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Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump takes the stage at a caucus night party in Des Moines, Iowa, ON JanUARY 15, 2024. Image Credit: AP

DES MOINES, United States: Donald Trump’s victory Monday in the Iowa caucuses surprised no one, confirming his grip on the Republican Party and offering clues about the campaign ahead.

Here are five takeaways from the first contest of the 2024 election race, where Trump supporters defied bitter cold to deliver a victory for the ex-president, who swept aside challengers Ron DeSantis and Nikki Haley.

Trump, GOP master

In his first judgment by voters since his chaotic White House departure in 2021, the verdict is clear: It’s still Trump’s Republican Party.

Just over half of caucus goers voted for the 77-year-old Trump, and entrance polls show he won across the board including with the religious right.

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Christian conservatives were initially skeptical of Trump, who is plagued by sexual assault accusations and allegations of a tryst with a porn star. But they warmed to the tycoon since three of his Supreme Court picks spearheaded the bench’s anti-abortion moves.

It marks an extraordinary turn in America, where defeated politicians are often left behind by their party. Not so with Trump.

Who’s in second?

Battling for scraps were Florida Governor DeSantis and Trump’s onetime UN ambassador Haley.

While DeSantis narrowly won second spot, he is under immense pressure given he sank everything he had into doing well in Iowa — but still lost by 30 percentage points.

Trump fit to be president even if convicted: Poll
Most Republicans at Iowa’s caucus said they felt Donald Trump would be fit for the White House even if he were convicted of a crime, an entrance poll showed on Monday, underscoring the strong hold the former president has on the Republican Party.
About two-thirds of caucus-goers also said they did not believe Democratic President Joe Biden legitimately won the 2020 election, according to the poll.
Following are highlights from the Edison Research poll based on interviews with 1,628 Iowa Republicans.
66% said they did not think Biden legitimately won the presidency in 2020.
65% said they decided who to support in the presidential nomination contest before this month.
65% said Trump would still be fit to be president if he were convicted of a crime. 31% said he would be unfit if convicted.
61% said they favor a federal law that would ban abortions nationwide.
53% of white caucus-goers who considered themselves evangelical or born-again Christians supported Trump, while 27% backed DeSantis.
46% of voters said they considered themselves part of the MAGA movement, a reference to Trump’s Make America Great Again slogan. 50% said they were not part of that movement.
Trump led Haley and DeSantis by double digits among men and women alike. But among college graduates Trump was preferred by about 37% of caucus-goers, compared to 28% for Haley and 26% for DeSantis.
38% percent of caucus-goers said the economy was the issue that mattered most in deciding who to vote for on Monday, compared to 34% who cited immigration, while the rest cited foreign policy or abortion.
14% said the most important quality a Republican presidential nominee should have is the ability to beat Biden, compared to 41% who said shared values mattered most.
Edison Research conducted the poll on behalf of the National Election Pool, a consortium of news organizations including Reuters. -- Reuters

Nevertheless DeSantis told supporters “we’ve got our ticket punched out of Iowa,” as the choreographed political ballet shifts to the northeastern state of New Hampshire.

That is seen as more fertile ground for Haley, considered the more moderate of the top three and who has gained on Trump in the Granite State.

She fared respectably in Iowa, at 19 per cent compared to DeSantis’s 21 per cent, and on Monday night predicted she would outpace DeSantis next week in New Hampshire and in her home state of South Carolina, another key battleground.

Each claim to be the future of the Republican Party, and could ultimately be looking down the road to the 2028 election.

What legal problems?

Will former real estate mogul Trump’s multiple legal challenges weigh him down in 2024? Not on the campaign trail, if Iowa is any indication.

He is under criminal indictment in four cases, but none has dented his popularity with party voters.

CNN polls show most Republican caucus participants, including nearly three quarters of Trump voters, believe he is fit for the presidency even if convicted of a crime.

Trump, who faces yet another trial opening on Tuesday in New York, has put his legal challenges at the heart of his campaign, railing against the alleged “witch hunt” by Democrats.

All over?

Not quite. Trump’s resounding victory in Iowa gives him momentum for sure, but the caucuses — with barely 100,000 voters — are quirky party-run affairs that do not necessarily translate nationally.

“I don’t know a single analyst who didn’t think Trump would win Iowa... It’s heavily Republican and evangelical,” Larry Sabato, a political science professor at the University of Virginia, told AFP. “New Hampshire will be much more interesting.”

The state bordering Canada votes on January 23, and Haley is aiming to shrink Trump’s lead there.

Biden gearing up?

The White House incumbent, barring a shock, will be nominated in August. But he is already preparing for a rematch of his 2020 Trump duel, saying Monday that the Iowa results make Trump “the clear front runner on the other side.”

Biden’s re-election campaign is flush; earlier Monday it announced a massive war chest of $117 million - a considerable asset in a country known for expensive presidential races.

Republican political consultant Mike Madrid said Biden was the night’s big winner. “He’s gonna get the candidate he wants: Trump.”