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Next up, New Hampshire: Where the race for the GOP nomination stands after Iowa

Former President Donald Trump speaks at his caucus night event Monday in Des Moines. Trump handily won the caucuses. The next contest of the primary season is in New Hampshire on Jan. 23.
Chip Somodevilla
/
Getty Images
Former President Donald Trump speaks at his caucus night event Monday in Des Moines. Trump handily won the caucuses. The next contest of the primary season is in New Hampshire on Jan. 23.

For more than a year, former President Donald Trump has been seen as the overwhelming front-runner for the Republican nomination.

It's not just because of polls. The party apparatus still seemed to be deferential to Trump. He has the most endorsements — by far. And few Republicans are willing to criticize his conduct.

Trump's decisive win in Iowa on Monday further cemented his standing in the party.

There are many more ballots to be counted before a Republican presidential nominee is declared, but a week away from the nation's first primary in New Hampshire, Trump's rivals are facing uniquely long odds.

The candidates who were most critical of Trump — former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Asa Hutchinson, the former Arkansas governor — have dropped out. Both directly took on Trump for his conduct, and both never really stood a chance at the nomination.

"I would rather lose by telling the truth than lie in order to win," Christie said when he bowed out of the race a week ago. "And I feel no differently today because this is a fight for the soul of our party and the soul of our country."

After getting just 0.2% of the vote in Iowa Monday, Hutchinson also announced in a statement that he, too, was waving the white flag.

"My message of being a principled Republican with experience and telling the truth about the current front-runner did not sell in Iowa," Hutchinson said. "I stand by the campaign I ran."

There are some who believed in those principles in Iowa. In addition to the 191 people who voted for Hutchinson, 29 others braved sub-zero temperatures in Iowa to caucus for Christie, even after he'd dropped out.

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In fairness, Iowa was never really a focus of Christie's, but the lack of support for the two most vocally anti-Trump candidates underscores a familiar story that we've known to be true for years.

Republicans largely haven't spoken out against Trump, and the ones who have are often punished.

For example, of the 10 Republicans in the House who voted for Trump's impeachment after the Jan. 6 insurrection, only two remain in Congress. The others were either ousted in GOP primaries or retired rather than face a challenge.

Indictments, 91 felony counts of federal and state charges, continuing to say increasingly anti-democratic things on the campaign trail – none of it has mattered with Republican voters.

Actually, those things have all helped Trump with Republican voters.

His lead has only expanded with primary voters through this campaign. Back in May, 45% of Republicans said they preferred Trump over any other candidate, according to an average of the polls.

Now, that's up to 63%.

The Iowa entrance polls made clear that Republicans have latched on to Trump's lies about the election and his victimhood claims about the charges against him.

Just 3 in 10 said Biden was legitimately elected, and two-thirds said they think Trump would be fit to be president even if he's convicted of a crime.

Sure, national polls don't reflect what's happening in state races, but even in those early states — with hundreds of millions of dollars spent and miles of retail campaigning — Trump leads by a lot.

These primaries are not a national campaign — yet. But they soon will be.

Super Tuesday is March 5, less than seven weeks from now. Sixteen contests take place that day in states and territories that give out 874 delegates in a single day.

To get the Republican nomination, a candidate needs a majority of delegates to the national convention. This year, that magic number is 1,215.

And unless something extraordinary happens, this all could be over a lot sooner than people probably think.

Trump and his team have stacked the state parties with loyalists, and over the last year, leveraged them to change the rules in their states to favor Trump.

Take a state like California, for example. It's a huge state with the most delegates in any single state. Trump's team successfully lobbied the state party to change their rules to give out all their delegates to whomever clears 50%.

In a one-on-one race, that's whoever wins. And there are about a dozen states until the middle of March that will allocate their delegates that way now.

After Super Tuesday, the next big day is March 19. Let's call it Winner-Take-All Tuesday. That's because five of the six states that vote that day give out all their delegates to whoever wins, no matter the total.

All of it is designed to get the primary process over with as quickly as possible. Seventy percent of the delegates will be allocated by the end of March, and if Trump wins at the clip he won by in Iowa, this could all be a wrap by then.

That's why New Hampshire is now so important in this race. It's likely the last real chance for former Trump U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley to show she has a path to the nomination.

She has gained ground on Trump in recent weeks there, and New Hampshire has the kind of profile that's tailor-made for a candidate like Haley.

She appeals to moderates, for example, which she won in Iowa. And there are historically more self-described moderates in New Hampshire, because independents are allowed to vote in the Republican primary – unlike in Iowa, which only allows registered Republicans to cast a ballot.

Despite Haley's climb, Trump is still ahead in the polls by an average of double digits.

That, of course, can change. Half of New Hampshire voters said in 2016 that they made their decision the week of the primary. (That year, it was in favor of Trump, by the way.)

But if Haley can't win or come reasonably close to Trump in New Hampshire, it's going to be tough to see how her longshot campaign can be viable.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Domenico Montanaro is NPR's senior political editor/correspondent. Based in Washington, D.C., his work appears on air and online delivering analysis of the political climate in Washington and campaigns. He also helps edit political coverage.