Iowa, Biden in Trouble, Bernie Expels Pro-Lifers, and Trump's Best Week
One Week in Iowa
Things didn’t go as planned in Iowa. Two weeks ago it would have been unthinkable to say that the process was so bungled, the communication so poor, and the contingency plans so nonexistent that no one actually knows who won the caucuses, but that’s the situation. After a disastrous night the DNC chair, Tom Perez, blamed the state democratic party. The Iowa Democratic Party called for an independent investigation.
Ted Cruz said it best: “It’s interesting, Dems right now, they can’t stand in a gymnasium and count who stands under which sign - and they’re the ones who want to be put in charge of our healthcare and everything else in our life? I mean, these are the socialist candidates who say, ‘We know best, trust us to run your life.’ Well guys, how about figure out how to count your votes first.” David French titled his weekly column, “Make America Competent Again.”
There’s no way to cover the fact that this was a massive failure for the Democrats. With three years of preparation time, and a reputation for playing an outsized role in the primaries, the caucuses were a disaster. The app designed to streamline the process was untested, the initial reporting was filled with errors, the intermediate reporting showing Buttigieg as the winner with only 62% of the data collected now looks misleading at best, and in the end, the candidates have moved on to New Hampshire. After going back and forth, the DNC has called for a complete recanvass, but the damage is already done.
One of the major implications of the failed caucus is that none of the candidates dropped out. In years’ past, Iowa has served as an elimination round to hone the field, but this time all 11 candidates stayed in the race. This increases the chance of a brokered convention and it continues to divide essential fundraising dollars.
The Biden campaign is running on fumes. One of the other implications of Iowa, though, is that Biden can dismiss the results as a product of confusion, rather than a clear sign that he’s not a compelling candidate with voters. The ambiguity may have been the break he needed; Biden can get away with calling detractors “lying dog-faced pony soldiers” to deflect, buying more time to rebound. This may not be the end for Biden, and he could pick up steam in Nevada and South Carolina and win big on super Tuesday, but it’s looking less likely. Dems are gearing up for a Sanders run, and strategizing about how to get their older, wealthier, establishment voters on board.
New Winners in New Hampshire
The latest debate highlighted the central issue of Sanders’ candidacy; he’s not actually a Democrat. Because of his success in the last two presidential campaigns, the party has had to morph and shift to absorb him into the mainstream of Democratic politics, but he’s jolted the party away from the Clinton and Obama platforms. On the debate stage Friday, the moderator asked if anyone had an issue with a democratic socialist representing the party in November. Only Klobuchar and Steyer raised a concern. That’s a stark change in the party; not just that two of the leading candidates would be socialists, but that the others would feel unmotivated or unable to say anything in opposition.
As an economic system, Republicans and Democrats should both be able to shoot holes in democratic socialism, and that’s not even considering the cultural implications. But Bernie has become such a fixture in the hope to retake the presidency, and the horrors of 2016 are still so present in the background, that no one is standing up in opposition. Bernie’s popularity among young voters also complicates things. His version of socialism resonates emotionally and morally more than economically, and Dems who criticize him, even from an economic standpoint, risk finding themselves on the wrong side of the millenial vote.
Something else became clear during the debate in New Hampshire; there is no room for pro-lifers in the Democratic party. Of course, this has been the assumption for years, but Bernie Sanders made it explicitly clear in a response Friday night. In response to a question from the moderator, Sanders said, “Being pro-choice is an absolutely essential part of being a Democrat,” and “I think by this time in history, I think when we talk about what a Democrat is, I think being pro-choice is essentially – is an essential part of that.” Buttigieg made a similar statement at a town hall in January.
Sanders, Warren, and Buttigieg are struggling to pick up Christian voters, and these positions won’t help. Among Protestants, 36% said they would support Biden, 13% said Sanders, 11% Warren, and only 5% Buttigieg. These are the numbers among mainline protestants; the numbers would be significantly lower among evangelicals.
It’s surprising the candidates have been monolithic on this issue. Late term abortion is wrong, but it’s also extremely unpopular. The country is split between pro-life and pro-choice, but that’s when asked about abortion with restrictions. As recently as last year, 71% of Americans opposed abortion in the third trimester. Every candidate but Biden, Klobuchar, and Bloomberg supports late-term abortions. Klobuchar has indicated that she may oppose abortions in the third term, Biden voted to outlaw them in 2004 but has since disavowed the vote, and Bloomberg has not weighed in during the campaign.
If there’s an issue that will cause left-leaning or politically moderate Christian voters to choose Trump as the lesser of two evils, abortion would probably be it. Protection for the unborn, freedom of religion, conservative judges, and the ability to hold any position other than the most extreme view on abortion rights may be too good to pass up, even among those who despise everything else about President Trump.
Stories to follow...
Trump’s State of the Union address was positive, measured, and celebratory. Themed, “The Great American Comeback,” the address was emblematic of the strongest parts of Trump’s presidency. He emphasized economic growth, jobs, healthcare, and foreign affairs; he criticized socialism and trumpeted American values.
In Trump fashion, it was predictably theatrical. He honored a diverse array of guests, from a little girl waiting for a school choice voucher to another little girl who was born almost 20 weeks premature. He gave Rush Limbaugh the Presidential Medal of Freedom, brought a soldier home and reunited him with his family, and honored the last living Tuskegee Airman. He also didn’t mention impeachment.
That the lasting moments have been Pelosi’s disrespectful announcement, Trump snubbing her handshake, Dems sitting for the Tuskegee airman, and Pelosi tearing up her copy of the address all display the partisan pettiness that has enveloped American politics. The lasting stories should be, and will be, that life has gotten better for Americans. Party politics aside, it’s a good time to be an American.
Mitt Romney was the only Republican to vote to remove the President on the first article of impeachment. Romney has long divided Republicans, and his vote, and emotional speech beforehand, opened up old wounds between establishment Republicans and never Trumpers. Bret Stephens captured the sentiment of those who saw Romney’s vote as an act of virtuous integrity. Romney stood alone, against his party, on the power of his convictions to become the first member of a president’s own party to vote to remove him from office.
At National Review, Michael Brendan Dougherty had a slightly different take. He saw the vote as a self-motivated jab consistent with Romney’s history of flip-flopping and sanctimoniousness, citing his donations to Planned Parenthood, his relationship with the Trump administration, and his loss to Obama in 2012.
If the State of the Union was Trump at his best, the National Prayer Breakfast was Trump at his worst. The breakfast has strayed from its intended purpose; and contrary to some of the commentary this week, many Presidents have politicized the prayer breakfast. Obama used it to browbeat his opponents, Clinton spoke in the midst of accusations over his sexual misconduct, and several Presidents not known to be religious have taken the opportunity to make an appeal for their agendas clothed in religious language. This is all a necessary consequence of having the President speak at an overtly religious event. It would be nice to think that American Presidents have all been devout believers, but unfortunately that is not the case. Trump is a unique manifestation of this phenomenon. He has been friendly to Christians, and he has advanced Christian causes, but he is not remotely Christian in his personal beliefs.
Trump’s remarks have almost overshadowed Arthur Brooks’ excellent speech about loving our enemies and healing our nation. Brooks’ address is worth watching, or reading, and treats some of the most crucial issues in American society and politics.
This was the best week of Trump’s presidency. The Iowa caucuses were a disaster, he was acquitted by the Senate, the State of the Union was a success, the jobs report showed signs of growth, Biden is slipping in the polls, and his approval is the highest it's ever been.
Jordan Peterson, the intellectual hero of the intellectual dark web is recovering from pneumonia, brought on by treatment for prescription drug dependence. His daughter Mikhaila posted an update video saying he is being treated in Russia and has recently come out of a medically induced coma. Peterson is an emblem of resurgence, especially among young men, and his impact will continue to be felt, regardless of his recovery. I’ve written about Peterson here and here; he’s one of the most significant thinkers and writers of this century, and I know many are praying for a full recovery.
Steve Timmis has been removed as the executive director of Acts 29 for bullying and abusive leadership. Timmis is the latest in a long string of Acts 29 members who have been removed over their angry, abusive, and disqualifying leadership. Founded in 1998, Acts 29 is a church planting network of 730 churches, started by Mark Driscoll and now led by Matt Chandler. Driscoll and Darrin Patrick, another Acts 29 board member, have both been removed from leadership and from their churches. Timmis marks a trend and hopefully a trend reversal. The church needs the work and ministry of Acts 29, but not at the cost of spiritual abuse.
I’m always looking for articles like these. VanGemeren is an Old Testament professor at Trinity in Chicago, and this is his short summary of the book of Joel. One of the twelve minor prophets, Joel prophesied after the exile and used the metaphors of the older prophets to promise restoration and protection for Israel. In addition to surveying the major themes and images of the book, VanGemeren situates Joel in Scripture and in history. What was happening in the world? Why does Joel come between Hosea and Amos? Take some time to read through Joel with these two articles as a guide.
“The New American Millennial Right” - Park MacDougald, Tablet Magazine
This essay is a detailed lay of the land for the political right. From Ross Douthat and Reihan Salam through Julius Krein and American Affairs through Josh Hawley and Tucker Carlson. MacDougald classifies the various factions and traces their origins in recent political history, but he also looks at the philosophical roots of the main strains of conservative ideology. Even as the left is reshaping around progressive social issues and democratic socialism, the right is also reconfiguring. Millennial conservatives look much different than their conservative boomers. This is an intriguing look into the present and the future.
“For the US and China, Interdependence Is a Double-Edged Sword” - Joseph Nye, The Financial Times
The relationship between the US and China is the forerunner of a new era in foreign relations, and this new kind of relationship will require new paradigms in foreign policy. In zero-sum relationships, any cost inflicted on an opponent is a win, but in positive-sum relationships, both parties can pay for acts of competition and aggression. The interdependence of the modern world is reshaping global diplomacy in startling new ways. Nye argues that for the US and China, interdependence should provide a level of deterrence that stabilizes the world’s two biggest economies. However, that depends on what kind of relationship the two countries think they have. For now Trump and Xi Jinping want the world to be a zero-sum game, but events from the dispute over Huawei to the coronavirus may prove that they are playing a new, very different, kind of game.
“Personality Tests Don’t Excuse Your Sin” - Christa Threlfall, The Gospel Coalition
This is a great reminder from Christa Threlfall; personality tests can become so determinative that they cause us to attribute sinful behavior to our personality types. While I love the different personality tools - mostly guessing friends enneagram numbers and watching their reactions - I do think this is an important warning. While we are all made uniquely by God, shaped by our experiences, and tend toward personality trends, we are also being remade into the image of Christ. Every part of who we are is subject to God’s renewing grace, even Achievers, Activators, 2s, 4s, 7s, ISFPs and the ENTJs.
Cole Feix is the founder and president of So We Speak. Follow him on Twitter, @cfeix7.