How Donald Trump ran away with the 2024 Iowa Caucuses by breaking all the playbook rules

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Former President Donald Trump has won the Iowa Republican caucuses.

The Associated Press declared him the winner at 7:31 p.m., just 31 minutes after caucusing started for the night. Six precincts out of 1,657 precincts had reported results at the time.

Trump earned 51% of the vote when all was said and done, beating his closest opponent by almost 30 percentage points in a record-setting margin of victory for a Republican in the caucuses.

More: Early call of Trump as winner of Iowa Caucuses stirs anger. Here's why it happened

Claiming victory at his campaign's watch party in Des Moines, he called on Americans of all political stripes to "come together" and praised his primary opponents, all of whom failed to erode his unprecedented lead. And as he continued to tout his past administration and sketch out the blueprint for his second, he thanked supporters for delivering him a win in the first-in-the-nation contest.

"Iowa, we love you," Trump said. "Just go out and buy larger tractors and more land. Don't worry about it."

2024 Iowa Caucuses: Results by precinct

Maps: See county-by-county results

Earlier in the evening, minutes before news outlets declared his victory, he took the stage at a caucus site in Clive, attacking Joe Biden's administration as a "disaster" and calling himself the best president for farmers and Iowans.

Preceded and followed by standing ovations, Trump received shouts of "I love you!" and "you didn't lose!" when he spoke of the 2020 election. And as he walked off stage, one attendee shouted "the best has yet to come!"

He left the stage in Des Moines on Monday night to a 1960s tune that throughout the campaign has doubled as a message to his supporters and opponents alike: "Hold On, I'm Comin'."

Donald Trump's path through Iowa before the caucuses

To hear Trump tell it, the 2024 Iowa Caucuses were over before they had even begun.

When the former president arrived in the Des Moines metro in June for his second Iowa campaign trip of the caucus cycle, one day after Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis formally launched his own candidacy, he was frank in his assessment of the race:

"We'd have to do some really bad things to lose at this point," he said.

On Monday night, Republican caucusgoers proved him correct, awarding him his second straight Iowa Caucus victory and a key first win on the GOP primary calendar as he aims to reassert his leadership over the party.

He will now head to New Hampshire on the path toward his third Republican nomination, waging an unprecedented campaign as he faces 91 criminal charges stemming from his private business ventures, his mishandling of classified documents and his attempt to overturn the 2020 election.

And in the coming months, he is set to appear in court increasingly often between campaign stops.

Trump for months asserted to supporters that they would deliver him a "historic" and "landslide" victory in the first-in-the-nation caucuses.

Polling bore out that possibility, with the former president peaking at 51% of support in December's Iowa Poll. But a weekend blizzard that brought whipping wind chills and blanketed the state in snow raised questions about caucus turnout and Trump's eventual margin of victory.

Full coverage: AP calls for Trump but the results are still trickling in. Here's how to follow live coverage and early results

In his visits to population centers across Iowa, surrounded at all times by adoring supporters clad in red MAGA hats and custom Trump gear, the former president has lambasted challengers such as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley; continued to falsely assert that he won the 2020 election; attacked the prosecutors and charges brought against him; and assured Iowans that their support — which he was confident he would receive — would deliver a first step back to the White House.

“America’s not great right now," Trump said in a January visit to Clinton. "We’re going to make it great. We’re going to make it greater than ever before, but right now we’re a laughingstock of the world. This election is our last chance to save America, and that begins in Iowa. It begins right here."

Trump's 2024 campaign: Spurning Iowa leaders while defending his administration and policies

Trump and his campaign effectively turned the traditional Iowa Caucus playbook on its head, continuing to aim to define the Republican Party and election cycle on his own terms.

He spurned some of the most prominent conservative leaders in the state, attacking Gov. Kim Reynolds for remaining neutral early in the race and then endorsing DeSantis, soon followed by Family Leader CEO Bob Vander Plaats. Trump dismissed the endorsements as inconsequential, even as he attacked Reynolds for disloyalty.

He largely shrugged off the retail politicking made famous by the caucuses, making just 22 scheduled public visits the entire cycle, according to the Des Moines Register's Candidate Tracker. Almost all of them were campaign-organized rallies in population centers, while his challengers shook hands at Pizza Ranches and visited as many counties as possible.

At all but a few "cattle call" events, where prominent organizations or elected officials invite the entire slate of candidates, Trump was absent.

And pressed on key conservative issues like abortion, Trump toed the line on policy in ways that frustrated evangelical leaders, calling a six-week abortion ban like the one passed in Iowa a "horrible thing" and insisting that Republicans who took a hard-line approach to the issue would lose elections.

None of it appeared to matter.

Throughout the entire cycle, Trump held massive polling leads over his challengers. His final mark of 48% support in an Iowa Poll released Saturday, with a 28-point lead, is the highest margin of leading support for a Republican in the final poll before the caucuses in the Iowa Poll's history. He holds a plurality of support from every demographic group included in the poll.

How a large field of challengers gradually shrunk under Trump's lead

Trump's challengers sought to chip away his unprecedented Iowa lead in a variety of ways, few of which proved effective.

After months of largely avoiding direct criticism of the former president, DeSantis attacked him from the right, arguing he was unsuitably conservative on a wide range of issues. Haley warned voters of the "chaos" that followed him wherever he went and served as a distraction from key conservative goals.

The former president responded by calling them both disloyal, attacking their record on issues like social service funding and ethanol, and lobbing insults like "DeSanctimonious" and "Birdbrain" while taking credit for their previous rise in political capital.

Former President Donald Trump calls Blake Marnell, of San Diego, onto the stage Monday, Jan. 15, 2024, at the Trump caucus night watch party at the Iowa Events Center in Des Moines.
Former President Donald Trump calls Blake Marnell, of San Diego, onto the stage Monday, Jan. 15, 2024, at the Trump caucus night watch party at the Iowa Events Center in Des Moines.

Trump congratulated his three top challengers for their performance in his victory speech Monday, saying Haley and DeSantis, who battled for second place in the weeks before the caucuses, "actually did very well." And he praised Vivek Ramaswamy for doing a "hell of a job" coming from virtually zero recognition. The praise marked a sharp departure from months of attacks on Haley and DeSantis, as well as recently lashing out at Ramaswamy. Ramaswamy dropped out of the race late Monday and endorsed Trump.

"They're very smart people, very capable people," Trump said.

DeSantis' communications director said the early calling of the race for Trump was "election interference."

"It is absolutely outrageous that the media would participate in election interference by calling the race before tens of thousands of Iowans even had a chance to vote. The media is in the tank for Trump and this is the most egregious example yet," Andrew Romeo said in a statement.

Other GOP hopefuls fell well short of caucus night, dropping out of the race as Trump maintained his coalition of support.

His former running mate, Mike Pence, who a Des Moines Register Political Soapbox attendee accused of "treason" at the Iowa State Fair for his refusal to deny certification of the 2020 election results on Jan. 6, 2021, dropped out after drying up on money and support.

Republican presidential candidate and former Vice President Mike Pence speaks at the Iowa Faith & Freedom Coalition's fall banquet, Saturday, Sept. 16, 2023, in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Bryon Houlgrave)
Republican presidential candidate and former Vice President Mike Pence speaks at the Iowa Faith & Freedom Coalition's fall banquet, Saturday, Sept. 16, 2023, in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Bryon Houlgrave)

U.S. Sen. Tim Scott's more optimistic approach failed to tap into an evangelical community still supportive of Trump. And former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who largely ignored Iowa for New Hampshire, failed to resonate while lobbing the most explicit attacks on Trump among the field.

Both DeSantis and Haley, by the time Iowans set out to caucus, had established networks of organizers and volunteers throughout the state. A super PAC backing DeSantis, Never Back Down, sent paid staffers and volunteers to knock hundreds of thousands of doors, and Americans for Prosperity, the Koch-financed political group, fanned out across the state in a late push for Haley after endorsing her.

But the former president's operation matched their efforts with a robust organizing network of their own, a far cry from a scattershot 2016 Iowa Caucus campaign that ended in second place behind U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz. An army of volunteer "caucus captains" led voter outreach, bolstered through the rallies that doubled as opportunities to gather caucusgoer contact information.

Who would Donald Trump's vice president be if he's the nominee?

Trump said at a Fox News town hall in Iowa on Wednesday evening that he's already decided on a vice presidential running mate for the general election, but declined to name the person.

Asked about the process of selecting his partner on the 2024 ticket if nominated, Trump said, "I know who it's going to be."

Chris LaCivita and Jason Miller, senior campaign advisers to Trump, told reporters after the town hall that he had spoken to close allies about what "qualities" he had been looking for in a candidate but had not explicitly discussed names. They declined to elaborate on those qualities.

"That's an issue that we really have not in any great detail discussed," LaCivita said. "I'm sure when that times comes, everybody will know who it is."

Galen Bacharier covers politics for the Register. Reach him at or (573) 219-7440, and follow him on Twitter @galenbacharier.

This article originally appeared on Des Moines Register: Donald Trump spurns Iowa Caucus playbook while cruising to victory