Politico

'Really embarrassing': GOP erupts into swing state civil war


Republicans have been feuding for months in Nevada’s largest county after a pro-Donald Trump insurgency with ties to far-right activists threw the party into chaos.

Now the turmoil is spreading across the battleground state, consuming the GOP in a bonfire of lawsuits, counterclaims and resignations.

The meltdown — the latest iteration of the hostilities that have wracked the party nationally in the post-Trump era — could prove especially damaging if the fissures linger into next year. Trump lost to Joe Biden in Nevada by just more than 2 percentage points, and Republicans have a chance of knocking off Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto and Gov. Steve Sisolak in 2022. National GOP groups are pouring money into those races — but the dysfunction within the state’s Republican Party is threatening to undermine those efforts.

In recent days, Republicans tied to a pre-existing leadership group in Las Vegas’ Clark County filed a lawsuit seeking to bar the state party from electing officers at its fall meeting on Saturday in Northern Nevada. On Thursday, a judge in Nevada denied their request, dismissing the case.

And that same day, the state party chair, Michael McDonald, pledged in an interview to counter-sue.

Meanwhile, several GOP officials in Washoe County — the state’s second-most populous county and a traditional bellwether — resigned from their posts earlier this week amid an uprising from pro-Trump activists within their ranks. In Carson City, former state Controller Ron Knecht resigned from his leadership position in his local Republican club and from the state party’s central committee, which he torched as “dysfunctional” on his way out.

“Oh my God,” said Amy Tarkanian, a former chair of the state Republican Party. “It’s really, really embarrassing, just as a whole.”

For the GOP’s shrinking band of traditionalists, the warring has laid bare the limited options remaining for them in a party that is still fiercely loyal to Trump and his baseless claims that the 2020 election was rigged. Nearly a year after the November election, the party continues to reckon with the volatile forces set loose by the former president.

In Washoe County, some old-guard Republicans have simply left the GOP organization and formed a PAC to help elect Republican lawmakers, working outside of the party.

“We’re trying to focus on the very practical, important, productive business of taking back the legislature,” Knecht said.

At a minimum, the saga in Nevada has served as a public relations fiasco for the state GOP, with embarrassing coverage by the state’s largest newspaper, the Las Vegas Review-Journal, and other influential outlets. The effort to oust the original leaders of the Clark County party involved activists with ties to the Proud Boys, a militant, far-right group, which drew national attention.

Two parties are claiming to represent the GOP in Clark County — one controlling the local party’s website, the other recognized by the state party.

“I’m tired of seeing the BS,” said Michael Jack, a former vice chair of the Washoe County GOP who is now seeking to unseat McDonald as state party chair. “We could do so much in this state. This is a center-right state. There is no reason the Democrats should have dominated the legislature the last three cycles … It’s ridiculous, and it’s because the focus of the state party has always gone to where the money is, and that’s the top of the ticket.”

Tarkanian said that with Republicans competing for ownership of local parties and forming rival groups in the state, mail, field and other campaign operations next year may all be duplicated.

“It’ll be wasted time, wasted money, instead of working together as one strong unit,” she said.

The intraparty friction is not unique to Nevada Republicans. Earlier this year, Democrats in Washoe County, aided by national Democratic leaders, wrested control of the state’s midterm campaign operation away from the state party after a slate of Bernie Sanders allies endorsed by the local chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America won control of it.

Still, the Nevada GOP’s civil war has been especially bitter and long-lasting.

“It’s a simple — I don’t want to call it a power grab — but it’s a maintenance of power [by state party leaders],” said Stephen Silberkraus, a former Nevada Republican assemblyman and political director of the Clark County group that’s trying to block the election of state party officers on Saturday. “It really is a house divided.”

Silberkraus is among a group of Republicans facing expulsion from the state central committee this weekend. He said of the current state party leadership, “They just go for the throat and do what they want to do.”

The animosity between Silberkraus’ Clark County faction and the state party chair erupted earlier this year, after the Republican Party’s state central committee voted to censure Nevada’s Republican secretary of state, Barbara Cegavske, for “failing to investigate” Trump’s baseless allegations of widespread voter fraud. Clark County Republicans accused McDonald, a Trump ally, of improperly influencing the vote by adding extremist members to the county’s roster.

McDonald said he did nothing improper, casting the dispute as one between grassroots Republicans and two county parties — in Clark and Washoe — where entrenched leaders wanted to “keep it like a country club.” McDonald said Jesse Law, the former Trump campaign staffer who is now recognized by the state party as the Clark County chair, has swelled attendance at membership meetings, and he promised to counter-sue the pre-existing Republican group for its “frivolous lawsuit.”

McDonald also maintained the party will not suffer next year for the current upheaval. The Clark and Washoe county leadership, he said, were “anchors” on the party that are “now pulled up.”

“This young group is coming in, these people who have never been involved before, and they’re looking at the policies that President Trump had, and that’s what’s driving them,” he said.

Allies of Michael Kadenacy, the Washoe party chair who resigned, see the fallout far differently. One of them described it as the “hair-on-fire crowd” now seizing control of the party.

Still, McDonald is expected to win reelection on Saturday if a court does not intervene.

In Washoe County, the party’s future leadership is uncertain. The local party has appointed a temporary chair, who did not respond to a request for comment.

Sandy Masters, a member of the Washoe County GOP’s executive committee who served with the previous chair and has stayed on at the party, said she isn’t worried about the turbulence having any long-term effect on the party. The local party has overcome change before, she said.

“We’ve got such passionate people wanting to work toward getting this next election right,” Masters said. “I have absolutely no doubt in my mind that this is going to be just fine, very soon, and you can take that to the bank.”

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