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OPINION: Thursday’s Nevada GOP caucus was pretend, but the lines of voters were very real

John L. Smith
John L. Smith

Talk about fake electors, right? Democrats are calling Thursday’s GOP presidential caucus a paper-ballot anointment, a foregone conclusion, a political Potemkin village. They say the selection of Donald Trump was rigged by the state Republican Party, and they’re right about that.

But the lines, oh the lines, they were very real. Somewhere inside Nevada’s Democratic Party, the indigestion quotient should be increasing.

I’ll wager not one person that I saw stand in line after work outside Reno’s Archie Clayton Middle School cared a bit that there wouldn’t be any real caucusing to do, or that their supper was going to get cold.

Despite weather in the upper 30s and a sky threatening snow, hundreds of Trump diehards gathered single file in a MAGA chain that stretched across the school grounds. Early evening traffic converged from all directions on the middle school site, clogging Wyoming Avenue with vehicles parked on side streets and filling neighboring church parking lots.

Judging from the turnout, the Clayton caucus was a resounding success, and reports from north to south painted similar pictures.

In Pahrump, caucus worker Tina Trenner says despite the chilly weather the line stretched “out the door, down the street and around the rodeo arena and included people in wheelchairs and using walkers.”

Forever Trumpers once again showed their trademark unyielding loyalty to their leader. 

To no surprise, Trump was swiftly declared the winner and wound up with 99.1 percent of the ballots in a lopsided victory that would have made the Harlem Globetrotters envious.

Add Tuesday’s mortifying blowout victory by “none of these candidates” over Nikki Haley in the equally symbolic Republican presidential primary, and Trump had a good week in Nevada. Four indictments? Ninety-one felony charges? An $83.3 million defamation judgment? They do not care.

Haley probably should have known better than to set foot in Nevada, where the casino games are regulated but the GOP primary was fixed by state party Chairman Michael McDonald. Even if Haley had prevailed, her jackpot would have resulted in a zero payout of delegates. The last remaining alternative to Trump, the former governor and United Nations ambassador was played for a sucker like the rest of the Republican primary field.

Trump picked up Nevada’s 26 GOP convention delegates, some of whom bear a striking resemblance to the Republican functionaries now indicted for taking part in the ex-president’s fake elector strategy to overturn the 2020 presidential election. The convention promises no more drama than Thursday’s caucus. It’s hardly newsworthy to note that it’s Trump’s party.

But wherever there’s a Trump party, you’re likely to find one of his biggest supporters, personal injury attorney and 2022 gubernatorial candidate Joey “Trump from the Jump” Gilbert.

Hey, there he is now, crossing the Clayton school parking lot. 

“I’ve never seen anything like this,” Gilbert says. “They’re wrapping around the building. There’s no parking for miles. It’s insane.”

What about the “chaos caucus” narrative playing in much of the press?

“That’s just the press being negative,” Gilbert says while going negative. “They’ve got nothing better to do than say negative shit about Donald J. Trump. That’s all it is, that’s all it is. What this should be is a referendum on Joe Biden. People have had it. Anybody but Biden. They used to say anybody but Trump? Now it’s anybody but Biden. … At the end of the day, look at what’s happening here. I’ve never seen such excitement.”

There is a media narrative Gilbert agrees with. It’s the one that has reliable Democratic constituencies such as Latino and Black voters peeling off from Biden. Gilbert believes immigration and other issues are energizing Republicans, who are winning converts among disaffected voters in minority communities.

“I’m talking every demographic,” he says.

Although I didn’t see a lot of minority voters on Thursday. Perhaps I missed them in the caucus crush.

In any case, Nevada’s Trumpers obviously don’t care if it’s a primary, a caucus or a barefoot stroll over hot coals. They’re showing up for their man with the spray-on tan.

The turnout should send a loud message to Democrats, but it’s also instructive to remember that the line was something of an optical illusion. As impressive as it was, it was the result of people hurrying to participate in an event scheduled to last just a couple of hours, not the 12 hours the polls are open during an election.

In addition to the impressive turnout, the line also symbolizes the lengths to which the state party is willing to go to ensure Trump’s victory.

Nobody asked me, but I would have preferred an actual caucus. It’s that time-tested political tradition in which neighbors gather to speak on behalf of their favorite candidates in hope of talking some sense into the thickheaded supporters of the opposition. Failing that, they scream a little, curse under their breath, go to their respective corners and pout. On occasion, they perform a group dance that resembles one-part rugby scrum and one-part junior high dance.

Real caucuses are easier to manipulate and steer than a primary election that uses actual voting machines. That is, unless you’ve been led to believe that voting machines are the technological spawn of George Soros.

Personally, I’ve always enjoyed the Keystone Cop-like chaos of real caucuses, but most reporters I know dislike them. They seem to think caucuses aren’t serious enough, too confusing and take too much time. I’ve heard people with real jobs hate them, too.

But not on Thursday night in Trumplandia.

John L. Smith is an author and longtime columnist. He was born in Henderson and his family’s Nevada roots go back to 1881. His stories have appeared in Time, Readers Digest, The Daily Beast, Reuters, Ruralite and Desert Companion, among others. He also offers weekly commentary on Nevada Public Radio station KNPR.


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