Trump’s rivals missed an opportunity to shake up the race. They’ll get another one in New Hampshire.
Former US President Donald Trump during the 2024 Iowa Republican caucuses at Horizon Events Center in West Des Moines, Iowa, on January 15, 2024. Trump cruised to victory in the Iowa caucus, according to news outlets, warding off a late challenge from rivals DeSantis and Haley and cementing his status as the clear Republican frontrunner in the race. Nathan Howard/Bloomberg via Getty Images Andrew Prokop is a senior politics correspondent at Vox, covering the White House, elections, and political scandals and investigations. He’s worked at Vox since the site’s launch in 2014, and before that, he worked as a research assistant at the New Yorker’s Washington, DC, bureau.
Donald Trump won the Iowa caucuses big on Monday. The exact vote tally is still being determined, but he’ll likely end up with around 50 percent of the votes, about 30 percentage points ahead of whoever ends up in second place.
What happened in these results is the same thing that’s been happening throughout the Republican nomination contest: An opportunity slipped away for Trump’s rivals to shake up the race.
Ron DeSantis had bet everything on Iowa as his best shot for a comeback, but he ended up far behind Trump and in a roughly comparable position to Nikki Haley, who downplayed the state. (It’s not clear yet which one of them will end up in second place.) Meanwhile, Haley missed an opportunity to finish far ahead of DeSantis and make clear she’s Trump’s only serious rival.
That does not mean Trump’s won just yet. But he’s certainly on track for it, unless something very dramatic happens — very soon — to shake up the contest.
Iowa alone does not settle anything. To win the GOP presidential nomination, a candidate needs a majority of the 2,429 delegates that will be allotted in states’ primary and caucus contests. Iowa is a small state with just 40 delegates.
The Iowa caucuses’ importance isn’t about delegates, though. The contest matters because a surprising result can reshape the political world’s perceptions about who is most likely to win. Historically, it’s often been a place where something surprising happens.
But sometimes Iowa’s results just affirm the conventional wisdom — and that’s what happened Monday. Trump was the overwhelming favorite, and he remains the overwhelming favorite.
On to New Hampshire
The next opportunity for something surprising to happen to change that state of affairs is New Hampshire’s primary on Tuesday of next week. There, as in Iowa, Trump leads all polls. But his lead has been significantly smaller, with Nikki Haley aiming for second place (and little polling since Chris Christie dropped out).
If Trump wins New Hampshire overwhelmingly, it will be a strong signal that Haley too has failed, and that he’ll win the nomination easily. The caveat there is that it too is a small state with a small number of delegates that does not technically lock down the nomination. Some of his rivals may well stay in through the February contests, in hopes that some sort of deus ex machina will remove Trump from contention.
But Super Tuesday on March 5 would really be when time runs out. Once that day’s contests are over, 47 percent of Republican delegates will be allocated. If Trump has won those contests big, it will be functionally impossible to catch up to dethrone him.
Of course, if Haley wins New Hampshire, or if Trump wins it in a squeaker, then the race is on and we’ll have a real contest. Trump would still, of course, be the clear favorite to win that contest. But it would at least be some sort of contestation rather than a total coronation.