Former President Donald Trump scored a record-setting win in the Iowa caucuses on Monday with his rivals languishing far behind, a victory that sent a resounding message that the GOP’s 2024 presidential nomination is his to lose.
Trump was on track to set a record for a contested Iowa Republican caucus with a margin of victory exceeding the nearly 13 percentage points that Bob Dole won by in 1988. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis finished a distant second ahead of former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley.
In what was expected to be a low-turnout affair, caucusgoers endured life-threatening cold and dangerous driving conditions to meet in hundreds of schools, churches and community centers across the state.
Haley plans to compete vigorously in New Hampshire, where she hopes to be more successful with the state’s independent voters heading into the Jan. 23 primary. DeSantis, meanwhile, is heading straight to South Carolina, a conservative stronghold where the Feb. 24 contest could prove pivotal.
Trump has spent much of the past year building a far more professional organization in Iowa than the relatively haphazard effort he oversaw in 2016, when Texas Sen. Ted Cruz carried the caucuses. His team paid special attention to building a sophisticated digital and data operation to regularly engage with potential supporters and ensure they knew how to participate in the caucuses.
His victory party Monday night was dotted with people wearing white “Trump Caucus Captain” hats like the one the former president donned at a rally on Sunday. Captains were responsible for turning out at least 10 caucusgoers for Trump.
“God called us to do that to support Trump,” said 64-year-old David Lage, donning a captain’s hat at the party.
Iowa has been an uneven predictor of who will ultimately lead Republicans into the general election. George W. Bush’s 2000 victory was the last time a Republican candidate won in Iowa and went on to become the party’s standard-bearer.
But Trump was already looking ahead to a potential general election matchup against President Joe Biden as he addressed hundreds of cheering supporters at a caucus site at the Horizon Events Center in Clive, Iowa.
“He is totally destroying our country,” Trump said of Biden. “We were a great nation three years ago and today people are laughing at us.”
Biden’s team, meanwhile, announced that he and the Democratic National Committee raised more than $97 million in the last quarter of 2023 and finished the year with $117 million in the bank, an effort to demonstrate how Biden is preparing for the possible rematch while Trump is still competing in the primary.
The Associated Press declared Trump the winner at 7:31 p.m. CST based on an analysis of early returns as well as results of AP VoteCast, a survey of voters who planned to caucus on Monday night. Both showed Trump with an insurmountable lead.
Initial results from eight counties showed Trump with far more than half of the total votes counted as of 7:31 p.m., with the rest of the field trailing far behind. These counties include rural areas that are demographically and politically similar to a large number of counties that have yet to report.
The Associated Press determined at 11:17 p.m. CST that DeSantis will finish a distant second to Trump. With an estimated 10% of ballots remaining to be counted, DeSantis leads Haley by approximately 2,300 votes, or about 2 percentage points. With votes reported in all but one of Iowa’s 99 counties, Haley isn’t doing well enough anywhere to catch DeSantis, based on the number of outstanding votes.
DeSantis and Haley are competing to emerge as the top alternative to the former president. Haley hopes to compete vigorously in New Hampshire, where she hopes to be more successful with the state’s independent voters heading into the Jan. 23 primary. DeSantis is heading to New Hampshire on Tuesday after a stop in South Carolina, a conservative stronghold where the Feb. 24 contest could prove pivotal.
Before she left, Haley offered a subtle jab at Trump while addressing voters at a same caucus site.
“If you want to move forward with no more vendettas, if you want to move forward with a sense of hope, join us in this caucus,” she said. “I ask for your vote. And I promise you I will make sure every day I focus on what it takes to make you proud.”
Several hundred people rose to their feet in applause.
Trump, meanwhile, was expected to fly to New York Monday night so he could be in court Tuesday. A jury is poised to consider whether he should pay additional damages to a columnist who last year won a $5 million jury award against Trump for sex abuse and defamation.
He will then fly to New Hampshire, the next state in the Republican primary calendar, to hold a rally Tuesday evening.
Trump has made courtroom visits a part of his campaign — heading to court voluntarily twice last week while his opponents campaigned in Iowa — in a strategy that so far is working.
Trump showed significant strength among Iowa’s urban, small-town and rural communities, according to AP VoteCast. He also performed well with evangelical Christians and those without a college degree. And a majority of caucusgoers said that they identify with Trump’s “Make America Great Again” movement.
One relative weakness for Trump comes in the suburbs, where only about 4 in 10 supported him.
AP VoteCast is a survey of more than 1,500 voters who said they planned to take part in the caucuses. The survey is conducted by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.
Entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy and former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson were also on the ballot in Iowa, as was former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who suspended his campaign last week.
Trump’s success tells a remarkable story of a Republican Party unwilling or unable to move on from a flawed front-runner. He lost to Biden in 2020 after fueling near-constant chaos while in the White House, culminating with his supporters carrying out a deadly attack on the U.S. Capitol. In total, he faces 91 felony charges across four criminal cases.
The U.S. Supreme Court is weighing whether states have the ability to block Trump from the ballot for his role in sparking the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. And he’s facing criminal trials in Washington and Atlanta for his efforts to overturn the 2020 election.
Trump has increasingly echoed authoritarian leaders and framed his campaign as one of retribution. He has spoken openly about using the power of government to pursue his political enemies. He has repeatedly harnessed rhetoric once used by Adolf Hitler to argue that immigrants entering the U.S. illegally are “poisoning the blood of our country.” And he recently shared a word cloud last week to his social media account highlighting “revenge,” “power” and “dictatorship.”
Trump’s legal challenges appear to have done little damage to his reputation. Many of his supporters view the charges through a political lens.
About three-quarters of Iowans responding to AP VoteCast said the charges against Trump are political attempts to undermine him, rather than legitimate attempts to investigate important issues.
Meanwhile, Iowa caucus participants were forced to brave the coldest temperatures in caucus history as forecasters warned that “dangerously cold wind chills” as low as 45 degrees below zero Fahrenheit were possible through noon Tuesday. The conditions, according to the National Weather Service, could lead to “frostbite and hypothermia in a matter of minutes if not properly dressed for the conditions.”