In epic fight between Nevada Democrats, the stakes couldn’t be lower

March 2, 2023 7:16 am

Both sides are sniping at each other with tactics too petty to warrant mention. (Getty Images)

In 1973 Columbia University Political Science Professor Wallace Sayre reportedly said “Academic politics is the most vicious and bitter form of politics, because the stakes are so low.” 

To which Nevada Democrats can say “hold my beer.”

Sayre’s quip was more snarky than accurate. One need look no further than the Florida of Ron DeSantis to see how high – and dangerous –  the stakes can be in academic politics.

By contrast, little if anything of genuine consequence seems to be at stake this weekend when the  Nevada State Democratic Party central committee meets to vote for a chair and other party leadership positions.

Two years ago, a group of people allied with the Democratic Socialists of America out-organized the often vaunted and just as often overhyped legacy Reid Machine and won all the state party leadership positions.

To which the national political press corps said “ooh, shiny object,” and proceeded to produce multiple breathless takes about what was characterized as some seismic development.

In retrospect, and even at the time for that matter, it was hard to see what was so seismic about it, or how or if it mattered at all.

Nevada Republicans didn’t seem to think it mattered much during the ensuing 2022 campaign cycle. Oh sure, shortly after the Reid machine lost technical control of its party in 2021, the Nevada State Republican Party, taking a break from its busy schedule of lying about who won the 2020 presidential race in Nevada, went in to full-on celebratory gloating mode, issuing dozens of statements and emails crowing “Look! Look everyone, look! The Nevada Democrats are SOCIALISTS!!!!” Or words to that effect.

And yes, Joe Lombardo, Adam Laxalt and other Republicans during last year’s campaign called Democrats socialists on occasion. But it was almost always in that lazy, generic way Republicans always use the word socialists everywhere- as a mindless slur and buzzword – rather than an explicit attempt to tie Steve Sisolak or Catherine Cortez Masto to actual people who actually called themselves socialists. Like, you know, the ones who technically had administrative control of the Nevada Democratic Party.

For all the clickbaiting national headlines tying the results of the 2021 Nevada Democratic leadership contest to Bernie Sanders and AOC, and all the accompanying national punditry pondering What This Means about splits between the progressive and centrist wings of the party nationally, in Nevada, it didn’t mean much of anything. 

The most notable thing about the 2021 leadership contest was, and remains, not that socialists won it, but that the purportedly magnificent Reid Machine let the socialists win it because it didn’t have its head in the game.

After Reid machine palms went to Reid machine foreheads and they saw they were about to flub spectacularly, it was too late. So before their loss was official, they took their marbles, or more specifically, their money, effectively strangling the new party leadership in its crib, and ran off to form a shadow organization called Nevada Democratic Victory. It registered voters, coordinated with the biggest and most well-funded national Democratic Party organizations, and messaged relentlessly, all with support from and in coordination with the campaigns of Sisolak, Cortez Masto and virtually every and any other Nevada Democratic candidate up and down the ballot. 

Even a politically active Nevadan – Republican or Democrat – could be excused for forgetting that the state Democratic Party was officially run by socialists, because the official state Democratic Party was for all practical purposes moot and mute, and Nevada Democratic Victory filled the void.

Elected Nevada Democrats and their policies have traditionally been of the extremist centrist variety. There were valid reasons, maybe not to hope, but at least to wish that an ostensibly dramatic shake-up of the party’s official administrative leadership would be part of a larger movement to nudge Democrats, particularly at the legislative and local government level, toward an aggressive agenda to confront inequities and put the well-being of working households above that of special interests.

Yeah, that didn’t happen. Do better, socialists.

Now the party leadership is up for grabs again. Chair Judith Whitmer and her fellow travelers are being challenged by Assemblywoman Daniele Monroe-Moreno and a slate of Democratic normies. In direct proportion to the importance of the offices being contested, both sides are sniping at each other with tactics too petty to warrant mention.

Well, maybe one deserves mention.

Sisolak, along with the aforementioned virtually every and any Democrat who was on a ballot last year, is of course supporting Monroe-Moreno and the Reid Machine slate. Last year “when Democrats were already facing headwinds in a tough midterm cycle,” Sisolak said in a statement Tuesday, “current party leadership decided to withhold critical voter information from my team, divert critical resources to allies instead of investing in strategic organizing, and went so far as to endorse and financially back my appointed Lt. Governor’s Democratic Primary challenger.”

Oh please.

There are a lot of reasons Sisolak lost, not least being his campaign was inexplicably soft on Lombardo. Whatever transgressions real or imagined Sisolak would like to assign to Whitmer and the emptied-out shell of a state Democratic Party she has been chairing, for Sisolak to suggest those actions or inactions had something to do with him being the only incumbent Democratic governor in the U.S. to lose last year is preposterous.

Cortez Masto, the three Democrats in competitive congressional races, and the three Democrats running against Trumpists for attorney general, secretary of state, and treasurer all won their races, while Democrats racked up larger state legislative majorities. “Current party leadership” was as much a detriment in 2022 as it was an asset, which is to say it was neither. To reiterate, it was moot.

Unlike two years ago, the Democratic establishmentarianists will not be sneaked up on this time. Granted, if they fail to oust socialists from party leadership this weekend, that would be awfully surprising and sort of super weird. But all it would likely mean is that the official state party continues to be an obscure band of people with official-sounding titles, while the legacy Reid machine trundles back to its donors and reboots its 2022 organization. 

And as for the squabbling between the two sides over the last few weeks? It can be summed up with a mangled version of a Lincoln quote: The world will little note, nor long remember, what they said here, and it will quickly forget what they did here.

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