JUSTIN WEBB: Get set for Biden v Trump, round two: It now seems almost impossible for anyone to catch Donald – even if he is imprisoned his supporters say they’ll stick with him

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Written By Maya Cantina

He was a loser. Now he is back to winning.

Donald Trump lost the 2020 election and did his party much damage in the congressional midterm contests of 2022. He seemed to be on the way out. Many of those who backed him were willing to look elsewhere.

But then came the four sets of criminal charges. Many pundits wondered at the time whether they would bolster him. The verdict came on Monday night in Iowa: he is a victor once again.

Iowa is the first in the nation: after all the polls and TV talking heads have endlessly had their say, this frozen state provides the first time real people vote in the presidential contest to choose who the candidates will be.

And here in Iowa an American election unique in modern times just became even odder. This is the first modern presidential contest with two former presidents potentially on the ticket, the oldest candidates in history, too. And now this: the famous Iowa caucus has become the coldest in Iowa history.

Many pundits wondered whether Trump’s four sets of criminal charges would bolster him. The verdict came on Monday night in Iowa : he is a victor once again, writes JUSTIN WEBB

And when I say ‘cold’ – with wind chill, it has been -40C. To go from a building to your car actually hurts. Your face freezes. Your lips too. The road from Chicago to Des Moines, the route I had to take as all the flights were cancelled, was littered with those huge American trucks you see in movies, spun around at crazy angles. The journey should take five hours, but it took me a day. The signs by the road say simply: ‘Travel is not advised’. You’re on your own, in other words. Crash and you might die quickly of cold in the snow. Very American. Very bracing.

So the big question on Caucus night was whether significant numbers might stay at home. The effort would be too much. You see: they have to do more than just vote and rush back to the car and home. A caucus is not an election – your final choice is secret but the process involves speeches and participation. That is the whole point.

And the bigger question was this: could we see from the result whose supporters were more enthusiastic, more willing to risk frostbite? Donald Trump said to his people: ‘You can’t sit at home. Even if you’re as sick as a dog, you say, “Darling, I gotta make it.” Even if you vote and then pass away, it’s worth it!’

Was he joking? Sometimes with Donald Trump it’s difficult to say. But now we can say with certainty that supporters seem to have taken him seriously and done what he suggested.

And they have delivered, with their enthusiasm, a clear verdict. Trump is not only the favourite to win the Republican nomination for the presidential contest in November but it is now difficult for anyone to catch him.

Nikki Haley, the former Governor of South Carolina and Trump¿s UN ambassador, needed to come second and claim the mantle of main challenger to Trump. She failed.

Nikki Haley, the former Governor of South Carolina and Trump’s UN ambassador, needed to come second and claim the mantle of main challenger to Trump. She failed.

Ron DeSantis came second but now faces a contest in New Hampshire in which he will almost certainly be trounced

Ron DeSantis came second but now faces a contest in New Hampshire in which he will almost certainly be trounced

Nikki Haley, the former Governor of South Carolina and Trump’s UN ambassador, needed to come second and claim the mantle of main challenger to Trump. She failed. She will carry on but with little obvious purpose. Ron DeSantis came second but now faces a contest in New Hampshire in which he will almost certainly be trounced because the state’s more suburban and independent primary voters don’t like him and show no sign of backing him.

It is frustrating for Haley. The polls suggest she would beat Joe Biden in the general election quite easily – but getting to be the candidate looks like a very tall order now in spite of her efforts in the Midwestern snow.

And Trump steams ahead. With the polls suggesting that his supporters are sticking with him in spite – or even because – of all the legal trouble he is in. They think he is being treated unfairly and they want to have his back.

Even if he were to be convicted – perhaps imprisoned – before the November election they are telling pollsters that they will stick with him. It is not of course the case that the wider nation will think that way. His chances of winning the final contest against Biden might be significantly reduced. But the Republican party seems to have made up its mind. Biden v Trump, round two: two men in later years who want to do battle, even if that battle depresses their electorate. Even if it damages America.

Justin Webb is the former BBC North America Editor

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