Prominent former Nevada lawmakers on Thursday lamented a political gridlock in Washington they say bears little resemblance to the bipartisan relationships they enjoyed in decades past.
But the three-member panel at UNLV — two Democrats and a Republican — disagreed over whether the Democratic Party is lurching too far to the left.
“If I have to choose between crazy and socialism, I’m going with crazy,” said former U.S. Sen. Dean Heller, a Republican.
Barely missing a beat, former Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid replied, “I’m going with socialism,” as the room broke into laughs.
The two, along with ex-Gov. Richard Bryan, a former governor and Democratic U.S. senator, were participating in a leadership and public service symposium moderated by ex-Gov. Brian Sandoval and sponsored by the university’s William S. Boyd School of Law.
Discourse pivoted to the current political climate when Reid said some of his best relationships during his nearly 50-year career were with his former Republican colleagues, including Heller and former Sen. John Ensign.
Reid lauded Sandoval, a Republican, before criticizing President Donald Trump for “ruining the brand of the Republican Party.” Sandoval said he, too, was “really concerned with civility.”
“I don’t think (Trump) was the beginning of the problem, but he has exacerbated the problem we have in Washington D.C.,” said Heller, a Republican who Trump suggested lost his reelection last fall because he was hostile to Trump in 2016 and did not excite the conservative voter base.
“I miss people like John McCain,” Heller said, referring to the late Republican U.S. senator from Arizona who garnered a reputation for crossing the aisle.
But Heller noted that bipartisanship doesn’t play well politically, while Bryan said too few Republican lawmakers were willing to push back against the president.
“They’ve lost their voice, they do not speak and it is because they’re intimidated,” he said.
As they found common ground on how personality over policy had pervaded Washington, the ex-lawmakers also agreed that it would be a mistake to discount a Trump reelection.
“I think he can be reelected,” Reid said. “I hope to hell he isn’t.”
“I think Donald Trump is the greatest disaster to every occupy the White House but what he has accomplished in a political sense is absolutely incredible,” Bryan said. “He is capable of doing just about anything, and he’s got the Supreme Court that will back him up.”
Speaking ahead of Thursday night’s presidential debate, Reid said it was likely the contest to face Trump had whittled down to four: former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Sen. Kamala Harris of California.
The latter two he referred to as a “spoiler” and a “credible” candidate, respectively.
Bryan said he did not believe Democrats would defeat Trump if Sanders was the nominee, also expressing concerns about Warren and pointing to Biden’s mental vitality in withstanding attacks as something to watch during the debate.
The senators panel was just one of four held Thursday including a forum that featured Bryan and fellow ex-Nevada governors Bob Miller and Robert List.
Gov. Steve Sisolak gave remarks to close out the symposium.