Ahead of Iowa’s Republican caucus on Monday, January 15, the GOP contenders made their final pitches to the state’s voters in a variety of formats on January 10. Former President Donald Trump held a town hall, Nikki Haley and Ron DeSantis went head-to-head in a CNN-hosted debate, and Vivek Ramaswamy spent the evening with the popular podcaster Tim Pool. Despite the best efforts of these presidential primary candidates, and putting aside the raucous entertainment provided, it is unlikely the needle really moved at all.
So what are they all fighting for?
What is abundantly clear is that Donald Trump is the Iowa front-runner by an average margin of 35.6% – that is not him getting 35%, but rather he is ahead of the pack by that staggering figure. In fact, of all the primary and caucus state polling, only in New Hampshire does anyone else come close (Haley, 13 points behind Trump). That he will win these early voting states appears as close to a certainty as is possible in the political realm. Begging the question of why the other candidates are so determined to fight among themselves for an apparently unattainable goal.
The answer may lie in Trump’s legal troubles.
And yet, pinning one’s political aspiration – much like the current commander-in-chief is doing – on the potential conviction of an opponent is not a solid message to voters. Such a position is made even less effective when the idea that voters will discard Trump en masse after a conviction isn’t as set in stone as the media portrays. As Liberty Nation Editor-in-Chief Leesa K. Donner exposed in a recent article, referring to the New York Times/Sienna poll suggesting that 6% of voters would ditch 45 if he is found guilty:
“[W]hen it came to the critical question about Trump, there were only 380 respondents. Why? Because it included only Republican primary voters. Fair enough, one might say, but 380 is still an extraordinarily small sample.”
Notably, a portion of the 380 were also Democrats who – in some states – can choose to vote in GOP primaries and caucuses.
Trump’s Pitch to the Voters
Mr. Trump has apparently been following the polls closely and focused almost every question on the two issues that are impacting American voters the most: the economy and immigration.
“A guy like Biden, there’s nothing he can run on. Everything he’s turned out, it’s turned out badly. The border is a disaster. The border is the worst border in history; I think the worst border in the history of the world. We had the best border in the history of our country,” the former president contended. He revisited the topic again, touching on a recent breaking story.
“We have millions and millions of people here. It is not sustainable. Did you see in New York City [officials are] getting the regular students out [of schools] and they’re putting migrants in their place?” Trump argued. “We are going to have the largest deportation effort in the history of our country. We’re bringing everybody back to where they came from. We have no choice. We have no choice.”
But his main theme was the economy. Hitting on energy prices, drilling, regulation cuts, and the cost of living, Trump made his case that the Biden economy has been bad for the American people:
“We had the greatest economy in history. You take a look at our numbers; the numbers were so much better than they are right now. We had no inflation, we were energy independent. We had so much energy we were ready to start selling energy to Europe, to Asia … We would have started to pay down our debt.”
Duelling DeSantis and Hard-Hitting Haley
In the final GOP debate in Des Moines, Iowa, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley sparred in the political equivalent of a cage match, and it seems each contender has been honing their respective skills.
DeSantis went for the proverbial jugular, capitalizing on concerns that a number of voters have expressed about his on-stage opponent. “Nikki Haley, anytime the going gets tough, anytime people come down, she caves. When you need someone standing and fighting for you, don’t look for Nikki Haley. You won’t be able to find her if you had a search warrant,” he exclaimed. But it was on the matter of her more globalist persuasion that his attacks really hit home.
“You can take the ambassador out of the United Nations, but you can’t take the United Nations out of the ambassador,” he said. “The elites in this country have sold out the middle of the country for China. She is part of that now and she’s not going to stick up for you.”
Haley’s efforts on stage were stirring and strident, but suffered from what many may see as a panic about retorting against DeSantis. “Ron’s lying because Ron’s losing,” Haley argued. “You’re so desperate. You’re just so desperate.”
A big moment for Haley was responding to criticism over comments she made in 2015 suggesting that illegal immigrants should not be called criminals. She explained that, as governor, she passed one of the strictest immigration laws in the country and was ultimately sued by the Obama administration for it – noting that her state eventually won. It was a good spot for Haley as it allowed her the opportunity to address one of the major questions about her campaign: How will she reconcile big business support with stronger borders.
She explained that she wants to take the E-Verify system national, which is “where businesses have to prove that the people they hire are in this country legally.”
However, for Nikki Haley, an apparent gift from one notable politician could turn out to be a poison pill to her overall campaign.
Christie Bows Out – Not So Gracefully
Before the evening’s events kicked off, former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie – who has been running his campaign as the anti-Trump option – called it a day. He said: “It is clear to me tonight that there isn’t a path for me to win the nomination, which is why I’m suspending my campaign tonight for President of the United States.” Christie also promised that he would never “enable Donald Trump to become, to ever be president of the United States again.”
But a hot mic moment just before is making bigger headlines than his long-shot campaign ever did. Talking to someone off camera, the mic caught him saying – in apparent reference to Haley – “She’s gonna get smoked and you and I both know it. She’s not up to this.”
Yet despite all logic, the big story across the country today is how Christie’s withdrawal will mean added support for Haley.
Why would supporters of Christie – whose raison d’être has been the destruction of Donald Trump’s campaign – jump ship to someone who their chosen candidate says has zero chance of toppling the man they hate? Certainly, without the slipped comments, some of his supporters may have headed her way; she is, after all, the least “MAGA” of the viable contenders. But if such a vote – according to Christie – is a waste and will have no impact, it seems highly unlikely that they will coalesce around her.
Perhaps such spurious analysis by the morning shows suggesting Christie voters will jump to Haley is actually intended to damage the DeSantis campaign before the New Hampshire primary, where Haley is expected to perform well.
Vivek’s Unchained Melody
Not making the cut for the final Iowa debate did not stop entrepreneur candidate Vivek Ramaswamy from grabbing headlines and making his pitch to America.
During the last year, Ramaswamy has visited each of Iowa’s 99 counties at least twice and has held more than 350 campaign events. Added to this, he sold off $33 million worth of stock to continue funding his campaign. There is now little doubt that his involvement in the race is a serious business.
Rather than hold a traditional town hall, the contender demonstrated that he understands the new media perhaps better than his GOP rivals. Speaking with popular YouTuber and podcast host Tim Pool alongside – among others – conservative commentator Candace Owens, Ramaswamy took calls and questions and answered with aplomb.
From questions about school shootings and the “organized invasion” of the open border to January 6 and the Big Box media, Ramaswamy demonstrated that he is not afraid to “walk towards the fire” and openly speak his mind – a trait that many recognize and admire in the former president, as well.
The podcast was, however, unlikely to sway many voters who perhaps view Vivek Ramaswamy as a Trump alternate.
Much speculation abounds this morning about Ramaswamy’s political future. His poll numbers are hovering around 4% nationally, which suggests he has almost no chance of becoming the GOP nominee. But during Trump’s town hall, the former president said he had already decided who his pick for VP would be. In much the same manner that made The Apprentice a smash success, Trump refused to reveal immediately who he has in mind, leading to a great deal of internet chatter regarding the young hopeful.
Days Away From No Surprises
In just a few days, voters in Iowa will make their decision about the Republican nominee. All polls indicate that Donald Trump will sail home without issue – making this his third Iowa Caucus win. What remains to be seen is the impact the vote share has on the other candidates.
If either DeSantis or Haley earn more than 16%, they will claim it as a significant victory. If lower, it could mark the beginning of the end of their campaigns. Ramaswamy appears unconcerned about his vote share, but anything over 7% will demonstrate momentum. The all-important question though is whether candidates – as they eventually drop out – will coalesce into a united front. Chris Christie has already demonstrated that he is unwilling to do so, but the other contenders may share Donald Trump’s optimism about the future.
As he said during the town hall, revenge is not on his agenda, and that “our ultimate retribution is success.”