The Nevada Democratic Party has, um ... quit

While the media focuses on a civil war within the GOP, they have largely missed one taking place in Nevada across the aisle. Perhaps hostile takeover better describes the insurgent campaign against the Democratic establishment in the Silver State, still run by Harry Reid in his semi-retirement. Ever since Bernie Sanders took on Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential nomination, the party’s progressive wing has gone to war against Reid’s establishment.

This year, they finally won. The Democratic Socialist slate swept the five party leadership positions in their election on Saturday. On Monday, the new chair of the Democratic Party found a note in her office, The Intercept’s Ryan Grim and Akela Lacy report, congratulating Judith Whitmer on her success … and informing her that payroll would be super easy to meet:

NOT LONG AFTER Judith Whitmer won her election on Saturday to become chair of the Nevada Democratic Party, she got an email from the party’s executive director, Alana Mounce. The message from Mounce began with a note of congratulations, before getting to her main point.

She was quitting. So was every other employee. And so were all the consultants. And the staff would be taking severance checks with them, thank you very much.

On March 6, a coalition of progressive candidates backed by the local chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America took over the leadership of the Nevada Democratic Party, sweeping all five party leadership positions in a contested election that evening. Whitmer, who had been chair of the Clark County Democratic Party, was elected chair. The incumbents had prepared for the loss, having recently moved $450,000 out of the party’s coffers and into the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee’s account. The DSCC will put the money toward the 2022 reelection bid of Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, a vulnerable first-term Democrat.

This should sound familiar to Republicans. In 2012, Ron Paul’s organization swept out the GOP establishment in several states, including Minnesota, where they muscled their slate of delegates into the national convention. The GOP party regulars got pushed aside, while the Paulian populists evinced little enthusiasm for traditional political organizing. The result, at least in Minnesota, was a couple of cycles of chaos — although it did end up prepping the battlefield somewhat for Donald Trump in the end.

In Nevada, though, Democratic Party employees didn’t bother to wait to get pushed out. Whitmer claims she had no intention of firing everyone, The Intercept reports, but that would have been inevitable. Having the Democratic Socialists in charge of the remnants of the Reid Machine would have eventually resulted in too much conflict. The leadership fight proved that relations between the two wings had already begun too poisonous for peaceful co-existence:

The Left Caucus and DSA organizers ran a slate of candidates for state party leadership under the name “The NV Dems Progressive Slate.” All but one candidate on the slate was a dues-paying member of a local DSA chapter. The Democratic Party ran candidates on a slate titled “The Progressive Unity Slate,” playing on a theme they’d been pushing the entire cycle: The groups angling for change from the left were trying to divide the party, they said, while they were trying to save it.

Whitmer faced pressure to drop out of the race, and allies of Reid were working their connections to try to keep the party structure intact. A letter circulated accusing Whitmer of blocking the creation of diversity caucuses, though Whitmer told The Intercept it was a disagreement over process. The fight also drew the attention of Cortez Masto, who asked Whitmer to drop out and approached her opponent, Clark County Commissioner Tick Segerblom, about running. Segerblom had chaired the party in the 1990s and wasn’t considering running for the seat. …

Whitmer’s predecessor, former Clark County Democratic Chair Donna West, said Whitmer did not try to bridge gaps within the party. She “does not listen to others’ opinions and really take those on board,” West said. “I found that working with her could be really difficult, that she doesn’t really collaborate well, and doesn’t work to build consensus.” West resigned last summer.

So no one was terribly excited to work with the new Democratic Socialist management. The walkout, however, allows the Reid Machine to regroup, as Jon Ralston wrote yesterday, while wondering what Democrats were thinking in the election. Do they even know why political parties exist, Ralston wonders while making the same connection to the Paulian revolution in 2012:

The forces that erected one of the most formidable political machines in the country are, in concert with national Democrats, withdrawing money and staff and plan to set up an outside entity to do what The Reid Machine has done best: Launder outside money, register voters and, yes, win elections. …

The real irony here, of course, is that these revolutionaries have taken over a party that has been a well-oiled machine since 2008. With four straight presidential victories, two Democratic U.S. senators, three of four House members, five of six constitutional officers and both houses of the Legislature, what exactly is this revolution supposed to change?

If not for the dreaded Establishment that helped create an exemplar of a party organization, Dean Heller would still be a senator, Adam Laxalt would be governor and Donald Trump would have won Nevada. Vive la revolution!

Parties are – this may come as news to the new bosses – supposed to help win elections. They are not supposed to be about malcontents railing about enemies within, real and imagined, and be obsessed about whether chairs were thrown (they were) at a state convention five years ago where they lost to…a well-organized Reid machine.

Ralston, who knows Nevada about as well as anyone in the media, seems to believe that the Reid Machine will still control the Democratic Party through its superior connections and money. Having the entire staff of the old party walk out those doors and into the new offices certainly helps. However, Harry Reid is old and getting weaker, and his sons have never seemed up to following in his footsteps in terms of influence. Just how long the oil keeps getting applied to Reid’s machine is a legit question, and that may be one reason not to bet too heavily against the Democratic Socialists.

Still, populists don’t tend to organize very well, and Ralston’s pretty much dead-on about their expertise being mainly limited to “inane Twitter memes.” It’s one thing to organize for caucus elections, but a much different proposition to organize for general elections and candidate recruitment. Republicans might have their best opening in Nevada in over a decade — if not in the next cycle, then perhaps the one after that when Reid stops being a factor.

In other words, pass the popcorn … and the oppo-research dollars.