DES MOINES, Iowa — Donald Trump decisively won the Iowa caucuses on Monday with his closest rivals languishing far behind, a crucial victory that reinforces the former president’s grip on his party at the outset of the GOP’s 2024 nomination fight.
It was not immediately clear who would emerge as the second-place finisher, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis or former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley. Caucus voters endured life-threatening cold and dangerous driving conditions to participate in meetings that unfolded in hundreds of schools, churches and community centers across the state.
The results are just the first in what will be a monthslong effort for Trump to secure the GOP nomination a third consecutive time. But the victory sends an unmistakable message to the Republican Party that the nomination is Trump’s to lose and crystalizes the challenge facing his GOP opponents.
Trump was already looking ahead to a potential general election matchup against President Joe Biden as he addressed hundreds of cheering supporters at a caucus site at the Horizon Events Center in Clive, Iowa.
“He is totally destroying our country,” Trump said of Biden. “We were a great nation three years ago and today people are laughing at us.”
Biden’s team, meanwhile, announced that he and the Democratic National Committee raised more than $97 million in the last quarter of 2023 and finished the year with $117 million in the bank, an effort to demonstrate how Biden is preparing for a possible rematch while Trump is competing in the primary.
DeSantis and Haley are competing to emerge as the top alternative to the former president. Haley hopes to compete vigorously in New Hampshire, where she hopes to be more successful with the state’s independent voters heading into the Jan. 23 primary. DeSantis is heading to New Hampshire on Tuesday only after a stop in South Carolina, a conservative stronghold where the Feb. 24 contest could prove pivotal.
Before she left, Haley offered a subtle jab at Trump while addressing voters at a same caucus site.
“If you want to move forward with no more vendettas, if you want to move forward with a sense of hope, join us in this caucus,” she said. “I ask for your vote. And I promise you I will make sure every day I focus on what it takes to make you proud.”
Several hundred people rose to their feet in applause.
Trump, meanwhile, was expected to fly to New York Monday night so he could be in court Tuesday as a jury is poised to consider whether he should pay additional damages to a columnist who last year won a $5 million jury award against Trump for sex abuse and defamation.
He will then fly to New Hampshire, the next state in the Republican primary calendar, to hold a rally Tuesday evening.
Iowa is an uneven predictor of who will ultimately lead Republicans into the general election. George W. Bush’s 2000 victory was the last time a Republican candidate won in Iowa and went on to become the party’s standard-bearer.
Trump showed significant strength among Iowa’s urban, small-town and rural communities, according to AP VoteCast. He also performed well with evangelical Christians and those without a college degree. And a majority of caucusgoers said that they identify with Trump’s “Make America Great Again” movement.
One relative weakness for Trump comes in the suburbs, where only about 4 in 10 supported him.
AP VoteCast is a survey of more than 1,500 voters who said they planned to take part in the caucuses. The survey is conducted by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.
Entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy and former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson were also on the ballot in Iowa, as was former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who suspended his campaign last week.
Trump’s success tells a remarkable story of a Republican Party unwilling or unable to move on from a flawed front-runner. He lost to Biden in 2020 after fueling near-constant chaos while in the White House, culminating with his supporters carrying out a deadly attack on the U.S. Capitol. In total, he faces 91 felony charges across four criminal cases.
The U.S. Supreme Court is weighing whether states have the ability to block Trump from the ballot for his role in sparking the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. And he’s facing criminal trials in Washington and Atlanta for his efforts to overturn the 2020 election.
Through it all, Trump has intentionally used his legal problems as a political asset.
Over the last week alone, Trump chose to leave the campaign trail on two separate occasions to make voluntary appearances before judges in New York and Washington. In both cases, he addressed the media directly afterward, ensuring that national coverage of his legal drama would make it more difficult for his Republican rivals to break through in Iowa.
Trump has also increasingly echoed authoritarian leaders and framed his campaign as one of retribution. He has spoken openly about using the power of government to pursue his political enemies. He has repeatedly harnessed rhetoric once used by Adolf Hitler to argue that immigrants entering the U.S. illegally are “poisoning the blood of our country.” And he recently shared a word cloud last week to his social media account highlighting “revenge,” “power” and “dictatorship.”
Trump’s legal challenges appear to have done little damage to his reputation as the charges are seen through a political lens.
About three-quarters say the charges against Trump are political attempts to undermine him, rather than legitimate attempts to investigate important issues, according to AP VoteCast.
Meanwhile, Iowa caucus participants were forced to brave the coldest temperatures in caucus history as forecasters warned that “dangerously cold wind chills” as low as 45 degrees below zero Fahrenheit were possible through noon Tuesday. The conditions, according to the National Weather Service, could lead to “frostbite and hypothermia in a matter of minutes if not properly dressed for the conditions.”
Peoples reported from Washington. Beaumont reported from Indianola, Iowa, and Fingerhut reported from Fort Dodge, Iowa. Associated Press writers Jill Colvin in Des Moines, Iowa, Adriana Gomez Licon in Council Bluffs, Iowa, and Bill Barrow in Atlanta contributed to this report.
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