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Time for Nevada GOP to play the Trump card

And now, it’s the Republicans turn!

A somewhat diminished Republican field now (mostly) turns its attention to Nevada, the last stop before Super Tuesday. With former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush having dropped out, and with Dr. Ben Carson a couple weeks overdue to do so, the race here essentially comes down to three: businessman Donald Trump, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. (Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who does have a campaign organization here and once made a campaign visit to Reno, isn’t going to grace the Silver State with his presence today, sadly.)

The state of the race leading to Nevada caucus day? Trump says Cruz is the biggest liar in American politics. Rubio continues his slow-but-steady accretion of most of Nevada’s elected official endorsements (as well as actor Donnie Walhberg!). And Cruz had to fire his campaign spokesman after the guy forwarded a video with fake subtitles that implied Rubio dissed the Bible.

Just so long as we’re keeping it about the issues that affect America in 2016, then.

Polls show Trump leading in Nevada by margins of between 16 and 26 percentage points, which means the real story of today’s election will be the battle for second place between Rubio (who once lived in Las Vegas) and Cruz.

We know Rubio will benefit from the endorsements of elected officials ranging from Lt. Gov. Mark Hutchinson to Reps. Mark Amodei and Cresent Hardy, to Sen. Dean Heller (a former Bush guy) and state Senate Majority Leader Michael Roberson. Cruz’s list isn’t nearly as long, but he does have Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt, who can proudly number himself alongside still-a-TV-host-somehow Glenn Beck as a member of the Cruz Crew.

Trump’s expected win today — on the heels of decisive victories in New Hampshire and South Carolina, and a close second-place finish in Iowa — makes him the Republican front-runner. But his victories may have a boomerang effect, according to Nevada political consultant Sig Rogich.

As Trump’s strength forces more candidates out of the race — Rogich was supporting Bush — there are fewer foils for Trump on the main stage. Ultimately, Rogich says, there’s a “glass ceiling” for Trump, when he’ll be contrasted with just one or two rivals. At that moment, the American public may begin to sour on his detail-free, reality show approach to politics.

That may be just the hopeful rhetoric of a Republican who’s seen his political party totally remade overnight by a television entertainer who’s managed to tap into a deep vein of voter frustration over Washington, D.C. gridlock and what Trump claims is a politically correct culture that silences real debate. (Translated, of course, that means the God-given freedom to insult anybody you want, from immigrants to the handicapped to the media to women to politicians and Washington lobbyists.) Seriously, when you have the pope calling out your schtick, you’ve really got to question your life choices.

Meanwhile, Democrats may not be hoping for a Trump victory on the GOP side, and the resulting intra-party chaos it would produce. Longtime Nevada adman Billy Vassiliadis said Trump is too unpredictable as an opponent, suggesting that Cruz makes a much better foil for the eventual Democratic nominee.

Republican caucusing is less interactive than the Democratic process, and the GOP insisted that voters register as Republicans more than a week before caucus day. Those two factors should — and I stress, should — help lend themselves to efficiency, and avoid the nightmare of 2012, when ballot-counting stretched through an entire weekend.

C’mon, Nevada Republicans. A semi-curious nation is quasi-eager to see which candidate you choose as runner-up!

—Steve Sebelius is a Review-Journal political columnist and co-host of the show “PoliticsNOW” airing at 5:30 p.m. Sundays on 8NewsNow. Follow him on Twitter (@SteveSebelius) or reach him at 702-387-5276 or SSebelius@reviewjournal.com.

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