UPDATE (Feb. 7, 2024, 12:06 a.m. E.T.):?This piece has been updated to reflect the Nevada election results. In another blow to Nikki Haley's campaign, NBC News projects that she has lost Nevada's Republican primary. Instead, more voters chose the "none of these candidates" option.
Nikki Haley is supposed to win the Nevada presidential Republican primary tonight — and earn precisely zero delegates. I’m not clairvoyant —?Donald Trump isn’t listed on the primary ballot. Instead, he’s competing in the GOP caucuses on Thursday, the contest that will determine all 26 Nevada delegates, and that will not include Haley.
Yet, it looks like Haley could end up having a good night anyway, and she only has Trump and his campaign advisers to thank. Firstly, she will technically get a win, albeit a hollow one without any delegates. But come caucus night, don’t be surprised if she rains on Trump’s parade by pointing to overall turnout numbers.
Confused? You can thank the Nevada GOP.
In a nutshell, Nevada changed its election law in 2021 to require both the Democratic and Republican parties to replace their traditional caucuses with state-run primaries if more than two presidential candidates are on the ballot. But Nevada’s state GOP opted to caucus anyway —?and use that contest to allocate the party’s delegates. Republican candidates had to choose one or the other, with Trump picking the caucuses and Haley picking the primary. (Although Republican voters can hypothetically vote in both.)
This cockamamie idea was cooked up by Nevada’s state GOP chair, Michael McDonald, an avid Trump follower who was indicted on felony charges last December for being a fake 2020 elector. The theory is that caucuses tend to attract more of the GOP’s MAGA superfans, giving Trump the edge.
But it turns out preparing for a statewide caucus can be complicated. Axios reported over the weekend that Team Trump voiced concerns about the party’s bandwidth and organization (apparently, the Nevada GOP only has one full-time staffer). The state’s presidential primaries, meanwhile, are run and promoted by the secretary of state. This means a lot more manpower and planning. They also allow early voting and mail-in ballots; as of Saturday nearly 60,000 early primary votes had already been cast in the Republican primary.
This is a problem for the Trump campaign. A large primary turnout could be spun by Haley as a “win” of sorts, and a sign of flagging Trump enthusiasm. Team Trump seems to be trying to hedge its bets with typical Trumpian misinformation. Chris LaCivita, a Trump campaign senior adviser, reportedly claimed that a state voting guide amounted to “election interference” by the secretary of state’s office.?
And remember, 26 delegates is a relatively small number. The GOP nominee must win 1,215 delegates to emerge victorious this summer and challenge President Joe Biden in the November general election. Currently Trump leads Haley 33-17. That means it’s possible Team Trump has brazenly gamed the system for a handful of delegates —?and a losing story on Friday morning.
If Haley ends up winning more total votes than Trump, she will absolutely claim bragging rights, delegates be damned. Most people, especially outside of Nevada, will not have a clue about the convoluted process, which could help her to gain at least some momentum heading into a very tough South Carolina primary on Feb. 24. It could also help with her donors, especially if Trump takes the bait, gets defensive and flustered and ends up with another “confusing” campaign speech moment like he did in New Hampshire.
Then again, Trump may have more on his mind than Nevada. Thursday is also when the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in his ballot access case.