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VICTOR JOECKS: Why Trump won’t be on Nevada’s primary ballot

An attempt to rig the results is why Donald Trump won’t be on Nevada’s presidential primary ballot. The former president’s own allies are responsible.

The Clark County Election Department recently sent out flyers telling voters about the state’s presidential primary on Feb. 6. It will also include early voting. Every registered voter will receive a sample ballot, but only registered Democrats and Republicans will receive a mail ballot.

Expect hundreds of thousands of Nevada Republicans to be outraged by what they see — or don’t see. Neither Trump nor Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis will be on the ballot. Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley will be the only major candidate listed.

Many Trump voters who already had concerns about the integrity of Nevada’s election system are likely to think the worst. Nevada’s elections are so corrupt, they may conclude, that they wouldn’t even let Trump on the ballot.

If you were looking to depress Republican turnout in November 2024, it would be hard to come up with a better strategy.

But before Trump supporters aim their rhetorical pitchforks at election officials, there’s something they need to know. The Trump camp is responsible for this.

In 2021, Nevada Democrats created the current presidential primary system over Republican opposition. But what matters in presidential campaigns is delegates. Many states award delegates based on primary election results, so it’s natural for people to conflate the two.

State parties, however, determine how delegates are distributed. The leadership of the Nevada Republican Party, starting with Chairman Michael McDonald, is in the tank for Trump. It appears the Trump campaign preferred a process its allies could fully control. So the state party decided to hold a caucus on Feb. 8 — two days after the primary. Trump and DeSantis are competing in the caucus.

The Nevada GOP told campaigns that if they signed up for the primary, they couldn’t participate in the caucus. So Trump didn’t sign up for the primary because doing so would have prevented him from earning delegates in the caucus.

Put this all together, and you can see how Trump’s allies kept him off the Nevada primary ballot.

This was a strategic error. To start, Nevada may be the most instinctively pro-Trump state in the country. His campaign should have wanted as many Nevadans as possible to vote. A caucus introduced two variables that are bad for Trump.

First, it shrunk the field. Haley won’t be on the caucus ballot. If moderate caucus-goers want a Trump alternative, they’re going to be funneled to DeSantis. Second, it will reduce the universe of voters. In 2016, caucus turnout was around 75,000, or 17 percent of registered Republicans. For comparison, more than 225,000 Republicans voted in Nevada’s 2022 primary. That’s triple the raw turnout for a lower-profile contest.

Given this confusion and competing campaigns ignoring the state, turnout probably will be abysmal. If it sinks far enough, DeSantis could sneak out victory with 15,000-20,000 votes. That low number favors DeSantis’ more organized campaign.

Trump and the Nevada GOP should have prioritized using the state’s early voting status to generate massive interest in the primary. They could have leveraged that and the organizing dollars of competing campaigns into registering 35,000 new Republicans. That’s what Democrats did in 2008. That would have given Trump or the eventual GOP nominee a boost when needed most — next November. They could have used the primary to test out and refine the RNC’s push to bank Republican votes early, too.

Instead, the Trump camp failed to think one step ahead, leaving its campaign in a more vulnerable position and setting up his supporters to be bewildered.

Contact Victor Joecks at vjoecks@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4698. Follow @victorjoecks on X.

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