JUSTIN WEBB: Get set for Biden v Trump, round two: It now seems almost impossible for anyone to catch Donald – even if he is imprisoned his supporters say they’ll stick with him

He was a loser. Now he is back to win.

Donald Trump lost the 2020 election and did a lot of damage to his party in the congressional midterm contests of 2022. It looked like he was on his way. Many of those who supported him were prepared to look elsewhere.

But then came the four sets of criminal charges. Many pundits at the time wondered if they would strengthen him. The verdict came in Monday night in Iowa: he’s a winner again.

Iowa is the first in the country: after all the polls and TV talking heads have had their say endlessly, this frozen state offers the first time that real people vote in the presidential contest to choose who the candidates will be.

And here in Iowa, an American election unique in modern times just got weirder. It is the first modern two-way presidential contest former presidents possibly on the ticket, including the oldest candidates in history. And now this: the famous Iowa caucus became the coldest in Iowa history.

Many experts wondered whether Trump's four sets of criminal charges would strengthen him.  The verdict came in Monday night in Iowa: he's a winner again, writes JUSTIN WEBB

Many experts wondered whether Trump’s four sets of criminal charges would strengthen him. The verdict came in Monday night in Iowa: he’s a winner again, writes JUSTIN WEBB

And when I say ‘cold’ – with wind chill it was -40C. Going from a building to your car actually hurts. Your face freezes. Your lips too. The road from Chicago to Des Moines, the route I had to take since all the flights were canceled, was littered with those huge American trucks you see in movies, turning at crazy angles. The trip should take five hours, but it took me a day. The signs along the road simply say: ‘Travel not advised’. You’re on your own, in other words. Crash and you can quickly die of cold in the snow. Very American. Very strengthening.

The big question on Koukusaand was therefore whether significant numbers would perhaps stay at home. The effort would be too much. You see: they have to do more than just vote and rush back to the car and home. A caucus is not an election – your final choice is secret, but the process involves speeches and participation. That’s the whole point.

And the bigger question was this: could we tell from the result whose supporters were more enthusiastic, more willing to risk freezing? Donald Trump told his people: ‘You can’t sit at home. Even when you’re sick as a dog, you say, “Honey, I’ve got to make it.” Even if you vote and then die, it’s worth it!’

Was he joking? With Donald Trump, sometimes it’s hard to tell. But now we can safely say that supporters seem to have taken him seriously and done what he suggested.

And they, with their enthusiasm, delivered a clear verdict. Trump is not only the favorite to win the Republican nomination for the presidential contest in November, but it is now difficult for anyone to catch him.

Nikki Haley, the former governor of South Carolina and Trump's UN ambassador, had to come in second and claim the mantle of Trump's main challenger.  She failed.

Nikki Haley, the former governor of South Carolina and Trump’s UN ambassador, had to come in second and claim the mantle of Trump’s main challenger. She failed.

Ron DeSantis came in second, but now faces a contest in New Hampshire in which he will almost certainly be clobbered

Ron DeSantis came in second, but now faces a contest in New Hampshire in which he will almost certainly be ousted

Nikki Haley, the former governor of South Carolina and Trump’s UN ambassador, had to come in second and claim the mantle of Trump’s main challenger. She failed. She will continue, but with little apparent purpose. Ron DeSantis came in second, but now faces a contest in New Hampshire in which he will almost certainly be voted out because the state’s more suburban and independent primary voters dislike him and show no sign of supporting him.

This is frustrating for Haley. The polls suggest she’d beat Joe Biden fairly easily in the general election — but being the nominee now seems like a very tall order, despite her efforts in the snow in the Midwest.

And Trump is steaming ahead. With the polls suggesting that his supporters stick with him despite – or even because of – all the legal problems he is in. They think he is being treated unfairly and they want his back.

Even if he were to be convicted – perhaps in jail – before the November election, they tell pollsters they’ll stick with him. Of course, it is not the case that the wider nation will think so. His chances of winning the final matchup against Biden could be greatly reduced. But the Republican party seems to have made up its mind. Biden v Trump, round two: two men in later years who want to fight, even if that fight hurts their voters. Even if it damages America.

Justin Webb is the former BBC North America editor