The Democrats Socialists’ takeover of the Nevada Democratic Party is a major story but it remains to be seen if it will be a major development with far-reaching consequences. One thing I do know is that, on the merits, the state’s Democratic Party might have been the least in need of a revolution of any in the country.
In recent years, the Reid Machine (named after former U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid) has transformed a once Republican state into a Democratic juggernaut. As Nevada journalist Jon Ralston explained to CNN‘s Chris Cillizza, “this so-called revolution was against an establishment that has won four straight presidential races, elected two Democratic senators, three of our House members, all but one of the state’s six constitutional officers and both houses of the Legislature.”
Nonetheless, on March 6, a slate of candidates led by Judith Whitmer and backed by the Democratic Socialists of America, swept all but one of the party’s leadership positions, leading to the resignation of the entire existing staff and their consultants.
The schism is disappointing considering that Harry Reid and Bernie Sanders are not enemies and Sander’s senior team is peopled by many former Reid staffers. On the ground, things have been more acrimonious.
Ironically, it all began with Reid’s decision to hold an early caucus in Nevada back in 2008. The idea was to increase the state’s influence and, in particular, to lock in the Democratic presidential candidates as opponents of dumping nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain. The gambit worked, as the Obama administration killed off that plan, but the caucus system eventually worked in Sanders’ favor.
After a strong and contested showing in Nevada’s 2016 caucuses against Hillary Clinton, the Sanders organizers went to work and helped Bernie pull off a thumping victory in 2020 against Joe Biden. The sweep of the caucuses allowed supporters of Sanders to fill up positions on the party’s Central Committee. This is why there were able to take over the party on March 6.
Ironically, the Reid Machine’s losing candidate, Clark County Commissioner Tick Segerblom, was the chairman of Sanders’ Nevada campaigns, so this wasn’t really about the ideological makeup of the party chair. It was more about control, and also some concern about Whitmer’s personal style and willingness to listen.
Ralston, who is as astute an observer of the state’s politics as you can find, is worried that the DSA takeover may lead to a nasty intraparty fight that will provide the Republicans an opportunity to make a comeback. This could take the form of primary battles against Democratic incumbents, or it could just be that the new leadership is too focused on revolution to take care of the nuts and bolts of politics. No one disputes the Reid Machine’s ability to turn out the vote.
In truth, though, the establishment suspected they were going to lose the leadership elections and they moved $450,000 out of the state party’s coffers into the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee’s accounts where it can be used to help Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto who is up for reelection in 2022. Meanwhile, the self-exiled staff of the party will reorganize outside the party, as Ralston explains:
Then, all of the staff resigned right afterward, and the Reid folks have vowed to set up a separate entity because they have no faith in the party to do what they have done successfully for more than a decade: Launder (legally) money through the party to pay for voter programs.
Of course, things look better if you’re on the ramparts fighting for a more progressive Democratic Party that supports Medicare-for-All and a $15/hour minimum wage. If an establishment organization as formidable as Reid’s can be toppled, no state organization is safe from socialist replacement. In fact, sending that message may be the biggest immediate accomplishment of the Nevada revolution. Perhaps other state party officials will now take preemptive action and get more in line with progressive goals, making it less urgent that they lose their jobs.
Whether this a good or bad thing depends not just on what the party represents going forward, but on whether it can win elections. These two considerations always have to be balanced, as power shouldn’t be squandered but progressive goals cannot be achieved in the minority.
If a new more left-leaning Democratic Party continues to win in Nevada, that can be counted as a progressive victory that can be emulated in other states. But, remember, without the votes of Nevada’s two Democratic senators, Mitch McConnell would still be running the U.S. Senate. Which is more vital to the accessibility of health care?
If there are some reasons for optimism after the Nevada revolution, the concern is that what was a model of electoral success has been upended, and no one knows what will come next.