Much as they might disdain him, perhaps no one in Nevada is poised to directly benefit more from Trump winning the Republican presidential nomination than Democratic Sen. Jacky Rosen and Democratic Rep. Susie Lee.
They’re the incumbents among the state’s congressional delegation whose races are expected to be most competitive this year, and the outcome for each of them could have an outsized role in determining which party controls the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House.
As elections have become more nationalized, polarized, and Trumpized, individual candidates and “candidate quality,” as Mitch McConnell dubbed it in 2022, have become less significant to the results. In a typical contemporary congressional race, how good or bad or qualified or unqualified the candidates are isn’t as important as which team they’re on. (Sorry, individual congressional candidates everywhere, but it’s not really about you.)
In large part, both Lee and Rosen – and especially Rosen – can thank Trump for their current jobs, having been fortunate enough to be seeking them for the first time in the 2018 midterm election when Trump was president. Since winning the Republican presidential nomination in 2016, Trump has been one of the most powerful get-out-the-vote assets for Democrats in the party’s post-FDR history.
A new president’s midterm election is almost always a bloodbath for their party, and the 2018 midterm was no exception. If Hillary Clinton had won in 2016, Republican Sen. Dean Heller, his deeply compromised “candidate quality” notwithstanding, in all likelihood would have prevailed over Rosen, or whoever the Democratic nominee might have been, in 2018.
But Clinton didn’t win in 2016, and Heller was last seen finishing an ignominiously distant third in the 2022 Republican primary for governor.
The 2022 midterms were an exception to the midterm bloodbath pattern. Although Democrat Joe Biden was in the White House, Democratic losses in the House were minimal and Democrats added a seat to the Senate control they had won when Trump himself was on the ballot in 2020.
Much of the national press, punditry and analysis in 2022 (however misguidedly) deemed Adam Laxalt a Senate candidate whose “candidate quality” was, eh, not that bad.
But a key feature of the 2022 election between Laxalt and incumbent Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto was not the quality of either candidate, but, in yet another election cycle, Trump. Though somewhat slow to get to it, Cortez Masto’s campaign ended up aggressively saddling Laxalt with Trump. Cortez Masto of course is still in the Senate, while Laxalt is busy trying to get Trump to take him back after Laxalt cheated on him with Ron DeSantis.
(And now I will once again reiterate that I will always believe Steve Sisolak would have been reelected governor if his campaign hadn’t passed up multiple opportunities to saddle Joe Lombardo with Trump).
Thanks to the Nevada Republican Party, this week’s cock-up of a Nevada Republican presidential caucus will be as irrelevant as is physically possible for a state with the third spot on the presidential nominating calendar. Trump of course will claim a “glorious” or “beautiful” or whatever victory. Barring a miracle, Trump will sail on to more and more victories as the Republican voting moves to South Carolina and then to Super Tuesday and beyond.
Rosen and Lee are both extreme radical centrists who rarely mutter a sentence that doesn’t include the word “bipartisan.” If any Democrats in a competitive campaign were to fail, a la Sisolak, to highlight Trump, it would be them.
But congressional races are more nationalized than gubernatorial ones, so maybe Rosen and Lee can get away with just saying “bipartisan” over and over again and let the 2024 election cycle’s defining feature – Trump – take its course. It’s worked for them in the past.
If Trump wasn’t the nominee, if the race was between Joe Biden and Nikki Haley, Rosen and Lee both would be in a much tougher spot.
Conversely if it wasn’t a Biden-Trump rerun but, say, Trump vs. Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Rosen and Lee might both be rock solid locks for reelection.
Alas, it will be what it will be – Biden and Trump again. And Rosen, Lee, and other Democrats in competitive races across the country may well be among the beneficiaries of that matchup.
A version of this column was originally published in the Daily Current newsletter, which is free, and which you can subscribe to here.