Analyzing Republican Primary Candidates Before the Iowa Caucus

In the aftermath of the candidate debates, Jeb Allen '27 analyzes and compares each Republican candidate and their chances for success in preparation for the January Iowa caucus.

As the Republican race for the Presidential nomination unfolds, the contenders include Trump, the new “Trump” (Vivek Ramaswamy), the runner-up who cannot gain momentum (Ron DeSantis), the dark horse (Nikki Haley), and the anti-Trump Republican (Chris Christie, coincidentally in last place.) Despite Trump’s indictments, the lack of change in polls suggests Trump will inevitably win the Republican primary and leave the rest of the field in disarray.

Surprisingly, Trump has remained relatively quiet throughout the recent debates, focusing on on-ground campaigning and maintaining his lead. Similar tactics were employed by Biden in 2020 when he realized that Trump’s favorability ratings were so low that by minimally campaigning, he could coast to victory.

Trump’s best shot at mobilizing moderates to vote for him in the national election is to repeat what he did in 2016 — choose a Vice President who moderates will support. In 2016, Mike Pence served as a level-headed politician who could pull voters in the middle to vote for Trump’s ticket. After publicly trashing Pence for not abusing his role as Vice President to reject the electoral college results, it is safe to say they will not be teaming up again.

Unfortunately for Trump, the Republican primary is in shambles for the runner-up spot. No candidate in the primary has distinguished themselves to be a likable, charismatic politician willing to work with Trump to persuade moderates to vote Republican. Chris Christie is the only politician left in the race who many Democrats believe to be one of the few voices of reason in a polarized Republican Party. Most Notably, Christie remains one of the only major republicans who criticizes Trump, claiming “no one else will do it in this race”. While Christie might be seen as more respectable by moderates, Trump has described Christie as a “fat pig,” “bum,” and “little boy,” so any idea that the two will reconcile should go out the window.

Nikki Haley, who has recently emerged as a dark horse for the runner-up spot, is another perceived reasonable voice going into the primary season. While Haley has been criticized relentlessly by Vivek Ramaswamy and Ron DeSantis, her polling numbers are putting her on a path to soon overtake DeSantis as the runner-up to Trump. On Jan. 9 of this year, only 2.6 percent of Republicans said they would vote for Haley. After the fourth debate, Haley’s polling percentage climbed to 11.6 percent. While this number may seem insignificant, DeSantis has decreased from 34.3 percent to 12.6 percent over the same period, only leaving a one percent lead for DeSantis over Haley. At the same time, Haley has recently received the most criticism from the other candidates, mostly questioning her integrity as a military-industrial complex contractor and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

Throughout the fourth debate, Ramaswamy trashed Haley: calling her “fascist” for promoting the necessity of government-enforced name verification of social media accounts, “Dick Cheney in heels” for her support of aggressive military tactics, and even held up a sign during the debate saying “Nikki = Corrupt.” Ramaswamy’s use of baseless attacks, shock-value insults, and adopting far-right policies puts him in a similar role to Trump himself in the 2016 debates. While no Republican will come close to defeating Trump this primary season, Ramaswamy is setting himself up very nicely to receive a cabinet position or potentially even serve as Trump’s running mate.

Lastly, we have DeSantis. While DeSantis initially looked like he could rival Trump, we were quickly reminded to whom the Republican Party belongs. On Jan. 9, Trump led DeSantis by 11.6 percent. Now, he leads DeSantis by 46.5 percent. DeSantis’ critical mistake in this election was running in the first place. While both candidates have extremely high favorability ratings within their party, the second Trump began to force voters to pick sides, DeSantis’ fan base abandoned him.

To their own chagrin, all candidates will quickly leave the race and attempt to kiss Trump’s ass enough to land a job on his cabinet or return to their previous position. Ramaswamy’s constant praise of Trump and embrace of the far-right sets him up perfectly for a cabinet position or potentially even the Vice Presidency. Haley has taken a diplomatic approach to dealing with questions about Trump’s remarks and, as such, could be invited to serve as Secretary of State or a similar role. DeSantis, the only candidate actively in office, will return to governing Florida and wait to take hold of the Trump train reigns when Trump officially calls it quits. Not only would it be unwise to serve in Trump’s cabinet after all the insults Trump has hurled his way this year, but it would most likely be political suicide to abandon governing Florida and end any future hopes he has of being president. Lastly, there is less than a zero percent chance Christie steps foot anywhere near Trump’s cabinet.

Currently, Trump leads in five out of the top six swing states —Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, and Pennsylvania— by four percent or more, which should alarm Biden, considering he carried all six of those states in 2020. Trump has used his indictments, the economy, and immigration to slam Biden and argue how much better of a job he could be doing than Biden. While we have claimed this over and over for the past few elections, 2024 might be the most critical election in the nation’s history, and Trump’s running mate will most likely be the determining factor.

Data to consider
*Favorability rating- what percent of Americans have a “favorable” view of the politician
*Polling percentage- what percent of Republicans would vote for the candidate in the 2024 Republican primary

Donald Trump’s favorability rating (42.5)
Donald Trump’s primary polling percentage (59.3)

Nikki Haley’s favorability rating (31.0)
Nikki Haley’s primary polling percentage (11.6)

Ron DeSantis’ favorability rating (32.7)
Ron DeSantis’ primary polling percentage (12.6)

Vivek Ramaswamy’s favorability rating (26.6)
Vivek Ramaswamy’s primary polling percentage (4.8)

Chris Christie’s favorability rating (22.1)
Chris Christie’s primary polling percentage (2.8)