Donald Trump is celebrating his third consecutive win in the Republican contest after a landslide victory in Nevada.
The massive victory was a fait accompli once entrance polls revealed that 59 percent of the Republican electorate was “angry” with the federal government. The angriest Republican electorate to date also delivered Trump’s most resounding victory.
Trump won every demographic in Nevada. He had won, of course, every demographic his New Hampshire landslide win, but that race was against a more crowded field. Nevada was a three-way contest which included, for the first time, a sizeable number of minority voters. About 10 percent of the Republican electorate was Hispanic in Nevada. Trump won those voters.
Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio are again locked in a tight battle for second place. The final difference between second and third is likely to be a rounding error of a few hundred votes. While the final positions are important to the campaigns and their backers, in the overall scheme of the nomination it is almost meaningless. Each will leave Nevada with the same number of delegates and each will have lost to Trump by around 20 points.
Like South Carolina and New Hampshire, Nevada really is almost a case of two different elections running simultaneously. In the world of traditional political campaigning, Cruz and Rubio are locked in a tight battle. Each has their own set of strengths, issues and blocks of voters. However that mix plays out in a particular state pushes one of them higher or lower than the other.
Rubio wins voters who are concerned about “electability.” Cruz wins voters who want a candidate who “shares my values.” The debate between these two qualities has defined Republican nomination contests from pretty much the beginning of the party.
And then there is Trump, riding a wave of voter anger and frustration that both Cruz and Rubio seemed ill-equipped to navigate. Trump won almost half, 49 percent of voters who said they were “angry” with the federal government. Combined, Cruz and Rubio won just 45 percent support from these voters.
Because almost 6-in-10 Republicans in Nevada are angry, Trump’s massive win isn’t surprising. He also won those voters who are simply “dissatisfied” with government, beating runner-up Rubio by 11 points among these voters.
This anger and frustration is reshaping what Republican voters are looking for in a candidate. Electablity and “sharing my values” have long been among the top qualities voters measure candidates against. This year, however, 43 percent of Republicans said their top quality in a candidate was someone who would “tell it like it is” or would “bring change.”
For these voters, Trump is running unopposed for the nomination. Almost 9-out-of-10 voters who want a candidate to “tell it like it is” backed Trump. Among those voters who want a candidate who can deliver change, 60 percent backed Trump.
Another way of stating this without the use of numbers is that Trump’s candidacy itself as shaped what voters are looking for in a candidate. His campaign is defining the kind of candidate many Republicans want this year.
Whether or not Trump is the ultimate nominee, the voter clearly want someone who isn’t associated with the current political Matrix. More than 60 percent of Republicans want a nominee from outside the “establishment.” Yes, that word is important. Of these voters, 71 percent back Trump.
Just one third of Republican caucus-goers in Nevada want a candidate “experienced in politics.” Keep in mind, “experienced in politics” is about the softest way you could describe someone who has spent their career in politics. It almost sounds desirable, even.
Keep in mind, too, that the respondents of the entrance poll are the most active and engaged Republican party voters. The people answering these questions aren’t random, man-on-the-street interviews with people marginally attached to politics. These are the people most committed to politics.
Rubio, of course, wins the votes of these people. The challenge for Rubio, however, is that there simply aren’t many of these voters anymore.
Nevada was the first test of the post-Bush candidacy for Marco Rubio. With Jeb out of the race and John Kasich not competing in the state, the caucus provided Rubio an opportunity to show how a candidate who consolidated the “establishment” or “mainstream” Republican vote behind him could do against Trump and Cruz.
Rubio had his own particular strengths in Nevada, beyond just a consolidated field. He spent years growing up in Nevada and had campaigned repeatedly in the state throughout the long campaign. He spent more money in the state than either Cruz or Trump. He also had the backing of Nevada Sen. Dean Heller and, no doubt, some sizeable portion of the Republican party establishment in the state.
With all those advantages, Rubio might have edged out Cruz while losing to Trump by 20 points. Which leads to the most important lesson from the Nevada caucus.
Marco Rubio may be able to consolidate anti-Trump and anti-Cruz voters behind him. The challenge, though, is there just aren’t many of those voters anymore.