(WASHINGTON) — Last week’s Iowa caucuses posed something of a Rorschach test for one of the biggest questions of the 2024 cycle: Will Donald Trump’s GOP continue to shed suburban support — or will enough of them return to the Republican base when faced, again, with choosing him or Joe Biden?

The history of Trump’s problems in the suburbs came back into the spotlight after the Republican nominating race kicked off with Iowa’s caucuses on Jan. 15, where Trump’s margins of victory in many suburban counties were smaller than in rural counties.

Those results followed years of Republican atrophy in such areas, culminating in 2020 losses in key swing states fueled by defections from voters living near major cities like Atlanta, Phoenix and beyond.

But Trump still ended up winning 98 out of 99 counties in Iowa — only losing the last county to Nikki Haley by one vote — including many he failed to take in 2016, the last time there was an open GOP race and before he was bogged down by Jan. 6, two impeachments and four indictments. (He denies all wrongdoing.)

That had GOP allies as well as skeptics and critics of the former president telling ABC News they believe President Biden’s reputation (evidenced by his weak approval rating) and record on inflation and the cost of living are problematic enough to give Trump a chance to win back some of the suburbanites who’ve been voting against Republicans since he first ran for president.

“He actually did a little better in the suburbs than I thought he would. I think Nikki Haley underperformed somewhat. Rubio won those counties, Nikki came closer but didn’t win them,” veteran Iowa GOP strategist David Kochel, who has been critical of Trump, told ABC News, referencing Florida Sen. Marco Rubio’s 2016 GOP campaign.

Teresa Horton Bumgarner, the chair of the Republican Party in Johnson County just outside Cedar Rapids, considered Iowa’s most liberal enclave and where Trump lost to Haley, estimated that he still has “very strong” appeal in the suburbs and that “coming in and only losing by one vote is a huge victory.”

To be certain, Republican boasts of Trump’s strength in the suburbs run counter to the party’s performances in the cycles after he first emerged as a major candidate in 2015.

Democrats retook the House two years into Trump’s term and then Republicans lost both the White House and the Senate in 2020. All three defeats were fueled, in part, by Trump or the GOP losing votes in key suburban areas.

For instance, Trump lost Johnson County by more than 43 points in 2020, the largest margin of defeat for a Republican in a presidential race there in decades.

He also fell short in 2020 in swing states like Arizona, Georgia, Michigan and Wisconsin after underperforming around major cities like Atlanta, Detroit, Milwaukee and Phoenix.

But now, Republicans told ABC News, Trump, if and when he wins the 2024 nomination, is expected to face off against a president with a record marred by negative perceptions of the economy and worries over his age and fitness.

Biden had just a 33% approval rating in an ABC News/Ipsos poll from this month — with only 31% of adults approving of how the president is handling the economy.

Some surveys also show Trump ahead by healthy margins in key battlegrounds like Arizona and Georgia, according to 538’s averages.

“You don’t win those states without doing well in the suburbs,” said Robert Blizzard, a GOP pollster whose firm worked for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ now-ended presidential campaign.

“If you look at ’20, the swing voters in ’20 that decided to pull the lever for Biden and not for Trump, they were thinking much more with their hearts than they were with their heads or with their wallets,” Blizzard added. “And I think now as you head into ’24, I think a lot of those voters are now thinking with their heads and with their wallets.”

Even some of the 49% of Iowa Republicans who rejected Trump in the caucuses last week are expected to find their way home to their party’s nominee come November, strategists said.

“It’s a binary choice … and I can’t imagine many choosing Biden,” said Terry Sullivan, a GOP strategist who worked on Rubio’s 2016 campaign.

Nonpartisan pollster Mike Noble noted some suburbanites could choose Trump due to economic “pain points.”

“Certain people think it’s unfathomable that they would vote for Trump, and I have to always explain to them is that it’s not that they’re voting for it, it’s that they have realistically an A/B choice. And of the A/B choice, it’s kind of saying, ‘Hey, would you like anthrax or Ebola?’ And it’s like, both are pretty crappy, but they got to pick one,” Noble said.

Still, some of the Republicans who spoke with ABC News warned not to underestimate the headwinds Trump has and could continue to face in appealing to suburban voters.

These experts pointed to signs suggesting the public still largely rejects what happened on Jan. 6 — and disapproves of Trump’s conduct around the U.S. Capitol attack — as well as the ongoing electoral backlash to the elimination of federal abortion protections.

“People just don’t have confidence in Biden,” said Sam DeMarco, the GOP chair in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania. “But I don’t know that that repels people. I think with some … they have a visceral reaction to Trump.”

In 2020, Biden notched a 20-point win in Allegheny County, which includes Pittsburgh and some of its suburbs. That was the biggest win for a Democratic presidential candidate there in more than 20 years.

“I’m worried about me being able to raise money for a county party because I have people that will not give if they believe any of it will be used to help [Trump],” DeMarco said. “While I believe that the Biden administration is an unmitigated disaster, I’m concerned that we may not have learned from 2020 and the elections since, and we are headed down a road to ruin here if we don’t get it together.”

Democrats, meanwhile, said they feel more sure-footed in the suburbs — as does Biden’s campaign — despite the many polls that portend problems for his reelection bid.

“The broad, diverse coalition that sent Joe Biden and Kamala Harris to the White House has only grown with the strong wins of the Biden-Harris Administration — delivering for the voters who will decide this election on the issues that matter most, while Donald Trump triples down on a losing agenda of ripping away abortion rights and cutting taxes for the ultra-wealthy while the middle class bears the cost,” campaign spokesperson Seth Schuster said. “Like we’ve seen election after election, Donald Trump’s MAGA agenda is a losing agenda, and November 2024 will be no different.”

Democratic pollsters who spoke to ABC News also expressed confidence that Biden will have a chance for a clear one-on-one contrast with Trump based on a potent issue set of abortion rights and democratic norms.

With more than 10 months to go until Election Day, Biden has already been trying to spotlight both — as the GOP hammers him over his stamina and inflation, immigration and foreign affairs.

“Biden needs to needs to rehabilitate himself some with those voters, but unlike Trump, who those voters have been voting against three-plus straight elections, I think Biden has more ability to get a fair hearing to communicate with those voters as to what Biden has done and will do a president, compared to Trump, who I think really the ship has sailed in a lot of ways for,” Democratic pollster Zac McCrary said.

“If non-Trump Republicans in 2022 were not able to make meaningful headway, by and large, in a lot of these races, then Trump himself is much more of a flawed vessel for that,” McCrary said.

Another Democratic pollster, who requested anonymity to discuss the race because of professional concerns, insisted there’s a path for Biden to preserve his standing with suburbanites through a “two-step dance” of touting economic progress while making clear “there is still a long way to go” and underscoring the danger Biden believes Trump poses to the nation’s societal fabric.

But, when asked about Biden’s ability to pull that off, this pollster said: “Well, that’s the question, isn’t it?”

The pollster was “very, very cautiously optimistic,” they said — but added this: “Underline very and cautiously.”

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