Fourteen months after Donald Trump became the first national figure to declare his candidacy for the 2024 presidential race, and after at least five other candidates both entered and dropped out of the race for the White House, we finally have an official nominating event: the Iowa Republican caucuses.
In one sense, little is at stake when Iowa’s Republican voters head to their local precincts on Monday night. Just forty Republican delegates are up for grabs. That’s less than 2 percent of the 2,429 delegates that will gather in Milwaukee on July 15 at the Republican National Convention to pick a nominee. Moreover, Iowa Republicans allocate their delegates on a proportional basis. So the top finishers will all come away with some delegates.
On the other hand, a lot is at stake Monday night. The results, or more precisely, the consensus that emerges on what those results mean, could either end the race or upend it. Polls show Trump with a commanding lead among Iowa Republicans. If that translates into votes on Monday night, he would set the record for the largest margin of victory in caucus history. That would fuel stories that he has the nomination locked up. Conversely, if he underperforms his poll numbers, expect to read and hear a lot about how the Republican primary has turned into a real race. Regardless of how Trump does on Monday night, the results will likely further narrow the race as the candidates who finish third or worse find it harder to persuade both donors and voters that they have a viable path to the White House.
A wildcard in all this is the weather. A blizzard hit the state today, and temperatures are forecast to be below zero Fahrenheit Monday night with windchills dipping as low as minus forty degrees. Having lived in Iowa for a dozen years, I know Iowans can deal with the snow and the cold. Even so, the combination might persuade some voters who think their favored candidate is a shoo-in to do well or likely to lose badly to stay home. That is why all the campaigns are doing their utmost to get their voters to the polls.
If you are curious about the mechanics of the caucuses, Republican voters will cast secret ballots. Remote participation—including absentee ballots—isn’t allowed (hence the concerns about the weather). Only registered Republicans can vote, and they can only vote in their home precinct. The vote begins at 7 p.m. Central Time, and the results should be known in time for the late evening news on the East Coast.
And if you’re wondering about Iowa’s Democrats, they will be meeting Monday evening as well. But they will be conducting local party business rather than deciding on their presidential nominee. The traditional Iowa Democratic presidential caucuses have gone by the wayside following the bungled 2020 count and the Democratic Party’s decision last year to adopt a new primary schedule for 2024. Iowa Democrats will instead choose their presidential pick via a mail-in ballot, with the results released on March 5. Not that there is much suspense about which candidate will get Iowa’s Democratic delegates.
Chris Christie pulled the plug on his presidential race on Wednesday. He said that he decided to drop out because “It’s clear to me tonight that there isn’t a path for me to win the nomination.” Christie didn’t endorse any of his rivals for the nomination. He instead accused them of “cowardice and hypocrisy” by being willing to voice their concerns about Trump only “in private, behind closed doors quietly so no one could hear.”
Last Friday, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear Trump’s lawsuit contesting the Colorado Supreme Court’s decision to bar him from Colorado’s primary ballot. The U.S. Supreme Court scheduled oral arguments for February 8.
Trump filed suit in Georgia on Monday asking a county judge to dismiss the criminal case that the Georgia Fulton County District Attorney has brought against him. Trump argued that the case should be dismissed on the grounds that he was acting within his official presidential duties when he asked Georgia’s secretary of state to find votes for him, and as a result, he is immune from prosecution.
Trump submitted his paperwork last week to be on the Illinois ballot, but in doing so declined to sign the loyalty oath that the state asks political candidates to sign. The oath requires candidates to agree that they “do not directly or indirectly teach or advocate the overthrow of the government of the United States or of this state or any unlawful change in the form of the governments thereof by force or any unlawful means.” Trump signed the oath, which was enacted during the McCarthy era, when he ran for the presidency in 2016 and 2020. Trump’s decision not to sign the oath this time around has no practical effect. The courts have ruled that the oath is unconstitutional.
Oregon’s Supreme Court ruled earlier today that Trump can remain on the state’s primary ballot pending a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court on the challenge Trump has filed against the Colorado Supreme Court’s decision to remove him from the ballot on the grounds that his candidacy violates the provisions of the Fourteenth Amendment.
FiveThirtyEight explored the various scenarios if either Biden or Trump left the presidential race before Election Day. What happens depends in part on when they dropped out. One thing to keep in mind: States have different deadlines for getting names on the ballot as well as different rules on whether write-in votes are possible.
The Candidates in Their Own Words
Trump criticized Biden this morning for ordering airstrikes yesterday against Houthi targets in Yemen.
The Biden administration could be forgiven if it finds this criticism to be a bit rich. After all, Trump set in motion the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan that he now considers to be a surrender. His administration supported a war in Yemen when he was president; indeed, Trump vetoed a bill that would have forced an end to U.S. involvement in the war. And in disparaging Biden’s use of force against the Houthis, Trump touted his own success in using military force against ISIS.
Ron DeSantis and Nikki Haley squared off on Wednesday night at Drake University in Des Moines in a debate sponsored by CNN. The two rivals largely agreed on immigration policy. When asked whether he would allow any of the ten million undocumented immigrants in the United States to stay in the country, DeSantis responded: “The number of people that will be amnestied when I’m president is zero... All it’s going to do is cause more people to want to come illegally... [and] remove benefits for people who are here illegally.”
For her part, Haley responded: “You have to deport them, and the reason you have to deport them is, they’re cutting the line. You've got people who have done this and tried to go through the right way.”
DeSantis and Haley parted ways, however, when it came to Ukraine. Haley offered a full-throated defense of providing military aid to Kyiv, arguing that it “is about preventing war” and that it’s “only 3.5 percent of our defense budget.” DeSantis variously asserted that the United States couldn’t afford to provide aid to Ukraine, should “focus on our issues here at home,” and that “we need to find a way to end this.” He didn’t say how he would “end this,” or whether the way we “end this” would affect U.S. strategic interests.
The exchange DeSantis and Haley had on Israel’s war on Hamas was muddled. They agreed that the United States should enable Israel to “finish the job.” However, DeSantis criticized Haley for supporting a two-state solution between Israelis and Palestinians. He said he would defer to the Israelis on “these sensitive issues” and that he would support Israel in expelling Palestinians from Gaza “if they make the calculation that to avert a second Holocaust, they need to do that.” Haley declined to defend the two-state solution, which has been U.S. policy since Bill Clinton was president, or to challenge what could be read as DeSantis’s approval of the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians. (Last week, Haley said that “I don’t think you have to remove Palestinians from Gaza,” rather “you have to remove Hamas from Gaza.”) She instead attacked DeSantis for inviting Tom Massie, a Republican House member from Kentucky, who she claimed “went and voted against Israel’s right to exist.”
While DeSantis and Haley were attacking each other, Trump was across town at a town hall sponsored by Fox News. Foreign policy wasn’t a major theme for either the hosts or the audience.
Trump did claim that the war in Ukraine and Hamas’s attack on Israel “would have never happened…a zero percent chance” if he had won reelection in 2020. That is what social scientists would say is a non-falsifiable statement.
What the Pundits Are Saying
Gerald Seib argued in Foreign Affairs that the 2024 presidential election “is the most consequential moment for Republican foreign policy since 1952, when Dwight Eisenhower defeated his isolationist challengers to secure the party’s presidential nomination.” In Seib’s view, the Republicans’ challenge is to “blend elements of Reagan-era internationalism and Trump-era ‘America first’ impulses into a coherent strategy and view of the world.”
The Campaign Schedule
The Iowa caucuses, the first nominating event on the election calendar, are three days away (January 15, 2024).
The South Carolina primary, the first Democratic primary, is twenty-two days away (February 3, 2024).
The State of the Union address is fifty-five days away (March 7, 2024).
The start of the Republican National Convention in Milwaukee is 185 days away (July 15, 2024).
The start of the Democratic National Convention in Chicago is 220 days away (August 19, 2024).
Election Day is 298 days away.
Sinet Adous assisted in the preparation of this post.