’s rights.”
Blake Masters, with his provocative statements and problematic positions, throws a lifeline to Democratic rival Mark Kelly.
Last weekend, Trump appeared at a rally in Minden, in northern Nevada, where he repeated familiar tropes about a “fake and dirty and rigged election” and recalled Jan. 6 in a rhapsody about the size of the crowd he addressed (and incited to violence).
He was joined onstage by Jim Marchant, an election denier and the Republican candidate for Nevada secretary of state, who promises all sorts of mischief if elected as the state’s election chief. While Marchant, a QAnon crazy, echoed Trump’s falsehoods, Laxalt, who was also on hand, did not.
With the Republican nomination in hand, Laxalt has dropped the pretense and lying about 2020 and instead is focused on the GOP’s preferred election triumvirate, attacking Cortez Masto on inflation, crime and immigration.
Yes, he recently admitted to the Las Vegas Review-Journal editorial board, Biden won the election and is the country’s legitimate president. But at the same time, Laxalt refuses to say whether he will accept the result in November if he loses the Senate race.
While a number of contests appear too close to call, if Republicans hold their Senate seats in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania and Democrats hang on in Arizona and Georgia, Nevada could be the tiebreaker that decides control of the Senate.
That makes it all the more important that voters send a clear message that elections are sacred, the peaceful transfer of power must never be compromised, and those who undermine those principles have disgraced themselves, not earned the privilege of elected office.
“He should know better,” Cortez Masto said in an interview Wednesday, her eyes narrowing as she discussed her opponent after a campaign stop at a Mexican restaurant in eastern Las Vegas. “But he doesn’t. And he’s leaning into this for a political extreme agenda.”
Inflation is bad. The economic forecasts are worrisome. But we shouldn’t forget the wrongs of the past or the danger the perpetrators pose to the country’s future.
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