The weather forecasts were right alright, it was colder than a Crooked Hillary Clinton icy stare on Monday night in Iowa, yet the frigid weather didn’t deter the most ardent of Iowa’s conservative and Republican voters from performing their quadrennial civic duty last night.
The fossil fuel-heated Republican party caucus meeting places provided all the shelter Iowans needed to gather and listen to short speeches from campaign surrogates and then cast the first votes in the nationwide 2024 race. With Donald Trump having been an incumbent in 2020, last night was the first time The Hawkeye State’s Republicans were called upon to caucus since the topsy turvy horserace of 2016, when the results were hardly a foregone conclusion in any direction prior to the caucuses – with Texas Senator Ted Cruz narrowly prevailing over a then-untested Trump and fledgling establishment candidate Marco Rubio (as well as Ben Carson and Jeb Bush, et al).
This year’s campaign was worlds apart from 2016, however. The totality of pre-caucus polls found Trump enjoying a commanding lead over his nearest rivals – Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and former Trump U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley – and much of the establishment media banter centered on which of the not-Trumpers would be runner-up to Trump. Iowans took their first-in-the-nation duty seriously, and turnout seemed to be about what it would’ve been had the weather been sunny and nice.
Would you expect anything different? The results were anticipated, too, right down the line.
“Mr. DeSantis had garnered 21.2% of the vote over Ms. Haley’s 19.1%, with 95% of the precincts reporting. Biotech tycoon Vivek Ramaswamy, who won roughly 7.7% of the vote, announced he is dropping out.
“The results won’t narrow the race any further. Mr. DeSantis is headed to both South Carolina and New Hampshire on Tuesday. Ms. Haley is making a bee-line to the Granite State, where one poll showed her single digits behind Mr. Trump and Mr. DeSantis is trailing in single digits…
“Ms. Haley congratulated Mr. Trump, who was on track to win the caucus by an historic 51% and to win all 99 counties in the Hawkeye State. She did not mention Mr. DeSantis‘s narrow win over her and instead declared her narrow third-place finish ‘will make this Republican primary a two-person race,’ between her and Mr. Trump.”
Pardon my bluntness, but only someone as vain as Nikki Haley could claim the 2024 race was narrowed to two candidates by finishing behind both Trump – by a lot – and DeSantis, by a little in Iowa. Polls in New Hampshire don’t matter much compared to real results in the Hawkeye State right now. Haley needed the runner-up to Trump in farm country, and she didn’t get it, even if it was only by a couple points compared to the Florida governor’s tally.
More importantly, what happens now?
Despite a concerted effort to campaign in Iowa, Vivek Ramaswamy finished a distant fourth, the “surprise” he forecasted in recent weeks not materializing in the state he likely spent the most time in. Nevertheless, those who met Ramaswamy this past year aren’t likely to forget the experience and there’s little doubt that there’s a long, long road in front of the late thirties first-time pol if he chooses to take it, but the stakes were just too high this year for Iowans to chance elevating a seemingly brilliant but unknown longshot.
If anything, Ramaswamy was this year’s quirky Ron Paul-type candidate, adept at capturing the imaginations of liberty-loving purists but unable to dip deep into the heart of the conservative mainstream. As others have suggested (and he has rejected the possibility), it would behoove Vivek to accept a cabinet post from Trump, if indeed the former president wins the nomination and Ramaswamy is offered one, and henceforth build a broader foundation of visible accomplishments from which to build on. Who knows, perhaps Ramaswamy could initiate his reform-the-bureaucracy mission from the inside. Sounds good, doesn’t it?
Watch out Nikki, Trump’s victory was impressive and historic
Whereas in 2016, Ted Cruz’s narrow triumph was attributed to the Texas firebrand conservative’s attractiveness to religious and cultural conservatives who are politically active and in abundance in Iowa, Trump’s appeal appears to be fairly broad based. This year, Trump seems to have won the favor of many if not most of this group, too, though evangelical stalwart Bob Vander Plaats (of The Family Leader) endorsed Gov. Ron DeSantis a couple months ago in an attempt to rally family-values-first voters away from the constantly embattled former president.
Note: Vander Plaats endorsed Cruz in 2016. His say carries a lot of sway, but not as much this year, apparently.
Vander Plaats cited DeSantis’s argument that the Floridian could serve two terms (where Trump was limited to one) as the reason why the former president didn’t receive the Iowan’s respected nod, though he also mentioned Trump’s persistent legal problems as a potential limit on electability. Here’s thinking the so-called evangelical community liked both men, but Trump obviously won enough supporters to prevail by such a large margin there.
Trump has come under fire in Iowa for his abortion-related comments, including heavily criticizing DeSantis for pushing a six-week “heartbeat” ban in Florida. Trump has maintained that stringent abortion restrictions are a political loser and has repeatedly urged “you have to win elections to get anything done.” The former president has also highlighted his three Supreme Court appointments now sitting on the High Court, all of whom voted to overturn Roe v. Wade.
“If it weren’t for me, we wouldn’t even be talking about this,” Trump’s remarked at every juncture. It’s difficult to argue the point. A president’s personal views on the subject don’t matter as much as who he puts in charge of deciding the legality of it.
Trump’s rationale was apparently good enough for always-wary Iowa cultural conservatives to take a try – again -- on his candidacy. And DeSantis’s – and Nikki Haley’s – “Trump isn’t electable” campaign claims didn’t seem to hit home in the Hawkeye State. Did the Midwesterners just not care about the subject, or did they simply not believe it (that Trump isn’t electable)? I’m guessing the latter, especially since nationwide polls have Trump either tied or ahead of incumbent president senile Joe Biden. As of now, Trump is also ahead of Biden in most if not all of the “swing” states.
Recall that Iowa was once considered in the “swing” category, though with Trump probably on the general election ballot for the third consecutive time, it’s highly unlikely that his campaign would need to devote major time and resources to winning there.
Democrats have all-but conceded Iowa to the Republican Party. As noted recently, Democrats didn’t even caucus in person this year, instead conducting their own election through mail-in ballots, the winner to be announced on Super Tuesday, March 5th. Why not come right out and say it? Iowa is a lost cause for Democrats, the party having moved way too far left for Iowa’s farm-based economy to tolerate.
Gov. DeSantis tried winning Iowa conservatives away from Trump by touting his Florida experience, with a heavy emphasis on using the Sunshine State’s political model as a guide to improving the nation post-Joe Biden. I don’t think this line of persuasion failed to produce results on Monday as much as Iowans just seemed to trust Trump more – and the two-time defending nominee possesses a heck of a track record to shore up his claims.
For much of the evening, the only lingering mystery was what would Trump’s final margin of victory be, and who would grab the usually-important runner-up spot. For months in 2023 it appeared as though DeSantis would possibly have an opportunity to eat into Trump’s lead in Iowa, but nothing really happened there to make it so. Meanwhile, Haley, at least according the usual media talkers, did well in the “official” Republican primary debates.
Or, let’s say she did well enough to attract additional attention and consideration as the old guard Bush/Romney Republican establishment was still searching for a single candidate to settle on. Haley’s neoconservative warmongering stance and corporate connections wouldn’t figure to capture the favor of Iowa’s America First conservatives, but there was an element of the not-Trump voters who liked the fact she’s a biological woman and was polling well in hypothetical matchups versus senile Joe Biden.
Haley had the “electability” argument to tout, which, I believe, allowed her to creep up on DeSantis for the near second place conclusion.
Not that finishing near-second by the margin she did would make one spit of a difference in the overall race. Even if Nikki were to pull off a huge upset in New Hampshire next week, it’s very unlikely to alter the balance in states where Trump is sure to compete strongly. Is there anyone out there who could look into their political crystal ball and see a Donald Trump/Nikki Haley tight race going into the convention?
Are voters in states like Florida and Texas prone to automatically drop Trump and reexamine wishy-washy Haley just because she finished a virtual second in Iowa and competed strongly in New Hampshire? Call me skeptical. It may have made a big splash in the old days, but 2024, firmly entrenched in the Donald Trump era, is a new ballgame. Trump’s core supporters aren’t malleable, either – they’ll stick with him until the end.
There isn’t a single Republican constituency that will detach themselves from Trump and take on Nikki Haley as their champion. Democrats like to talk about how Rep. James Clyburn changed the entire nature of the 2020 party race with one endorsement, which led African-American Democrats in a blood red state to follow senile Joe Biden like rats fleeing the Pied Piper of Hamelin.
Would there be enough not-Trumpers to pull off a similar feat for Haley? Don’t bank on it.
Similarly, the optics were terrible for Democrats on Monday night, as liberals left the so-called playing field completely to the Republicans, who took advantage of the generous opportunity to put on a big show with Trump as the centerpiece and star. It’s a huge public relations jumpstart in what promises to be a lengthy general election campaign, with both parties likely settling on a nominee by early March.
For his part, as is his custom, Trump was gracious in victory and had nice things to say about his rivals in the first-in-the-nation state, complimenting them for waging a hard-fought campaign. If history is a guide, the good feelings won’t last long, however, with Trump probably returning to his usual no-nonsense self, starting today in New Hampshire.
The 2024 Trump train was definitely launched in Iowa Monday night. Can it be slowed? Don’t wager the Iowa farm on it.
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