Adam Laxalt, former Nevada attorney general and unsuccessful candidate for governor in 2018, launched his campaign for U.S. Senate by donning the mantle of a Jedi knight leading a rag-tag rebel army against a tyrannical, evil empire — aka the Democrats.
His announcement video opens with a clip of his three children, wearing capes and dueling with toy light sabers, while the candidate’s voice-over announces his family’s love for the “Star Wars” franchise. He notes that the series’ theme of a battle of good against evil is akin to the way he thinks about his Senate campaign.
In the U.S., he intones, “it seems like the wrong side is winning” that perennial conflict. He defines the threat in both the video spot and in his initial campaign press release:
“The radical left, rich elites, ‘woke’ corporations, academia, Hollywood and the media are taking over America. That’s your empire right there, telling lie after lie, chaos and violence, censored truth that doesn’t fit their agenda, amplifying anger and envy. They demand control, ruthlessly enforcing conformity, canceling any who stand in their way. But the truth is we must stand in their way because it’s not just about us. We know it’s our kids and generations to come.”– Adam Laxalt, Senate campaign announcement.
Doom approaches, but there’s no mention of specific issues currently relevant to Nevada, his (June) GOP primary opponents, Sam Brown and Sharelle Merdenhall, or the incumbent Democrat, Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto. He does reference his military service as a Navy lawyer in Iraq and his record as attorney general, but the main thrust of the announcement is what he sees as the existential threat to the nation:
‘Good vs. evil’
“The battle to keep our country free doesn’t end,” he says. “If anything, the stakes are higher now than they’ve ever been in our lifetime. That’s why I’m running for Senate… We’re David; they’re Goliath. We’re the rebels; they’re the Empire. But we are America. We are the good guys. And for all our kids, we’re not going to let the bad guys win.”
Some of the images in the video are from the protests in Reno against police shootings last year and others feature “antifa” marchers. His announcement targets Republican primary voters, but it will be interesting to see how much of his message resonates with independents and disaffected Democrats if he graduates to the General Election next year.
A method to the metaphor
Still, his save-the-galaxy-from-the-Death-Star approach may be an effective piece of political media in line with the strategy of what is being called Trump-plus. That concept revolves around the theory that all Republicans need to win in 2022 is to repeat their performance of 2020, plus latch on to some independents and other voters to gain control of the House, Senate, and key state races throughout the nation.
Part of that strategy is adherence to the Big Lie – mimicking Donald Trump’s constant challenges of the results and integrity of the 2020 election.
In Nevada, Laxalt since November has spearheaded claims of election fraud, although none of the evidence he and others presented in multiple unsuccessful lawsuits has gotten traction in any court or has been corroborated in any way. His campaign quickly received the Trump stamp of approval. Trump’s Save America PAC, which recently endorsed him in an email blast, noted that he “fought valiantly against the election fraud, which took place in Nevada,” and solicits donations.
The Trump-plus effect
But back to the “Trump-plus” strategy. That concept is based on the theory that if Republicans can repeat and maintain the support they had in 2020, control of the House will fall into their grasp. In addition, this year’s redistricting will likely benefit Republicans by adding six or more House seats into the “R” column. Democrats are also playing defense in the U.S. Senate, where several seats now held by Democrats are seen to be vulnerable.
The core of the Trump-plus strategy is that for Republicans to win power in 2022, they must embrace the former president’s ideals, political practices, rhetoric, the Big Lie and all the baggage that comes with it. The base that Trump magically seems to be able to maintain and control with such ease (and to the chagrin for some establishment Republicans) is key to the effort.
What happens after the primary? What works in reaching the Trump base may be an anathema to independents and moderates who reject a continuation of 2020’s cycle of divisive politics. Candidates like Laxalt will cross that bridge when they come to it, but for now such big-picture, bombastic rhetoric about the danger of a socialist empire resonates with the Trump-centric base.
The Basque Fry
Rep. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) announced Laxalt’s Senate candidacy at the annual GOP Basque Fry in Douglas County. The speakers at the event, which organizers said drew about 4,000 people Aug. 14, can be viewed on Vimeo.
Attendees interviewed at the Basque Fry were among a ready audience for the candidate’s subsequent official announcement message and his insistence that election fraud was rampant last November.
“(My concern) is whether my vote will actually will be counted, because I don’t trust that it will be counted here in Nevada,” said Cindy, who declined to give her last name. She doesn’t trust mail-in voting or a system where votes are being counted by computer and can be hacked. She believes the 2020 presidential election was rigged.
“…It was obvious that there was voter fraud, but none of the courts would hear anything to prove otherwise,” she said. “It hasn’t (yet) been proven that our votes are safe and I’d like someone to prove that.”
Cindy is looking for hope: “I hope that we can reclaim the America that I think is still here and all of us who don’t, who aren’t on social media, work hard and don’t take for granted our privileges.”
Immigrants, COVID and masks
Paul Basso, another attendee at the Fry, said he is concerned about some classic bread-and-butter issues. “The border is one of my main issues,” he said. “And paying $100 for a sheet of plywood. The economy, the border, this inflation, it’s just insane, totally insane.”
If he were among the speakers at the Basque Fry, he said, he would ask the crowd “are you happy what they voted for (in 2020), because we’re living with it now.” He also is an opponent of mask mandates.
“We’re lucky we’re not wearing a mask now,” he said, in reference to the bare-faced crowd at the event. “I mean, (if) you’re going to a store in Reno, you got to wear a mask.” The spread of the virus, he said, has less to do with face coverings than “letting 280,000 people across the border with COVID every month. That’s what’s happening every month. It makes me sick to my stomach. Doesn’t make sense, does it? What’s (Biden) doing for the American people?”
Although the U.S. Border Patrol reports that “migrant encounters” at the southern border are at a 21-year high, there’s no evidence that the undocumented people are to blame for the latest spike in COVID-19 cases. Instead, researchers have concluded that the more-contagious Delta variant and low vaccination rates account for the latest wave of the contagion.
The culture wars
Iliana, another attendee, was worried about a number of issues: “I think the mixture of critical race theory, the whole concept that we’re fighting this, like, invisible war almost. And all of us have the same ideology of respect of freedom of speech, freedom of press, freedom to bear arms, and just upholding that and how differently it can be convoluted on the Democratic side, and saying that they’ll attack our liberties and everyone’s liberties, for press, for appearances to fit in with the crowd (and) for ratings.”
Iliana’s friend, Leah, who came to the event from her home in California, was concerned about vaccine passports.
“So in California now, if in LA County, in Palm Springs, in San Francisco, if you don’t show a valid passport, a ‘vaccine passport,’ you cannot go indoors to eat. What does that remind you of? That reminds you of the yellow star that reminds you of Nazism.”– Leah, a guest at the Basque Fry.
Vaccine passports, she said, also remind her of racial “segregation. And this is modern-day segregation between white faucet and black faucet… You see plenty of signs, (like) ‘vaccinated go here unvaccinated go there. You can sit here if you’re vaccinated, you can sit there if you’re non-vaccinated.’”
Support for the former president
Attendees Stephanie and Amy voiced their undying support of the former president.
“I was not a supporter of him in the beginning,” Stephanie said. “But then when I saw all of the injustice and all of the negative (press reports) and never reporting any of what was actually getting done, I changed my mind.” In general, she said, she feels “very oppressed, and afraid to just be an American because being an American is a bad thing right now. And that really sickens me in my heart.”
Amy said that she believes the “racial divide is getting pushed by the political divide. And I don’t have a racial divide at all. And you know, and I don’t think we should have a political divide. I think that if we had honest people doing honest jobs, then …we’d have a different country.”
Rep. Mark Amodei, who may throw his hat in the ring in a campaign for Nevada governor, said the Basque Fry is the “premier Republican event in the state of Nevada for the sixth year in a row. If you’re Republican and you’re involved in public service or interested in it, you should be here.”
Former Sen. Dean Heller, also a possible candidate for governor in 2022, said common threads among the crowd at the Basque Fry were concerns about immigration and threats to the Second Amendment.
“That’s what they’re concerned about most, and both of (those) are being managed very poorly, and they’re worried about their ability to express their freedoms, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and all that,” Heller said. His decision about whether he will enter the Nevada governor’s race may come in September, he said.
The Basque Fry audience was ripe and ready for the message that Adam Laxalt later pushed in his campaign announcement. Crowd members were already primed with conservative media’s hot-button issues and may favor sending Laxalt to that Senate seat, far, far away.
“The Force” of those issues will be with him in the primary, but there’s a bigger election after that one. Running that race — while continuing to live in an alternative galaxy where Trump won in November — might not attract the votes Laxalt is looking for.
Don Dike-Anukam is a Reno native and a Northern Nevada college student. He has been a regional and local activist and is currently a political and news writer, interested in all things political and newsworthy in Northern Nevada. He shot video of last year’s Reno protests while an intern and writer for ThisisReno and some of that footage turned up in Laxalt’s campaign announcement clip.