Trump Wins Iowa. Now What?

DeSantis edges Haley for second place, Ramaswamy calls it quits

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January 15, 2024

Donald Trump won the Iowa caucuses on Monday, solidifying his status as the heavy favorite to win the Republican nomination and face President Joe Biden in the general election. The outcome was never in doubt. Media outlets declared Trump the winner shortly after the first results were reported, before some caucusesgoers had even cast their votes.

Trump wasted no time declaring victory. "It really is an honor that, minutes after, they’ve announced I’ve won—against very credible competition—great competition, actually," Trump said. "It is a tremendous thing and a tremendous feeling."

At the time of his remarks, with just 3 percent of votes counted, Trump led the field with 51 percent of the vote. The answer to the most compelling question heading into caucus night—Which of Trump's rivals will finish second?—was not immediately clear.

Several hours later, Florida governor Ron DeSantis appeared to secure the honor, carrying 21 percent of the vote to former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley's 19 percent with 94 percent of the votes counted; 38-year-old entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy finished in a distant fourth.

Not everyone was thrilled that Trump was declared the winner so quickly. DeSantis spokesman Andrew Romeo slammed the early call as an "outrageous" example of "election interference" on Trump's behalf, and several journalists questioned the media's decision to announce a winner before all the votes had been cast.

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The second-place finish could give DeSantis a much-needed boost, but Haley is also strongly positioned. She leads DeSantis by double digits in the upcoming primary states of New Hampshire and South Carolina, according to the RealClearPolitics polling average. She is polling within striking distance of Trump in the Granite State, which holds its primary next Tuesday.

Both candidates on Monday sought to manage expectations ahead of the caucuses as temperatures dipped below zero across much of the Hawkeye State. Haley's campaign touted Trump's boastful prediction that he would win Iowa by 60 points, presumably in an effort to frame his (inevitably) less impressive victory as a failure.

Team DeSantis presented a similar challenge to Haley, suggesting it was "second place or bust" for the rival candidate. Anything less would be "an embarrassing loss" for Haley, the pro-DeSantis super PAC Never Back Down wrote in an email to supporters. DeSantis himself took a shot at Trump on Monday morning, telling supporters at a rally in Sergeant Bluff that "not a lot" of people "who served in [Trump's] administration are willing to publicly support him."

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Recent polling suggests Haley and DeSantis would beat Biden if the general election were held today—Haley by eight points, DeSantis by three points, according to a CBS News poll published over the weekend. That same poll showed Trump also leading Biden (by two points) in a head-to-head matchup, which will blunt his rivals' ability to cast themselves as more "electable" ahead of New Hampshire and South Carolina, where Trump is poised to win comfortably absent a significant shift in the dynamics of the race.

Trump ramped up the attacks on his Republican opponents in the days leading up to the Iowa caucuses. Haley was "a Globalist RINO" who could "never win in the General Election," while "Ron DeSanctimonious" was "MAGA-Lite" and didn't have what it takes. Trump's campaign press secretary slammed Haley as "Joe Biden in a dress."

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The former president continued to roll out high-profile GOP endorsements over the weekend, with Sens. Mike Lee (Utah) and Marco Rubio (Fla.) announcing their support for Trump. The results in Iowa will put pressure on elected Republicans who have yet to endorse a candidate to make their choices known.

Trump was slightly more conciliatory during his victory speech in Des Moines. He congratulated "Ron and Nikki" for doing "very well" and Ramaswamy for doing "a hell of job," while politely suggesting they give up and drop out already. "I really think this is time now for everybody, our country, to come together," he said. "It would be so nice if we could come together and straighten out the world and straighten out the problems and straighten out all the death and destruction that we’re seeing." 

Moments later, Ramaswamy ended his campaign and endorsed Trump. "Everyone of us in this room has done our part to save this country," he told supporters. "But we're a campaign founded on the truth, and so that's why we've made that decision today."

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