By Niall Stanage - 02-24-16 02:53 AM EST
Republicans turned to Nevada on Tuesday in the final contest before eleven states vote on March 1.
The caucuses were compelling, if sometimes chaotic. Who drew a winning hand in the Silver State and who left looking like a busted flush?
Businessman Donald Trump
Donald Trump is now the presumptive Republican nominee.
Yes, there is a long way to go. But if a more conventional candidate than Trump had won three of the first four contests by such emphatic margins, there would be broad consensus that they were on their way to becoming the party’s standard-bearer.
Tuesday night’s result could hardly have been more clear-cut. Several news organizations called the race for the business mogul the moment the caucuses ended. With 24 percent of returns in shortly after 2 a.m. Eastern time, Trump had about 44 percent support, putting a significant hole in the theory that there is a ceiling to his appeal in the mid-30s.
There is only a week to go before Super Tuesday, when Republicans in 11 states vote. It is difficult to imagine what could happen at this stage to blunt Trump’s momentum.
The only scheduled event of real consequence between now and then is a CNN debate set for Thursday night in Houston. Several controversial debate performances — including one in South Carolina right before the Palmetto State primary — have not hurt Trump at all.
Trump was even more ebullient than usual in his caucus-night speech, emphasizing his popularity with evangelicals and even his apparent win among Latino voters in the caucuses. (Skeptics cautioned that the entrance poll sample size was too small to be reliable.)
Trump also ran though a quick list of states to come over the next two months where he felt confident of victory.
To win the nomination, he insisted, “we might not even need the two months, folks, to be honest.”
Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.)
Rubio was left far in Trump’s wake, and the only reason to not consider him a loser is that he appeared to have bettered Ted Cruz.
Aides to both Rubio and Cruz had downplayed expectations in advance of the caucuses, making it clear that they were viewing the contest largely as a fight for second place.
As the apparent winner of that fight, Rubio gets a moral victory here.
But his case is hardly compelling. Even as the field has winnowed rapidly since the Iowa caucuses, Rubio has not made noticeable headway against Trump. The gap between the two has been at least 10 percentage points in all three contests since then.
There is no polling-based evidence that Rubio will win anywhere on Super Tuesday either.
That would leave Rubio without a single win in 15 contests.
The idea that someone can come from such a position to claim the nomination is an enormous stretch.
Sen. Ted Cruz (Texas)
Cruz once again seemed set to lose out to Rubio, just as he did in South Carolina. That makes it harder for him to make the argument that he is Trump’s sole serious rival — a case he asserted once again in his caucus-night speech.
In that speech, Cruz also talked about how much he is looking forward to getting back to his home state of Texas. The Lone Star State’s attraction isn’t purely about getting some respite from the road. It is the only state where there has been significant polling showing him in the lead, and even then, the most recent surveys have him ahead only by single digits.
If Cruz prevails in Texas, he will likely need other victories in the Super Tuesday states to position himself as a real challenger to Trump in the latter part of the nominating process.
Nevada’s results rob him of any serious momentum going into Super Tuesday.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson
The burst of momentum Kasich received from his second-place finish in New Hampshire two weeks ago has dissipated now, thanks to his coming fifth in South Carolina and racking up another fifth on Tuesday night in Nevada.
Carson has been an irrelevance in the race since his distant fourth-place finish in the Iowa caucuses, where he had once led polls. It’s not at all clear why he is still running.
The Nevada caucuses
Nevada is already seen as the least significant contest among the first four early states — the others being the more storied Iowa caucuses, New Hampshire primary and South Carolina primary.
The Silver State didn’t do itself any favors on Tuesday. There were several reports of ballot collectors wearing Trump apparel and some scattered suggestions of double-voting. Mashable reported that a Republican National Commitee official had asserted that the “chaos is contained” — hardly the most reassuring of claims.