Iowa caucuses: Trump wins in a landslide as Haley, DeSantis scrap for second

As widely expected, former President Donald Trump cruised to an easy victory in Monday’s chilly Iowa caucuses, the opening salvo of the 2024 GOP nominating contest. The rout further cements Trump’s status as the most likely candidate to face off against President Biden, a Democrat, in November’s general election.

The Associated Press called Iowa for Trump at 8:32 p.m. EST — just half an hour after the caucuses began.

Votes are still being counted in the much closer — and more suspenseful — battle for second place between Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who later served as United Nations ambassador under Trump.

Haley, DeSantis continue to compete for second place

Once seen as the GOP’s likeliest Trump slayer — he led the former president in national surveys for a brief spell in late 2022 and early 2023 — DeSantis lost altitude soon after launching his heavily hyped campaign last May.

He has long staked his comeback on a strong showing in the Hawkeye State, visiting all 99 counties, landing the coveted endorsements of Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds and evangelical leader Bob Vander Plaats and organizing his supporters to knock on nearly a million doors.

Yet Haley — who had been mired in fourth in the Iowa polls, with just 4% support — rocketed ahead of DeSantis in the state’s final surveys after several solid debate performances.

Seeking a knockout punch, Haley’s campaign and her allied super-PAC combined to spend more on Iowa advertising over the last two weeks than any other candidate: a full $7.8 million compared to $6.1 million for DeSantis and just $3.5 million for Trump.

Former President Donald Trump

Donald Trump at a rally in Indianola, Iowa. (Andrew Harnik/AP)

Can DeSantis’s campaign survive his Iowa performance?

For DeSantis, even a narrow loss to Haley would come as a devastating blow. In New Hampshire — which holds its primary next Tuesday, Jan. 23 — the Floridian (who averages 6% in the polls there) trails far behind both Haley (30%) and Trump (43%).

Demands for DeSantis to drop out and allow anti-Trump Republicans to consolidate around Haley will become deafening if he finishes third in Iowa.

In contrast, squeaking out a second-place finish would give DeSantis a reason to continue campaigning in New Hampshire and possibly beyond, splitting the party’s anti-Trump vote.

To that end, DeSantis finance chair Roy Bailey said Monday that the campaign has “plenty of fuel in the tank to get the job done … into Super Tuesday” — the big pileup of 15 GOP primaries on March 5 — assuming they “have the success I think we can have in Iowa and exceed expectations.”

Yet Bailey also admitted “it would be tough” to keep going “if we don’t have a really good night.”

Either way, it’s Trump who will emerge from Iowa in the best position. Any questions about his appeal to the state’s largely white evangelical primary electorate — who chose Texas Sen. Ted Cruz over the Manhattan real-estate billionaire in 2016 — were quashed by Monday’s results.

Why Iowa went for Trump

Despite lower-than-usual turnout due to severe weather, an estimated 130,000 Iowans braved snowy, subzero conditions to caucus — and the lion’s share caucused for a man who faces four criminal trials on 91 felony charges ranging from election interference to hoarding classified documents.

Why? According to the Associated Press’s VoteCast survey, a full three-quarters of Iowa caucusgoers said the charges against Trump are political attempts to undermine him rather than legitimate attempts to investigate important issues.

Nearly two-thirds (63%) of respondents to the National Election Pool entrance poll said that Trump would still be fit to serve as president if convicted of a crime — double the number (32%) who said the opposite. And among white evangelicals, Trump’s support — just 22% in 2016 — soared to 53% this time around.

Meanwhile, the latest general-election polling averages put Trump neck and neck with Biden at about 45% apiece.

“I’m here in part out of spite,” Marc Smiarowski, a 44-year-old public utility worker, told AP at Trump’s final pre-caucus rally Sunday in Indianola. “I can’t abandon him. After what they did to him in the last election, and the political persecution he faces, I feel like I owe him this.”

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