DeSantis Will Participate in Nevada Caucuses Despite Criticizing Them

Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida plans to participate in the Nevada Republican Party caucuses, his campaign said on Sunday, taking part in a system that he and his rivals have said was designed to benefit former President Donald J. Trump.

Mr. DeSantis’s team had not said previously whether he would take part in the party’s Feb. 8 caucuses in the state, which Republican political officials structured to supersede the state’s primary election.

“Ron DeSantis is committed to earning every single delegate available as he works to earn the Republican nomination for president, and Nevada is no exception,” said Andrew Romeo, the communications director for the DeSantis campaign.

In a swipe at the state party, he added: “It is disappointing that the Nevada Republican Party changed the rules against the will of the people just to benefit one candidate. However, Ron DeSantis will fight to overcome these tactics.”

A statement from the party’s press office about Mr. DeSantis’s concerns said that caucuses are almost exclusively how Nevada Republicans have selected their nominee for decades.

“We are aware that the Never Back Down super PAC that is supporting Governor Desantis had concerns with rule changes,” the statement said. “However, his campaign never took action to influence these rules. All official campaigns were invited to the meeting where these common sense, RNC-supported rules changes were voted on, and passed by overwhelming majority.”

Officials in Nevada had made a bipartisan move to put a primary in place instead of caucuses, trying to increase participation. But Republican Party officials refused to accept that, and decided to go ahead with caucuses of their own.

The decision to deliver all of the state’s delegates through its caucuses instead of through its primary has been widely seen as helping Mr. Trump — he continues to have a strong hold on the party’s most animated voters, who typically turn out for such contests.

It was influenced by Michael McDonald, the state party chairman and a Trump ally, who was a fake elector for Mr. Trump in the state when the former president tried to subvert the results of the 2020 election.

Taking part in the primary — which will be held two days earlier on Feb. 6 — instead of the caucuses would mean a candidate would be passing up the chance to accrue delegates, which are necessary in order to be nominated at the Republican National Convention.

The rules were also changed to bar super PACs from sending speakers or literature to caucus sites, after Mr. Trump’s team warned state parties about possible legal challenges to allowing the outside groups to have a role. Mr. DeSantis’s campaign has relied heavily on his super PAC, Never Back Down, so the rule also puts him at a disadvantage.

Mr. Trump’s team has worked aggressively with allies to change rules in various states to be more beneficial to him in apportioning delegates.

Though the caucuses are still months away, the decisions by the Nevada Republican Party have already caused some consternation for the rest of the field. Mr. DeSantis’s team had held off on committing to the caucuses, while former Vice President Mike Pence decided to skip the caucuses in favor of the primary.

Mr. DeSantis’s team is trying to demonstrate that it still plans to fight on various fronts, even with Mr. Trump well ahead in public opinion polls of Republican primary voters. The goal, campaign officials said, is to make the Trump team fight as hard as possible for every delegate, and to stave off a sense of inevitability that Mr. Trump has projected for months.

To that end, Mr. DeSantis qualified for the Virgin Islands caucuses and will headline a virtual event there tomorrow. He was the first of the candidates to qualify there for the caucuses, to be held on Feb. 8, 2024, party officials there said. He has also filed for the primaries in South Carolina, New Hampshire and Virginia, and his team is working to file full slates in states like Tennessee.