Trump stands in front of a row of American flags
Former U.S. President and current Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump attends a watch party during the 2024 Iowa Republican presidential caucuses in Des Moines, Iowa, Jan. 15, 2024. (Photo/JTA-Jim Watson-AFP)

Trump triumphs in Iowa, vowing to end Israel conflict ‘very fast’ and dimming hopes for pro-Israel favorite Nikki Haley

(JTA) — Former President Donald Trump won a historic margin of the caucus vote in Iowa, the first presidential nominating state, advancing his campaign for a third White House bid and narrowing the path for Nikki Haley, a favorite among pro-Israel Republicans who do not want to see Trump returned to office.

Trump won 51% of the vote in the caucuses on Monday, with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis coming in a distant second at 21% and Haley, the former South Carolina governor and ambassador to the United Nations, coming in third at 19%. Trump’s win was expected, but his 30% margin was the largest ever in an Iowa race that had more than two candidates.

Vivek Ramaswamy, the entrepreneur who stood out for embracing extreme right ideas and for calling for cutting defense assistance to Israel, got less than 8% of the vote and announced he was dropping out, effectively narrowing the race to three.

In his victory speech at his Des Moines headquarters, Trump lamented “the Israeli situation,” referring to Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel and the ensuing war in Gaza, and said he would “get it solved very fast.” He also repeated claims he made in the past that Hamas would not have attacked Israel were he president right now.

And he sounded a rare gracious note in victory after lacerating his opponents — DeSantis especially — for months.

“I want to congratulate Ron and Nikki for having a good a good time together. We’re all having a good time together. And I think they both actually did very well. I really do. I think they both did very well,” Trump said. “I also want to congratulate Vivek because he did a hell of a job.  … They are very smart, very smart people, very capable people.”

Trump’s magnanimity comes amid the growing likelihood that he will ultimately be the Republican presidential candidate to take on Joe Biden in November. DeSantis and Haley both vowed to take the fight to New Hampshire, but with each trailing Trump, their chances to prevail appeared to narrow.

Monday’s result is bound to be a disappointment for the establishment Jewish donors who were seeking an alternative to Trump and who in recent weeks flocked to Haley as her polling numbers rose and DeSantis’s dropped.

These Jewish donors appreciate Trump for his shifts during his presidency toward right-wing Israel positions but are wary now of the legal proceedings and political residue attached to his embrace of false claims that he won the 2020 election.

Haley in her concession speech said she remained the best choice for Republicans who believe Trump has lost the plot.

“I can safely say tonight Iowa made this Republican primary a two-person race,” she said, noting that her polling far outpaces DeSantis in the next two primary states, New Hampshire and South Carolina.

DeSantis, while he came in second, appears to have an even narrower path than Haley. He had invested significantly in the Iowa contest.

Democrats suggested that they relished the prospect of a 2020 rematch between Trump and  Biden. Biden has made Trump’s associations with extremists and antisemites front and center in his campaigning.

“Donald Trump is the leader of an extreme MAGA movement that has fully taken over the Republican Party – yet notably in a clear sign of weakness, even as the leader of the GOP and a former president, nearly half of Iowa Republicans voted for someone else,” the Democratic National Committee said in a statement.

Ron Kampeas

Ron Kampeas is the D.C. bureau chief at the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.