For some Americans, it’s a nightmare from which they cannot wake, but for others it’s a new chapter in the Maga saga
For the millions of Americans who abhor Donald Trump, there was a similar sensation on Monday night as the former US president swaggered out on stage in Des Moines, having just scored a resounding victory in the first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses.
It was an eerie replay of 2016 and all those shocking nights when reality TV star Trump won primaries and eventually the presidency. It was as if the coronavirus pandemic, the Black Lives Matter protests, the defeat by Joe Biden, the January 6 insurrection and the 91 charges across four criminal cases had all been a fever dream.
“It was a profoundly depressing night,” Tim Miller, former communications director for Jeb Bush 2016, told the MSNBC network. “Donald Trump attempted a coup three years ago and he is on a glide path to the biggest blowout in a presidential contest in any of our lives.”
Trump won big in Iowa. With an estimated 99% of the vote counted, Trump was at 51%, meaning that he had more support than all other candidates combined despite scarcely campaigning there. It was easily the biggest ever victory by a Republican in the Iowa causes. The icing on the cake was Trump-lite Ron DeSantis’s second place finish at 21.2%, blunting the charge of Nikki Haley with 19.1% ahead of the New Hampshire primary.
Trump wins in Iowa as Republican contest kicks off 2024 presidential race – video
Mike Murphy, a Republican strategist, tweeted: “Trump could not have gotten a better night out of Iowa. He wins big, his most lethal opponent gets squelched into third place, damping her momentum.”
The former president’s victory confirmed the worst-kept secret in politics: he is master and commander of the Republican party. Kamikaze candidates such as Chris Christie and Asa Hutchinson tried and failed to take him down. Others, like DeSantis and Haley, found that mostly ignoring the frontrunner was no way to beat him either.
The result came so quickly that not many people had yet gathered at Trump’s election watch party in Des Moines. There was no great cheer to celebrate the moment. But soon hundreds of Trump supporters came to cavernous hall at the Iowa Events Center, many sporting “Maga” regalia, partaking of beer and popcorn that the organizers provided.
“It’s like a January 6 reunion,” one journalist observed wryly.
The crowd included new stars of the Maga universe: Florida congressman Matt Gaetz, Georgia congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene, former Arizona gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake, Texas congressman Ronny Jackson, British demagogue Nigel Farage and far-right activist Laura Loomer.
Some may be angling for jobs in a second Trump administration, one that might make his first cabinet look like a model of professionalism and propriety.
The ex-president walked on stage to whoops and cheers, accompanied by sons Don Jr and Eric but not wife Melania or daughters Ivanka or Tiffany. Above him were two giant screens that proclaimed “Trump wins Iowa!” in white capital letters on a black background. Numerous stars-and-stripes flags completed the backdrop. The lectern said: “Trump: Make America great again.”
Trump began his speech in unusually magnanimous fashion but soon indicated that he thinks the nomination is wrapped up and he is looking ahead to November. He said, “We’re going to drill baby drill,” and the crowd roared.
He went on, “We’re going to seal up the border,” and again the crowd roared. “Now we have an invasion – millions and millions of people that are coming into our country.”
Trump moved on to bashing Biden. “I don’t want to be overly rough on the president, but I have to say he is the worst president we ever had in the history of our country … Jimmy Carter is happy now because he will go down as being a brilliant president by comparison to Joe Biden.”
But for all the Maga grotesques in the room, perhaps there was no more significant figure on stage than Doug Burgum, the governor of North Dakota, the first Republican primary candidate to drop out and endorse Trump.
The former president thanked him. Then came the tell: “He’s one of the best governors in our country and I hope that I’m going to be able to call on you to be a piece of the administration, a very important piece of the administration.”
It was another chilling echo of 2016 when, one by one, Trump’s opponents and critics buckled and backed him, often because they saw it as a pathway to power. Once again, the Republican party is bending to the will of the brash would-be authoritarian.
Trump clearly feels more comfortable running as an insurgent than an incumbent. He wants to turn back the clock to 2016 rather than 2020. Is Joe Biden doomed to be Hillary Clinton, or can he be Joe Biden again?
There is a familiar scene in many a film where the protagonist jolts awake from a terrible nightmare, only to realise that he or she didn’t wake up at all: the nightmare continues