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Iowa and New Hampshire Post-Mortem: Trump’s Hold on the Republican Party Remains Absolute

For those of us who believe the Republican party is ready to move on from former President Donald J. Trump, the results of the Iowa Caucus and New Hampshire primary stand as a bold slap to the face. 

Since Trump was defeated by President Joe Biden in the 2020 election, the topic of who would replace him as the face of a changing Republican party and represent it in the 2024 election has been up for debate.

In the days following the events in Iowa and New Hampshire, the answer to the question of who will replace Trump seems to be, well, Trump.

In the Iowa Caucus, the first Republican primary, the New York Times reported that Trump achieved landslide victories in all but one of the 99 counties in the state. He garnered 51% of the popular vote, with the next closest candidate, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, netting a mere 21.2%.

Following Iowa being called for Trump, DeSantis and biotech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, two of Trump’s major competitors for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination, dropped out of the race, leaving former-U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley as the only party figure with any chance of rivaling the former president’s bid.

However, it no longer appears that Haley has much of a chance at securing the Republican nomination. Associated Press has called the New Hampshire race for Trump, with the New York Times reporting that the former president secured 54.3% of the vote, with decisive leads in eight of 10 counties. 

While the opinions of voters in Iowa and New Hampshire are not necessarily indicative of how Republicans in the other 48 states will vote, they are generally regarded as such. Ergo, the chance that Trump will be the candidate which the GOP offers up to debate Biden increases by the week.

Despite what those of us on the left think about the competency of the former president, it is hard to argue his success. In the lead up to 2016, he worked his way up from a joke candidate to the Republican nominee against established, career politicians and won in the general election versus a storied Democrat, Hillary Clinton. Now, Trump is still by far and away the leading candidate in another election full of career politicians, while having been impeached, as well as being indicted and still on trial for his numerous crimes.

In the years following the Trump Presidency, DeSantis, Haley, Ramaswamy and their comrades have been hailed as the flag bearers for the new GOP. But, Trump’s continued dominance proves they, like young Luke Skywalker, still have much to learn.

Rewinding again to 2016, Trump gained popularity because he kowtowed to the fears of all aspects of the Republican voter base, promising to curb immigration, renegotiate much of America’s involvement in international trade and climate agreements, pursue a more aggressive stance on the Middle East and China and, of course, the conservative catch-all: lower taxes.

Trump’s success is also due to his status as an outsider. He is not a product of the system in Washington, which can often seem far away and aloof to the demands of the American people. He rallied his voters behind a promise to “drain the swamp,” or to gut the allegedly faithless electorate and make the government work in the interest of its people, not the globalizing world. 

Trump’s populist message, captured in the snazzy taglines such as “Make America Great Again” and “America First,” managed to resonate with enough of the country to propel him to the White House once, and now he aims to do it again.

Trump has also fully grasped the power of the media to influence the public. By saying and doing crazy things both on the campaign trail and in the Oval Office, he has consistently stayed in the news and on the minds of American voters.

While in office, he exploited its powers to hand out cabinet jobs and high level access to his cronies, inspiring widespread loyalty and obedience to the point where going against him would lead to being exorcized from the mainline GOP decision-making process. The effects of this practice can still be seen on the campaign trail today, where the challengers must be careful about how their messaging may interfere with the party narrative which Trump’s success built. 

In addition, it is worth noting that all the candidates who have dropped out have endorsed Trump instead of somebody like DeSantis, who was largely viewed as Trump’s greatest adversary. 

The unfortunate truth is that Trump’s success has deeply affected the Republican party and their voters. His path to the office proved that one does not need to be a career politician to become president and while in office he gave enough jobs to his cronies to inspire widespread loyalty. Deliverance on his promises combined with a favorable economic backdrop, built a legacy of success for him and his party. 

Up-and-coming Republican leaders are defined by and compared to Trump and his policies. Many of the career politicians in the mix, despite their popularity, are often seen as too similar to the old establishment to convert any of Trump’s loyal voters. 

If any of the rapidly ascending heads of the GOP wish to become their party’s nominee in 2028, they should take a long look at the improbable rise of failed real estate tycoon Trump.

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