Hugh Jackson, Nevada Current
January 14, 2024
Nevada Republican U.S. Senate candidate Sam Brown did the inevitable and endorsed Donald Trump for president Friday.
A couple days earlier Trump was endorsed by the third-ranking Republican in the U.S. Senate, Wyoming’s John Barrasso.
The endorsements may have nothing to do with each other, and timing may be merely coincidental.
Or it may not.
Barrasso is very tight with Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell (and frequently mentioned as McConnell’s eventual replacement). McConnell and the second-ranking Senate Republican, John Thune of South Dakota, as of now are still neutral in the GOP presidential race (Thune had earlier endorsed South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, who dropped out).
Prior to Barrasso, the highest-ranking Republican senator to endorse Trump was Montana’s Steve Daines, who endorsed Trump last year. Daines is also the chair of the Republican Senate campaign fundraising – and fund-spending – arm, the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
Daines and the NRSC have made no secret that in Nevada they prefer Brown over the other candidates – bumbling paranoiac Jim Marchant and deep-pocketed but half-baked dilettante Jeff Gunter.
Republican leadership, you see, believes a multi-state political office-shopper who has yet to win an election of any kind – Brown – has a better chance than either Marchant or Gunter of beating Democratic incumbent Sen. Jacky Rosen.
(Seriously though, Nevada Republicans. A competitive U.S. Senate seat and these three knuckleheads are the best you’ve got? Weird.)
The national Senate map this year is overwhelmingly tilted in favor of Republicans. Democrats could roll up wins in four or five competitive races, including Nevada, and Republicans could still end up controlling the Senate.
But Republicans have a long and storied history of blowing golden opportunities to win control of the Senate, usually as a result of Republican voters nominating crackpots (think Sharron Angle in Nevada in 2010).
Republicans hope to avoid that fate this year. In that effort, Trump’s campaign is reportedly working in tandem with Republican Senate leadership, and Trump has thus far kept his Senate primary endorsements – which, with the sole exception of J.D. Vance in Ohio, were the kiss of death in 2022 – to a minimum.
And the few he has made have aligned with the NRSC’s goal of nominating the most obviously strong candidates (Jim Justice in West Virginia), or if that’s not a possibility, at least thinning the field to avoid messy primaries (Kari Lake in Arizona).
A Trump endorsement of Brown in Nevada would be an example of the latter strategy, by the way.
Coming from the highest ranking Republican senator so far to back Trump, Barrasso’s endorsement could be viewed as more evidence of the Senate Republican leadership wooing Trump to get on board and support their preferred candidates.
So to recap (part 1): Senate Republican leadership hopes to avoid a ballot full of polarizing fire-eating extremists by appealing to their Polarizing Fire-eating Extremist in Chief.
And to recap (part 2): Senate Republican leadership has determined (understandably, you might say) that Republican voters shouldn’t be trusted with picking U.S. Senate nominees on their own.
In Nevada, Brown has already been anointed the strongest candidate – at least by the Nevada State Democratic Party. No doubt impressed by the NRSC’s support of Brown, the NV Dems frequently launch salvos against him. Even when the state Democrats bother to send a missive mentioning Gunter, it’s typically to highlight a Gunter attack on Brown.
During his failed 2022 Senate primary campaign against Adam Laxalt, Brown displayed his worship of Trump on multiple occasions. He has been more dainty about his Trump-love so far this cycle. Until now.
Brown’s endorsement of Trump can be viewed, at its simplest, as the Brown palm going to the Brown forehead. Brown long ago demonstrated he’s totally down with Trump and Trumpism. In the absence of any evidence to the contrary, it must be assumed that so are a majority of Nevada Republican primary voters. Maybe if he didn’t have opponents, Brown could pull a Lombardo and just say he’ll endorse “whoever,” in the hope of presenting some semblance of sensibility to general election voters.
Alas, Brown does have opponents. Gunter and Marchant have been needling him because he hadn’t endorsed Trump. And Brown can’t try to convince general election voters that he’s not a crackpot if he doesn’t win a primary election first.
Sure, Brown hopes his endorsement of Trump will appeal to Nevada Republican primary voters. But his more immediate target is an audience of one, in the hope that Trump – with some nudging from Senate Republican leadership – will reciprocate.
A version of this column was originally published in the Daily Current newsletter, which is free, and which you can subscribe to here.
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