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It's Trump's Race to Lose

The Republican frontrunner rolled to another dominating victory in Nevada, gathering steam as he heads into Super Tuesday.

Jim Young / Reuters

The seemingly unstoppable train that is Donald Trump rolled on in Nevada on Tuesday, as the outspoken billionaire dominated the caucuses to win his third Republican victory in a row. The Republican nomination for president is now clearly his to lose.

Despite reports of disorganization and chaotic balloting, the networks called the state for Trump as soon as the caucuses officially ended at midnight Eastern time. He pulled in 45.9 percent of the vote, outpacing Senator Marco Rubio’s 23.9 percent and Ted Cruz’s 21.4 percent. Ben Carson polled 4.8 percent support, and Governor John Kasich of Ohio lagged far behind at 3.6 percent.

Following similarly dominant wins in New Hampshire and South Carolina, the Nevada victory gives Trump a head of steam going into the dozen states that hold primaries and caucuses next week on Super Tuesday. Polls show Trump leading many of those races, and the only event standing in his way is a Republican debate on Thursday night in Texas.

Speaking to cheering supporters at his headquarters shortly before 1 a.m. Eastern, Trump quickly looked ahead to Super Tuesday and began to lay his claim to the nomination. “It’s going to be an amazing two months,” he said. “We might not even need the two months, to be honest.”

Only 30 delegates were at stake on Tuesday, and given the quirky nature of the Nevada caucuses, the results were unlikely to change the trajectory of the GOP race. Officially, the Nevada GOP said the caucuses went off smoothly, but Twitter was filled with reports of disorganization, precincts running out of ballots, and the questionable (although not apparently illegal) sight of poll workers wearing Trump hats and T-shirts. Nonetheless, the outcome was a nightmare for establishment Republicans hoping to stop The Donald: Entrance polls showed Trump winning across the board, and improbably, even among Hispanics. He might not pick up a ton of delegates from the Silver State, but winning begets winning, and the results propel Trump into a national election where his celebrity and strategy of dominating free media—as opposed to door-knocking and retail campaigning—should be even more valuable.

Perhaps more importantly, Trump’s victory at least temporarily stalls the momentum for Marco Rubio, who has now gone four states without a victory. Rubio had the deepest roots in Nevada of any GOP candidate, having lived with his family in Las Vegas for several years as a child. He won a slew of endorsements after his strong finish in South Carolina and the withdrawal of Jeb Bush, yet he wasn’t able to come close to Trump on Tuesday night. Both the Kasich and Cruz campaigns seized on the results as a disappointment for the Florida senator, trying to grasp any foothold for their campaigns. Kasich is looking for victories in the Midwest to sustain his bid, while Cruz desperately needs to win Texas and other Southern states to remain viable.

But Tuesday night in Nevada belonged, once again, to Trump.

Russell Berman

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Standing on stage in Nevada, Donald Trump declared victory nearly an hour after midnight on Wednesday. "We're winning, winning, winning, the country," the real estate mogul declared, "and soon the country is going to start winning, winning, winning." For all his jubilation over the results of the evening, the Republican frontrunner was already looking ahead and (very) confidently predicting future success.

Trump rattled off a list of states where he appears have high hopes he'll win. "We've had some great numbers coming out of Texas, and amazing numbers coming out of Tennessee, and Georgia, and Arkansas," Trump said as the room filled with cheers. He didn't miss an opportunity to knock his rival John Kasich, noting that his campaign is "going to do very well in Ohio. We're beating the governor. That's good. It's always nice to be beating the governor."

Trump took his moment in the spotlight to brag not just about his win in Nevada, but the scope of it, cheering his success in amassing a broad base of support. “It looks like we won by a lot evangelicals, I love the evangelicals," Trump said, adding that he also loves "the poorly educated." He also made sure to note that the results showed him "number one with Hispanics," something he is "really happy about." Before departing, Trump reminded the crowd of what he'll do as president, ticking off a litany of promises. "As you know, Gitmo, we're keeping that open and we're going to load that up with bad dudes," Trump said, before reiterating his oft-repeated promise to seal off America's southern border with a massive wall. "We're going to have our borders nice and strong, we're going to build the wall you know that." The crowd went wild.

Metaphor alert:

Ben Carson is striking an optimistic tone tonight, despite his place at the bottom of the pack: According to a report in ​Politico​, he said in a speech earlier that he "believe[s] that things are starting to happen here." Soon, voters will start "demanding answers" and "solutions," and he, presumably, will have been the candidate to provide them all along. Right now, he said, "we’re sort of in the ancient Rome stage where everyone wanted to go to the Coliseum ‘bring on the lions and tigers see them eat the eagle.’” That's a description of​ panem et circenses I've never seen before.

Erwin's former partner turned nemesis, Mike Slanker, is the strategist for the popular second-term governor, Brian Sandoval, who caucused for Rubio tonight. Slanker ran Rubio's Nevada operation. Meanwhile, Cruz's Nevada campaign was run by Robert Uithoven, a Sheldon Adelson aide who managed former Nevada Governor Jim Gibbons's 2006 campaign. Gibbons lost the Republican primary to Sandoval in 2010.

Thus ends this edition of Nevada Consultant Wars, an intriguing but ultimately irrelevant subplot to this year's caucuses.

Ben Carson didn't stick around in Iowa the night of the caucuses, instead heading home to Florida for a couple days to, he said, get some "fresh clothes." Tonight, Rubio is staying out of the spotlight: He campaigned in Minnesota earlier today, and Fox News reported a few minutes ago that he's "gone to bed" because he has an early morning. For East Coasters up past midnight watching TV coverage, that might seem reasonable, if a bit odd. But keep in mind it's only 9:30 p.m. in Nevada. Results might not be in for a while, but I'd expect the candidate to be curious enough—or aware of the optics enough—to be as awake as Donald Trump right now.

It is somewhat amazing that no establishment candidate was able to organize a caucus win given the low turnout dynamic of the caucuses. Romney pulled off big wins in NV in 2008 and 2012 by mobilizing Mormons, yes, but also rank and file Republicans. But the consultant who made it happen for Romney, Ryan Erwin, was working for Jeb Bush this time around, and he was out of the race by the time the caucuses occurred.

Another tidbit from NBC’s polling: Late-deciding Nevadans decisively picked Rubio, who led among caucusgoers who made up their minds sometime in the last week or sooner. Unfortunately for him, they only accounted for a third of respondents. Trump was the top choice for voters who made their minds up in the last month or before.

As the entrance polls show, a relatively small proportion of the Nevada GOP is evangelical or religiously motivated. The state is a good proxy for the western conservative vote in this regard. The sunbelt, birthplace of Barry Goldwater, is increasingly the Republican Party’s base outside the South.

As a reporter who covered Nevada for 5.5 years, I'm not too surprised the state ended up being hospitable to Trump. The state GOP has always had an angry, libertarian streak, with an activist core (particularly in rural areas) that was adamantly opposed to the establishment, even as more and more of the regular Republican vote was made up of Vegas suburbanites.

There was a lot of dispute around the Hispanic vote on the Democratic side in Nevada. The early entrance polls showed Bernie Sanders winning, but later analyses found that it would have been almost impossible for Clinton not to have won Hispanics given the final results. That said, expect Trump to cite these Nevada polls from now until November if he is the Republican nominee.

To follow up on my note on the Hispanic note, NBC’s entrance polls show that Latinos made up 9 percent of caucus goers. Trump took 44 percent of the support, followed by Rubio and Cruz. Compared to the state’s Democratic caucus, the number of participants falls short 10 percentage points. But that’s still a small number and one that may not be an accurate representation of Latinos nationally.

In the battle for a "second-place victory," the Nevada GOP's official results show Rubio ahead of Cruz at 24 percent to 20 percent. But that could change rapidly: No results are in yet from Elko County, the largest rural county in the state, or Clark County, where three-fourths of all Nevadans live.

And as the clock strikes midnight, NBC has also begun to release its exit polls. Preliminary results show Trump sweeping nearly every demographic, but he showed weakness among evangelicals and voters who value experience.

One category where he blew the competition away? The voters who said they wanted a candidate who can “tells it like it is,” a classification made for Trump, and one in which he charmed 82 percent of respondents.

There’s also some salve for Rubio here. NBC’s results show he got considerable support from voters who listed picking a candidate who “can win in November” as their No. 1 priority, beating Trump by 20 points in that category.

With a projected win in the Nevada caucuses, Trump has now won three of the first four states and the last three in a row. And based on the early call tonight, he won the Silver State decisively, just as he did in New Hampshire and South Carolina. Polling shows him in strong position for the many states that vote next week on Super Tuesday. He may be an unconventional candidate and a shock to the political establishment, but Trump is now as big of a front-runner as the Republican Party has had since George W. Bush in 2000, if not before.

With the first 3 percent of ballots counted, the AP reports, Donald Trump has 42 percent of the vote, trailed by Cruz at 22.8 and Rubio at 21.8, and then Carson at 9.8 and Kasich at 3.3. Those results will certainly shift—they don’t include any sites in Clark County, where most of the state’s voters reside. But they help explain why the race was called so quickly.

Once again, the night belongs to Donald Trump. Right as the caucuses closed at midnight, CNN and other networks projected a win for the billionaire businessman, with Cruz and Rubio projected to round out the top three finishes.

We’re all sitting around and waiting for the results to trickle in from Nevada. (Journalists: We’re just like you!) So what’s taking so long? ABC News’ Charli James offers this glimpse into the state-of-the-art tallying process now underway at one Nevada precinct:

Michele Fiore, the state assemblywoman from Las Vegas who sponsored the ballots, is better-known for her love of firearms and for producing a calendar featuring pages upon pages of her posing with guns. (April's photo shows Fiore wearing jewels and a formal white dress. The tag line: "Diamonds aren't a girls [sic] only best friend.") You also may've heard about her involvement in the militia occupation of a wildlife refuge in Oregon; she acted as an intermediary between federal officials and the occupiers.

We may not find out the results of the Nevada GOP caucuses for a while, but some candidates are already sounding the alarm over the possibility of foul play. In the process, they're laying the groundwork to assign blame elsewhere if they have a poor showing in the state. Earlier in the night, Donald Trump warned supporters not to fall prey to efforts by the Ted Cruz campaign to mislead. "Make sure you get on the Trump line and are not mislead by the Cruz people," Trump tweeted, "They are bad! BE CAREFUL." Trump's following a familiar playbook, having accused Cruz of stealing votes in the Iowa caucuses earlier this month.

He's not the only Republican candidate casting a critical eye at Cruz this time around. Ahead of the Nevada caucuses, Marco Rubio told Fox News his campaign is "concerned" after having seen efforts to "mislead voters" in past contests. "I just want to make sure no one goes to vote tonight and is told that somehow I've dropped out of the race or some of these other silly things that have happened here over the last few weeks," Rubio said, lobbing a shot at the Cruz campaign, which has faced criticism for inaccurately suggesting that Ben Carson was exiting the race during the Iowa caucuses.

Here’s an odd little detail noticed by Jon Ralston—the ballots in Clark County include an unusual credit line:

The printing was apparently donated by the campaign of State Assemblwoman Michele Fiore, the conservative firebrand who’s running for Congress in Nevada’s third congressional district. Fiore, as it happens, is on Ted Cruz’s state leadership team.

Adding to that, entrance polls also found that Nevada Republicans want an outsider to be elected president at a higher rate than any of the other earlier contests.

It’s been a common theme throughout the race, even as it’s shifted. At the start of the race, such a desire fueled the rise of Donald Trump and, for a moment, Ben Carson. How that plays out in the results will be interesting to watch. My guess: It won’t do much to help Carson.

I’ll raise you one, Yoni: They’re also reporting that Nevadans are the “angriest” of early voters polled. Interesting, given that Nevada, among early voting states, is supposed to be most representative of the nation as a whole in terms of voter makeup—and that it doesn’t have a particularly strident reputation.

CBS has commenced a steady drip of findings from its entrance polls. Here’s one striking result, in a nation that’s never elected a president who’s held neither public nor military office:

Twitter is exploding with reports of problems at caucus sites — ballot shortages, IDs not getting checked, spotty list-keeping. CNN tracked down Rubio strategist Jeremy Hughes, who said he’s voiced concerns about caucus conditions to Nevada Republican Party leadership. "Trying to to catch all the fraud that's going on here would like trying to plug all the holes in the Titanic," he told CNN. "You fix one and another one bursts.”

But a Republican National Committee official downplayed the extent of the problems:

Political pundits have been speculating about why Sheldon Adelson has sat this race out on the sidelines, not signaling where he’d throw his support—and his enormous checkbook. The Wall Street Journal’s Reid Epstein reports that he’s at a caucus, presumably to mark a ballot for his favored candidate. It remains to be seen whether he intends to make his mark on the race, as well.

There’ve been lots of outraged reports of volunteers at the caucus sites wearing hats, shirts, or other campaign paraphernalia as they check in voters. At a state or federal election, that’d be a clear violation of the rules. But caucuses are party events, and they run by their own sets of rules. No manual I’ve been able to locate tonight—not the state party rules, not a 2012 caucus chair’s handbook—mentions such a prohibition. (If you’re reading, and know of a reliable source stating that campaign paraphernalia can’t be worn or displayed by volunteers, please let us know.)

But it’s possible this isn’t evidence of nefarious conduct at all—just one more indication of how high passions are running in Nevada tonight.

Having trouble understanding how chaos and confusion could descend on an event as simple and straightforward as a political caucus? Fret not! Here’s a handy diagram from the 2012 Clark County Republican Party Caucus Chair’s Handbook, which will explain just how radically simple the process truly is:

It’s hard, really, to imagine how a bunch of minimally trained volunteers might get slightly confused.

Politico Magazine had a nice piece on the bizarre situation wherein Sandoval is one of the most popular governors in the country yet no Republican wanted his endorsement—because he's socially liberal and has raised taxes, and the caucuses attract the hard core of the GOP base that believes Sandoval has betrayed them.

At a caucus site in my hometown of Reno, Nevada, Governor Brian Sandoval reportedly casts his vote for Florida Senator Marco Rubio.

Despite this, Sandoval also told the reporter it wasn't an endorsement, perhaps because the popular governor's support might not resonate with a deep-red base alienated by his moderation and tax increases.

As Molly noted earlier, the Nevada GOP's 2012 caucus went poorly. So the party implemented an even stranger method to count ballots. Under the new system, ballots will be "sealed in envelopes and turned over to about 150 site managers, who will tally the results, phone them in to the county parties and send photos of the results through their smartphones." What could go wrong?

The Nevada caucuses have always been the redheaded stepchild of the early states, particularly on the GOP side. That's because Republicans never wanted Nevada to be an early state. Harry Reid, the Senate minority leader from Nevada, pressured the DNC to make Nevada an early state in 2008, and Republicans figured they'd be at a disadvantage if they didn't hold a contest at the same time.

But the GOP contest has always been lower-wattage than the Dems, with less candidate buy-in and the RNC not seeming particularly interested in the state. Now that the caucuses are on different days, most observers think the GOP contest is likely to be dropped from the early-state bracket.

The Nevada GOP hasn't helped matters by being, as has been noted, generally disastrous. The state party was taken over by devotees of Ron Paul in 2012 and has never recovered. In 2012, the RNC set up a separate apparatus for the coordinated national campaign to work with so it could avoid the state party.

As Trump entered the caucus site a few minutes ago, voters flocked to him like bees to honey, momentarily distracted from actual voting. The candidate, hearing he was on ​The Rachel Maddow Show, had actual compliments for the journalist, in contrast to the rancor he's shown the press of late. "I actually like Rachel," he told the on-site correspondent, adding, apropos of nothing, "Rachel, you make the most beautiful charts."

Spotted (on TV): Donald Trump at a caucus site. After shaking hands with caucus goers, Trump grabs a microphone and thanks the crowd, reiterating some of his talking points like immigration. “You are really, really spectacular people,” he says, thanking them for their participation.

What is the impact of a chaotic, disorganized caucus on the GOP primary? Well, it's certainly unfortunate for the Nevada Republicans who want their candidate preference to mean something. But in the overall scheme of things, it probably won't matter too much. Despite its status as an early voting state, Nevada was never going to be the most important Republican primary or caucus state. There are just 30 delegates at stake, and they are doled out proportionally. And the more widespread these problems with ballots and the caucuses are, the more the losing candidates will be able to discount the results and move on to Super Tuesday with the same momentum and support they carried into Nevada.

Nevada's state GOP took heat four years ago for what ​The Las Vegas Sun characterized as a caucus "marked by disorganization, bickering and bumbling at nearly every turn," and it took more than a day for the final results to be reported. This time around, the state party will be looking to redeem itself, though as Yoni mentioned, there are already reports of voting chaos at one Las Vegas location.

Back in 2012, caucus disorganization didn't really cast into doubt which candidate would take the state: Mitt Romney was expected to win, and win he did. But as the ​Sun​ reported at the time, it delayed the candidates finding out how many delegates they'd snagged, as delegates are allocated in proportion to votes won. If the craziness this year is more widespread than it appears to be so far, expect shouting from the candidates, even if Donald Trump, like Romney before him, has a win mostly tied up. Trump wouldn't like not knowing how much he won by at the end of the night, and the candidates vying for second would have even more to yell about.

There are scattered reports on social media of chaos at individual caucus sites. That’s not unusual for a process run mostly by volunteers, and might have been expected with record turnout and lots of first-time voters. But some of the reports indicate more than the usual level of confusion. Mashable’s Emily Cahn is at Palo Verde High School in Las Vegas, and reports voters have told her that ballots were distributed without checking IDs, and that one claimed to have voted twice for Trump. It’s hard to verify these sorts of claims. But with the caucus underway, there seems to be a bigger problem, too:

Whatever's going on tonight at Palo Verde H.S., these sorts of reports are likely to fuel doubts and recriminations in the days ahead on the part of losing campaigns.

Donald Trump is the favorite to win the Nevada caucuses tonight. Still, the last time a state held caucuses in the 2016 GOP primary, Trump didn't fare so well, coming in second while Ted Cruz took first place in Iowa. Caucuses tend to be a more complicated and drawn-out affair than primaries and that can give candidates who invest heavily in field operations and voter turnout an edge. In Iowa, the Cruz campaign did just that and it seemed to pay off. Trump, meanwhile, has so far racked up wins in South Carolina and New Hampshire, two primary states.  Tonight will be a test of whether he can win a caucus state.

Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders were vying for the Latino vote coming into the Nevada Democratic caucuses, but a different story unfolds in the Republican party. Despite two Cuban American candidates, the Latino electorate has barely factored into the Republican race. It’s unlikely there will  be any drastic changes tonight, as only 17 percent of registered Latinos are Republicans, but it might mark a shift moving forward. For example, Cruz might benefit from garnering the Latino vote in his state of Texas. Perhaps, at the very least, tonight’s results will provide a lens into how the Latino vote may play out in the Republican race as the presidential primary progresses.

Like its Democratic counterpart, this contest hasn’t seen much polling. But one of the most recent, conducted February 10-15 on behalf of CNN, puts Trump in first place at 45 percent, followed distantly by Rubio and Cruz. Respondents said Trump would do a good job with the economy, ISIS and illegal immigration, but their confidence in him plummeted when asked about social issues.

A story in ​The Washington Post today argues that the Nevada Republican caucuses don't get the glory earlier contests do, despite the state party moving up them up in the schedule in a bid for greater influence on the race. As evidence, the ​Post_ cites bad scheduling (coming so soon after South Carolina) and timing (they're held in the evening). But it also notes that "news outlets still don’t afford Nevada premier standing," noting that CNN didn't have its "ubiquitous onscreen clock" counting down to tonight's contests during the day today. Instead, clocks were counting down to a Democratic town hall tonight and a Thursday GOP debate. And really, if you can't get CNN to hype a presidential showdown, you know something's wrong.

This isn’t the first time the Silver State has taken center stage in a bitterly contested presidential race. In 1864, Abraham Lincoln was facing an uphill climb toward reelection, battling the insurgent candidacy of John C. Fremont, which threatened to fragment the Republican electorate and deliver the White House to the Democrats.

The solution his backers hit upon? Mint some new states, and use their electoral votes to put the establishment Republican back in the Oval Office. Nevada was admitted to the Union on October 31, 1864—eight days before the election. But by then, Fremont had given up, concluding that it wasn’t worth endangering the republic.

If the GOP establishment is hoping a state created to beat back an insurgency will do the same this time, though—or that the insurgent will decide his patriotism requires his dropping out—it’s unlikely to find that history repeats itself.

We’re about 10 minutes away from the start of Nevada caucusing. Each county picks its own start time, but the whole shebang will be underway by 7 p.m. PST.


These facts are secondary, of course, to the most important item in the state GOP’s caucus explainer: the right way to pronounce Nevada. “Say it with us: Ne-va-DUH! Not Ne-vaw-duh. Practice saying it out loud a few times and you’ll be just fine.”

The Nevada Republican caucus is almost underway, and Donald Trump and Ted Cruz are already arguing. A lawyer representing Trump’s campaign sent a letter to the state party’s chairman, highlighting a report that suggested Cruz supporters were recording video of suspicious activity at caucus sites, Politico reported.  The Nevada Republican Party responded in a statement, saying “no member of the general public shall be permitted to photograph, film or otherwise record the caucusing process.” Cruz’s camp has been under fire this week following the dismissal of his communications director who distributed a video falsely depicting Marco Rubio disparaging the Bible.

Nevada is America’s most mobile state, with residents constantly arriving, departing, and moving around. With turnout tonight projected to double the 2012 showing, it’s safe to say that the majority of participants haven’t caucused in a while—or perhaps, have never caucused at all.

The Las Vegas Sun’s Ian Whitaker is at a caucus site in Clark County, where most of the state’s voters live. He tweeted this image of a guide to the caucuses being distributed by party workers, which offers a useful overview of the night’s proceedings:

The caucuses aren’t the only political story of the day, but the presidential race has started to pull other debates into its orbit.

In the Senate, Republicans vowed not to consider any Supreme Court nominees with the campaign underway—not to vote on their nominations, give them hearings, or even to meet with them. The two senators still in the race had joined with their rivals to oppose allowing President Obama to fill the seat left vacant by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia.

Refusing even to grant hearings to a Supreme Court nominee is a novel development, but congressional Republicans have sought to block elements of Obama’s agenda they find most objectionable for both of his terms. Since he took office, Obama has tried to shutter the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. Earlier Tuesday, he gave Congress his latest plan—stressing its closure as a move that is moral, useful to America’s standing in the world, and fiscally prudent. That last point has provided the basis for bipartisan cooperation on shuttering other prisons, but failed to produce the same result this time.

Donald Trump, among others, quickly dismissed the plan. "We are keeping it open,” he said while campaigning in Nevada on Tuesday, “And by the way, we're going to load it up with some bad dudes.” He insisted that his business savvy could lower the exorbitant cost of operating the facility. “I could do it for a tiny, tiny fraction ... maybe peanuts,” he said, according to the Los Angeles Times.

If Obama was hoping that after seven years of frustration, Congress might prove amenable to making some deals, he was surely disappointed. The ever-expanding primary season seems to be swallowing the final items on his agenda.