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In Iowa, voters treated caucuses as a referendum on Trump

The former president wins big in the first 2024 primary contest

Supporters of former President Donald Trump cheer at a caucus night party in Des Moines, Iowa. Associated Press/Photo by Pablo Martinez Monsivais

In Iowa, voters treated caucuses as a referendum on Trump

SIOUX CENTER, Iowa—First-time caucus-goers Marnix Hofman, 22, and Ciara Deboon, 18, were excited to vote for former President Donald Trump on Monday night. They attended Trump’s rallies nearby and said they have supported him “from the beginning.”

“We need Trump back in office,” Hofman said, with Deboon adding, “So he can bring America back to where it used to be.”

They sat in the front row of the Terrace View Event Center in Sioux Center, Iowa, and rushed to be some of the first to cast their anonymous ballots in the precinct box.

Situated in the northwestern corner of the state, Sioux County is one of the most conservative in a state that’s already widely recognized as such. According to the Public Religion Research Institute, it has the state’s highest concentration of white evangelical Protestants, mostly Christian Reformed from a predominant Dutch heritage. Roughly 82 percent of Sioux County voters chose Trump in 2020.

He did not win the 2016 Republican caucuses in Sioux County or statewide. That year, Trump came second to U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas. This year, Trump received just over 51 percent of the vote, earning at least 20 of the state’s 40 delegates to the Republican National Convention where the party’s presidential nominee will be selected this summer.

Voters who arrived at the Terrace Events Center in Sioux Center, Iowa, lined up to present IDs and receive tiny slips of paper. For the first time, the city divided its six Republican precincts into two caucus locations. Organizers expected nearly 700 people at the events center, but only 367 showed up. Despite energetic ground operations to get out the vote statewide, only about 110,000 came out to the caucuses on Monday night, significantly down from 2016’s record 187,000. In Sioux County, caucus chairman Jacob Hall chalked it up to bad weather, but the Iowans who made it through the doors shrugged. Sometimes January gets cold, many told me.

The evening meeting opened with prayer and the Pledge of Allegiance. Then they elected a caucus chair and listened to spokespeople give a last-minute appeal for their chosen candidates.

When no one stood up to speak for Trump, local construction worker Jim Maassen volunteered. He had no prepared remarks but asked the crowd how they felt about President Joe Biden’s leadership compared to Trump’s.

“A vote for Donald Trump is the most likely vote to fix this country, get it back on track, and, and have a country we love,” he said. “With the president like we got, it’s hard to really be proud of a country. So we’ve got to vote for Donald Trump. And everybody here can say it with me: A vote for Donald Trump will make America great again.”

No one joined in the chant, but 124 people voted for Trump. Across the state, more than 56,000 indicated they want him back in the White House.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis had a strong showing in Sioux County with 31.1 percent of the vote. Statewide, he surged to second place in a surprise upset for former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who received 19.1 percent to his 21.2.

DeSantis relocated almost all campaign operations to Iowa before the caucuses, while Haley split her time between Iowa and New Hampshire, which holds its primary next week. Voters told me DeSantis’ numerous visits to local restaurants and town halls helped them get to know him better. A common theme among his supporters was that he had a similar yet more appealing style than Trump.

Dave and Dot Roskamp are retirees in the area. They said that they approved of Trump’s presidency, but he might carry too much ill will into the White House for a second term.

“Trump kind of has a big mouth sometimes,” Dot said. “And I don’t always like how he calls people names and stuff like that. So yeah, DeSantis is more my type of guy.”

Dave Wolf and his wife, Kay, moved to Iowa last year from Nebraska. Kay caucused for DeSantis, while Dave opted for entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy. Both said they could not morally choose Trump.

“Donald Trump is very concerned about the people that aren’t loyal to him. And yet he himself doesn’t show loyalty to people,” Wolf said “He's been unfaithful to all of his wives, and yet he expects everybody to be faithful to him. That was probably the biggest turning point for me.”

Ramaswamy garnered just 7.7 percent of votes and announced Monday night that he was quitting the race.

Len Rhoda, a retired Dordt University professor, has voted for Trump twice before. But he said these same qualms pushed him toward Haley: “His policies I liked; his personality has been disappointing.”

Nevertheless, every DeSantis supporter told me they would still vote for Trump if he became the GOP nominee for president.

“The poll numbers are scary because we’re leading by so much. The key is you have to go out and vote,” Trump told supporters in Waterloo, Iowa, on Dec. 19. “If we win in a massive number, but it’s a little bit less than that, they’ll say, ‘Oh, he didn’t meet expectations.’”

Trump not only exceeded expectations but also broke an Iowa Republican record. Until Monday night, Bob Dole had the highest margin of victory in the caucuses since beating Pat Robertson by 12 percentage points in 1988.

At his watch party in Des Moines, Trump opened with thanks to Iowa organizers and a message of unity.

“We want to come together, whether it’s Republican or Democrat or liberal or conservative. We have to come together and straighten out the world,” Trump said.

Carolina Lumetta

Carolina is a WORLD reporter and a graduate of the World Journalism Institute and Wheaton College. She resides in Washington, D.C.


This keeps me from having to slog through digital miles of other news sites. —Nick

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