Trump wins first race, Ramaswamy ends campaign

The battle for second place in the primary rages on after all

Haley was riding high coming into the caucuses, seemingly cresting a wave of momentum at just the right time. NBC News’ projection that she’ll actually come in third behind DeSantis dashed that idea against the metaphorical rocks as late deciders apparently chose to surge their support over to the Florida governor. It’s a result that keeps alive the DeSantis campaign’s (still delusional) hope that he can find a way to come from behind, or at least keeps it on life support. It also makes it just a bit harder for Haley to make a New Hampshire closing argument that she’s the best chance of preventing a seemingly inevitable Trump nomination.

Trump can’t even fake restraint for a full speech

For a brief moment, Trump’s victory speech in Iowa was — at least by his standards — gracious. He congratulated his opponents, thanked his staff and highlighted local supporters. He even spared a moment for his mother-in-law Amalija Knavs, who passed away last week.

And then, poof: The restraint was gone. Back came the talking points about cities riddled with crime, immigrants threatening the country and elections stolen by Democrats. Trump even claimed he’d won Iowa three times, an easily disproven fact. Sen. Ted Cruz won the state in 2016. 

Early in Trump’s political career, he would occasionally deliver a normal, even coherent, speech. But as soon as pundits declared him a changed man, Trump would quickly prove them wrong with a new outburst. Now, he can’t even feign that sort of restraint or discipline for more than a few minutes. It’s a poor development for a candidate entering a general election. Unfortunately for him, though, the spotlight will only brighten.

Why caucus turnout was down

As of 11:07 p.m. ET, NBC News’ Decision Desk estimated turnout to be about 115,000 caucusgoers. That’s below pre-caucus expectations; not so long ago, the campaigns expected over 200,000 Iowans to show up. And it would be a decline of nearly 40% from the 187,000 who voted in the last competitive Iowa Republican caucus, in 2016.

Part of the fault lies with the weather — it was among the coldest Iowa caucus days ever. But the lion’s share of the blame belongs to the candidates themselves — or at least (for once) everyone but Trump. With no one able to challenge the former president, turnout suffered. As MSNBC’s Steve Kornacki pointed out on-air, the lowest turnout for an Iowa GOP caucus came in 2000, when George W. Bush had a large lead nationally and his closest rival, John McCain, barely even contested the state. It’s no surprise, then, with an even less competitive race, that few Iowans felt moved to show up.

Iowa Dems call Gov. Kim Reynolds, who backed DeSantis, ‘biggest loser’

Iowa Democrats released a statement criticizing Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds for her endorsement of DeSantis — who came in a distant second in Iowa tonight — saying it “highlight[s] just how out-of-touch” she is.

“Governor Reynolds is no doubt the biggest loser of the Iowa Caucuses,” Iowa Democratic Party spokesperson Paige Godden said in the statement. “It’s clear she has completely lost her sway over the Republican Party and is out of touch with Iowans.”

Reynolds’ decision was also criticized by some fellow Republicans, as well as by Trump, who railed against her disloyalty.

Ramaswamy bows out, says he is endorsing Trump

After finishing a disappointing fourth in Iowa, Ramaswamy announced that he was dropping out. The 38-year-old entrepreneur said that Trump would have his “full endorsement.”

Campaigns spent an obscene amount of money per vote in Iowa

I mentioned earlier that the GOP candidates in total spent an estimated $124 million just on video ads in Iowa ahead of the caucuses. Advertising is most campaigns’ largest expense, but it doesn’t include all the other things that campaigns need to run. Now NBC News’ Decision Desk is estimating about 115,000 people turned out to caucus on Monday night. Quick back-of-the-envelope math says that means each vote cost roughly $1000. That’s an absurd number, even before you consider that an AdSense report on the 2022 midterms found that the most expensive Senate race that year saw an estimated $175 spent per vote.

DeSantis projected to take second place

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ hard push for the religious vote, including notable efforts to woo evangelicals, appears to have paid off for him as NBC News projects he has secured second place in the Iowa caucuses. DeSantis visited all 99 Iowa counties ahead of the caucuses, and scored some key endorsements including Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds and popular evangelical leader Bob Vander Plaats.

Donald Trump was declared the winner very quickly on Monday, in a landslide victory. This led to a high-pressure race for the number two spot. And it certainly seemed like former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley was poised to overtake him, with polls this week suggesting a perfectly timed surge in the lead-up to Iowa. It was not to be.

Of course, there’s still little to no chance that DeSantis will be able to defeat his true opponent, former President Donald Trump, as the primary continues.

Pay attention to the DeSantis spin machine

Jen Psaki speaking on MSNBC moments ago:

One of the most interesting things to watch tonight is going to be how these candidates handle it when they go out and speak. Because historically candidates will go out and they’ll claim victory even when they got second or third. …

If you’re Ron DeSantis, I actually think a second place is great for him, dare I say. Because the expectation a little bit was that Haley was going to beat him in Iowa. …

Trump yesterday said about Haley, “You’re going to find out a lot about her in the next short period of time.” Which is very mobby but it also means he’s threatened by her. And Don Jr. went to a caucus site where she was tonight to attack her specifically. The reporting said they didn’t interact, but clearly she’s the one that makes them nervous. So, if DeSantis beats her, she still has her pathway in New Hampshire. But if you’re DeSantis, you’re going to claim victory.

These comments have been slightly edited for length and clarity.

I’m sure Trump will give a very calm, measured address, thanking the supporters and army of volunteers who made his win possible, and speaking cogently about his policy agenda for 2025. Nothing unhinged or deranged at all, nothing that will remind everyone of what an absolute menace to democracy he is. Surely that’s what awaits us ahead, right? 

There’s no suspense in the 2024 GOP primary

Trump’s blitzkrieg win in Iowa is really highlighting a dynamic that most people who’ve covered presidential primary campaigns aren’t used to — inevitability. Well, that’s not entirely true: There have been plenty of races where the frontrunner was seen as unstoppable before they weren’t (see: the 2008 Democratic primary and Hillary Clinton).

But that’s not the case with Trump, a former incumbent who, rather than having the loser stink all over him to alienate the party elites, still has the majority of the GOP behind him. The romp in Iowa belies the eagerness of the media to see someone actually challenge him in one of the other contests ahead of Super Tuesday. In the absence of the usual horserace drama, it’s vital then to look ahead and focus on what’s actually at stake in the general election, giving voters a clear-eyed look at what a second Trump term would mean for the country.

Biden sends out fundraising email about Trump’s Iowa win

Shortly after news outlets projected a commanding victory for Trump in Iowa, the Biden campaign shot out a fundraising plea, declaring Trump the “official frontrunner” for the GOP nomination. 

“Folks, we need to work even harder now,” the fundraising email read. “If Donald Trump is our opponent, we can expect vile attacks, endless lies, and massive spending.”

Comparing Trump’s Iowa numbers against George W. Bush’s

Steve Kornacki speaking on MSNBC moments ago:

Trump is the first Republican candidate since George W. Bush in 2000 to enter the primary season with a national polling lead this big, in excess of 30 points… 

So it was expected and it was assumed in 2000 that George W. Bush was going to win Iowa. And the question was what would the margin be between him and Steve Forbes, and it created an atmosphere where there was pretty low interest overall on the Republican side. Bush got the win, Forbes got second place. He said he had momentum. He went absolutely nowhere.

These comments have been slightly edited for length and clarity.

Trump to attend Carroll trial before New Hampshire

Trump should be on a high when he jets off to New Hampshire tomorrow, but first, he’s expected to make a pit stop in New York to attend the first day of the damages trial in writer E. Jean Carroll’s defamation case against him, NBC News reports.

Trump’s legal issues have pulled him away from previous campaign events, and he has promoted the conspiracy theory that his civil and criminal cases are attempts at election interference by President Joe Biden and Democrats. Despite his public gripes about his legal woes, his campaign has not hesitated to fundraise off of them.

The most depressing number from the NBC News entrance poll

NBC’s entrance poll of Iowa caucusgoers found that Haley is winning 53% of those who think President Joe Biden won the 2020 election. The bad news for Haley is that those voters make up just 30% of caucusgoers. Meanwhile, 66% say Biden did not win legitimately — and 68% of them are backing Trump.  As Rachel Maddow summarized just now on air, “two-thirds of Iowa caucusgoers believe that the president of the United States right now is a fake.”

This number actually goes a long way toward explaining why Trump has shown political resilience far beyond the typical losing candidate  — most of these Republican caucusgoers don’t even think he lost! But its explanatory value doesn’t make this number any less depressing. Despite the events we all saw unfold on January 6 and despite years of wild GOP-led investigations that have led nowhere, even now a supermajority of this party refuses to accept reality.

Lindsey Graham calls the entire 2024 election

Shortly after Trump was projected the winner tonight, Sen. Lindsey Graham congratulated him on a “dominating and historic” victory. The South Carolina Republican also seemed to believe that Trump’s Iowa win means he’s sealed the deal for the entire 2024 election.

“It is clear to me – now more than ever – that Trump will be the Republican nominee and will eventually be the 47th President of the United States,” Graham wrote on X. “The Republican Party is fortunate to have so many good candidates, but for all practical purposes this primary is over.”

A reminder: The last time a GOP candidate won the Iowa caucuses and then went on to win the general election was George W. Bush in 2000.

Team DeSantis would like the media to pretend he had a chance

It’s true that “the media” — including NBC News — pushed out their projections of a Trump victory even more quickly than many — including me — expected. But the idea that the media is “in the tank” for Trump is equally as funny as the idea that DeSantis had a chance of pulling off a win in Iowa, given the former president’s absurdly high lead coming into tonight’s caucuses.

Kornacki breaks down Trump’s projected victory in Iowa

Trump’s revenge-driven campaign gets results in Iowa

Well, that was fast. With NBC News’ projection of a Trump victory, it’s worth taking stock of what this win says about the Republican Party’s present and future. Unlike in 2016, “there’s no question about who Trump is or what he wants, having made transparent his plans for revenge against those he felt have wronged him in his 2020 loss and the string of criminal prosecutions he now faces,” I wrote in an essay that just published. “And when Iowa Republicans assembled on Monday, they made good on their declarations of unwavering support for the man who would be king.”

You can read the rest of my piece here.

Trump wins Iowa Republican caucus, NBC News projects

NBC News projects that Donald Trump has won the Iowa Republican caucus, with 0.2% of the votes that have been counted so far. See the latest results here.

Donald Trump wins Iowa Republican caucus

This entrance poll number explains Trump’s lead

According to NBC News’ entrance poll of Iowa caucusgoers, 37% of them named immigration as their top policy concern, beating out the economy which came in second at 36%. Now, Iowa isn’t exactly a hotbed of immigration, being roughly 1,000 miles from the southern border. Only about 5% of Iowans were born in another country, according to the Migration Policy Institute.

That number is small, but it’s still nearly double what it was in 2000, which can’t be making a lot of the Iowan Republicans worried about immigration happy. For many caucusgoers to not just be concerned but also list immigration as their top concern helps explain why Trump with his “poisoning the blood” rhetoric is poised to do so well in the GOP primary.

Ramaswamy delivers baffling final message to caucusgoers

Less than an hour before doors opened tonight, Ramaswamy, whose campaign has struggled mightily, for some reason decided to center his closing pitch on … transphobia.

“There are two genders. And no, a man cannot become a woman,” he wrote on X. “Iowa, I’m asking for your vote tonight.”

The voters DeSantis needs if he wants to have a good night

Steve Kornacki speaking on MSNBC moments ago:

The recipe in modern Republican caucuses in Iowa has been: You win the evangelical vote, win Iowa. Mike Huckabee did it in 2008, Rick Santorum did it in 2012, and Ted Cruz did it against Donald Trump in 2016. … 

If DeSantis is going to have a surprisingly good night, he’s going to have to do a lot better with evangelicals, and Trump is going to have to do a lot worse than this final poll has shown. So we’ll keep an eye on that.

These comments have been slightly edited for length and clarity.

This poll number is a warning for Trump

Getting 80% for any poll question is usually good news for a candidate. In the final NBC News/Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa poll, 61% of likely Iowa caucusgoers said it would not affect their support if Trump is convicted of a crime before Election Day 2024. A further 19% said it would make their support more likely. Just 18% said a conviction would make them less likely to vote for him.

Normally, that’d be a landslide for Trump. But the possibility that up to one-fifth of Iowa Republicans — let alone undecided voters and independents — might reconsider their vote in light of a Trump conviction is another sign that his legal troubles could scramble the race. And it matches other polls — even ones with otherwise unfavorable results for Biden — that show a conviction in any of his four criminal trials could sway thousands, or even millions, of voters.

Ramaswamy and Haley faced questions, attacks over backgrounds

Indian American businessman Ramaswamy has repeatedly been asked about his Hindu religion on the campaign trail and, even up until the eleventh hour, continued to fend off Republican voters’ suspicions about his ethnicity, as NBC News reported.

Haley, who converted to Christianity in 1996 and goes by her middle name instead of her first, Nimrata, has faced less scrutiny over her background. As a far more established politician than Ramaswamy, she is also likely more known to voters than he is. Still, her background was a target as her poll numbers improved heading into Iowa: Trump promoted a familiar, racist conspiracy theory about her, suggesting that Haley is not eligible to be president because her parents weren’t U.S. citizens when she was born (they were).

Trump’s 2016 loss in Iowa fit a now-familiar pattern

While Trump was the eventual Republican presidential nominee in 2016, he managed it without winning the Iowa caucuses. He came in second to Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, as evangelical caucusgoers who would eventually become his base flocked to his rival. Looking back now at Trump’s response to his loss feels like a bit of dark foreshadowing.

“Ted Cruz didn’t win Iowa, he stole it,” Trump tweeted after the results were in. “That is why all of the polls were so wrong and why he got far more votes than anticipated. Bad!” He also said that “based on the fraud committed by Senator Ted Cruz during the Iowa caucus, either a new election should take place or Cruz results nullified.” 

Trump, of course, did not provide any evidence of that fraud, and the Iowa results weren’t nullified. Four years later, he’d dip back into the same well — including calls for the election to be redone — after losing to Joe Biden with much more disastrous results.

Everybody who’s not Trump is running to keep their donors happy

Jason Johnson speaking on MSNBC moments ago:

There’s been this narrative of people saying, “well, there’s one or two tickets out of Iowa.” I understand the logic behind that but there’s only one ticket out of Iowa. No one is getting flown out of Iowa. No one is getting a consolation prize. Either you beat Donald Trump or you’re the first loser. There’s no moral victories against an amoral candidate. So, everybody who’s running right now isn’t even in the race to beat Donald Trump. That’s not gonna happen. They’re in the race to keep their donors happy.

These comments have been slightly edited for length and clarity.

Trump: ‘Even if you vote and then pass away, it’s worth it’

As polls suggest a potentially record-breaking night for Trump, he has repeatedly urged his supporters to brave the subzero temperatures to get out and vote. In an interview with Jeff Stein earlier today on News/Talk 1540, a radio station in eastern Iowa, Trump said it’s “a little cold out there” but noted that the caucuses are held indoors. He also has suggested that voting for him would be “worth” dying for.

“You can’t sit home,” he told Iowans on Sunday. “If you’re sick as a dog, you say ‘Darling, I gotta make it.’ Even if you vote and then pass away, it’s worth it.”

‘I’m the only one running who’s beaten the Left’

Why a big Trump win would be good news for Biden

Barring an unforeseen event, the 2024 election will be Trump vs. Biden. The only question is how long it takes to get there. Should Haley overperform tonight and again in New Hampshire next week, this primary could drag on despite Trump’s canyon-size lead among GOP voters nationally. But a big Trump win in Iowa could effectively end the race tonight, even if Haley stumbles on to New Hampshire.

That’d be good news for the Biden campaign, because the sooner the general election begins, less coverage and time is sucked up by Trump’s primary rivals. And the more Trump has been in the spotlight in the last 18 months — specifically, the multiple occasions he’s been indicted — the worse his poll numbers have been.

This shift will be particularly acute for undecided voters. According to CNN, the Biden campaign found that “most of the undecided voters that the campaign is targeting” simply don’t think Trump will be the nominee, with nearly 3 out of 4 in this group still thinking someone else will win out. They’ll soon learn otherwise. And call me crazy, but I doubt many of those undecideds will ultimately back a candidate who they don’t even think will win his own party’s nomination.

Trump boasts about endorsements from Rubio and Scott

Less than two hours before voting began in Iowa, Trump thanked both of Florida’s U.S. senators for their endorsements in a Truth Social post and attacked DeSantis in the same breath. “Nice when both highly respected Republican Florida Senators ENDORSE TRUMP over the missing from Florida Republican Governor, Ron DeSanctimonious!” Trump wrote. “They know something that others don’t.”

Sen. Rick Scott, a longtime Trump ally, endorsed the former president in November, and Sen. Marco Rubio hopped on the Trump bandwagon just one day before the Iowa caucuses.

Why caucusing is both great and terrible

Iowa is one of the few states that selects presidential nominees via caucus instead of a typical election. On the one hand, there’s something admirable about how deeply involved the caucus is, given that caucusgoers must stick around until the end of the process to ensure their support is properly registered. And more civic engagement should almost always be better for democracy as a whole.

But the time commitment also means a higher barrier to entry, potentially preventing residents who work third-shifts or have kids from participating. So while the idea of caucuses is great in theory, it’s really not the most practical — or universally accessible — way to pick a candidate.

The red alert for Nikki Haley

“We are the only one going up in the polls,” Haley told Fox Business on Monday. “Everyone else is going down.” In a literal sense, that’s true: The ​​final NBC News/Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa poll before today’s GOP caucuses showed Haley moving past DeSantis into second place, though within the poll’s margin of error. And pollster Ann Selzer, who has conducted this Iowa survey for years, has a track record of catching late-minute surges.

But the topline numbers for Haley suggest hidden problems. “There is underlying weakness here,” Selzer told NBC News. “If turnout is low, it seems to me that a disproportionate share of her supporters might stay at home.” One warning sign is the differing levels of caucusgoer enthusiasm: 89% of Trump’s supporters are “extremely” or “very” enthusiastic about caucusing for the former president, as are 62% of DeSantis backers. Just 39% of Haley-supporting caucusgoers are similarly fired up. In fact, more of her supporters are “not that enthusiastic” (12%) than “very enthusiastic” (9%).

As Iowans contend with possibly the coldest caucus day on record, then, don’t be surprised if more of Haley’s base prefers the warmth of staying home. As recently as a week ago, that might not have been a problem. But now the expectation is Haley will finish second, and a disappointing night could end her momentum elsewhere.

Building off of Jim’s point, that same poll showed that Haley’s coalition of Republicans, independents and crossover Democrats aren’t exactly ride-or-die for whoever becomes the GOP nominee. Instead, 43% of Haley supporters in that poll said that they’d rather vote for Biden in the fall than Trump if he becomes the Republican standard-bearer again. That’s not exactly ideal for Haley trumpeting a potential second-place finish; how do you go beg for money from donors if a solid chunk of your supporters would vote for the other guy?

Coming up soon: Special coverage with Maddow and more

DeSantis bet big in Iowa. It doesn’t seem to be paying off.

Late last year, DeSantis’ campaign decided that the best strategy was to pour a major chunk of its resources into Iowa to try to stop Trump’s march through the primaries. “We’re playing to win in Iowa, then on to New Hampshire, and we will have the resources needed to get the job done,” David Polyansky, DeSantis’ deputy campaign manager, told NBC News in October.

Looking at the polling ahead of the start of the caucuses, though, that bet doesn’t really seem likely to pay off. Not only is Trump still far and away the front-runner, Haley has a good shot of coming in second after weeks of climbing in the polls.

Iowans say they know Trump. DeSantis? Not so much.

Priscilla Thompson speaking on MSNBC moments ago:

Of the folks that I’ve talked to, a lot of them have told me they were undecided but leaning toward Trump. And so it’s perhaps not that super-firm support that we’re seeing in some other areas but it’s a number of issues that’s driving it. …

Ron DeSantis has also spent a lot of time in this county trying to drum up that evangelical vote, but what I’ve heard from caucusgoers is that they’re not sure that they know him. They’re not sure they know what they’re getting with him. But with Trump, they have seen it over the past four years. They have seen how he delivered for them, and for that reason a lot of folks are looking toward supporting him at tonight’s caucus.

These comments have been slightly edited for length and clarity.

Read Team Haley’s response to Trump’s Truth Social taunt

Trump has been predictably active on Truth Social today, calling out his rivals in the final hours before Iowa caucusgoers make their decisions: “Nikki is a Globalist RINO, backed by American’s for Chinese Growth, the Charles Koch con job. It’s not going to happen for her, or DeSanctimonious!”

Haley did not appreciate the sentiments.

“Donald Trump knows Nikki Haley is a strong conservative who he praises repeatedly for her toughness at the United Nations,” said Haley national spokesperson Olivia Perez-Cubas in a news release. “Now that Nikki is surging and Trump is dropping, his campaign is flinging phony, contradictory attacks. Don’t believe the fake news from Trump world — they don’t believe it themselves.”

What matters most to Iowans

So what’s on the minds of Iowa residents?

Two embedded reporters for NBC News, Jillian Frankel and Alex Tabet, interviewed hundreds of people in the Hawkeye State over seven months. They explored Trump’s enduring appeal among conservatives, took the pulse of anti-Trump Republicans — and learned a lot more.

Check out their report below.

Will Trump’s criminal cases matter to Iowa Republicans?

Trump’s alleged crimes loom large over the 2024 election, but they may be of little consequence to most Republican voters in Iowa.

One October poll found that only 12% of Republicans in the state believed that Trump “committed serious federal crimes,” compared with 99% of Democrats and 42% of independents.

And in a survey conducted among likely Iowa Republican caucusgoers in December, 58% of respondents said that Trump “hasn’t done anything seriously wrong,” and 21% said he “did something wrong but not illegal.” Only 16% said he “did something illegal.”

Trump’s eligibility for office under the 14th Amendment

Barbara McQuade speaking on MSNBC moments ago:

The Constitution talks about engaging in insurrection by an officer of the United States. It would seem that Donald Trump fits all of those qualifications. But there are a lot of procedural ways that this Supreme Court could sort of take an off-ramp here and avoid addressing this question head-on, and one of those is something called the “political questions” doctrine. We have seen the court use this doctrine when it wants to avoid questions it deems too political. … So one thing they could do here is say, “This is not for the court; this is for Congress to decide whether Donald Trump can be seated.” What’s crazy about that is that he could be elected president and then Congress can say in January of 2025, “You’re not eligible. You can’t take your seat.”

These comments have been slightly edited for length and clarity.

The rose-tinted glasses of Haley’s biggest fans

The thinking goes that if Haley comes in second in Iowa, DeSantis should drop out. Then Haley could consolidate support and beat Trump in New Hampshire, an increasingly competitive race after former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie suspended his campaign last week. Ideally, Haley’s home state of South Carolina remains up for grabs in late February, with she and Trump locked in a one-on-one battle for the nomination.

But even if Haley wins in South Carolina — which right now is a huge if — then she’s going to have to keep winning. And there’s no evidence yet to suggest Trump won’t be the favorite on Super Tuesday.

Read Susan’s full analysis here.

Trump and Ramaswamy’s (very polite) war of words

Ramaswamy has made clear to Iowans that he supports Trump — but has also told them not to give the former president their own support, because “the system” simply won’t let Trump return to the White House. 

After Trump warned this morning (in all caps, of course) that “a vote for Vivek is a wasted vote,” Ramaswamy took to social media himself … and reiterated that he respects Trump “immensely.”

Millions of dollars went into ad spending in Iowa

The campaigns and outside groups poured nearly $105 million into ads in the Hawkeye State, NBC News reported earlier this month, with an estimated $7.5 million in additional spending by the time the caucuses rolled around. Haley’s campaign and her super PAC made the most ad reservations for the period from Jan. 1 to Jan. 15, at a combined cost of $4.5 million.

Axios recently got updated numbers on the amount spent in Iowa from AdImpact, an advertising data firm, and they’re even more jaw-dropping: “As of last Friday, 46% of all Republican presidential primary video ad spending ($270 million) had been used to try to pursue Iowa voters.”

According to those calculations, that means $124 million has been spent in a state of roughly 1.5 million voters.

Will tonight be the coldest caucuses ever?

A dangerous blizzard blanketed the state over the weekend, forcing the candidates to cancel or postpone campaign events or move them online. Frigid temperatures continued into Monday, with the National Weather Service warning of a wind chill of between -35 and -45 degrees Fahrenheit.

It could affect turnout at what might end up as the coldest caucuses in Iowa’s history, even as candidates have urged their supporters not to stay at home.

Coming soon: Kornacki Cam

Why the Iowa caucuses are important

Iowa has been the first state to hold its presidential primary since the 1970s, and it’s seen as a gauge of how much wind is really in a campaign’s sails after months and months of polling. A win in the Hawkeye State can help a candidate gain crucial momentum and media attention, but it’s not a reliable predictor of whether a candidate will go on to secure the nomination.

This time, however, Iowa — along with New Hampshire, whose GOP primary takes place eight days later — is particularly crucial for Haley and DeSantis, both of whom desperately need a win if they want to prove they can actually beat Trump.

How the next eight weeks will test Trump’s invincibility

Starting with tonight’s caucuses, Trump faces a precarious eight-week gauntlet of contests, with voters and judges who will test the front-runner’s seeming invincibility.

Between now and the Super Tuesday primaries on March 5, Trump will contend with the caucuses, the New Hampshire primary (where Haley poses a threat to him), the Nevada and South Carolina primaries, a ruling in New York’s civil fraud case, a ruling on his federal immunity plea defense, a Supreme Court hearing on the Colorado ballot disqualification case, the start of another defamation trial from E. Jean Carroll and — should his immunity plea fail — the potential start of Jack Smith’s Jan. 6-related trial on March 4. 

All of which is to say that a Trump victory in Iowa won’t tell us very much. But the next two months could reveal a great deal ahead of November. Stay tuned.

Read Jen’s full analysis here.

And then there were five (GOP candidates)

Five Republican candidates remain standing: former President Donald Trump, former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, businessman Vivek Ramaswamy … and former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson is also still around somehow.

Trump is widely seen as the presumptive nominee, and since launching his re-election campaign, he has consistently polled ahead of his GOP rivals in Iowa and elsewhere. (He lost Iowa in 2016 to Sen. Ted Cruz but won in 2020 against Joe Walsh and Bill Weld.) Haley and DeSantis, who have lagged far behind Trump in the polls, are hoping for a much-needed boost.

The candidates have spent the past few weeks zipping around the state to meet voters and hold campaign events; DeSantis even hit a milestone in early December, visiting all 99 counties in the state. Time will tell if all that traveling helped.

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