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Will Iowa Make or Break Donald Trump or Ron DeSantis?

Former President of the United States Donald Trump speaking with attendees at the 2023 Turning Point Action Conference at the Palm Beach County Convention Center in West Palm Beach, Florida.

Iowa has always been an important state every presidential election cycle because of its famously early primary voting day. Other than that, however, there isn’t much there usually to make it the focus of vast quantities of limited resources that each presidential campaign has at its disposal. Yet, at least in the GOP Primary this cycle, that is precisely what is at hand. 

Former President Donald Trump enjoys a massive lead over his other primary challengers, notably Florida’s Governor Ron DeSantis—so much so that now DeSantis, once seen as the only viable alternative to Trump in the primary, is starting to lose ground to the other minor candidates in the race.

Recognizing his weaknesses and ongoing collapse in the polls, DeSantis has rightly identified Iowa as the must-win state for his ailing campaign. He has dedicated the resources and the time to journey repeatedly to Iowa and directly connect with voters. If DeSantis leaves Iowa with anything other than a victory under his belt, his incipient campaign will be over. 

One simply cannot enter the election with such fanfare, spend time losing support to a gonzo figure, like former President Trump, and then go on to lose the first primary state, expecting to continue challenging Trump.

Everyone in the race obviously thinks that Trump’s absurd 91 combined felony indictments will knock the former president out of contention, leaving the field wide open for any one of them. 

This is, of course, a real possibility. 

Iowa Rises

Justice moves at the speed of a llama in America whereas the political system runs at light-speed. While it may happen that Trump is knocked out of contention because of his legal woes, things might not fall apart for Trump until after the GOP primary is decided (which is the perfect timing for President Joe Biden, who is struggling to stay ahead of Trump in the polls thus far).

As for the other Keebler Elves running in the GOP primary, they must make at least a strong, second place showing in Iowa in order to win. I would not advise DeSantis to settle for a strong second-place showing because, for him, it’s a fundamentally different situation he’s facing as the presumptive best alternative to Trump. He must win Iowa.

For Nikki Haley, Mike Pence, and Vivek Ramaswamy, strong second positions are all that is needed to keep pushing forward. DeSantis must break the fever in the GOP by winning Iowa.

Of course, DeSantis will not be out of the political woods at that point. He’d only be moving into deeper, more uncharted, and riskier territory. 

After all, right after Iowa is New Hampshire, where Nikki Haley is engaged in a tight race with Trump. What’s more, Iowa isn’t a determinant of the outcome of the GOP Primary. After all, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) won Iowa in 2016 (evoking accusations from Trump that Cruz stole it), and Trump ultimately won 2016, whereas Cruz slunk back to the Senate.

If all goes according to plan, though, DeSantis’ tireless campaigning in Iowa will pay off for his campaign, giving them the momentum they need to push ahead—and making it a second- or-third place finish in New Hampshire acceptable.

South Carolina Will be the Equivalent of Waterloo

The real crux in the 2024 GOP Primary, I believe, will be in South Carolina, which comes after New Hampshire. 

If I am correct, and DeSantis manages to eke out a victory over the Trump juggernaut, and Haley does something similar in New Hampshire, then that will mean that Trump has but one place to make his final stand—South Carolina. 

In that scenario, then, the likes of Nikki Haley as well as Sen. Tim Scott, both natives of the Palmetto State, will be crucial. DeSantis, with his Iowa win, will be coming to that table with one major win in his pocket, as will likely Haley. 

But Trump, the last GOP president with a massive following, will be a hulking, orange presence then.

And he’ll be hungry for a primary state win. 

Nikki Haley Could Become the Belle of the Ball

That’s why I think Trump will seek to make a deal with Nikki Haley, as he did to gain her support in 2016, by offering her the vice-presidential slot on his ticket. 

If Haley doesn’t go for it, or if DeSantis proves to be more effective and popular in South Carolina than many think possible, all that will be for naught. But DeSantis’ only chance is to win Iowa. 

If he loses there, it won’t matter whatever happens after that.

So, Iowa, a state with a relatively small population in the middle of the country, will play a crucial role in the 2024 GOP Primary. Because it could give whoever wins it the necessary momentum to keep going—and help to insulate them if they lose one of the succeeding primaries—while complicating Trump’s path to the White House.

A 19FortyFive Senior Editor and an energy analyst at the The-Pipeline, Brandon J. Weichert is a former Congressional staffer and geopolitical analyst who is a contributor at The Washington Times, as well as at the Asia Times. He is the author of Winning Space: How America Remains a Superpower (Republic Book Publishers), Biohacked: China’s Race to Control Life (Encounter Books), and The Shadow War: Iran’s Quest for Supremacy (July 23). Weichert occasionally serves as a Subject Matter Expert for various organizations, including the Department of Defense. He can be followed via Twitter @WeTheBrandon.

Written By

Brandon J. Weichert is a former Congressional staffer and geopolitical analyst who recently became a writer for Weichert is a contributor at The Washington Times, as well as a contributing editor at American Greatness and the Asia Times. He is the author of Winning Space: How America Remains a Superpower (Republic Book Publishers), The Shadow War: Iran’s Quest for Supremacy (March 28), and Biohacked: China’s Race to Control Life (May 16). Weichert can be followed via Twitter @WeTheBrandon.