Although the results of the 2016 Nevada GOP caucus on Tuesday had long been predicted, they still managed to shock, if for no other reason than because they appear to have solidified the narrative that real estate mogul Donald Trump's presidential candidacy is very much real and viable. One Republican Congressman even opined that Trump's success represents the beginning of the end of the two party system in the United States.
With 100% of Nevada precincts reporting, Trump enjoyed his biggest victory to date -- with 45.9 percent of the vote he trounced his nearest competitor, the perpetual runner-up Sen. Marco Rubio, who has 23.9 percent. In third place, there was Sen. Ted Cruz who mustered 21.4 percent of the vote. Gov. John Kasich and Dr. Ben Carson lagged far behind in single digits.
Never one to let an opportunity to gloat pass, Trump mocked pundits who suggested that if you could somehow "add up" all of his competitors support it might knock him off his front-running perch. He also bragged about his demographic dominance, citing his victory with GOP voters who had higher education and those that don't. "We won the evangelicals, we won with young, we won with old, we won with highly educated, we won with poorly educated — I love the poorly educated," he said to cheers from supporters.
But believe it or not, Trump's huge victory -- his third in a row -- isn't the only major takeaway from Tuesday's results.
Trump wins Hispanics: Nevada presented Trump's most formidable finish so far. He not only won both moderates and conservatives, he also won among voters whose top issues were the economy (47 percent), terrorism (37 percent) and government spending (36 percent). But perhaps the most shocking demographic victory of The Donald was his solid showing with Republican Latino voters. Trump had long predicted that he would win the Latino vote, despite months of widespread criticism over his extreme positions on combating illegal immigration.
The front-runner has proposed building a wall along the Southwest border of the U.S. (financed by Mexico) to keep immigrants out and has called for a "deportation force" to round up the 11 million plus undocumented people current in the country and deport them. He has also been condemned from claiming that Mexicans who cross the border are often "killers" and "rapists." Nevertheless, Trump won 46 percent of the Latino GOP caucusgoers, although they only made up 9 percent of the total vote.
Kasich seems to hint at an exit: After a second straight single digit finish, Ohio Gov. John Kasich appeared to traffic in the kind of philosophical rhetoric that only candidates who seem poised to drop out engage in. “I’ve gotta tell you, whether I’m president or whether I am not president, OK, I’m carrying out my mission, don’t you think? Doesn’t it sound like I am? And that’s exactly what you’re supposed to do in life,” Kasich told supporters at a town hall in Georgia on Tuesday, according to Politico. Later, when asked whether he was prepared to "stick it" to Marco Rubio and Donald Trump in their upcoming debate on Thursday, Kasich reportedly replied: “I don’t know if my purpose is to be president.”
After his strong second place finish in New Hampshire, the more moderate Kasich has struggled to find another state whose electorate suits him. Meanwhile, the GOP establishment appears to be coalescing around Rubio as their ideal candidate to topple Trump leading up the convention. Kasich's presence in the race has been widely viewed as the biggest drag on Rubio's potential rise, and he may be facing pressure to drop out prior to Super Tuesday, where Trump is expected to dominate again.
Cruz campaign isn't cruising: Despite boasting a strong war chest and solid organization in the early primary states, the Texas lawmaker had a disappointing third place finish on Tuesday. This, coupled with the news that he had fired his communications director Rick Tyler (amid controversy that he had distributed a video which falsely depicting Rubio denigrating the Bible), contributed to a narrative that his campaign is in disarray. The Cruz campaign was hit hard all week from both Trump and Rubio with allegations of "dirty tricks," which appear to have taken a toll and undercut the candidate's "Trust Ted" mantra.
Trump has been especially eager to take down his former ally, repeatedly calling him a "liar" and on Tuesday a "baby." Cruz responded with his usual tongue-in-cheek pop culture reference, this time a tweet featuring Mike Myers' "Austin Powers" character Fat Bastard, but all of the movie clips in the world aren't going to help his momentum in the 2016 race, which has undeniably stalled since his first place finish in Iowa. Trump continues to cut into his core support of evangelicals and with Dr. Ben Carson refusing to go away quietly, Cruz may have to count on his home state of Texas to keep his candidacy alive.
Dr. Ben Carson can't quit: Speaking of Dr. Ben Carson, the once top tier candidate has yet to have a breakout performance in the 2016 campaign, but that hasn't stopped him from pledging to stay for the long haul. He finished with just 4.8 percent in Nevada, and drew bigger headlines with his claim the President Barack Obama was "raised white" than anything he's been saying on the stump or in debates. "I grew up in Detroit, and I grew up in Boston. In Boston, we lived in the ghetto. There were a lot of violent episodes there. There were rats, there were roaches. It was dire poverty," Carson told CNN later in defense of his comments. "Now, let me contrast that to the president, who went to private schools, grew up in a relatively affluent environment, had an opportunity to live in multiple cultures and different countries. I think that's a very different experience."
On Tuesday, Carson told his supporters: “I believe that things are starting to happen here.” He went on to compare the state of the 2016 GOP race to the fights in the ancient Roman Coliseum, where spectators wanted to "bring on the lions and tigers, see them eat the eagle.’” It's unclear who Carson represents in that analogy but headlines like the Washington Post's "Why Is Ben Carson still running for president?" can't be instilling him of his dwindling voter base with much confidence going forward.
Huge turnout and lots of irregularities: Although Nevada has recently been a pretty blue state in the last couple general elections, Republicans can take heart in the fact that Tuesday's turnout (roughly 75,000) was a huge improvement on recent presidential caucuses there. Clearly GOP voters are motivated and excited by this year's presidential contest, thanks in part to Donald Trump's unconventional campaign. However, there were numerous reports out of the state of chaos at caucus site and irregularities with voting. The state party went out of their way to quash rumors of chaos on social media, but it was hard to ignore headlines about ballot workers wearing Trump paraphernalia (which is apparently not against the rules), voters being bullied by opposing camps or, even more troubling, claims that some people voted multiple times. That, and the guys in KKK costumes.
"A couple of months ago we weren't expected to win this,” Trump told his supporters on Tuesday. “Now we're winning, winning, winning the country … and soon the country is going to start winning, winning, winning.” As the race continues into the Super Tuesday contests, it will curious to see if how he's winning will begin to get more scrutiny.