2016 Elections

Nevada Shows Republicans That Trump Must Be Stopped

Party leaders are backing Rubio. Now Trump's rivals need to run negative ads.

Winner. For now.

Photographer: Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Donald Trump has now won his third state. He totally dominated Nevada. They're counting slowly, but at publication time he's at about 44 percent, far ahead of Marco Rubio, who is hovering just ahead of Ted Cruz, each with about 23 percent.

Yes, it's a very impressive victory. No, it doesn't mean he's wrapped up the nomination. 

Nevada appeared in advance to have been one of Trump's very best states. We can't be certain -- there's not enough polling out there to be definitive, and there's nothing in primary elections similar to partisanship which can tell us, for example, that Democrats run well in Rhode Island while Republicans run well in Wyoming. It's especially a challenge with Trump, who doesn't have any close parallels in previous nomination contests. We might expect Cruz to do well where Rick Santorum did well in 2012 and Mike Huckabee did well in 2008, but Trump is navigating a path all his own. Some have speculated that caucus states like Nevada should be tough for Trump. That he met expectations there is to his credit, but it doesn't mean he'll do this well everywhere.

Only a small percentage of the delegates have been allocated. These early events are mainly about narrowing the field. But this is the last of the early events, and the delegate-rich portion of the calendar begins with a bang next week, with states all over the nation choosing, several of which appear to be good opportunities for Rubio or Cruz. If Trump dominates next week as he did tonight, he really will be close to wrapping up the nomination early.

The question is whether anyone will try to stop him. It takes two things. The first one Republicans finally did, when party actors broke clearly for Marco Rubio this past week. It seems to be helping a little, since he's moved up to second place in South Carolina and Nevada. But that's not enough.

The second part is to take Trump down. A myth has evolved that negative ads don't work against Trump, but in the two states where they were tried at least to some extent -- Iowa and South Carolina -- they did seem to have some results.  We're not talking about someone with 70 percent of the vote and an insurmountable lead. Trump should be easy to take on, and given how much money should be available, not every hit needs to be effective for an overall campaign to succeed. 

Dan Drezner suggested on Tuesday, perhaps a little tongue in cheek, that Republican party actors may have chosen to leave Trump alone because they believed political scientists who said that such a candidate could never win a party's presidential nomination. Of course, a careful read of political scientists who believe that party actors choose their nominees -- myself very much included -- would tell those Republicans that party actors usually win because they care passionately about party politics and fight hard to retain their influence over party proceedings. 

Well, if they are going to fight hard, the next week to three weeks are the time to do it. If they don't, they risk losing their party entirely, and for all we know they may never get it back. Republicans in the Senate are fighting hard against allowing Barack Obama to fill a Supreme Court vacancy; Republicans on the campaign trail are allowing a loose cannon who could easily drag down every Republican on the ballot this November. 

The stakes seem high enough to finally push Republican leaders into action.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.