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As Haley tries to stop Trump, many pundits downplay his Iowa landslide


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When Donald Trump won more than half the vote on a frigid Iowa caucus night, journalists and pundits – even those who can’t stand the man – had to admit that it was an impressive victory.

That didn’t last long.

By the next morning, a counter-spin was emerging. Sure, Trump had captured 51 percent of the vote, but that meant almost half of Iowa Republicans had voted against him! 

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Well, nice try. Trump had beaten three other contenders, with his closest rival, Ron DeSantis, at 21 percent. It would be different if the former president had faced one opponent, but that didn’t happen. DeSantis and Nikki Haley are still in the race, dividing the anti-Trump Republicans, while Chris Christie and Vivek Ramaswamay are out.

CNN anchor Phil Mattingly said that "an incumbent pulling 51 at an Iowa caucus or caucuses, not exactly great, and an incumbent that has 30 percent of the party that doesn't feel like voters that feel like if he's convicted they don't want to support him. That's problematic."

Another way to look at that is that two-thirds of Iowa Republican voters said in entrance polls that they would continue to back Trump even if he’s convicted of criminal charges. Any other candidate would be toast. Gauging his chances in a general election is certainly up for debate.

As I noted on "Special Report," MSNBC refused to air Trump’s victory speech, with Rachel Maddow boasting that "there is a cost to us as a news organization of knowingly broadcasting untrue things. And that is a fundamental truth of our business and who we are." He hadn’t even said a word. Will the network continue to censor him if he wins the nomination – or is even back in the White House?

CNN took a few minutes of the speech, with Jake Tapper breaking away when Trump started talking about an "invasion" of illegal migrants. But Tapper, to his credit, kept talking up the historic nature of Trump’s Iowa victory.

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Trump said at a rally: "NBC and CNN refused to air my victory speech. I think of it because they are crooked, they're dishonest, and frankly, they should have their licenses or whatever they have taken away."

CNN has no license to yank because cable news isn’t regulated by the FCC. But is Trump back to threatening to take NBC off the air?

DeSantis, for his part, complained about the cable news channels and AP projecting Trump the winner half an hour after the caucuses began. "They even called the election before people even got a chance to vote," the Florida governor said.

But unlike in a primary, where an early projection can discourage voters, all the caucusgoers were by then in place for the three-hour sessions.

The Wall Street Journal editorial board said DeSantis should drop out after his "disappointing" Iowa showing because he has no path to the nomination.

So now the focus shifts to New Hampshire, where one "shock" poll has Haley tying Trump but another gives the former president a 16-point lead.

Haley forced ABC to cancel its Manchester debate by refusing to show up unless Trump does. She correctly figured that another session in which she and DeSantis bash each other wouldn’t help her, and he is a non-factor in New Hampshire, having already sent most of his staff to South Carolina.

There are two schools of punditry about Haley. One is that if Trump’s former U.N. ambassador edges him in New Hampshire, or comes within a couple of points, the media momentum will transform the race. The state, which allows Democrats and independents to vote in the GOP primary, is ideally suited to Haley and her message.

The second scenario is that even if she takes the Granite State, Haley has no place to go but down. Trump is likely to embarrass the former South Carolina governor in her much more conservative home state, and could overwhelm her in the rush of contests after that. 

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Meanwhile, Trump again dominated the post-Iowa coverage by going to the Manhattan courthouse where writer E. Jean Carroll’s second defamation suit is unfolding. Only damages are at issue after Carroll won $5 million in an earlier lawsuit that also found him liable for sexual assault in the 1990s, which Trump vehemently denies.

The judge yesterday admonished Trump for making comments that could be heard by the jury and then threatened to eject him from the courtroom. "I would love it," Trump said.

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The other candidates are clearly not loving a political world in which Donald Trump makes most of the news.

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