5 Takeaways From The Iowa GOP Caucuses


Everything’s coming up Donald.

Well, at least in the Republican presidential contests. Former President Donald Trump remains under four separate criminal indictments and is still broadly unpopular with the national electorate, but it’s difficult to imagine the Iowa caucuses going better for him. Not only did he win by a record margin for a Republican, his two main competitors ― Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley ― each took just enough of the vote to insist they were his main rival in New Hampshire, the next state to vote, ensuring the field will remain divided against him.

Trump’s win was sweeping and dominant. According to the entrance polls conducted by major media organizations, he won every demographic group imaginable: the college-educated and those without a degree; men and women; urban, suburban and rural voters; and evangelical Christians. The only groups he didn’t win were moderates, who went with Haley, and voters ages 17 to 29, who backed DeSantis.

Trump won 98 of Iowa’s 99 counties, losing Johnson County, the home of the University of Iowa, by a single vote to Haley.

Oh, and Vivek Ramaswamy, the biotech entrepreneur who competed with Trump for the votes of the very conspiratorial, dropped out of the race, likely handing most of this voters over to the former reality TV show star.

New Hampshire will be tougher terrain: Some polling there shows Haley within striking distance, and it is filled with the moderate, college-educated voters who are Trump’s weak point. But Trump’s challengers will get only so many chances to knock the de facto leader of the Republican Party off his pedestal, and they whiffed on a big one Monday night.

Here are four other takeaways from the Iowa caucuses:

A Bad Night For The Iowa Establishment

DeSantis had banked much of his campaign on courting traditional Iowa power brokers. He won the endorsement of influential evangelical leader Bob Vander Plaats. He also earned the endorsement of Gov. Kim Reynolds, and more than half of the Republicans in both the Iowa state Senate and state House lined up behind his campaign. DeSantis even made his defense of Reynolds from Trump’s attacks a major theme of his television advertising. And all it got him was less than a quarter of the vote.

The result is a crisis for Iowa’s political establishment, which has long built an identity ― and careers and cash ― around defending the caucuses and their importance to it. Democrats have already shunted the caucuses aside after Biden finished fifth in the state and won the nomination regardless. The state GOP, to which Trump will owe few favors, may have to worry about facing the same fate.

Nikki Loses By Degrees

Iowa entrance polls indicated a big education divide within the GOP electorate. Among voters without college degrees, Trump garnered 65%, DeSantis got 17% and Haley just 8%. College-educated voters in the Republican contest, meanwhile, split nearly down the middle between Trump and Haley (35% to 33%, respectively), with DeSantis getting 23%.

The polls show Trump’s continued strength among blue-collar voters, long a mainstay of his political base, as well as college-educated conservatives who are weighing other options. But for Haley, the problem is acute. If she can’t find a way to appeal to white working-class voters, especially in a state like New Hampshire, she may be in even deeper trouble.

Electability? What Electability?

In 2020, Democrats in Iowa, and everywhere else in the country, were obsessed with finding a candidate who could defeat Trump in the general election. For whatever reason ― Trump’s election lies, a lack of shocking election losses in the history of the GOP, widespread belief in President Joe Biden’s weaknesses ― Republicans did not place nearly as much emphasis on, you know, winning the general election.

Only 14% of caucus-goers said an ability to defeat Biden was the top quality they were looking for in a candidate, compared with 41% who wanted a candidate who shared their values and 31% who wanted a candidate who fought for people like them. In 2020, when faced with a similar question, 61% of Democrats preferred a candidate who could beat Trump and 37% preferred a candidate who agreed with them on major issues.

Turnout Dropped With The Temperature

About 110,000 people turned out to vote in the Iowa caucuses on Monday, far short of the nearly 187,000 who participated in 2016, the last time there was a competitive contest on the Republican side. The cold weather and blizzard conditions, along with an NFL playoff game and the Emmys on television, likely contributed to the drop in participation, but Republicans have to wonder whether it signals a more troubling lack of enthusiasm for their presidential candidates in this election, especially if the trend is confirmed in future contests.

It’s worth putting 110,000 voters into context: That’s less than half the number who voted in last year’s Philadelphia mayoral primary and less than one-fifth of the number who voted in last year’s Chicago mayoral election.

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