Story highlights

Trump wins Nevada caucuses

A pitched battle for second between Rubio and Cruz is unfolding

Las Vegas CNN  — 

Donald Trump notched a resounding win in the Nevada caucuses Tuesday, channeling the roiling anger of Republican voters against the establishment and sweeping almost every category of the electorate to build his dominance in the delegate count.

It was a stunning show of momentum for his campaign, one that made it increasingly difficult to imagine a scenario where any other GOP candidate wins the Republican nomination.

“We love Nevada,” Trump said during his brief victory speech at his party in Las Vegas late Tuesday night. “We will be celebrating for a long time tonight.”

“We weren’t expected to win too much and now we’re winning, winning, winning the country,” Trump said. “And soon the country is going to start winning, winning, winning.”

He basked in his success across demographics.

“We won the evangelicals,” he said. “We won with young. With won with old. We won with highly educated. We won with poorly educated. I love the poorly educated.”

On Wednesday morning, he looked ahead to a Trump presidency, detailing the three things he’d do on Day 1 if he wins the White House.

“First thing is knock out some of the executive orders done by our president,” Trump told George Stephanopoulos on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

“One, on border where people can pour into (the) country like Swiss cheese. I would knock out Obamacare. Take care of our vets and military,” the billionaire businessman said.

Narrow battle for second

Not only was it a win in the Silver State, but it was a win with a huge margin. With all of the expected vote in, Trump dominated the race with 45.9%. Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz featured in another tight battle for second, with Rubio claiming 23.9% of the vote and Cruz 21.4%.

The results in Nevada, a state where 30 delegates are at stake, demonstrated the power of Trump’s appeal in this anti-establishment year. It also underscored his ability to use his media savvy and enormous popularity to sweep a state with complex caucus rules and where rivals were far more organized.

Trump increased his vote share over what he won in other primary states, outpacing second place finisher Marco Rubio by double digits, even though Rubio spent part of his childhood in Nevada.

Rubio, however, insisted Wednesday morning that “a majority of Republican voters in this country do not want Donald Trump to be the nominee.”

Rubio attributed Trump’s continued dominance of the GOP field to the fractured crowd of alternatives.

“Until there’s some consolidation here, you’re not going to have a clear alternative to Donald Trump,” he said on Fox News’ “Fox and Friends.” “If we don’t come together, we’re never going to be able to provide a clear alternative to the direction that Donald Trump wants to take the Republican Party and the country.”

One of the most surprising aspects of Trump’s win was that entrance polls showed he was winning among Latino GOP caucus-goers even though he has campaigned on a hard-line immigration platform, including building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Entrance polls indicated Latino caucusgoers made up 8% of the GOP electorate and 45% of them planned to back Trump. Historically, however, entrance and exit polls have not proved to be a reliable measure when it comes to the preferences of minority voters, particularly when the sample size was as small as it was in Nevada.

Still, Trump noted his showing among Latino Republicans in his victory speech: “Number one with Hispanics… I’m really happy about that,” he said.

Driving Trump’s victory were caucusgoers who said they wanted a president from outside the political establishment. While Trump played up support among Latino GOP caucusgoers, the electorate was primarily white—accounting for 84% of those who turned out to caucus. Some 6 in 10 caucusgoers said they were angry about the way the government is functioning.

Anti-establishment fervor

The anti-establishment fervor within the electorate underscored the enormous challenge facing Rubio and Cruz in the coming weeks as they try to stop Trump. Rubio and Cruz had campaigned aggressively in Nevada, but had downplayed expectations as they tried to consolidate Trump-averse Republican voters around them.

Rubio was not even in Nevada on Tuesday night, having moved on to the upcoming states of Minnesota and Michigan. But he has repeatedly noted in recent weeks that surveys show that some two-thirds of GOP voters don’t want Trump as their nominee. On his plane this week, the Florida senator told reporters that as the field narrowed “the alternatives to Trump will get stronger.”

“Donald has a base of support and if the majority of our party doesn’t want him as our nominee, we’ll continue to work toward consolidating that,” Rubio told reporters.

On the stump, Rubio largely avoided critiques of his rivals as he continually returns to the argument that he is the most electable candidate on the Republican side.

“I am as conservative as anyone else in this race,” he said this week in Elko. “But I am a conservative who will win this race.”

At a rally in Minneapolis on Tuesday, he warned the crowd against “nominating someone just to make a point … because they seem angrier than everybody else.”

“We’re all angry, we’re all frustrated,” Rubio said.

Super Tuesday

Cruz, who is now pinning his hopes on the Southern states that will dominate the upcoming Super Tuesday contests, has attempted to cobble together a coalition of evangelical and libertarian voters, but has faced a string of losses since his win in the Iowa caucuses.

In his speech Tuesday night, Cruz focused on Rubio’s loss to Trump rather than his own disappointing finish.

The results, he said, showed that “the only campaign that has beaten Donald Trump and the only campaign that can beat Donald Trump is this campaign.”

“If you are one of the 65% of Republicans across this country who doesn’t think Donald is the best candidate to go head-to-head with Hillary, who believes we do better in elections when we actually nominate a conservative, then the first four states have performed a vital function of narrowing this race and presenting a clear choice,” the Texas senator said in his speech in Nevada Tuesday night.

Earlier in the day – in a reflection of the fact that the time left to overtake Trump is running short – Cruz unleashed some of his sharpest attacks on Trump yet, questioning his credentials as a conservative.

“Part of the reason someone vacillates from position to position to position is they’re not starting from a core set of principles and beliefs,” Cruz said.

Trump, in turn, had ridiculed Cruz – though he laid off those attacks in his victory speech Tuesday night.

“I’ve met much tougher people than Ted Cruz,” Trump said in his parting shot at Cruz during a rally in Sparks, Nevada before the caucuses. “He is like a little baby compared to some of the people I have to deal with. He is like a little baby: soft, weak, little baby by comparison.”

It was unclear exactly what the GOP turnout would be in Nevada, but anecdotal reports from caucus sites around the state suggested that it was much higher than officials had expected – due in part to the supporters turning out for Trump.

That led to chaos, confusion and long lines at some caucus states early in the night. Some caucus sites ran out of ballots and several GOP operatives said that volunteers were not adequately trained on caucus rules, leading to reports of violations.

As the caucuses were underway, the Nevada GOP tweeted that no official complaints had been filed, despite reports of violations on Twitter.

In 2012, only 33,000 of the state’s 400,000 GOP voters turned out to caucus – a mere 7%. So Cruz and Rubio had hoped to win by organizing early, snapping up talented operatives and key endorsements, while beginning caucus trainings last fall in the hopes that a strong organization could overcome Trump’s momentum.

But Trump steamrolled through all of that, capturing the excitement and buzz in the race with his visits here.

In interviews with dozens of Republican voters across the state over the last week, many said without hesitation that they were standing firmly with Trump and had given little thought to the other Republican candidates.

There was evidence of the firmness of Trump’s support in the entrance polls. Almost 70% of Nevada Republican caucus attendees said they made up their mind more than a week ago, while roughly 30% said they decided which candidate to pick in the last week.

CNN’s Eugene Scott, David Wright, Betsy Klein, Lauren Selsky, Gabe Ramirez, Gregory Wallace, Colin McCullough and Teddy Schleifer contributed to this report.