WEST DES MOINES, Iowa — Donald Trump, who three years ago attempted a violent coup to remain in the White House and now faces decades in prison for it, nevertheless comfortably won the first nominating contest in the 2024 Republican presidential race at the Iowa caucuses on Monday as he seeks to regain his old job.
It took barely half an hour after the start of Iowa’s caucuses for multiple news outlets to call the contest for Trump, who had already been the front-runner. The win puts the former president in a strong position going forward: Trump also leads in polls in the next election, New Hampshire’s primary a week from Tuesday, although by a much smaller margin than his 30-point pre-caucus polling lead in Iowa. Should he win New Hampshire as well, Republican consultants largely agree that he would effectively lock up the nomination.
If so, that could put the Republican Party in the position of heading into the summer convention with its presumptive nominee: a candidate accused of inciting a violent insurrection, who has promised “retribution” against his enemies, and who has multiple felony charges against him.
Trump’s rivals and party leaders largely declined to criticize Trump’s words and actions leading up to and on Jan. 6, 2021, allowing him to recast the history of that day in the minds of most Republican primary voters. Even his top two remaining challengers, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, have avoided attacking Trump for the behavior underlying his 91 felony charges as they focused on each other in their battle for second place.
That lack of rebuttal from fellow Republicans allowed Trump’s continued lies about the 2020 election having been “stolen” from him ― falsehoods that fueled the deadly attack on the Capitol that left 140 police officers injured and led to the deaths of five ― to become accepted as true by most Republicans.
And Trump’s supporters in Iowa seem to be fully behind that falsehood. A full 66% of respondents in caucus entrance polls conducted by a consortium of media organizations said that Democratic President Joe Biden did not legitimately win the 2020 election.
Almost as many, 63%, said that Trump would be fit to be president even if he’s convicted of a crime, likely the result of Trump and his allies delegitimizing police and prosecutors.
Trump is facing criminal prosecution in four separate jurisdictions. In Washington, D.C., and Atlanta, he is under federal and Georgia state indictments, respectively, for his attempts to overturn his election loss and remain in power.
A second federal prosecution in South Florida is based on his refusal to turn over secret documents he took with him from the White House to his Palm Beach country club, while a New York state indictment accuses him of falsifying business records to hide a $130,000 hush money payment to a porn actor just ahead of the 2016 election.
After initially blaming Trump for the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol, Republican leaders began remaining silent on the matter or even backing Trump’s false claims that he had nothing to do with what happened. DeSantis went so far as to blame prosecutors for indicting Trump solely to boost his GOP primary campaign because they knew Trump would be the easiest to beat in November’s general election.
Trump has also suggested that he would take “retribution” on his political enemies if he was able to regain the White House, and said he would be justified in having federal prosecutors go after his political opponents. “If I happen to be president and I see somebody who’s doing well and beating me very badly, I say ‘go down and indict them,’” he said during a Nov. 9, 2023, interview.
And in his final pitch to Iowa voters ahead of the caucuses, he promised vengeance. “These caucuses are your personal chance to score the ultimate victory over all of the liars, cheaters, thugs, perverts, frauds, crooks, freaks, creeps and other quite nice people,” he told a crowd at a rally in Indianola on Sunday.
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