February 24, 2024

Donald Trump spent 2023 working to insure that the Republican primaries would be organized around him—that within the closed circuit of the G.O.P., at least, he could run as if he were actually the incumbent, with the prerogatives still intact. He persuaded some Republican officials in states around the country to adjust primary and caucus rules to make them more favorable to him; and used the many legal cases against him as a way of amplifying his victimhood. The nominating contest’s long preamble concluded on Monday evening, with Trump winning the Iowa caucuses with around fifty per cent of the vote. The results on Monday, in a state dominated by social traditionalists, proved Trump had succeeded. DeSantis came in a distant second, mustering only about twenty per cent of the vote. In conservative country, Trump’s campaign is moving with the brutal efficiency of clockwork. The candidates in the current Republican Presidential primaries have generally been so dyspeptic, and the voters so broadly indifferent, that the early campaign has been drained of its usual political romance and contingency. Trump himself seems buried in the details of his criminal cases and his insistence on talking about the 2020 election. The Times pointed out that “voters casually toss around the prospect of World War III and civil unrest.” Nikki Haley’s voters, seem to see through Trump’s conspiracy theories: A CNN entrance poll in Iowa found that more than half of her supporters thought Biden “legitimately won” the Presidency in 2020. The hope among some of the Party’s moderates had been that Haley would make New Hampshire and South Carolina, where the primary campaign turns next, the site of a final Never Trump stand. But, for that to happen, Haley has to do two things that she hasn’t managed yet: Win over a different kind of voter and directly take on Trump. On the cable news networks, local Party officials were reading off tallies at their caucus sites like A.S.M.R. scripts: “DeSantis, fifty-three. DeSantis, fifty-four.” But, by the end of Monday evening, Trump was exactly where he wanted to be. DeSantis, long thought to be his most formidable primary opponent, was reduced to issuing campaign statements accusing the press of “election interference” for calling the race too early. When Trump came out onstage for a victory speech, he was relaxed, magnanimous. Trump wasn’t wild-eyed, or exciting, or especially commanding—a short, quiet speech, and then he left. But he was something more important: he was winning.