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The Iowa caucuses are in the books. What do they forecast for the primaries?


We're going to stick with this story for a few more minutes with Nathan Gonzales. He's editor and publisher of the Inside Elections newsletter, which offers nonpartisan analysis of political campaigns - not just the presidential race, but also House, Senate and governors races and so forth. Nathan, welcome. Thanks for joining us.

NATHAN GONZALES: Yeah, thank you. And thank you for pointing out there are other elections beyond the presidential race.

MARTIN: Well, so let's talk about that. Let's talk about just what happened in Iowa last night, and then we can talk about what else might happen in some of these other races. Looking at Iowa over the past few cycles, how much do the results tell us about how the winning candidate might do in the coming months?

GONZALES: Well, Iowa has not been predictive of the Republican presidential nominee or who is going to become the next president. I mean, Ted Cruz defeated Donald Trump in 2016 in a race there. Then, going further back, Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum. And so maybe the good news for last night for Iowa was that it might actually predict - or it might actually be voting for who the eventual nominee is going to be.

But New Hampshire and Iowa - splitting the results is common. And I know we've been talking about New Hampshire and how, if Nikki Haley is able to pull off an upset there, I think that that might be a hiccup on Trump's road to the nomination rather than the beginning of the end for Donald Trump.

MARTIN: So, you know, many words have been said about this subject, so - but I'm just going to ask you, how do you explain Donald Trump's enduring appeal, especially when he did not spend as much time in the state as the other candidates did? And typically, these small states - that's one of the reasons they like going first, because they get to see these guys and gals up close and personal, lots of money spent on ads and so forth. He didn't do any of that. So how do you explain?

GONZALES: Yeah. I think we can get rid of the narrative that retail politics is required to win Iowa. The two candidates who spent the most time in Iowa - Ron DeSantis and Vivek Ramaswamy - finished second and fourth, and Ramaswamy didn't even make it through the night.

I think Trump is still a voice for voters who feel like they don't have a voice. I think that's how he came to popularity within the Republican Party. And things have changed. He's been president for four years. He's been indicted more than 90 times. A lot - things have changed, but he's still that voice and he's still the anti - you know, anti-establishment outsider that voters - Republicans think, you know, think that they want.

MARTIN: Any sense of how Trump's candidacy is affecting people who are running in other races? And I'm going to bring our colleague Sue Davis in back to talk about that as well. But what's your sense of it?

GONZALES: Yeah. I mean, the Republican Party has rallied behind Trump almost universally. I mean, if you're running for the United States Senate, you want to endorse him and be - and have his endorsement in order to get through a Republican primary. You know that you need his supporters in order to win your own race. And so there are - I - it's hard to even count a handful of Republicans in notable races who are running explicitly against Trump because they know they might not win the primary, and they need those Trump supporters to win a general election.

MARTIN: So let's turn to national political correspondent Susan Davis, who's - who is with us. Susan, good morning.

SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Good morning.

MARTIN: OK. But as - look; people who - let's call it the non-Trump wing of the Republican party likes to point out, Trump cost the party seats in 2018, 2020, 2022. And Trump-like candidates haven't fared very well in competitive races around the country, especially in really important states like Michigan, for example. So what's your sense of that? What's your sense of the effect on other candidates?

DAVIS: Well, there is evidence. And the evidence is that Trump can often have a down-ballot drag. And I think particularly in the context of 2024, this is important to remember, I think - that election denialism is going to play a factor in 2024 if Donald Trump is the nominee. He continues to falsely maintain that the election was stolen from him. And frankly, it has penetrated Republican voters in this country, where the vast majority of Republican voters also believe that the - falsely believe that the election was stolen. And so that creates a bind for Republican general election candidates, where you cannot run and win with a Trump endorsement if you contradict him on that fact. And if you don't run that way, you're likely to see lower base turnout. But it has provided Democrats significant opportunities to defend races that they might otherwise lose.

And as Nathan noted, there are - both the House and the Senate are in contention in 2024, and the makeup of that Congress will be hugely consequential to the - who the next president is. But there is no evidence that would suggest that Trump continuing to run on a message of election denialism and a party that now has to adhere to that position can fare well in a general election.

MARTIN: Let's bring senior White House correspondent Tamara Keith in to talk about this as well. Tam, how is the White House speaking about that? I mean, election denialism is something that we heard President Biden talk about. We've heard him talk about it, but is that also a campaign issue for them?

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Oh, that is central to the president's campaign for reelection. Because President Trump - former President Trump denied the outcome of the last election, that becomes a democracy issue. That becomes a - you know, when you lose, admitting that you lose and exiting stage left is a fundamental tenet of American democracy. And that is a huge part of President Biden's argument.

I will say, interestingly, President Biden has also started referring to President Trump as a loser, which is an insult that President Trump uses like breathing. He uses it all the time. And it is, in his mind, the largest insult you could throw at someone to say that you're a loser rather than a winner. And now President Biden is using that. His campaign says, oh, that's not a troll; that's just a statement of fact.

MARTIN: That is senior White House correspondent Tamara Keith. We were also joined by national political correspondent Susan Davis and Nathan Gonzales, editor and publisher of Inside Elections, which provides nonpartisan analysis of campaigns. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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