Donald Trump has won Tuesday's Nevada caucuses in a blowout. The billionaire won about 46 percent of the vote — 22 points ahead of his closest competitor, Marco Rubio, who drew 24 percent. Ted Cruz came in third place in the state with around 21 percent, Ben Carson came in fourth with around 4.8, and John Kasich came in last with about 3.6 percent.
The victory will put Trump a bit further ahead in the delegate chase, which he currently leads by a large margin. But he won't gain too much ground — Nevada only has 30 GOP delegates, and it allots them proportionally among all candidates who top 3.33 percent of the vote. The effect of that rule is that the first-place finisher will only end up getting a few more delegates than the second-place finisher — nowhere near the 50-delegate advantage Trump gained from his smaller win in South Carolina.
Still, the Nevada outcome makes it unmistakably clear that Trump is the GOP frontrunner.
He's now won three of the four contests in the first month of voting, and his lead in national polls remains unchallenged. Indeed, Republican elites looking at the calendar and order of contests going forward are increasingly afraid that it may already be too late to stop him, according to a report by Politico's Alex Isenstadt.
The win also shows that Trump can indeed do well in a caucus state. After his disappointing second-place finish in Iowa, some believed he'd perform poorly in future caucus states as well, due to what seemed to be his inferior ground game (since turnout operations are more important in lower-turnout caucuses). But he won, and he won big.
The first phase of the nomination contest is over, and things are about to start happening very quickly
This brings the first phase of the GOP nomination contest, in which the four "early" states voted over the course of February, to a close. These contests were, overall, more important for how they affected the political world's understanding of the race, and how they winnowed the field, than for the relatively meager sum of delegates they allotted (just 5 percent have been awarded so far).
But now we are headed into a very different phase, because a whole lot of delegates are about to be handed out very quickly.
First there's Super Tuesday on March 1, the first big multistate contest. This year, it's been dubbed the "SEC primary" because so many Southern states are scheduled to vote. Texas, Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, Virginia, Oklahoma, Massachusetts, Arkansas, Minnesota, Alaska, and Vermont will all be holding GOP primaries or caucuses. Together, they account for about a quarter of total Republican delegates.
Until last week, it seemed genuinely unclear whether Trump or Cruz would emerge as the leading candidate in the South. But if recent polls and Saturday's South Carolina results are any indication, Trump has gained the upper hand in the region. And since Trump polls particularly well in the Northeast too, March 1 could be a very good night for him.
After that, there will be several more contests spread out in early March, which will culminate in a sort of Super Tuesday II on March 15. On that day, Florida, North Carolina, Illinois, Ohio, Missouri, and the Northern Mariana Islands will all vote. Florida and Ohio, specifically, are big "winner-take-all" states that allot all their delegates to whomever finishes first statewide (as well as being home states to Rubio and Kasich, respectively).
The point is, by the time the dust settles on the Ides of March, about 58 percent of delegates in the GOP contest will have been allotted. So the next three weeks are enormously important. The bigger the delegate lead Trump amasses during this phase, the more difficult he'll be to stop.