Adam Laxalt speaks at a campaign event for then-President Donald Trump at Xtreme Manufacturing in Henderson on September 13, 2020. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
There are policy disagreements. There are campaign talking points.
Then, there’s the Big Lie.
Republicans have long pushed voter restriction laws and made dubious claims about voter fraud, but in the Trump era those flirtations escalated into the full-on conspiracy known as the Big Lie: the baseless allegation that widespread voter fraud has occurred in the United States and affected the outcome of the most recent presidential election. Unlike support for other political positions, advocating the Big Lie undermines the foundation of American democracy and threatens to have permanent consequences for the country.
In Nevada, the Big Lie is embodied by Adam Laxalt, the Reno-born, Virginia-raised grandson of a former Nevada senator. Laxalt, who is also a former attorney general and failed 2018 gubernatorial candidate, became the proud face of the Big Lie in Nevada last year as state co-chair of President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign.
And under the guise of “election integrity,” Laxalt today continues to propel the unfounded conspiracies.
Laxalt is now challenging Catherine Cortez Masto for her U.S. Senate seat in what is expected to be a costly and close race.
His presence at the top of Nevada’s Republican ticket may also be a harbinger of what’s to come during (and perhaps after) the 2022 general election. If Nevada Republicans fail to achieve the red wave they desire, will they accept defeat? Or will they follow the blueprint mapped by their twice-impeached former president?
Many declared Republican candidates, particularly those running for statewide office, have signaled at least some alignment with the Big Lie. Consider the crowded gubernatorial field. Dean Heller boasts in an ad that he “led the fight against voter fraud before it was popular.” Michele Fiore targets “voter fraud” with a literal and figurative bullet in her debut political ad. Joe Lombardo makes reference to Democrats “manipulating our election systems.”
A USAToday/Suffolk University poll in September found 70% of Republicans believe President Joe Biden won because of widespread voter fraud, despite the lack of evidence.
The Big Lie demands continued scrutiny, starting with one of the vanguards of the conspiracy. The following is a timeline of Adam Laxalt’s connection to Trumpism and the Big Lie. The timeline was compiled from the candidate’s public appearances, media reports, court documents and other sources. It is not comprehensive.
2016, GOP primary — Laxalt endorses U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Florida during the GOP primary but fully backs candidate Donald Trump once the nomination is secured. In a joint statement with U.S. Rep. Mark Amodei, Laxalt acknowledges Trump is “not perfect” but says he respects the choice of the voters and fears a Hilary Clinton presidency.
8 Nov. 2016 — Trump wins the presidency by securing the 270 electoral votes needed but loses the popular vote by 2.9 million. This prompts him to claim without evidence that he would have won the popular vote if not for “the millions of people who vote illegally.” He targets undocumented immigrants as the source of the alleged voter fraud.
Spring 2018 — In the leadup to the state’s primary elections, many Nevada Republican candidates embrace Trumpism and lean right in hopes of securing his fiery base. Few candidates are as full-throated in their commitment as Laxalt.
12 June 2018 — On the day of Nevada’s Republican primary, Trump takes to social media to endorse Laxalt, who was already expected to easily win the GOP primary for governor. “Adam is smart, works hard, and knows how to win,” tweeted the president. “He will be a great Governor. Also, will fight hard to lower your taxes and is tough on crime!”
23 June 2018 — Trump visits Las Vegas for the Nevada Republican Party’s state convention and a private fundraiser for then-Sen. Dean Heller. Laxalt on social media posts a photo of his limo ride with the president.
25 Aug. 2018 — Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway stumps for Laxalt at his Basque Fry, pitching him as an “ardent supporter” of Trump administration policies.
20 Oct. 2018 — Trump visits Elko and stumps for Laxalt and other GOP candidates.
6 Nov. 2018 — Laxalt loses to Steve Sisolak by almost 40,000 votes, or 4 percentage points. In his concession speech, Laxalt pledges his support to the governor-elect and asks his supporters to do the same: “We need to come together as a state and make sure we can move Nevada forward.” The election overall is declared a “blue wave” with Democrats winning up and down the ballot. Only one Republican wins a statewide race — incumbent Barbara Cegavske retains her position as secretary of state.
22 Oct. 2019 — Laxalt, and Nevada State Assembly Minority Leader Robin Titus, are named Nevada campaign co-chairs for the Trump 2020 reelection campaign.
21 Feb. 2020 — Trump holds a rally in Las Vegas. Laxalt helps introduce the president.
24 March 2020 — Cegavske announces Nevada will hold an all-mail election for the upcoming 2020 primary.
9 June 2020 — Nevada primary is held. The nonpartisan Clark County registrar of voters, Joe Gloria, wants to extend the use of mail ballots for the general election. Democrats are publicly pushing for it. Cegavske makes it clear she is opposed and will not approve election plans with expanded mail-in ballots. Republicans, including Laxalt, boost stories about ballots piled up in trash cans and fan fear of potential widespread voter fraud, despite there being no proof that has happened.
31 July 2020 — The Nevada State Legislature convenes for a special session. The special session is closed to physical public attendance due to COVID-19 safety measures, which draws criticisms from Republicans. Lawmakers quickly pass AB4, which expands voter access during states of emergencies, including the current pandemic, by requiring counties to send mail ballots to active registered voters, among other things. Laxalt on social media accuses Democrats of “ramming through mail-in balloting and ballot harvesting” and “working to steal our election.”
3 Aug. 2020 — Sisolak signs AB4.
5 Aug. 2020 — Trump and company sue the State of Nevada over AB4. A little over a month later, U.S District Court Judge James C. Mahan will dismiss the case for lack of standing, writing that the plaintiffs failed to prove anything beyond policy disagreements. Mahan also notes that the plaintiffs “have not requested an injunction or expedited review. Plaintiffs ask for a remedy to cure the ‘confusion’ caused by AB 4, yet they have positioned this case for last minute adjudication before the general election.”
27 Aug. 2020 — Laxalt attends Trump’s GOP nomination acceptance speech at the White House.
22 Oct. 2020 — The Trump campaign and state GOP sue over “meaningful observation” of ballot processing. Judge James Wilson Jr. will reject all of Trump’s requests, writing, “There is no evidence that any vote that should lawfully be counted has or will not be counted. There is no evidence that any election worker did anything outside the law, policy, or procedures.”
2 Nov. 2020 — Election Day. While vote counting stretches across several days in key states, Joe Biden wins the presidency, securing both the electoral votes and the popular vote. Trump loses. In Nevada, Biden wins by 33,000 votes, or 2.4 percentage points.
5 Nov. 2020— Laxalt and Trump campaign representative Ric Grennell announce a new lawsuit seeking to stop the counting of “improper votes” and alleging “many irregularities.” During a press conference, Laxalt and company introduce Jill Stokke, a legally blind Nevadan who claims she “went to vote and was told I already voted.” Days later, an election report from the Secretary of State’s office is made public, revealing that a state investigator spoke to Stokke on Nov. 3. Stokke told the investigator that she previously informed Clark County Registrar of Voters Joe Gloria that she believed an individual who was being evicted from her residence had stolen her mail ballot. Gloria told her she could provide a statement regarding the possible theft and then cast a provisional ballot. Stokke declined to do so. According to the state investigator, “she did not think she should be pressured into implicating another person in a crime when she had no proof the crime actually occurred.”
10 Nov. 2020 — Laxalt appears on Fox News and repeats allegations argued in the Trump campaign’s lawsuits targeting the Agilis signature verification machines used by Clark County. He claims the campaign has talked to AI experts who have determined that the machine settings used by Clark County, combined with signature photo quality being lower than 200 DPI, could lead to bad signatures going undetected by the system. He says these are facts “admitted in open court.”
The referenced Agilis-focused lawsuits brought by the Trump campaign were unsuccessful. Court documents include depositions from Agilis leaders stating that a low quality image would not be automatically approved by the machine, it would be flagged for human review. Similarly, the setting used by the county would produce substantially similar results to higher settings. District Judge James T. Russell also found the “expert testimony” provided by the Trump campaign “was of little to no value.”
“Contestants’ evidence does not establish by clear and convincing proof, or under any standard of evidence, that ‘there was a malfunction of any voting device of electronic tabulator, counting device or computer in a manner sufficient to raise reasonable doubt as to the outcome of the election.’”
12 Nov. 2020 — Laxalt appears on “Tucker Carlson Tonight” in his capacity as Nevada co-chairman of the Trump campaign and says they have a list of 3,000 people who moved out of Nevada but still voted. Their list cross references voters in Nevada with the National Change of Address database but does not prove voter fraud, as state law allows for people who have recently moved and includes exemptions for military members stationed elsewhere.
17 Nov. 2020 — Laxalt pens an op-ed in the Review-Journal criticizing Democrats and the nonpartisan Clark County registrar of voters, and falsely claiming that there are “thousands of illegal votes consisting of a combination of dead voters, out-of-state voters, double voters (those who cast ballots in Nevada and another state), among other improper votes.” No proof is provided.
26 Dec. 2020 — Laxalt tweets about skiing at Lake Tahoe. It will be his last public post on the social media account for more than seven months.
6 Jan. 2021 — Insurrection on the U.S. Capitol. While many prominent Republicans denounce the acts of violence, Laxalt remains publicly silent.
4 March 2021 — The Nevada State Republican Party drops off boxes they say hold 122,918 voter complaints detailed on 40,669 election integrity violation reports.
16 March 2021 — The Secretary of State’s Office announces it went through the GOP boxes and found 3,963 actual alleged election integrity violations, some of which were already under review. The office announces it will review those allegations.
22 April 2021 — Cegavske, a Republican, announces her office has completed a review of the alleged election integrity violations and found no evidence supporting the state party’s claims of widespread voter fraud. A letter on the review stated: “these allegations and others are based largely upon an incomplete assessment of voter registration records and lack of information concerning the processes by which these records are compiled and maintained.”
11 Aug. 2021 — Laxalt tweets for the first time this year. It’s a promotion for his political action committee’s upcoming Basque Fry event. Invitees Richard Grenell, a former Trump administration official who became one of the national faces of the reelection campaign’s baseless accusations of voter fraud; Tom Cotton, the Arkansas senator and fellow Trump supporter; and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who under the premise of the Big Lie signed a controversial election bill making it more difficult for voters there to cast ballots. The lineup makes clear that after lying low for more than half a year Laxalt is not distancing himself from Trumpism.
14 Aug. 2021 — At the Basque Fry, Tom Cotton publicly confirms what was long rumored: Laxalt plans to challenge Catherine Cortez Masto in the Senate.
16 Aug. 2021 — Laxalt officially files to run against Cortez Masto.
21 Aug. 2021 — Trump endorses Laxalt. In his statement, the former president again perpetuates false claims of voter fraud: “Adam Laxalt is running for Senate in Nevada to defeat Harry Reid’s, Chuck Schumer’s, and Nancy Pelosi’s handpicked successor, and win an America First majority in the U.S. Senate. Adam is a Navy Veteran who served our Nation bravely in Iraq. As a former Attorney General he has always supported our Law Enforcement and keeping our communities safe. He fought valiantly against the Election Fraud, which took place in Nevada. He is strong on Secure Borders and defending America against the Radical Left. Adam has my Complete and Total Endorsement!”
21 Aug. 2021 — In an interview with the Review-Journal, Laxalt dismisses the Secretary of State’s April report that rejected Republican voter fraud allegations saying Cegavske’s office had no way to know if massive voter fraud happened because it did not review the hundreds of thousands of mail ballots. It’s an argument he made regularly during the 2020 election season. The Secretary of State’s office investigates individual reports of suspected voter fraud and does not actively look for fraud when fraud is not suspected by election officials. Laxalt also says his lawsuits failed because they “were filed late” and in “a short period of time.” He continued, “And none of these lawsuits actually had the capacity to investigate individual voters.”
24 Aug. 2021 — Laxalt tells rightwing radio host Wayne Allyn Root that his campaign will “do our best to try and secure this election, get as many observers as we can, and file lawsuits early, if there are lawsuits we can file to try and tighten up the election.”
7 Sept. 2021 — After the The Associated Press reports that more than year before the election Laxalt has already announced he intends to “file lawsuits early,” Laxalt, in a tweet, declares “The media and the far left are on a joint offensive to attack everyone who wants to ensure that our elections are secure, fair, and accurate.”
19 Sept. 2021 — Interviewed on a right-wing media outlet, Laxalt decries “that fateful day in January,” referring not to the insurrectionists storming the Capitol on January 6 to forcibly overturn the results of the presidential election, but to Trump getting banned from Twitter for supporting the insurrectionists.1
1 Oct. 2021 — At a campaign event, Laxalt acknowledges Biden is president but declines to say whether he thought Biden was legitimately elected, according to media coverage.
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