When the smiles subside, take a lesson from Fiore’s announced gubernatorial candidacy

The reviews continue to pour in, but early returns for Las Vegas City Councilwoman Michele Fiore’s Wednesday announcement that she’s running for governor are generating a lot of laughter.

Maybe it was her campaign video that turned the raised eyebrows of her critics into snickers. It shows a built-Ford-tough Fiore in a pickup with a Trump 2024 sticker on the tailgate crossing a dry lake, an increasingly popular site of ads for Nevada GOP candidates. She exits the vehicle swaggering, a pistol-packin’ mama in a red dress with a semiautomatic holstered on her hip.

That handgun’s not just for show, pardner. The woman who once produced a Second Amendment-themed family calendar loaded with enough weapons to overthrow Honduras takes her guns – and the image they project – seriously.

The brassy Forever Trump girl reminds us, “I spent my whole life fighting the establishment” as she announces her bid for the top seat in the Silver State, and then she pulls her pistol. The bullets fly and cleverly labeled beer bottles die as she illustrates her pledge to “End vaccine mandates, ban critical race theory, and stop voter fraud.”

With real and imagined socialists surely cowering behind the nearest sagebrush she adds, “The Joe Biden administration is coming after me. I’m Michele Fiore, and I’m ready for the fight.”

Let’s set aside for a moment that it’s hard to fathom that anyone but the tax man is coming after Fiore these days.

Skeptics who want to drill down on whether Fiore actually drove the pickup or shot the offending beer bottles in question are missing the point. Schwarzenegger didn’t do his own stunts, and he became governor of California. In politics it’s better to not let reality take the wicked fun out of the image-making.

Laughter is good, and I’ll take it where I find it in a world buffeted by political division and grim statistics. It would be too simple to fillet Fiore like a brook trout and remind you about her ongoing FBI investigation, her tax lien, her cheerleading for anti-government militiamen, her racially-charged smack talk, her theory that cancer is a fungus that can be flushed from the bloodstream, and the litany of other things that would seem to disqualify her for the office she currently holds, much less the one she now seeks.

Fiore campaign t-shirt.

It’s understandable that some folks find it impossible to take her schtick seriously. Hecklers on social media have even theorized that the campaign announcement was part of a plan to fundraise in anticipation of future legal trouble. I couldn’t resist having a little fun, kidding on the square that it was finally time for right-winger Sharron Angle to return to the arena and jump into the race.

That’s the finer point of today’s exercise. Fiore’s announcement, its comic qualities aside, provides a keen reminder of just how far the Republican Party has veered to the right. Fiore is easy to caricature, but more than a decade ago it was Angle who offered Nevada voters a glimpse of the future.

At the time, the press didn’t take Angle too seriously and her many critics wrote her off as the victim of backward thinking. You know, kind of kooky.

Angle, who served eight years in the Nevada Assembly, is remembered today as a rock-ribbed Tea Party Republican whose extreme views helped U.S. Sen. Harry Reid easily defeat her in 2010. Most forget that early polls had her ahead of Reid by as much as 11 points in June and by 7 points in July. Endorsed by anti-feminist icon Phyllis Schlafley, it was in that campaign that Angle mused, “Sometimes dictators have good ideas.”

Those who equate Angle’s rise and fall with the fortunes of the Tea Party movement, an astroturf political phenomenon, should remember she had long sipped from the reactionary brew as a member of the far-right Independent American Party. Back then, she articulately espoused many views that Republicans of the day considered too far outside the mainstream.

It’s nearly lost in the fog of endless election cycles, but in 2006 Angle and her harsh rhetoric almost pulled off an upset over then-Secretary of State Dean Heller in the 2006 GOP primary battle to fill Jim Gibbons’ congressional seat. She lost by just 428 votes in a Republican district that would have all but assured her election to the House.

This is not to actually suggest that Angle should dust off the campaign signs and start stumping. She’s earned her rest.

But from the sound of Fiore’s reactionary bombast and fealty toward Trump, a familiar refrain echoed by the growing chorus of candidates in the Republican gubernatorial primary, it appears backward Sharron Angle was ahead of her time.

John L. Smith is an author and longtime columnist. He was born in Henderson and his family’s Nevada roots go back to 1881. His stories have appeared in Time, Readers Digest, The Daily Beast, Reuters, Ruralite and Desert Companion, among others. He also offers weekly commentary on Nevada Public Radio station KNPR. His newest book—a biography of iconic Nevada civil rights and political leader, Joe Neal— “Westside Slugger: Joe Neal’s Lifelong Fight for Social Justice” is published by University of Nevada Press and is available at Amazon.com. He is also the author of a new book, "Saints, Sinners, and Sovereign Citizens: The Endless War Over the West’s Public Lands." On Twitter: @jlnevadasmith.