Nevada has seen its fair share of losses - the home of Las Vegas knows a thing or two about gambling and high stakes.
But Nikki Haley’s loss in the state primary last night, was spectacular even by casino standards. Not only did she suffer a humiliating two-to-one defeat, but she lost to “None of the Candidates”.
Twice as many people voted for none of the candidates, as voted for Haley. Donald Trump didn’t even contest the ballot, instead deciding to concentrate his firepower on the state-wide caucus organised by the Republican Party on Thursday.
The fact that there is both a primary, where voters cast a ballot and a caucus, where they discuss the merits of candidates in community meetings before voting, is the result of a bitter dispute in Nevada.
In 2021, the Democrat-controlled state legislature voted to switch the ‘first in the west’ vote from a caucus to a primary because they hoped it would tackle dwindling turn-out and allow mail-in ballots.
The Nevada Republican Party disagreed and insisted it would hold a caucus anyway, and only that would decide who would be awarded the 26 delegates up for grabs.
Critics argue the caucus process favours Donald Trump’s die-hard, fanatical base, which is more likely to turn out on a winter’s evening and spend it listening to pitches from candidates.
To win the party nomination, Republican candidates need to secure 1215 delegates from across the country, who in turn elect the nominee at the party’s convention this July in Milwaukee.
So far Trump came first in both Iowa and New Hampshire, earning him 33 delegates. Nikki Haley came third in Iowa, and second in New Hampshire, giving her 17 delegates.
Once Trump secures the 26 delegates from Nevada (he’s only facing a challenge from longshot Ryan Binkley), he’ll have a commanding lead over Haley in this delegate race.
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Polling puts him comfortably ahead in the next state to vote, Haley’s home of South Carolina. He’s even further ahead in other states which vote later this year.
But despite the long odds, Nikki Haley is stubbornly refusing to end her campaign.
Her multi-millionaire financial backers continue to throw good money after bad, in the hope they can save the soul of the Republican party from a complete Trump take-over.
They want her to be a thorn in the side of Trump and offer the vestige of an alternative and they are willing to continue paying for the chance, even though her cause looks hopeless.
The recent debacle over the bipartisan immigration bill shows how pervasive Trump’s influence still is in the Senate and House.
A deal had been hammered out between Republicans and Democrats, securing money for border reforms, as well as funding for Ukraine.
Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell threw his weight behind the plan, but it was torpedoed by Trump, who said “only a fool, or a Radical Left Democrat, would vote for this horrendous Border Bill” and described it as “a great gift to the Democrats, and a Death Wish for The Republican Party.”
It’s left McConnell neutered, unable to steer his own party in the Senate and reminded everyone of the continuing influence of Donald Trump.
In the shadow of Trump’s looming power, even before he’s secured the party nomination, Haley’s last stand might seem pointless. But there are still enough big-money backers of traditional Republicanism who are willing to keep her in the race.
She has vowed to campaign at least until Super Tuesday, which involves 13 states voting and will require considerable financial firepower.
She and her financiers are gambling that one of the many Trump indictments may force him to pull out or something else may happen to derail his bid for the White House.
If this were a game of roulette, it would seem to be the political equivalent of placing your last dollars on a specific red number and hoping against the odds the ball lands favourably. What they’ve forgotten is Trump appears not only to now own the casino, but is trying to rig the game.
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