Donald Trump’s victory Monday in the Iowa caucuses surprised no one, confirming his grip on the Republican Party and offering clues about the campaign ahead.
Here are five takeaways from the first contest of the 2024 election race, where Trump supporters defied bitter cold to deliver a victory for the ex-president, who swept aside challengers Ron DeSantis and Nikki Haley.
– Trump, GOP master –
In his first judgment by voters since his chaotic White House departure in 2021, the verdict is clear: It’s still Trump’s Republican Party.
Just over half of caucus goers voted for the 77-year-old Trump, and entrance polls show he won across the board including with the religious right.
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Christian conservatives were initially skeptical of Trump, who is plagued by sexual assault accusations and allegations of a tryst with a porn star. But they warmed to the tycoon since three of his Supreme Court picks spearheaded the bench’s anti-abortion moves.
It marks an extraordinary turn in America, where defeated politicians are often left behind by their party. Not so with Trump.
– Who’s in second? –
Battling for scraps were Florida Governor DeSantis and Trump’s onetime UN ambassador Haley.
While DeSantis narrowly won second spot, he is under immense pressure given he sank everything he had into doing well in Iowa — but still lost by 30 percentage points.
Nevertheless DeSantis told supporters “we’ve got our ticket punched out of Iowa,” as the choreographed political ballet shifts to the northeastern state of New Hampshire.
That is seen as more fertile ground for Haley, considered the more moderate of the top three and who has gained on Trump in the Granite State.
She fared respectably in Iowa, at 19 percent compared to DeSantis’s 21 percent, and on Monday night predicted she would outpace DeSantis next week in New Hampshire and in her home state of South Carolina, another key battleground.
Each claim to be the future of the Republican Party, and could ultimately be looking down the road to the 2028 election.
– What legal problems? –
Will former real estate mogul Trump’s multiple legal challenges weigh him down in 2024? Not on the campaign trail, if Iowa is any indication.
He is under criminal indictment in four cases, but none has dented his popularity with party voters.
CNN polls show most Republican caucus participants, including nearly three quarters of Trump voters, believe he is fit for the presidency even if convicted of a crime.
Trump, who faces yet another trial opening on Tuesday in New York, has put his legal challenges at the heart of his campaign, railing against the alleged “witch hunt” by Democrats.
– All over? –
Not quite. Trump’s resounding victory in Iowa gives him momentum for sure, but the caucuses — with barely 100,000 voters — are quirky party-run affairs that do not necessarily translate nationally.
“I don’t know a single analyst who didn’t think Trump would win Iowa… It’s heavily Republican and evangelical,” Larry Sabato, a political science professor at the University of Virginia, told AFP. “New Hampshire will be much more interesting.”
The state bordering Canada votes on January 23, and Haley is aiming to shrink Trump’s lead there.
– Biden gearing up? –
The White House incumbent, barring a shock, will be nominated in August. But he is already preparing for a rematch of his 2020 Trump duel, saying Monday that the Iowa results make Trump “the clear front runner on the other side.”
Biden’s re-election campaign is flush; earlier Monday it announced a massive war chest of $117 million — a considerable asset in a country known for expensive presidential races.
Republican political consultant Mike Madrid said Biden was the night’s big winner. “He’s gonna get the candidate he wants: Trump.”