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Assigning political scarlet letters

A group celebrates president elect Joe Biden's victory on Saturday, Nov. 7, 2020. Around 50 people gathered at the Commercial Center in Las Vegas. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

My object all sublime

I shall achieve in time

To let the punishment fit the crime

---W.S. Gilbert, “The Mikado”

I am neither an emperor (just ask my staff) nor, as The Mikado was, particularly humane (just ask the people I have covered).

But even I cannot quite settle on the proper penalty for those who have been accomplices to President Donald’s Trump attempt to undermine the faith in Nevada’s recent election and for those in positions of authority who have been unable to engage their vocal cords during this dark time.

That the efforts of Team Trump have been embarrassingly inept and unhinged does not mitigate the imperative for there to be some kind of reckoning when a band of malefactors attempts to sway public opinion with misdirection and misinformation and thicken the froth of the president’s rabid adherents with conspiracy theories and outright falsehoods. That the very premise is ludicrous – if the Democrats were conspiring to commit voter fraud, wouldn’t they have had to recruit election officials and poll workers and why would they have lost legislative seats? – does not absolve those telling this tallest of tales.

That is, while The Mikado suggested the punished should be “a source of innocent merriment” and while their actions are laughable, this is no time for exultation.

Because I do not (yet) possess Mikado-like powers, this is not for me to decide. But for those invested with that power – their colleagues, their friends, their voters – I have some suggestions.

Before I get to them, though, some praise for Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske, the only Republican elected official I can think of who deserves kudos. Cegavske, who was a reliable partisan in the Legislature, has played it straight, called balls and strikes and left the administration of the election in the hands of her superb deputy, Wayne Thorley. I shudder to think what this year would have been like with someone in that office receptive to the bullying and cajoling the Trump folks undoubtedly used to try to influence her. She stood tall, unlike so many others.

To wit:

----The Dynamic Duo: The leaders of the Nevada Republican Party this cycle have been former Attorney General Adam Laxalt and state GOP Chairman Michael McDonald. These two truly have engaged in a race to the bottom, and it is a photo finish. (I would include GOP National Committeewoman Michele “cancer is a fungus” Fiore here, but other than to occasionally tweet her usual lunacy, she has not been too visible.)

Laxalt moved to Nevada to capitalize on his last name and run for office, was an accident of history when he won for AG and, thanks to a great staff, did not hopelessly damage the state. When he ran for governor, he ran from the media and ran from facts. He showed the same knowledge of Nevada as Trump has.

In trying to keep his name alive for something (Gov. Laxalt? Sen. Laxalt?), Laxalt has pandered to the worst impulses of the base and done things his grandfather would have abhorred. He loves wearing his service on his sleeve, but one of his tactics was to accuse hundreds, perhaps thousands of military personnel of being ineligible to vote in the last election. He is an embarrassment to his family, the state, the country.

McDonald, who once said on national television that Las Vegas is Nevada’s capital, is a decades-long grifter whose history of unethical behavior is hard to match. In fact, the only metric I can see to match it is his history of losing.

He is the longest-serving chairman of the Nevada GOP and during his tenure, he has helped wipe the Republicans off the electoral map here. 2016, 2018 and 2020 have been abysmal years for the Republicans in Nevada, and he has presided over all of them. Trump is a guy who loves winners, so it is a mystery why he likes McDonald.

Suggested punishment to fit the crime: Laxalt should not be allowed back into polite GOP society, cut off from the fundraising spigot and forced to relocate to his real home in Virginia. If he returns, he must submit to an hour-long televised interview conducted by PLAN’s Bob Fulkerson and Laura Martin. As for McDonald, assuming the state central committee is not made up of mouth-breathers and Trump toadies, they should expel him forthwith and replace him with someone credible who can help rebuild the party. After that, he should be forced to watch tapes of Fiore all day long with those “A Clockwork Orange” gizmos.

----The Muted Many: There are some fine Republican elected officials in this state, especially in Carson City. But their decision to stay on the sidelines while Trump & Co. have for weeks tried to delegitimize elections in Nevada is shameful and should follow them forever. For those who have children, how will they explain their silence?

By default, because Cegavske has to be nonpartisan and the GOP has no other elected officials in high positions besides Rep. Mark Amodei (wait for it), the GOP leadership in this state falls to two people: state Senate Minority Leader James Settelmeyer and Assembly Minority Leader Robin Titus.

Titus was a fount of pro-Trump tweets during the election. But when the president and his minions began to slime the electoral process in Nevada, the leader of the people’s house fell silent. Settelmeyer’s tweets were similarly fawning over the president, including one I am surprised he did not delete. But when Trump began to question the integrity of the state he serves, Settelmeyer was nowhere to be found.

This is not leadership; it’s cowardice.

They were not alone, though. Not one member of the Senate GOP or Assembly GOP caucuses spoke up to defend fellow Republican Cegavske or the process or criticize Trump et al. It is more than depressing and appalling; it is sad and disgraceful.

As for Amodei, he is an expert in rhetorical dancing and he did some of that during this time. But a full-throated denunciation from him would have been meaningful and might have given cover to others who failed to speak up. Perhaps his ambition (Gov. Amodei?) got the best of him, but he should have said something, anything in condemnation.

Suggested punishment to fit the crime for these GOP “leaders”: Be rendered irrelevant for at least a decade. Oh wait: GOP electoral losses the last three cycles combined with redistricting and reapportionment next year will take care of that.

----The Outside Agitators: I take it as a real insult to my beloved state that when Team Trump sent two operatives to try to steal the election in Nevada, they weren’t sending their best: Richard Grenell and Matt Schlapp.

Grenell is a Twitter troll, who most recently was tricked into sending Veterans Day greetings to Bill Calley (the villain of the My Lai massacre) and who spends much of his time tweeting ad hominem and less-than-clever insults at people. He was terrible as ambassador to Germany and mercifully had little time to do much harm for a few months as acting director of national intelligence. He was last seen acting like a buffoon after one of the worst press conferences in history as he was being pursued by intrepid NBC reporter Jacob Soboroff.

Schlapp is the head of the American Conservative Union, who also appeared at that Las Vegas presser, and who is the first one of these people to mention the “they committed fraud in a Biden-Harris van and we have a witness” farce, later amplified in an SNL-worthy segment on Laura Ingraham’s FOX show. He’s a lobbyist who smeared Black Lives Matter and his Conservative Political Action Conference was the model for Laxalt’s Basque Fry. Schlapp has been spewing baseless claims ever since and was last seen being slapped by PolitFact.

Suggested punishment to fit the crime: Banishment from Nevada, and if they do show their faces here, forced to stay at Trump pal Phil Ruffin’s Circus Circus.

----The Enduring Barnacles: I’ve known plenty of political operatives during the last three decades. Some were smart and savvy. Some were ruthless and tough. Some I’m happy to call my friends.

But then there are those who seem, in the shallow talent pool that is Nevada, to have followed The Failing Upwards Theorem.

How this works is beyond me, but in any other profession, if you keep losing, you are out of a job. And this cycle, some of these hapless hacks enabled Team Trump in their mendacity, most notably Robert Uithoven, who became a “Trump senior adviser” shortly before the election, and Chuck Muth, a bloviator who has been a relentless supporter of the president.

Uithoven, whose previous claim to fame was helping elect the worst governor (Jim Gibbons) and worst attorney general (Laxalt) in state history, spent this year pushing two failed congressional candidates (Lisa Song-Sutton and BIG DAN Rodimer) while also shilling for Trump. He was there at the press conference where Grenell and Laxalt made their unsupported fraud allegations, standing right behind them. He’s known for attacking the media and losing races.

Muth has degenerated over the years from conservative firebrand to shameless mercenary, latching onto whoever pays him as if he or she is the savior and, usually, parting not-so-amicably. His latest creation, Assemblywoman Annie Black, willingly has disgorged his increasingly loony rhetoric. Muth has suggested a new election should be called in Clark County because of fraud – need I tell you more?

I name this pair because they are two of the most egregious. But there are way too many of them now in campaigns – the entire Trump organization here was teeming with them. They add nothing to politics and subtract a lot.

Suggested punishment to fit the crime: If there is justice, no one will ever hire them again. But we won’t get that lucky (See Failing Upwards Theorem).

I have tried to maintain my humor through all of this, as I have all of the three and a half decades covering politics. It’s a necessary balm to preserve my sanity and protect others.

But this has been difficult. Maybe there are state Bar sanctions. Maybe the elected class can excommunicate. Maybe a hopelessly divided electorate will exact a price.

There really is no punishment to fit this capital political crime – an attempt to kill faith in democracy simply to hold onto power. But I hope they all wear it like a scarlet letter the rest of their days, so whenever people look at them, they see who they really are.

That, I think, would be punishment enough.

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