No matter what happens during Tuesday's Republican caucus, Donald Trump is the only candidate Nevada won’t be able to get rid of — and it feels like the state has been pondering, or dreading, his takeover for years.
While these sentences are nearly indistinguishable from what’s been said about Trump on the trail, the declarations of dominance were made in 2008, during the construction of Trump International Hotel Las Vegas, a 64-story gold-bar-shaped building topped with Trump’s name, propelling his signature into the city’s skyline stratosphere like a Bat-Signal for self-importance.
A review of the hotel in the Los Angeles Times in 2008 noted that Trump's name was everywhere at the hotel — even in the description of mashed potatoes at one restaurant (Mr. Trump’s Butter Whipped Potato Puree). Advice for would-be disciples was sprinkled throughout the building too; one mirror said to those looking at their reflection, “As long as you’re going to be thinking, think big.” And the Trump International Hotel Las Vegas thinks big; in 2014, it debuted a Glamping for Kids package — complete with “eco-friendly glow sticks,” gourmet s’mores, and “luxurious Trump® Kids monogrammed sleeping bags.”
This isn't the first time Trump has mixed politics and Las Vegas. Back in 2011, when he was dividing his time between toying with a presidential bid and searching for birth certificates in Hawaii — his public ponderings rewarded with publicity, as per usual — Trump spoke to Republican women’s groups at the Treasure Island Hotel and Casino. The New York Times noted that he seemed to be “delivering less of a coherent speech than a series of carefully crafted zingers.”
That event was useful foreshadowing of what was to come in other ways, as Trump’s rhetorical stylings have failed to evolve over time. “Our leaders are stupid," he said, not for the first or last time. "They are stupid people. It’s very, very sad." He also spent much of his address exploring the linguistic dexterity of a certain curse. “Someone said,” Trump said, “'But Donald, you're running for president, but you don't have any experience in politics.' I mean, I've been dealing with these fucking politicians all my life." He also called China “you motherfucker,” and said, when discussing Libya, “Give me a fucking break."
According to Reuters, “he made at least one bawdy joke about male testicles.” Senator Lindsey Graham, who would drop out of a presidential race that Trump was dominating nearly five years later, less than presciently told Fox News at the time, "Most Americans don't want their president to go around saying the f-word. Mr. Trump has a lot to offer, but he will have a tough sale in South Carolina."
Trump later told the Times that “It was a great crowd and great people. … Would I do it in a different location, would I do it in front of a different crowd, even a different crowd in Las Vegas? Uh, no.”
Less than a year later, Trump returned to talk of other presidential things. A few days before the 2012 Nevada caucus, he endorsed soon-to-be-winner Mitt Romney during an uncharacteristically brief event. “He's not going to allow bad things to continue to happen to this country that we all love,” Trump vowed. "There are some things that you just can't imagine happening in your life," Romney said after a man who had spent a great period of time complaining about him endorsed him. "This is one of 'em.”
Many of Trump's workers in Nevada, however, have been less amused by him. The Culinary Workers Union Local 226 has been trying to unionize at Trump’s hotel for months, with no success. At a rally back in August 2015, the organization’s secretary-treasurer said, "He ought to stop attacking immigrants, since a lot of them work in the Trump hotel every day." (Another hotel worker protesting the rally yelled, “Donald Trump put me through college.”) As the New York Times noted last month, plenty of other union members across the country are intrigued by Trump, too, though it isn’t a majority. Even if all hotel workers united against him, it probably wouldn’t affect Trump's Tuesday results too much; most unionized voters likely already cast their ballots in the Democratic primary, where both candidates support their efforts.
The Trump hotel’s workers voted to unionize late last year, but management keeps trying to appeal the decision, which leaves the employees in a kind of organizational purgatory. According to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, the Culinary Union plans to protest outside the hotel on the day of the caucus, acting as a visual footnote to the giant Trump sign they’ll be standing under, a reminder of the fact that someone always has to lose in these deals he keeps promising to make.
As tonight’s caucus results are sure to show, however, there are plenty of people in Nevada who still love the guy — especially outside of Las Vegas, where the landscape trends away from Trumpian opulence, where the population gets much whiter, where Trump and Cruz are the candidates worth fighting over, and where there are fewer immigrants who might get angry at hateful messaging.
Trump’s feeling pretty good about his chances, despite his proven difficulties with caucuses. "I have a lot of property out there and a lot of great employees,” he said on Face the Nation, “and I think I should do well in Nevada.” He told voters in South Carolina, “Maybe I don’t even have to go there and campaign.”
He’s not going to, really. He has one rally planned on Tuesday, and held an event in Las Vegas on Monday night, where he said he wanted to punch a protester in the face. Meanwhile, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio are furiously combing the state for votes, hoping to shock Trump off his pedestal, just like in Iowa. If either of them fails to win — or even come close to Trump — it will not be the result of herculean ground-game feats from the Trump campaign. He seems content to let his 640-foot monument to himself — and his Twitter account — do all the talking for him.
In a rally back in October, held in a Cirque du Soleil theater, a woman came up onstage, hands lifted in the air, and screamed, one hand holding a copy of People magazine with Trump’s face on it triumphantly in the air, "I am Hispanic, and I vote for Mr. Trump!"
Trump later tweeted, "Just leaving Las Vegas. Unbelievable crowd! Many Hispanics who love me and I love them!" Last week, Seven Days, an alternative newspaper from Burlington, Vermont, spoke to one of the city’s many Elvis Presleys, who was riding a motorized scooter, drinking a PBR, and planning on voting for Trump — perhaps because his main issue is building hotels on the moon.