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STEVE SEBELIUS: Lombardo’s Donald Trump problem

Sheriff Joe Lombardo has a Donald Trump problem.

During his gubernatorial campaign kickoff on Monday, Lombardo confronted the most obvious question of all: Do you think the 2020 election was fraudulent (bearing in mind that the answer is “no”)?

Lombardo’s answer, as reported by the Review-Journal’s Rory Appleton, was a little different. “I have a good thought on that,” he said. “I don’t know the process of the investigation … I’m not privy to the data, but all I know is I’m moving forward. I’m not moving backward. And what I see is a system that makes it easy for people to commit fraud. Your question was do I think there was fraud and everything like that — I’m not even going to try to give you an answer on that.”

For the record, it’s a hell of a lot harder than Lombardo might think to commit fraud. (And if it was so easy and, presumably happened, where are his cops with the investigations and prosecutions?) “The data” shows there was no widespread fraud in Nevada or nationally in 2020. Period.

Later, in a sit-down interview with the Review-Journal’s Bill Dentzer, Lombardo elaborated, saying he’d seen no evidence of fraud and, if anybody has some, they should come forward.

For the record, they did and they have. But courts and the secretary of state’s office have weighed that evidence and found it wanting.

So what’s the big deal? Two words: Donald Trump.

The Republican base in Nevada — and around the country — has a healthy core of pro-Trump voters who are constantly on the lookout for people insufficiently loyal to Trump, Republicans in Name Only (RINOs), in the common parlance.

Had Lombardo thrown cold water on Trump’s central animating philosophy — that he really won the 2020 election bigly and that it was stolen by fraud — that would put him squarely in the RINO camp.

And that would be a bad thing, especially in a Republican primary. He’s already facing opposition from North Las Vegas Mayor John Lee, who has morphed from a conservative Democrat to a rampaging Republican, looking to spoil the GOP primary.

In this, Lombardo faces a dilemma. He’s been known up to this point as a reasonable, moderate person, an Army vet who rose through the ranks of the Metropolitan Police Department, something you can’t do if you embrace goofball conspiracy theories or are overtly partisan. Lombardo is a Republican, as are many in law enforcement, but he’s also emotionally stable and oriented to reality.

There is no Democrat equivalent to Trump. Left-wing figures such as Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., or Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y. make a lot of noise, but don’t exercise the same chokehold over the party that Trump does in the GOP. (To be sure, party leaders frequently dismiss the lefties, and voters selected moderate Joe Biden over Sanders in 2020.)

Lombardo labeled Steve Sisolak the most partisan governor Nevada has ever seen, which requires ignoring the reign of Jim Gibbons from 2006 to 2010. Until Sisolak goes down to Office Depot and orders a custom “veto” stamp to stage some legislative performance art in front of the state Capitol, he’ll never be Nevada’s most partisan governor.

And even Gibbons, a Reagan Republican, would be an outlier in Donald Trump’s GOP. Which returns us to Lombardo’s Trump problem.

Asked if he’d seek Trump’s endorsement, Lombardo said he would “accept it,” assuming Trump agrees with his agenda and policies.

But that’s not how it works. History shows unmistakably that Trump demands total loyalty and, in exchange, forces his supplicants to debase themselves, shedding dignity, principle and self-respect. Anyone who fails to demonstrate complete (and wholly unrequited) loyalty is an enemy.

Many a Republican has misunderstood this, and all have come to bad ends (see: Heller, Dean). Lombardo and other Republicans have the chance — some might say obligation — to move in a saner direction, built on the traditional Republican principles of fiscal conservatism, limited government and support for institutions and the rule of law. Surely, as a lifetime cop, Lombardo already knows this.

Most of all, Republicans need to re-embrace America as a government of laws and not of people and where loyalty to the Constitution surpasses loyalty to an individual. This is not the Trump way, and finding the path that leads away from Trumpism will bedevil every Republican in 2022 and beyond.

But today is Independence Day and what better time to get started?

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

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