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‘Rigged for Trump’: Nevada’s Nikki Haley supporters voice frustration over caucus, primary

Updated January 27, 2024 - 7:40 am

Charles Fruit thinks Nikki Haley would make a good president. He thinks she did a good job as governor in South Carolina, and he was impressed with her work as U.N. ambassador during the Trump administration.

“She was just tough, and I like that,” the Mesquite resident said. “She was common sense. She was well-spoken. She was respectable.”

That’s why Fruit was upset to learn that he couldn’t really help her become the Republican nominee.

Haley — the second-most popular Republican candidate next to former President Donald Trump — is not participating in the Feb. 8 Nevada caucuses. Rather than pay the caucuses’ $55,000 fee, she opted in October to join the state-run presidential preference primary, though it means she will be awarded no Nevada delegates.

Her absence has frustrated her supporters in Nevada.

“There’s no point in participating in the caucus,” Fruit said. “I can’t vote for my candidate. They’re basically disenfranchising me. And this is happening by my own Republican party. I’m very unhappy about it.”

Fruit and other Haley supporters can vote for her in the primary, but their vote is wasted, because delegates are only awarded based on the results of the caucuses.

With only Trump and long-shot candidate Ryan Binkley left as the caucus candidates, Fruit feels the system silences voters who want to vote for someone other than Trump.

“If you participate in the caucus, all you’re doing is supporting the anointing of Trump by the Nevada GOP, and I’m not OK with that,” Fruit said. He said he wishes the caucuses allowed write-in votes.

Las Vegas resident and lifelong Republican Thomas Kramer said he also feels the process has been rigged for Trump. He said he understands the Nevada GOP’s reasoning for the caucus — it claims mail-in voting is insecure — but he wishes the party embraced the primary that was already set up and paid for. He said the party should work to elect Republicans who could change the mail ballot laws.

“It feels like the guys that were complaining about an election being stolen are stealing an election,” he said.

Haley is reasonable, Kramer said, and although he concedes she has said some dumb things, he thinks she is a better alternative than Trump and Biden. Haley recently drew scrutiny after failing to mention slavery was a cause of the Civil War, but she has been viewed by some Republicans as a more common-sense candidate. Trump remains the favorite, having won both the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary.

“I’m going to vote in the primary for her, even though I know it’s virtually meaningless,” Kramer said. “It might look good on paper if enough people do it. I don’t feel like I have an alternative.”

Fruit places blame on both Nevada Democrats and Republicans for the chaos of the primary and caucuses.

Democratic legislators in 2021 pushed forward a bipartisan bill to replace caucuses with a primary system, which they say is more accessible and encourages higher voter turnout. The Nevada Republican Party, however, decided to keep its time-honored tradition of caucusing, leading to confusion among voters about which nominating process they should vote in.

Republicans should have gone along with the primary, Fruit said. Instead, “we’ve got both, and it has confused a lot of Republicans.”

Haley’s campaign did not return the Review-Journal’s requests for comment, but her campaign has indicated that Nevada does not seem to be a focus.

Haley visited Las Vegas in October for the Republican Jewish Coalition’s annual leadership summit, an event that draws big Republican names every year, including the biggest presidential candidates.

Other than that event, she largely has avoided the Silver State this election cycle, choosing to focus on the Republican Party’s other early states of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.

Nevada Republican Party Chairman Michael McDonald told the Review-Journal the state party has tried on multiple occasions to involve Haley’s campaign in the caucuses, but the party did not hear back.

“I thought the world of Nikki Haley before this process,” he said. “Her campaign blew us off. We realized that she wasn’t interested in working with Republicans in the state of Nevada.”

Kramer said it doesn’t really bother him that Haley hasn’t invested much time in Nevada.

“For the most part, a lot of that stuff is just a show anyway,” he said. “It’s really about the issues and who’s going to keep this whole thing together.”

Contact Jessica Hill at jehill@reviewjournal.com. Follow @jess_hillyeah on X.

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