A version of this article was first published in the On the Trail 2024 newsletter. Sign up to receive the newsletter in your inbox on Tuesday and Friday mornings here. To submit a question to next week’s Friday Mailbag, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Good morning and welcome to On the Trail 2024, the Deseret News’ campaign newsletter. I’m Samuel Benson, Deseret’s national political correspondent.
3 things to know this week
- The Nevada GOP primary is Tuesday, a showdown between Nikki Haley and ... “none of the above.” That’s because the Nevada GOP opted to host a caucus, featuring Donald Trump, in addition to the state-run primary. Trump will likely win Thursday’s caucus, and Haley will likely win the primary — yet only Trump will win delegates. Confused yet? More on that below.
- Ron DeSantis blew his shot in Utah. Can Haley fare any better? If a non-Trump candidate were to win any red state, it would be Trump-averse Utah. But Haley needs to avoid DeSantis’ mistakes here: like spurning state leaders, coming across as stiff and arrogant, and losing a ping-pong match. More here.
- A new poll shows Utah as ground zero for third-party presidential candidates: nearly one-fourth of Utahns say they would vote for another candidate if November features a Trump-Biden rematch. The question is whether the current slate of independents — Cornel West, RFK Jr., No Labels — has any appeal. More here.
The Big Idea
What happens in Vegas doesn’t matter
There is plenty of confusion about Tuesday’s Nevada GOP primary. Why isn’t Trump on the ballot? Why hasn’t Haley stepped foot in the state in months? Why is no one paying attention?
Here is my attempt to explain the Nevada Republican Party’s road to irrelevance, as coherently as possible:
- Nevada has long been the “first-in-the-West” primary, and in 2021, the Nevada state legislature passed a bill to move its primary up even further — to try to become the first in the nation. In the process, the bill created a government-run presidential primary instead of party-run caucuses. The bill had bipartisan support.
- In 2023, the Nevada Republican Party announced it would go ahead with its party-run caucus, allowing it to determine which candidates would appear on the ballot and which Nevadans could participate. Instead of an open primary, the caucus would be limited to Republicans only.
- Later in 2023, the Nevada GOP sued the state to cancel its primary election, saying the requirement to hold a primary violates Republicans’ First Amendment rights to freedom of association.
- Trump’s rival campaigns — especially DeSantis — were outspoken in claiming the move was an attempt to secure the election for Trump. The Nevada GOP chair, Michael McDonald, is a Trump loyalist and faces charges for being an “alternate elector” in the 2020 election; the state GOP’s executive director, Alida Benson, quit in mid-2023 to work for Trump. “Trump is against rigged elections when they hurt him, he doesn’t appear to be against rigging elections when it benefits him, and Nevada is a prime example,” Ken Cuccinelli, founder of DeSantis’ super PAC, told me.
- The Nevada GOP told presidential candidates that they would have to register to appear on the caucus ballot and pay a $55,000 fee. If they participate in the state-run primary — a primary that will be held regardless, as required by law — they would be barred from appearing on the caucus ballot.
- Trump, DeSantis and a handful of others registered for the caucus. Haley, Mike Pence and others registered for the primary.
That takes us to Tuesday. On Tuesday, Democrats, Republicans and independents alike will vote in the state-run primary, likely supporting Joe Biden or Haley. On Thursday, Republicans will show up for caucuses, to grant Trump an uncompetitive victory.
The state GOP’s maneuverings have infuriated many Nevadans, even conservatives. In the process of fixing the election for Trump, Republicans made Nevada both uncompetitive and irrelevant. No GOP candidate besides Trump has campaigned in the state since October, when they convened for the Republican Jewish Association conference. But most stayed less than 24 hours; only one, Vivek Ramaswamy, held a public event.
“Why come and spend resources if at the end of the day, someone’s going to come in and pull the rug out from underneath you?” Alex Jones, a Las Vegas-based strategist at Red Rock Strategies, told me.
“They’re rigging the system for Trump, so it’s stupid for any (other candidates) to be here,” another strategist said.
What I’m reading
Trump has been coy about his VP pick. Meanwhile, speculation abounds: Vivek? RFK Jr.? Kari Lake? Trump let a few names slip over the weekend. Trump name drops Tim Scott, Kristi Noem while discussing VP contenders (Shauneen Miranda, Axios)
Spurn Trump, and pay the price: Both DeSantis and Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds (who endorsed DeSantis) saw dips in their favorability ratings in their home states over the course of 2023. The genial Reynolds is now one of the most unpopular governors in America. Iowa’s Kim Reynolds Is the Latest Republican to Face Base Blowback for Crossing Trump (Eli Yokley, Morning Consult)
“YOLO” — Nikki Haley: Trump’s former United Nations ambassador has nothing to lose. Now, she’s campaigning like it: calling Biden and Trump “grumpy” and “old,” responding to Trump’s attacks via memes, showing up on SNL last weekend. Will it work? Nikki Haley enters her YOLO stage (Natalie Allison, Lisa Kashinsky and Meridith McGraw, Politico)
One last thing — a reminder to follow our new On the Trail 2024 Instagram account.
Have a question for the next Friday mailbag? Drop me a line at email@example.com.
See you on the trail.
Editor’s Note: The Deseret News is committed to covering issues of substance in the 2024 presidential race from its unique perspective and editorial values. Our team of political reporters will bring you in-depth coverage of the most relevant news and information to help you make an informed decision. Find our complete coverage of the election here.