Jeniffer Solis, Nevada Current
February 2, 2024
For voters waiting hours in line to see Donald Trump at the Big League Dreams stadium in Las Vegas Saturday, other Republican presidential hopefuls are a small blip on the former president’s path to the party nomination.
Boyd, a 73-year old retiree, said he threw away his Nevada primary ballot after learning Trump wasn’t on it. During his speech later in the day, Trump would echo that sentiment and tell supporters not to “waste time” on the Republican primary. For Boyd, who declined to give his last name, Trump’s victory is a given.
“I didn’t come here for the popcorn,” he said.
There’s no doubt Trump will win the Nevada Republican Party-run presidential caucus next week. Other than token opposition from an unknown Texan named Ryan Binkley who has mounted no campaign, Trump is the only candidate on the caucus ballot.
Former U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley, the last line of defense against a Trump nomination, declined to join the party-led caucus in Nevada and filed to be on the state-run primary ballot instead.
While she won’t be an option for Nevada caucus-goers, and hasn’t established a campaign presence in Nevada, she continues to have hefty financial backing nationally. In the second half of 2023, the main super PAC backing Haley raised $50.1 million, eclipsing the $46 million brought in by Trump’s super PAC.
But no matter how much weight the Republican Party’s donor class puts behind a candidate, voters still have their say. And so far, voters in both Iowa and New Hampshire have chosen Trump, despite his losing track record and indictments for a total of 91 felony counts in a variety of criminal cases.
Trump supporters who agreed to be interviewed told the Nevada Current there are many reasons behind their devotion to the former president. They said Trump put money in their pocket, got rid of the North American Free Trade Agreement, policed the border with an iron fist, started a trade war with China, and didn’t involve the U.S. in any foreign wars.
During the 2022 midterm campaigns a wave of mini-Trump Republicans ran for offices in places like Arizona, Michigan, Pennsylvania, as well as Nevada. Most lost, however, just like Trump did in 2020, and as Republicans in Nevada and around the nation did in the prior midterms in 2018. Never-Trumpers’ consistent warnings, as well as those from Republican candidates who challenged Trump in this year’s presidential race, about the former president’s alienation of general election voters has made little impact on Trump loyalists.
This time will be different, said voters waiting for Trump to arrive at the Big League Dreams stadium in Las Vegas. Because despite clear evidence disputing all accounts of mass election fraud in 2020, and a reluctance to label themselves full-blown “election deniers,” much of Trump’s base is committed to the belief that election interference cost him the race in 2020.
“I saw a lot of shady things,” said Catherine Cates, a self-identified former Democrat who plans to caucus for Trump. “They can say none of it happened but with our eyes, and our ears, and our experience, we know better.”
Her husband, Wayne Cates, was more direct. He pulled out his phone and pointed to a breakdown of registered voters between 1996 and 2022, calculating what he considers discrepancies in the number of ballots counted.
“I don’t can’t care what they say, 2020 was stolen. The numbers show it,” Wayne said.
Shannon, a Texas native vacationing in Las Vegas with two friends, decided to attend the rally as soon as she heard Trump would be speaking. She explained that she couldn’t foresee any way Trump could legitimately lose again to Biden.
“Everybody’s concerned about the border and inflation that has been caused by Biden,” she said.
Under Trump, before the COVID pandemic crashed the economy, GDP was 2.5%. In the third quarter of 2023 under Biden, it was 4.9%. But voters aren’t economists. They often judge presidents on the basis of personal economic stability. Inflation has snatched away the gains from even a strong labor market and price hikes on essentials like groceries and housing outran wages for many. Voters didn’t hold Trump’s massive tax cuts to wealthy voters against him, despite polls showing the popularity of wealth taxes. For many, it didn’t affect them personally.
Shannon and other voters who spoke to the Current dismissed warnings that Trump is a threat to democracy as slanted. For those outside Trump’s orbit, the former president’s conviviality with autocrats like Russia’s Vladimire Putin, North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, and Hungary’s Viktor Orbán suggests Trump has an admiration for autocrats and a reluctance to stand up to them. But for his supporters it’s a foreign policy selling point.
“The entire time Trump was president, there were no new wars,” said Sophia Landin, a 19-year old who plans to enlist in the military. “Other countries see him as someone strong. People are afraid of him. And that’s a good thing.”
“He’s the first president to set foot in North Korea. So that’s really saying something,” she continued, sporting a hat bedazzled with three letters, USA.
Hawkish policies are another reason Trump voters soured on Haley, said Catherine Cates, the self-identified former Democrat.
“She makes way too much money under the military. She’s not going to have an unbiased opinion. She’s not going to have her family die. We’re going to have our family die,” Cates said, referencing Haley’s financial ties to Boeing, a defense and aerospace company on whose board she served for about a year.
“My family’s military and I don’t want to see young people dying in a war that we really have nothing to do with,” she continued.
Trump voters strayed from classic Republican values in other areas too. Many were supportive of big government earned-benefits like Medicare and Medicaid, and many were interested in the government potentially doing more for them, especially in health care.
Boyd, the 73-year old retiree, said he encountered the failing medical system last year when he had to get an operation on his elbow.
“Why are there countries that spend half of what we do, and they have something better? And I think, personally, I think the main problem is the pharmaceutical industry, the hospital industry, they’re in it for themselves,” Boyd said, adding that he believes Trump is the right guy to direct a systemic solution.
“I don’t think he does anything for political means, so to speak. And I believe that he wants to do what’s right for the country,” he continued.
Trump’s recent vows to eliminate the Affordable Care Act, didn’t faze him and other loyal Trump supporters waiting to see him in Las Vegas. The program never worked, he said, and if it’s dismantled something else can be built. But those views may not be a reflection of the greater voting population. Polling shows the insurance program enjoys comfortable and consistently growing support among a majority of voters. Still, in the several years following passage of the ACA, and including during Trump’s administration as president, Republicans have made multiple failed attempts to repeal the ACA.
Trump voters pointed to the former president’s pledge to be a stalwart protector of Medicare and Social Security — even after his administration regularly proposed cuts to the programs in his budget proposals. When asked their thoughts on Trump’s contradictory statements on social security, many of his supporters projected a sort of defeated fatalism about the future of the country, whether their preferred candidate wins or not.
Susan, a Florida resident who stopped by the Trump rally during her Las Vegas vacation, was pensive when relaying her thoughts.
“I’ve lived as if Social Security won’t be there when I retire and I’m very close to that age,” Susan said. “I don’t think it should be cut. But if you’re in your 20s I don’t think it should be something that people depend on, especially if our government keeps being run the way it’s been run, there won’t be the money for it. It’s not a good thing but…” she trailed off.
Nevada Current is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Nevada Current maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Hugh Jackson for questions: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Nevada Current on Facebook and Twitter.