Nevada Republicans handed Donald Trump a convincing win in the state’s caucuses on Tuesday night/Wednesday morning. It marked the third straight early vote where Trump has scored a convincing victory. Here is some of the best, and worst, of the night that was.
* Donald Trump: All he does is win — and win by a lot. Trump took nearly 46 percent of the vote in a still-crowded five-candidate field; if you combine the votes for Marco Rubio, who finished second, and Ted Cruz, third, Trump still got more votes. Although Nevada wasn’t the delegate treasure trove of South Carolina — Trump took 12 to Rubio’s 5 — it yet again affirmed the increasingly clear reality that this nomination is very much Trump’s to lose. If he sweeps — or comes close to sweeping — the March 1 states, it might just all be over.
* Anger: Six in 10 caucus-goers said they were “angry” at the federal government. That makes them angrier than the Republican electorates in the previous three states.
It makes sense. Nevada is a state in which the federal government is reviled by many — especially Republicans — because of questions over land use and ownership. It is also a state where the average Republican has a strong libertarian streak in him or her; this is the West, after all.
Anger is, of course, Trump’s calling card; he won 49 percent of the vote among those who said they were “angry” with the federal government and 43 percent among those who said they were “dissatisfied” with the government. This is what those voters looked like.
* Jon Ralston: No analyst so dominates an early state like Ralston does Nevada. He was ubiquitous on MSNBC in the days leading up to the Nevada vote, and he rightly predicted that the voting would turn into a fiasco. Ralston cemented his status as the go-to analyst/reporter in the state over these past few weeks. Job well done.
* Outsiders: The Nevada entrance poll shows just how tailor-made this electorate was for Trump. In addition to being angry, Nevada Republicans desperately want someone from outside the political system as their nominee. Six in 10 (61 percent) said the next president should be “outside of the establishment”; Trump won an eye-popping 71 percent of those voters. Cruz was second with just 15 percent. That’s a stunning margin even in a race where Trump won overall by 22 points.
* Las Vegas Strip: Say what you will about Vegas (I am pro), but, man, does it make an awesome backdrop for live television. Some of the shots coming out of the Strip last night were just so eye-catching. And, yes, I am a sucker for neon.
* Ted Cruz: The senator from Texas finished third — behind Trump and Rubio — for the second time in four days. He can spin that however he likes, but if you dig inside the Nevada entrance poll, there are signs of real problems for Cruz. As in South Carolina, Trump beat Cruz among evangelical voters — this time by a wide 15-point margin. (Cruz and Rubio were essentially tied for second among evangelicals.) And, among those who don’t identify as born-again Christians — six in 10 Nevada Republican caucus-goers — Cruz got swamped by 32 points. Cruz must now win his home state of Texas in six days’ time to stay in the race as a viable candidate; it’s a do-or-die moment for a candidate who came out of Iowa just 23 days ago looking like the best bet to be the party’s nominee.
* Nevada Republicans: The story of the caucuses — at least on Tuesday night — was the lack of organization and professionalism visible everywhere you looked.
The Nevada GOP caucuses already had a bad reputation, and, unfortunately, they lived up to it. The best thing for the state party and for the candidates was that the race wasn’t close, meaning that some of the obvious irregularities in the vote were rendered largely moot. It’s hard to imagine the state getting to vote early again in 2020 given the fiasco that was Tuesday night.
* John Kasich: No one expected the Ohio governor to do much of anything in the caucuses. And he didn’t, taking just 3.6 percent of the vote, which was good for fifth, and last, place. Fine. I get that Kasich is trying to parlay his second-place finish in New Hampshire 15 days ago into a go-for-broke run at the Michigan primary on March 8. But Kasich’s campaign got out way over its skis in a memo released shortly after the Nevada caucuses ended: “Contrary to what his campaign is trying to portray, Senator Rubio just endured another disappointing performance,” wrote Kasich strategist John Weaver. Um, okay. But your guy just finished dead last. Maybe leave what happened in Vegas, well, in Vegas.