Republican 2024 frontrunner Donald Trump got ahead of himself last weekend when he pivoted to the general election, blasting Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis over the six-week abortion ban he signed into law in the dead of night earlier this year.
Besides being indicted on 91 counts in four different criminal cases, Trump's zing at DeSantis on a core evangelical issue is arguably his worst blunder of the election cycle so far. Whether it matters is an open question, but the blowback from Iowa's social conservatives and popular Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds has created an opening in the Hawkeye State that one of Trump's chief rivals might be able to exploit.
The second Republican debate, on Sept. 27, will provide a forum for Trump's challengers to capitalize on his tone-deaf blunder and perhaps further separate themselves from the pack—a must if any Republican is going to have a chance of taking on Trump, who plans to skip the debate.
The Iowa caucuses will be the best and potentially only opportunity for Republican 2024 hopefuls not named Trump to reshuffle the trajectory of the race. DeSantis, given his initially high expectations, must either win or have a very strong second-place finish to remain viable.
Former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley, given her initially low expectations, could get a ticket out of Iowa with a mediocre second-place win as long as she simply bests DeSantis.
The worst-case scenario in terms of upending the race would be middling, about-as-expected finishes, with Trump mostly dominating, DeSantis putting in a so-so performance, and Haley and Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina duking it out for the third and fourth slots. Tech bro and MAGA enthusiast Vivek Ramaswamy might be somewhere in the mix, but his base is Trump's base so, long term, he will never pose a real threat to the OG.
As the race stands, there appear to be two potential routes to defeating Trump: the same candidate finishing some combination of first or second against him in consecutive Iowa and New Hampshire contests; or hanging in the race long enough for Trump to get convicted and being there to pick up the pieces (if there are pieces to pick up).
With all that in mind, only two candidates appear poised to have a narrow chance of pulling off one of those two: DeSantis and Haley. Scott has an outside chance, but he has largely faded into the background since the initial debate, where Haley caught some wind.
In the latest polls from Iowa, DeSantis still runs second to Trump but has lost altitude as Haley has gained. Here are the top-five candidates (or more when there were ties) from the two most recent statewide polls conducted by reputable pollsters.
Fabrizio, Lee & Associations (for pro-Trump super PAC MAGA Inc.), Sept. 17-19:
- Trump: 45%
- DeSantis: 15%
- Haley: 13%
- Ramaswamy: 5%
- Scott: 5%
- New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie: 5%
Beacon Research/Shaw & Company Research (for Fox Business), Sept. 14-18:
- Trump: 46%
- DeSantis: 15%
- Haley: 11%
- Ramaswamy: 7%
- Scott: 7%
Bottom line: Haley is on the move against DeSantis in Iowa, but Trump remains dominant.
In New Hampshire, here are the top-five candidates from the two most recent statewide polls:
InsiderAdvantage, Sept. 20:
- Trump: 42%
- Haley: 14%
- Christie: 10%
- DeSantis: 8%
- Ramaswamy: 5%
- Scott: 5%
University of New Hampshire (for CNN), Sept. 14-18:
- Trump: 39%
- Ramaswamy: 13%
- Haley: 12%
- Christie: 11%
- DeSantis: 10%
In both polls, DeSantis has dropped out of the top three, while Haley has made it into that tier.
The UNH poll is particularly interesting, with Trump registering under 40% (potential weakening?) and Ramaswamy running second. It could be an outlier, but it’s also possible that Ramaswamy is siphoning votes away from Trump. That would be an interesting development because it might give someone like Haley an avenue, especially if she were to come out of Iowa with a surprisingly good finish.
Any way you slice it, DeSantis and Haley arguably have the most at stake in next week's debate. And if either of them manage to capitalize, Trump will have himself to thank for giving them that opening by skipping two debates in a row.
One final note: As a reporter, I have interviewed voters in both Iowa and New Hampshire in previous cycles. There's nothing they despise more than a candidate who decides he doesn't need them before a single vote has even been cast.
Sign if you agree: No one—not even a former president—is above the law
Kerry talks with Drew Linzer, director of the online polling company Civiqs. Drew tells us what the polls say about voters’ feelings toward President Joe Biden and Donald Trump, and what the results would be if the two men were to, say … run against each other for president in 2024. Oh yeah, Drew polled to find out who thinks Donald Trump is guilty of the crimes he’s been indicted for, and whether or not he should see the inside of a jail cell.