Kamala Harris reminds voters of Trump’s role in overturning Roe v Wade as unstated core of campaign is Biden can beat him again
Top Democrats did not react to Donald Trump’s crushing win in the Iowa caucuses on Monday with the dismay that might have been expected. Instead, the victory of the twice-impeached, 91-times criminally charged former president was heralded as an early beginning to the battle for the White House itself.
Called early, Trump’s victory came by 30 points over the hard-right Florida governor, Ron DeSantis, who edged the former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley for second. Only one of 99 Iowa counties did not go for Trump: Johnson county, which includes the University of Iowa, was won by Haley, the relative moderate left in the race – by a single vote.
Responding to Trump’s win, and using an acronym for Trump’s campaign slogan, “Make America great again”, Biden told followers: “Here’s the thing: this election was always going to be you and me versus extreme Maga Republicans. It was true yesterday and it’ll be true tomorrow.”
Reporting has long suggested Biden and his advisers want to face Trump at the polls in November. Doing so will allow them to campaign more on the threat Trump poses to American democracy than the virtues of Biden himself, a historically unpopular president facing doubts about his age (81 now, 86 at the end of a second term), his handling of the economy and his support for Israel in its war with Hamas.
On Tuesday, the former New Orleans mayor Mitch Landrieu, now a Biden campaign co-chair, told MSNBC: “You have seen in the last five or six months every candidate for the presidency on the Republican side racing over to the extreme Maga side of the party that Donald Trump clearly owns.
“The Republican party that used to be a really great part of the American political system is dead. Donald Trump owns the Maga right and last night 50,000 Iowans … [said they] believe that the  election was stolen, are election deniers, and actually say it doesn’t matter to them if the president of the United States is actually a convicted criminal.”
Trump faces 91 criminal charges. Seventeen concern election subversion, 40 were brought over the retention of classified information, and 34 arise from hush-money payments to an adult film star who claimed an affair.
Trump also faces civil suits over his business affairs and a defamation claim arising from a rape allegation a judge called “substantially true”, and attempts to keep him off the ballot in Colorado and Maine, under the 14th amendment to the US constitution and for inciting the deadly January 6 attack on Congress.
Haley has made ground on Trump in New Hampshire, which next week will be the second state to vote. But in Iowa, among an overwhelmingly socially conservative electorate, Trump’s domination was near complete. Furthermore, polling in other states – including Haley’s home state, South Carolina, which votes third – gives Trump similar leads to his margin in Iowa.
Landrieu said: “That should tell you all you need to know about the current Republican party that … by the way, does not represent most Republicans in the country, moderates or independents.
“… Everybody has always known this was going to be a fight between Joe Biden and Donald Trump and really a fight between two big ideas. Joe Biden wakes up every day, he ran for the presidency, to save a democracy which is under threat. Donald Trump and Maga Trumpism is an existential threat, is the greatest threat to democracy that we’ve seen in our life and all of us are going to have to get in this fight because we know how hard it’s going to be.”
Haley and DeSantis often poll better in hypothetical match-ups with Biden than Trump does. And while polling shows Trump edging Biden in several swing states, Biden has beaten Trump once already. The core message of Biden’s campaign is that he can do so again. The sooner Trump sews up his apparently inevitable nomination, such thinking goes, the more time Democrats will have to persuade the electorate Biden is at least the lesser of two evils.
Before voting began in Iowa, Biden’s vice-president, Kamala Harris, marked the Martin Luther King Day holiday by attacking Trump over his threat to democracy.
She followed up by emphasising Trump’s central role in the overturning last year of Roe v Wade, the supreme court decision that once guaranteed the federal right to abortion. Democrats cannot pin Republican threats to reproductive rights – proven a potent campaign issue – so strongly on DeSantis or Haley, though both also oppose abortion.
“The same person who recently called the overturning of Roe v Wade a ‘miracle’ is one step closer to becoming the Republican nominee for president,” Harris said.
From the Senate, Brian Schatz, a Democrat from Hawaii, lambasted DeSantis and Haley for running campaigns in which they long fought shy of attacking Trump.
“Super weird that the challengers praise the person in first place and it doesn’t cause them to take the lead,” he wrote.
From the House, Steve Cohen, a Democrat from Memphis, Tennessee, weighed in with an unsubtle example of the general anti-Trump 2024 message to come from Democrats up and down the political scale.
“What does the grifter insurrectionist fraudster sex abuser liar victory say about Iowa Republicans?” Cohen asked.