Make that three in a row. Donald Trump won the Nevada Republican Caucus on Tuesday night, less than one week after he won the South Carolina primary by 10 points and two weeks after he won the New Hampshire primary by 20 points.
Based on entrance polls and early returns, CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News all called the race for Trump shortly after voting finished in the state.
Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio entered the night running roughly even in state surveys, and are expected to finish second and third, in some order, once the Nevada GOP finishes counting the ballots (a process that could take some time). Whichever senator is ultimately declared the runner-up will theoretically leave the Silver State with some bragging rights over the other as the two continue to spar over which one is better suited to compete against Trump moving forward—but it’s becoming much harder for either Cruz or Rubio to claim a moral victory at a time when their billionaire rival is stringing together actual ones.
Trump’s victory Tuesday may also carry a little extra weight because it answers the question of whether his ground game was strong enough to win a caucus, where supporters need to spend considerably more time and energy navigating a complicated—and in Nevada’s case, unfamiliar and reportedly chaotic—process than they do to vote in a traditional primary. Trump’s organizational weaknesses may have been what cost him Iowa, where he fell short of his polling average in that state’s caucus, losing to Cruz by 3 points despite leading the Texas senator in surveys by an average of 5 points heading into the night. (In the next two contests—both primaries—Trump went on to beat his polling average in the final returns.) Still, we’ll have to wait for the final tally in Nevada to draw any conclusions about polls versus reality.
Cruz and Rubio might be able to find some solace in the fact that Trump still has yet to disprove critics who believe that his lackluster favorability ratings will prevent him from ever reaching the 50-percent threshold he’d need to win a two-person contest. But that theory of Trump’s demise is based on the idea that either Cruz or Rubio will drop out—something neither man appears likely to do anytime soon.
The night’s bigger takeaway, though, is that the status quo remains unchanged as the race leaves the Silver State and heads south for Super Tuesday, when 12 states will award a quarter of the GOP delegates. Reliable polling remains difficult to come by in many of those states, but the data we do have suggests Trump’s delegate haul is likely to grow considerably. He was the leader in the most recent surveys in eight of the 12 Super Tuesday states, although there have been no major GOP polls taken this year in Alabama and Tennessee, where Trump leads, or in Colorado, where he doesn’t. Surveys taken this month, though, show him holding leads in several delegate-heavy states, including Georgia, Massachusetts, and Virginia. While he’s still trailing Cruz in Texas—which will divvy up the most delegates on March 1—Trump remains on pace to be the front-runner when Washington wakes up on March 2.
Elsewhere in Slate:
- Why Is John Kasich Still Running for President?
- Think Jeb’s Voters Are All Going to Rubio Now? Think Again.
- Cruz Isn’t Chasing Trump to the Right on Immigration. He’s Already There.