Nevada GOP leaders forge ahead with planning a caucus — despite being indicted in a pro-Trump ‘fake elector’ case

Republican presidential campaigns competing in the GOP primary have already complained that Nevada’s upcoming caucuses are in danger of being skewed in favor of former President Donald Trump because of his deep ties to the state party. 

Now there’s another twist. Two leaders of the state GOP that’s running the caucuses — state party Chairman Michael McDonald and Vice Chairman Jim DeGraffenreid — were recently indicted on state charges related to the 2020 presidential election. The felony charges accuse the two, and four others, of purporting to be Trump electors even though Joe Biden won Nevada.

“Can’t make it up,” said Amy Tarkanian, who previously served as Nevada GOP chair and has been at odds with the current party structure. “You’ve got the same individuals who were willing to throw themselves on the railroad tracks to claim that Trump won and say there was statewide fraud” now running the caucuses.  

Tarkanian said that those brought on felony charges should step aside instead of continuing to run the caucuses and complained that the party never should have forced caucuses on top of a state-run primary in the first place. 

“If Trump were so far ahead in the polls, why not then just let the primary play itself out?” Tarkanian said. “They’ve thrown the primary election into complete confusion and chaos.” 

In a text message, McDonald said the caucuses would go on as scheduled on Feb. 8. But he declined to answer other questions related to the charges, referring NBC News to his attorney, who could not be reached for comment.

After a change in the state Legislature, 2024 will be the first presidential year where Nevada will hold primaries at the ballot box, rather than statewide caucuses. However, the Republican Party is sponsoring separate caucuses anyway — two days after that state-run election. Only the caucuses will award delegates. But it has put Nevada in the position of having two outcomes, two days apart from one another. And candidates have had to choose which one to participate in.

With that as the backdrop, Ron DeSantis’ super PAC Never Back Down pulled its door-knocking operation out of the state late this summer, driven by what it believed was a pro-Trump effort to tilt rules in his favor. An official with the PAC charged that McDonald was a “Trump puppet.”

That prompted McDonald to hit back at the time, saying he met with several campaigns and welcomed all candidates to the state to compete. The caucuses were a result of Republicans wanting to control their own elections rather than leave it to the state, where they complain about practices like ballot harvesting, he said.

All the upheaval has resulted in a contest for the first-in-the-West primary where presidential campaign activity has all but gone dark compared to the three other early states of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.

Those taking part in the caucuses include Trump and DeSantis, who have both visited Nevada four times since May. Vivek Ramaswamy and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie are also caucusing and each have visited Nevada just once since May.   

Nikki Haley is the only candidate still in the race who has filed to run in the state-run primary. She, too, has visited Nevada only one time since May. Turns out, that could be all the investment she needs; the former ambassador to the United Nations is set to cruise to victory in the state-run primary on Feb. 6 anyway. That could give her a momentum bump. 

But she won’t get any delegates toward the nomination; only those participating in the caucus will be awarded delegates. 

“We are trying to win the nomination and are eager to go compete where there are delegates to be won whether we like the system or not,” DeSantis spokesman Andrew Romeo said. 

Bruce Parks, the GOP chair of Washoe County — the second-largest county in the state — took issue with anyone saying the caucus would be rigged for Trump. 

“You can’t rig a caucus. You come in, you present your ID, you confirm you’re a registered Republican, you can discuss who in the precinct is the better candidate, and you cast your ballot. Those ballots are all counted in front of anybody who wants to observe,” said Parks. “There’s no way someone can stuff the ballot box. I just don’t understand how anybody could perpetuate that falsehood.” 

“Do we have members of our state party that are fans of Mr. Trump, that privately support Mr. Trump? Yeah! You betcha,” Parks continued. “They’re citizens, they can do that.” 

Trump, recently in Nevada for a rally, took a moment to point out the differences between the caucuses and the primary. 

“Remember, we’re not talking about the meaningless, government-run universal mail in ballot primary on Tuesday, Feb. 6th,” Trump said, saying it didn’t matter because “you have caucus. And there will be no delegates awarded for the primary … The caucus is the only way to vote for President Trump, it’s safe, it’s secure, transparent.”

Trump also gave a special shout out to McDonald, saying, “A tremendous man, a tremendous guy. Gets treated so unfairly. And he loves his country and he loves this state — Nevada GOP Chairman Michael McDonald, he’s fantastic. Thank you, Michael.” 

When someone posted those comments on X, McDonald reposted the sentiment.

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