Donald Trump won the Nevada caucuses in a landslide Tuesday night. Now, the precise delegate count has to be worked out. But in early states, winning or losing one delegate in the final count has less effect on a campaign than having momentum going into the next round of primaries and caucuses — especially when the next round is the multistate "SEC primary" across 11 states (most of them Southern) on March 1.
And for non-candidates, being associated with a winning (or losing) campaign — or, say, mucking up yet another caucus — can have effects that last beyond the final vote tally. So even in a race with only five active Republican candidates, there's still more than one winner and more than one loser — and some of the winners and losers weren't running at all. Read on.
Winner: Donald Trump
When it comes to delegates, this won't be Trump's biggest victory — he'll net more from South Carolina, a bigger state that allots delegates winner-take-all style rather than proportionally.
But it might very well be his most significant win yet. A mere three weeks ago, during the Iowa caucuses, Trump placed a disappointing second — barely ahead of Marco Rubio, and far behind his polling numbers. The culprit, some believed, was that Trump hadn't bothered to invest in a get-out-the-vote operation in the same way Ted Cruz and Rubio had.
But then he won the New Hampshire primary, he stomped the competition in South Carolina — and when it was time for a second caucus in a state where Ted Cruz hadn't camped out for a year, he won, and he won big. Trump is only getting stronger. He is only getting harder to beat. He is not quite the presumptive Republican nominee yet, but he is getting there.
As the Democratic primary appears to be speeding toward a conclusion, the longer the Republican primary is in chaos — especially Trump-led chaos — the better it is for Democrats. Because even though Trump won Nevada easily, Republican elites aren't just going to lie down and accept him as the nominee — they'll fight. Yet none of Trump's rivals won a convincing enough second place to seriously narrow the field. Chaos continues. Democrats rejoice.
Loser: Marco Rubio
Here's the thing about running for president: At some point, you actually have to win an election.
If you game out the rest of the Republican race, Rubio is still the only non-Trump Republican with a plausible path to victory. But that path relies on him actually making up his delegate gap with Trump at some point — which is to say, winning states. And his team had previously argued that Nevada was a good opportunity for him.
Rubio's campaign has done a tremendous job of persuading the press that they have everything under control. But the size of Trump's victory will change that. At a certain point, a 3-5-2-2 record in the primaries stops looking like a strategy and starts looking like just another record of defeat at the hands of Trump.
Loser: Nevada Republicans
The Nevada Republican Party cannot have nice things. In 2012, it managed the humiliating one-two punch of getting only 33,000 people to turn out to caucus and still taking three days to determine who had won. In 2016, it did better on both of those counts, but there were widespread reports of irregularities and incompetence in caucus administration.
The Nevada legislature, which is controlled by Republicans, had the chance to switch to a primary like a normal state. It did not. So the state party is responsible for this ramshackle process.
And there may well be consequences. GOP Chair Reince Priebus has been making noises about switching up the early primary states for 2020 and beyond, and it looks like the most likely casualty is Nevada. That's good news for other states in the region with "stable party infrastructures to go with their similarly diverse populations," in the not-too-subtle words of National Review's Tim Alberta. But it's bad news for the Silver State, which probably sealed its own fate on Tuesday.
Loser: land rights activists
Say what you will about the Bundys. Between the 2014 standoff at patriarch Cliven Bundy's Nevada ranch and the 2016 occupation of an Oregon parks building led by Ammon Bundy, the Nevada-based family of land rights activists managed to bring the issue of Western land ownership and grazing rights to the attention of the national conservative movement. From there, they had the opportunity to become recognized as an interest group within the conservative coalition. They were even being actively courted by Ted Cruz.
But Cruz came in third. Instead, the activists' best-chance state to influence the Republican primaries went to the race's most enthusiastic supporter of government taking private lands — Donald Trump. Land rights activists might have proved they're a movement, but they haven't yet proved they're a constituency.