U.S Election

Trump dominates with Republicans, and 5 other takeaways from Iowa caucuses

Author: Tal Axelrod Source: ABC GMA
January 16, 2024 at 06:14

Turnout was very low and Trump's challengers didn't gain great traction.

Donald Trump dominated the Iowa caucuses on Monday, taking his first important step to his third straight GOP presidential nomination and delivering a blow to his rivals, who had hoped to capitalize on his legal troubles and earlier signs the base might be ready to move on from him.

Not so: Trump is projected by ABC News to have defeated Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley by about 30 points. DeSantis is projected to come in second, with about 21% of the vote; and Haley to come in third, taking about 19%.

New Hampshire will hold the next nominating contest with a Jan. 23 primary, and it could offer a more mixed bag for Trump given that independents and undeclared voters can participate there.

But Iowa's results -- and the widespread evidence that key conservative voting blocs continue to embrace Trump, as seen in entrance polling -- marked an unquestionable win for the former president as the 2024 got underway.

Here are six takeaways from the caucus results.
 

The base is Trump's

Unlike Democrats' caucuses in Iowa in 2020, which was ultimately out of step with what the party voters nationwide wanted, this year's Republican caucuses seem to have included relatively good representation of the larger GOP base around the country.

The state is overwhelmingly white and rural, and the percentage of residents with a college education is below the national average. It's states like Iowa that represent the base of the modern Republican Party, built on very conservative, older and evangelical voters -- and Trump cleaned up.

His overwhelming victory among voters who make up the heart of the GOP -- and the primary electorate -- underscores the daunting task facing Haley and DeSantis, as well as his other critics not running for office, who have now spent months on the trail and tens of millions of dollars trying to tamp down the former president's influence over the party.

What's more, the extent to which Republican voters in Iowa have signed on to Trump's personal issues and embraced him even more than in past cycles was made clear in the entrance poll of caucusgoers.

PHOTO: Former President Donald Trump speaks at his caucus night event at the Iowa Events Center, Jan. 15, 2024 in Des Moines, Iowa.
Former President Donald Trump speaks at his caucus night event at the Iowa Events Center, Jan. 15, 2024 in Des Moines, Iowa.
Alex Wong/Getty Images


According to an analysis of the entrance poll, 65% of GOP voters said they don't think President Joe Biden legitimately won the presidency in 2020, echoing Trump's baseless claims of fraud, and 63% percent said they'd consider Donald Trump fit for office even if he were convicted of a crime. Nearly half said they're part of the "MAGA movement" that Trump started.

Ideologically, 88% of caucusgoers said they are conservative, matching the high in Iowa GOP entrance polls, including 51% who identified as "very" conservative. Trump ended up winning 54% of conservative voters, about 30 points better than in 2016. And he won "very" conservative voters with 60% -- about 40 points better than his 2016 showing in that group.


DeSantis hangs onto second place

DeSantis is set to nab second place, claiming some success in a state where he had essentially staked his entire campaign -- and seen his poll numbers weaken somewhat in recent days.

Anything less than being No. 2 would likely have marked an embarrassment for a candidate who, along with a deep-pocketed political group, dumped enormous amounts of money into Iowa while building up an operation to persuade and motivate as many voters as possible. Speculation had even mounted over whether DeSantis might drop out if he placed third.

Instead, on Monday, his campaign said they were ready to keep competing.

"This is going to be a long battle ahead, but that is what this campaign is built for. The stakes are too high for this nation, and we will not back down," one senior DeSantis official said.
 

PHOTO: Republican presidential candidate Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks at his caucus night event, Jan. 15, 2024 in West Des Moines, Iowa.
Republican presidential candidate Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks at his caucus night event, Jan. 15, 2024 in West Des Moines, Iowa.
Scott Olson/Getty Images


Nonetheless, the night wasn't all good news for DeSantis.

Trump still looks like he'll end up winning by a huge amount -- demolishing the past record for a margin of victory in an Iowa GOP caucus of 12 points.

The results also mark a disappointment for Haley and her surrogates after the South Carolina Republican saw a consistent bump in polling since September, including recent Iowa polls showing her narrowly running ahead of DeSantis.

The narrow divide in Monday's caucus results between her and DeSantis means that no candidate can claim the clear mantle of Trump alternative.

A campaign spokesperson had said last week that "there's only going to be two tickets out of Iowa," while New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, a top Haley surrogate, predicted earlier this month that she would "shock everyone in Iowa with a strong second" there.

Haley, like DeSantis vowed on Monday that she will "continue on."

"We're gonna make you proud, and we're off to New Hampshire," she told supporters.
 

PHOTO: Republican presidential candidate and former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley speaks to the crowd at a caucus night party in West Des Moines, Iowa, Jan. 15, 2024.
Republican presidential candidate and former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley speaks to the crowd at a caucus night party in West Des Moines, Iowa, Jan. 15, 2024.
Marco Bello/Reuters

 

Ramaswamy bows out

Entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy suspended his presidential campaign shortly after being projected to finish a distant fourth in the caucuses, failing to break 8%.

Ramaswamy had also invested heavily in Iowa and was a ubiquitous presence on the trail, visiting all 99 state counties twice.

Iowans historically receive outsized media attention because they are first to vote in each presidential nominating contest. But Ramaswamy's poor showing led some observers to question the value of in-person campaigning to Iowa's voters -- and the value of so closely covering the comings-and-goings in the state. (Trump, on the other hand, campaigned relatively little.)

The entrance poll also showed 80% of caucusgoers had already made up their mind about voting earlier this month or before that -- calling into question the value of the extensive campaigning the candidates did.
 

PHOTO: Republican presidential candidate and businessman Vivek Ramaswamy speaks to supporters at his Iowa caucus night watch party after suspending his campaign in Des Moines, Iowa, Jan. 15, 2024.
Republican presidential candidate and businessman Vivek Ramaswamy speaks to supporters at his Iowa caucus night watch party after suspending his campaign in Des Moines, Iowa, Jan. 15, 2024.
Sergio Flores/Reuters


Ramaswamy had experienced a polling bump around the first primary debate last summer and then largely plateaued before breaking through, leaning heavily on a hard-line message of support for Trump, culture war issues and conspiracy theories, including falsely suggesting that the Jan. 6, 2021, riot on Capitol Hill was an "inside job."

Ramaswamy's national profile did rise -- and he suggested Monday that he isn't planning on leaving the spotlight.

"Apoorva and I, we're not going anywhere," he told a crowd in Iowa, standing alongside his wife. "We're just getting warmed up."
 

Voters care less about electability against Biden

Both DeSantis and Haley have been making the argument that Trump can't beat Biden -- despite polling suggesting otherwise. But it doesn't seem like that's the argument voters were looking for in Iowa.

About 14% caucusgoers said the most important factor in deciding their vote was finding the person who "can defeat Joe Biden," and 12% of voters prioritized voting for the candidate with the "right temperament," per the entrance poll analysis.

Roughly 75% of caucusgoers prioritized a candidate who "shares my values" or "fights for people like me."

Haley, who touted her more expansive polling advantage over Biden than Trump's, was able to win the majority of caucusgoers who wanted the right temperament but basically tied the former president with voters who prioritized electability.

Trump won 43% of voters who were looking for shared values -- a huge jump from just 5% with the group in 2016 -- and won 82% of voters who were looking for a candidate who "fights for people like me."
 

Trump, Biden already focusing on the general election

Given Trump's increasing odds of winning the GOP nomination -- and his overwhelming win Monday -- both he and Biden are already focusing on the general election in the fall.

Speaking on Monday night in Iowa, Trump zeroed in on how he feels the White House's policies have hurt Americans and the world, including calling out energy, immigration and foreign policy.

"I don't want to be overly rough on the president. But I have to say that he is the worst president that we've had in the history of our country. He's destroying our country," Trump said.

Democrats, for their part, seized on Trump's Monday win to rev up their own base.

"Donald Trump is the official 2024 Republican presidential frontrunner, and we need to do everything we can to defeat him. We cannot run the risk of Trump -- or any MAGA extremist -- being at the helm of our democracy again," Biden's campaign wrote in a fundraising text.
 

Turnout sinks amid terrible weather

Turnout was flat out lousy in Iowa Monday, which saw sub-zero temperatures.

The state Republican Party estimated that about 100,000 people voted in the caucuses -- falling short of the record set in 2016, when 187,000 people voted in the GOP caucuses.

The 2016 record broke the party's previous 2012 record of 121,000, which itself topped the 2008 record of 119,000.

There are more than 750,000 registered Republicans in Iowa, so Monday's results represent the views of a fraction of one state's branch of one political party.

Still, the state GOP touted the turnout.

"Early results indicate that we are on track to have around 100,000 Iowans participating in the 2024 First-in-the-Nation Iowa Caucus. Iowans braved record-low temperatures after a blizzard blanketed their state just days earlier to deliberate with members of their community about the future of our country and participate in true, grassroots democracy," said state party chair Jeff Kaufmann.

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