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President Donald J. Trump acknowledges Sheldon Adelson, Chairman and CEO of Las Vegas Sands, during the annual Republican Jewish Coalition at the Venetian on Saturday, April 6, 2019. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

President Donald Trump is scared.

Nevada Republican elected officials are scared.

The state GOP (such as it is) is scared.

I have said many times over the years that the emotion most political animals react most obviously to is fear – fear of losing their titles. So it is unsurprising and yet obscene that Trump, whose response to the pandemic has weakened his re-election chances, would raise the specter of voter fraud to create a predicate for challenging November’s results.

And it is unsurprising and yet depressing that the Nevada Republican Party’s leadership (such as it is) would react so meekly to the president’s unconscionable suggestion that Nevada’s elections could be plagued with fraud.

His tweet early Wednesday morning alleging illegalities that are not illegal and threatening an unlawful withholding of federal funds unless Nevada officials bend the knee would have been comical if it were not so insidious. It has become de rigueur to dismiss Trump’s tweets as a distraction, the online maundering of a pathological liar designed to distract from real issues.

But on this issue, an attempt to cast doubt without any evidence on election results and aided and abetted in his calumny by elected officials and partisan parasites, a line must be drawn. Nothing could be more inimical to the republic than persuading voters that their votes do not count or are mitigated by fraud.

What the president is threatening to do also is illegal, as law professor Steve Vladeck told Greg Sargent of The Washington Post:

"The federal government does not have the power to withhold funding from states because the president disagrees with something the states are doing,” Vladeck told me. "There’s no legal mechanism by which he can do that.”

I expect Trump to behave badly – he has been consistent since he first appeared on the national radar decades ago as a narcissist and poseur, and his conduct has only worsened since he was elected to the most powerful position in the world. Most sentient humans not wearing a MAGA hat as an essential fashion accessory understand that Trump, whose concern about destroying faith in democracy is about equal to his empathy for the soon-to-be 100,000 victims of COVID-19, has no compunction about winning at all costs. And the cost here is great.

So like a frightened elephant roaring about a mouse, Trump is scared for his political survival and stomping around on Twitter, without any regard for the carnage in his wake. He does not care; he is scared.

I thought that Republicans here, diminished as they are in numbers, might draw the line at a president impugning upcoming election results, not to mention obliquely attacking a GOP secretary of state who made what was a very controversial call for a mail-in primary back on March 24. I was wrong. Their fear of further electoral devastation has overtaken their common sense and bent their spines.

I can understand why they have become genuflecting invertebrates, even if I am sickened by their lack of fealty to and love for their state. The timeline speaks volumes:

Just five short years ago, the Republicans here controlled all six constitutional offices, both houses of the Legislature and half the U.S. Senate and House seats. Today, they retain only one statewide office (ironically, the SOS), are reduced to near-superminorities in both legislative houses, have no U.S. senators and only one congressman. And they have lost the last three presidential races in Nevada.

They are almost irrelevant. And their desperation has become redolent.

As they began to fade toward invisibility during the last two years, Republicans here have tried to acquire power in underhanded ways because they have been so outmaneuvered and clobbered at the ballot box by Democrats.

First, knowing they could not take control of the state Senate in 2018, they concocted manufactured recalls against incumbents to unlevel the playing field. Now, because they know the Democrats can leverage their capital advantages to control redistricting and reapportionment and relegate the GOP to oblivion for at least a decade, the Republicans have latched onto a proposal for an independent redistricting commission as their only shot.

So it is a natural progression (regression?) for them to hop on the Trump voter fraud bandwagon as a way to reverse their fortunes in November. It may be their only chance to stop slouching toward third-party status in Nevada.

It may not be, as Rick Wilson wrote, that everything that Trump touches dies. But the president has degraded many institutions and people (or, perhaps, exposed their true characters).

Cases in point: The reputations of once-respected rural lawmakers and GOP legislative leaders Robin Titus and James Settelmeyer continue to shrink. The laconic, no-nonsense lawmakers have become virtual Trumpbots and raised nary a peep of protest after Trump’s ridiculous tweet:

Titus: “I think the president has every right to be concerned about it. Our primary has been an example of why he should be concerned. I think his concerns are legitimate.”

Settelmeyer: “Could I prove there’s fraud? No. Could it create more opportunities? Absolutely.”

And he said this – wait for it – as he was on his way to the clerk’s office after being contacted to address a signature issue on his daughter’s ballot — you know, evidence the system worked!

Both gave pro forma statements supporting Cegavske’s decision to go to a mail-in primary, but could not dig deep enough to actually rebuke the president. For her part, Cegavske’s response was muted, but it made the point that Trump was wrong, even if she did not say so explicitly:

“Nevada has many safeguards in place to ensure the integrity of an all-mail election, including signature requirements and verification processes, preprinted ballot return envelopes, barcode tracking, and laws against ballot harvesting. Voters concerned with mailing in their ballot may drop off their ballot at any designated drop-off location in their county.”

This is where we are in a state where the top GOP elected official is someone who has to maintain nonpartisanship and the others are relatively unknown legislative leaders with almost no power. So the vacuum is filled by wannabes, most notably failed gubernatorial candidate Adam Laxalt, who parrots conservative shibboleths and fawns over Trump, and GOP Chair Michael McDonald, who has no discernible skills except sucking up to the president and persuading enough panting partisans to keep him in power.

McDonald, who presided over the two worst cycles in GOP history, and Laxalt, who cost the Republicans a chance to have veto power over redistricting, are the de facto voices of the Republicans in Nevada. They have both had ethical questions surface about their conduct in elected office (McDonald was found to have violated state laws when he was a Las Vegas city councilman, and Laxalt tried to get the state’s top gaming regulator to intervene in a civil action against his top donor), and they are the ones questioning the Democrats?

To be sure, the Democrats sued Cegavske to grab every edge they could – this is what political parties do – and threw a kitchen sink of demands in their lawsuit. But the crux of the action was to ensure maximum participation, a prospect that, yes, frightens Republicans for November. They have a sixth sense, and they see dead candidates.

The GOP is most upset about changes the Democrat-dominated Clark County Commission agreed to, none of which are illegal, as the president’s tweet falsely charged. Republicans here have used friendly news outlets to push the canard that mailing ballots to so-called “inactive” voters encourages voter fraud because many are delivered to people who no longer live at addresses.

Pictures of ballots piling up on mailboxes, as if this is the rule, are utilized for maximum fright power. But even if there was a coordinated campaign to return these ballots (again, zero evidence of such), you would also have to presume none of the checks and balances in place could prevent them from being cast and that widespread voter fraud were nigh.

What’s more, these “inactive” voters are still on the rolls — they have just not voted from that address in some time. They are eligible to vote, and a relatively small percentage do every cycle.

As Cegavske pointed out, there are plenty of safeguards in place. But the GOP – and now the RNC – is trying to cast a pall over the election – not the primary, which they don’t care much about, but the general, which matters a lot to Trump. So the Republicans who are so terrified of losing are, ironically, trying to scare voters into believing that the election may be rife with fraud.

This is potentially damaging in the short run and possibly destructive in the long run.

Edmund Burke’s axiom about evil prospering if good men do nothing has become a hoary cliché to use at times such as these. That has been true of national Republicans ever since Trump became president — they generally have no checks and have balanced their political interests above the country’s.

But the Burke line doesn’t really apply to Nevada Republican “leaders” after the president’s latest Twitter outrage that slimes Nevada and their top elected leader. They haven’t done nothing; they have done everything to assist Trump.

Why?

Because they are scared.

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