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STEVE SEBELIUS: Amodei is no traitor

Updated October 26, 2019 - 9:13 pm

Mark Amodei is a Donald Trump guy.

At least, 98 percent a Donald Trump guy.

That’s what makes his unceremonious excommunication from the Trump re-election campaign in Nevada so confounding — and so endemic of a polarized, zero-sum politics that leaves no room for dissent.

It all started in late September, when Amodei, who represents Nevada’s 2nd Congressional District, told reporters he wanted a quick investigation to determine whether President Trump broke any laws when speaking with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy. (Trump, according to a transcript released by the White House, asked Zelenskiy about investigating 2020 rival Joe Biden.)

“What I want to know is, were rules broken,” Amodei said at the time.

What Amodei did not say was that he thought Trump broke the law. He did not say he supported impeaching the president. He didn’t even say he thought Trump did anything wrong.

But the fact that he supported an inquiry — and that he was incorrectly featured in the national media as potentially breaking with the president — was enough for him to earn a deportation from Trumpland.

Last week, the Trump campaign announced it would not ask Amodei to reprise his 2016 role as chairman of the Trump campaign in Nevada. Instead, the campaign tapped three others for the job: Former Attorney General Adam Laxalt, state Senate Minority Leader James Settelmeyer and Assembly Minority Leader Robin Titus.

Amodei is characteristically nonplussed at the development. “Bottom line, the fact that they wanted to go in a different direction, it’s not the end of the world, for him or for us,” he said. “They’ll keep doing what they’re doing, I’ll keep doing what I’m doing.”

It’s a remarkably good attitude for a guy who hung tough in 2016, when most other Nevada Republicans were treating Trump like the high-level radioactive waste the president wants to send to Yucca Mountain. Even after the infamous “Access Hollywood” tape surfaced, threatening to end Trump’s bid, Amodei didn’t abandon the candidate.

“I choose not to tear my party of choice apart because Donald Trump said and did some frankly awful things in his past,” Amodei wrote in a letter published at the time. “It is worth noting that during some dark days in Secretary (Hillary) Clinton’s past, her party has closed ranks and defended their nominee, even when the facts were compelling regarding character.”

Amodei’s service as chairman of Trump’s 2016 Nevada campaign is all the more compelling because nobody else was willing to do it. “There weren’t a heck of a lot of jars of peanut butter on the shelf at that point,” he says.

Since then, Amodei has been a faithful vote for Trump, matching up nearly 100 percent with the president’s priorities. His few departures are usually over local issues, such as votes on Yucca Mountain.

But in Trumpworld, that’s not nearly good enough. The president who infamously asked former FBI Director James Comey for loyalty demands total allegiance, while offering none in return.

President Ronald Reagan famously said if somebody is with you 80 percent of the time, they’re a friend, not a 20 percent traitor. But Amodei’s 98 percent record just isn’t good enough for Trump.

For Amodei, the decision may not have much political impact. In a general election, it takes away the No. 1 issue a Democratic candidate might have used against him. In a primary, it may embolden and empower a potential challenger. (That list, by the way, includes Laxalt and Settelmeyer, who may even earn an endorsement from the president, who delights in dealing political retribution for slights, real or perceived.)

On Thursday, the Club for Growth released a poll showing Laxalt leading Amodei in the district, but Laxalt quickly issued a statement reiterating that he’s not running against Amodei and that he’s “currently” focused on practicing law and helping Trump get re-elected.

Amodei isn’t worried. If a Republican challenger wants to run against him based not on what he actually said, but how what he said was interpreted by the national media (he called it “fake news” in a classic statement), “I’m more than happy to run on that,” he said.

The real harm may be to the Trump campaign.

Amodei — who has won election to his seat with at least 57 percent of the vote since winning a special election in 2011 — knows a thing or two about Nevada politics. To win the state, the Trump campaign needs to make inroads in Southern Nevada, with organized labor and minority groups. That goal might have been better achieved by picking at least one Clark County Republican for its leadership team. (Yes, there still are some!)

No matter how this turns out, it’s hard to believe Amodei should earn so much enmity simply for the relatively noncontroversial statement that he supports the due process of investigating an allegation to determine whether it’s true or false. (Amodei is a lawyer by training, and respect for the process is part of his career.)

But these are no ordinary times, and this is no ordinary president. And despite all that’s transpired, Amodei hasn’t changed his core beliefs.

“I hope he (Trump) does well in Nevada. I want him to do well in Nevada,” Amodei says.

Do those sound like the words of a traitor?

Contact Steve Sebelius at SSebelius@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0253. Follow @SteveSebelius on Twitter.

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