The student newspaper of Washington and Lee University

The Ring-tum Phi

The student newspaper of Washington and Lee University

The Ring-tum Phi

The student newspaper of Washington and Lee University

The Ring-tum Phi

Trump sweeps Iowa Caucuses, but Mock Con leaders aren’t ready to call the race

Students leading Mock Con are sharpening their predictions after visiting Iowa
Foster Harris
The student leaders of Mock Con bundled up to travel through Iowa in freezing temperatures.

As polls and political experts predicted, Donald Trump won the Jan. 15 Iowa Caucuses in a landslide and secured his spot as the leading candidate for the Republican presidential nomination.

Trump’s win carries special significance for the Washington and Lee students who will ultimately be tasked with predicting the Republican nominee in three weeks, when Washington and Lee’s 28th Mock Convention starts.

But Foster Harris, ’24, political chair of Mock Convention, said the job of predicting the 2024 nominee is far from over.

“I think it’s easy to just say Trump’s going to win. And, frankly, that’s not something that we’re going to say yet,” Harris said after returning from his visit to the Iowa Caucuses. “Our team’s whole goal is to not make a decision too early. We want to be open to every single possible outcome.”

Mock Convention, more commonly known as “Mock Con,” replicates the national convention of the political party not in power in the White House in order to predict their nominee for president. The key to an accurate prediction, Harris said, is getting “boots on the ground” in the places that influence the primary race the most.

The 13 Mock Con student leaders who traveled to Iowa last week battled snow storms and negative temperatures to listen to candidates’ speeches, discuss the main issues at play in Republicans’ platforms and talk with the citizens who were the first to cast their votes for who they’d like to see represent the Republican Party in the presidential race.

While Iowa only accounts for a small fraction of the more than 2,000 delegates who will advance to the Republican National Convention—where the party’s presidential nominee will be officially chosen this July—the state’s caucus votes often symbolize “who is rising and who is dead in the water,” according to the New York Times.

So when Trump claimed the state by the largest margin in Iowa caucus history, winning 51% of votes compared to second-place Ron DeSantis’ 21%, experts predicted an end to other candidates’ campaigns, according to NPR. Fourth-place finisher, Vivek Ramaswamy, dropped out of the race on the night of the caucuses, and Ron DeSantis dropped out on Jan. 21. Third-place candidate Nikki Haley will continue on the campaign trail.

“Most people would say it’s Trump’s to lose,” politics professor Brian Alexander said. “There’s the narrowest possibility that Trump stumbles or is barred from this march towards nomination.”

Harris said there’s no room for assumptions. Since 1908, students have correctly predicted the nominee in 74% of the conventions, according to the Mock Con website, making the organization the most accurate mock convention in the country.

But students wrongly predicted Bernie Sanders as the Democratic nominee in the 2020 cycle months before he dropped out of the race.

Harris said he is determined to learn from past mistakes.

“I think that 2020’s biggest regret is that when they predicted Bernie Sanders, Bernie didn’t even know what Mock Con was,” Harris said. “If [students] had forged the right relationships, they might have known what was going to happen.”

While the 2020 Mock Con team relied solely on polls and election data, Harris said, this year’s group acknowledges that numbers don’t always paint the full picture of a political landscape. So students have spent months analyzing states’ rules for primary elections and networking with the most powerful players in the Republican Party.

Harris said Mock Con leaders have built relationships with senior advisors at every major campaign, grassroots advocates, political journalists and even members of the Republican National Convention.

“Because of that outreach, we’re able to have data and internal polls and internal strategy knowledge that no one else has,” Harris said.

Harris and other students have met party leaders in-person through trips to Iowa and campaign fundraisers. This year’s Mock Con leaders were the first to attend the candidates’ debates—which they shared with more than 3,000 Instagram followers with live updates.

Now, more than 1,500 student delegates, who are distributed across 57 state and territory delegations, are counting down until that research and networking can be put to the test.

Convention Weekend will kick off Feb. 9 with a parade through downtown Lexington and a program of speakers who represent various views of the Republican Party. Over the following three days, each delegation will cast their votes to predict the presidential nominee.

Mock Con’s political team will use models to generate general projections for each state’s distribution of delegates, and then will tap into their insight from party connections to sharpen their predictions up until the moment students enter the Convention.

Until then, Harris will be monitoring various caucus and primary votes and the status of trials involving Trump, especially the Colorado case that will appear before the U.S. Supreme Court just a day before Mock Con begins.

The Colorado Supreme Court ruled on Dec. 19 that Trump is disqualified from holding the presidency, citing a section of the Fourteenth Amendment that prevents those who engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the U.S. from holding state or federal office. The Colorado Supreme Court pointed to Trump’s role in instigating the attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021 to justify its ruling.

As the case advances to the U.S. Supreme Court, Harris said, there are nine possible outcomes for the former president. Only one of them completely disqualifies Trump from running in the 2024 presidential race.

Alexander said that Trump not becoming the Republican nominee would be “a surprise.”

“This looks like a Trump show, and it’s going to be dictated on Trump’s terms,” Alexander said. “So I’m not looking for surprises. I’m looking for what we can expect.”

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Emma Malinak, Managing Editor

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