Jan 16, 2024 - Politics & Policy

What Trump's Iowa win reveals about the Republican Party

Photo: Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Beneath the top lines of the Iowa caucuses are a stack of insights about a Republican Party whose transformation under Donald Trump seems bound to end in two ways come November: coronation or self-immolation.

Why it matters: There are limits to what we can glean from a low-turnout, snowy contest in one of the least diverse states in the country. But what we did learn will shape expectations for both the general election and a GOP primary that may end in historically short order.

1. 41% of Iowa caucusgoers said the most important quality in a candidate is someone who "shares my values," according to entrance polls by Edison Research — virtually identical to the percentage that expressed that sentiment in 2016.

  • Trump won 5% of those voters in 2016, but 43% in yesterday's caucuses — underscoring the remarkable degree to which the Republican electorate has been remade in the former president's image.

2. Another data point showcasing that stark reality: Nearly two-thirds of Iowa caucusgoers said President Biden did not legitimately win the 2020 election.

  • Trump's false claims about widespread voter fraud continue to live at the center of his campaign, even after election-denying candidates he backed were overwhelmingly rejected in the 2022 midterms.

3. While 65% of caucusgoers said they would still consider Trump fit for president if he were convicted of a crime, 31% said they would not.

  • That could be huge in the general election, in which a few thousand swing voters in a few swing states could see a Trump conviction — which isn't inevitable — as a reason to sit out or vote for President Biden.

4. 61% of caucusgoers said they would support a federal law banning most or all abortions nationwide, reflecting the power of evangelical voters in Iowa's Republican politics.

  • Despite Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis' explicit appeal to these voters, he won just 25% of them to Trump's 55%.
  • That suggests they care more about Trump's role in appointing the Supreme Court justices who overturned Roe v. Wade than his criticism of Republicans who favor strict abortion bans.

The big picture: Trump's historic victory in Iowa gave his supporters cause to celebrate on nearly every level. But it also electrified the Biden campaign, which is eager to paint November's election as a binary choice.

  • 75% of undecided voters targeted by Biden do not yet believe Trump will be his opponent, according to internal polling obtained by The Messenger — giving the president's campaign every incentive to establish November's likely matchup in the public consciousness.
  • "We need to work even harder now. If Donald Trump is our opponent, we can expect vile attacks, endless lies and massive spending," the campaign declared in a fundraising email last night.

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