Analysis: Trump exceeds expectations in decisive Iowa victory

Former President Donald Trump’s victory in the Iowa caucuses confirmed what was already predicted – a committed core of the Republican party will follow him into the freezing cold or elsewhere.

That the Republican party belongs to Trump, CNN polls already indicated.

Nearly half of Republican voters said they considered themselves part of the MAGA movement, referring to the “Make America Great Again” slogan that Trump popularized in 2016.

Two-thirds of Republican voters do not think President Joe Biden’s 2020 victory was legitimate, despite all the evidence proving otherwise. Nearly two-thirds do not see a criminal conviction as something that would make Trump unfit for office.

It’s almost as if his 2020 loss has been erased in the minds of many Republicans who still see Trump as their president.

That cast the former president as the kind of incumbent Republicans know and an insurrectionist trying to unseat Biden in a rematch.

Participation fell drastically

One peculiarity of voting in Iowa is that turnout, according to uncertified results, has fallen since 2016.

Voters braved the minus 30-degree cold to show up at polling stations.

Democrats did not vote for president in Iowa this year and are relying on a mail-in system.

About 110,000 people caucused in Iowa this year, compared with nearly 187,000 in 2016, when Trump finished second to Senator Ted Cruz of Texas.

That’s a substantial drop of about 41%, and it reflected all 99 counties in the state.

Donald Trump’s campaign poster before the Republican caucus in Iowa / 01/13/2024 REUTERS/Marco Bello

Trump followed an incumbent’s strategy of staying above the fray of the campaign in Iowa. While he campaigned in the state, the former president skipped debates and appearances with other candidates.

The decision paid off. He ran strongest among most of Iowa’s demographic groups — men, women, college graduates, non-college graduates, white evangelicals and conservatives. They all followed Trump.

The composition of voters has changed

In 2016, less than half, 40%, described themselves in polls as “very conservative”. This year, more than half, 52%, described themselves this way.

The share of voters who describe themselves as “moderate” decreased from 14% in 2016 to 9% this year.

In Iowa, unlike most of the country, the population overwhelmingly supports banning abortion. National polls suggest strong majorities of Americans across the country support the right to terminate a pregnancy.

Iowa’s Republican-controlled state government last year enacted a ban on most abortions, but that law has so far been blocked by the courts.

A growing divide among Republicans

CNN Research and Analysis Editor Ariel Edwards-Levy also notes that Trump’s strength continues to be built on voters with a less formal education.

Former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley and, in the background, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis participate in a CNN Republican presidential debate on January 10, 2024 / Will Lanzoni/CNN

“The results also highlight the stark educational divide that has become a defining feature of the Republican electorate. While Trump maintained a lead among Iowa voters without college degrees, college graduates were more evenly divided between Trump, Nikki Haley and Ron Desantis,” she writes.

Would a criminal conviction change your mind?

Trump’s victory in Iowa was decisive and marks a stunning political turnaround from the moment the country was shocked by the invasion of the Capitol on January 6, 2021.

But in a potential general election that could be decided by the slimmest of margins, the question of Trump’s fitness for office if convicted could give some Republicans pause.

If, even among this most committed group of congressional Republicans, nearly a third see a conviction as potentially making them unfit for the White House, that could spell trouble for Trump in a general election.

He faces four different criminal trials, although it is unclear which ones will be concluded by Election Day in November.

The first criminal trial on the calendar, his arraignment by special counsel Jack Smith in a Washington, D.C. courtroom, is still scheduled to begin on March 4, the day before Super Tuesday, the busiest day of the presidential primary season. 2024.

People participate in a rally for former US President Donald Trump in Reno, in the US state of Nevada / 12/17/2023 REUTERS/Carlos Barria

An appeals court must decide whether Trump, as he argues, is immune from all charges related to his time as president.

On the other hand, even some Republicans who have tried tirelessly to defeat Trump have said they might support him.

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds has endorsed the state’s runner-up and has been a frequent target of Trump’s verbal taunts. But she made it clear this week that she would support Trump if he were the nominee.

“I’m a Republican, and you know, every candidate that runs is going to be better than what we have,” she told Fox News before the caucus.

New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu has further opposed Trump and endorsed Haley, but Sununu told CNN’s Kaitlan Collins last week that he would support Trump even though he is a convicted felon.

“I think most of us will support the Republican candidate — there’s no doubt about it,” he said.

Trump’s most vocal opponent who ran for president as a Republican this cycle, former New Jersey governor Chris Christie, recently dropped out of the race but has not endorsed Haley or Desantis.

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