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Donald Trump dominates in Iowa. What it means for Michigan primary, caucus

Donald Trump speaking into microphone
(Joseph Sohm /
  • Donald Trump dominated the Iowa caucuses on Tuesday and is well positioned for the GOP nomination as Michigan primary nears
  • Michigan GOP plans hybrid primary and caucus convention plan that experts predict will benefit Trump
  • Ron DeSantis and Nikki Haley have yet to focus resources on Michigan but remain Trump’s closest competitors

LANSING — Former President Donald Trump cruised to victory in the Iowa caucuses on Tuesday night, reaffirming his front-runner status for the Republican nomination less than two months before the Michigan GOP’s first-ever hybrid primary and caucus convention. 

Ron DeSantis, who last year secured several Michigan endorsements in his bid for the White House, finished a distant second in Iowa with 21.1 percent of the vote. That was 30 points behind Trump and a disappointment for the Florida governor, who hoped to at least compete for first.


Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley managed to make the race competitive — but against DeSantis, not Trump. She finished third with 19.1 percent of the Iowa caucus vote, two points out of second place.


A lot could still change for Trump. With absentee ballots set to go out to Michigan voters this week, experts say the former president appears to be primed to win the state’s GOP primary for the third straight time, despite facing a host of criminal charges. 

“To be blunt, it's not a race,” said Richard Czuba, a top Michigan pollster, who told Bridge Michigan he has not even chosen to survey voters about the full Republican primary field because Trump appears to be positioned so strongly.

“Donald Trump is still steamrolling to the Republican nomination,” Czuba said Tuesday. “If he can't be stopped in New Hampshire (the next state to vote, on Jan. 23), he’s not going to be stopped.”

Here is what to know about what all this means for Michigan:

When is Michigan’s primary? 

The former president appears poised to benefit from a new Michigan Republican Party plan for awarding delegates to the national GOP’s nominating convention, which Milwaukee will host in July. 

Democrats who control the Michigan Legislature voted last year to move the presidential primary from March 2 to Feb. 27, as requested by President Joe Biden.

That’ll give Michigan the fifth-earliest Democratic primary and the sixth earliest in the GOP race. The move was intended to bolster the state’s influence and force candidates to pay attention to Michigan issues.

That hasn’t exactly happened this year, largely because Trump is off to a big lead and Biden faces only token opposition from U.S. Rep. Dean Phillips, D-Minnesota, and author Marianna Williamson.

What’s this about a caucus?

Michigan’s earlier primary was opposed by legislative Republicans because it violated Republican National Committee rules that generally prohibit most primaries before March.

In order to avoid penalties from the RNC, the Michigan GOP devised a hybrid system to award its 55 delegates to this year’s national nominating convention based on the results of both the statewide primary and a subsequent caucus-style convention. 

Michigan Republicans, who are mired in a leadership dispute that threatens to disrupt the process, plan to divide 16 delegates between candidates who receive at least 12.5 percent of the vote on Feb. 27. 

The other 39 delegates will be awarded through 13 separate Congressional District caucus votes March 2.

Experts predict the hybrid plan will ultimately benefit Trump because he is likely more popular with state party members who will participate in the caucus convention than he is with the general GOP primary electorate. 

Why aren’t Republicans campaigning in Michigan?

If Desantis or Haley are able to gain ground in Michigan, they’ll have to do so fairly late in the game. 

Despite its swing state status, no GOP campaigns appear to have set up any sort of permanent infrastructure or hired staffers in Michigan, which is unusual given its size and importance in national elections. 

“This is the first time since I've been involved where not a single campaign, to my knowledge, has a paid staffer in Michigan, and to my knowledge not a single campaign has an official steering committee or leadership committee for Michigan,” said Dennis Lennox, a Michigan GOP activist who has worked on campaigns for more than 20 years. 

Trump put a heavy focus on Michigan in his 2016 and 2020 campaigns, and he did visit the state twice last year, speaking at an Oakland County Republican Party dinner in June and rallying for striking UAW workers in September. 

But Trump has not yet announced additional plans to campaign in Michigan before the Feb. 27 primary or March 2 caucus convention. 

DeSantis, meanwhile, spoke at a Midland County GOP event in April — before he had officially launched his presidential campaign, and Haley has not campaigned in the state. 

Ohio entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, who twice wooed voters in Michigan last year, suspended his campaign Tuesday night after failing to reach double digits in Iowa. 

He endorsed Trump.  

Will Michigan endorsements help DeSantis?

DeSantis last year secured more than 30 endorsements from current and past Michigan officials, including 25 members of the Legislature. But he had notable endorsements in Iowa too, and those didn’t seem to help him much on Tuesday. 

The Florida governor “has a tough, tough path ahead of him” in Michigan, acknowledged state Rep. Phil Green, a Mayville Republican who endorsed DeSantis last spring. 

That’s at least partly because the Michigan GOP’s plan to award most of its nominating delegates through a caucus convention is likely to benefit the former president, Green told Bridge.

“The cards are definitely stacked against any competitor other than Trump winning Michigan,” Green said. 

State Rep. Bryan Posthumus, an early DeSantis supporter from Rockford, said he has no details about future travel plans but hopes the Florida governor still decides to make Michigan a priority. 

“I think he should be spending time here,” Posthumus said, encouraging DeSantis to advertise to primary voters and to begin talking to Michigan Republicans who will vote in the March 2 caucus convention.

“Anybody that has a conversation one-on-one with Gov. DeSantis walks away like, ‘Wow, that guy knows what he's talking about,’” Posthumus said. 

Can Haley build momentum?

While Haley only managed third place in Iowa, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations is expected to do better in New Hampshire’s Jan. 23 primary. 

There, she has placed second to Trump in recent polls — but still trails by an average of 13 percentage points. 

If Haley manages to top Trump in New Hampshire, “I think you still have a contested race going into at least March, and Michigan may suddenly become important,” said Lennox, the longtime Michigan GOP strategist. 

“Of course, the question that we have right now is, even if Michigan suddenly became important, could anybody take advantage of that opportunity?”

While Haley could still decide to campaign in Michigan or hire staffers here, she’d be up against a daunting timeline: Absentee ballots are set to go out later this week, and voters who receive them will be “voting on the dynamics of the race as it exists now,” Lennox said. 


If she managed to win the GOP nomination — and that’s a big if —Haley could actually be a stronger candidate than Trump in Michigan, according to a recent poll by Glengariff Group. Inc.

The public opinion survey, conducted Jan. 2 to Jan. 6, showed Haley leading Biden by 10 percentage points in a head-to-head matchup. Trump, meanwhile, led Biden by a slightly narrow margin of 8 points. 

That’s because Haley was more popular than Trump with independent and Democratic-leaning voters, said Czuba, the pollster. 

“In a state like Michigan, where everything is decided in the middle, it becomes particularly perilous to Joe Biden if someone like Nikki Haley is showing that kind of strength in the center,” Czuba said.

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