They were the best financed candidates the Nevada Republicans offered in the 2018 midterm election. One was undefeated, another heralded as the party’s rising star. Two others had been around the track enough to run competitively.
They’ll all be remembered as Trump’s Chumps.
The label figures to stick. And it should. For Dean Heller, Adam Laxalt, Danny Tarkanian and Cresent Hardy didn’t just lose their respective races Tuesday night, they did so after pledging fealty to a bullying con artist who with each passing day reminds that he’s unfit to serve as the nation’s Commander in Chief.
They were sycophantic tail-waggers who heard their master’s voice and couldn’t wait to please. The 2018 campaign in Nevada will be remembered for many things: the rise of women and minority candidates, the impact of the Culinary Union and other labor organizations, and the bonfire of cash casino king Sheldon Adelson burned in a failed attempt to exercise his awesome power.
But the greatest embarrassment was the performance of Trump’s Chumps. It’s not that they lost their races. That’s no sin — that’s politics. It’s what they traded away in the process that ought to give us pause.
The obsessed Tarkanian was positively starstruck from the start. The rest came along like lapdogs in a row.
Heller’s transformation from mainstream conservative to daffy fanboy was painful to watch. Heller, who had never lost a race and had once rightly been openly critical of candidate Donald Trump’s political antics, became downright obsequious as the campaign progressed.
Heller’s instincts were fine — he just didn’t follow them. He was right not to follow desperate Danny down Trump’s reactionary rabbit hole in the primary, but then he got nervous. Danny created a problem that Trump helped alleviate.
Heller was right to set politics aside and do his best to protect vulnerable Nevadans with pre-existing medical conditions, but then he buckled in the name of pleasing his master. In the process, he gave mild-mannered political newcomer Jacky Rosen a club she used to pound him to pieces.
And who can forget this memorable remark from a rally in Elko late in the campaign?
“Now, Mr. President, you know a little about gold,” Heller gushed and slobbered. “In fact, I think everything you touch turns to gold.”
It turns to something, all right.
Most presidents have a family dog. In 2018, Trump had Tarkanian. After following orders and leaving the Senate primary for a race against well-funded but politically inexperienced Susie Lee in CD3, the perennial candidate with the problematic business career and the Trump Forever scrapbook received millions in outside funding. He then watched as the Democrats ran circles around the Republicans when it came time to get out the vote.
After getting whipped, Tarkanian blubbered about being treated unfairly. He should have apologized to his supporters for not being his own man.
He also announced he’s not running again. I’ll believe it when I don’t see it.
While Hardy can relax in retirement after losing the CD4 race for the second time, Laxalt was exposed as Nevada’s great political enigma. The grandson of a Nevada Republican political icon not only lost a race for governor, but members of his own family openly campaigned against him.
Worse, by avoiding debates and running away from Nevada’s feisty but diminutive press corps, Laxalt did voters a real disservice. He showed he wasn’t so much a chip off the old block as a coddled candidate not ready for prime time.
If you’re afraid to answer reporters’ questions, are you really ready to lead the state?
Avoiding the press was part of Laxalt’s campaign strategy. And cozying up to a president whose vilification of the Fourth Estate is unprecedented in history was also part of the plan.
Well, you can come out now, Mr. Laxalt.
Just a day after Heller lost, one respected Nevada political observer suggested he still had a lot of career left and even mentioned him as a possible candidate for governor in 2022. Before that happens, a lot of former Heller supporters surely will want proof he’s been successfully deprogrammed.
In a way, Heller is lucky. Unlike the rest, at least he’s built up enough political capital in Nevada to remain in the conversation for a comeback.
The failed Trumpfest strategy has longtime Republicans gnawing on each other like zombies at a church picnic. Firebrand right-winger Chuck Muth immediately went after his least favorite political kingmaker, Heller insider Mike Slanker, on Twitter: “… A repeat of his total disaster running US Senate campaign committee in ‘06. Why do candidates keep shelling out a fortune for Mr. ‘Just Lose Baby’?”
Oddly enough, the 2018 election will to go down as the high point of Muth’s career. Nevada political history will now remember him as the campaign manager of Dennis Hof, a dead brothel baron and self-styled “Trump of Pahrump” who won a seat in the state Assembly. Talk about a weird idea for an episode of “The Walking Dead.”
Hof won’t serve a day in office.
That gives the deceased pimp something else in common with Trump’s Chumps.
John L. Smith is an author and longtime columnist. Contact him at email@example.com. On Twitter: @jlnevadasmith