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Is Trump Leaving an Opening in Iowa?

Donald J. Trump has dominated the Republican Party for eight years, and our recent poll results show that he is dominating the Republican primary race again. So it’s not wrong to wonder whether Mr. Trump is simply undefeatable — even after his third criminal indictment.

But there was one moment — one fleeting moment — when it really did look like Republicans might move on. It was in the aftermath of the 2022 midterm election, when Mr. Trump’s party and his preferred candidates fared far worse than expected. It undermined the perception of his strength and dominance. He was a loser.

With that in mind, consider our first New York Times/Siena College survey of the Iowa caucus, released Friday. It is by no means a bad survey for Mr. Trump: He leads Ron DeSantis by a comfortable margin, 43 percent to 20 percent. Tim Scott sits even further back, at 9 percent.

But Mr. Trump’s position is unequivocally weaker in our Iowa poll than in our nationwide survey. His support is well beneath 50 percent in Iowa, and his opponents seem stronger. Mr. DeSantis has the highest favorability ratings in the poll, and clear majorities of likely caucusgoers consider him more “likable” and “moral” than the former president. Mr. Trump’s electability advantage over Mr. DeSantis is also far smaller — just 9 points — than it is nationwide.

A 23-point deficit is still a daunting gap for Mr. DeSantis. But unlike the national poll, our Iowa poll has revealed a few cracks in Mr. Trump’s armor. If Mr. DeSantis (or another challenger) could ever pry those cracks open and win the Iowa caucuses — the first nominating contest of the race — one wonders what kind of effect that might have on Republican voters.

After all, the only time Republicans were prepared to move on from Mr. Trump was the one time he and his supporters had to accept that he lost, after the 2022 midterm election.

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