To be competitive in Nevada, GOP should follow Sandoval, not Trump


John Locher / AP

In this Nov. 4, 2014, file photo, Gov. Brian Sandoval waves in Las Vegas.

After watching Mitt Romney and several other Republican candidates lose in the 2012 election, the Nevada GOP went to the drawing board to figure out how to come back stronger in 2014.

As described by UNLV political science professor David Damore during a panel discussion last Wednesday, the approach they came up with relied heavily on reaching out to black and Latino voters and inviting them into their party.

They called it the Sandoval Model, named after popular Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval, and it worked. In 2014, behind a landslide by Sandoval, Republicans swept the statewide offices and gained majorities in both chambers of the Legislature.

But four years later, Damore said, “Trump wiped that out.” Nevada Republicans lined up behind Trump despite the fact that his anti-immigrant policies and bigoted rhetoric were poison to minority voters, who in poll after poll showed that they vehemently disapproved of the president.

The result: Last week’s election-night blue wave in Nevada.

Damore said the results strongly suggested that the GOP should pivot back to a more moderate approach, and he was absolutely right.

If it’s not apparent to Republicans by now that Trump’s messaging isn’t connecting with the majority of Nevada voters, they’re not dealing in reality. For the Nevada GOP to rebound from its disastrous performance this year, it’s critical for the moderates in the party to step up and demand a shift away from Trump’s extremism.

This isn’t just a matter of election victories or losses — it’s the right thing to do for Nevada residents. Having choices of competent, reasonable candidates from both sides of the aisle is good for a democracy.

And as Sandoval has shown during his eight years as governor, Nevadans will strongly support moderate Republicans who put the best interests of state residents over party ideology. Sandoval has repeatedly bucked Republican dogma and Trump himself through such actions as championing a tax increase for school funding, being an early adopter of Medicaid expansion and stiff-arming a call by Trump to use state National Guard troops for massive immigration raids.

That centrist approach was baked into the Sandoval Model, Damore said, in which Republicans stressed kitchen-table issues like job creation and education instead of wedge issues like abortion and immigration.

That’s the kind of leadership Nevadans deserved — and the kind they demand, as they showed in this year’s midterms.

If Republicans choose to double down with Trump’s hateful brand of politics, they risk losing not only in 2020 but well beyond.

As Tuesday strongly suggested, they may already be facing a major shift in Nevada politics from reliably purple to deep blue.

The trouble spot for Republicans was Washoe County, where Nevada Democrats have merely tried to hold their own in previous elections. This year, Democrats triumphed, which possibly reflected an influx of Californians to work at Tesla and other companies that have expanded into Nevada as a result of Sandoval’s economic development efforts.

Robert Lang, the executive director of Brookings Mountain West and the Lincy Institute, put it well during the panel discussion when he pointed out that transplanted Californians don’t give up their political leanings when they surrender their driver’s licenses. Many adopt the values of their progressive state, meaning Democrats stand to gain a stronger and stronger hold in Northern Nevada as more Californians flow in from across the border.

Speaking of which, here’s another bit of advice for Nevada Republicans: Drop the fear-mongering about how Nevada will turn into California if we elect Democrats. Not only is it a stupid play politically — offending a growing base of voters is not a good idea — but it also threatens to hurt our economic development efforts by putting off California companies.

As Sen. Dean Heller said in his concession speech to Jacky Rosen, it’s time for Nevadans to do some soul-searching about how to move forward.

But really, the solution is pretty simple.

Just dust off the Sandoval Model.