“People don’t want chaos,” incoming Nevada Secretary of State Cisco Aguilar told me, shortly after he had been declared the victor in his race against Jim Marchant. “They’re worried about kitchen table issues, their job, the education of their kids. Marchant was causing chaos.” Marchant, who lost by around 23,000 votes statewide, had coordinated an “America First Coalition of Secretary of State Candidates” committed to overturning the 2020 presidential election result.
Nevada and Arizona were ground zero of this effort, with extremist candidates for secretary of state who ran on promises that they would challenge Biden’s Electoral College victory, make it far harder to vote in their states, and use the full powers of their office to tilt the scales in favor of GOP candidates in future elections. They were joined by Senate candidates who tied their political fortunes to election denialism, extremist candidates for attorneys general, and, in the case of Arizona, a gubernatorial candidate, Kari Lake, who modeled her entire political persona on the demagogic, anti-media, anti-“loser,” election-denying tactics of Donald Trump.
As of this writing, all but one of those candidates have gone down in electoral defeat. The lone outstanding result is the attorney general’s race in Arizona, where the election-denying Abe Hamadeh is trailing his Democratic opponent by roughly 800 votes in a race that hasn’t yet been called.
These Western states’ repudiation of election denialism is a crucial step on the path to healing for a democracy battered by two years of insurrectionist, overtly antidemocratic, conspiracist politics cultivated by the ex-president. It was made possible by an intense effort to educate voters on the dangers of undermining the pillars of the democratic system. When it came to secretaries of state races, the Democratic Association of Secretaries of State spearheaded an education campaign in Arizona, Nevada, and other swing states. Their role, Aguilar says, was critical. “You had to talk to voters directly, educate them on the secretary of state’s office, what it does, why it matters. They realized the secretary of state held a strong position, not only in this election but in the next election.”
Aguilar framed the election as a referendum on democracy. His opponent, Marchant, was, he said, “the ringleader” of the anti-democracy movement at the secretary of state level, and was stoking violence against election workers and volunteers with his extremist rhetoric. “To be able to take him out, hopefully it’ll hurt the movement throughout the country. I have to knock down the false foundation my opponent built with lies and misinformation, and start from scratch. My job is to be a regulator of elections. My job is to be fair and impartial. My opponent didn’t understand that.”
As a part of his efforts to protect elections’ infrastructure, Aguilar wants the legislature to pass a bill making it a felony to harass or intimidate elections officials and volunteers, and he hopes that DAs will follow up by prosecuting Nevadans who continue to threaten elections’ workers.
Speaking of renegades who threaten and harass the men and women whose work undergirds Americans elections, how about that ludicrously narcissistic performance from Donald Trump on Tuesday night, when he threw his hat back into the presidential ring in order to restore “glory” to America?
If you missed it—which you might well have, since the three broadcast networks wisely decided not to break into their regular scheduling to cover the meandering, masturbatory performance, and even Fox News ended up cutting away from the speech after a while—the speech was a characteristically narcissistic display. The short version—exaggerated for effect, just a wee bit—goes something like this: “I’m running for president because I can’t bear to be out of the spotlight. I was, as you all know, the greatest president in the history of the universe, and under my watch the economy was better than it’s ever been. The whole world envied America—people would call me and tell me how respected the country was again. I knew how to deal with the Rocket Man and other bad guys, and because I was such a stable genius, America was more respected than it has ever been before. Things are really bad under Sleepy Joe, but MAGA will bring on the Rapture in 2024 if you just stick with me for the next two years and watch everything go to hell in a handbasket in the meantime. Then two years from now we’ll make it all right. I’ll do for America in 2024 what I did for America in 2016, and what I did for the Republican Party in the 2018 and 2022 midterms, which was of course incredible, bigger than anyone said was possible—and if they didn’t win as much as they should have, that was Mitch McConnell’s fault. He’s weak. A loser. And the Chinese wanted Biden to win in 2020—just saying. But of course he didn’t win. We had the biggest victory ever and our great movement that loves America so much will make the world respect America. Thank you. Thank you. There’s so much love for me in this room. So much love. And that’s why I am running for president again. This country will soon be respected like you would never believe.”
It all reminded me of Marta Becket, an aged ballerina I encountered when I was in my 20s and driving around the Western deserts. Well past her prime, she had set up shop on the edge of Death Valley, and was putting on one-person ballet shows in a rickety old concert hall that she and her husband had bought and renamed the Martha Becket Amargosa Opera House. She had lost much of her ability to pirouette or do a plié, and performed for dwindling crowds that, I suspect, had come mainly for the voyeuristic purpose of seeing a once-talented performer in decline. Her capacity to dazzle was, at best, just an echo, a vague message in a bottle from bygone years.
That’s what Trump looked like on Tuesday night. There was none of the fire, the sick-but-raw energy of 2015, none of the high-voltage carnival act. Instead, there was just a subdued, vaguely senescent, old man, waxing nostalgic about his past, and rambling hopelessly about his future. It was a true Sunset Boulevard moment. “Mr. Murdoch, I’m ready for my close-up.”
Trump in 2015 had animal magnetism. He was, quite genuinely, scary in his demagogic talents. Trump in 2022, by contrast, has animal forget-me-ism. He’s like an incontinent old dog still determined to mark his territory, but instead hopelessly dribbling down his own leg.
Sure, his rent-a-mob cheered dutifully as he rehashed his greatest hits, while standing shiftily in front of a phalanx of US flags. Yes, they robotically screamed, “Trump! Trump! Trump! Trump!” to his immense gratification. But there was no sense of menace here, no intimation of the wild ride, the unscripted burst-through-all-restraints adventure he promised audiences the first time around. This was a desperately tired Norma Desmond–like performance, with Mar-a-Lago serving as the Hollywood mansion backdrop.
Jim Marchant’s defeat in Nevada and Kari Lake and Mark Finchem’s losses in Arizona show just how toxic Trump and his election denialism have become. So toxic that even Rupert Murdoch has, reportedly, told Trump in private conversations that he cannot back him in his current presidential bid. Of course, none of that was enough to stop the MAGA-man from charging ahead into the past. Trump’s “special announcement” of his presidential run, just as the Republicans in Congress began their post-election blame-game, is another example, if any more were needed, of just how cultist, how narcissistic, and how vacuous the MAGA movement really is.