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STEVE SEBELIUS: In search of legitimacy

Suddenly, legitimacy is all the rage.

Former U.S. Sen. Dean Heller, now running for governor, invoked the word, claiming President Joe Biden is not the “legitimate” president. This is progress for Heller, who previously wouldn’t even utter Biden’s name, as if Biden were Candyman and saying his name put you in mortal peril.

Heller expanded on the theme during an interview on KLAS Channel 8’s “PoliticsNow” with John Langler. Grinning from ear to ear, Heller doubled-down: “I said exactly what Hillary Clinton said about President Trump, word for word.”

He then tried to turn it back on the media: “So the whole point of this is you can see the double-standard we have in journalism today, where if the Republican says that, it’s the Big Lie, but if Hillary Clinton says it … it’s fine.”

A couple of things here: First, Clinton conceded to Donald Trump on the day after Election Day rather than filing lawsuits and scheming about how to gain the White House. Second, Clinton hasn’t spent the past four years claiming the election was stolen from her through ever more fantastical claims of voter fraud.

Yes, Clinton did call Trump an illegitimate president and, according to CBS News, said Trump benefited from voter purges, voter suppression and false stories about her in the press.

It’s impossible to believe Heller cannot see the difference between these two things, although the way he said it certainly made the audience believe Heller really thought he was onto something. The better explanation was that the interview was a plea to ex-President Donald Trump to overlook Heller’s past political infidelities and reward his credulity with an endorsement.

Then there’s the Republican National Committee, which this month approved a resolution censuring GOP Reps. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., and Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., for service on the congressional committee investigating Jan. 6.

With the usual collection of GOP Mad Libs (“socialism”! “open borders”! “Green New Deal”!) there was this line: “Representatives Cheney and Kinzinger are participating in a Democrat-led persecution of ordinary citizens engaged in legitimate political discourse.”

Who knew legitimate political discourse involved bear spray, broken windows, attacking Capitol Police officers, threatening the lives of public officials including the vice president and attempting to prevent the Congress from certifying the results of a legitimate election?

What was it the prophet Isaiah said? “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil.”

Woe, indeed. This resolution isn’t just the latest political performance stunt in a party captured by the ultimate political performance stuntman. It marks the lowest ebb of what once was — what’s the word? — a legitimate political party.

The authors of the resolution quickly tried to explain that its reference was to innocent people caught up in the investigation of Jan. 6, and not the insurrectionist rioters themselves. But that doesn’t stand even a moment’s scrutiny, especially because the entire point of the committee on which Cheney and Kinzinger sit is dedicated to examining the riot.

The New York Times quoted some RNC members as saying the passage referred to citizens who’d put their names on fake slates of Trump electors as part of a crafty scheme to keep Trump in office, which happened here in Nevada. But those slates were no more legitimate than a Sharpie-defaced weather map.

Not everybody in the Republican Party is buying in to its self-immolation. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell condemned the RNC for its resolution, as did several Republican senators, including Mitt Romney, who said it was stupid.

Stupid and counterproductive. There are a host of issues that the Republicans could be focused on in an election year that have nothing to do with fictional stolen elections or petty grievances. The national debt is now $30 trillion, and growing. Violent crime is increasing. There are threats from Russia in Ukraine, China in Taiwan, Iran in the Middle East and North Korea everywhere. We are at a pivot point of realization that COVID-19 won’t be eradicated, like smallpox, but become endemic, like the flu. And there’s that whole inflation business.

The Republicans could run on those — dare we call them, “legitimate”? — issues. Plenty of Republicans want to, if only they could wrest their party from the many worshippers of Trump.

Until that happens, of all the myriad words that will be used to describe what we formerly knew as the Grand Old Party, one will be conspicuously absent: legitimate.

Contact Steve Sebelius at SSebelius@reviewjournal.com. Follow @SteveSebelius on Twitter.

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