“Trump’s supporters will follow that man through the gates of hell,” said Chuck Muth, a former Nevada Republican Party executive director and conservative activist and writer.
Haley’s loss to “none of these candidates” is not unprecedented. It
happened in a Democratic gubernatorial primary in 2014.
But for Haley, the last major contender running against Trump in the GOP primary, it was a significant blow — and a quick source of ridicule. Haley trailed by nearly 30 percentage points with just more than half of the estimated votes in.
Trump’s campaign brass immediately seized on Haley’s poor showing in the Silver State, contending that her soldiering on in the primary was part of what Chris LaCivita, a top Trump adviser, called Haley’s “
delusional tour.” Democrats, too, were quick to mock Haley, with David Axelrod, the former Barack Obama adviser, asking if Haley “
regrets not debating ‘None of these Candidates.’” Haley has sought to play up Trump’s refusal to debate her.
While Trump’s supporters in Nevada had encouraged Republicans to select “none of these candidates,” Trump himself decided against meddling in the primary, instead urging his supporters to “just do the caucus thing.”
The state party prohibited candidates who participated in the state-run primary from also running in the party-run caucus, so Haley’s campaign effectively ignored the state and dismissed its process as “rigged for Trump.” She chose to spend the week campaigning in her home state of South Carolina ahead of its Feb. 24 primary and hopscotching between wealthy California enclaves to raise money and rally ahead of its March 5 Super Tuesday primary.
In Thursday’s caucus, Trump is expected to crush his only opponent, longshot businessperson and pastor Ryan Binkley, gobbling up the delegates here and sending the two-person race with Haley to South Carolina, where his footing appears nearly as sound.
But Haley has appeared increasingly comfortable standing in the embers of her slow-burn campaign. Now the lone major opponent to Trump, she’s been raking in long-shot investment by the millions, easing into a
YOLO phase of taunts and dismissive memes, and conducting late-stage therapy sessions for Never Trumpers and erstwhile Lincoln Projecters eager to see the MAGA battleship take on GOP friendly fire — even if the ammunition turns out just to be spitballs.
While Trump has cruised through the early states, Nevadans who turned out to support Haley stressed they weren’t prepared to crown him.
Pausing to contemplate his choice outside a public library in Northwest Reno, Scott Knecht described Trump as a “great president,” but one incapable of acting or sounding presidential. He took umbrage at Trump’s dismissal of Haley as a “bird brain.”
“She’s a lot of things, but she ain’t a fucking ‘bird brain,’ that’s for sure. She’s a very smart, accomplished woman,” Knect said.
He wanted to see Trump and Haley competing on the same ballot. But he acknowledged his vote was little more than a gesture in a primary controlled by Trump, and he was upfront about his plans to vote for Trump against Biden in November.
“Obviously, Trump’s arrogant,” Knect added. “I don’t care if he’s arrogant — you don’t have to marry him. But in just the last number of weeks, and the stuff he said, it’s just embarrassing. So, I voted for Nikki Haley just to send a tiny, tiny little message.”
Despite being a prized general election battleground, Nevada’s Republican primary has had all the suspense of an upper division political science seminar. The purple state’s Republican leaders threw in with Trump, adopting his brand as their own and moving to snuff out the mere idea of competition. (State GOP Chair Michael McDonald has been indicted for his role as a “false elector” for Trump after the 2020 election.)
The bizarre nominating contest Tuesday found Haley’s supporters lining up to vote in snowy Washoe County and across the state while the candidate herself signaled the possible long slog ahead with a planned rally Wednesday in Santa Monica, Calif.
That didn’t sit well with Patricia Buffington, a retiree from Sparks, and lifelong Republican.
Typically, she’s bombarded with TV ads for the candidates and invitations to hear from them at packed events. Not this year, and she blames the state GOP.
“I’m so pissed off because this doesn’t do me — or her — any good,” Buffington said of her vote for Haley. “I hope to hell she sues Nevada if she ends up getting more votes than [Trump] does.
“What they did was give it to Trump on a platter,” she added.
Buffington was so frustrated she asked poll workers for the form to switch her party affiliation from Republican to independent, though she said they couldn’t locate it.
She walked out into the cold. And she made clear that, come fall, she isn’t planning to vote for Trump or Biden.
“It’s gotta be ‘none of the above,’” Buffington said, turning back to the Nevada GOP. “If they are going to be this stupid, I can’t go along with them.”