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Iowa’s Freezing Caucus: The First Republican Primary Contest Of 2024 Was A Scripted Saga 

Image courtesy of Evan Guest on Flikr, accessed on Wikimedia Commons https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Donald_Trump_in_Muscatine,_Iowa_(24087043363).jpg

Staff Writer Patrick Schnecker watched along as the Iowa Caucus unfolded, his analysis points towards a resounding victory for Donald Trump.

On a night when Iowa saw the temperature reach a freezing -20°F, it wasn’t just the weather giving many Republican voters a reason not to show up to this year’s first caucus. With the estimated voter turnout at 115,000, this is the lowest voter turnout for a Republican Iowa caucus since 2000. The other reason for the underwhelming voter turnout in Iowa was that Republicans had a pretty clear view of the winner, even before the caucus began. With Trump being considered the unanimous favourite, the Iowa caucus was really a battle for second place between Florida Governor, Ron DeSantis, and former South Carolina Governor and US Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley. This will set the tempo for the underdogs going into the next series of caucuses in New Hampshire and South Carolina.

What is a Caucus and how do they work?

Caucuses are political gatherings, ran by the state party, where party members vote for their preferred candidate via representative delegates. 

Individuals who each represent one of the candidates are allowed to give speeches in front of the caucus attendees, in one last push at convincing the GOP electorate why their own candidate is the party’s best choice. After all the speeches, caucus-goers vote in person through a secret ballot for their selected candidate. These votes are then counted by the precinct chair and later sent to the state’s Republican Party – all of this usually takes place within an hour of when the caucus doors close. 

Out of 2400 total delegates nationally, Iowa’s caucus only holds 40. For a Republican candidate to win the nomination, they require a minimum of 1215 delegate votes. Yet, despite Iowa’s little importance in terms of proportionality, running a successful inaugural caucus can change a campaign’s entire momentum. 

For the Democratic Party, their primaries and caucuses this year will be slightly different. Although the format is generally the same – with there being a total of 3945 pledged Democrat delegates, meaning a candidate requires 1973 of those to win the nomination, – with a Democrat as the incumbent in 2024, their party’s primaries will hold significantly less value. The only two Democrat primary candidates, apart from current President Joe Biden, are Minnesota Congressman, Dean Phillips, and author, Marianne Williamson. With the vast majority of Americans never having heard of them, Joe Biden is set to lead the Democratic Party into his second Presidential election with not too much intra-party opposition.

The Definition of Predictable Politics

As predicted by every single major polling outlet, the evening of January 15th in Iowa was the first instance of a highly dominant Trump 2024 run. The 45th President was projected to win this electoral cycle’s first primary contest after only 1% of votes were in. This shows the advantage he has in smaller, rural counties that are the fastest to tabulate their votes. As a reminder, in the 2016 Iowa caucuses, Trump came in second place, being beaten by Texas Senator, Ted Cruz, by just over 3%

Well, the 2024 Iowa caucuses left no more room for surprises, with Donald Trump leaving Iowa victorious with a commanding 51% (or 20 delegates) of the total vote. This is a clear message to the rest of the GOP, signalling that the Republican Party remains the party of Donald Trump for now.

Trump’s triumph in Iowa was the broad expectation across the United States, with the billionaire ex-President officially establishing himself as the clear favourite to win the Republican nomination for the Presidential election in November this year. His maiden primary victory in Iowa best exemplifies Republican voters’ preferences for their party’s nominee; while DeSantis and Haley show resilience in the battle for second place, there is no question that the former president will, for the third consecutive time, be the face of the GOP battling the Democratic Party later this year. 

If You’re Not First, You’re Last

As Trump cruised to victory in Iowa, the three remaining Republican ‘contenders’ were finally faced with the reality of a primary race. 

Entrepreneur, Vivek Ramaswamy, gathered an insignificant 8% (or 3 delegates), practically confirming the fact that he will not finish on the podium by the end of the GOP primaries this year. Case in point, at around 22:00 on Monday in Iowa, Ramaswamy announced his withdrawal from the Republican primary, pledging his full support and endorsement for Donald Trump. This adds further value to claims that Ramaswamy never aimed his campaign at the US Presidency, but at a position in the next potential president’s cabinet. 

For Nikki Haley’s camp, it was certain that Iowa was not going to be her strongest state, with its more conservative nature not favouring Haley’s attempt at a more moderate agenda. In fact, Haley has received abundant criticism from more conservative factions, even being labelled as the Hillary Clinton of the Republican Party. Haley’s night in Iowa concluded with her earning 19% (or 7 delegates) of the caucus vote, but it would be safe to say that the only female remaining in the Republican primary contest had already set her focus on the caucuses in New Hampshire and South Carolina, where she is set to achieve a more successful series of results. 

Monday night ended in a bittersweet way for Ron DeSantis. The Florida Governor was far away from Trump, winning 21% (or 8 delegates) of Iowa’s caucus, a colossal 30% gap behind the former president. Making it clear that Iowa was meant to be his strongest primary contest after traveling to all 99 counties and being endorsed by Iowa Governor, Kim Reynolds, failing to win the caucus was always going to be a disappointment for him. Nonetheless, the Floridian conservative still managed to finish above his closest rival, Nikki Haley, to win the silver medal. Albeit by a slight margin, this could likely boost his momentum in the run-up to the next few primary contests where he is considered the least favourite to perform well.   

What Happens Next?

Following the inaugural Iowa Republican caucus, numerous more primary contests will be held over the next few months. For Trump, excluding the possibility of one of the biggest political upsets in American history, this means that he will continue to enjoy a convincing primary display from his campaign until he officially wins the GOP nomination. 

For DeSantis and Haley, however, the next few months will almost certainly not increase their chances to win the 2024 Republican nomination. Despite that, this electoral cycle could set one of them up to be the presiding GOP candidate in 2028, should one of them gain an extensive lead in second place. 

Interestingly, though their hopes for the 2024 nomination are non-existent at this point, none of the two have shown any signs that they plan to withdraw from the primary contest before the end of the electoral season. Will any of the two give in to the ‘Trumpist’ pressure and seek a role in cabinet, or will they choose to continue to disassociate their political personas from the MAGA faction of the GOP?

One thing that’s clear is that 2024 is a pivotal year for the Republican Party. Not only will the GOP make their crucial stance on Trump public this year, but they will have the chance to prepare a long-term project that will commence in 2028. 

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