Nikki Haley’s long odds to defeat her former boss for the GOP presidential nomination have likely gotten even longer following her blowout loss in a Nevada primary where “none of these candidates” beat her 2 to 1 and Donald Trump wasn’t even on the ballot.
The coup-attempting former president’s supporters in the state party arranged for their 26 delegates to be awarded in Thursday’s party-run caucuses, a decision with the unintended consequence of leaving the former United Nations ambassador as the only major candidate left in the race to appear on Tuesday’s state-run primary ballot.
But instead of taking advantage of that by trying to drive up participation and be able to claim her first “victory,” Haley chose to ignore it. As a result, Haley instead won terrible headlines just two and a half weeks before the primary in her home state, South Carolina, by receiving just 21,207 votes. The none-of-the-above choice, which has been on Nevada ballots since 1975, received 43,921 votes.
“What’s notable about yesterday’s numbers out of Nevada is that even without Trump on the ballot, Haley couldn’t beat ‘none of the above,’” Jennifer Horn, a former state GOP chair in New Hampshire, said Wednesday. “If she can’t win when there is no opposition, it’s insane to believe she can beat Trump on the ballot.”
Haley had been riding a wave of voter interest and enthusiasm after favorable polls in Iowa, but wound up finishing third in that state last month. She was the only remaining major candidate challenging Trump by the time of the New Hampshire primary, but her hopes of winning there fell short in an 11-percentage-point loss.
Haley’s campaign did not respond to a HuffPost query about the Nevada result. In a Wednesday interview with Fox Business, she said she had no concerns about how it turned out.
“We always knew Nevada was a scam,” Haley said. “Trump had it rigged from the very beginning. There are multiple press stories on that. ... They wanted us to pay $55,000 to just participate in their caucus. So we didn’t spend a day or $1 there. We weren’t even worried about it.”
A day before that election, campaign manager Betsy Ankney criticized the pro-Trump state party for creating an alternate election scheme that would be easier for Trump to win.
“We have not spent a dime nor an ounce of energy on Nevada,” Ankney told reporters. “We aren’t going to pay $55,000 to a Trump entity to participate in a process that is rigged for Trump. Nevada is not and has never been our focus.”
But that description — having spent no time or money in the state — also effectively describes Haley’s approach to date in the 15 states and one territory voting on March 5, Super Tuesday, when a third of the total available delegates will be awarded. And that in turn suggests that Haley may well perform just as badly in those states as she did in the Nevada primary, although the Americans for Prosperity group has been working to help Haley in some of the states.
And though it is true that contest had no effect on delegates, a victory in Nevada — particularly if she had wound up winning more votes than Trump receives in Thursday’s caucuses — would likely have helped her with momentum, which political professionals in both parties agree is more important in the early voting states than the relatively small number of delegates at stake.
“She made a very bad decision by not coming here at least once or twice,” said Amy Tarkanian, a former state Republican Party chair in Nevada. “She could have done fairly decently.”
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a Jan. 27 campaign event in Las Vegas. Even without Trump on Nevada’s GOP primary ballot, rival Nikki Haley was denied her first victory in the presidential nomination race.
Michael Steele, a former chair of the Republican National Committee, said that Nevada’s result is likely to be repeated even before Super Tuesday: on Feb. 24 in the state where Haley was twice elected governor. “Super Tuesday? Hell, wait until you see South Carolina,” he said, pointing to polls showing her down by 30 points or more to Trump.
The ability to increase turnout in Nevada’s primary was made easier by the 2021 state law that created it to replace the previous glitch-ridden caucuses. It required state elections officials to send every registered Democratic and Republican voter a ballot for their primary, meaning that candidates only had to persuade voters to fill it out and send it back, rather than taking time out of their day to visit a polling site.
And while Haley and her campaign made no effort to win over primary voters — even though they had months earlier chosen to participate in the primary rather than the caucuses — Trump’s allies made a point to tell voters to choose “none of these candidates” on the primary ballot and then vote for Trump at their caucus site two days later.
In the end, only 69,481 Republicans cast ballots in the primary, out of the 559,743 registered — a 12% turnout.
“Our None of the Above message was clear. We delivered that,” Sigal Chattah, an RNC member from Nevada and a Trump supporter, wrote on social media Wednesday.
Trump himself had made multiple visits to Nevada to drum up caucus attendance, while Haley did not visit at all.
“The Haley campaign admitted they intentionally disrespected the people of Nevada by not campaigning in the state because they didn’t think Nevadans were worth their time and energy,” Trump campaign spokesperson Steven Cheung said in statement.
“She had several things going up against her, but she also did it to herself, which is unfortunate,” Tarkanian said.
David Jolly, a former GOP congressman from Florida, said Nevada’s result repeats the lesson that Haley’s loss in New Hampshire should have taught.
“Nothing about New Hampshire should have convinced Haley to stay in,” Jolly said. “She lost 3 out of 4 registered Republican voters in a state that, even for registered Republicans, is less MAGA than South Carolina, Nevada and other impending primary states.”
Trump is almost certain to clinch his third straight Republican presidential nomination in the coming weeks, despite the possibility that he could be a convicted felon by the time of the November general election.
Trump faces both a federal and a Georgia state prosecution for his actions leading up to and on the violent attack on the U.S. Capitol by a mob of his followers on Jan. 6, 2021. A second federal indictment is based on his refusal to turn over secret documents he took with him to his South Florida country club when he left the White House, while a New York state indictment accuses him of falsifying business records to hide a $130,000 hush money payment to a porn star in the days before the 2016 election.