The final person standing between Donald Trump and another White House run has suffered an embarrassing defeat in a pre-presidential poll – despite not facing her opponent.
In the Republican Party primary in the US state of Nevada on Tuesday, Nikki Haley lost to “None of these candidates”.
With around 90 per cent of the primary votes cast, Ms Haley has 31 per cent of the votes easily beaten by “none” of the above which snared 63 per cent of the ballots cast.
Mr Trump was not on the ballot.
But Ms Haley’s team brushed off the result and declared the Nevada poll was a “rigged for Trump”.
Haley loses to no one after Trump ‘game’
Each US state holds either a primary or a caucus vote to decide who from the two major parties is the favoured presidential candidate.
The various votes determine how many delegates pledge to support a candidate at the two party national conventions later in the year. It’s at these conventions that the final party candidates for president are formally elected.
Due to a messy dispute, Nevada, which includes the gambling mecca of Las Vegas, is the only state that holds both a primary and a caucus. Ms Haley stood in the former and Mr Trump in the latter.
The Nevada Republican Party had already decided that the primary would have no bearing on which candidate would be it’s presidential pick. Instead the caucus, later this week, is where the delegates will be decided and that’s almost certain to side with Mr Trump.
But despite this, the fact Ms Haley lost to no one will be an awkward milestone ahead of the South Carolina primary, on February 24, when she and Mr Trump will once again go head to head.
Ms Haley also lost out to former president Donald Trump in the Iowa and New Hampshire votes, and the polls suggest is on course to lose in her home state of South Carolina.
Mr Trump’s team had encouraged his supporters to vote against his sole rival for the party nomination, even as he sat out the ballot.
US media, including NBC and ABC, projected the result would not change.
Ms Haley’s campaign brushed off the result.
“Even Donald Trump knows that when you play penny slots the house wins. We didn’t bother to play a game rigged for Trump. We’re full steam ahead in South Carolina and beyond,” a spokesman told CNN.
Nevada held both Republican and Democratic Party primaries on Tuesday — with President Joe Biden projected to win his party’s ballot — mandated by a change in state law.
Strange situation in Nevada
Both parties in Nevada used to hold caucuses to select their favoured presidential candidate, but in 2021 legislators said the primary process would allow for greater participation because people can vote by mail, or cast absentee ballots.
But the Trump-supporting Nevada Republican Party is wildly distrustful of such measures, as is a swath of the national party, and said it would ignore the primary and hold a caucus to allocate the state’s delegates.
It also decreed that any candidate who put their name forward for the primary could not enter its caucus.
Critics said while not illegal, the process was rigged to ensure a Trump win. The caucus format, in which voters must attend an hours-long in-person event, more readily appeals to Mr Trump’s fervent supporters.
The property tycoon could secure the Republican nomination by mid-March, having racked up an insurmountable lead in the delegate count.
But his own party and eventual rival Joe Biden have already acknowledged that he is the effective nominee.
Polls suggest another clear victory for Mr Trump in South Carolina – a defeat that could well push Ms Haley to drop out, even though she has vowed to fight on.
The Nevada result is a further illustration of the grip Trump has on his party. He appeared earlier on Tuesday to have successfully torpedoed a bipartisan bill aimed at reinforcing the US southern border and amending immigration procedures.
Mr Trump has pressured senators and House Republicans to vote down the bill that Mr Biden said represented the “toughest set of reforms to secure the border ever,” as well as offering support to Ukraine and Israel.
“Because Donald Trump thinks it’s bad for him politically. Therefore … even though it helps his country, he’s not for it. He’d rather weaponise this issue than actually solve it,” Mr Biden said.
The US presidential election in November promises to be tight, with polls showing Mr Biden even or slightly trailing Trump, and suffering from the lowest approval ratings of any president for decades.
A poll by US broadcaster NBC published on Sunday showed Mr Trump leading Mr Biden by 47 per cent to 42 per cent, within the poll’s margin of error but a shift from a Biden lead in mid-2023.
Americans are unenthusiastic about a rematch between the two, who many see as too old to be occupying the highest office in the land.
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