New York billionaire Donald Trump won his third primary race Tuesday night in Nevada, solidifying his front-runner status among other more consummate conservative foes.
In early returns, roughly 43 percent of caucus-goers backed Trump. At nearly 20 percentage points behind, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) were locked in a dead heat, with the latter ahead by less than 100 ballots.
Ben Carson and Gov. John Kasich of Ohio will both exit Nevada with zero delegates.
Although Nevadans are infamous for defying pre-caucus predictions, the pollsters were right on the money this year, at least to the point that Trump’s victory was university forecast. The fact that “Trump” is emblazoned across the face of a Las Vegas high-rise didn’t seem to hurt the 69-year-old candidate, either.
Prior to the first returns, allegations of electioneering and double-voting went viral on social media. Users also reported caucus sites running out of ballots. The GOP responded saying it took such reports “very seriously” and that it would be reviewing ballots for inconsistencies. “There is a master sign in sheet and that we will be checking very closely as well,” the GOP said in a statement, according to PBS host Jon Ralston via Twitter.
Man here says "it's a disaster." No one is checking in or checking IDs. They're handing out ballots willy nilly. Some guy voted trump twice
— Emily C. Singer (@CahnEmily) February 24, 2016
— Ashley Semler (@Ashley_Semler) February 24, 2016
This is the third state in which Trump has defeated hard-line conservative Cruz. During a speech in Las Vegas on Monday, the junior U.S. senator from Texas promised to make his first act as chief executive naming a “strong, principled constitutionalist” to replace Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia, who died on Feb. 13. Cruz is among a group of Republicans who’ve vowed to stop President Barack Obama from selecting a replacement by ignoring any potential nominees.
Despite never placing first in a 2016 race, the Rubio campaign will carry on, at least until March 1, when more than dozen states will cast ballots for a Republican nominee. With little to no hope of defeating Trump in Nevada, Rubio’s campaign was jokingly portrayed in the media as a race to second place. “You go in really knowing less about this than any other election,” he said of the Nevada caucuses on Tuesday.
A tremendous businessman, Trump has made his vast personal wealth appealing to middle-class Republicans by casting himself as the only “self-funded” candidate. He has become remarkably popular among voters thanks, in part, to his brash rhetoric and anti-establishment spiel.
[Trump] has become remarkably popular among voters thanks, in part, to his brash rhetoric and “anti-establishment” spiel.
“The establishment, the media, the special interest, the lobbyist, the donors, they’re all against me,” the real-estate magnate told voters in a widely shared Facebook video last month. “I’m self-funding my campaign. I don’t owe anybody anything. I only owe it to the American people to do a great job. They are really trying to stop me. Everybody knows it, everybody sees it.”
In reality, his campaign has received financial contributions from wide range of industries, including some Fortune 500 companies and Department of Defense employees. This exaggeration, and many like it, earned Trump Politifact’s 2015 Liar of the Year award; only 1 percent of his statements evaluated by the Pulitzer-Prize-winning website were found to be wholly honest.
Nevertheless Trump’s engaging rally-goers rarely depart disappointed. On the eve of Nevada, the candidate—first to refer to an opponent as “a pussy” during a stump speech—announced he wanted to “punch” a disruptive attendee “in the face.”
"Heil Trump," said this supporter, who posed unprovoked before going into a rant about how Cubans are liars pic.twitter.com/JCpwAwLna1
— Tim Mak (@timkmak) February 23, 2016
“This guy Cruz lies more than any human being that I’ve ever dealt with,” Trump told the crowd of his number one contender. “Unbelievable. He holds up the Bible and he lies. And then he holds up the Bible again and he lies.”
The remaining GOP candidates will advance to Super Tuesday on March 1, where Trump is polling ahead of Cruz and Rubio in at least three states: Georgia, Vermont, and Massachusetts.
Update 2:38am CT, Feb. 24: Edited to reflect latest polling information.
Photo via Michael Vadon/Flickr (CC BY SA 2.0)