“The difference between a gold and silver is it will change your life — or it won’t,” she told me from a ski camp in the Italian Alps, where she said she had learned to make tortellini while taking a break from the World Cup circuit.
When Diggins won gold in South Korea, NBC’s announcer nearly hyperventilated on the air. “Here comes Diggins! Here comes Diggins!” he screamed as she moved into first place just ahead of the finish line, followed by “Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! — Gold!”
When Diggins won two more medals four years later, the hype was relatively muted.
Like the Olympics, Iowa’s caucuses aren’t only about winning and losing. It will also matter how close the candidates finish to Trump. Nike may disagree — “Second place is the first loser,” the shoe company said at the 1996 Summer Games — but in Iowa second place is often the second winner.
If Haley winds up a relatively close second, expect to hear about how it’s the greatest night in her political life. DeSantis would brand himself a modern-day comeback kid with a second-place finish.
(Prepare to geek out: The Times’s election night forecast will include a needle for the race for second place tonight.)
When second is really first
Diggins knows about heroic second-place finishes.
Thirty hours before she won a silver medal at the 2022 Olympics in China, she came down with a case of food poisoning, sapping her energy. She said she was prouder of that finish while competing in suboptimal conditions than the gold from four years earlier.
Then last November, during a race near the Arctic Circle in Finland, she lost a glove and was bleeding profusely from her face and still finished second in a 20-kilometer race when it was about zero degrees Fahrenheit — a little bit warmer than the expected minus 5 in Des Moines tonight.
“There’s this really interesting relationship between first place and second place because there’s how everyone else treats you, and then there’s how you feel about it,” she said. “If you allow other people to evaluate you, you will never be happy because you will never make everyone happy. And I think that’s probably more true in politics than anywhere else.”
Then there’s the weather — the first topic of conversation for just about everybody here in Des Moines.
Both DeSantis and Haley have turned Iowa’s weather into a piece of their stump speech. “It’s not going to be pleasant,” DeSantis said of the caucus conditions.
For her Olympic races, Diggins said she was wearing “as many layers as I thought I could still move in.” The key to succeeding in brutal conditions, she said, is not letting the cold get to her head, even if every other part of her body is freezing — lessons that carry over to running a presidential campaign.
“It’s a really just a pain tolerance,” she said. “How much suffering are you willing to put up with and are you willing to go there?”
The coldest caucus
How cold is it? The Diocese of Des Moines gave Catholics dispensation to skip yesterday’s Sunday Mass. The National Weather Service described conditions as “arctic.”
It will be warmer tonight than it has been over the weekend, but that’s not saying much. Des Moines could see temperatures of 10 below zero, with wind-chill as low as 30 below, according to the National Weather Service.
Nevertheless, Republican presidential campaigns are asking Iowans to schlep to more than 1,600 caucus sites across the state tonight to cast ballots in the first presidential contest of 2024.
“We’re going to be out there in the snow,” Nikki Haley said Sunday, my colleague Jazmine Ulloa reported.
I can say from some experience that being outside when it is 5 below zero is no fun, and 15 below is even worse. At those temperatures, car tires deflate. Gas stations are no help: The air and gas pumps freeze too. It is a risk to be outside.
What that means for caucus turnout is anyone’s guess.
As my colleague Jonathan Swan reported, the Trump and DeSantis campaigns had been preparing for a record turnout of more than 200,000 caucusgoers, eclipsing the previous high of 187,000 in 2016. But now it’s anyone’s guess.
David Kochel, a veteran Iowa Republican strategist, predicted about 150,000 Iowans would show up on Monday, a figure in line with historical norms, but still just about 25 percent of the registered Republicans in the state. He cited Trump’s lead and the weather as the biggest factors.
In cities and suburbs where Haley’s supporters are more prevalent, the roads are plowed and there’s less blowing snow. Trump’s supporters in rural Iowa are said to be more motivated, but blowing snow is still whipping across the network of two-lane highways. The DeSantis campaign says his supporters are the most committed caucusgoers of all.
All the Iowans we’ve talked to have told reporters they can handle the brutal weather. We’ll all find out tonight, given their shoddy track record, if they can finally carry out glitch-free caucuses.
Donald Trump is making it very clear where his focus is this morning, arguing in a post on Truth Social that Nikki Haley is out of step with the Republican Party, and that she can’t win a general election because she can’t coalesce his MAGA movement behind her.
He added what might be the nicest thing he’s said about Ron DeSantis in months: that the Florida governor “at least, is MAGA-Lite.” — Michael Gold
Ron DeSantis continues to insist that he will stay in the race, no matter how he performs in tonight’s caucuses. “We’re going on with this,” he said in an interview with NBC News. “We’ve been built for the long haul.” For months, DeSantis promised to win Iowa, but he and his team have scaled back those expectations as he has remained well behind Donald Trump in polls. —Nicholas Nehamas
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