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Price on Politics: The 2024 Iowa Caucus and the GOP Presidential Primary

Alexandria Anderson

On Monday, the 2024 election season officially got underway and the first votes were cast in the 2024 Republican Presidential Primary. Voters in Iowa made their way to the polls in the first-in-the-nation Iowa Caucus to have their voices heard on the choosing of the Republican nominee for president.

Former president Donald Trump has been the frontrunner in the race for the GOP nomination since he announced his campaign in Nov. 2022. Since then, Trump has led his GOP opponents in national polls by as much as 40 points since the announcement, according to FiveThirtyEight.

Trump’s lead means that pundits have debated who would win second place in Iowa. The leading contenders going into Monday’s caucus were Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and former South Carolina Governor and United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley.

In the months leading up to the race, DeSantis led Haley by as much as 23 points, but Haley overtook DeSantis in the week before the caucus. This means that, once caucusing began in Iowa on Monday night, it was unclear who would win second place.

A second place win for DeSantis or Haley was important for momentum. Carrying energy from a second place finish in Iowa would show other voters across the nation and in other early states like New Hampshire and South Carolina that they are viable competition for the former president.

Monday’s results, however, showed that both DeSantis and Haley are tough competition for each other, but are not any competition for Trump.

On Monday night, Trump won Iowa with 51% of the vote. Ron DeSantis placed second with 21.2% of the vote, and Haley placed third with 19.1%.

This should come as no surprise. Trump has held a firm grip on the Republican party since earning the party’s nomination for president in 2016. The fact is that the party’s base loves Trump and his policies. They love him as a person and see him as the one who will beat President Biden in November.

But of Trump, Haley and DeSantis, the former president is running closest to Biden in the polls. According to a YouGov/CBS News poll out last week, Trump is only beating Biden by only two points. Haley leads the most over Biden with an eight-point lead, while DeSantis wins over the president by three points.

This means that Haley has the best chance at beating Biden in a head-to-head general election match up. Despite this, Republican voters still swing largely for Trump. At this point in the election season Trump is the Republican Party’s worst chance for beating Biden, but it is the former president who will likely be the nominee.

This is the result that the Democrats would hope for, despite many American voters who are not excited about the possibility of a Biden-Trump rematch. With the former president’s possible criminal convictions in multiple courts across the country, Democrats see a way forward.

Should Trump be convicted, many moderate Republican voters will likely swing to Biden or to another candidate. With this divided vote, Trump’s chances for reelection will grow slimmer.

As seen in Iowa, however, Trump’s supporters remain devoted to the former president. The Republican base looks wildly different than it did even during the 2016 GOP primary. Trump-style politics appeal to more voters because Trump activated a base that votes more consistently than it did before 2016.

Trump’s 30 point win in Iowa shows that he is still very much the frontrunner in this race, and there are no signs of that slowing down. If anything, Trump’s wins in other primaries and caucuses across the country will grow larger.

After Iowa, candidates Vivek Ramaswamy, a businessman from Ohio, and former Governor of Arkansas Asa Hutchinson dropped out of the race. Ramaswamy and Hutchinson placed fourth and sixth place in the caucus, respectively. These two men made up a relatively small percentage of the vote, but their voters across the country will now likely go to Trump.

These voters will only add to Trump’s wide margins across the country, as will DeSantis’ voters. There is very little daylight between Trump and DeSantis on policy issues, so it makes sense that DeSantis supporters would vote for Trump over another candidate should DeSantis drop out of the race.

Haley’s supporters will be more likely to swing for Biden, as shown in an NBC News/Des Moines Register poll. This explains Haley’s better chances against Biden in a general election match up, and also Haley’s better chances against DeSantis in primaries across the country. Because she is farther from Trump, she is able to gather more support from moderate Republicans who would rather vote for Biden over Trump, as well as Republicans who would never consider voting for Biden.

But the main story from Iowa is still that Trump still has a strong hold on the Republican Party, one that will likely carry him through the primaries and into the general election against President Biden. Trump’s hold is so strong that it is difficult to see a path for any other Republican to win the nomination.

Trump is a strong force in Republican politics, and will continue to be for the foreseeable future. The 2024 primary will only show us just how strong that hold is, and just how divided the GOP can be.

Commentary editor Price Wilborn can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on X @pricewilborn.

If you would like to submit a reaction to a piece, Letter to the Editor or other submission, please send it to commentary editor Price Wilborn at [email protected] or [email protected].

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