Fabrizio: “Haley’s Magical Mystery Tour of the Unknown”
DONALD TRUMP’S CAMP WAS EXPECTING to declare the presidential primary over once he beat Nikki Haley in her home state of South Carolina on February 24.
But “None of These Candidates” unexpectedly made the former president’s argument for him on Tuesday in Nevada.
In Nevada’s no-delegate primary, 63 percent of Republican voters chose “None of These Candidates” over Haley, who received 31 percent while a smattering of other also-rans received token support, as did a few zombie candidates who dropped out long ago.
Trump wasn’t on the Tuesday primary ballot because of Nevada GOP rules that demanded presidential candidates participate in Thursday’s party-sanctioned caucus in place of Tuesday’s state-sanctioned primary. Candidates had to pick one or the other. Haley chose the primary; Trump picked the caucus because that’s the only way to win delegates bound to the nominating contest.
So now, with Haley out of the caucus, Trump will win all the Nevada delegates in addition to winning a resounding None-of-the-Above victory in the primary. And so it’s Nevada, not South Carolina, that triggered the de facto end of the primary season.
Trump’s campaign is so certain of securing the nomination that it’s focusing less on Haley and more on President Joe Biden and the general election. Trump’s campaign and the MAGA Inc. super PAC aren’t advertising on TV right now in South Carolina, where Haley was governor and where polls show she’s losing to Trump by about 30 percentage points (roughly the same margin by which she just lost to “None of these candidates” in Nevada).
In contrast to Trump’s team, Haley, her SFA Fund super PAC, and the conservative group Americans for Prosperity have spent $2.1 million on TV in just the past week, most of it on ads attacking Trump.
“Haley is lighting donor money on fire,” said Tony Fabrizio, chief strategist and pollster for MAGA Inc., told The Bulwark. “What is the rationale for her candidacy? I don’t even know how you spin last night. No one can figure out what her end game is here for Haley’s Magical Mystery Tour of the Unknown.”
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Haley’s campaign says the former governor and U.N. ambassador is giving Republican voters a choice between the “chaotic” Trump and the accomplished former governor who, unlike the former president, isn’t spending time defending himself from (and spending donor money on) four separate criminal cases and two civil trials for fraud and defamation of a woman who successfully sued him for sexual assault.
As for participating in the primary instead of the caucus, Haley’s campaign said it didn’t trust the pro-Trump Nevada GOP to run the election fairly.
“Even Donald Trump knows that when you play penny slots the house wins. We didn’t bother to play a game rigged for Trump. This changed not a single thing for us,” the Haley campaign said in a statement. “We’re full steam ahead in South Carolina and beyond.”
To underscore how they believe the Nevada GOP is too pro-Trump, Haley supporters pointed to a social media post from Nevada RNC Committeewoman Sigal Chattah who crowed on Tuesday about Haley’s loss and about how the state party’s “None of the Above message was clear. We delivered that. Tomorrow we will deliver Trump.”
The Haley loss in Nevada, however, reverberated in the South Carolina state capital of Columbia, said Chad Connelly, former Nevada GOP executive director and founder of the conservative Faith Wins Christian conservative group.
“Everybody in the Capitol was talking about Nevada and asking: ‘What is Nikki doing? What’s her strategy?’ I can’t even comprehend it,” Connelly said.
Connelly pointed out that Trump is the first non-incumbent of any party to win both Iowa and New Hampshire. Every Republican nominee has always won one of those two states. A Thursday win in Nevada and then victory in South Carolina would only underscore how much the race is over, he said.
“After New Hampshire, we decided to focus more on the general election and not pay too much attention to Nikki because she’s irrelevant,” said one Trump adviser, who spoke on condition of anonymity to share private discussions with Trump. “We can’t stop him from going after her too much, but the general election is here and this is all about [President Joe] Biden in the general.”
Steven Cheung, a spokesman for Trump, said the campaign is not taking the primary calendar for granted and plans to campaign hard to win as many delegates as quickly as possible in order to secure the nomination. Last year, Trump’s campaign calculated he would win the majority of delegates needed, 1,215, by mid-March even if he faced opposition.
“We’re focusing on winning the primary and hitting the delegate threshold as soon as possible,” Cheung said.
Nevada is the first swing state on the primary calendar and Trump’s team sees it as a prime pickup opportunity for him in the general election. Trump lost the state by almost 2.4 percentage points in 2020. Recent polls show Trump leading Biden anywhere from 2 points to 11 points. And in 2022, Nevada was the only state where a Republican challenger, Joe Lombardo, unseated a Democratic incumbent governor, Steve Sisolak. Republicans have also narrowed the voter-registration gap with Democrats in the state since 2020.
“Nevada is a major turning point for Trump because this is the first swing state and it’s coming in big for him,” said Jeremy Hughes, an adviser to Lombardo. As for Haley, he said, it ended her argument that she had a shot against Trump.
“Nevada just took the wind out of her sails,” he said. “It’s embarrassing.”
Correction, February 8, 2024, 8:19am: The article originally identified Jeremy Hughes as an adviser to Steve Sisolak. Hughes is an adviser to Joe Lombardo.