By Lucy Adautin
Donald Trump has won the Iowa caucuses, cementing his firm status as the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination as he aims to be the first former president since Grover Cleveland in the 1890s to return to office after losing re-election to a second consecutive term.
Trump appeared Monday night to be headed for a record-breaking showing in the first nominating contest of 2024.
He will receive a majority of the vote, NBC News projects, and his final margin of victory will surpass the 13 points that Sen. Bob Dole of Kansas won by in the 1996 Republican caucuses. His commanding performance is the strongest sign yet that there is no decisive demand for an alternative as the race shifts to next week’s New Hampshire primary.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis prevailed over former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley in what became the more closely watched battle for second place. But there is no guarantee that such a distant finish will afford him anything resembling momentum.
“I really think this is time now for everybody, our country, to come together,” Trump said while addressing supporters in Des Moines. “Whether it’s Republican or Democrat, or liberal or conservative, it would be so nice if we could come together.”
Businessman Vivek Ramaswamy who started the race as a Trump defender arguing for a new generation of leadership but had annoyed Trump in the race’s closing days with some swipes at the former president — announced he was suspending his campaign after his distant fourth-place finish and endorsing Trump. DeSantis nor Haley neither moved to drop out, and both argued that they are leaving Iowa in a position of strength. But their finishes far behind Trump will not immediately reshape the dynamics of the race. Haley, according to the final NBC News/Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa poll last week, had leapfrogged DeSantis in Iowa, though there were warnings in the numbers that her support might be soft. She also has been polling closer to Trump in New Hampshire, which holds its first-in-the-nation primary next week.
Speaking to her supporters Monday, Haley asserted that it was now a “two-person race” between her and Trump. DeSantis, meanwhile, presented himself as resilient, even though he once vowed to win Iowa.
“They threw everything but the kitchen sink at us,” the governor said at his caucus night event. “In spite of all of that they threw at us, we’ve got our ticket punched out of Iowa.”
Trump, said a source familiar with his travel plans, will follow up his Iowa victory with a trip Tuesday to New York to attend his civil trial in a defamation case brought by E. Jean Carroll, a writer whom Trump last year was found liable of sexually abusing and defaming in a separate trial. Afterward Trump heads to New Hampshire for a rally. He began his White House push last year with the highest of ceilings and a campaign and aligned super PAC flush with more than $150 million in cash. But he has failed to perform to those lofty expectations, and he and his allies have spent much of the weeks leading up to the caucuses lowering them.
Where DeSantis once confidently predicted he would win Iowa, he more recently had insisted that he is in it for “the long haul” and that he will continue his campaign even if he doesn’t do well here. But finishing third would almost certainly have put pressure on DeSantis to end his campaign.
“They threw everything at Ron DeSantis,” a senior DeSantis campaign official said Monday night. “They couldn’t kill him. He is not only still standing, but he’s now earned his ticket out of Iowa. This is going to be a long battle ahead, but that is what this campaign is built for. The stakes are too high for this nation and we will not back down.”
The contrasts between Trump and Haley, meanwhile, were in stark relief in the converted chapel of the old Franklin Junior High events center in Des Moines, where several precincts caucused Monday night. Haley appeared at the caucus site to make the pitch for herself, delivering a 10-minute version of her stump speech. Her microphone went out at one point. When it was replaced with another, she continued through her remarks despite periodic interruptions of a malfunctioning sound system. In a steady tone, she praised the values of faith, family and country, and then asked for support, when Haley walked off, Donald Trump Jr., the former president’s son, took her place in front of an audience of roughly 200 people.
Aside pushing through his own struggles with the microphone, he took a different tack, launching several direct attacks on Haley, President Joe Biden and Biden’s son Hunter. Trump Jr. said he sees Haley as “Hillary Clinton dressed up as a conservative for Halloween.”