An ex-cop with a long history of ethical entanglements, suspect friendships, and outright scandals, McDonald—now chair of the state Republican Party—is made-to-order to represent the Trump brand. In tandem with failed gubernatorial candidate Adam Laxalt, McDonald heads the scattered squad of Trump loyalists overhyping fact-free claims and lawsuits that continue to be shredded by state Attorney General Aaron Ford and swatted down in court.
Widespread voter fraud enabled by a lack of ballot-count observers? Nope. Armies of out-of-state Democrats flowing into Nevada to cast ballots? Try again. Would you believe throngs of dead people turned out for Joe Biden in the Silver State? They didn’t.
With ceaseless fluffing—he just kind of looms, more than anything else—from McDonald at feckless press conferences, the Trump campaign’s “Stop the Steal” smokescreen has falsely alleged deceased Southern Nevadans whose names remained on voter rolls cast ballots. It isn’t true, but that didn’t stop former acting U.S. Attorney General Matt Whitaker from repeating the disinformation to a Fox News anchor: “Well, again, I think we have places like Nevada where thousands of dead voters voted who shouldn’t have.”
The few vaguely suspicious ballots that have surfaced in Nevada can’t dent the more than 36,000-vote lead former Vice President Joe Biden enjoys in a state that has gone blue in every presidential race since 2008. But McDonald is exactly the sort of stooge the president can count on not to worry about anything pesky like democratic institutions or the sanctity of the republic.
The party chairman had a lot riding on Campaign 2020 in a state where the Republican Party is dominated by mega-donor and Trump underwriter Sheldon Adelson. Word from party sources is that McDonald had visions of serving in the no-longer-possible second Trump administration.
He would have felt comfortable in that grifter’s paradise.
McDonald started as a hometown hero police officer, gaining newspaper celebrity for saving a person from a burning apartment and spearheading a push to improve a crime- and drug-infested Las Vegas neighborhood. He received two department awards and was nominated for Parade Magazine’s Police Officer of the Year.
He parlayed that goodwill in 1995 into a successful run for Las Vegas City Council, technically a part-time job. Almost immediately, he began doing favors for the friends who put him in power.
In 1999, he was dragged before the state ethics commission to address allegations he’d improperly collected campaign cash while helping give the local garbage collection company a 15-year contract extension. Despite the fact that he was reportedly dating the company’s government affairs specialist at the time, the ethics charges were dismissed.
Less than a year later, McDonald was under criminal investigation for allegedly helping to stifle the competition of topless club-owner Rick Rizzolo, his pal and political benefactor. Rizzolo would later serve time for tax evasion. McDonald was also investigated for allegedly attempting to broker the sale of a sports facility built on public land for another friend and employer.
Detectives sought to charge him with felony misconduct of a public officer, but the district attorney declined to pursue the case. McDonald afterward said he felt “vindicated.”
The state ethics commission thought otherwise in its finding of a violation of its code of conduct, with its chairman noting, “You benefited yourself by trying to please your employer… you put that ahead of your public duty.”
McDonald was good at that, and continued to act as a paid “consultant” to Rizzolo and Las Vegas topless club operator Michael Galardi, a central figure in an FBI public corruption investigation that resulted in the convictions of four Clark County Commissioners, as well as members of the San Diego City Council.
After leaving City Hall, he kept his mitts in state Republican Party activity, rising to the chairmanship eight years ago. The personal scandals continued.
While McDonald served as a board member of Miracle Flights for Kids, a children’s charity, $2.2 million was borrowed from the organization’s coffers to benefit a medical lien company in which he held a 33 percent interest. He allegedly accepted a $200,000 finder’s fee for his efforts. The company later defaulted on the loan, and for a time moved its hustle into Nevada Republican Party headquarters. McDonald claimed not to have any role in the loan process.
In 2015, Chairman McDonald again dropped jaws when it was reported that he had quietly been hired as a “community outreach” deputy for his conservative Republican ally, state Treasurer Dan Schwartz. Total annual compensation: more than $100,000. After taking heat, McDonald left the position, though it was described as an office reorganization.
But he kept his state GOP chairmanship, and in the 2016 presidential campaign was an unabashed sycophant for Trump. The unwavering loyalty has translated into shoutouts during the president’s meandering speeches, access to the first family, rides on Air Force One, and the persistent buzz that McDonald was looking forward to a new job in Trump’s second term.
These days, some might call that a long shot.
Even the Las Vegas Review-Journal, owned by Trump moneyman Adelson, has ceased its unabashed support of the disruptor-in-chief. In a Thursday editorial, the state’s largest newspaper said, “the president does a disservice to his more rabid supporters by insisting that he would have won the Nov. 3 election absent voter fraud. That’s simply false.” It also shellacked Trump’s surrogates for “alleging widespread illegal activity.”
That criticism could only have made McDonald, ever the wannabe cop, blush with pride.