Tuesday, January 16, 2024

It was always going to be Trump

 The 2024 Iowa caucuses are in the books with no surprises. With 99 percent reporting, Donald Trump was the clear favorite with 51 percent of the vote. Ron DeSantis eked out a second-place finish with 21 percent, two points ahead of Nikki Haley. Vivek Ramaswamy picked up three delegates for his fourth-place finish with seven percent before dropping out. Asa Hutchinson also showed up but barely. 

Aside from Donald Trump, the big winner of the night was the polling industry. The results were very close to the FiveThirtyEight and Real Clear Politics averages. The big difference between the polling and the actual results was that Ron DeSantis outperformed his numbers. That might have been due to differences in the expected turnout. 

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash


But the top-line result was no surprise. Donald Trump has been the frontrunner in both Iowa and national Republican polling since the averages started keeping track in May 2023. Despite talk of challenges from DeSantis and a late surge from Haley, Trump’s position within the GOP has only gotten stronger. 

Well, maybe one person was surprised. As late as yesterday, Erick Erickson was still saying, “DeSantis could really stun people. He has the most impressive operation in Iowa.” Erickson also predicted a DeSantis win last month. 

There was a time when it looked as though the story might have been different. For that, we have to look back to the days following the Republican midterm disaster of 2022. After watching numerous MAGA candidates snatch defeat from the jaws of victory in what should have been winnable races, there was some hope that Republican voters would see the folly of persisting on the same trumpy course in 2024. 

Alas, the Republican introspection did not last long. 

Entrance polls from the caucuses illustrate the problem. Per CBS News, the most important factor for caucus-goers was that a candidate “shares my values” at 40 percent. That was followed closely by 34 percent who wanted someone who “fights for people like me.” Only 12 percent said the “right temperament” while 11 percent wanted someone who “can beat Joe Biden.”

These results confirm what I have long believed about Republicans, namely that they prefer a fighter to a winner. Three-quarters of Republican voters don’t care if Trump would make a good president or if he can beat Biden. As a result, the party is likely to get a train wreck of a candidate who can’t beat Biden. 

Going further, 64 percent of caucus-goers say that Trump is “fit to be president even if convicted of a crime” and 65 percent don’t believe that Biden won a legitimate victory in 2020. These data points are illustrative of the bubble of confirmation bias that has enveloped Republicans in the Trump years. 

The fact that Republicans don’t acknowledge that Trump lost goes a long way toward explaining Trump’s commanding lead. Republican voters think of him as an incumbent and he polls as such. 

This bubble of confirmation bias is largely the fault of cowardly Republican officials and media personalities who won’t tell their base the truth. Most Republicans are afraid of Trump’s base. Republican politicians are afraid that they will be primaried by MAGA candidates. Republican pundits are afraid of the MAGA cancel culture that does not tolerate criticism of The Former Guy. 

They are also afraid for their lives and their families in the face of MAGA threats. My Republican congressman was one of several who received death threats after refusing to vote for Jim Jordan as House Speaker last year. It’s no surprise that he is retiring this year. 

The fear of violence also explains the wave of Trump endorsements over the weekend. Among those rushing to express loyalty to Trump at the last minute were Marco Rubio, Doug Burgum, and Mike Lee, who somehow thought that there was a “binary choice” three days before the first nominating contest in the nation, a caucus that included at least half a dozen candidates. 

This reminds me of a good movie that I watched over the holidays called “8-Bit Christmas.” The movie is reminiscent of an 80s version of “A Christmas Story,” and one of the memorable moments is when a father talks to his son about trying to find a Cabbage Patch doll for his daughter.

I couldn’t find the full clip, unfortunately, but the quote goes something like this, “I don’t negotiate with terrorists. I give them what they want.”

As I wrote recently, Nikki Haley has a shot at winning New Hampshire, but after that, her prospects look bleak unless there is a major shift. Donald Trump is almost certainly going to be the Republican nominee. And he’s almost certainly going to lose in November. Polling is already starting to shift towards Biden after a brief Trump surge. 

In 2016, the Republican Party supported Trump reluctantly against Hillary. In 2020 and 2024, they doubled and tripled down on him because they like him. This is especially disappointing of the 55 percent of Iowa Christians who supported Trump, the most unchristlike candidate in the race. The Republican Party is Trump’s party now, and the string of electoral defeats is likely to continue until Republican voters realize that most Americans don’t like MAGA. 

I’m going to go out on a limb and predict that Republicans won’t accept this year’s Trump defeat any more than they did the last one. And I’m very concerned that MAGA will resort to violence once again as a result. 

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CAUCUS COMPLAINT: I want to add that I have complained about the primary system in the past, but caucuses are worse. FiveThirtyEight noted that only about five percent of Iowa voters participate in the caucuses. Aside from Iowa being a state that is very unrepresentative of America as a whole, the caucus system rewards fanaticism and zealotry. It was practically made for a personality cult like Trump’s. That goes double for when the caucus date falls during a winter storm. 

It may be a tell that immigration was a top issue for voters in Iowa, a state closer to Canada than Mexico, and one where immigrant labor is probably widely used on farms. I can speculate that a lot of that concern comes from alarmist news broadcasts.

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VIVEK RAMASWAMY BYE-KU: Continuing my stolen tradition of haikus to mark the exit of candidates from the race, here is my offering for Vivek Ramaswamy, who dropped out shortly after the Iowa caucuses were complete. 

Ramaswamy gone

MAGA had no use for

A brown-skinned Trump clone

PROSTATE CANCER BLOG: And finally, I mentioned that I had good news on the cancer front. You can read the details in my newest prostate cancer blog post.

My Prostate Cancer Journey
One Day At A Time
January marks the first anniversary of my prostate cancer diagnosis. On January 11, 2023, I learned about my cancer through a phone call. Two days later, one year ago today, I sat down with my urologist and my wife to discuss the options. Things moved pretty quickly and I had my surgery in February. Time marches on and I had a follow-up appointment with…
Read more

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