Low Debater Tier
- Feb 26, 2023
What's everyone thought on this?WEST DES MOINES, Iowa—Donald Trump won the Iowa caucuses Monday night with what was expected to be the largest margin in the history of the first Republican presidential nominating contest, cementing an early victory in his defiant bid to return to the White House.
The Associated Press declared Trump the winner roughly a half hour after the caucuses convened. The call came so quickly that at some caucus locations, attendees had not even finished making speeches of support for the various candidates.
Trump’s dominance carries him to New Hampshire, where he is expected to face a stronger challenge in a Jan. 23 primary that will include more independent voters. The outcome also underscores the resilience he has shown despite a barrage of criminal prosecutions that could still upend his trajectory toward a rematch with President Biden.
Nikki Haley appeared to have a chance to beat Ron DeSantis in a close race for second place, a prize that would fuel her quest to become the only Trump alternative and a long-shot challenger to the front-runner.
The results, on a night that saw the coldest temperatures on record for the caucuses, gave the first tangible indication of whether the party remains overwhelmingly committed to restoring Trump’s power, or if it shows any sign of wanting to turn the page on the man who remade the GOP in his image when he won in 2016. Analysts are closely watching whether Trump gets a majority of the vote as a metric of his fortitude in the party.
A second-place finish for Haley, the former South Carolina governor and United Nations ambassador, would put her in a strong position for the next nominating contest on Jan. 23 in New Hampshire, where the electorate is more centrist and has a history of bucking Iowa.
A third-place finish for DeSantis—the Florida governor who centered his bid in the state with visits to all 99 Iowa counties—could make it hard for him to convince donors and supporters that there is a path forward.
DeSantis promised to appear Tuesday in South Carolina, another key early primary state, and he had scheduled events later that day in New Hampshire. Trump and Haley both had rallies planned Tuesday in New Hampshire.
A clear path to the GOP nomination for Trump would set the stage for a 2024 contest few voters seem to want: a rematch between Trump and Biden. Both men suffer from poor general-election poll ratings, and many voters have said they are eager for alternatives.
The caucuses punctuated a yearlong battle to wrest the party away from Trump, one that consumed tens of millions of dollars in advertising and other campaign expenditures and transfixed voters on both sides of the aisle. More than a dozen challengers at one point competed for the Republican nomination.
The former president looked beatable when he announced his candidacy shortly after the 2022 midterm elections, when he was blamed for party losses after endorsing candidates in some key races. As calls grew for him to step aside, attention focused on DeSantis, who won re-election as governor in a landslide.
But Trump’s supporters remained steadfast, and his candidacy grew stronger amid a cascade of criminal prosecutions. He faces 91 criminal charges for matters including his handling of classified documents and efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election. He cast himself as a victim of political persecution and government overreach, positions top rivals largely endorsed. The sprawling field also helped prevent any non-Trump candidate from capturing too much attention.
The contest saw established Republicans—such as former Vice President Mike Pence and Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina—flame out and vaulted newcomers like biotech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy momentarily into the spotlight. Through it all, Trump refused to play by traditional rules, eschewing debates and spending little time on the ground in Iowa. He continually ratcheted up incendiary rhetoric.
An Iowa Poll released over the weekend showed Trump with support from 48% of those likely to attend the caucuses. Haley had 20%, followed by DeSantis at 16% and Ramaswamy at 8%.
A Trump victory in line with that polling lead would surpass the 12.8 percentage point margin Sen. Bob Dole scored over his nearest rival in 1988, setting a record for a competitive year. Trump hopes to secure the delegates needed for the Republican nomination by March.
“I looked at all of them and I came to the conclusion that Trump is the man that can lead our country into the next generation for my grandkids,” Marcia Cooper, 69, a retired nurse from suburban Des Moines, said Monday afternoon.
Unlike in 2016, when Trump had little organization in Iowa and ended up placing second to Sen. Ted Cruz, his campaign this time emphasized generating turnout by training volunteers and targeting supporters who hadn’t caucused before.
Trump also prevented DeSantis from consolidating support from the state’s influential evangelicals, who represented about two-thirds of the 2016 GOP caucuses electorate. In recent days, he warned against complacency, telling crowds to ignore polls showing him with a huge lead.
“A decisive victory for Trump tonight could essentially end the fight for the Republican nomination on the same day that it began,” Craig Robinson, a former Republican Party political director in Iowa, said Monday.
Snow and cold in the closing days of the campaign caused candidates to limit or cancel some final-weekend efforts to win over voters, with some events moving online. Temperatures were expected to dip below zero, with wind chills in the double digits below, when people headed to precinct meetings.
Road conditions, following two major snow storms in the past week, were improving in urban and suburban areas where Haley was expected to find her strongest support. But in rural areas, where Trump and DeSantis were likely to find theirs, there were still travel challenges.
The only contest of consequence in Iowa was on the Republican side, after the Democratic National Committee demoted the state in favor of South Carolina going first on its nomination calendar. Iowa Democrats, who met Monday night to conduct party business, have started to vote by mail for their nomination preferences. Those results won’t be announced until March.
The Iowa Republican electorate hasn’t been a natural fit for Haley, who is viewed as more moderate than Trump or DeSantis. One reason her prospects look better in New Hampshire is that large numbers of independents typically vote in that state’s GOP primary, widening her base of support. Some Democrats in Iowa said they planned to caucus for her, viewing her as the strongest candidate to block Trump from winning the nomination.
Crossover Democrats could also be a factor in New Hampshire’s primary, particularly because the Democratic contest isn’t sanctioned by the national party after South Carolina was given the leadoff spot on the party’s calendar. That could motivate some New Hampshire Democrats to register as independents, so they can vote for Haley in an effort to weaken Trump.
Republican Paul Blosser, 69, a data analyst from Des Moines, said he was backing Haley because he thinks the party needs to move on from Trump. “Sticking with Trump is like being stuck in a bad relationship,” he said.
Ron Steenhoek, a 78-year-old retiree from West Des Moines, said he planned to caucus for DeSantis. “I like that he’s already confronted some of the problems our country has in his state and he’s solved them,” he said.
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