In the 1985 smash hit film Brewster’s Millions, Richard Pryor, as the eponymous Montgomery Brewster, has to spend $30 million in 30 days to receive his ultimate inheritance – the caveat being he can have no assets to show for it. As his efforts progress, he begins a New York City mayoral campaign under the banner “None of the Above.” As GOP contender Nikki Haley may be about to discover in the Nevada primary, the “none of the above” option appeals to more voters than she might expect.
Due to a 2021 lawsuit by the Democratic Party, primaries for both parties are going ahead today in the Silver State – but the GOP is barely playing along; it is sticking with its traditional caucus and will award delegates based on that. To complicate matters further, the two major Republican presidential contenders have taken different routes. While Donald Trump is appearing on only the caucus ballot, Haley’s name will grace only the primary.
As Liberty Nation’s James Fite explained, “state lawmakers decided to swap from the caucus to a primary election for 2024, but the GOP wasn’t interested in making the change. Since the new law requires there be a primary election for both the Democrats and the Republicans, however, there will be. It takes place Tuesday, February 6. For Democrats, it’s easy; this is how they’ll choose their presidential nominee. Not so for the GOP, however. Republicans have decided to keep their caucus, which will occur two days later on February 8. Since the Republican National Committee has endorsed this idea, all the state’s delegates go to the winner of the caucus.”
Trump will be competing against only one – virtually unknown – contender for the 26 delegates, while Haley will be in a pitched battle against three other unknowns and the dreaded “none of these candidates” option. Monty Brewster had $300 million on the line, whereas all Haley can hope for – at best – is to beat the outright rejection box on the ballot.
A primary without a delegate payoff is essentially a state-sanctioned beauty contest. Haley could technically sweep 100% of the votes – which is possible, considering her three challengers are not well-known figures. But here’s the rub: Registered Republicans (or those who changed their designation by the Jan. 9 cutoff) can vote in both the primary and the caucus. Therefore, a fair amount of gamesmanship is almost certainly about to take place.
Haley and the Reindeer Games
The former South Carolina governor’s decision to go primary rather than caucus is a head-scratcher of the first degree. She cannot win any delegates. On the surface, this contest in no way advances her cause. But digging a little deeper, this could perhaps be a Hail Mary play on the off chance that Trump doesn’t become the Republican presidential nominee. Haley will rightly be able to claim that she either primaried or caucused in each state and that only she and Trump have done the legwork to legitimize the eventual nomination. After all, Trump is facing 91 charges across four indictments, any one of which could see him convicted and/or incarcerated if rulings are made before the election. So, there is a potential reward for Haley, but it comes at great risk.
Competing against Haley are three candidates: John Anthony Castro, Heath V. Fulkerson, and Donald Kjornes. But there is also the box for “none of these candidates.” This latter option has long been used as a protest vote by Nevadans and was, in fact, upheld by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals as legitimate. Historically, the most votes cast for this non-contender contender was 16,097, during the 1976 Republican primary for Nevada’s at-large congressional district. That record may well be broken today.
In 2016, Trump smashed primary records in Nevada, with a whopping turnout of more than 75,000; he pulled in almost 46%, beating second- and third-place finishers Sens. Marco Rubio (FL) and Ted Cruz (TX) by more than 20 points. There is nothing to stop a large chunk of committed Trump voters trying to humiliate Haley by making her come second to the protest vote.
It may be hard to sell on MSNBC, NBC, or even SNL the idea that you have the country’s support after that kind of defeat.
Nevada Is Still the Gaming Capital
Just as Trump supporters will be hoping to game the primary to cause Haley’s campaign major embarrassment, Haley supporters will likely be having their own sport at Trump’s expense.
The RealClearPolitics average for the GOP Nevada caucus has Trump with a 58.5% lead – but the last poll came in a month ago, and the other scoring candidates – Gov. Ron DeSantis, Vivek Ramaswamy, and Chris Christie – have already shut down their campaigns. Let’s assume that the majority of DeSantis and Ramaswamy supporters back Trump; that gives him roughly 84%. Christie supporters (4% according to the last poll) and Haley backers, however, might decide to give the 45th president a metaphorical bloody nose.
The only other candidate is Georgia pastor and businessman Ryan Binkley. In the Iowa caucus, he reportedly spent more than $3 million of his own money to earn 0.7% (774 votes – or seven times that of Christie). New Hampshire was even more disappointing, where he garnered less than 0.1% (315 votes – this time Christie beat him). But Binkley is still in the race, and with no one else on the ticket, it seems all anti-Trump forces are about to coalesce.
Trump will almost certainly take the vast majority of the votes, but ballots cast for Binkley could mount up in Nevada. Whether he likes it or not, his place in the caucus will be seen as a surrogate for Haley and, if he breaks the 3.9% threshold, maybe even a way to deny Trump a delegate or two.
President Joe Biden will win his party’s Nevada primary, and Trump will win the Nevada GOP caucus. But narratives and spin will be let loose on the public – especially if Haley succumbs to “none of the above.”
Monty Brewster had a prize in front of him – a carrot to encourage his participation. Haley has one, too. Brewster’s great-uncle Rupert told him, “I’m gonna teach you to hate spending money. I’m gonna make you so sick of spending money that the mere sight of it will make you wanna throw up!” When the dust settles in Nevada this evening, one wonders if Haley will have the same feeling about continuing her campaign.