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Trumpism and election lies are spreading, plus 2 more takeaways from Tuesday's races

Nevada Republican U.S. Senate nominee Adam Laxalt speaks to a crowd on election night Tuesday in Reno, Nev.
Trevor Bexon
/
Getty Images
Nevada Republican U.S. Senate nominee Adam Laxalt speaks to a crowd on election night Tuesday in Reno, Nev.

Former President Donald Trump had a pretty good night Tuesday, with elections in four states.

The political focus was on two states — South Carolina and Nevada.

In South Carolina, Trump took on two GOP incumbent members of Congress who crossed him, and he got a split.

In Nevada, he had more success. His candidates for governor and Senate won, and a secretary of state hopeful who echoes his baseless election fraud claims won too.

There are a few lessons from what happened Tuesday:

1. Pro-Trump candidates, many of whom are spouting his election lies, are cropping up everywhere.

Trumpism and, to an extent, those lies — or at least flirting with the possibility that there was widespread election fraud in 2020, even though there wasn't — are quickly becoming the standard way of thinking and talking among conservatives.

That was certainly true in Nevada, where his former state campaign co-chair who peddled his lies, Adam Laxalt, advanced to take on Democratic incumbent Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto.

This is expected to be a very close race and one of the top Republican pickup opportunities, as they try to take control of the now-50-50 Senate. The question is whether Laxalt's full embrace of Trumpism will hurt him in a general election — or if someone with election denial views can survive in a purple state.

Trump's endorsed gubernatorial candidate, Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo, has danced around the issue of election denial.

"Do I think there was fraud?" Lombardo has said. "I'm not going to give you an answer to that."

Ironically, it was one of Lombardo's opponents who was claiming fraud Tuesday night. Lombardo takes on Democratic incumbent Gov. Steve Sisolak.

In both races, the fraud narrative and Democrats' ability to organize will be tested.

2. When a candidate does something Trump doesn't like, the way the candidate walks the line matters.

Rep. Tom Rice in South Carolina was one of 10 House Republicans to vote for Trump's impeachment following the Capitol attack — and he ran unabashedly anti-Trump. He criticized him openly and unapologetically.

He was trounced.

Trump also targeted Rep. Nancy Mace in a neighboring — albeit less conservative — district. Mace was critical of Trump's conduct on Jan. 6, but didn't vote for his impeachment.

She ran very differently than Rice. She showed an affinity for Trump and said she agreed with his policies.

She survived.

Is that the blueprint everywhere for GOP candidates? Maybe, maybe not. But Tuesday night's results will certainly send that signal to other Republicans on how to run when they come under the Trump spotlight.

3. Watch those secretary of state races — and the election deniers seeking those offices.

We don't often talk about secretary of state races, but this year is different.

In Nevada Tuesday night, an election denier, Jim Marchant, won the GOP nomination for the office. Marchant says on his campaign website that his "number one priority will be to overhaul the fraudulent election system in Nevada."

His No. 1 priority.

What's happened in Nevada with this office is remarkable. The current secretary of state, Barbara Cegavske, is a Republican and term-limited. But the state Republican Party censured her for, in their view, not doing enough to investigate fraud — aka enabling and furthering Trump's election lies.

Notably, in Florida recently, Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis appointed to the office Cord Byrd, someone who has declined to say plainly if he believes the reality that President Biden won the 2020 election fair and square.

"He was certified as the president, and he is the president of the United States," Byrd said in May. "There were irregularities in certain states. What I'm concerned about is that I'm secretary of state of Florida — not Wisconsin or Pennsylvania or Arizona. That's up to their voters."

This sets up the possibility of having at least two swing states in 2024 with people controlling elections who invite questions about whether their allegiance is more to Trump than to administering elections properly.

That's a whole new world. This country had traditionally seen these election chief posts draw relatively nonideological officials, people who took great pride in administering elections in a nonpartisan way — so Americans and people around the world could trust the results.

That's not the case everywhere anymore.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Domenico Montanaro is NPR's senior political editor/correspondent. Based in Washington, D.C., his work appears on air and online delivering analysis of the political climate in Washington and campaigns. He also helps edit political coverage.