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GOP Iowa Caucus Results: The Facts and the Fantasies

Who won, who survived, and who has the biggest spin job to sell?

As anticipated by every poll leading up to yesterday’s Republican Iowa caucus, former President Donald Trump romped home to victory with a staggering 51% of the vote. His win was never really in doubt, and yet the ultimate size of his support is historic in its own right. It was the other contestants who had to duke it out for a significant placement, and that’s where the January 15 results truly became newsworthy.

As the dust begins to settle in Iowa, politicos are packing up camp and heading to New Hampshire or back home. Some are ebullient, some chastened, but each will have their own particular spin on what happened on that cold night in the Hawkeye State.

Iowa Caucus by the Numbers

New banner Liberty Nation Analysis 1Trump was followed in second place by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who defied recent media speculation by edging out former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley 21% to 19%. Young entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy managed to pull in a worthy 7.7%, but this was not enough for him to warrant continuing his campaign.

The numbers are worthy of some added perspective. Trump secured a winning margin of 30 points, making this an Iowa record for any non-incumbent. He managed to get more votes than all the other candidates combined – again quite the feat.

Notably, support for Trump was so widespread that he secured pole position in 98 of 99 Iowa counties; only Johnson County went for Haley and by less than 1%.*

What Is Haley’s Message Now?

Nikki Haley took an unusual approach to coming third: she acted as though she didn’t. “I can safely say, tonight, Iowa made this Republican primary a two-person race,” she told supporters. Did she mean DeSantis and Trump, the first and second-place finishers? Almost certainly not.

Despite positive media coverage from editorial boards so fearful of another Trump presidency that they treat the former South Carolina governor with a kid-glove approach, the much-touted “Haley Momentum” failed to materialize. In fact, it suggests that her late surge polling numbers were perhaps more a case of the tail wagging the dog – or, as this is Iowa, a Field of Dreams slogan may be appropriate: If you build it (the spin), they will come.

Nikki Haley Holds Her Caucus Night Event In IowaWEST DES MOINES, IOWA - JANUARY 15: Republican presidential candidate former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley speaks at her caucus night event on January 15, 2024 in West Des Moines, Iowa. Iowans voted today in the state’s caucuses for the first contest in the 2024 Republican presidential nominating process. Former president Donald Trump won the Iowa caucus. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

(Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Haley did not anticipate coming anywhere close to beating Trump, but she had most likely planned on dueling with him one-on-one after the Iowa result. That was not to be. She must now spend her time and treasure fighting Ron DeSantis for second-place recognition.

A DeSantis Campaign Revival?

A collective sigh of relief from Camp DeSantis was no doubt heard across the Hawkeye State as the Florida governor edged out Haley by two points. If he had finished third, it would have been a hard sell to convince donors (and voters) to keep supporting his “Trumpism-without-the-Trump” campaign. He told supporters:

“They threw everything but the kitchen sink at us …They spent almost $50 million attacking us … The media was against us, they were writing our obituaries months ago. They even called the election before people even got a chance to vote.

“They were just so excited about the fact that they were predicting that we wouldn’t be able to get our ticket punched here out of Iowa, but I can tell you because of your support, in spite of all that they threw at us, everyone against us, we got our ticket punched out of Iowa.”

And he has a point. Finishing in second place proves that a body of support exists for his campaign despite the media and Haley’s combined pooh-poohing.

Ramaswamy Checks Out

For a young political unknown who started out with not only a name recognition problem but also a name pronunciation problem, Vivek Ramaswamy’s 7.7% was as much a warning shot as it was a blueprint for how to kick down doors on the political scene. Nonetheless, when the results landed, he formally suspended his campaign:

“I will stick to the truth tonight. The first hard truth and this was hard for me, I gotta admit this, but we’ve looked at it every which way. And I think it is true that we did not achieve the surprise that we wanted to deliver tonight.

“Earlier tonight, I called Donald Trump to tell him that I congratulate him on his victory. And now going forward, he will have my full endorsement for the presidency.”

He continued by laying out his plans for the future. “Tomorrow we’re likely – I’m going to appear with Donald Trump at a rally in New Hampshire to lay out what I see and what we see for the future of the country,” he said.

Trump Magnanimous in Victory?

Donald Trump decided to opt for the more gracious approach after being declared the winner. He congratulated his GOP rivals, addressing each of them by their actual names rather than with his usual derisive nicknames. In fact, rather than go in for the verbal kill, he set a tone of reconciliation.

“This is time now for everybody, our country, to come together” no matter whether one is “a Republican or a Democrat or liberal or conservative,” 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 of the death and destruction that we’re witnessing, that’s practically never been like this,” he continued.

Former President Trump Holds Iowa Caucus Night Event In Des Moines DES MOINES, IOWA - JANUARY 15: Republican presidential candidate, former U.S. President Donald Trump acknowledges supporters during his caucus night event at the Iowa Events Center on January 15, 2024 in Des Moines, Iowa. Iowans voted today in the state’s caucuses for the first contest in the 2024 Republican presidential nominating process. Trump has been projected winner of the Iowa caucus. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

(Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

“It’s just so important. And I want to make that a very big part of our message. We’re going to come together. It’s going to happen soon too.”

Biden and the Media Prepare for War

With Trump’s resounding victory, the Biden administration heads to the proverbial battle stations. The public-facing message may well be: We beat him once, we can beat him again. But that was when Joe Biden was an unknown quantity, as yet untested by the highest office. Almost exactly three years down the line, the economy is in tatters, and beyond America’s non-existent borders, the world burns in warfare not seen since the days of Barack Obama. Defeating a resurgent Trump this coming November will require a sight more than just not being Donald Trump.

The president’s X account immediately leaned into the “extremist” rhetoric when the numbers became clear:

“Looks like Donald Trump just won Iowa. He’s the clear front runner on the other side at this point.

“But here’s the thing: this election was always going to be you and me vs. extreme MAGA Republicans. It was true yesterday and it’ll be true tomorrow.”

Naturally, this was followed up by a plea to “chip in.” The post’s reception was almost as frosty as the weather in Iowa, with a swath of mocking replies. But Joe Biden is not alone; he has his Fourth Estate fan club to push a similar message: This is a contest between the continuation of the Biden presidency and a return of MAGA.

All Roads Lead to MAGA

Donald Trump is on course to win the Republican Party nomination for a third time. The results from Iowa paint a path so clear that it seems only a complete implosion of his campaign can keep him from claiming the crown at the Republican National Convention in July.

Nikki Haley should have swept up the Chris Christie and Never Trump Republican voters – but here’s the point: perhaps she actually did. And if so, it suggests that she has reached a ceiling with her support rather than a base from which to build. Vivek Ramaswamy’s supporters will almost certainly gravitate toward the Trump camp, boosting him roughly five percent nationally.

And then there is Ron DeSantis. If Trump drops out – or is forced out due to one of his many legal woes – it would appear that he is the heir apparent, despite the bad blood between the two men. But what if DeSantis drops his campaign after the New Hampshire or South Carolina primaries? Almost all of that support would flow toward Trump instead of Haley, making the former president’s lead virtually unassailable right before Super Tuesday.

Either way, the Make America Great Again movement is still a driving force in the country, and regardless of the “extremist” rhetoric of the sitting president and his media allies, shows no signs of slinking away anytime soon.

*Based on the vote tally at time of publishing.

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