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At Basque Fry, a show of pro-Trump unity, calls to fight 'for the soul of our country'

Jazmin Orozco Rodriguez
Jazmin Orozco Rodriguez
Election 2020
Republican former Attorney General Adam Laxalt and his family

On the heels of widespread Democratic victories in Nevada last year, conservative speakers at the fifth annual Basque Fry event that’s affiliated with former Attorney General Adam Laxalt painted a picture of a more unified Republican Party and a state turning red in the 2020 election.

Speakers included White House Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, who encouraged a crowd that organizers pegged at 1,500 to counter the latest Democratic wins in the state. Laxalt, who said he is not running for office next year, said his mission is to help re-elect President Trump and help other Republican candidates win.

“We know that unfortunately [former] Gov. [Brian] Sandoval and others would not support this president and that hurt,” said Laxalt, who lost a hard-fought campaign to Gov. Steve Sisolak in 2018. “We are unified. Now all Republicans are going to stand by this president, everyone understands that. There is going to be a large, giant presidential campaign here in this state, the largest we've ever seen.” 

Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney at the 5th Annual Basque Fry in Gardnerville on Sept. 14, 2019. Photo by Tim Lenard.

Mulvaney was the keynote speaker for the annual event, which features traditional Basque food in a nod to the Laxalt family’s Basque roots. Other Trump-affiliated guests scheduled to attend, including former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and 2016 campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, were unable to make it, organizers announced at the beginning of the event.

Mulvaney talked about how the Republican Party will refocus its strategic efforts to get more votes in 2020. He said the party will raise more money for local campaigns, focus on states where Republicans recently lost, such as New Mexico, Colorado, Maine, and New Hampshire, and host more rallies. 

“There are enough voters in this state today for us to win this state in 2020,” he said.

An elephant statue stepping on blocks reading "terrorism, Marxism, socialism" at the 5th Annual Basque Fry in Gardnerville on Sept. 14, 2019. Photo by Tim Lenard.

Laxalt said the nation is facing a “true battle for the soul of our country.” He said Democrats’ views are radical and include support for open borders, abolishing ICE, the Green New Deal and gun control. 

“We have to fight for American exceptionalism,” he said, “and to fight for this great country. We have to fight for this great state that has two Democrat houses and a Democrat governor. It was the most liberal session we’ve ever seen in the history of this state. Now is the time. That’s what today’s all about — 1,300 people or more engaging, starting the fight, getting ready to make the turn. Are you guys ready to do that?”  

After Laxalt asked the crowd to turn out in 2020 to turn the state red, Republican state Senate Leader James Settelmeyer asked the crowd for something else — their financial support in his lawsuit against Sisolak over a bill that extends the existing payroll tax rate but was passed with less than a two-thirds majority.

“I need your help,” Settelmeyer said. “Someone decided to sue the governor. That'd be me, for his illegal tax increase.” 

Attendees eat lamb testicles, also known as "lamb fries," at the 5th Annual Basque Fry in Gardnerville on Sept. 14, 2019. Photo by Tim Lenard.

Former Acting U.S. Attorney General Matthew Whitaker echoed the call for supporters to do more than usual for this upcoming election. 

“First of all, I'm gonna ask you to join me in this effort,” Whitaker said. “Join me in doing everything we can and in fact, join me in doing things we can not believe that we can do, but that we can do. That means getting outside of your comfort zone. That means getting outside of what you've always done and what you've always done for elected candidates, politicians. When did you do more?” 

Whitaker is the managing director for Axiom Strategies, a Republican campaign consulting firm that has worked for Laxalt and is best known for its role on Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’s 2016 presidential campaign. He said all Americans have prospered under Trump’s administration. 

“This is the first time in at least 12 years where we have had continued prosperity,” he said. “Where all Americans of every nationality, race, creed, that are here in the United States and are paying their taxes and are working hard, are continuing to grow and succeed. Real wages, the amount of money in your pocket have gone up, that we didn't see that under Obama, black unemployment, Hispanic unemployment at an all time low.” 

Mercedes Schlapp, former White House Director of Strategic Communications in the Trump administration, at the 5th Annual Basque Fry in Gardnerville on Sept. 14, 2019. Photo by Tim Lenard.

Speakers also had pointed words for Democratic presidential candidates.

Matt Schlapp, the chairman of the American Conservative Union, and his wife Mercedes Schlapp, a former White House director of strategic communications, denounced Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke’s recent declaration in favor of taking assault-style weapons from citizens. They also jeered at Biden by offering a moment of silence for his brain, and said President Trump will work harder than “Pocahontas,” — a reference to Elizabeth Warren — or “forgetful Joe Biden and socialist Sanders.” 

The two, who also are contributors to Fox News and other conservative media, spoke out against what they described as the rise of socialists. 

“We cannot believe that we're talking about electing socialists to the presidency,” said Matt Schlapp.  “We cannot believe the fact that we've elected the socialists to Congress, but that is the facts. That means we have to do more.”


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