DES MOINES, Iowa – The race for second fiddle continues, but Iowa caucuses were abuzz with hints that the music will eventually stop for candidates not named Donald Trump.
In a short time, the former president won a bonus by his command he took the first place: The war between Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and former U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley promises to continue in New Hampshire and beyond, as his two leading rivals are so close for second place in Iowa.
DeSantis had previously indicated his intention to hold out, planning a trip to South Carolina on Tuesday, tentatively scheduled to last more than a month. His second-place finish in Iowa will only strengthen that decision, giving his team and allies an argument to raise more money. But the margin was too close for comfort or joy.
In her performance in Iowa, Haley missed a chance to knock out DeSantis, who was less competitive. Still, he’s headed for friendlier territory in New Hampshire, where some polls show him within shouting distance of Trump.
But the seeds of potential doom for each of Trump’s opponents were planted beneath the state’s ice-covered cornfields. They are one of four decisions that could be the latest lawmaker in Iowa.
Don’t call DeSantis “The Comeback Kid.”
The good news for DeSantis in Iowa was that his base was enthusiastic enough to brave the cold and make him second. The bad news here is the same for him as it is for the rest of the country: He’s tied to his most loyal voters because he’s lost almost everyone.
There’s no obvious place on the map for him to follow Iowa, where he’s attended hundreds of events and spent tens of millions of dollars with the super PACs supporting him in anything resembling victory. He is trailing Trump and Haley by a wide margin in New Hampshire. Trump is expected to clean up in the Nevada caucus, where Haley did not participate. South Carolina is longtime Trump country, and Haley is a former governor of the state.
That means DeSantis will have to keep his donors and supporters on board for what promises to be a brutal stretch between now and the end of February.
Just avoiding attrition may be too much to ask for a candidate who once looked like a bona fide threat to Trump and scrapped to oust Haley in Iowa.
Bill Clinton famously declared himself the “Comeback Kid” after finishing a surprising second in the 1992 New Hampshire Democratic primary. DeSantis can rightfully claim Monday night’s finish as an upset — Haley won it by 4 points, 20%. 16%, in a recent NBC News/Des Moines Register/Mediacom poll. But this is not a harbinger of success.
If DeSantis doesn’t find a way to start picking some of the voters from both Trump and Haley in the states where he’s gone bad, and “unless” he does a ton of work there – he won’t be The New Comeback Kid.
Haley’s Biden problem
Haley is the clear favorite of “Never Trump” voters — Republicans, independents and crossover Democrats — in Iowa, New Hampshire and many other states.
But he is still fighting for the nomination of a party firmly in Trump’s grip.
In an NBC News/Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa caucus poll, 43% of Haley supporters said they would vote for President Joe Biden in November if he ran against Trump. Only 9% of Haley supporters they said they were extremely enthusiastic about supporting him.
The results in Iowa, where a silent vote could hurt his finish, reflect a softening of his support. That may be because many of the voters who outshine his Republican rivals are not members of the GOP.
Here’s one reason he can’t rely on such a coalition to carry the nomination: About a quarter of the delegates will come from states with closed primaries — open only to GOP voters — according to an NBC News analysis. state-by-state regulations has been published By the National Conference of State Legislatures. Moreover, the entrance poll showed more independents favoring Trump than Haley in Iowa, albeit by a smaller margin than Republicans.
To have any chance of defeating Trump, Haley needs to start appealing to more Republican voters along with her current base. He would have to, as Trump and DeSantis portray him as closer to Biden than the GOP base.
MAGA lovers prefer the original recipe
Vivek Ramaswamy, the fourth-place finisher in Iowa, learned the hard way this month that Trump doesn’t like to be attacked or threatened — not one bit.
For months, Ramaswamy has cast himself as a next-gen version of Trump, and has been relentlessly praising the original.
This put him in a difficult position: his fans were fans of Trump. It also created a problem for Trump, who wanted not to lose his vote share to Ramaswamy.
As time went on, Ramaswamy spoke more harshly about Trump. He said in a radio ad that the MAGA movement must “live” from Trump, and his camp printed T-shirts that read “Save Trump, Vote Vivek.”
By the end of the week, Trump’s team had seen enough. General counsel Chris LaCivita wrote on social media that Ramaswamy was the race’s “number one cheater.” Trump also wrote several articles against Ramaswamy.
Like all breakups, the end was sudden. Like most, it was a long time coming. Ramaswamy fared worse with less than 10% of the vote.
With no chance of winning the nomination — and too risky to anger Trump for a 38-year-old candidate who may have eyes on a long political future — Ramaswamy suspended his campaign Monday night and immediately endorsed Trump. This seems to pave the way for reconciliation.
The end of Iowa?
Biden, who never performed well in Iowa, ended the state’s role as the first contest in the nation for Democrats.
Now Trump is hinting that this could be the state’s last rodeo for Republicans.
Trump has not publicly threatened the status of the Iowa caucuses. And he got a split verdict from Iowans — who narrowly favored Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas in 2016, but favored Trump on Monday with nearly double the share of the vote he received eight years ago.
Still, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds’ decision to endorse DeSantis didn’t sit well with Trump. Iowa governors typically stay out of caucus battles to promote the state to all candidates. Trump did not forget flattery and made little secret of his taste for revenge.
Noting the naming decision of then-Gov. Terry Branstad made way for Reynolds to take the state’s top job, with Trump linking his position on the state’s GOP nomination calendar to what he saw as a betrayal by Reynolds.
“I’m up to no good,” Trump said at a rally in Indianola, Iowa, on Sunday. But “I just thought it was very disloyal,” she said, before adding a veiled threat: “I put you first in the nation!”
What Trump gives, he can also take away — whether he wins the presidency and controls the Republican National Committee, or loses and maintains influence within the party.