It’s doubly bad strategy for former Republican Attorney General Adam Laxalt to threaten to sue over the 2022 election 14 months before ballots are even cast.
But that’s what Laxalt — now running for U.S. Senate against Democratic incumbent Catherine Cortez Masto — did on a right-wing radio show earlier this month.
“With me at the top of the ticket, we’re going to be able to get everybody at the table and come up with a full plan, do our best to try to secure this election, get as many observers as we can and file lawsuits early, if there are lawsuits we can file to try to tighten up the election.”
By declaring his intent to sue before the voting has taken place — hell, before the campaign has taken place — Laxalt perhaps unintentionally betrays a lack of faith in his own electoral prowess. Not that he’s wrong: He barely won his race for attorney general in 2014 and handily lost his race for governor in 2018.
And Laxalt is no stranger to failed election lawsuits: As the co-chair of ex-President Donald Trump’s 2020 campaign, he oversaw legal challenges to the 2020 Nevada results, all of which were ultimately dismissed. (Laxalt maintains the actions were filed too late, but they also suffered from a lack of proof.)
But Laxalt isn’t the first person to cry fraud in Nevada, and neither is Trump. Long before either of them arrived in the Silver State, ex-Assemblywoman Sharron Angle was setting the trend. After leaving an unremarkable career in the Assembly, Angle took aim at Congress. She faced off with Dean Heller, who’d served in the Assembly and as secretary of state, and fell just 421 votes short.
Angle sued, claiming problems in Washoe County cost her the seat. She demanded a new election, despite being asked to let it go by some of the state’s top Republicans at the time. But she kept up the fight until a judge said no.
That wasn’t the last time Angle objected to an election. In 2010, she raised the specter of fraud in the wake of her loss to U.S. Sen. Harry Reid. This time, Angle tried to monetize her grievances in the pages of a self-published book. She told Politico that Reid unfairly took the election from her and that she filed a complaint with the Justice Department.
Fact check: Reid did take the election from her, but he did it the old fashioned way — by getting more votes. But still, Nevada was ground zero for the Angle Doctrine, which says there are only two kinds of elections, the ones you win and the ones they steal. (History shows Angle has very few wins in her column despite several attempts before and after the Reid loss.)
But even Angle in her most fevered dreams didn’t do what Trump did in 2016, declaring the election was rigged before the votes were cast. He did it then to explain — to his ego and the millions of followers who fed it — why he’d have lost to then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. That may be the same reason Laxalt is now promising to sue to “tighten up” the election.
But that brings us to the second reason that strategy is a bad idea, the same question that bedeviled Trump in 2016, or would have, had the former president had the tiniest regard for intellectual honesty.
What if Laxalt wins?
No, it’s not likely, given his past electoral performance, the registration advantage of the Democratic Party and Cortez Masto’s formidable campaign skills and intellect. But what if Laxalt, having pre-emptively declared the election potentially fraudulent, actually wins said election?
Surely, Laxalt would embrace the results. But how will he explain it? “What had happened was, after I alerted the state to the potential rigging of the election last year, all the socialist fraudsters were on notice, and they couldn’t steal the election because of all the extra scrutiny, so this election is legit.”
Speaking of weak, Attorney General Aaron Ford took a dim view of Laxalt’s “pre-crime” vision of 2022 balloting in a post on Twitter: “Read something recently about a Nevada US Senate candidate threatening to sue over the 2022 elections before they even occur. All I’ll say is that if he brings the same weakness to court this time than he brought last time, he’ll lose. Again. Believe that.”