On March 31, a regional field director for the Trump campaign in Nevada penned a letter to Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel. Right from the start, he did not mince words:
“In 2016, Donald Trump lost Nevada by a narrow margin,” Joshua Skaggs wrote. “In the 2018 midterm elections, Republicans lost ground on the democrats (sic). Based on my observations so far in the 2020 election cycle, I am concerned that President Trump and other Republicans on the ballot will not prevail in Nevada in November.”
The main thrust of the letter is Skaggs asserting to McDaniel that registration numbers here “are being falsely inflated” to give a rosier picture of Nevada’s viability for the GOP. “We both want to see President Trump reelected in 2020 so I urge your timely attention to this matter,” Skaggs wrote. (I would post the letter, which I obtained, but it contains some sensitive, personal information, too.)
Skaggs, who did not respond to email requests for comment, clearly was trying to sound a warning bell to GOP Central before it was too late. But with four months until the election, and no evidence of any surge of competence or effectiveness in the amalgam that is the Trump campaign and the state GOP, Skaggs’ pleading missive was a likely beacon to the future.
What Skaggs, who is obviously a true believer in the effort to re-elect the president, was trying to alert McDaniel to is the insularity and incompetence at the highest levels of Team Trump here. And he was trying to get it fixed before it was too late. Beyond the ritualistic bragging to reporters and on social media about a million voter contacts made and hundreds of volunteers acquired is the ineluctable truth that the Republicans here are no match - nay, not even in the same league - as the Democrats.
I have believed since the 2018 election that Nevada is a blue state, and Skaggs’ clarion call indicates that he was worried that may be so. Trump’s seemingly narrow loss here in 2016 – 2.5 percent, 27,000 votes out of 1.1 million cast – is deceiving because the race was over by the end of early voting. (The GOP merely cut the margin on Election Day.)
I wouldn’t be surprised if the GOP leaders here in the state party and Trump campaign have tried to paint a rosy scenario for DC. Even though most national analysts have Nevada painted as light or dark blue – and rarely is the Silver State discussed as mattering in the 2020 calculus (sniff) – Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale and others have tried to push the narrative that Nevada is still swingy.
Let’s put it this way: Considering the state of play here four months out, the Democrats would really have to bollix this not to have the third straight cycle of dominating a GOP that from top to bottom has eschewed political skills for blind Trumplove.
The Republican Party here, once led by smart operatives and true statesmen, has devolved into an organization led by crass fringe types and advised by second- or third-tier consultants. This as the state Democratic Party has been as disciplined and well-oiled as any in the country, leading to two successive cycles of utter domination that not only reversed 2014 losses but left the GOP with only one member of the congressional delegation, one statewide official (Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske) and near superminorities in both houses of the Legislature.
The only good news for the Republicans here this cycle – with apologies to Bob – is that if you ain’t got nothing, you got nothing to lose. And the bad news for Democrats, considering the GOP leadership (a true oxymoron) here, is if they lose the state to Trump and lose even a little ground in the Legislature, they will have been defeated by the worst gaggle of sleazy grifters the state has ever seen.
Before I explain why, let me tell you what happened when I started asking questions about Skaggs’ earnest letter to McDaniel: Crickets.
I’m not shocked Skaggs didn’t respond – the letter clearly says it was meant to be confidential. But the two top officials here with Team Trump, Jeremy Hughes and Joe Weaver, did not provide a comment, nor did the RNC (I tried two different ways.) I assure you they all know about the letter, but they are all invested – literally – in not conceding what is really going on in Nevada.
I am flummoxed, though, at their silence because they are all honorable men. But they are invisible now, no secrets left to conceal. (Sorry, again, Bob.)
After they learned I had the letter, I am told, they fired Skaggs, believing (incorrectly) that he had given me the missive. They have staff sign NDAs and by all accounts treat them like serfs. I’m surprised they are not doing better here.
Speaking of which….
When Skaggs wrote his letter three months ago, the Republicans were trailing the Democrats in Nevada by 95,000 voters statewide. That is far ahead of where the Democrats were at the same juncture in 2018 (66,000) and 2016 (70,000) when the Republicans were essentially wiped out. Only because the pandemic shut down everything has the GOP been able to keep the deficit at the same level for three months.
The real voter registration issue for Republicans – and I know the smart ones get it – is the so-called Clark County firewall. The deficit there is now approaching 155,000, a record number that probably will get bigger by November.
The math just doesn’t work for the GOP, even though nonpartisan registration has surged in recent years to almost a quarter of the registered voters in Southern Nevada. (Republican registration in Clark actually has fallen behind indies and third parties.) That is, because Clark has 70 percent of the registered voters in Nevada, statewide Democratic candidates come out of the South with an insurmountable lead, no matter what happens in rural Nevada. That’s how I knew Hillary Clinton had already won Nevada before Election Day — because of the early votes banked by the Democrats.
And with Washoe County now leaning Democrat – Clinton won the former GOP stronghold and so did Gov. Steve Sisolak and Sen. Jacky Rosen – the path to victory for Donald Trump is almost nonexistent. Now, that is.
I concede all the 120-days-to-go caveats, but Skaggs was correct to inform RNC Central of his concerns, even if he was pitching for a walking dead man. He knew the score; the only difference between him and his superiors and the only reason he lost his job is because he was honest.
The picture is actually bleaker than it looks on paper for the GOP.
Even though both Democratic congressional incumbents in putative swing districts – Steven Horsford and Susie Lee – have recently acquired some baggage, the Republican primaries attracted a gaggle of nobodies and they nominated two nonentities – or worse. In the Legislature, where they hoped to close the gap in both houses, their primaries produced some far-right contenders who stand little chance in a general election. Sure, legislative races can still defy demographics by better retail campaigns. But that is more difficult during a pandemic.
It’s hard to believe the GOP could lose more than it already has – I think Rep. Mark Amodei is safe – but they sure are trying hard. Add in that the state’s Republican Party chairman, Michael McDonald, is like the living embodiment of PigPen with an ethical cloud following him everywhere, and the GOP national committeewoman, Michele Fiore, is always one verbal effusion away from disqualification from public life. And Republican legislative leaders here, echoing the Trump/Nevada GOP chorus, have spent the pandemic attacking Gov. Steve Sisolak, politicizing mask-wearing and prioritizing rank politics over public health.
No wonder the Democrats are salivating and would have to perform as badly as 2014 to not execute another sweep. And no wonder Skaggs sent that letter.
“I believe that without your intervention, Nevada’s Trump Victory RNC campaign’s state of operations will continue to decline,” Skaggs wrote three months ago. The intervention appears not to have occurred.
By November, Skaggs is likely to be seen as the canary in the coal mine while the rest of this gang will be seen as cowardly chickens posing as strutting peacocks.
Jon Ralston is the founder and editor of The Nevada Independent. He began covering Nevada politics in 1986.