Feb 4, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Trump's team worries about a hollow victory in Nevada

Illustration of a map of the western United States with red scribbles covering Nevada

Illustration: Natalie Peeples/Axios

Donald Trump is virtually assured of winning all 26 of the delegates available in Nevada's GOP caucuses Thursday, but his team is worried that the state's plan to hold a primary two days before the caucuses could wind up embarrassing the former president.

Why it matters: Nevada's confusing combination of a state-run primary and party-run caucuses has set up a scenario in which Trump could get get fewer votes in the caucuses than rival Nikki Haley does in the GOP primary.

  • That's possible because Nevada's GOP decided that candidates can appear on either the primary ballot or the caucuses ballot — but not both. Trump is on the caucus ballot; Haley is in the primary.

Zoom in: Nevada law requires the state to hold a primary if more than two presidential candidates are on the ballot. Nevada's GOP, led by Trump loyalists, opted to hold the caucuses to award the party's delegates.

  • That was widely seen as a move to ensure that Trump would win all of the delegates who will help determine the GOP presidential nominee. Republican caucuses typically are attended by the party's most enthusiastic, MAGA-leaning supporters.

But now Trump's team is concerned that voter turnout in the caucuses might be dwarfed by that of the primary the state is promoting — a scenario that could throw cold water on Trump's delegate haul.

  • Trump advisers and the Nevada GOP fear that turnout for the caucuses might not even match the 50,000 voters who already have voted early in the state-run primary.

Between the lines: For weeks, Trump's team has been trying to inform voters that if they want to cast a ballot for Trump, they can do so only in Thursday's caucuses, not in Tuesday's primary.

  • Trump's campaign has printed brochures and sent out fact sheets, and Trump went to Nevada after the New Hampshire primary to hold a rally in Las Vegas.
  • Trump's team also has complained that the Nevada secretary of state's office is engaging in "election interference" for reminding voters they can't vote twice on the primary ballot — a requirement under state law.

Behind the scenes: The Trump campaign's complaints don't stop there.

  • Senior Trump advisers became unhappy with the campaign's state director, Alida Benson — who advocated for Trump to participate in the caucus — after realizing the caucus planning was not coming along as well as they liked, two people familiar with the matter told Axios.
  • Caucus sites weren't finalized until early January, and the Nevada GOP currently only has just one paid full-time staffer.
  • The campaign stands by the plan to skip the primary and take part in the caucuses.
  • But the sources said that when it became clear that Nevada's GOP and the party in Clark County (by far Nevada's most populous county) were not well-equipped to run the caucuses, the campaign blamed Benson for not activating volunteers and dragging the campaign into a chaotic process.
  • The campaign brought on Brian Swensen, a former aide to departed GOP candidate Vivek Ramaswamy, as Nevada senior adviser — a move the campaign says was made because Benson was going on maternity leave.

What they're saying: "Alida Benson plays a vital role in our Nevada operation and, through her efforts, President Trump is in the best possible position to secure every delegate and shut out Nikki Haley," Trump campaign communications director Steven Cheung said.

  • "We wouldn't be where we are today without [Benson's] leadership," Swensen told Axios in a statement. "I'm confident we're going to have a great caucus, not insignificantly because of the great work Alida has done."
  • Nevada's Republican Party did not respond to a request for comment.

The intrigue: Nevada Gov. Joe Lombardo, a Trump ally, has told The Nevada Independent that he plans to caucus for Trump and vote "none of the above" — an option in the state-run primary. He's encouraged voters to do the same.

  • He has criticized the dueling contests as "chaotic and confusing," and said they will "disenfranchise a number of voters."

Nevada GOP chair Michael J. McDonald, and national committee members Jim DeGraffenreid and Sigal Chattah are all Trump supporters.

  • McDonald, who was indicted on felony charges of falsely certifying Trump won the state in the 2020 election, faces trial with five other accused Republicans on March 4. He has introduced Trump at rallies and urged Nevada voters to ignore the primary.
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