Tuesday, January 9, 2024
Year : 1, Issue : 19
by Osita Nwanevu
There were no surprises out of Iowa. Donald Trump had led the state’s polls by about 30 points and current tallies suggest that he’s won by about that much.
The voters who braved the bitter cold to officially kick off the Republican primary were, plainly, exactly the ones the former president needed and wanted – ABC’s entrance polls registered immigration and the economy as their top issues and additionally found that 63% of caucus-goers would consider Trump fit for the presidency even if he were convicted of a crime. All of this was predictable; all of it suggests that the time and energy the candidates and the media alike have spent hyping up this first contest– and perhaps this primary campaign as a whole – have been mostly wasted.
There was a bit of manufactured drama over the question of whether Trump would win the caucuses by at least 50%, in keeping with his standing in the pre-caucus polls – a metric Haley took a particular interest in given that Trump’s “underperformance” on that score might narratively lay the groundwork for a potential upset in New Hampshire.
But it’s been widely forgotten that Trump actually lost Iowa back in 2016 as a much weaker candidate before going on to take the nomination. He’s doing well enough in the national polls – with the support of more than 60% of the Republican electorate – that losing New Hampshire won’t be fatal for him and losing Iowa altogether likely wouldn’t have been either.
If it was ever in the cards, Trump’s defeat in the primaries was never going to be a matter of dominoes tipping away after a crucial loss – without a campaign and a message that can capture a meaningful share of the voters Trump has held in thrall.
There’s been some talk about whether airing these critiques of Trump earlier on might have boosted DeSantis’s candidacy, but the actual course of the primary suggests DeSantis would have wound up in the Republican party’s marginalized anti-Trump minority with Nikki Haley, at best, or found.
As such, Trump is still on a glide path to the nomination; as the press absorbs that fact, we might finally see more sustained attention to what he’s been saying and promising to voters. His recent comments about immigrants “poisoning the blood of the country” and Washington DC have raised some of the old alarms, though reporting on the ground suggests this rhetoric isn’t lighting the same fires among Trump supporters that it used to.
His rhetoric may well command that kind of attention again soon, but the incentives that drove eyes away from Trump will be in play for a little while longer as these early races continue. The political press thrives on uncertainty and will create some uncertainty where none really exists; there remains too, among Trump’s Republican critics and political reporters alike, a drive to convince the country and themselves that the conservative movement is, even now, more than a cult of personality.
And it is, really: Trump is the product of currents on the right that long preceded him and will live on after he leaves the political stage, whenever that might be. He’s simply channeled them far more effectively than his challengers– so much more so that he remains the party’s likely nominee.
Author is a Guardian US columnist