The recent mass gathering of Republican 2024 hopefuls in Iowa has sparked conversations about the future of the party. Held near Cedar Rapids amidst fields of ripening cornstalks and soybeans, this event took place after a Republican Party fund-raising dinner in Des Moines and just before the Iowa State Fair. Iowa has traditionally played a crucial role as the first nominating contest, but it has never seemed as beside the point as it does now. With Donald J. Trump’s overwhelming dominance in the polls, the prospect of anyone else winning the nomination seems unlikely. The months of pre-caucus rituals in Iowa, which were once highly anticipated by candidates, operatives, and the media, now feel hollow.
The signs of Trump’s inevitable victory are apparent. A recent New York Times/Siena College Poll showed him with a 37-point lead over his closest rival, Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida, among likely Republican primary voters nationwide. In Iowa, where the race is narrower, Trump still leads by 22 points. Iowa voters, like much of the Republican electorate, have already made up their minds and chosen Trump as their preferred candidate. The other candidates appearing at the recent event in Iowa were merely repeating their familiar stump speeches, aware that their chances of dethroning Trump are slim.
Even Trump’s legal troubles have failed to dent his support. Despite facing multiple criminal cases and his feud with Governor Kim Reynolds of Iowa, Trump remains the frontrunner. The Times/Siena Poll revealed that 52 percent of Iowa Republicans were only considering Trump, and a staggering 77 percent strongly supported him, leaving little opportunity for other candidates to make gains. Governor DeSantis, who entered the race with national recognition, now hopes to run an insurgency campaign by visiting all 99 Iowa counties, a tactic usually employed by underfunded long-shot candidates.
However, this hyper-retail campaigning appears out of touch in a race dominated by Trump. With the former president attracting the most attention and media coverage, the primary contest has become nationalized. Trump’s rivals at the recent event seemed to hope that voters would overlook his overwhelming presence. Only former Governor Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas briefly mentioned Trump’s candidacy, acknowledging the uphill battle the other candidates face. The primary race has essentially become the Trump show, overshadowing any attempts to garner attention or support.
As the first nominating contests are still months away, it remains to be seen whether Trump’s ongoing legal battles could impact his candidacy. But for now, he remains firmly in control. Iowa, once a crucial state that narrowed the field of candidates, may now simply be a punctuation mark in Trump’s journey towards securing the nomination. The prospect of anyone else rising to the top seems distant, making the political circus in Iowa increasingly irrelevant.