Wednesday, February 24, 2016

How Donald Trump Won Nevada's Cliven Bundy Vote

...City dwellers often need to be reminded that the federal government owns an astonishing amount of the rural West. Since the Bundy Ranch standoff, and even before then, there has been a growing movement in many Western states that calls for the feds to transfer ownership of the land back to states and counties, or into private hands.

This is a fairly complex issue that fires a few people up mightily, but it generally doesn't get much mainstream attention. The movement typically only shows up in the news when the guns come out. But not everyone who loves individual liberty and hates federal ownership of lands has the time or inclination to wage an insurgency against the federal government. The majority of people who hold these views are just regular voters just happen to have some unconventional beliefs about who actually owns the land in their state.

...In theory, what we might call the Bundy constituency should have been a strong base of support for Cruz, a Texas senator who has staked his entire career on the kind of anti-government confrontation that Bundy sympathizers seem to love. In the lead-up to the Nevada caucuses, Cruz's campaign actively courted these voters, working the land use issue into his speeches, and putting out a campaign ad promising that, if elected president, he "will fight day and night to return full control of Nevada's lands to its rightful owners—its citizens."

In contrast, Trump, a champion of eminent domain, has been on what one would assume is the wrong side of the issue. "I don't like the idea because I want to keep the lands great," he said when asked about transferring control of federal land to the states by Field and Stream magazine last month. "You don't know what the state is going to do." 

And yet it was Trump, not Cruz, who appeared to win the land use movement's votes in Nevada on Tuesday. While exit polls didn't ask about the issue specifically, Trump won definitively among voters who said they were angry or dissatisfied with the federal government. Among the six in ten Nevada Republicans who said they preferred a candidate from outside the system, Trump won by a whopping 71 percent. More tellingly, perhaps, he won among those who described themselves as "very conservative," beating Cruz 38 percent to 34 percent.

Cruz did manage to have picked up some support, including endorsements from some of the state's most prominent sovereign land advocates. County voting tallies shows that he won Elko County, a staunchly conservative area of the state with a strong Republican organization, as well as Lincoln County, home to just 5,000 people, and also to Area 51 and the "Extraterrestrial Highway." The latter has been the site of a heated opposition to the federal government's recent decision to designate a 1,100-square-mile national monument straddling the county.

But while Cruz may have the support of far-right state politicians—the sort of new Republican Establishment birthed by the Tea Party—Trump seems to have a solid lock on their rank-and-file. Obviously, this is a bad sign for Cruz, signaling that when conservatives are faced with the choice between him and Trump, they will continue to choose the candidate who's louder, brasher, and even more of a dick. And should Cruz drop out of the race, it's hard to imagine those ultra-conservatives deciding to embrace Rubio over Trump.

What Nevada demonstrated is what observers who've been dreading a Trump nomination haven't been willing to admit: Republican voters really love Donald Trump. From the Deep South to the Northeast to the West, voters are angry and have found someone who validates, reflects, and amplifies their anger. It doesn't particularly matter that he might not share their specific anger about land use rights or whatever.


Here's another theory for you: The people of Nevada have been told so many times, by so many so many politicians, that these lands should be transferred, but nothing ever happens. As a result, they probably don't believe it will happen this time either, and cast their vote on other issues.

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