Nevada Republicans double down on presidential caucus amid criticism, party unrest
It’s been a wild few weeks in politics.
Congress narrowly avoided a government shutdown only to oust Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy. Former President Donald Trump’s civil fraud trial is underway in New York.
Closer to home, Nevada Republicans finalized rules for a presidential caucus to exclude candidates participating in the state-run primary. That’s sparked criticism because some, like Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, argue the caucus is a scheme to ensure Donald Trump gets the state’s delegates at next year’s Republican National Convention.
“They hope by extorting the campaigns with the threat of not being able to participate in the caucus, that none will participate in the primary,” said The Nevada Independent’s Jon Ralston while speaking to KPNR’s State of Nevada. “The only chance that Nikki Haley or Ron DeSantis have against Trump is to gain momentum in the early states, and Nevada is still an early state, and so they will have to make some kind of showing here.”
So far, only one Republican has filed to appear on the February primary ballot; at least two are needed to hold a primary. Any Republican participating in the primary is excluded from participating in the caucus.
Lobbyist and former Republican campaign staffer Elliot Malin said the move will only serve to alienate voters who already feel disenfranchised due to former President Donald Trump’s insistence that the 2020 election was rigged despite any credible evidence.
“This is going to confuse voters,” said Malin. “How are we going to expect voter turnout? What are they going to say when they show up on primary day and Donald Trump is not on the ballot? I think that's a fear for a lot of Republicans.”
One person who could step in and mediate the primary versus caucus issue is Republican Governor Joe Lombardo. However, Lombardo has repeatedly expressed no interest in wading into the debate; otherwise, he might be viewed as supporting one candidate over another.
Lombardo has instead focused on electing down-ballot Republicans. He’s already endorsed several Republicans running for seats in the legislature as part of an effort to stave off a Democratic supermajority. According to Ralston, Lombardo’s tactics resemble former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's actions for Democrats in the early 2000s.
“He's very worried about that,” said Ralston. “That's why I’m impressed with their recruitment of candidates with they're creating this series of PACs to attack Democrats to hype up issues against Democrats in the legislature. That's his goal. You know, who would admire this kind of thing, and he's looking down smiling, probably, Harry Reid.”
No matter who is on the ballot, Republicans will likely face a tough election cycle in Nevada. Democratic incumbents such as U.S. Senator Jacky Rosen have millions in cash on hand and are unlikely to face a primary challenge.
On the other hand, former President Donald Trump has yet to win an election in Nevada, and his ongoing legal troubles may also hinder his ability to attract non-partisans. That could spell disaster for down-ballot Republicans hoping to pick up seats in state government.
Laura Martin is the Executive Director of the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada. For her, the winner will likely be whichever candidate can speak to the concerns of Nevadans.
“Mostly what we hear is people are struggling to pay their rent, the cost of groceries are going up,” Martin said. Our leaders are just fighting over who gets to be the leader, be it in Carson City or Washington, DC. People want politicians who care about their lives, not just their political trajectory.”
Guests: Laura Martin, executive director, Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada; Elliot Malin, lobbyist and former Republican campaign strategist; Jon Ralston, CEO, The Nevada Independent