The big questions hanging over the Iowa caucuses: Here’s what to expect | ET REALITY


There may seem to be little suspense over who is likely to win the Republican presidential caucuses in Iowa on Monday.

But in Iowa, the unexpected can be the expected and a win isn’t always a win. The outcome could shape the future of the Republican Party at a time of transition, and the future of the Iowa caucuses after a difficult decade. It could help determine whether Nikki Haley, the former US ambassador, represents a serious obstacle to Donald J. Trump’s return to power, or whether Ron DeSantis, the governor of Florida, will be forced to drop out of the race.

Here’s a guide to some possible outcomes and what they mean for contenders:

All the assumptions about a big night for Trump mean that the former president’s biggest opponent may turn out to be expectations, and not his two main rivals in the election, Haley and DeSantis. Trump and his campaign have set the bar high. Trump has run as the incumbent, without even debating his opponents. His advisors say they believe he can set a record for an open race if he finishes at least 12 points ahead of his closest rival.

And for Trump, that could be a problem.

“Trump has been polling around 50 percent or so,” said Dennis J. Goldford, a political science professor at Drake University in Des Moines. “If he made it to 40, he would be a flashing yellow light. “That suggests weaknesses and uncertainty.”

Two forces could complicate Trump’s hopes for the night. Those same polls that show him on his way to victory, the polls he brags about at nearly every rally he holds in Iowa, could fuel complacency among his supporters. Why go out and caucus? Caucus Day Temperatures Expected to Reach a High high zero degrees in some places, if Trump is going to win anyway?

And unlike the Democratic caucuses, this is a secret ballot; Republicans don’t have to stand up and broadcast their vote to their neighbors. That could matter if there really is hidden anti-Trump sentiment that DeSantis and Haley have been banking on.

Of course, these are just what ifs. Trump appears to have learned a lesson from 2016, when, after leading in the polls, he lost the caucus to Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas. This time, he has deployed an immense field organization and traveled throughout Iowa, urging his supporters to vote. “It comes back to the state again and again,” said Jeff Angelo, a former Republican state senator who now hosts a conservative talk show on WHO-AM. “This time they are not going to take it for granted.”

The Florida governor was once seen as Trump’s biggest threat and Iowa was the state where he could take on the role of Trump alternative. But DeSantis hasn’t lived up to his expectations, and Haley’s rise has forced him to the edge of the stage.

The test for DeSantis, earlier this campaign season, was whether he could use Iowa to create a two-way race with Trump. Now, he’s fighting to make sure he achieves at least what he was always expected to achieve: a solid second place finish.

DeSantis supporters say they remain confident he will come in second, and maybe even upset Trump. “If you believe the polls, you would expect him to come in a solid second,” said Bob Vander Plaats, an influential evangelical leader in Iowa who endorsed DeSantis. “If you believe in the field, there’s a chance he can beat the former president in Iowa. He has, by far, the best on-field operation I’ve ever seen.”

“A lot of people are waiting to write DeSantis’ obituary,” he said. “I just see DeSantis having a good night on caucus night.”

Coming in second could boost DeSantis’ campaign toward New Hampshire. But a weak second place finish (if he narrowly beats Haley, or if the results are still in dispute when he leaves Iowa) could confirm Republicans’ concerns about his political appeal and force him to drop out. And finish third?

“Look, he told all of us that he’s all for Iowa,” Mr. Angelo said. “You finish third in Iowa, I don’t see how you continue.”

But even with a second-place finish, which his campaign would consider a victory, it’s hard to see how DeSantis takes advantage of that. He is trailing in most public and private polls in New Hampshire. In fact, DeSantis is not competitive in any of the upcoming states. In a recent interview on NBC News, he he declined to list other states where he could win. He’s not putting much effort, in terms of spending or the running game, into any other state. His best hope, it seems, is that Vander Plaats is right and somehow pulls off an upset victory over Trump.

If Ms. Haley comes in a solid second, this becomes a different race. She would head to New Hampshire, a state where she has strong institutional support, with the wind at her back, even after a few weeks marked by setbacks in the electoral campaign. She could present herself as a real alternative for Republicans looking for another candidate besides Trump to lead the party in November.

And her supporters would almost certainly increase pressure on DeSantis to step aside and allow the party to unite around her. “That becomes the story of the caucus,” said Jimmy Centers, a longtime Iowa Republican consultant. “She becomes the alternative to former President Trump. And then I think the chorus will say: It’s time for the field to be cleared so they can go head to head.”

If Haley finishes in third place, DeSantis will presumably try to take her out of the race. But why should she leave? She will only move into more politically friendly territory, as the campaign moves first to New Hampshire and then to her home state of South Carolina.

If DeSantis and Haley continue their fight in New Hampshire, Trump will be the beneficiary. “If there is no clear second-place person who can claim leadership of the ‘non-Trump’ vote in the next few states, I don’t see where Trump will face challenges in the future,” Gentry Collins said. , a veteran Republican leader from Iowa.

This has been a difficult decade for the Iowa caucuses. In 2012, Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney was declared the winner of the Republican caucus, but 16 days later, the state Republican Party, struggling to count missing votes, said Rick Santorum, a former Pennsylvania senator, was done. first.

The 2020 Democratic caucus became a debacle, plagued by counting errors and technical glitches, and the brigade of reporters that had arrived in Iowa left before the final results were known. (Quick Quiz: Who won the 2020 Iowa Democratic caucus?)

When there is already so much distrust in the voting system, stoked by Trump, the last thing Iowa needs is another messy caucus recount. That would arguably be bad for Iowa, but also for the nation.

“What worries me is that there could be a repeat of 2012,” said David Yepsen, former chief political correspondent for The Des Moines Register, who in 2020 predicted the crisis, which robbed Pete Buttigieg of the momentum from his narrow victory. – would mean the end of the Iowa Democratic caucus.

“There are 180,000 people voting in a couple thousand precincts on little hand-tabulated pieces of paper,” he said. “The apocalyptic scenario is that they have problems with their tabulations. With all this talk about voter fraud, I think the country will be shaken if Iowa Republicans don’t get it right.”

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