Donald Trump showed no cracks in the armour of his campaign to return to the White House after scoring an overwhelming victory in Iowa over his closest Republican rivals, prevailing in all but one of the Midwestern state’s 99 counties.
The result was widely expected, but it confirmed the tight grip Trump has retained over most voters in his party, who remain devoted to him despite the criminal charges he faces in courts across the US and yearn to see him back in office.
It has also raised the stakes for Ron DeSantis, the Florida governor, and Nikki Haley, the former US ambassador to the UN, to mount more effective campaigns against the former president starting with the next contest in New Hampshire next week and into South Carolina next month.
“No one’s campaign is over,” said Kevin Madden, senior partner at consultancy Penta and a former Mitt Romney 2012 campaign official. “Both DeSantis and Haley still have an argument for continuing on. However, judging by what Republican base voters in Iowa are saying, they are currently falling short in making a convincing case that Trump is beatable.
“Republican voters see him as the inevitable nominee, and they’re already falling in line,” he added.
Trump won the Iowa caucuses with 51 per cent of the vote compared with 21 per cent for DeSantis and 19 per cent for Haley. Vivek Ramaswamy, the biotech investor who finished in fourth place, dropped out of the race and endorsed the former president.
With 99 per cent of votes counted on Tuesday morning, Trump had won 98 of Iowa’s 99 counties. The only exception was Johnson County, where Haley was a single vote ahead.
Trump won a majority of Iowa Republicans over 45, very conservative voters, white evangelical Christians and those with some or no university education, according to entrance polls published by the Washington Post.
During his victory speech in downtown Des Moines, the state capital, Trump sought to be charitable towards his remaining rivals, praising them for being “smart people” after launching vicious attacks against them during the race.
“It’s time for the country to come together,” he said. Elise Stefanik, the member of Congress from New York and one of Trump’s top allies on Capitol Hill, called on DeSantis and Haley to drop out of the race.
But both of his rivals are vowing to press on. Even though she finished third in Iowa, Haley has been polling far better than DeSantis in New Hampshire and is hoping to notch a win against Trump to be able to shake up the race to her favour.
New Hampshire is considered more advantageous terrain for her because it is less conservative than Iowa and she appeals to moderates and independents.
“Do you want more of the same or do you want a new generation of conservatives?,” Haley told her supporters at a hotel in West Des Moines, honing the message she will take to New Hampshire. “When I say more of the same, you know what I’m talking about? It’s both Donald Trump and Joe Biden. They have more in common than you think. Seventy per cent of Americans don’t want another rematch.”
DeSantis has also staked out a claim to keep going in the race, even though his polling in New Hampshire is dismal. “In spite of all that they threw at us, everyone against us, we’ve got our ticket punched out of Iowa,” he said.
Dan Eberhart, chief executive of Canary, a Denver-based drilling services company and a prominent DeSantis supporter, dismissed suggestions that the Florida governor would be strapped for cash. “I think the governor has been husbanding resources on the campaign side,” he said. “They will have the money to fight on.”
But Jeff Holcomb, a Republican state representative from Florida who came to Iowa to support DeSantis, was less convinced. He said it was “frustrating” that so many voters were still supporting Trump.
“I think a lot of people just say, ‘Things were better three years ago’, and they are like, ‘That is good enough for me’,” he said.
At a school in Van Meter, a small town west of Des Moines, Lindy Snyder caucused for Trump. “I believe he did a very good job when he was in office and we’ve been downhill ever since,” she said. Many Trump voters said they would vote for him even if he were convicted of a crime and embraced his debunked denial of the 2020 election results.
Linda Bos, 71, a caucus captain for Trump at Eternity Church in Clive, Iowa, said she did not have confidence that the elections in November would be free and fair, saying Trump would only defeat Biden “if they don’t cheat”.
“I just hope that we have a big enough turnout that it can override that and overcome that,” she said.
In a memo released after the votes were counted in Iowa, Haley’s campaign manager Betsy Ankney wrote that Trump was still “more vulnerable than commonly believed” and still “the polarising figure he has long been”.
“Around half of Republican primary voters want more of Trump and around half prefer an alternative. That is the picture of a seriously contested nomination,” she wrote.
The article was updated to reflect that Nikki Haley is ahead in one of Iowa’s 99 counties.
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