Trump overwhelmingly wins the Iowa caucuses in first step toward Republican nomination

Former president Donald Trump overwhelmingly won the Iowa caucuses on Monday evening in the first official contest of the Republican presidential primaries.

Mr Trump posted a double-digit victory in Iowa eight years after he lost the Iowa caucuses to Sen Ted Cruz of Texas. The former president far-outpaced his nearest competitors, Florida governor Ron DeSantis and former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley, who served as US ambassador to the United Nations in his administration.

Mr Trump had spent the better part of a year criticising Mr DeSantis even before his former protege entered the Republican presidential primary. The governor came a distant second in the first Republican contest to find a candidate to take on Joe Biden in November.

Businessman and “anti-woke” campaigner Vivek Ramaswamy suspended his campaign in the wake of the caucus results and announced that he was endorsing Mr Trump.

The former president hinted at his resounding victory against the runners-up. “I want to congratulate Ron and Nikki for having a good time together,” he said. “I think they both did very well. We don’t know what the outcome of second place is.”

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For their part, both Ms Haley and Mr DeSantis made the case for staying in the race. Despite failing to meet expectations, Ms Haley pledged she would stay in the race.

“Our campaign is the last best hope of stopping the Trump-Biden nightmare,” she said, saying that she will head to New Hampshire later in the evening. Ms Haley has already earned the endorsement of the state’s governor and some Democrats crossed over to caucus for Ms Haley. Despite this, she only earned third place in the caucuses.

Mr DeSantis, for his part, criticised the fact that media outlets declared Mr Trump the winner before the caucuses ended.

“They were just so excited about the fact that they were predicting that we wouldn't be able to get our ticket punched here out of Iowa,” Mr DeSantis told supporters. Mr DeSantis campaigned heavily in Iowa, visiting all 99 counties and earning the endorsement of Governor Kim Reynolds and evangelical kingmaker Bob Vander Plaats. Mr DeSantis said his silver medal performance earned him the right to advance.

“But I can tell you, because of your support, in spite of all of that they threw at us, everyone against us, we've got our ticket punched out of Iowa.”

The former president’s win gives him an on-ramp for another win in the New Hampshire primary, where he leads Ms Haley in all polls and his lead varies depending on which survey. Ms Haley has proven to be a competitive candidate in the Granite State, but Mr Trump’s dominance may be difficult to surmount.

In addition, the former president also leads in Ms Haley’s home state of South Carolina.

The former president’s victory came despite the fact that his campaign and the super PAC that supported him did not spend as much as those of Ms Haley or Mr DeSantis.

Mr Trump won the first-in-the-nation contest even after he refused to participate in any of the presidential debates and did not participate in the traditional retail politicking associated with the largely rural church-going state.

It also comes despite – or rather, because – of the fact that he faces four separate indictments: one related to his hush-money payments to adult film actress Stormy Daniels; one federal indictment for his handling of classified documents; a second federal indictment for his attempts to defraud the American people and overturn the 2020 presidential election results; and a fourth in Fulton County, Georgia for his attempts to overturn the 2020 election results in Georgia.

None of these legal battles have deterred Republicans from supporting him, though. If anything, Mr Trump has whipped up supporters against the legal system, painting himself as a victim.

The victory also comes as Mr Trump uses increasingly authoritarian language, calling for his opponents to “ROT IN HELL” on Christmas, saying he would act as a dictator on “day one” of his administration and saying that immigrants are “poisoning the blood” of the United States.

The former president alluded to those same words in his victory speech.

“We're going to seal up the border because right now we have an invasion,” he said his supporters to cheers. “They're coming from all over. They're coming from countries that most people have never heard of. And they're coming from mental institutions and insane asylums, they're being emptied out into our country. And they're terrorists.”

Mr Trump also alluded to the travel ban that he enacted early in his administration that banned travel from majority Muslim countries.

The former president also said that he got along well with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Mr Trump added that Russia would have never invaded Ukraine had he been in office, ignoring the fact that he tried to have Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky find dirt on Mr Biden in exchange for arms meant for Ukraine to protect itself against Russia.

Mr Trump’s victory in Iowa will break Bob Dole’s record for a margin of victory of 13 points in 1996 and George W Bush’s 10.5-point victory in 2000. Both candidates went on to become the Republican nominee for president, a future that seems all but certain for Mr Trump despite dozens of criminal charges against him.

The former president also surpassed Democrat Walter Mondale’s margin of victory, winning 51 per cent of the vote with 95 per cent of all counties reporting on Monday evening.

The next contest will be on 23 January in New Hampshire.