Four takeaways from the Nevada GOP caucuses

Four takeaways from the Nevada GOP caucuses

Nevada rounded out the first four primary states for the Republican nomination. Here are four takeaways, from Kasich’s chances to a Bloomberg entry.

On paper, the Nevada caucuses shouldn’t matter much for the GOP. The Silver State only holds 30 delegates up for grabs each presidential election cycle, a fraction of those at stake during the first four primaries and caucuses, and an even smaller fraction compared to next week’s “Super Tuesday” nominating contests, where voters in 12 states and one US territory choose among the candidates.

Furthermore, Nevada’s Republican electorate is notoriously anti-establishment and is faced with the nation’s highest unemployment rate – hardly illustrative of the rest of the country.

Yet, in practice, what occurred this Tuesday in Nevada will send ripples across both the GOP establishment and rank-and-file GOP voters.

Billionaire property tycoon Donald Trump cemented his status as the Republican frontrunner by winning 46% of the vote, almost double that of his nearest opponent, Florida Senator Marco Rubio. This comes in spite of the fact that Trump’s campaign has avoided the months of traditional grassroots organizing that goes on in early caucus states, particularly in Nevada, where voting rules are complex and Republican turnout is low.

It is also surprising to say the least, given that six years of Rubio’s childhood took place in Las Vegas, as well as the fact that third-place finisher Senator Ted Cruz, who went home with only 21% of the vote, kicked off the Republican electoral race with a normally-momentous win in Iowa.

Here’s what the results mean:

Ben Carson and John Kasich are done for post-Nevada

What is obvious is that this is now a three-person fight for the GOP nomination, barring any late-game changes of heart on the part of large donors.

Ben Carson, once the darling of evangelicals before Cruz stole that mantle from him, received just one delegate from Nevada. So did Ohio Governor John Kasich, who might be the most electable Republican come November but isn’t even ahead in his winner-take-all home state, which votes on March 15. The pair’s combined 10 delegates (compared to Trump’s 82), coupled with their low poll numbers in next Tuesday’s primary states, make their presidential math all but impossible.

The Trump Train shows no signs of slowing down

It’s now a truism to point out that Donald Trump is bringing new Republicans to the voting booth in an almost unstoppable fashion. While reports that the New York firebrand massively won among Nevada Latinos are overblown, given that only about 100 were surveyed in that poll, Trump was the biggest reason why turnout in Nevada’s caucuses ballooned from under 2% in 2012 to more than 17% on Tuesday.

What is more, exit polls in Nevada showed that Trump won a plurality of certain demographics which are going to be key throughout the Republican race: 43% of those who considered themselves independent, 40% of evangelicals/born-again Christians, 48% of those angry at the federal government, and surprisingly, even 38% of those who call themselves “very conservative.”

Moderate Republicans’ only chance is if Cruz or Rubio drops out

Since the fall, there has been endless talk about Republican voters and donors coalescing around a less bellicose conservative who could both challenge Trump as well as the Democratic nominee. But it hasn’t occurred anywhere near as quickly as establishment Republicans would have hoped, leaving many worried about Trump’s two biggest challengers, Cruz and Rubio, cannibalizing the anti-Trump vote.

With the exception of Cruz’s showing in Iowa, neither candidate has managed to bypass the 25% hump in the first four primary/caucus states. And key endorsements, usually among the bread and butter of campaigns’ election year strategies, have not been telling. Cruz won the endorsement battle in New Hampshire but still finished a distant third. Rubio campaigned in South Carolina with popular sitting governor Nikki Haley and took home zero delegates to show for it.

This is not good news for Rubio, who has seen another flurry of high-profile Republicans lawmakers and donors line up behind him since early in the week, but who faces contests next Tuesday in states which are widely seen to be unfavorable towards his brand of relative moderatism. In fact, even if all of Jeb Bush’s Florida votes were to go to him, Rubio would not even be within single digits of Trump in his home state, a winner-take-all colossus of delegates which also votes on March 15.

But neither should Cruz be optimistic. His campaign is still shaking off a number of recent mishaps. And while Cruz’s own delegate math should see a slight boost next week, all of the Super Tuesday states award delegates proportionally. This most likely indicates that Trump’s lead will barely be dented, even in Texas, where the race is a dead heat.

All this splitting of the anti-Trump vote will make it harder for both Cruz and Rubio to abide by the GOP’s “Rule of 40,” which, though not set in stone, states that the party’s nominee must win the majority of the delegates available in eight states.

Enter Michael Bloomberg?

Finally, few people are salivating more over the Nevada results than former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. In spite of his low poll numbers and weak name recognition outside of the northeast, the media magnate (and former Republican) has expressed some interest in throwing his hat in the ring and spending some of his vast fortune on an independent presidential bid. He might do this especially if the national political discourse continues to be “distressingly banal and an outrage and an insult to the voters” – i.e. if non-centrist candidates from both parties win their nominations.

Bloomberg’s anti-gun crusades and staunch pro-choice views would appeal to progressives, just as his former tough-on-crime policies and steadfast support of the Israeli government would appeal to most conservatives. But it may be true that he draws more of his support from what are usually safely Democratic states, meaning that rather than hampering Trump, he might just hand him the election.

Regardless, the results from Nevada have certainly heightened interest in potentially the biggest third-party candidacy since Ross Perot in 1992.

Categories: North America, Politics

About Author

Kevin Amirehsani

Kevin is a Denver-based policy and public engagement consultant. He was previously the head of operations for a solar energy startup in Lagos, researcher for the US Commercial Service in Cape Town and the Institute for Democratic Governance in Accra, and Peace Corps volunteer in Cameroon. He holds an MSc. in International Political Economy from LSE along with a B.S. and B.A. in Industrial Engineering and Political Science from UC Berkeley.