Some Iowa GOP caucusgoers are shopping around for a Trump alternative

DES MOINES, Iowa — Most likely Iowa Republican caucusgoers say they have supported the same candidate throughout the entire election cycle, a contributing factor to former President Donald Trump’s maintaining a massive lead heading into Monday night. 

But those who have changed their minds are largely shopping for an alternative to the GOP front-runner and could play a significant role in the race for second place.

According to the latest NBC News/Des Moines Register/Mediacom poll, 65% of likely GOP caucusgoers said they have supported their first-choice candidates through the whole campaign, while 27% said they at one time supported different candidates from the ones they plan to support Monday. 

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Several of the likely caucusgoers who’ve switched candidates told NBC News they once supported Trump but are now ready to move on, with former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy as their leading options.

“I still like [Trump]. I think I’m just worried about all the trials and having to go to these events. And, you know, I think it’s going to take up a lot of his time,” said Larry Gagen, 54, who supported Trump before he planned to caucus for Haley in Dallas County.

Former President Donald Trump raises his fist at a "Commit to Caucus" event at Simpson College in Indianola, Iowa, on Jan. 14, 2024.
Former President Donald Trump raises his fist Sunday at a “Commit to Caucus” event at Simpson College in Indianola, Iowa. Christian Monterrosa / AFP – Getty Images

“I could tell that [Trump] wasn’t really able to make it here to Iowa that often,” Gagen added.

Mary Davie, 59, plans to caucus in Mills County for DeSantis, though she said she’s a fan of Trump, too.

“I supported Trump … but he was doomed from the start,” Davie said, adding: “I’m just at the point that I think we need something winnable. … We have to look at somebody who can actually win an election.”

She added, “I like a lot of what DeSantis says, and if he is as honest as he purports, then I think [winning] is very possible.”

Other likely caucusgoers have been anti-Trump since the beginning of this cycle and have switched their support among his opponents. 

Maison Bleam, 34, plans to caucus in Polk County for Haley after having backed DeSantis earlier in the cycle. 

“I started to really think about who has what I feel is the best, you know, type of presence for international relations and who has some of that, you know, skill set in their background, and so I moved from, you know, a very firm DeSantis supporter to over to Nikki Haley,” Bleam said.

“I’ve just been very impressed with her decorum, demeanor, delivery and found that inspiring enough to shift support,” he added.

Quinn Dahlhauser, 41, plans to caucus for DeSantis in Kossuth County after having considered throwing his support behind all of the non-Trump candidates.

“I was looking for someone other than Donald Trump at that point,” Dahlhauser said, adding that DeSantis “has got a record of actually getting stuff done.”

Dahlhauser added, “I don’t see that we’re going to have a lot of opportunities to vote for someone like him that has a lot of moral virtue.”

Joe Cotton, 59, who plans to caucus for Haley in Dallas County, started out torn between Haley and Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, who dropped out of the race in November. 

Now, he’s backing Haley, saying, “I like the fact that she has the executive experience from being governor and then, of course, the foreign policy experience from the U.N.”

Cotton was firmly against backing Trump and against caucusing for DeSantis or Ramaswamy.

“I don’t think [Trump’s] a real conservative or a Republican,” Cotton said, adding, “I just think Ron DeSantis is too much of ‘Trump lite’ and Vivek Ramaswamy is a ‘Trump lite’ wannabe.”