Adam Laxalt, Trumpism and the Big Lie: An (updated) chronology
Donald Trump greets Adam Laxalt at Trump’s Oct. 8, 2022 rally in Minden. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this story was published on Nov. 8, 2021, during the Republican primary. We have updated it here with additional information and context for general election voters.
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.
Many Republicans on Nevada’s ballot this November have signaled at least some alignment with the Big Lie. Secretary of State candidate Jim Marchant has garnered the most attention, taking extreme positions such as questioning his own primary win and speaking out against the state’s widely popular early voting option. But it is Adam Laxalt – the man on the top of the Republican ticket – who was the original face of the Big Lie in Nevada.
Laxalt is the Reno-born, Virginia-raised grandson of a former Nevada senator. He served one term as Nevada attorney general beginning in 2015, unsuccessfully ran for governor in 2018, and was state co-chair of President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign in 2020. Now, he is challenging Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto in what is a close and costly race being watched across the country.
Especially since winning the Republican primary, Laxalt has tried to distance himself from the issue of election denialism, choosing instead to blast Cortez Masto on issues like inflation and crime. He has never rebuked Trump’s election lies, and he gladly shared a rally stage with him in Minden, Nev. earlier this month.
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, Republican presidential primary — Laxalt endorses U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz during the 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 Republican 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 Republican 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 Republican nomination acceptance speech at the White House.
22 Oct. 2020 — The Trump campaign and state Republican Party 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.
31 Dec. 2020 — Laxalt was one of the lawyers filing a suit against Cegavske claiming “many noncitizens may have voted” in Nevada’s 2020 election. The plaintiffs dropped the suit in March 2021.
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 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 that 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.”
September 2021 – Laxalt approaches Douglas County Clerk-Treasurer Amy Burgans to encourage the rural county to pursue an audit of the 2020 elections results, according to an email Burgans sent to an official at the Nevada Secretary of State.
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 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.
15 Nov. 2021 – One of the people used by Laxalt and other Trump supporters as having proof that dead people’s ballots were cast during the 2020 election, Donald “Kirk” Hartle, pleads guilty to voter fraud for forging his dead wife’s signature on a mail ballot. Hartle a year earlier had publicly claimed that a ballot for his deceased wife never arrived at his house but her name was appearing on voter rolls.
24 Jan. 2022 – Laxalt endorses Jim Marchant in the secretary of state race. It’s a stark contrast to prominent Republicans and conservative outlets who would later endorse Democratic candidate Cisco Aguilar due to Marchant’s extreme positions and election denialism.
February 2022 – Laxalt tells The Associated Press in a statement that he believes “very few” people broke laws on Jan. 6 and accuses Democrats and the media of exaggerating the event. (More than 850 people have been charged with a crime.)
4 Feb. 2022 – At a campaign event in Southern Nevada, Laxalt doesn’t say the 2020 election was rigged but says Nevada Democrats “fundamentally altered” election laws 80 days before the election in order to “give Biden a better chance.” This more measured message will continue throughout his campaign, at least at larger, well publicized events.
March 2022 – Laxalt is recorded telling supporters he is vetting election observer teams and mapping out a litigation strategy.
10 June 2022 – At a Laxalt campaign event in Carson City, Donald Trump Jr. tells a crowd that Laxalt “answered the call” – referring to his dad’s attempts to overturn election results in Nevada. “That kind of loyalty and understanding – that’s what I think we need more of in Washington, D.C.,” continued Trump Jr.
14 June 2022 – Laxalt wins the Republican U.S. Senate primary, defeating Sam Brown, with 55.7% of votes.
July 2022 – Laxalt’s campaign announces it has hired Courtney Holland, a Nevada activist who was photographed with members of the far-right extremist group the Oath Keepers on Jan. 6. Some of those people were charged with crimes related to the insurrection. Holland herself was not charged with anything, but has downplayed the insurrection and maintained that the 2020 election was rigged.
September 2022 – Laxalt refuses to respond to a KTVN questionnaire asking if he will accept the results of the election.
October 2022 – Laxalt refuses to respond to a Las Vegas Sun questionnaire asking whether candidates would accept the results of the midterm election.
6 Oct. 2022 – Cortez Masto holds a campaign event calling out Laxalt for his role in instigating the Jan. 6 insurrection. Laxalt does not publicly respond.
8 Oct. 2022 – Trump visits Minden in support of Laxalt and other Republican candidates. Laxalt doesn’t repeat election lies but called Trump a “true champion for the people of Nevada.” Trump makes light of the insurrection, saying: “You know the biggest crowd I’ve ever seen? January 6.”
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