The MAGA boss of the Nevada GOP, Michael McDonald.
Photo: Brett Forresty Images/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Gett
In all the treasure chests full of fool’s gold that excite political people in this country, none glitters more brightly than a position as a key “early state” in the presidential nominating process. Holding a primary or caucus early enough on the calendar to affect the outcome is a privilege state political leaders will fight to secure and maintain, and losing that spot (as Iowa’s Democrats did, at least temporarily, in 2020) is the sort of misfortune that would normally touch off wailing and gnashing of teeth.
That’s why the decisions of Nevada Republicans that all but took that state out of a meaningful early role in the 2024 nominating contest are so odd. Since 2008, the Nevada caucuses have been third in the GOP’s nominating contest. But the Democratic-controlled Nevada legislature passed legislation creating a presidential primary in 2021, making an unsuccessful bid for the first spot on the calendar and also anticipating rules adopted by the Democratic National Committee in 2022 that all but banned caucuses. Nevada Republicans were legally forced to allow candidates to participate in that primary (scheduled for Tuesday, February 6).
But the MAGA wing of the Nevada GOP, led by state party chairman Michael McDonald, wasn’t happy with the idea of utilizing a primary with universal access to mail ballots. So the Nevada GOP chose to hold its own caucus two days after the primary. All delegates will be awarded via the caucus, and any candidate participating in the state-run primary will be banned from caucusing. As The Wall Street Journal reports, it has “ripped open the state’s Republican party and diminished the influence of Nevada in early presidential nominating contests:”
The unorthodox nominating process has left Republican voters here frustrated and confused. The primary ballots they get in the mail will allow them to choose between former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and two candidates who have dropped out of the race: former Vice President Mike Pence and Sen. Tim Scott (R., S.C.). Its outcome is moot since the primary winner won’t accrue any delegates. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and several others will instead compete against Trump in the caucus since he and other candidates are forbidden from running in both contests, though voters can participate in each format.
Nevada’s top Republican, Governor Joe Lombardo, has sharply criticized the state party for creating this bifurcated process and essentially making it a waste of time for the campaigns to play there, as the Reno Gazette Journal reported:
“It’s unfortunate,” Lombardo said. “I’ve had numerous conversations, both with the state party and other individuals involved. And it’s falling on deaf ears.”
McDonald has long said that the state party is forging ahead with the caucus due to the Democratic-controlled Legislature not considering any of Lombardo’s election-related bills, most notably his calls to implement voter ID. He called the caucus process — which will require voter ID, paper ballots, in-person voting — more secure than the Nevada primaries.
Others suspect McDonald’s real motive was to create a tightly controlled caucus process that he could dominate on behalf of Donald Trump (McDonald served as a fake elector for the 45th president in 2020). Ron DeSantis’s campaign, which chose to compete in the caucus, has bitterly complained about McDonald’s machinations and is more or less taking a dive in Nevada, the WSJ suggests: “A super PAC supporting DeSantis suspended paid door-knocking in the state, saying the new process was designed to benefit Trump, though they still have staff on the ground and several field offices.”
So Nikki Haley will win the Nevada primary without any real opposition, receiving no delegates, while Trump will win the caucus and most of the delegates. There won’t be much campaign money spent in Nevada, and the results won’t get much attention, even though the odds are pretty good that Trump won’t have the nomination totally clinched by then (a good guess would be Trump croaking Nikki Haley’s candidacy in South Carolina as the endgame).
Next time there’s a shuffle of the GOP presidential-nominating calendar, national folks will remember the disarray in the Silver State.