“Iowa picks corn, New Hampshire picks presidents,” the old saw goes. But this Monday, Granite State Republicans have their eyes locked on the frozen fields of the Hawkeye State.

After more than a year of campaigning, tens of millions of dollars of TV ads, and a seemingly endless barrage of text messages, about 150,000 Iowans will finally vote on Monday night. And despite all the rhetoric about New Hampshire not caring about Iowa, this year, many campaign professionals say they believe the returns could have a direct impact on the First in the Nation presidential primary — particularly if Donald Trump has a good night.

“At this point, it appears that Trump is a juggernaut and cannot be stopped,” said Republican consultant Patrick Hynes. “After Iowa, the other candidates are going to have to think long and hard (about) why they are still in the race.”

Or, as one Granite State Republican supporting a Trump opponent somewhat indelicately put it, “If Trump breaks 50 percent, we’re f***ed.”

Two polls released in the past 48 hours suggest it’s possible Trump could both win a majority of the vote and win by a record margin in a contested Iowa GOP caucus.


The most anticipated poll, from J. Ann Selzer and The Des Moines Register, found Trump with 48 percent, Nikki Haley at 20 percent, and Ron DeSantis at 16 percent. Vivek Ramaswamy was at eight percent, and no other candidate reached two percent.

As NBC News’ numbers cruncher Steve Kornacki notes, “Trump’s share (48 percent) breaks George W. Bush’s record in 2000 of 43 percent for the highest support level in any final pre-GOP caucus Des Moines Register poll. His lead of 28 points also breaks Bush’s record of 23.”

Late Sunday came a new Emerson College poll that put Trump at 55 percent, Haley at 21 percent, and DeSantis at 15 percent.

The biggest margin of victory in a GOP Iowa caucus? Sen. Bob Dole in 1988, who beat Pat Robertson by 12.8 percent (37.3 to 27.6 percent), while eventual nominee Vice President George H.W. Bush came in third with 18.6 percent.


Trump could easily outpace that number, and the inside baseball betting is that if Trump doesn’t break 50 percent, it’s because the bitter cold and blizzard conditions kept his (older, more rural) voters at home. Though Trump advisor Chris LaCivita told reporters Saturday, “Iowans are used to this kind of weather. D.C.-based reporters, not so much.”

Also worth noting: While Iowa Republicans like all four of the top candidates, Trump is by far the most popular (69 favorable/20 unfavorable), and his supporters say they are the most enthusiastic about voting for him on Monday. Haley’s supporters are the least committed of the top candidates. In fact, Selzer called the lack of enthusiasm among Haley voters “on the edge of jaw-dropping.” Just nine percent said they are “extremely enthusiastic” about caucusing for her.

For Trump, that number is 49 percent.

Another poll number may reveal why Republicans aren’t passionate about backing Haley: 43 percent of her supporters say that if the general election comes down to Trump and President Joe Biden, they’re voting for Biden.

The media have written quite a bit about how Haley’s likely to do better in states where more unaffiliated voters and even crossover Democrats are participating in the primary. And while the reporters writing those stories may think they’re doing Haley a favor — they’re not.

“Media attention on a GOP candidate’s support from moderate voters and independents is never a help in a Republican primary, especially with the base and MAGA voters,” said strategist Matthew Bartlett.

For all the focus on Trump and Haley, however, the candidate with the most at stake Monday night is almost certainly DeSantis. A stunningly good performance, and it could reinvigorate his candidacy in time to mount a comeback in the Granite State.

But a poor third-place showing could undermine the little remaining support — he’s polling around six percent — DeSantis still has in New Hampshire.

House Majority Leader Jason Osborne (R-Auburn), a DeSantis supporter, is encouraging people to ignore the polls and get to work.

“We’re deep into the final sprint of this first of many contests. No poll should distract anyone’s focus from running full speed to the finish line at tomorrow night’s caucuses,” Osborne told NHJournal.

But polling at single digits and with Haley picking up momentum as the “alternative to Trump” candidate, what work is there for the DeSantis campaign to do?

“I am not sure DeSantis has a path back into this race,” said veteran New Hampshire politico Tom Rath. “His best asset in Iowa may be Ramaswamy. Reports are that he’s putting up a pretty good organizational campaign out there. If Ramaswamy can get eight percent — more more, even — he probably keeps Trump under 50 percent.”

And while DeSantis insists he’s campaigning beyond Iowa, with stops already scheduled in South Carolina and New Hampshire on Tuesday, many GOP insiders say he’s the one candidate who’ll be hurt most if Trump breaks the 50 percent barrier.

“The fat lady is clearing her throat for Team DeSantis,” one GOP strategist said.

Throughout the campaign, opponents of another Trump nomination have pointed to examples from campaign history to argue that a DeSantis or Haley (or, until recently, Chris Christie) could have a breakout moment. But whether the example is Bill Clinton in 1992 or John McCain in 2008, the key difference is that none of those campaigns featured a frontrunner in a multi-candidate race hovering near 50 percent in the polls and with a passionate, dedicated base.

In other words, none of these candidates had a Donald Trump.

The former president doesn’t appear to be taking victory for granted, either. He’s got four stops planned in New Hampshire this week, beginning in Atkinson on Tuesday. Haley is scheduled to be in the North Country Tuesday night for a town hall.

And there is a WMUR/ABC News debate scheduled for Thursday night.

Will the debate happen? Will there be enough candidates in the race by Thursday to hold a debate? Particularly if Trump continues to refuse to participate?

If DeSantis surprises, certainly. If Trump overperforms, perhaps not. If Haley is right on Trump’s heels, perhaps it pressures Trump to appear on a New Hampshire debate stage?

History says that what happens in Iowa stays in Iowa. But like so much in the era of Trump, history may once again be wrong.