The Donald Trump show: Haven’t we seen this one before?

CARSON CITY — A bombastic Republican runs for office, defeating more conservative opponents easily in a multi-candidate primary election.

He goes on to run a bitter campaign against an obviously more qualified Democratic woman. He defeats his opponent in Republican areas, and performs well enough in Democratic strongholds to win the election, albeit narrowly.

The Republican candidate is dogged on the campaign trail by allegations of disrespect for — and even sexual assault against — women. But his base dismiss the allegations as partisanship.

He enters office in controversy, plunging immediately into constitutional crisis. His copious and public overuse of his smartphone quickly becomes a problem, interfering in his ability to govern. His dislike of the media grows daily in office, harming his administration. Ultimately, his inability to work with the legislative branch — especially Democrats — plagues his tenure.

If this all sounds terribly familiar, it should.

But it’s not recent history; it goes back 10 years, to the election of Jim Gibbons as governor of Nevada.

Gibbons was the Donald Trump of state politics before Trump was the Jim Gibbons of national politics. And Gibbons’ tenure (and fate) provide a cautionary tale for a president beset by chaos but who still has time to right his ship, if only he can learn the lessons of history.

In some ways, the comparison is unfair — to Gibbons. The former assemblyman and congressman had far more legislative experience when he ran for governor than Trump, who ran for president as his first foray into politics. And Gibbons — unlike Trump — served his nation as a decorated Air Force pilot in the first Gulf War. Gibbons had extensive post-graduate education. And Gibbons, unlike Trump, was never accused of revealing classified information (and, as a longtime member of the House Intelligence Committee, he knew some secrets).

But in many ways, the two men were quite similar.

Gibbons and Trump both ran on hot-button political issues popular with their base. For Gibbons, it was opposition to taxes. For Trump, immigration.

Gibbons and Trump both exult in political confrontation. During his first session, Gibbons held a news conference on the steps of the state Capitol, ostentatiously stamping “veto” on a number of bills. That session saw a record number of vetoes, and a record number of overrides, too.

Trump, unlike Gibbons, has a Republican-controlled legislative branch, although that has produced a vanishingly small number of actual accomplishments.

Both Gibbons and Trump suffered bad press over women. Trump’s comments about famous people getting away with assault dogged him on the campaign trail, while Gibbons was accused of attempting to assault a cocktail waitress three weeks before the election.

Both incidents fueled acrimonious relationships with the media. Although Trump obviously understands the value of good press, and has worked hard at various times in his life to get it, Gibbons was never a fan of the press. That only grew as reporters sought emails from his state account, and publicized hundreds of text messages he’d sent to a woman not his wife.

While Trump’s ultimate fate has yet to be determined, Gibbons did not come to a happy end. In 2010, he became the only incumbent governor in state history to lose his party’s nomination for re-election. Instead, Republican former federal judge Brian Sandoval was elected, a whiplash turnover from one of Nevada’s worst governors to one of Nevada’s best.

Although it’s incredibly early in Trump’s tenure, it would be shocking to think that some of his fellow Republicans haven’t thought of challenging him in the 2020 primaries. Their motives could range from the personal to the patriotic, the need to save their party and country from a leader who seems to be concerned primarily about how he’s perceived in the public eye, rather than with the good of the nation.

Since leaving office, Gibbons has vanished from the public stage, preferring a quiet retirement. For a man such as Trump, such a denouement could be a death sentence.

Contact Steve Sebelius at or 702-387-5276. Follow @SteveSebelius on Twitter.


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