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Despite Trump’s Triumph in Iowa, Many GOP Voters Say Legal Troubles Could Make Him Unfit for Reelection


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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

We end today’s show with the first caucus of the 2024 election cycle. Donald Trump has trounced his opponents in the Iowa caucus, winning by a landslide record 51% of the record-low vote. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis narrowly topped former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, 21% to 19%. Vivek Ramaswamy suspended his campaign, endorsed Trump.

Trump’s victory came despite his mounting legal troubles and the fact that he’s refused to debate his challengers. He’s coming from Iowa to New York to the Manhattan federal court today for the second trial determining damages for sexually assaulting writer E. Jean Carroll, before he joins other candidates in New Hampshire.

For more, we go to Wisconsin to John Nichols, The Nation‘s national affairs correspondent. He’s been covering the Iowa caucus.

What stood out for you most? A lot of records here: record trouncing, 51 to — 30% higher than the next candidate — right? — DeSantis; freezing cold weather; and now he’s in court in New York.

JOHN NICHOLS: It’s quite a stack of records there, Amy. Thanks for having me.

Look, what stood out for me as I walked the streets of Dubuque yesterday was that it was unbelievably cold. And I know cold pretty well as an Upper Midwesterner. But they were talking, in some parts of Iowa, about a 30- to 40-below-zero wind chill last night when the caucuses began. And I don’t doubt that that may have depressed turnout to some extent. But I have to tell you, I did not see the sort of enthusiasm that I’ve seen in the past, and I’ve covered Iowa caucuses for decades. And so, in many ways, it seemed as if the Republicans were kind of going through the motions. They were, you know, putting a period on the end of the sentence. Yes, they endorsed Donald Trump. Yes, some of the more urban and suburban areas leaned more toward Nikki Haley especially, who is rising, and, to some extent, to Ron DeSantis.

But what stood out most for me was in some of the entrance polling. They do polls as people go into the caucuses. That, for a variety of reasons, is the best way to survey, rather than traditional exit polling. And in that entrance polling, 32% of the people who attended the caucuses said that they believed that if Donald Trump was convicted of one of the 91 counts he faces in trials all over the country this year, if he is convicted, they would see him as unfit for office. That’s a striking figure, Amy. It doesn’t — it’s higher than what we’ve seen in some polls. And in a state where you’re talking about very conservative people coming to the caucuses — obviously, they’re engaged Republicans or Republican leaners — to have that high a level, I would suggest to you that when you combine that with some other national polls that point to similar concerns, that these trials of Trump may well turn out to be far more significant than a lot of political pundits assume. I think most of the pundits assume that Republicans are going to line up behind Trump no matter what, that, you know, whatever convictions he faces, whatever happens, they’re unconcerned. This entrance polling suggests a very different reality. And if we continue to see this pattern going forward, I think, frankly, it’s a compelling number — a compelling set of numbers, as you look toward November. It may well be that Donald Trump has more of a problem with Republicans than people thought.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, John, the presidential primaries now shift to New Hampshire, Nevada, South Carolina. What’s your expectation in terms of any chances of some of these contenders against Trump to make any headway?

JOHN NICHOLS: It all comes down to New Hampshire, and there’s simply no question of that, Juan. New Hampshire is the place where Nikki Haley has put all of her energy. I mean, she did go into Iowa. And she’s got a lot of money behind her. She’s got Koch brothers money, and kind of a lot of the wealthy donor types tend to be very supportive of her, and not giving money directly to her but doing independent expenditures. So she had a campaign in Iowa, but her focus has been primarily in New Hampshire. She’s been going into very small towns in that state, really building out a serious campaign. Some recent polling has shown her closing in on Trump. With Chris Christie getting out of the race, a lot of his votes are likely to go to Haley. It’s clear from Iowa that Haley does have an appeal in some of the more urban and suburban areas. You’ve got a lot more suburban areas in New Hampshire. And so, that’s where it’s all at.

If Haley beats Trump in New Hampshire, then you’ve got an ongoing race. I don’t think that means that Trump won’t be the nominee. I think he’s got tremendous number of advantages in all sorts of states going forward. But New Hampshire will decide whether this is going to be any kind of realistic contest for that Republican nomination. And if Haley does win New Hampshire, then you do go to South Carolina, her home state — that will be a big test for her — and, you know, we’ll have more to talk about. On the other hand, if Trump does as well or anywhere near as well in New Hampshire as he did in Iowa, this race is going to fade away pretty quickly.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And meanwhile, President Biden has been raising lots of money. In the last quarter of 2023, his campaign raised over $97 million. He’s begun now to get on the stump somewhat. Talk about what you see as Biden’s chances, especially given his enormous involvement and support of the wars in Ukraine and in the Middle East — and in Gaza, I’m sorry, the Israeli attacks on Gaza?

JOHN NICHOLS: Yes. Look, Biden’s got a lot of problems. You know, we were pointing to this exit — or, entrance poll data out of Iowa that suggests that Trump has problems with his own party, but the fact is that Biden’s approval ratings are exceptionally low, and his polls against Trump put him, you know, at best, even, sometimes behind, sometimes a little bit ahead. So he’s got a hard, hard race ahead of him.

And I don’t think there’s any question. I look at all the polling, and I spend a lot of time talking to people. I recently interviewed Rashida Tlaib about what’s happening in Michigan. Look, there is simply no question: Joe Biden is harmed politically, I think, in a number of states by his ongoing support for the Israeli assault on Gaza. And you look at Michigan as an example. The polls recently out of Michigan have been very, very troubling for Biden. I hear that, you know, in coming days, he’s going to try and make some efforts to reach out to Arab Americans, to reach out to communities that have been deeply concerned about this. But the fact of the matter is, I don’t think rhetoric is going to help there. I think that only a change in policy is likely to begin to close some of the gap. So, Biden’s got a hard race ahead of him.

What I would sum it up as, though, is, look, the level of people who in Iowa said that they would see a convicted Trump as unfit is an encouraging sign for Biden. The reality is that we’re likely to have a very, very close November election. And when you get down to it, on both sides it’s going to be an issue of mobilization. And I think Trump will have perhaps some trouble mobilizing the whole of his Republican and conservative base, but Biden also will have trouble in that regard. And so, we’ve got a long, complicated and, frankly, pretty frustrating race ahead of us.

AMY GOODMAN: And we are going to have to leave it there. Nikki Haley is pouring money into new ads where she refers to the “Trump-Biden nightmare.” John Nichols, The Nation‘s national affairs correspondent, speaking to us from Wisconsin, just back from Iowa. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González, for another edition of Democracy Now!

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