LAS VEGAS – Nikki Haley was denied a primary victory despite Donald Trump not being on the Republican ballot in Nevada.
The ignominy of finishing a distant second behind “none of these candidates” was a fresh blow for Haley, facilitated by Trump’s staunch allies who lead Nevada’s GOP. They had already maneuvered to ensure Trump locked in the state’s 26 delegates who would be rewarded at the caucuses on Thursday, and those delegates would face only token opposition.
It is rare that there is such a strong campaign behind any of the above.
Officially, Trump’s campaign has only told supporters to worry about Thursday, but many of his allies in state and local GOP committees have indicated they may show support for Trump by registering their opposition to Haley.
Haley, the former U.N. ambassador and South Carolina governor, did not campaign in Nevada, saying Trump’s allies were rigging the rules in her favor.
“At the end of the day, we got rewarded for the disrespect that Nikki Haley showed us,” Nevada GOP Chairman Michael McDonald said Tuesday night.
With 86% of the expected votes counted, “none of these candidates” were leading Haley by more than 2 to 1.
Haley was in Los Angeles on Wednesday night, pushing ahead with a fundraiser and rally on the West Coast ahead of the March 5 California primary, when multiple states vote on what’s known as Super Tuesday. Haley announced new campaign leadership in Massachusetts, another state with a March 5 primary.
He posted on X, formerly Twitter, about how “Republicans keep doing the same thing and getting the same result: chaos.”
“A vote for Trump is a vote for more chaos,” he added, repeating a line he routinely said in campaign speeches.
Nevada lawmakers added “none of these candidates” as options in all statewide races in the wake of the Watergate scandal as a way for voters to participate and express dissatisfaction with their choices. “Neither” could win elected office, but he did come first in congressional primary elections in 1976 and 1978. He also finished ahead of George Bush and Edward Kennedy in the 1980 presidential primaries held for their party in Nevada.
McDonald said it’s up to each county GOP chair to decide whether they want to feature “any of these candidates” on the ballot.
“I’m behind them 1,000%,” he said of the GOP chairmen. “When I was asked, I said, ‘Look, I can’t tell you how to vote, but I can tell you how to vote.'”
McDonald is fiercely loyal to Trump and is one of six so-called “fake voters” indicted by a Nevada grand jury for submitting certificates to Congress falsely declaring himself the winner of the 2020 presidential election in the state.
Nevada, the third state in the 2024 field after Iowa and New Hampshire, prepared to hold a state-run primary instead of party-run caucuses after Democrats who control the Legislature changed the law to try to boost turnout.
But Nevada Republicans opted to hold party-run conventions instead, saying they wanted certain rules to be enforced, such as requiring attendees to show a government-issued ID.
Thursday’s caucuses are the only valid Nevada contest for the GOP presidential nomination. But they were seen as particularly skewed in Trump’s favor because of the massive base support they expected from candidates and new state party rules that favored him more.
Haley definitely thought so. His campaign criticized the process, refused to pay the $55,000 fee to attend caucuses, and made no effort to campaign in Nevada; Instead, he opted to go all-in in his home state of South Carolina, where Republicans will vote later this month.
The state GOP banned candidates who registered for the primary from attending their caucuses. Election officials reported widespread confusion because voters who expected to vote for Trump did not see him on their ballots.
“I noticed the Trump name wasn’t on this ballot, and I’m really disappointed by that,” David Casipit said after poll workers told him the primary was not tied to any delegates.
“I didn’t want to vote for anyone who opposed (Trump),” he added at City Hall in Fernley, a city of 23,000 in rural Lyon County.
Washoe County GOP Chairman Bruce Parks, who pushed for the decision to opt for the caucus, said in an interview that he told voters and Trump supporters who called his office to participate in the primary by voting for “none of these candidates” instead of Haley.
“They basically told us ‘they don’t care about us,'” Parks said in an interview Tuesday night. “By selecting ‘None of these candidates’ we are responding in kind; we don’t care about you either.”
Trump campaigned in Nevada 10 days before the primary, saying the primary “doesn’t mean anything” and urging his supporters to focus on caucusing.
“Don’t waste your time with the primary,” he said.
But his supporters in the state still made sure voters knew how to support him.
“My job as a party boss is to get people to vote,” said Leo Blundo, Nye County GOP chairman. “So we kept it simple for people; Don’t vote for any of the above. If you want to vote for Trump, don’t vote for any of the above, that’s it. “This gets people to vote.”
Stern reported from Reno, Nevada.