Trump’s landslide Iowa win is a stunning show of strength after leaving Washington in disgrace

Former President Donald Trump’s huge win in the Iowa caucuses on Monday enshrines one of the most astonishing comebacks in American political history.

Losing one-term presidents almost never mount subsequent successful primary campaigns, much less pull off landslides that demonstrate utter dominance of their party.

Trump transformed the GOP in his populist, nationalist, nihilistic image in 2016. By claiming 50% of the vote in the biggest win in caucus history, putting him on course to his third consecutive nomination, he showed that eight years after his outsider presidential victory, the current GOP is entirely his party.

“The big night is going to be in November, when we take back our country,” Trump told his first proper victory party since he shocked the world by winning the 2016 election. His MAGA-hat wearing crowd greeted him with chants of “Trump, Trump, Trump” beneath two vast screens reading “Trump wins Iowa!”

But the ex-president’s rebound is more stunning for another reason. He won despite 91 criminal charges and other legal entanglements that threaten his freedom and his fortune. In a head-spinning snapshot of the unprecedented times, he’s expected to show up in a courtroom in Manhattan on Tuesday morning for the opening of a defamation trial.

His Iowa triumph came three years and nine days after he told a mob to “fight like hell” before it ransacked the US Capitol in an attempt to thwart the congressional certification of President Joe Biden’s 2020 election win.

Trump’s dominance on Monday night shows that among the most committed Republican voters, there is no price for him to pay for the worst attack on an election in modern history. In fact, his successful leveraging of his criminal plight to paint a narrative of persecution is the superpower that renewed his bond with GOP base voters and left his rivals with an impossible conundrum about how to exploit his liabilities.

His caucus victory also demonstrates the success of Trump’s election denial strategy, which has convinced millions of GOP voters of the false belief he was illegally ejected from power in 2020. For Americans who believe Biden’s warning that Trump is the “most anti-democratic president with a small ‘d’ in American history,” Monday night will have sown utter dread.

Trump’s vow to win a second term dedicated to “retribution” against his enemies, his labeling of political opponents as “vermin” and his warnings that immigrants are “poisoning the blood” of America, which are reminiscent of 1930s dictators, were no disqualification in Iowa. Instead, the president who attempted to overturn democracy to stay in power used democracy far more effectively than any of his Republican opponents to win an electoral endorsement from GOP voters who want him back in the White House.

Monday’s result posed huge questions for Trump’s rivals. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis claimed second place, narrowly ahead of former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley. It is a showing that doesn’t offer DeSantis much hope of capturing the nomination, but may at least give him a rationale for staying in the race.

Haley came third but she is most focused on next week’s New Hampshire primary, where independent, undeclared voters and moderate Republicans offer her best chance to score an early win over Trump. But the electoral map of Iowa also illustrates the daunting task she faces in creating a path to the GOP nomination. In rural areas, where most Republicans live, she made little impression.

And while Haley and DeSantis proved there is a substantial constituency in the GOP for someone other than Trump, it’s not clear that it is large enough to defeat him, even if one of them were able to emerge as the sole alternative to the former president.

While Trump was gracious to his opponents in his victory speech, there will be increasing pressure from his campaign for them to get out of the race so he can concentrate on Biden. Kari Lake, a staunch Trump supporter running for Senate in Arizona after refusing to recognize her 2022 gubernatorial loss, told reporters at his victory party that the other candidates couldn’t win and were running “vanity projects.”

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