Donald Trump has dominated Republican politics for so long that it can be hard to remember the time when he did not. It’s easy to forget that at the beginning of 2016 he started the Republican primary process by losing the Iowa caucuses to Ted Cruz, his more conservative rival.
‘He stole it,’ Trump tweeted afterwards, graceful as ever in defeat. ‘The State of Iowa should disqualify Ted Cruz from the most recent election on the basis that he cheated – a total fraud!’ Trump went on to stun the world, of course, by winning the Republican nomination, then the White House. American politics would never be the same again.
Skip forward to 2024 and Trump is still grumbling about stolen elections. But he’s no longer the maverick Republican insurgent. He’s the maverick incumbent now – a king across the water – and nobody, it seems, can knock off his crown.
Journalists and psephologists are still having fun envisaging scenarios in which Ron DeSantis – check out his ground game in Iowa! – or Nikki Haley – independents in New Hampshire like her! – might find a way to topple him. The more boring truth is that, assuming the polls are not monumentally wrong, Trump will win Iowa next week and New Hampshire the week after. He’ll go on to secure the nomination again and challenge Joe Biden – or perhaps an emergency Democrat substitute – in November.
The biggest imponderable of 2024 is not who can stop Trump but what might happen in his various trials. It’s so complicated that even the most ardent Trump lovers and loathers struggle to keep up. In New York, there’s the civil defamation suit, the family business pyramid scheme trial and the criminal hush-money tax fraud case.