Even before the Caucus started, the opinion was that Iowa was in the pocket of Donald Trump. When night came it was clear that the Florida Governor, Ron DeSantis was a distant second; and behind him the former Governor of South Carolina, Nikki Haley.

Trump had an impressive margin of win by over 30 points, clearly surpassing the largest margin held till date by Republican Bob Dole of close to 13 per cent in 1988.

The first casualty of Trump’s thumping victory was Vivek Ramaswamy, the 38-year-old Indian American entrepreneur who bowed out of the race coming in a distant fourth. Spending his money for the most part and close to $20 million, Ramaswamy’s campaign could not really make much traction despite the initial hype.

His soft corner for Trump and bizarre ideas of getting rid of the Department of Education, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Internal Revenue Service as a way to slash government by 75 per cent, could not attract followers of Trump.

With Iowa out of the way, the focus now shifts to New Hampshire next week for the primary where DeSantis and Haley must come away big to stay in competition at South Carolina and Nevada.

Advantage Trump

In the meantime elders in the Grand Old Party must be wondering if anything at all can derail the Trump machine. The 50 per cent of the vote in Iowa seemed to be the icing on a cake.

Criminal charges pertaining to attempts to overturn the 2020 election, charges of direct involvement in the January 6, 2021 Capitol Hill riot, taking away classified documents and hush money payments to an adult actress, and the civilian court proceedings involving his franchise did nothing to stop Trump.

There are at least three things that seemed to work for Trump in Iowa — a perception that Trump was cheated out of a second term by massive voter fraud in spite of numerous law suits thrown out of courts at different levels; the Biden administration’s weak handling of the economy; and that someone tough like Trump is needed to enforce a no-nonsense immigration control at the borders.

An Edison entrance poll in Iowa has shown Trump’s support cutting across a vast swathe of voters. If DeSantis and Haley do not pull up their socks quickly, Trump is seen to have a lock on the nomination even in the early stages of the election season.

Tough contest

As Haley put it after Iowa, “I was at 2 per cent in the polls. When you look at how we’re doing, in New Hampshire, in South Carolina and beyond, I can safely say tonight Iowa made this Republican primary a two-person race.” And the Florida Governor is in no hurry to leave the scene, even if the margin separating him and Haley in Iowa is barely two points.

People will remind Trump and his campaign that in the Iowa contests of 2008, 2012 and 2016, the winner did not go on to get the party nomination. Others still will make the point that Trump won Iowa in 2024 only because of the extreme cold conditions that brought out only the hardcore. Which is why a lot of attention is on New Hampshire primary on January 23 where the race seems to be much tighter with the margin separating Trump and Haley in the single digits.

But neither DeSantis nor Haley can under-estimate Trump’s strength who showed that he could win a Red State without much campaigning and staying away from all five debates that his competition had to slug it out.

The writer is a senior journalist who has reported from Washington DC on North America and United Nations.