U.S Election

Donald Trump does exactly what he was expected to do

user avatar Author: Editors Desk Source: The Economist
January 16, 2024 at 07:42
Image: Getty Images
Image: Getty Images

After winning Iowa easily, he could have the primary in effect wrapped up by the end of February

Iowa is supposed to surprise. Ted Cruz won there in 2016, Rick Santorum in 2012, Mike Huckabee in 2008. There was no upset this year: Donald Trump won the Iowa caucuses by 30 points, in line with his polling lead before Iowans gathered in a blizzard to do their thing. Mr Trump won 98 of Iowa’s 99 counties. The only other candidate to win one was Nikki Haley, Mr Trump’s former ambassador to the un. She came first in Johnson County, home to the University of Iowa and therefore a good place to gauge the mood of college-educated Republicans, by a margin of 0.05%. With a few votes yet to be counted, that mini-triumph could yet be reversed.

Mr Trump was magnanimous in victory, congratulating his opponents—one of whom, Vivek Ramaswamy, dropped out and endorsed him. Mr Ramaswamy has called Mr Trump “the best president of the 21st century”, so it was never really clear why he was running against his idol. Mr Trump only releases the crazy when he loses. In 2016, to steal attention from Mr Cruz after his win, he came up with a bizarre riff about the senator’s father being involved in jfk’s assassination. “You need controversy for traction sometimes,” Mr Trump mused before the caucuses this year. Even when he wins, though, Mr Trump still likes to assert his dominance by making things up and watching his fans accept them as truth: he claimed to have won the Iowa caucuses for the third time in a row.

One early conclusion from the Republican primary is that there is not much appetite among Republicans for Trump fans like Mr Ramaswamy when the real thing is on offer. Ron DeSantis, whose political rise can be dated to a video in which his infant daughter appeared in a Make America Great Again onesie, came a very distant second, failing to win a single county despite visiting all of them. But nor is there appetite for a candidate who is straightforwardly opposed to Mr Trump: Chris Christie, who had described the former president as “a liar and a coward”, dropped out before a vote was cast.

That leaves the primary as a race for second place. Next up, on January 23rd, is New Hampshire, where Mr Trump is again ahead in the polls. Journalists are trying to make it into a contest. Trailing candidates repeat the cliché that nobody has voted yet. But Mr Trump is about ten points ahead of Ms Haley in New Hampshire polls, which have a margin of error of plus or minus five points. Looking at the national polls—The Economist’s poll tracker has Mr Trump at 65% and Ms Haley at 11%—it seems likelier that the New Hampshire polls are undercounting Mr Trump’s support than that they conceal a Haley surge. (The same may be true in national polls, which undercounted Mr Trump’s support in 2016 and 2020.)

If Mr Trump were to win in New Hampshire he would still need to wait until Super Tuesday, at the beginning of March, to build an insurmountable lead in the delegate count. In political terms, though, if he wins in New Hampshire and comes first in South Carolina’s primary on February 24th, beating Ms Haley in her home state, the contest would be over. Mr Trump would then be the de facto Republican nominee when he is due to appear as the defendant in court in Washington, dc, on March 4th, accused of attempting to overturn the result of the 2020 presidential election. One of the charges in that case carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. The slow-moving collision of America’s electoral system with its courts, from which neither can escape unhurt, just came a little nearer. ■

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