The Nevada Democratic Party Is in Chaos Two Years After Bernie Sanders Supporters Took Over

AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin

The Nevada Democratic Party had historically been run by the fabled Harry Reid and his political machine. Even for a bit after his death, that machine managed to keep going, and the Democrats held pretty significant power in the state.

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But, two years ago, that changed when a bunch of Bernie Sanders acolytes took over the state party. It was hailed as a big win for progressives, a blow to the Democratic Establishment, and the beginning of a bright and prosperous future for the Democrats in Nevada.

In 2018, I wrote a column at CNN titled “Democrats are in danger of going too far left for 2018,” in which I argued that the rise of far-left progressives like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez would do more harm than good for the Democratic Party.

President Barack Obama led the party in a leftward direction, further than his modern Democratic predecessors in the White House, more in terms of rhetoric on issues such as immigration and LGBT rights than in terms of policy. However, his health care overhaul alone invigorated the right wing, and by the end of Obama’s tenure we saw a hollowing out of Democratic office holders across the board.

Obama never embraced socialism, but pushing the country as far left as he did invited backlash once. If the Democrats go further left in 2018 and 2020, the pushback is going to be even worse.

What ended up happening? The Democrats had a blue ripple in 2018 (sound familiar, Republicans?). The far-left gained power but it wasn’t until the “establishment” pick of Joe Biden that the Democrats were able to solidify a coalition that beat Donald Trump in 2020. By rejecting the worst of their impulses, the Democrats were able to take back the White House.

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Two years after the far-left took over the Nevada Democratic Party, there seems to be little more than regret with state party leadership, according to POLITICO.

Two years after the experiment began, there are regrets.

Judith Whitmer, the insurgent party chair who wrested control of the party from mainstream Democrats, is facing a challenge in her reelection campaign next month amid doubts from her own former supporters and accusations that she abandoned her progressive principles. And even key figures in Bernie world — including Sanders himself — say they are unhappy and embittered by what’s transpired.

“The senator is pretty disappointed in Judith’s chairmanship, specifically around her failure to build a strong grassroots movement in the state,” said a person familiar with Sanders’ thinking. “A lot of us feel sad about what could have been. It was a big opportunity for Bernie-aligned folks in the state to prove some of the folks in the establishment wrong. And that hasn’t happened.”

The situation has left the Sanders coalition in Nevada fragmented right at the onset of the critical 2024 election. And it has set off larger debates about what, exactly, the progressive movement should be doing during the twilight of the senator’s career. There is even talk that it might simply be a waste of time for the progressives to win control of a state party’s machinery.

During the midterm elections, the party lost the governor’s mansion to a Las Vegas sheriff who promised common sense. Catherine Cortez-Masto nearly lost her Senate seat to Adam Laxalt, whose perceived ties to Trump’s fringe right appeared to be one of the biggest hesitations voters had (as was seen in exit polling across the country). The three incumbent Democrats in the state’s Congressional delegation each won by just around 10,000 votes.

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Former Nevada Senator, the late Harry Reid.
AP Photo/John Locher, File

Judith Whitmer, the Sanders supporter who became the new head of the state party, is getting blamed for her choices as party leader. Those decisions, her critics say, are essentially what’s holding the state party back. Those decisions include:

  • Backing a sheriff who appeared to support chokeholds
  • Backing a lieutenant governor candidate who primaried the sitting Democratic lieutenant governor
  • Trying to rig the March 4 election for state party chair by removing members from the state central committee

It was an effort to consolidate her power, rather than advance the agenda, they are saying. But when you look at the decisions she made, there is something even clearer here – the progressives have no idea what to do when they actually get the power they want.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez spent four years in the House majority, and yet did practically nothing to advance her cause – primarily because she has no idea how to do the job. She spends her time on social media and in front of cameras constantly arguing from the position of a self-righteous victim. The rest of the squad is the same way.

Bernie Sanders is famous for being an avowed socialist who isn’t technically a Democrat and has run for president twice. He picks up a vocal support base from a bunch of people who share his views (many of them younger voters who vote less consistently than older voters). He, too, has few notable achievements while in Washington D.C.

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The problem with the socialists is that they really have no idea how to handle power when they get it. It’s a problem because the entire ideology is centered around there being no greater power than the people, but in order empower those people, they need the government to be powerful enough to give them that power. It simply doesn’t work.

So, I go back to what I said in 2018: If the Democrats continue to push further to the left, it will end in disaster for them. The Nevada Democratic Party is in trouble. The rest of the party is following suit.

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