- Wednesday, January 17, 2024

The 2024 presidential race officially got underway on Monday, and what did we learn? 

Hardly anything.

After all the hubbub over the first ballots being cast in the campaign, just 14.4% of registered Republicans bothered to turn out. Sure, it was frigid, but nobody in the state’s 99 counties had far to travel to get to their caucus site. The state has battled to remain the first in the nation, and then hardly anyone shows up?

And of that 14.4%, just about half voted for someone other than former President Donald Trump. That means The Donald got the go-ahead from around 7% of the state’s registered Republicans. Does that tells us anything?

Mr. Trump did win in 98 of Iowa’s counties, winning by the largest margin in history. But what does that even mean? Iowa has about 3.2 million residents. He got 56,260 votes. There are 718,901 registered Republicans in the state, which means 662,641 voters — 85.6% — didn’t even weigh in on the race.

Now, the contest does reveal a few things. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis got 23,420 votes (21.2%), and former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley came in third with 21,085 votes (19.1%). They got their clocks cleaned — and that’s the narrative everyone ran with in the aftermath. For that, they spent a combined $72 million.

We did learn that despite the breathless reports from the mainstream media, Mr. DeSantis was dead in the water. He hit all 99 counties in Iowa over the past few months and pulled out a second-place finish. And we learned that Ms. Haley is real — third in Iowa is not so bad.

There’s an old saying in presidential politics: There are three tickets out of Iowa. That seems true again: Upstart candidate Vivek Ramaswamy (7.7%) immediately dropped out of the race, and Asa Hutchinson quickly ended his losing campaign after getting just 191 votes.

“We’ve got our ticket punched out of Iowa,” a delighted Mr. DeSantis told a cheering crowd in West Des Moines moments after the final tally was reported. Who knows how long he’ll survive, but he’s right about that.

But here’s another thing we learned: Mr. Trump has held just 22 announced public events in Iowa during the campaign, while Mr. DeSantis held 138 Iowa events (Ms. Haley held 85, and Mr. Ramaswamy notched more than 300, according to the Des Moines Register’s candidate tracker). So the guy who barely worked the state pulled out a big win — not a good omen for his competitors.

Mr. DeSantis also proved that he’s going to be a sore loser. His campaign quickly claimed that the media declared Mr. Trump the winner before some caucus sites had even started voting.

“It is absolutely outrageous that the media would participate in election interference by calling the race before tens of thousands of Iowans even had a chance to vote,” said DeSantis spokesman Andrew Romeo. “The media is in the tank for Trump, and this is the most egregious example yet.”

One other thing we learned: The economy is the big issue of 2024. Some 38% of voters said in exit polls that the economy is the top issue (52% of those voted for Trump, 19% for Mr. DeSantis, 16% for Mrs. Haley). Immigration came in second at 34%, with Mr. Trump getting 64% of that vote, Mr. DeSantis 18% and Mrs. Haley 11%. 

Mr. DeSantis did win big with voters who said abortion was a key issue, winning 46% of that vote, while both Mr. Trump and Mrs. Haley got 25%.

But it all seems an exercise in futility. The longtime chairman of the Iowa GOP said earlier this month there was a chance for a “record turnout” when his state’s caucuses met. “Certainly, we’re going to be well above 100,000,” Iowa Republican Party Chair Jeff Kaufmann told Fox News Digital.

The Republican record was set eight years ago when about 186,000 voters cast ballots in a wide-open GOP caucus. On Monday — 110,298. Pathetic. Last year, Democrats bailed on Iowa as their party’s kickoff state, but Republicans decided to keep it. That clearly didn’t work out on Monday.

And for the record, just three presidents since 1972 actually won the Iowa caucuses: Democrats Jimmy Carter in 1976 and Barack Obama in 2008 and Republican George W. Bush in 2000.

So, after the first ballots in the 2024 presidential election were cast, we don’t know much more than we did before. Maybe it’s time for the Republicans to follow the Democrats and ditch Iowa as the “first in the nation.”

• Joseph Curl covered the White House and politics for a decade for The Washington Times. He can be reached at josephcurl@gmail.com and on X @josephcurl.

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