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GOP Primary Was Short, but Worth the Hype


As winter turns to spring during our quadrennial presidential election years, the weather is not the only thing that heats up. Starting in the frozen zip codes of Iowa and New Hampshire, both major political parties have historically seen broad fields of hopefuls winnowed down to single nominees through a series of dramatic contests.

In 2016, Donald Trump spent months plowing through more than a dozen rivals in order to claim the nomination. In 2008, a smaller field narrowed to Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, whose back-and-forth drama lasted until June, when Obama edged out Clinton for the hotly contested prize.

This year, there will be no crowded field jockeying for votes on Super Tuesday. There will be no nail-biter dead heat as the conventions draw near. In Republican America, it is once again the Year of Trump, and it took precisely one state to prove it.

With a handful of competitors already sidelined, the Iowa caucuses featured three candidacies of interest. Trump soundly throttled both Ron DeSantis and Nikki Haley, causing the Florida governor to bow out the following Sunday and leaving Haley as the last Trump challenger standing.

But with Haley’s prospects limited, the suspense has drained. The remaining primaries will be a coronation parade for a former president once thought too damaged to prevail again.

So has all the attention given to the anticipated spectacle of the 2024 GOP primary season been a waste of time? Was it always going to be this way? Did analysts and the public fool themselves into thinking this was going to be a long fight?

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There was always ample evidence that Trump could remain strong and even gain electoral vigor while under attack from a variety of political and judicial tormentors. But the path that has led to this short but decisive verdict has nonetheless yielded valuable data.

In the crowded 2016 GOP nomination journey, we learned how Trump would navigate a calendar full of primaries in which he took fire from a variety of directions. This year, we are learning how he not just survives, but thrives under daily fire, both from rivals and from a judicial system that has been mobilized to destroy him.

Trump supporters holds signs during the primary outside a polling site at the Winnacunnet High School in Hampton, New Hampshire, on January 23, 2024. Former US President Donald Trump aims to steamroll his way toward the Republican presidential nomination Tuesday in the New Hampshire primary, making short work of his only surviving opponent former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley.
Joseph Prezioso / AFP/Getty Images

In 2008, we saw two engaging figures, Clinton and Obama, adjusting their approaches as first one then the other claimed the upper hand. This year, we saw Trump enter Iowa with polls suggesting instant domination and watched those polls proven true. There will be no back-and-forth with Nikki Haley lasting into the spring. She may not last through February.

So what are the lessons of this hiccup of a primary season? As state after state delivers delegates to Trump, what will history record?

It will note how wrong even well-meaning analysts can be. It appeared untenable that a candidate navigating Trump’s minefield of indictments could emerge with an even larger, more loyal base.

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It will note the characteristics of today’s Republican Party. Its energized, conservative wing is vast, but not accommodating enough to give DeSantis the needed votes to climb into the Trump stratosphere. Its moderate wing coalesced around one candidate, but offered insufficient votes to be a factor over the long haul.

Those who hadn’t already grasped it have learned that, nearly a decade after Trump first offered himself for the nation’s highest office, the party bears his indelible stamp. Some Republicans may not like that, but they cannot deny it.

The mini-race of 2024 yielded other revelations that will need time to crystallize. America’s introduction to Ron DeSantis as a national political figure did not go the way he wanted, and clumsy critiques of him abound. But with more years of expected success in the Florida governor’s job that made him famous, he should be an instant frontrunner in 2028.

The years between now and then will either contain a second Trump presidency, or they will not. If they do, those with eyes to see will have learned one of the most sweeping lessons in American political history. Trump’s enemies, from cable news anchor desks to blue-state election officials to social media censors to courthouses in various cities, will have been shown that their power pales alongside millions of voters burning to deliver the statement that they will not be told whom they are allowed to vote for.

Mark Davis is a syndicated talk show host for the Salem Media Group on 660AM The Answer in Dallas-Ft. Worth, and a columnist for the Dallas Morning News and Townhall.

The views expressed in this article are the writer’s own.