Jan 16, 2024 - Politics & Policy

31 minutes: Trump's historic Iowa victory puts America on notice

Photo: JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images

The astonishing speed and sweep of former President Trump's victory in the Iowa caucuses last night delivered a massive wakeup call to Republican skeptics still dreaming of a post-MAGA world.

Why it matters: Inevitability has been the prevailing theme of Trump's quest for a third straight GOP nomination. His historic win in Iowa — declared by the networks just 31 minutes after caucusing began — moves the country one step closer to the longest general election campaign in modern history.

3 takeaways from Iowa

1. Trump's perfect night.

  • He couldn't have scripted it any better: Trump won 98 of 99 counties in Iowa, dominating virtually every demographic while physically campaigning in the state far less than any of his top rivals.
  • Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis edged out former UN ambassador Nikki Haley for a distant second place — giving both an incentive to stay in the race and further divide voters searching for a Trump alternative.
  • Vivek Ramaswamy, who had sought to brand himself as the MAGA movement's heir apparent, suspended his campaign after a disappointing fourth-place finish and quickly endorsed Trump.
  • Trump was in rare form early in his victory speech, urging the party to "come together" behind him and complimenting DeSantis, Haley and Ramaswamy without the usual insults — a subtle power move that seemed to signal his team will ramp up the pressure on his remaining rivals to drop out.

2. DeSantis cries "election interference."

  • The Florida governor's campaign staff and allies spent much of the night furiously attacking the media for calling the race for Trump before some caucus-goers had even cast their votes.
  • "The media is in the tank for Trump and this is the most egregious example yet," DeSantis campaign spokesman Andrew Romeo said in a statement.
  • Still, DeSantis — who predicted six weeks ago that he would win Iowa — celebrated his 30-point loss to Trump and declared onstage that "we've got our ticket punched out of Iowa."

3. Haley's path narrows.

  • Haley, a former South Carolina governor, was counting on a second-place finish in Iowa to knock out DeSantis and set the stage for a stunning upset in independent-minded New Hampshire, where polls show she's within striking distance of Trump.
  • But Haley's momentum from recent debates failed to translate to a surge in Iowa. Her strategy of mining anti-Trump and moderate votes in Iowa's suburbs fell short, and her claim last night that the GOP nomination battle is now a "two-person race" didn't quite land with the force she was hoping for.
  • Haley stopped Trump from sweeping all 99 counties by a margin of just one vote in Johnson County (suburban Cedar Rapids) — an apt metaphor for the daunting task ahead.

What's next: The three top candidates' travel schedules speak volumes about the state of the Republican primary.

  • Haley is heading straight to New Hampshire, where even an upset victory on Jan. 23 may not answer pressing concerns about how she can expand her coalition beyond moderates and college-educated voters.
  • DeSantis is aiming to take the fight to Haley by flying straight to her home state, which holds its GOP primary on Feb. 24. It's a tacit acknowledgment that he's in a deep hole in New Hampshire.
  • Trump, meanwhile, will be in New York on Tuesday — not to campaign, but to attend the first day of trial in writer E. Jean Carroll's defamation lawsuit against Trump for comments he’s continued to make after being found liable for sexually abusing her.
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