Wild and Weird Nevada Delivers a Predictable Result

At the end of the electoral maelstrom Trump triumphed.

The Nevada Republican caucuses often go overlooked by political analysts. A mere thirty delegates are at stake, a wisp of those that are allotted a week later on Super Tuesday. And anyways, Nevada is on Pacific Time, meaning the results don’t start trickling in until after the East Coast is already in bed.

It’s a shame. Nevada is one of the weirdest, wackiest, most anomalous political spectacles of the election year. It’s incredibly difficult to poll, since so much of its population is concentrated in the Las Vegas area where night jobs and daytime hangovers are common. It’s done in caucuses, which require an unconventional ground game from the candidates. Demographically, it’s a variegated mixture of hardcore conservatives, secular city-dwellers, Mormons, unionized service industry workers and Latinos—one of the least religious states in the nation and one of the most unemployed. It switched to early caucuses in 2007; since then, Mitt Romney has won both its Republican contests.

Nevada also has a reputation for unmitigated bedlam. GOP county officials are responsible for their respective caucuses and the newness of the process has created plenty of technical snags. Four years ago, it took three days for Nevada officials to certify a mere 33,000 ballots. “We’re not like Iowa, where people have been doing this since the dawn of time,” former Nevada Republican chairman James Smack shrugged to the Wall Street Journal earlier this week. Oh, and then after the delegates were finally assigned, most of them defected to Ron Paul at the Republican National Convention.

So when record turnout was reported in Nevada on Tuesday, most observers braced for a long, bleary-eyed and potentially wild night. That impression only deepened when reports started emerging on Twitter of voters not registered, ballots lying on tables, mislabeled caucus sites, party sources throwing around terms like “disaster” and “sh*t show.” It wasn’t long before Nevada officials were investigating reports of double voting.

And yet out of this electoral maelstrom came a predictable result. The ballots were mostly counted by this morning and they showed a total rout by Donald Trump. The billionaire won conservatives. He won Latinos (!). He won evangelicals, which means he dipped into Ted Cruz’s voter base. The entrance polls revealed that 58 percent of voters were angry with the federal government, a remarkable number and one that melded perfectly with Trump’s status as a choleric outsider.

It makes a lot of sense. Trump’s candidacy is best understood as both a class revolt against elites and a mutiny against a political status quo that for the past decade hasn’t worked for many people. Few places in America are more fertile for such a revolution than Nevada. The Silver State was hit harder by the 2008 recession than any other and job recovery has lagged far behind the national average. Republicans there already bucked the establishment in 2010 when they nominated obscure tea partier Sharron Angle over party handmaiden Sue Lowden. Last night, they fired another shot.

Senator Marco Rubio placed second in Nevada while Senator Ted Cruz came in third, a difference of about 2.5 percent. Yet setting aside laughable attempts to spin last night as yet another Rubio Moment™, both men seemed almost an afterthought. Rubio left early and headed to Minnesota where he hopes to score his first win on Super Tuesday, but polling suggests more moderate northern states where he should look strong, like Massachusetts and Vermont, are breaking for Trump. Meanwhile, Cruz is hoping to win his home state of Texas, but why should Trump fever break in the Lone Star State? Because Cruz is their elected senator? This year, that counts for nothing.

We are witnessing one of the most emphatic and furious rejections of the political consensus in our nation’s history. “Don’t ever say we’re going into a revolution,” said John DeBonis in 1969. “We’re in a revolution. Now the question is, who’s going to win it?” With unpredictable Nevada having delivered its predictable result, those who want to stop Trump may have an excruciating answer.

Matt Purple is the deputy editor of Rare Politics.

Image: Flickr/Darron Birgenheier.