Jan 17, 2024

Trump wins Iowa caucuses.

Donald Trump speaking at the Iowa Republican Party's 2015 Lincoln Dinner. Photo credit: Greg Skidmore.
Donald Trump speaking at the Iowa Republican Party's 2015 Lincoln Dinner. Photo credit: Greg Skidmore.

The first state in the primary was a landslide.

I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, nonpartisan, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum on the news of the day — then “my take.”

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Today's read: 13 minutes.

Donald Trump dominates the field in Iowa. Plus, an update on Maui.

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We introduced a new podcast series. In our first-ever Friday podcast, we talked about our 2023 end-of-year review, and Isaac introduced Ari Weitzman, our Managing Editor, as co-host. You can listen here.

Lastly, our schedule is a little different this week, as Executive Editor Isaac Saul is in Bolivia. The Tangle staff, with Isaac as a reviewer and editor, collaborated on a staff take today. Tomorrow will be a mailbag edition of reader email responses (with Isaac back as primary author).

Quick hits.

  1. The U.S. launched another series of strikes against Houthi targets in Yemen and destroyed four missiles that it says posed a threat to ships in the Red Sea. (The strikes) Separately, Israel and Hamas agreed to a deal that will deliver medicine to Israeli hostages in Gaza in exchange for the delivery of medicine and humanitarian aid to Palestinian civilians. (The agreement)
  2. Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Rep. Jason Smith (R-MO) announced an agreement on a $78 billion package that would temporarily expand the child tax credit, boost the low-income housing tax credit, and enhance tax breaks for businesses. The package now must pass the House and Senate. (The deal)
  3. A Federal Reserve official signaled against forecaster expectations that the Fed would not be imminently cutting interest rates, dampening some optimism in the market. (The signal)
  4. A federal judge blocked JetBlue Airways’s $3.8 billion deal to purchase rival Spirit Airlines after the Justice Department sued to stop the merger. (The block)
  5. The Supreme Court will hear arguments today in two cases that aim to overturn the Chevron doctrine, a nearly 40-year-old legal framework that says judges should defer to federal agencies’ interpretations of a law when that law is ambiguous. (The cases, and Tangle’s past coverage of Chevron)

Today's topic.

The Iowa caucuses. On Monday, Donald Trump scored a landslide victory in the Iowa caucuses, kicking off the 2024 Republican presidential primary with a big win. Polls closed in Iowa at 7:00 pm CT/8:00 pm ET, and by 8:32 pm ET The New York Times, 538 and ABC News, and Fox News Decision Desk had all declared Donald Trump the winner. The former president began his third presidential campaign by winning 98 of Iowa’s 99 counties and capturing 51% of the vote, a record for margin of victory in the Iowa caucuses. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis finished second with 21% of the vote, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley finished third with 19%, and Vivek Ramaswamy finished fourth with 8%. Just over 108,000 voters, or 14.4% of the state’s Republicans, turned out to vote. It was the lowest turnout in the Iowa caucuses since 2008. 

After the race was called, Ramaswamy officially dropped out and endorsed Donald Trump. Former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson also dropped out, and like former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who suspended his campaign ahead of the Iowa caucuses, has yet to endorse any of the remaining candidates.

Pundits were unsurprised by Trump’s victory, but called the result — that saw Trump win more votes than the rest of the field combined — a landslide. The former president was able to win the votes of not just 54% of Republicans but 42% of independents, according to exit polling by the Washington Post. Trump also won 67% of voters who did not have a college degree and 58% of voters 65 years of age and older. The only demographic in which Trump struggled was with voters aged 17-29, where his 22% vote share was lower than both DeSantis’s 30% and Haley’s 25%.

In his victory speech on Monday night, Trump struck a conciliatory tone, saying that DeSantis and Haley “actually did very well” and commending Ramaswamy on doing “a hell of a job” in his campaign. "I really think this is time now for everybody, our country, to come together," he told his supporters at a watch party in Des Moines, Iowa.

Meanwhile, DeSantis’s campaign staff and supporters spent much of the night attacking the media, saying that the race being called for Trump before some had even cast their votes was unfair. “The media is in the tank for Trump and this is the most egregious example yet,” DeSantis campaign spokesman Andrew Romeo said in a statement

The next state on the presidential primary schedule is New Hampshire, which will have its Republican and Democratic primaries on January 23. 

Today, we’re going to cover reactions to Donald Trump’s victory in Iowa from the right and the left, and then our take.

What the right is saying.

  • The right is unsurprised by Trump’s victory, and most think he has all but locked up the nomination.
  • A few cast doubt on whether the strength of Trump’s performance in Iowa will be replicated in other states.
  • Others say the Iowa voters sent a clear message to DeSantis and Haley that they have no shot in the race. 

In The Federalist, Jordan Boyd wrote “it’s time to stop pretending there’s a GOP primary.”

“The real threat to Trump was never DeSantis, Haley, or any of the other soon-to-be GOP dropouts who complained that he refused to debate people who were dozens of percentage points behind him. It was always the regime that abused its presidential and bureaucratic power to indict its political enemies and wage a war on wrongthink,” Boyd said. “Trump winning the majority in Iowa confirms he is best equipped to face off with Biden in the general election.”

“Biden and Democrats are guilty of weaponizing federal law enforcement, cheapening impeachment, fueling polarization, normalizing political violence and rioting, undermining election integrity, rejecting election results they don’t like, encouraging the collapse of our Southern border, and advancing extreme, unpopular agendas,” Boyd added. “The question going into Iowa was never ‘Will Trump survive?’ on a campaign diet of calling out Democrats’ political persecution. It was always ‘Who will get second place?’”

In National Review, Noah Rothman said Trump “won big” but suggested the results don’t necessarily “forecast smooth sailing.” 

“The headline is clear: Donald Trump won, and he won big. No grand theory of last night’s results that evades the voters’ resounding verdict or attempts to massage it into something more ambiguous is worthwhile,” Rothman wrote. “And yet, Iowa’s results did not forecast smooth sailing for Donald Trump. If the former president is functionally the incumbent in the race, he is an exceptionally weak incumbent. The Hawkeye State is prime real estate for Trump’s movement, and he managed to win the support of only half the voters who turned out. What’s more, the turnout was weak. These were the lowest-attended caucuses since 2000, and that cannot be attributed entirely to the abominable weather.”

“Beyond that, Trump’s resounding victory is attributable to the vote of just 56,000 Iowans. That’s an improvement on his 2016 performance when he won just 45,000 votes and came in second place, but it’s not much of an improvement,” Rothman said. “It’s reasonable to expect that Republican voters will fall in line after a polarizing general-election campaign. ‘Get in line or get left behind,’ will be the message retailed by every conservative media outlet.”

In The Washington Examiner, Jeremiah Poff argued “taking on Trump for the GOP nomination was always a fool’s errand.”

“Despite desperate wish-casting from institutional Republicans and the donor class that either Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) or former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley could pose a challenge to Trump and deny him a third straight nomination, the fact remains that Trump speaks to Republican voters in a way no one else does,” Poff said. “While Haley is still going to make a play for New Hampshire next week, the clearest evidence for why she did not connect with Republican voters was that registered Democrats in Iowa switched their party registration so they could cast a caucus vote for her.

“DeSantis, meanwhile, will likely finish a distant second to Trump. His campaign was always billed as ‘Trump without the baggage,’ and for a while, it seemed like he had a shot to dethrone the front-runner. But as the establishment attacks on Trump built, especially the four criminal indictments against him by the Department of Justice, DeSantis’s polling strength evaporated as voters rallied behind the former president,” Poff wrote. “Issues matter to voters, but the messenger on the issues is equally, if not more, important. This is why Haley and DeSantis failed to break Trump’s stranglehold on the Republican base.”

What the left is saying.

  • The left is dismayed by Trump’s strong showing and worry the result will further embolden his extreme rhetoric. 
  • Some criticize Iowa voters for overwhelmingly supporting a candidate who seems out of step with their stated values. 
  • Others say the caucus system is no longer useful in our current political ecosystem. 

In MSNBC, Hayes Brown said “Trump’s Iowa win is the first step on his road to retribution.”

“Despite its legendary status in America’s political culture, the Iowa caucuses have a less than stellar track record when it comes to picking presidential nominees. But since the emergence of the modern presidential primary system, there’s never been a race like this year’s. Trump didn’t just win in Iowa; he won massively, likely shattering the record for margin of victory. It is a landslide that serves as an endorsement of the constant drumbeat for vengeance that Trump has made the centerpiece of his campaign,” Brown wrote. 

“There’s a case to be made that too much is made of Iowa, that its first-in-the-nation status overinflates its importance compared to the influence its voters actually have. The bitter cold and blizzardlike conditions this weekend, paired with Trump’s dominance in the polls, tamped down participation even further than normal. But as a measure of where Trump stands within the Republican Party, the results out of Iowa are for once truly reflective of the country writ large. And it is more than ready to see Trump back in the White House, ready to mete out his wrath on anyone who stood in his way.”

In The Nation, Joan Walsh wrote “Iowa finally picked the GOP nominee.”

“Disgraced former president Donald Trump, he of the 91 felony counts, lost Iowa in 2016; the state GOP’s strong evangelical vote went to Senator Ted Cruz. Eight years later, that same bloc backed the twice-divorced con man who a New York jury found sexually assaulted writer E. Jean Carroll. Trump won more than half the Iowa vote,” Walsh said. “Trump’s big win is the story of evangelicals embracing cruelty, immorality, and authoritarianism. It’s a story of Iowa’s being increasingly dominated by white voters who didn’t go to college. But we should also pay attention to the way even some college-educated white Republicans found their way back to Trump.”

“Iowa is known for giving primary season wins, or surprisingly strong finishes, to such presidents as Pat Robertson, Pat Buchanan, Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum and, of course, Ted Cruz. Oh right, those guys never even came close to winning the nomination. This time around, Iowa almost certainly picked the GOP nominee.”

In Bloomberg, Patricia Lopez suggested “it’s time to scrap the Iowa caucus.”

“The Iowa Caucus has become an outdated relic. Like eight-track cassettes and checkbooks, it served a valuable purpose at one time, but no longer. Donald Trump, as he has with so many things, reset the rules of the political game here,” Lopez wrote. DeSantis and Haley “played by the old rules,” knocking doors, fielding voter questions, and visiting each Iowa county. “Trump? He held a couple of dozen rallies—including some tele-rallies—sent in a handful of surrogates and staged photo ops… For this, Trump was rewarded with a historic win on Monday night, romping to a landslide that demonstrated his demographic strength in every corner of the state and among every kind of voter.”

“The caucus is increasingly out of step with how modern America lives, works and picks its presidential candidates… Because it’s held over a couple of hours on a weekday evening during the bitterest part of winter, many Iowans are excluded from the process. Unlike primary voting, there are no absentee ballots, no early voting periods. Because it’s a party process, there is no time off from work to vote,” Lopez said. “Now Trump has shown that there is no need to play by the rules in Iowa, exposing the falseness of the narrative about small-town democracy even as he benefits from it.”

Tangle take.

Reminder: The "My take" is a section where Isaac gives himself space to share his own personal opinion. With Executive Editor Isaac Saul in Bolivia, today’s take was authored by a collaboration of Tangle staff and reviewed and edited by Isaac.

If you have feedback, criticism, or compliments, don't unsubscribe. Write in by replying to this email, or leave a comment.

  • It should come as no surprise that Donald Trump cruised in Iowa.
  • The only drama on the night came from just how early Trump was declared the winner, and who managed to claim second.
  • Haley v. DeSantis is an informative race for second, and we still don’t know who will be Trump’s running mate — but we know who will be the Republican nominee.

There’s a reason we haven’t overreacted to momentary trends in this primary, and it’s what we’ve been telling you for months: Trump has this race sewn up.

Donald Trump is the face of today’s Republican Party. Even if you’re a conservative who detests him, you can’t deny the numbers. He won the majority of the votes in a somewhat crowded field decidedly enough for Vivek Ramaswamy to drop out of the race and endorse him. To get a sense of just how foregone this conclusion was, The New York Times called the race for Trump when only 497 votes had been cast.

Screenshot of New York Times calling the race with less than 1% of the vote.

And even with Nikki Haley closing the gap, there’s little reason to think New Hampshire’s primary will be any different — nor will any of those that follow. Just a few states after New Hampshire will be the primary in South Carolina, Nikki Haley’s home state, where the former governor has “only” a 30-point deficit behind Trump. That’s a bit better than the 43-point deficit Ron DeSantis has in Florida, where he’s the current governor.

Yes, there’s plenty of time between now and the Republican National Convention in July — but just as the networks were ready to call Iowa immediately, we’re ready to call the entire race now. We’ve seen enough: Donald Trump will be the Republican nominee.

The only real drama of the night — aside from the race for second — was just how early the race was called. Soon after Trump was declared the winner, tweets from DeSantis supporters like this and this started popping up on social media, chastising the networks for calling the race too soon. The debate spilled over to the next day, with conservative writers sparring in the pages of National Review. 

We understand why it’s off-putting for a race to be called while thousands of people are still waiting to cast their votes (outlets like The Associated Press even appeared to violate their own guidelines in doing so). It’s also not hard to imagine how networks racing to be the first to announce an election winner could be a recipe for disaster in a different situation. In Iowa, though, the complaints just feel like sour grapes from the runner-up. Trump’s polling lead was so enormous that the networks only needed the initial results to know that the polls were accurate enough to ensure his victory (the AP explained their decision in detail here).

Which leads us to the race for second. A couple of months ago, a reader wrote in to ask why, if we thought the primary’s outcome was a foregone conclusion, we were giving the race any attention at all. Our answer was and is that the race for second may end up mattering if something happens to Trump, because of his health or his legal challenges — but more importantly that it tells us a lot about the Republican Party. 

Following the big wins from the Democrats in the 2023 midterms, the third Republican debate told us how the GOP messaging on abortion was changing. The growing support for Nikki Haley, the flagging support for DeSantis, and the disappearing interest in Ramaswamy told us that moderate Republicans were shifting away from culture war rhetoric and towards policy prescriptions. Now Iowa voters are telling us they preferred DeSantis over Haley, which is good news for the Florida governor’s political future (especially considering how disastrously his campaign has been run). 

DeSantis will learn a lot from this race. It’s not a great look for his team to be complaining about the results, and kind of ridiculous to say that the mainstream media is in the tank for Donald Trump. But remember that his political career is still relatively young, and it’s a good bet that he’ll be right back in the mix in 2028. And so will Haley. She’s gotten the big donations, and she’s proved she’s ready for prime time.

But none of that matters for the outcome of the presidential primary, and there are no points for second place. The biggest question looking forward isn’t if one of them can challenge Trump, but whom he’ll choose as his running mate. Clearly Ramaswamy is angling for the job, which the team at Tangle HQ is split on. Isaac has gone out on a limb and said he thinks it’ll be Tim Scott, Managing Editor Ari Weitzman has picked South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, and Partnerships Director Magdalena Bokowa likes New York Rep. Elise Stefanik. But Editors Will Kaback and Bailey Saul (Isaac’s dad) both think it will be Vivek. 

Still, regardless of which name appears second on the Republican ticket, there’s less and less doubt every day about the name that’s going to appear first.

Your questions, answered.

Q: How is the island of Maui recovering from the August wildfires?

— Note to self, August 8, 2023

Tangle: Every once in a while, a news story drives a lot of attention as it unfolds, but media outlets and most readers move on really quickly. In those situations, we like to make a note to check back later and see how the situation has progressed. As paid subscribers who read our 2023 look-back were reminded, that was the case last November when we reviewed Biden’s border policies from March — and since we’re answering a lot of reader questions in a mailbag edition tomorrow, that will be the case today, too.

Today, we’re taking a moment to check in on the recovery effort in Maui, without weighing in too much on the politicized argument of who or what to blame the fires on. Here’s what we said in August:

On August 8, a series of deadly wildfires erupted on the Hawaiian island of Maui. The death toll has reached 114, with 850 people still missing and 85% of impacted areas in Maui searched.

The historic town of Lahaina has been completely destroyed, though several other areas of the island were also impacted. The fires are now the
deadliest natural disaster in state history and the deadliest wildfires in modern U.S. history, surpassing 2018's Camp Fire in Paradise, California, which killed 85 people. An estimated $6 billion of damages has been done, with 3,000 homes and businesses destroyed or damaged.

Based on the most recent data available, the official death toll is at 100 people, down from the original estimate after some of the missing who were presumed dead have been found, although four people remain missing. 2,200 homes were destroyed by the wildfire (also under the initial estimate), leaving over 7,000 people in need of shelter and burning an estimated 10 square miles.

The cleanup and recovery effort is well underway. In December, the devastated town of Lahaina was partially reopened, including public libraries, schools and parks, as well as some commercial centers, though authorities still recommend protective gear for anyone entering scorched lots. 

Hawaii governor Josh Green (D) announced the state will pay $1.5 million to any family that lost a loved one in the fire. Additionally, Green is seeking $425 million from the state legislature for the recovery effort, including $200 million for insurance claims, $33 million to rebuild roadways, and $186 million for other costs as they arise. On January 5, the Hawai’i government together with housing nonprofits launched a $500 million interim housing plan to provide 3,000 units for the next 18 months.

Although some of the figures are slightly better than the initial reporting — and parts of Lahaina are reopening — the big picture is far from bright. Northwestern Maui is still ravaged, and the recovery effort is expected to take years. The latest news on the recovery process is available on mauirecovers.org. KHON in Honolulu hosted a roundtable discussion on the Lahaina recovery effort, which you can watch here.

Want to have a question answered in the newsletter? You can reply to this email (it goes straight to Isaac's inbox) or fill out this form.

Under the radar.

A new study from the CDC warns that clinicians in the U.S. may be overprescribing topical antifungal treatments for skin infections, suggesting this trend could be behind new skin infection cases that appear to be resistant to these medications. CDC researchers found that 6.5 million topical antifungal treatments were prescribed to Medicare Part D beneficiaries in 2021 — roughly one out of every eight people in the surveyed group. Diagnostic data wasn’t available for the study, so researchers weren’t able to conclude whether the high volume of prescriptions was backed up by positive fungal infection tests. Furthermore, the researchers did not track use of over-the-counter antifungal medication, meaning actual antifungal usage is likely even higher than their findings suggest. The rise in emerging resistant infections “underscores the need to evaluate current practices of topical antifungal use," the study’s authors said. Ars Technica has the story.


Clarification: In a bullet about a survey result in our Numbers section yesterday, we inadvertently deleted the year the survey was taken. It should have read (emphasis added) “"51%. The percentage of people across 16 Arab countries who said the United States is the biggest threat to regional security and stability in the Middle East in 2024."

  • 1972. The first year Iowa was the first state to vote in the presidential primary process. 
  • 3. The number of presidents who won the Iowa caucuses since 1976 — Jimmy Carter in 1976, George W. Bush in 2000, and Barack Obama in 2008 (note: Carter received the highest share of the vote among candidates, but a larger percentage of state delegates were uncommitted). 
  • 5. The number of presidents who did not win the Iowa caucuses since 1976 — Ronald Reagan in 1980, George H.W. Bush in 1988, Bill Clinton in 1992, Donald Trump in 2016, and Joe Biden in 2020.
  • 29%. The percentage of Iowa caucus-goers this year who said Joe Biden legitimately won the presidency in 2020, according to NBC News’s entrance polls.
  • 65%. The percentage of Iowa caucus-goers this year who said they had decided which candidate to support more than a month prior to the caucuses. 
  • 65%. The percentage of Iowa caucus-goers this year who said they would still consider Donald Trump fit to be president if he were to be convicted of a crime. 
  • 98%. The percentage of 2024 Iowa caucus-goers who participated in NBC News’s entrance polls who are white. 

The extras.

  • One year ago today we published our explainer on the debt ceiling.
  • The most clicked link in yesterday's newsletter was our “Under the radar” story about 15 states opting out of a federal food aid program for children.
  • With or without Congress: 761 Tangle readers responded to our poll asking about the U.S. response to the Houthi rebels with 44% saying the response has been appropriate. 31% said the response should be much stronger, 20% said it should be a bit stronger, 1% said it should be much lighter, and 1% said it should be a bit lighter. "I am torn about congressional approval. I think legally it might be necessary? But I don’t really trust Congress to get it done. And I do believe this is certainly needed," one respondent said.
  • Nothing to do with politics: This incredible picture from Turin, Italy, of the moon, a mountain, and a basilica.
  • Take the poll. Who do you think Donald Trump will choose as his running mate? Let us know!

Have a nice day.

In the suburbs of New Jersey, Tayeb Souami made a mistake: He brought home a $5 bottle of orange juice from a grocery store in Hackensack. When he got home, his wife told him the same bottle was available for $2.50 elsewhere. So Tayeb went back to the ShopRite to return it, where a sign for the Powerball jackpot at the customer service counter caught his attention. Using the cash from his refunded orange juice, he bought two tickets, which he brought to a convenience store the next day to check. His first ticket, the scanning machine told him, was not a winner. Upon scanning the second ticket, the scanner told him to see the cashier. Suspecting a machine error, he brought his ticket to the counter, where the clerk told him that there was no error — Tayeb had won the Powerball jackpot. This time, his wife was a bit more satisfied with what he brought back from the store: A winning lottery ticket for $315.3 million. ABC News has the story.

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Isaac Saul
I'm a politics reporter who grew up in Bucks County, PA — one of the most politically divided counties in America. I'm trying to fix the way we consume political news.