On January 15th, the state of Iowa held its GOP caucuses. As the first state to make the voters will be known for the Presidential nominees, they don’t decide the nominee for certain. They sure helped get them on their way since the 1970s when parties started choosing candidates via primaries instead of conventions. In the 50 years since, only two nonincumbent Republican presidential candidates won Iowa and then became the nominee: Bob Dole in 1996 and George W. Bush in 2000.
Blazing down the rails, the Trump Train set a new Iowa caucus record. With the voting opening at 8 pm Eastern on the dot, by 8:30, the caucus had already been called for Donald Trump. The former President already had a sizable lead, and most were all returning to Trump. At 11:30 pm, the New York Times reported Trump had taken 51.8% of the ballots, with 95% of the districts reporting. With FL Gov Ron DeSantis taking a surprising second, he garnered at 21.3%. This mammoth lead was a record-setting achievement.
In 1988, Bob Dole set the bar for winning in a caucus by a 12.8 percent margin. This record stood for decades, but with a 29.7% lead over DeSantis, Trump reset the record. He also beat George W. Bush’s record of total ballots with 41% in 2000. A 10.8% jump over Bush, Trump’s decisive win caused the fastest declaration of a winner in caucus history.
Simply put, the Trump Train is blazing down the tracks at full speed.
With 40 delegates up for grabs and temps well below freezing in multiple polling locations, many wondered just how badly the weather would impact the polls. With slightly over 110,000 ballots cast, the turnout was well below the 752,000 registered Republicans in Iowa. A low turnout, the caucus hasn’t been a massive draw in the last 20+ years. With 187k in 2016, 122k in 2012, and 120k in 2008, this new low isn’t a massive drop off from the years before Trump’s first run.
Per the numbers, Trump is expected to gain 20 of the 40 delegates at stake in the caucus. The remaining 20 will be split up, with DeSantis expected to get at least eight and former SC Governor Nikki Haley with no less than 7. In order to secure the nomination, the candidate will need 1,215 delegates. Just getting these bits of delegates could lead one or both candidates to stretch the race out through Super Tuesday in March or even further.
This kind of division isn’t without its downside, though.
While Vivek Ramaswamy dropped out and took an estimated three delegates with him, he tossed his support behind Trump. This is in keeping with his previous message and his insistence that he would challenge Trump but not cross him. For the remaining candidates, their division of delegates could force donors to make early and sharp decisions on funding campaigns and extend multiple campaigns far beyond a reasonable length.
Taking the Iowa caucus sets Trump on a terrific pathway for New Hampshire, and it sets the tone for what many expect to be a landslide victory. Critics, however, claim that he should have taken Iowa by a much more significant margin. This kind of discussion is likely to bring the GOP members out in droves in New Hampshire and other states.
For DeSantis, coming in second is an achievement. Even if he’s still significantly behind Trump at this point, beating out Haley showcased his prowess among voters. Forcing Ramaswamy to end his campaign by beating him so significantly that he had no chance at second best was no small feat either.
Even with these achievements under his belt, he will need a monumental effort and turn to overturn Trump’s momentum and the trust the American people have in him over Biden. Quite frankly, even with his track record of saving FL, his recent absence from FL makes him far less likely to do much damage in New Hampshire or elsewhere.