Donald Trump commits to Nevada caucus as state GOP approves rules rivals see as helping his campaign

FILE - Former President Donald Trump stands on stage before speaking at a campaign event, July 8, 2023, in Las Vegas. Trump's push to bend state Republican parties to his will, and gain an advantage in his effort to return to the White House, is coming to a head in Nevada. (AP Photo/John Locher, File)
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RENO, Nev. (AP) — Former President Donald Trump 's campaign committed to running in Nevada’s caucus as the state party approved rules that rival campaigns say tilt the state’s nominating process in his favor.

The provisions would bar any candidate from the Feb. 8 caucus if they participate in the state-run primary two days earlier. They would also restrict super PACs, like the one Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is relying on, from trying to bolster support for candidates in a caucus.

Nevada GOP Chairman Michael McDonald said Saturday evening that Trump will participate in the caucus after a closed-door meeting of its central committee. Earlier, a person involved with Trump’s campaign declined to confirm the campaign’s participation to The Associated Press but said “we’ll have an announcement to make at a later date, in the very, very near future.”

Three people familiar with the matter confirmed the rules changes on Saturday. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the changes publicly.

The moves reflect Trump's influence on many state parties and his status as the frontrunner, particularly in Nevada, where the state GOP is run by allies of the former president. Caucuses, which typically reward base support and organizing, are expected to benefit Trump given his solid grip on the GOP’s most loyal voters.

Businessman Vivek Ramaswamy previously announced his participation in the Nevada caucus, which will be third in the GOP calendar after Iowa and New Hampshire. Radio host Larry Elder also attended Saturday’s meeting and will participate in the caucus, according to McDonald.

For months, the Nevada Republican Party has insisted on holding a caucus despite a state law passed in 2021 requiring state and county governments to offer a presidential primary if at least two candidates are on the ballot.

The state-run primary will occur on Feb. 6, two days before the caucus. But those results will likely be symbolic since the state party refuses to use them to determine delegates. The national Republican Party generally allows state parties to decide how they will award delegates.

The caucuses also call for voter ID, paper ballots and only same-day voting. Nevada's election laws, used in the state-run primary, require universal mail-in ballots, early voting, same-day registration, and require an ID to register to vote, but not at the polls.

The result could mean widespread confusion for Republican voters if two presidential nominating processes happen within the span of three days. The Nevada Republican Club, which says it represents about 400 members in the state, sent a letter to local GOP officials this month urging them to speak out about the potential problems with the state having both a primary and a caucus and to defeat the proposed rule changes.

McDonald defended the decision to hold a caucus, saying in an interview that the process will force candidates to organize across the state.

“My job, as well as my goal, is to have the candidates get to know all our counties,” he said.

Many state Republican parties made changes to their rules ahead of the 2020 election by adding more winner-take-all contests and requiring candidates to earn higher percentages of the vote to claim any delegates. Trump has met with party chairs in Nevada, Louisiana, Pennsylvania, Florida and New Jersey.

In Michigan, where the state GOP has become increasingly loyal to Trump, the party’s leadership voted to change the state’s longtime process of allocating all its presidential delegates based on an open primary election. Now, 16 of the state’s 55 delegates will be awarded based on the results of a Feb. 27 primary, while the other 39 will be come from a closed-door caucus meetings of party activists.

Those changes, along with others in Idaho, Louisiana and Colorado, all benefit a frontrunner – in this case Trump – and has sometimes elicited intra-party strife.

McDonald was a fake elector for Trump in 2020 and previously told The Associated Press that the party pushed the caucus since Democrats in the state Legislature did not consider Republican Gov. Joe Lombardo’s election integrity measures, particularly voter ID.

“Nevada is currently missing Voter ID, transparent tabulation in elections, precinct-based voting, and we see our streets and trash cans flooded with unsolicited mail in ballots,” McDonald wrote in his call to action before the meeting. “I will NEVER give up the fight for free and fair elections.”

Ken Cuccinelli, founder of the Never Back Down super PAC supporting DeSantis' campaign, argued the caucus rules strongly favor Trump.

“Trump hates rigged elections, except when he’s doing the rigging, like he’s doing in Nevada,” said Cuccinelli, who was the deputy secretary of homeland security during the Trump administration. ___

Michelle L. Price contributed reporting from New York. Stern is a corps member for The Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms. Follow Stern on X, formerly Twitter: @gabestern326.