Trump Secures Dominant Victory in Iowa Caucuses, Sets Stage for New Hampshire Showdown in 2024 Republican Primary

Former President Trump was anticipated to secure a decisive victory in the Iowa caucuses, marking the initial significant trial of the 2024 Republican primary race, as reported by Decision Desk HQ.

In the lead-up to the Hawkeye State’s caucuses, Trump maintained a substantial lead in polling averages over his closest rival, with signs suggesting that he was garnering increased support and drawing backing from evangelical Iowans. Expressing confidence in his success, Trump declared at a rally in the weeks leading to the caucuses, “We’re going to win the Iowa caucuses and then we’re going to crush crooked Joe Biden next November.”

Fox News featured this statement in the introduction to a recent town hall broadcast with Trump, coinciding with a debate between rivals Nikki Haley and Ron DeSantis on CNN. Decision Desk HQ officially declared Trump the winner just before 9 p.m. Eastern, leaving the second-place position in suspense, with Haley and DeSantis in a tight race.

Despite DeSantis’ significant investment in Iowa and securing the endorsement of Gov. Kim Reynolds (R), his projected loss to Trump poses a substantial obstacle for his campaign going forward.

“The people of Iowa sent a clear message tonight: Donald Trump will be the next Republican nominee for President. It’s now time to make him the next President of the United States,” asserted Alex Pfeiffer, communications director for the pro-Trump super PAC Make America Great Again Inc., following the Iowa race announcement.

With the focus now shifting to New Hampshire, which is set to host its first-in-the-nation Republican primary on Jan. 23, attention is drawn to the competition between Trump and Haley. Despite her Iowa setback, Haley has been narrowing the gap in New Hampshire, although Trump maintains a considerable lead in the state.

Political strategists posit that a dual triumph for Trump in both Iowa and New Hampshire could be a game-changer for the rest of the election cycle, making it exceedingly challenging for another GOP candidate to catch up before the general election.

In Trump’s 2016 presidential bid, he faced a setback in Iowa, losing to then-candidate Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), but subsequently rebounded by winning in New Hampshire and securing the nomination. In the current race, Trump positions himself as a de facto incumbent, striving to return to the White House. However, he confronts significant hurdles, including multiple criminal indictments and ongoing legal battles nationwide.

Trump’s eligibility to run is further complicated by efforts in some states to remove him from the ballot. Last month, Colorado’s Supreme Court ruled that Trump is disqualified from the race under the 14th Amendment’s insurrection clause, citing his actions around Jan. 6, 2021. Similarly, Maine’s Secretary of State also disqualified Trump under the 14th Amendment.

Despite these legal challenges, Trump portrays them as politically motivated attacks, characterizing himself as the victim of a “witch hunt” as he seeks another term. Meanwhile, fellow Republican candidates find themselves in a delicate position as they strive to campaign against Trump without alienating his supporters, crucial for gaining ground in the race.

During a CNN debate in Iowa, both Haley and DeSantis voiced reservations about another Trump term but predominantly directed their criticism at each other. The unexpected withdrawal of former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie from the race last week added an element of surprise. Although Christie used the opportunity to caution against another Trump presidency, he was inadvertently captured on a hot mic disparaging both Haley and DeSantis.

Trump, unfazed by speculation that Haley could benefit from Christie’s exit, dismissed concerns during his Fox News town hall, stating, “I have polls that show me leading by a tremendous amount in New Hampshire and a lot in Iowa. And nationwide, we’re leading by almost 60 points. So, I’m not exactly worried about it. I think we’re going to do very well in New Hampshire.”

As the primary spotlight shifts to New Hampshire, the unfolding dynamics will reveal whether Trump can maintain his lead and solidify his position as the frontrunner in the Republican primary race.

Entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy Withdraws from Republican Presidential Race, Throws Support Behind Trump

Vivek Ramaswamy, a 38-year-old entrepreneur and political novice, who had initially gained attention for his bold policy proposals and self-assured demeanor, has exited the competition for the Republican White House nomination following a disappointing fourth-place finish in the Iowa caucuses.

Expressing his disappointment in Des Moines on Monday night, Ramaswamy acknowledged, “We did not achieve the surprise that we wanted to deliver tonight.”

Despite initially being an unlikely contender, Ramaswamy, who financed much of his campaign through his personal fortune amassed in biotechnology and finance, aligned himself closely with former President Donald J. Trump. He pledged unwavering support for Trump, even in the face of potential felony convictions, promising a pardon if elected to the White House. Additionally, he vowed to remove his name voluntarily from states that succeeded in disqualifying Trump from the ballot as an “insurrectionist” under the Constitution.

However, just two days before the Iowa caucuses, the tables turned as Trump’s campaign labeled Ramaswamy a fraud. The former president, who had previously shown warmth toward his would-be rival, urged voters to reject Ramaswamy and vote for him.

At that point, Ramaswamy, a Harvard-educated individual, had embraced increasingly apocalyptic conspiracy theories. He spoke of a “system” plotting against Trump’s return to office, insinuating the installation of a “puppet,” Nikki Haley. He also labeled the January 6, 2021, Capitol attack as an “inside job” orchestrated by federal law enforcement, and began propagating the unfounded and racist theory of “replacement,” falsely claiming that Democrats were importing immigrants of color to replace white people.

During a Republican primary debate, Ramaswamy defended this theory, stating, “is not some grand right-wing conspiracy theory but a basic statement of the Democratic Party’s platform.”

Initially positioning himself as someone with superior knowledge of the Constitution and civil service laws, Ramaswamy promised to take Trump’s America First agenda further. This included immediate executive orders to eliminate the Department of Education, F.B.I., and Internal Revenue Service, cut the federal workforce by 75 percent through mass layoffs without congressional approval, and withdraw from foreign military commitments, beginning with Ukraine and extending to Israel and Taiwan.

While his isolationist foreign policy drew criticism, his bleak portrayal of millennial and Generation Z voters resonated surprisingly well with older voters. Despite clashes with Republican rivals, where he mocked Governor Ron DeSantis and labeled Nikki Haley a China stooge, Ramaswamy gained traction initially, securing third place in national polling, just behind DeSantis, after the first Republican debate.

However, as his attempts to gain attention continued and a penchant for stretching the truth became apparent, Ramaswamy slipped back in the polls. The September debate featured a sharp exchange with Haley, who expressed feeling “a little bit dumber” every time she heard him. By the November debate, Haley went further, calling him “just scum” after he accused her of hypocrisy regarding China due to her daughter’s use of TikTok.

Despite initially holding second place in New Hampshire during late summer, Ramaswamy’s momentum dwindled, and his extensive campaigning in Iowa failed to restore his standing. Privately, he had shared a strategy with backers to align with Trump in the hope that Trump’s legal battles would force him out, making Ramaswamy the logical choice for Trump’s ardent supporters. However, with Trump firmly staying in the race, Ramaswamy’s strategy and self-funding of nearly $17 million proved unsustainable by the end of September.

In Iowa and beyond, evangelical Christian voters follow their party more than their faith

(RNS) — The drive between Eastern Illinois University, where Ryan Burge teaches political science, and Mt. Vernon, Illinois, where he is pastor of a small Baptist church, takes a little more than an hour and a half. Given his two professions, Burge spends a lot of time while commuting across downstate Illinois’ flat, green expanse thinking about religion and elections.

Among the things Burge says he has learned: Faith for most people matters in the pews and, for some, in day-to-day life. But in the voting booth, politics is king.

“Partisanship is the strongest predictor of vote choice,” said Burge. “It was that way in the 1950s, and it’s that way today. Religion does not matter nearly as much as people think it does.”

As an example, Burge pointed out that when the 2024 presidential campaign season begins in earnest with the Iowa caucuses on Monday (Jan. 15), evangelical Christians are likely to be as faithful to the Republican Party as they have for the past few decades. But with evangelical leaders wielding less influence than they have in the past, their choices are going to be driven primarily by their identification as Republicans, not their faith connections.

Evangelical support in Iowa has played a key role in boosting past candidates, notably George W. Bush in 2000. But Bush was the last Republican launched by Iowa Republicans all the way to the White House. Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor and Southern Baptist preacher, won in 2008. Rick Santorum, a conservative Catholic favored by evangelicals, won in 2012, as did Ted Cruz, son of an evangelical pastor. But Ron DeSantis, the candidate backed this year by the leader of a prominent evangelical group, is trailing badly in the polls.

Michael Wear, a former official in the Obama faith-based office and author of the forthcoming “The Spirit of Our Politics,” while past Republican presidential candidates would come to events seeking the approval of evangelical leaders, evangelicals are now seeking the approval of conservatives.

Wear pointed to a 2023 candidate forum hosted by The Family Leader, a prominent Christian group in the state. Rather than have an evangelical leader or pastor interview candidates at its Family Leadership Summit, organizers invited former Fox News host Tucker Carlson to play that role. “It shows evangelicals playing for conservative acceptance, as opposed to Republicans playing for evangelical acceptance,” Wear said.

Bob Vander Plaats, president of The Family Leader, long described as Iowa’s evangelical kingmaker for his role in backing Huckabee, Santorum and Cruz, is backing Ron DeSantis this year. The Florida governor trails Trump by more than 35 percentage points, according to FiveThirtyEight.

In a recent op-ed for the Des Moines Register, Vander Plaats argued that while Trump is a friend, his candidacy is doomed. “While Trump could very well win the primary, the system and the sheer number of Trump haters will never allow him to win the presidency,” he wrote. Iowans, evangelical or not, don’t seem to be convinced.

Evangelicals in Iowa and beyond may simply be seeing the downside of their alliance with the Republican Party. In the late 1990s, legendary religious right leaders Paul Weyrich, a co-founder of the Council for National Policy, Gary Bauer, then president of the Family Research Council, and Southern Baptist ethicist and activist Richard Land pushed Republican leaders to deliver on promises made to evangelicals when they came on board as the moral majority in the late 1970s.

These ’90s leaders were angry that their support for Republicans hadn’t led to many results on issues like abortion. “The go-along, get-along strategy is dead,” Land, then president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, told The New York Times in 1998. “No more engagement. We want a wedding ring, we want a ceremony, we want a consummation of the marriage.”

Those promises would eventually be cinched by Trump, who as president delivered the Supreme Court conservative majority that spelled the end of Roe v. Wade, long an evangelical goal. Some evangelicals thought the cost was too high. Trump, a twice-divorced reality TV star, shared few of their beliefs, and they bridled at his caustic rhetoric.

Bob Vander Plaats speaks at the 2015 Presidential Family Forum, hosted by the Family Leader, at the Iowa Events Center in Des Moines, Iowa. (Photo by Gage Skidmore/Flickr/Creative Commons)

Bob Vander Plaats speaks at the 2015 Presidential Family Forum, hosted by The Family Leader, at the Iowa Events Center in Des Moines, Iowa. (Photo by Gage Skidmore/Flickr/Creative Commons)

But by 2023, faith-based politicos like Vander Plaats are finding the wished-for marriage didn’t put them in charge. Christian leaders who oppose Trump on ethical grounds now often find themselves exiled from fellow believers who more than ever want to vote for their man, not their spirituality.

Burge speculated that many evangelical leaders treat Trump as some mainstream Republicans in Congress do: back him in public, afraid of the consequences of opposing him, while griping about him behind the scenes.

“A lot of pastors are publicly saying nothing or giving tacit approval of Trump, and then going home to their wives and saying, ‘This is stupid. I don’t want this,’” said Burge. “They are in a terrible spot.”

Ryan Burge. (Courtesy photo)

Ryan Burge. (Courtesy photo)

Evangelicals, however, may determine the race for second place. Former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, who served as Trump’s ambassador to the United Nations, “needs to get DeSantis out of this race,” said Wear. “If she comes second in Iowa, I think that will do it, and if she’s going to do that, she needs to at least hold her own among evangelicals.”

Complicating the picture further is the statistical difficulty in separating voters’ religion from their political allegiance. Some white evangelicals, especially those who aren’t churchgoers, appear to be less motivated by faith than fear about their declining influence in America, driven by demographics and cultural change, said Burge.

“In some ways what you’re seeing is the death throes of a majority religion in its final days,” he said. “And it’s not pretty.”

Brent Leatherwood, president of the ERLC, the public policy entity of the Southern Baptist Convention, suspects that Trump will win the Iowa caucuses and go on to win the Republican nomination, setting up “a replay” of the 2020 election.

“What’s ironic,” he said, “is that it seems no one really wants that.”

Leatherwood, a former executive director of the Tennessee Republican Party, said that when he became ERLC president, he pledged not to try to tell people who to vote for. Instead, he’s focused on the ethical principles that should guide Christians in politics.

He believes that voters are tired of the political, social and economic chaos and polarization of recent years and would like to see some stability in the nation’s leadership.

“They want some peace and quiet on the political arena,” he said. “Think about all the political, social, and cultural upheavals that we’ve seen over the last 15 years. The Great Recession. Obergefell. The drama of the 2016 election. COVID. Jan. 6. The end of Roe. Historic levels of inflation. That’s not even accounting for what we are seeing on the international stage.”

Brent Leatherwood speaks during the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in Anaheim, California, on Wednesday, June 15, 2022. RNS photo by Justin L. Stewart
Brent Leatherwood speaks during the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in Anaheim, California, on Wednesday, June 15, 2022. RNS photo by Justin L. Stewart

It’s unlikely, he added, that any candidate will be able to deliver that, no matter their party. “I’m not sure that it is reasonable to expect calm, and no candidate has a magic wand or a set of principles or a group of advisers that he or she can call upon, to set the world at ease.”

Leatherwood said Christians ought to be wary of being closely tied to political parties or the temptation to ignore principles in favor of political gains. Instead, he said, candidates should be evaluated on their ethics and their policies.

If no candidate is fit for office, he added, evangelicals and other Christians should consider withholding their vote. “A principled abstention by a sizable enough group of voters,” he said, “would send an important message.”

2024 Republican Contenders DeSantis and Haley Challenge Trump’s Nomination, Showcase Policy Positions in CNN Town Halls

In the lead-up to the Iowa caucuses, two prominent 2024 Republican presidential contenders, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, sought to sway voters by challenging the assumption that former President Donald Trump is a shoo-in for the party’s nomination. Both emphasized the potential risks of nominating Trump again, suggesting it could jeopardize the GOP’s chances in the November election. The candidates also aimed to showcase their own electability and distinct policy positions.

During a CNN town hall, DeSantis aimed to present a more relatable persona, starting the event by handing a jersey to CNN moderator Kaitlan Collins in a lighthearted gesture. He then delved into policy, expressing support for a “flat tax” and advocating for the abolition of the Internal Revenue Service. In contrast, Haley emphasized her readiness to tackle challenging issues, highlighting fiscal responsibility, advocating robust support for Israel in its conflict with Hamas, and recounting her efforts to remove the Confederate flag from the South Carolina statehouse grounds during her governorship.

Both candidates raised concerns about the potential impact of Trump’s legal battles on the party’s ability to defeat President Joe Biden in the general election. They did not directly criticize Trump over the legal challenges he faces but framed him as a candidate whose personal controversies could harm the GOP’s chances. Haley asserted that the country couldn’t afford “four more years of chaos,” emphasizing the need for stability.

Here are six key takeaways from their CNN town halls:

Setting Expectations

Despite polls indicating Trump’s lead in Iowa, both DeSantis and Haley insisted they were committed to competing until the last moment. DeSantis encouraged voters not to let media or pundits influence their decision, emphasizing the importance of choosing the best president. Haley acknowledged the significance of the New Hampshire primary for her campaign but underscored her determination to fight until the end in Iowa and every state.

Taking on Trump

Both candidates argued that nominating Trump for a third consecutive time posed a risk for the Republican Party. While avoiding direct criticism of Trump’s legal challenges, they portrayed him as a candidate whose personal drama could hinder the GOP. Haley stressed the need for stability, stating, “We have a country to save, and that means no more drama.” DeSantis acknowledged the boost Trump received from his legal troubles in the primary but warned Iowa voters of potential damage in the general election.

DeSantis’ Evolution

DeSantis displayed a different demeanor in the town hall compared to earlier appearances in the 2024 Republican primary. He adopted a more relatable tone, using folksy language and refraining from immediately addressing social issues like transgender healthcare bans or abortion. DeSantis positioned himself as a candidate running for the average voter, signaling a departure from his previous image as overly stiff and unrelatable.

Addressing Gun Violence

The town hall occurred hours after a school shooting in Perry, Iowa. DeSantis addressed the issue of gun violence, referencing reforms passed in Florida after the Parkland shooting. He emphasized the importance of mental health and instant background checks, expressing opposition to mandatory waiting periods. Haley focused on mental health and security measures for schools, opposing restrictions on gun rights and advocating a holistic approach.

Haley’s Civil War Answer

Haley revisited a controversial moment from the previous week when she failed to mention slavery when discussing the Civil War. Acknowledging her mistake, she explained that she was thinking beyond slavery and focused on the lessons learned. She also shared personal experiences dealing with racism, emphasizing the need to show commonality rather than differences.

DeSantis on Abortion

DeSantis faced persistent questions about his stance on abortion, adopting a softer tone while reaffirming his anti-abortion record. He was evasive about the onus on women to access exceptions in Florida’s six-week prohibition. DeSantis also criticized Trump from the right on abortion, suggesting a misalignment between Trump’s current positions and his earlier beliefs, particularly for pro-life voters in Iowa.

DeSantis and Haley strategically positioned themselves as viable alternatives to Trump, emphasizing the potential risks of his candidacy and presenting their own policy positions and electability. The town halls provided insight into their evolving campaign strategies and their efforts to appeal to a broader audience, addressing issues ranging from taxes and gun violence to historical controversies.