Will the GOP Learn the Lombardo Lesson? Nevada, Abortion, and Liberty
Two more small Saturday night notes on the election.
ONE: With the Democrats holding the Senate, and with the retirement of Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the new Senate Pro Tem will be Dianne Feinstein. (As you remember from high school civics, the Pro Tem is the senior member of the majority party in the Senate.
So, the succession order to Joe Biden is Kamala Harris, Nancy Pelosi, and Dianne. Not just three women for the first time in history, but three women from San Francisco.
And if former San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom runs for president…. heady times for the Bay Area.
TWO: One bright spot for the otherwise downcast GOP? The Republicans picked up the governorship of Nevada, with Sheriff Joe Lombardo defeating the incumbent Democrat, Steve Sisolak. Sisolak was the only incumbent Democratic Governor to lose his race.
One big surprise for many observers was that Democratic governors who “locked down” during COVID didn’t pay a big price. Outside of Nevada, there was no “Youngkin effect,” where angry parents — upset about mask and vaccine mandates and prolonged school shutdowns — voted in Republicans who promised more freedom and less medical surveillance. I know many Republican activists who tried to rally angry blue state parents to vote for the GOP, promising that Republican governors and legislators would keep schools open and kids’ faces unmasked. For the most part, that effort was a giant dud, and Dobbs was the reason.
Glenn Youngkin won Virginia in a pre-Dobbs environment, back when it was possible to believe abortion wasn’t on the ballot, and Roe was settled law. Pro-choice mamas and papas could vote Republican in 2021 in good conscience; post-Dobbs, with virtually every major GOP candidate declaring their support for strict abortion bans, that compartmentalization is no longer possible. If schools were still shut, and playgrounds still off-limits, and little ones still masked, then perhaps we’d have seen more angry blue state mamas voting Republican last Tuesday. Combine the Dobbs decision with the evaporation of almost all COVID restrictions, and the calculus changed radically, to the Democrats’ benefit.
Joe Lombardo, the incoming governor of Nevada, ran what was in most respects a traditional Republican campaign. He hammered Steve Sisolak for locking down Nevada during COVID and devastating the hospitality industry that is the lifeblood of the Silver State. He tapped into that same exasperation that gave Youngkin his pre-Dobbs victory. Yet crucially, Lombardo made it clear that he would not take executive action to restrict abortion once elected. His campaign website reads:
Joe is Catholic and pro-life, but Nevadans decided long ago that the issue of abortion should only be decided by Nevada voters themselves. In 1990, Nevadans codified the right to an abortion in state law through a referundum, so that only voters could make changes to it moving forward. While Joe will always govern as a pro-life governor, he trusts the people of Nevada to make the important decision of what legislation to send to his desk.
That’s not exactly going to win plaudits from Planned Parenthood, but it’s a lot less stringent than what most GOP candidates are proposing in the post-Dobbs environment. Lombardo is keenly aware of Nevada’s historic libertarianism: this was for years the only state where no-fault divorces were easily obtained, and it is justly famous for its legal brothels and casinos. By breaking from the national party (and Donald Trump) on abortion, Lombardo was able to convince a great many pro-choice Nevadan parents that even after Dobbs, he was a safe vote.
Libertarians (or just plain old libertines) have long looked to Nevada with affection, appreciating its historic commitment to ensuring both economic and sexual freedom. Joe Lombardo bucked his own party to offer a consistent message of liberty and respect for conscience. His reward was that he also dodged a disastrous national trend for his own party. Perhaps Nevada is sui generis — or perhaps, it is an example to the Republican Party going forward. Tone down the fiercest of the anti-abortion rhetoric, offer a consistent vision of personal liberty and public safety, and keep your distance from Donald Trump.
I am skeptical the GOP will learn the Lombardo Lesson.