Nevada: Trump Sails to Victory on Cruz's Dirty Tricks

Trump trounced Cruz and Rubio in Nevada, but the numbers involved were very small. Reuters

This article first appeared on the American Enterprise Institute site.

It was a big night for Trump. He won 46 percent of the vote in the Nevada caucuses, exceeding his pre-caucus polls and busting his so-called 30 percent ceiling.

Trump won 34,531 votes. That's more than the entire GOP caucus turnout in 2012 (which was 33,000). That's the good news for Trump.

But let's put his big victory in perspective.

The Nevada caucuses were decided by a really small segment of voters. While Trump won with 34,531, in South Carolina Ben Carson won 53,326 votes all by himself. So Trump got 18,795 fewer votes in Nevada coming in first than Carson did in South Carolina coming in last.

Total turnout in Nevada was 75,000. By contrast, almost 740,000 people voted in South Carolina last week—10 times as many as voted in Nevada last night.

That 75,000 vote turnout was out of a pool of some 425,000 eligible GOP voters. So the Nevada caucuses were decided by a tiny portion of even the GOP electorate. Last night, we saw a very energetic minority within the GOP take over the caucuses and win it for Trump. It is a measure of enthusiasm for sure, but it does not tell us much about the primaries ahead.

The other bad news was for Ted Cruz, who really needed a big night after his disappointment in South Carolina. Instead, Cruz lost evangelical voters to Trump once again. With evangelicals, it's like Groundhog Day for Ted Cruz.

Why is Cruz bombing with evangelicals who should be his natural base? Because Trump is attacking him in a very smart way.

Trump called Bush "low energy," and it stuck—because Bush seemed low energy. Now Trump is calling Cruz a "liar," and it's sticking, because Cruz keeps doing things that affirm the attack.

First there were the dirty tricks in Iowa against Ben Carson, an evangelical favorite. Then there was the doctored photo of Rubio and Obama. Then he had to fire his communications director because he lied about what Rubio said about the Bible.

Evangelicals put a premium on honesty and truthfulness; they don't like lies and dirty tricks.

There is some hope in last night's numbers for Rubio, who came in second and won 39 percent of late deciders. That means some of his momentum from South Carolina carried over to Nevada and he benefited from Bush's exit.

But at some point Rubio coming in second won't cut it. He needs to win a state. As the saying goes, second place is just the first loser.

Marc Thiessen is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.