Illustration: Craig Stephens
Thomas O. Falk
Thomas O. Falk

Trump’s political resurrection has begun

  • With his decisive win in Iowa, Trump has secured the Republican nomination in all but name
  • With neither impeachment nor 91 criminal charges denting his popularity, it is clear that his ‘Make America great again’ brand of politics will become a party staple
After Donald Trump’s landslide victory in the Iowa caucus, it is clear that there is no getting around the former president in the Republican Party – despite everything Americans already know about him. The future is therefore bleak.
Although the primary season has just started, with his decisive win in Iowa, Trump has the nomination secured, albeit unofficially. His 51 per cent of the vote was a statement against the aspirations of Ron DeSantis, governor of Florida (21.2 per cent) and Nikki Haley, former governor of South Carolina (19.1 per cent), who were both confirmed as the sideshows they had been ever since the election cycle started.

In fact, DeSantis had staked his bid on a strong showing in Iowa but never came close despite the state governor’s endorsement. Haley never managed to successfully walk the tightrope between not alienating Trump voters and representing some of the values of a party that no longer exists.

Their only chance was a surprise win in Iowa. But they failed. And there will be no DeSantis New Hampshire miracle or a Haley comeback in South Carolina. This is Trump’s nomination and he took it on Monday – decisively.

Florida governor Ron DeSantis and former UN ambassador Nikki Haley spar during the CNN Republican presidential debate at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, on January 10. Photo: AP

While his win wasn’t a surprise, it is still a pivotal moment in American history, as it marks the official start of Trump’s political resurrection.

It is one thing to attend town halls on Fox News or hold rallies in Sioux Center, Idaho. Storming to victory in the party’s first contest with the entire nation – and indeed the world – watching, is another.

Even with a low voter turnout – around 110,000 party members took part in the caucuses – he did better than many expected and secured the biggest caucus win in history. And, perhaps even more importantly, neither Haley nor DeSantis, in turn, lived up to the lofty expectations.

Iowa’s election results were predicted by opinion polls in the state, which also show him in a solid lead for the coming primaries. Without some black swan event, Trump is destined for a wire-to-wire victory.

Republican presidential candidate and former US president Donald Trump addresses supporters during a campaign rally in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, on January 17. According to a poll conducted by Saint Anselm College, Trump is at 52 per cent, far ahead of fellow candidates, Nikki Haley, who is polling at 38 per cent, and Ron DeSantis, polling at 8 per cent. Photo: Getty Images/AFP

In Des Moines on January 15, he gave a speech that only he could have given: an improvised collection of attaboys, self-praise, and the usual incoherent rambling. But he even acted conciliatory. All of a sudden, Trump was talking about unity – only to then go on and call Joe Biden the “worst president” ever.

But neither his win nor the unity statement was the real message of the night.

The Iowa result and all the other states in which Trump is leading the polls show that a vast number of Americans are inclined to embrace a twice-impeached candidate with authoritarian tendencies who is facing 91 criminal charges, if it means that a “strong”, anti-immigrant, anti-socialist (that is, anti-Democrat) leader makes the country “great” again.


Trump gained over US$100 million through fraud, New York says as civil trial starts

Trump gained over US$100 million through fraud, New York says as civil trial starts
Say what you like about Haley and DeSantis, neither is a threat to democracy. Nor was former New Jersey governor Chris Christie. Voters did have a choice. They decided to go with Trump.

The point has been made before but it’s worth repeating: Trump has been showing us what he plans for his presidency. He has said he wants to be a dictator for one day – the first of his presidency if elected – to champion his fantasies of retribution and it is clear that he wants to dismantle the justice system.

He is on trial in different states, for numerous crimes, but his growing popularity shows that none of this matters to Trump supporters – despite being members of a party that has traditionally championed law and order.

When Trump said in 2016 that he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and not lose any voters, it seemed too preposterous to take seriously. By now, the question is whether any Republican voter would care about even the most heinous crimes associated with Trump.

Nevertheless, it is intellectually lazy to simply label all Trump supporters racists or morally compromised. Sure, they exist in numbers, but the real question is why so many Republican voters, who in many cases used to favour traditional politicians, are now rooting for this cult leader to fight for them and their interests, whether it’s against “globalism” or “socialists”.

Guests wait for the start of a rally featuring Donald Trump, in Clinton, Iowa, on January 6. Photo: Getty Images/AFP

The data suggests the Trump base isn’t necessarily the crowd that has attended plenty of civics classes in college. They are often workers who have witnessed the erosion of American industries first hand. And the situation has become so dire, so hopeless for many of them, that Trump appears to be the only answer – except he is not, needless to say.

This is noteworthy because things will get worse before they get better. The number of dissatisfied average Americans will only continue to grow over the years, thanks to automation or artificial intelligence, to name only two factors, that will render many people’s jobs obsolete. A recent McKinsey study suggests that nearly 12 million American workers will have to switch jobs by 2030.
Trump will be gone someday, but his repugnant yet successful political message – the “Make America great again” model, if you like, that propelled him to win in Iowa, which will carry him to the nomination and probably back into the White House – will outlive him. As a result, America faces a future where this model will be replicated by Republican hopefuls – as we’ve already seen with multimillionaire former biotech executive Vivek Ramaswamy.

Future Republican candidates will outdo themselves in MAGA carbon copies henceforth to secure the vote of the “forgotten men and women”, with coherent debates, respect or truth no longer being relevant. That’s the message the Iowa caucus conveys.

Thomas O. Falk is a journalist and political analyst who writes about German, British, and US politics