Update (AP): All hell is breaking loose on Twitter at 9:20 ET as reports are trickling in from caucus sites about the GOP running out of ballots, people receiving — and casting — multiple ballots, poll workers wearing Trump gear, yelling, swearing, and on and on. The best thing you can do to stay on top of it is to scroll down in this post and scroll through our collective Twitter feed, which is being updated minute by minute with news. It’s total chaos in Nevada. I’ll leave you with this for now:
Update 9:10 (Ed): Looks like things are going somewhat less than swimmingly in some corners of Nevada:
Original post follows …
The fun starts at 7 p.m. ET — and I emphasize “starts.” Caucus times vary by county and the last one doesn’t end until midnight on the east coast, so it could be a long night of waiting on results. But why would you stay up when we already know how this will go? In the two polls taken in Nevada this month, Trump led by 16 and 26 points — and both of those came before he cleaned up in South Carolina. All signs indicate that we’re headed for another Rubio distant-second-place “victory.”
Here’s the “suspense” tonight, such as it is: Rubio badly wants to finish ahead of Cruz to cement the perception that he’s the only real game in town left for anti-Trumpers. Rubio also expects to be strong among Nevada’s Mormon minority, especially with the Romney endorsement looming. If Cruz beats him for second anyway, which is eminently possible given Cruz’s organizational skills, it’ll be another setback for the “time to rally around Marco” storyline. As for Trump, tonight’s basically a freebie for him. He’s a heavy favorite to win, and it’s no great shakes if he wins more narrowly than expected. We already know from Iowa that caucuses aren’t Trump’s strong suit given how they reward a superior ground game. We also know from Iowa that disappointing in a caucus state isn’t a durable setback for Trump. If he beats Rubio by single digits, all it proves is that Trump is now so strong across the country that he doesn’t even need a ground game as advanced as Rubio’s and Cruz’s to win. And there’s a chance, thanks to South Carolina, that he really will match his polling and blow out Rubio and Cruz. That’s the only major news that could conceivably come tonight (barring Cruz or Rubio winning the state outright) — that Trump is not only capable of winning caucuses despite his organizational disadvantage but of dominating them, even with exceptionally low turnout. If you’re a Trump fan and you’re eager to badly demoralize the opposition, running up the score tonight would do the trick.
Google Trends for Nevada.
Kasich 3 pic.twitter.com/PIRkEFKzK7
— Patrick Ruffini (@PatrickRuffini) February 23, 2016
High turnout usually bodes well for Trump, and … they’re expecting very high turnout tonight:
BREAKING: Huge news for NV caucus. GOP official confirms that 37,000 have pre-registered. That's bigger than overall turnout in 2012!
— Jon Ralston (@RalstonReports) February 23, 2016
A Rubio upset is also possible, I … guess? Ed Kilgore tries to imagine how it might happen:
Nevada also represents a microcosm of this week’s big Republican development: the beginning of a consolidation of elected officials behind Marco Rubio. Three of the four Republican members of Nevada’s congressional delegation endorsed Rubio over the weekend, including Senator Dean Heller, a former Bush supporter. Lieutenant Governor Mark Hutchison heads up a potentially important contingent of Mormon supporters for Rubio, who was a Nevada Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints member as a child. Representative Jason Chaffetz of Utah has been campaigning for Rubio in Nevada, and Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah has backed his campaign as well; if LDS turnout comes even close to the numbers that Mitt Romney drew in 2008 and 2012 (about 25 percent of the total vote), that could be an ace in the hole. Rubio also has a well-regarded Nevada organization, which typically matters in low-turnout caucuses.
The Mormon vote could carry him through, even with the most influential Mormon Republican in America still sitting on the sidelines — but it probably won’t. Said Jon Ralston, one of Nevada’s top political reporters, of Rubio and Cruz tonight, “They’re playing for second.” Close second or distant second, though? That’s what you should watch.
While we wait, here’s a smart piece by Ben Domenech on how, against all odds, Trump is actually edging past Cruz among evangelicals. Trumpmania is a symptom of despair — economic despair, political despair over Washington’s sclerosis, and cultural despair over the left’s advance in the battle over values. For Christians, says Domenech, having lost so much ground in the culture wars, an aggressively “politically incorrect” candidate may be the best they can reasonably hope for:
If you’re a conservative who thinks the culture wars are over (they’re never really over, of course), then you are a lot more open to the idea of a unprincipled blowhard who promises he’s got your back on political correctness. From the perspective of the southern evangelicals I’ve spoken to in South Carolina, they don’t have any qualms about admitting that Trump is not a good Christian. They have no illusions about his unbelief. The difference is that while they believe Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio would be one more round of good soldiers for their cause, they think Donald Trump would be a tank.
Evangelicals tried for years to fight for the culture—to win the argument for their traditional views regarding marriage, family, and the value of human life. Now they want to fight on different ground: political correctness. And since Trump is the king of that—an ally who isn’t Jesus-y but says he’s with the Jesus people—he can tear off a third of that evangelical electorate without moderating any of his secularism…
He is not one of them—they know that. But they believe he is for them at a time when their faith and beliefs have become politically incorrect. They know he doesn’t care if he’s called a bigot, and that is a very powerful thing in today’s political fray. They don’t care if he’s a good person—they care that he’s a warrior for everything at odds with the elite opinion of the day… which now includes them.
If traditional Christian beliefs are now politically incorrect, why wouldn’t you support the guy who seems most eager to smash political correctness? I’ll reiterate a point I made two weeks ago: The great advantage of running against PC for Trump is that him being anti-PC in his own way suggests to other “politically incorrect” constituencies that he’ll be anti-PC in their way too. Whether you’re a border hawk or an alt-righter or a Christian conservative or just someone who wants their candidate to call his opponents “pussies” at the podium, you can take heart from Trump’s willingness to defy the political class’s opinions that he just might defy them on your core concerns too. I think evangelicals are kidding themselves that he’ll be a warrior for religious liberty, but he wouldn’t lack the nerve for it if he decided to be one. That’s what they’re responding to, per Domenech. Either that or it’s the fact that Trump is do darned devout:
Here’s your glorious “Hot Air and friends” livetweet widget as we — well, some of us — burn the midnight oil. The Decision Desk HQ will have live results as they happen. My instinct says Trump cracks 40 percent but I’m going to lowball him, probably for the last time in this election, and predict that Rubio’s and Cruz’s organizations will hold him to the high 30s. He’ll win easily, needless to say.