Trump leads GOP rightward march and other takeaways from the Iowa caucuses
Published 2:39 pm Tuesday, January 16, 2024
Iowa Republicans were a clear reflection of that on Monday night, delivering the former president an emphatic victory. They channeled his anger, and his view that basically everything President Joe Biden has done has been a “disaster.” About 9 in 10 voters said they want upheaval or substantial change in how the government operates, according to AP VoteCast, a survey of more than 1,500 voters who said they planned to take part in the caucuses.
As clear-cut as his win was, though, Iowa has not historically played the role of kingmaker in the Republican nominating process. New Hampshire’s voters don’t take their cues from Iowa.
Here are some key takeaways:
AN INCUMBENT CAMPAIGN
This was the least suspenseful Iowa caucus in modern memory because Trump has essentially been running as an incumbent president. He’s convinced many Republicans he didn’t really lose the 2020 election to Biden, repeatedly making false claims, and has dominated the race the way someone still in office does.
He traveled sparingly to the state, holding a modest number of rallies. He spurned candidate debates. He chose to appear at court hearings as a defendant in his legal cases in New York and Washington rather than speak to Iowa voters in the final days before the voting.
The former president, who remains the party’s dominant favorite, clearly wants to move on to the general election as quickly as possible. In his victory speech, he tried to portray the race as all but over, and a candidate known for his propensity for division asked his party and the nation to come together, praising rivals he had spent months denigrating. But Iowa winnows the field more than it determines the winner.
TWISTS AND TURNS AHEAD
Inevitable can be a dangerous word, especially in New Hampshire, which holds its primary in eight days.
New Hampshire has famously delivered upsets in both parties. Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley quipped that New Hampshire “corrects” Iowa. George W. Bush felt New Hampshire’s sting in 2000 when Senator John McCain defeated him. So did former vice president Walter Mondale when Senator Gary Hart of Colorado scored an upset in the Democratic race in 1984.
With its more moderate, educated electorate, New Hampshire presents Trump’s rivals with possibly their best opportunity to slow his march. Haley is hoping for a win there or at least a very strong showing, as is Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who edged Haley out for second place in Iowa but trailed Trump by about 30 points.
After that comes a weird political lull — with the next major competitive race in South Carolina on Feb. 24.
But plenty can happen during that time. The U.S. Supreme Court on Feb. 8 is scheduled to hear arguments in a case challenging whether a constitutional clause banning those who “engaged in insurrection” from holding office applies to Trump. The high court may also weigh in on whether presidential immunity protects Trump from federal charges for trying to overturn his 2020 election loss.
The criminal trial, in that case, is scheduled to start on March 5 — Super Tuesday — when 14 states vote in the presidential nominating process. Trump’s strength among Republican voters is beyond dispute, but the road is long and could be bumpy.
IT’S NOT THE ECONOMY
Iowans had something on their minds, but it wasn’t jobs, taxes or business regulations.
About 4 in 10 caucus-goers said immigration was their top issue, compared to 1 in 3 picking the economy, according to VoteCast. Other priorities like foreign policy, energy and abortion ranked even lower.
Indeed, about two-thirds of caucusgoers said they felt their finances were holding steady or improving. But the voters still want major changes — 3 in 10 want a total upheaval of how the federal government runs while another 6 in 10 want substantial changes. Additionally, as Trump faces multiple criminal charges, 6 in 10 caucusgoers don’t have confidence in the U.S. legal system.
It adds up to a portrait of a slice of the electorate eager to challenge core democratic institutions in the U.S.
DESANTIS’ DISMAL RETURN ON INVESTMENT
Flush with more than $100 million in cash and fresh off a blowout reelection victory, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis entered the 2024 Republican presidential contest projecting himself as the heir to a MAGA political brand that a diminished Trump could no longer effectively carry.
Reality soon intruded.
Eight months and tens of millions of dollars later, DeSantis posed little threat to the former president in Iowa. Still, he vowed to continue his campaign and said he had “punched his ticket” out of Iowa with his second-place finish.
Despite more than $55 million in pro-DeSantis advertising spending, the Florida governor only narrowly bested Haley.
DeSantis has been dogged by negative stories about profligate spending, including DeSantis’ preference for flying private planes.
His next challenge will be whether donors will continue to support him.
THE EDUCATION DIVIDE
More than half of Haley’s voters had at least a college degree and roughly half of DeSantis’ did, according to VoteCast. But only about 2 in 10 of Trump’s did.
Education has been a major dividing line among white voters during the Trump era. Iowa confirms what polling has indicated during the primary — that the education divide is also splitting the GOP.
That hints at a possible weakness for Trump in November, should he be the nominee. A greater share of the voting public has at least a bachelor’s degree now than in 2016, and that share rises every year as degrees become more popular.
Another indication of vulnerability for Trump came in the suburbs, which tend to have the highest levels of education. Only about a third of caucusgoers there supported him. The suburbs were pivotal in Biden’s 2020 victory over Trump.
RAMASWAMY PUNCHED HIMSELF OUT
Abrasive, often grating and very online — Vivek Ramaswamy’s quixotic bid for the White House has come across as a millennial distillation of Trump’s Make America Great Again political movement.
Ramaswamy rapped along to verses of Eminem, delighted in trolling his rivals and often sought to out-Trump Trump with his brash rhetoric. That performative aspect helped the wealthy 38-year-old entrepreneur gain considerable attention in the early days of the Republican White House contest.
But it also proved to wear thin, perhaps summed up best when former New Jersey governor Chris Christie called him the “most obnoxious blowhard in America” during a debate.
As returns from Iowa’s caucus posted, Ramaswamy seemed unlikely to reach double digits, and he suspended his campaign.