Trump wins historic landslide in Iowa caucuses as DeSantis edges Haley for second

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

As widely expected, former President Donald Trump cruised to a 30-point victory in Monday’s chilly Iowa caucuses, the opening salvo of the 2024 GOP nominating contest. The rout further cemented Trump’s status as the most likely candidate to face off against President Biden in November’s general election.

The Associated Press called Iowa for Trump at 8:32 p.m. EST — just half an hour after the caucuses began.

Yet Iowans also braved snowy, subzero conditions to weigh in on which of the former president’s remaining Republican rivals — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis or former South Carolina governor turned United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley — had earned the right to be the GOP’s top Trump alternative going forward.

They delivered a split decision, awarding both DeSantis (about 21%) and Haley (about 19%) a fifth of the vote — and all but ensuring that the two candidates continue to divide the party’s anti-Trump faction in future primary contests.

After 11:00 p.m. EST, the AP determined that DeSantis had finished in second place, narrowly edging Haley.

Good news for Trump

Trump set sky-high expectations for his performance ahead of caucus night, urging volunteers Sunday in Des Moines to “see if we can get to 50%" support — a bar no GOP candidate has ever cleared. With more than 90% of precincts reporting, Trump appeared poised to make history with 51% of the vote.

Previously, the biggest GOP margin of victory in Iowa was Bob Dole's nearly 13-point landslide over Pat Robertson in 1988.

Donald Trump
Donald Trump at a caucus night party in Des Moines on Monday. (Andrew Harnik/AP)

But it wasn’t just Trump’s record-setting win that made Monday such a good night for the former president. Haley also helped Trump by failing to finish in second place — an outcome that could have forced DeSantis from the race, allowing her to consolidate support ahead of next week’s New Hampshire primary.

"I want to congratulate Ron and Nikki for having a good time together," Trump said in his victory speech. "We're all having a good time together and I think they both actually did very well."

Did Haley miss her chance?

Once seen as the GOP’s likeliest Trump slayer — he led the former president in national surveys for a brief spell in late 2022 and early 2023 — DeSantis lost altitude soon after launching his heavily hyped campaign last May.

He had long staked his comeback on a strong showing in the Hawkeye State, visiting all 99 counties, landing the coveted endorsements of Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds and evangelical leader Bob Vander Plaats and organizing his supporters to knock on nearly a million doors.

Yet Haley — who had been mired in fourth in the Iowa polls, with just 4% support — rocketed ahead of DeSantis in the state’s final surveys after several solid debate performances.

Ron DeSantis
Ron DeSantis at a campaign event in Ankeny, Iowa, on Sunday. (Charlie Neibergall/AP)

Seeking a knockout punch, Haley’s campaign and her allied super-PAC combined to spend more on Iowa advertising over the last two weeks than any other candidate: a full $7.8 million compared to $6.1 million for DeSantis and just $3.5 million for Trump.

For DeSantis, even a narrow loss to Haley would have come as a devastating blow. In New Hampshire — which holds its primary next Tuesday, Jan. 23 — the Floridian (who averages 6% in the polls there) trails far behind both Haley (30%) and Trump (43%).

Instead, squeaking out a second-place result will give DeSantis a reason to continue campaigning in New Hampshire and beyond.

To that end, DeSantis finance chair Roy Bailey said Monday that the campaign has “plenty of fuel in the tank to get the job done ... into Super Tuesday” — the big pileup of 15 GOP primaries on March 5 — assuming they “have the success I think we can have in Iowa and exceed expectations.”

Onward to New Hampshire

Haley remains the only candidate within striking distance of Trump in the Granite State, where the state’s independent-minded electorate has gravitated toward her over DeSantis.

Haley also averages double DeSantis’s support — 25% versus 12% — in her home state of South Carolina, which votes fourth on Feb. 24.

"At one point in this campaign, there were 14 of us running; I was at 2% in the polls," Haley said in her speech Monday night. "The pundits will analyze the results from every angle. We get that. But when you look at how we're doing in New Hampshire, in South Carolina and beyond, I can safely say that Iowa made this Republican primary a two-person race."

Experts have long seen New Hampshire, which allows “undeclared voters” to cross over and participate in party primaries, as the best place for a Trump challenger to gain momentum. The fewer non-Trump candidates on the ballot, the thinking goes, the more support will accrue to the last man — or woman — standing.

Nikki Haley
Nikki Haley, center, greets supporters during a campaign event in Des Moines. (Carolyn Kaster/AP)

Similar logic led former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, whose New Hampshire poll numbers were about twice as high as DeSantis’s, to end his campaign last week. “I am going to make sure that in no way do I enable Donald Trump to ever be president of the United States again,” Christie said at the time. “That’s more important than my own personal ambition.”

But DeSantis won't follow in Christie’s footsteps after finishing ahead of Haley in Iowa.

"You helped us get a ticket punched out of the Hawkeye State," the Florida governor told supporters in his speech Monday night. "We have a lot of work to do. But I can tell you this: As the next president of the United States, I am gonna get the job done for this country."

As a result, it’s Trump who will emerge from Iowa in a stronger position than ever.

Why Iowa went for Trump

Despite lower-than-usual turnout due to weather, an estimated 120,000 Iowans still showed up — and the lion’s share caucused for a figure who faces four criminal trials on 91 felony charges ranging from election interference to hoarding classified documents.

Why? According to the AP's VoteCast survey, a full three-quarters of Iowa caucus-goers said the charges against Trump are political attempts to undermine him rather than legitimate attempts to investigate alleged crimes.

Nearly two-thirds (63%) of respondents to the National Election Pool entrance poll said that Trump would still be fit to serve as president if convicted of a crime — double the number who said the opposite (32%). And among white evangelicals, Trump’s support — just 22% in 2016 — soared to 53% this time around.

“I’m here in part out of spite,” Marc Smiarowski, a 44-year-old public utility worker, told the AP at Trump's final pre-caucus rally Sunday in Indianola. “I can’t abandon him. [With] the political persecution he faces, I feel like I owe him this.”