LAS VEGAS — Donald Trump notched a resounding win in the Nevada caucuses Tuesday, channeling the roiling anger of Republican voters against the establishment and sweeping almost every category of the electorate to build his dominance in the delegate count.
It was a stunning show of momentum for his campaign, one that made it increasingly difficult to imagine a scenario where any other GOP candidate wins the Republican nomination.
“We love Nevada,” Trump said during his brief victory speech at his party in Las Vegas late Tuesday night. “We will be celebrating for a long time tonight.”
“We weren’t expected to win too much and now we’re winning, winning, winning the country,” Trump said. “And soon the country is going to start winning, winning, winning.”
He basked in his success across demographics.
“We won the evangelicals,” he said. “We won with young. With won with old. We won with highly educated. We won with poorly educated. I love the poorly educated.”
The results in Nevada, a state where 30 delegates are at stake, demonstrated the power of Trump’s appeal in this anti-establishment year. It also underscored his ability to use his media savvy and enormous popularity to sweep a state with complex caucus rules and where rivals were far more organized.
The anti-establishment fervor within the electorate underscored the enormous challenge facing Rubio and Cruz in the coming weeks as they try to stop Trump.
Rubio and Cruz had campaigned aggressively in Nevada, but had downplayed expectations as they tried to consolidate Trump-averse Republican voters around them.
Rubio was not even in Nevada on Tuesday night, having moved on to the upcoming states of Minnesota and Michigan. But he has repeatedly noted in recent weeks that surveys show that some two-thirds of GOP voters don’t want Trump as their nominee.
On his plane this week, the Florida senator told reporters that as the field narrowed “the alternatives to Trump will get stronger.”
“Donald has a base of support and if the majority of our party doesn’t want him as our nominee, we’ll continue to work toward consolidating that,” Rubio told reporters.
On the stump, Rubio largely avoided critiques of his rivals as he continually returns to the argument that he is the most electable candidate on the Republican side.
“I am as conservative as anyone else in this race,” he said this week in Elko. “But I am a conservative who will win this race.”
At a rally in Minneapolis on Tuesday, he warned the crowd against “nominating someone just to make a point … because they seem angrier than everybody else.”
“We’re all angry, we’re all frustrated,” Rubio said.
Cruz, who is now pinning his hopes on the Southern states that will dominate the upcoming Super Tuesday contest, has attempted to cobble together a coalition of evangelical and libertarian voters, but has faced a string of losses since his win in the Iowa caucuses.
In his speech Tuesday night, Cruz focused on Rubio’s loss to Trump rather than his own disappointing finish.
The results, he said, showed that “the only campaign that has beaten Donald Trump and the only campaign that can beat Donald Trump is this campaign.”
“If you are one of the 65 percent of Republicans across this country who doesn’t think Donald is the best candidate to go head-to-head with Hillary, who believes we do better in elections when we actually nominate a conservative, then the first four states have performed a vital function of narrowing this race and presenting a clear choice,” the Texas senator said in his speech in Nevada Tuesday night.
Earlier in the day — in a reflection of the fact that the time left to overtake Trump is running short — Cruz unleashed some of his sharpest attacks on Trump yet, questioning his credentials as a conservative.
“Part of the reason someone vacillates from position to position to position is they’re not starting from a core set of principles and beliefs,” Cruz said.
Trump, in turn, had ridiculed Cruz — though he laid off those attacks in his victory speech Tuesday night.
“I’ve met much tougher people than Ted Cruz,” Trump said in his parting shot at Cruz during a rally in Sparks, Nevada before the caucuses. “He is like a little baby compared to some of the people I have to deal with. He is like a little baby: soft, weak, little baby by comparison.”
Running out of ballots
Some caucus goers encountered chaos, confusion and long lines early in the night. Some ran out of ballots, and several GOP operatives said volunteers were not adequately trained on caucus rules, leading to reports of violations.
As the caucuses were underway, the Nevada GOP tweeted that no official complaints had been filed, despite reports of violations on Twitter.
In interviews with dozens of Republican voters across the state over the last week, many said without hesitation that they were standing firmly with Trump and had given little thought to the other Republican candidates.