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Republican presidential candidate and former U.S. President Donald Trump attends a Nevada caucus night party at Treasure Island Resort & Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada on February 8, 2024.DAVID SWANSON/Reuters

For a foregone conclusion, the Nevada Republican presidential selection process this week offered unexpected flourishes of drama.

On Tuesday, conservatives in the state overwhelmingly chose “none of these candidates” over Nikki Haley, the only major competitor on the ballot. She responded by lashing out at the state’s Republicans for running a political “scam” rigged for Donald Trump. The only man standing in Mr. Trump’s way, little-known Texas businessman and pastor Ryan Binkley, spent days buzzing Republican phones in the state with messages begging for support on the second vote of the week, as the ballots were cast Thursday night at in-person caucuses across the state.

Those caucuses, held over a few hours Thursday night, were – by the decision of Nevada Republicans – the sole vote to determine which presidential candidate will receive the support of the state party’s 26 delegates. Mr. Trump, who came to Las Vegas Thursday to watch the results, was expected to dominate.

For some Republicans, though, the greatest drama of all was saved for the more pedestrian question of where, exactly, they should come to place their vote on Thursday.

“It took me two days to really find out,” said Earle Lee McDaniels, who waited in line Thursday evening outside Rex Bell Elementary School in Las Vegas. He scanned newspapers and watched television news. He searched the Internet. He tried calling. “You can’t call them on the phone. Their website – I’ve tried to get there, and the link is broken.”

He finally drove to the Nevada Republican party headquarters in Las Vegas. “There was one guy in there and he was ranting, very busy on the phone,” Mr. McDaniels said. The man directed Mr. McDaniels to the school not far from his home. “I could have just walked here,” he said.

He came to vote for Mr. Trump, like most of the state’s Republicans on Thursday. “I think everybody in this line is for Trump,” Mr. McDaniels said, standing in a queue that snaked past Donald Trump lawn signs. A small number of the first votes reported in Nevada showed greater than 95 per cent support for Mr. Trump.

But the disarray around the caucus vote suggested bigger problems for conservatives in a state that Joe Biden, in 2020, won by fewer than 35,000 votes.

Nevada is amongst a few pivotal swing states in the presidential election in November.

The state’s unusual primary selection process this week secured a thorough victory for Mr. Trump, the decisive front-runner. Difficulties in holding the caucuses, however, may point to future trouble for Republicans.

“This is not unusual for the Republican party in Nevada,” said William Koski, who was among the caucus voters. “If they can screw something up, they’ll do it.”

At Rex Bell Elementary, caucus voting was open from 5 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. on a weeknight. But Nevada is what Amy Tarkanian, a former chair of the state Republicans, calls a 24-hour economy, with farmers in rural areas and casino workers in the cities. “You’re asking everyone to set aside a two-hour time frame and that’s your only option?” she said. “That’s going to disenfranchise the Republican voters immensely.”

The days before the caucuses were marked by a series of emails describing last-minute caucus location changes. “It’s idiotic,” Ms. Tarkanian said.

“This is a whole farce, in my opinion,” added Dave Buell, the former Republican chairman in Washoe County, which is home to Reno. “Senior Republican leadership in this state is in Trump’s camp, 100 per cent. And they’ve been doing everything they could to make sure that he wins the delegates,” he said.

“Nothing they’re doing is illegal. But it sure crossed the paths of ethical, as far as I’m concerned.”

State party chairman Michael McDonald has met privately with Mr. Trump. He also pleaded not guilty after being indicted late last year as one of six “fake electors” from the state who sought to overturn President Joe Biden’s 2020 win in Nevada. Under his leadership, the state party has gone to unusual lengths to enforce loyalty to Mr. Trump.

Earlier this year, Varlin Higbee, who chairs the Board of Commissioners in rural Lincoln County, endorsed Ron DeSantis, the Florida governor who challenged Mr. Trump before dropping out.

Mr. Higbee also received VIP tickets to an event for Mr. Trump in Las Vegas in late January. When he arrived, however, he was told by a person at the entrance, “I got strict orders not to let you in.”

Mr. Higbee believes it was retaliation for his endorsement of Mr. DeSantis. “People are going to endorse Trump anyways. It’s not necessary to put pressure on people – really not. But that’s just his thuggery,” he said, referring to Mr. McDonald, the local party chair.

Mr. Buell worries unhappiness over the Republican selection process will keep conservatives from voting in November.

“It’s really been disillusioning to a lot of Republicans I know in this state,” he said.

Still, he knows who will get his own vote.

“If Trump is our nominee, based on how this country has gone under Biden, I will vote for Trump,” he said.

“Probably hold my nose doing it. But I’ll do it.”

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