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It might just be game over for the Iowa caucus



Then-Presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg in New Hampshire.

“There’s no reason in the world that those states should go forward so early, because they’re not representative of what 90 percent of the country’s all about,” said former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat who remains influential in party politics. “America looks different than it did 50 years ago, when these traditions were put in place, and the Democratic electorate looks really different.”

He added, “It’s no longer palatable, as far as I’m concerned, for those states to take precedence over states like South Carolina and Nevada.”

The legislation marked the first real offensive in what is likely to be a drawn-out war over the outline of the 2024 presidential nominating process. In Iowa, the state’s Democratic Party chair, state Rep. Ross Wilburn, said he is “prepared to do whatever it takes to keep Iowa first in the nation.” And in New Hampshire, Bill Gardner, the longtime secretary of state, said neither the Democratic National Committee nor the Republican National Committee will dictate to his state when it can vote.

“The status of the primary was not given to New Hampshire by the parties,” Gardner said, referring to the state law that requires New Hampshire to hold its primary at least seven days before any “similar election” in another state. “We have a law, and we’ll comply with our law.”

Iowa has a similar law on its books, stating that it must hold its caucuses at least eight days before any other nominating contest.

Nevada’s move this week intensified conversations among top Iowa and New Hampshire operatives and activists eager to prepare their defense, and privately, several Iowa Democrats acknowledged that their status was in serious jeopardy. But changing the presidential nominating calendar — bound up by state laws, party committee rules and an interest in syncing it up with Republicans — isn’t an easy or straightforward process. And key players, like the White House and DNC Chair Jaime Harrison, haven’t weighed in on it yet.

“There have been attempts to replace Iowa from both sides, and we’ve been able to stay together [with Iowa Republicans] and work through these challenges,” said Jeff Link, an Iowa-based Demcoratic consultant. “We’re going to have to do it again because there’s a very real threat.”

This time, though, the fallout may be fatal. Tom Perez, the former DNC chair, has blasted the tradition of Iowa and New Hampshire going first. In Nevada, Reid has been calling since last year for his state to both do away with its caucus system — which would appease national Democrats — and go first in the nominating process. The bill introduced this week, in addition to switching the state’s caucus to a primary, would set the date for the second-to-last Tuesday in January.

Nevada’s Democratic Assembly Speaker, Jason Frierson, suggested the bill was a starting point for a “national conversation about what makes sense.”

“It would not be ideal to just have a back-and-forth and just have a leapfrog exercise,” he said, “so the hope is that we can coordinate with the national party as well as our states, and work something out.” Frierson said he “certainly [is] not trying to start some dispute between states,” adding that “this is the beginning of the conversation.”

But Frierson, like many other Democrats outside of Iowa and New Hampshire, suggested that instead of presidential candidates focusing for a year or more on Iowa and New Hampshire — two heavily white states — it would “behoove” them “to be speaking to a diverse population” more reflective of the electorate at large.

Nevada, in addition to fitting that bill with its sizable Hispanic population, also shares an advantage that Iowa and New Hampshire have — being small enough in population that a candidate without massive resources can compete there. So, too, does South Carolina, the fourth state in the “early carve-out” states before Super Tuesday.

It’s unclear when the Democratic National Committee will formally take up the calendar issue. David Bergstein, a DNC spokesperson, said in an email that “the DNC’s Rules and Bylaws Committee will continue to evaluate all areas of our nominating process and make recommendations for any changes.” No meeting has been set, though, and Wilburn said he has been told the Rules and Bylaws Committee will likely meet in August.

Wilburn, who was recently elected as the state party’s first Black chair, expressed confidence in Iowa’s standing. Every four years, he said, “the threats, the jockeying for position occurs when the calendar is set. … I’m confident we can make our case.”

Like other Iowa loyalists, Wilburn points to the face-to-face campaigning that candidates can do with a spectrum of constituencies in his small state, and to the geographic and demographic diversity achieved by the first four nominating states together.

President Joe Biden — who, as the head of the party, will have enormous influence over the 2024 calendar — has not yet signaled his preference. Earlier this month, Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said it was “too soon” to talk about the lineup of states for the next election.

Psaki, while noting that “Nevada is a little warmer,” said they are “all great states” and that the White House is “not focused on — on the next political campaign here quite yet.”

Notably, though, Biden’s path to the presidential nomination didn’t include Iowa or New Hampshire, where he landed in fourth and fifth place, respectively. Instead, “the only place I’d guess that’s absolutely safe in its early-status position is South Carolina,” said one national Democratic operative, highlighting Rep. Jim Clyburn as a key champion for the state that delivered Biden to the White House.

But in Iowa and New Hampshire, the shadowboxing has already begun. In Iowa, the release of a report in December that apportioned blame for the state’s chaotic caucus at least partly on meddling from the DNC was widely viewed as an effort to defend itself from the coming onslaught. And in New Hampshire, the Nevada legislation was taken as an affront.

“It looks like they’ve thrown down the gauntlet,” Bill Shaheen, the state’s Democratic national committeeman, told WMUR in New Hampshire this week. “It’s on. … Let’s get it on.”

“The reaction I saw after Nevada was — we need to be ready for the fight, and we will be,” said Norm Sterzenbach, an Iowa-based Democratic consultant. “Their move forced a conversation on the national level [and] it also kicks people in Iowa into gear about what our system could look like under different scenarios.”

But Doug Herman, an Iowa native who was a lead mail strategist for Barack Obama’s 2008 and 2012 campaigns, said he “can’t imagine that they get the opportunity to present a caucus in 2024.”

Caucuses, he said, “served their time” but are “anachronistic and exclusionary in terms of voting … antithetical to everything the Democratic Party is trying to do.”

Several Iowa Democrats discussed a range of potential solutions to maintain their status: grouping several early states on a single day; hosting an unsanctioned caucus or a party-run primary; and removing the state’s viability threshold in the caucuses, turning it into a “firehouse” caucus. But all those potential solutions run headlong into logistical, legal and legislative challenges, should any of them be attempted.

As for the calendar, Herman said, “There’s going to have to be a compromise, and my guess is that a regional grouping is what becomes the play.” That could mean four states from four different regions holding primaries in successive weeks, potentially beginning with the four states that kick off the process now — Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada.

Iowa and New Hampshire could also choose to buck the party. States have done that before, as Florida and Michigan did with early primaries in 2008 in defiance of party rules. Asked whether Iowa could hold an unsanctioned caucus — daring candidates not to campaign there — Dave Nagle, the former congressmember and Iowa state Democratic Party chair, said, “Sure.”

For every state that has tried to move ahead of Iowa or New Hampshire, he said, “it generally does not have a happy ending. … The one thing they’re ignoring, and it shows their inexperience out there [in Nevada], the one thing is Bill Gardner in New Hampshire. Bill will go to July of 2021 if he has to to keep the first primary.”

Nagle, while defending Iowa’s place as a voice for rural voters and voters in the Midwest, suggested that at a minimum, the Nevada legislation was straining relationships between states. For years, he said, the four early nominating states had resolved to “stand together, not get in a contest against each other.” The legislation, he said, “has a tendency to break down the alliance.”

Some Iowa activists argue that Democrats should focus more on regaining ground in congressional and statewide races, after sustaining serious electoral losses in 2020, rather than trying to put on a complicated and expensive presidential contest. Others hope that the party eliminates caucuses altogether — arguing that they limit peoples’ access to vote — even if it means risking their first-in-the-nation status.

“The big question for Iowa Democrats, being talked about in sotto voce, is, does the DNC ban caucuses altogether?” said John Deeth, a Johnson County, Iowa, Democratic activist who supports eliminating the caucuses and replacing them with a primary. “If they do that, Republicans, however, hold on to a trifecta of the legislature and the governor’s office [in Iowa], and they are not interested in passing a primary bill for Democrats … and that leaves us with only bad options.”

Another looming challenge comes in timing the presidential calendar with Republicans, or “have we reached the point where they break apart and do things differently?” said Craig Robinson, an Iowa GOP consultant and former state party official. “I think that may be more likely now.”

Robinson noted that Republicans, unlike Democrats, already have eyes on 2024 and “candidates want to know where the game is going to be played, so that’s to Iowa and New Hampshire’s advantage.”

Iowa Republican Party Chair Jeff Kaufmann said that he was confident that his state, alongside Iowa Democrats, would maintain its status, “but I never take anything for granted,” he added. “Am I going to sleep until it’s official? Nope.”

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You Need to Take the Religious Left Seriously This Time




You Need to Take the Religious Left Seriously This Time

What I know about trauma is that when you’re in the middle of a trauma, it’s much more difficult to process it than it is once even a modicum of safety has been established. I anticipate that as the pressure of the pandemic begins to lessen, the reality of the trauma that we’ve been through [will sink in]. We have some pretty hard days ahead of us as the fact of what’s happened begins to come out of us and come into the public. You think that it can’t get much worse than it has been, but in fact, some of the hardest days with respect to conflict and pain are ahead of us, as we get the space to grieve and mourn and feel the rage of what we’ve been through.

You referenced coming to terms with your grandparents’ participation in a lynching. I can imagine that would be a horrifying, gut-churning revelation — one most people would not be inclined to talk about if they discovered. How did you unearth that bit family history, and why did you decide to go public with it?

In my case, it came quite unexpectedly: I came upon a postcard of a lynching of a young woman named Laura Nelson that happened in 1911 in Okemah, Oklahoma — a small town where my family basically comprised half the population. [In the photograph,] many of the people in town were standing on the bridge off of which Laura and her son were lynched.

I was horrified. And I don’t have any direct evidence of who in my family was involved, but it’s impossible to imagine that they weren’t. I grew up knowing that my grandfather was quite a racist. He didn’t try to hide it. And I also know that Woody Guthrie, who grew up next door to my grandfather, has written about this particular lynching extensively, and even wrote a song about his father’s role in leading the lynching mob.

I decided to go public with it because when it comes to looking at white supremacy and the legacy of chattel slavery and Jim Crow, it’s something that far too many white people project into the far past [instead of] part of the reality that you are still living in. That shift is not going to happen until people realize how close — and still in the middle of those legacies — we still are. Until more white people start telling these stories and unearthing them, it’s going to continue to be repressed.

I’m wondering how you reconcile the love that you perhaps feel for your family members with the reality of their participation in a lynching.

That’s a very hard question. In my case, the grandfather who would have been most directly connected to it, there was no love lost between us.

Being tied to those legacies of terror does have a corrupting effect on people’s souls. Even if it’s hidden or never spoken of, it’s not something that you can ever forget with regard to who you conceive yourself to be and the evil that you’ve done.

That said, this is where my faith comes in. I believe that human beings in general are a mixture of the glorious things they’re capable of and the horrible things that they’re capable of. None of us can claim to be pure. And the more honest one can be about one’s brokenness and the sins one has been responsible for, the more freedom one finds from that. I never have a pure understanding of who anybody is — most especially myself, but definitely my family.

In the U.S., the history that we — particularly white people — have told ourselves about our past has been much too pure for it to be real. Reckoning with its horrors is only going to make it more real. And history, as it becomes real, shows us the path to healing.

On the topic of history, I’ve heard you say that you see a massive cultural shift underway around the globe, and have likened it to what happened 500 years ago during the Reformation. First, what specifically do you see? And second, the Reformation happened in part because of the advent of Gutenberg’s printing press, and was followed by decades and decades of religious wars throughout Europe. Do you think that what we’re seeing now is a result of the advent of the Internet — the printing press of our era — and if so, should we expect a few hundred years of religious wars in our future?

When the Reformation happened, we had new technology — the printing press allowed anyone who knew how to read to pick up a book and read. We had the emergence of the nation-state, new political alignments. We had the emergence of nascent capitalism, so we had a shift of economics. You could just go on and on.

These types of seismic shifts in how the world is ordered are manifest in profound spiritual shifts. When the world gets reordered, your imagination with respect to the reality of the divine, transcendent and who you are gets recomposed. That’s happening now: The old orders are breaking down, and our imaginations are being forced to think of the transcendent in new ways and to tell new stories about who we are.

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Neera Tanden Got Twitter Right—And That Was her Problem




Neera Tanden Got Twitter Right—And That Was her Problem

But Twitter has its own way of tempting you into provocative tweets, and then turning on you—especially when you make enough enemies from different points on the political spectrum, and they find a common moment for revenge.

A onetime Boston political boss named Martin Lomasney, who wielded power in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, had an oft-repeated rule for politicians: “Never write if you can speak, never speak if you can nod, never nod if you can wink.” Lomasney would surely have run in the other direction from Twitter, which isn’t just public but permanent. Yes, Donald Trump played the platform like a virtuoso; other politicians have used it savvily to bypass gatekeepers and build a base of loyalists. But for a political player, every tweet is fraught with peril: Even if you aren’t overtly insulting someone, there’s a chance some statement from your past will contradict a current political stance, or apply with poetic justice to a compromising situation.

Still, political types are also human beings, and the temptation to pour every thought onto Twitter, in search of a reaction, is ultimately biological. When you put out a tweet, anticipating a “like” or a “share,” your brain gets a hit of a pleasure neurochemical, says psychiatrist David Greenfield, founder and medical director of the Connecticut-based Center for Internet and Technology Addiction. At the same time, he says, the brain cuts off its pathways to the frontal cortex, the area that governs judgment. Once, this shutdown of higher-level thinking was a convenient evolutionary tool, Greenfield says: Prehistoric hunter-gatherers needed to shut out reason to serve the higher directives of mating and eating. Today, though, it has given us an internet that functions like “the world’s largest slot machine,” he says, as users embark on an endless hunt for validation. Tanden’s nakedly partisan tweets could derive her plenty of pleasure; one tweet during the confirmation hearings for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh—“Susan Collins’ terrible treatment of Dr. Ford should haunt Collins for the rest of her days”—drew 3,097 retweets and 8,295 likes.

In the age of the ideological bubble, political tweets pose a specific kind of risk. If you’re sharing like-minded partisan thoughts with like-minded people, you’re likely to forget that you risk a negative reaction, says Whitney Phillips, a communications professor at Syracuse University and co-author of the upcoming book You Are Here: A Field Guide For Navigating Polarized Speech, Conspiracy Theories, and Our Polluted Media Landscape. “You speak in a code that’s appropriate for the audience,” Phillips says. But once your statement lands in front of a less-friendly group, your intentions don’t matter. “It’s impossible to control any of our messages,” she says. “You can only focus on the consequences.”
Phillips cites an internet axiom known as “Poe’s Law”—coined in the early 2000s, on a message board for creationists, when a user who called himself Nathan Poe declared that it was hard to discern the true believers from people who were being sarcastic. On the internet, Poe’s Law holds, you can’t know anybody’s true intentions. A commenter could be sincere or mocking, a real human being or a fake account. Anger could be deeply-felt or cynically overblown. And it’s easy to weaponize the outrage machine. It was a right-wing provocateur—hoping to reveal what he saw as Hollywood hypocrisy—who unearthed incendiary old jokes about rape and pedophilia from “Guardians of the Galaxy” filmmaker James Gunn’s Twitter feed in 2018, Phillips notes. But it was left-wing outrage over those tweets that ultimately got Gunn fired.

Tanden’s tweets, it’s fair to say, weren’t as troublesome as Gunn’s. She was largely pumping out standard-issue political snark, the kind Trump used to post from the White House on nearly an hourly basis. Still, there are rules of political conduct, and—if you’re not Trump—consequences for breaking them. In 2008, Samantha Power, then an advisor to presidential candidate Barack Obama, resigned from the campaign after telling a Scottish reporter that Hillary Clinton was a “monster.” Power had violated a norm: voicing the kind of insult that’s usually shared, Lomasney-style, outside the public view. (Post-election, her career recovered quickly.) And, like Gunn, Tanden succeeded in getting both groups—those on the left and the right—on her bad side. If everything you tweet can be used as ammunition in the future, it’s particularly lethal when it’s coming at you from all sides.

Tanden clearly realized that old tweets could cause her trouble in this new career moment, when she had to emerge from her Clinton-Biden bubble and confront her onetime targets in the flesh. Soon after Biden named her to the budget post, she deleted at least 1,000 tweets. But the internet never forgets. And, in keeping with Poe’s Rule, it has been hard to tell who on Capitol Hill is truly horrified, and who merely senses a political opportunity. At her confirmation hearing before the Budget Committee, Sanders chided Tanden for her “vicious attacks made against progressives. People who I have worked with. Me personally.” But he also has a longer-standing beef with Tanden over the 2016 election and her ideological agenda. And he seems not the type to wither in front of an insult.

Tanden did her duty and apologized profusely, hinting that she wanted to distance herself from the cesspool Twitter had become. But the truth is, she was following the rules of her chosen medium all along. There’s no point in tweeting if you aren’t saying something that can rile people up. “Our networks have been designed for this exact outcome,” Phillips says. “The most rancorous stuff becomes the stuff that is most visible, that has the most purchase.”

In other words, the internet did everything in its power to make Tanden act the way she did, rewarded her with nearly 377,000 followers, then punished her in the end. And yet, with every tweet, she had free will. Greenfield counsels his patients who want to change their internet habits to never actually type out a tweet in the “compose” box, in Twitter or any other social media platform. Rather, he says, type your message in the Notes app, think about it for a minute, and cut and paste when you’re good and ready. Martin Lomasney would have considered that decent advice.

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The GOP’s choice in 2024: Trump Ultra, Trump Lite or Trump Zero




Nikki Haley and former President Donald Trump

“There isn’t a Trump lane. There’s a Trump Turnpike with multiple lanes and multiple people,” said Chris LaCivita, a veteran GOP strategist who most recently headed the anti-Biden super PAC Preserve America.

Conversations with more than a dozen Republican consultants, strategists and officials depict a party over which Trump exerts an irresistible gravitational pull, pointing to his continued strength in polls and the megawatt energy he generates among the GOP grassroots.

Trump’s grip on the Republican base and his effect on the minds of White House hopefuls is so total, they say, that the path to the GOP nomination is best defined by the degree of loyalty to Trump — to the point where party operatives reach for elaborate metaphors to best convey the extent of his influence.

“Trump remains the 800-pound gorilla in the room, he just happens to be sitting in the corner right now,” former Michigan state chair Saul Anuzis said, joking that the social media de-platforming of the former president is “more like an electronic dog fence. … You can definitely still hear the bark.”

Already, potential prospects and party leaders are making pilgrimages to Trump’s Palm Beach club for an audience with the former president. It’s a reflection, top Republicans say, of a nomination contest that will break down along fault lines that trace back to Trump.

“The winner of our primary [in 2024] will be someone from the Full Trump lane who embraces Trump and is embraced by him,” said Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz, a confidant of the former president who met with him last week at Mar-a-Lago and has taken on the role of party enforcer.

Gaetz, who’s also scheduled to speak at CPAC, said few will challenge Trump if he decides to run again. And he predicted that candidates who fail to embrace Trump’s legacy in full will only have a “mirage” of support “because their base is essentially Washington-based media who give them more appearances on the Sunday shows than their percentage point support in polling of Republican voters.”

On the eve of CPAC, here is a breakdown of the 2024 GOP presidential lanes that are taking shape.

Trump Ultra

There’s a saying by some in Trump’s orbit that “if you’re with him 99 percent of the time, you’re a damn traitor” — a testament to the absolute, unwavering loyalty he demands. Those purity and loyalty tests make the Trump Ultra lane one of the toughest to run in.

A key metric for senators and representatives who expect to occupy this lane: opposition to the Jan. 6 certification of the Electoral College results that officially made him the loser and that led to the storming of the Capitol by a pro-Trump mob. That puts Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley and Florida Sen. Rick Scott — all CPAC speakers — squarely in the Trump Ultra camp.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, whose stock is rising rapidly in the national party, will open the conference with welcoming remarks. He sports sterling MAGA credential for his Trumpist handling of Covid and status as governor of Trump’s newly adopted home state — which the former president won twice. To this day, DeSantis refuses to publicly acknowledge that President Joe Biden was legitimately elected.

DeSantis isn’t the only governor in this category: South Dakota’s Kristi Noem, another CPAC speaker, is a dark horse candidate. Noem, who is holding a fundraiser at Mar-a-Lago on March 5, is a Fox News regular who once gave Trump a miniature Mt. Rushmore featuring his own face.

Mike Pompeo, the former secretary of state known within the previous administration for his unwillingness to criticize Trump even in private, is also in this crowded group and is scheduled to speak at CPAC.

Trump Lite

The Trump Lite lane is populated by candidates who have put any daylight — however little — between themselves and the former president.

In the case of former Vice President Mike Pence, who was unceasingly loyal to Trump for more than four years, it was his refusal to reject the Electoral College certification when he presided over the vote. That apostasy costs him among many Trump supporters. He declined an invitation to speak at CPAC.

Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton, a leading voice in criticizing China — one of Trump’s signature issues — is in the same situation after voting to accept the Electoral College results. So is Florida Sen. Marco Rubio. Although Rubio carved out a niche for himself as a consistent anti-anti-Trump Republican who frequently attacks the former president’s critics, he committed the sin of mildly criticizing Trump after his two impeachments and blasted him as a primary rival in 2016. Both are scheduled to speak at CPAC.

Trump’s former United Nations ambassador, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, recently stepped out of the full Trump lane by making critical comments about her onetime boss and was promptly snubbed by the former president when she requested an audience with him at Mar-a-Lago.

In an interview prior to Haley’s criticisms of Trump, South Carolina GOP strategist Wesley Donehue predicted she would win her home state but noted that support of the former president is of utmost importance, according to a poll of Republican primary voters he took in the state in early February.

“About 75 percent of Republican primary voters said supporting Donald Trump is a requirement for office. Again: a requirement. It’s absolutely astonishing,” Donehue said. “So she was seen in this state as being 100 percent with Donald Trump, but now over the last two weeks, we’re starting to hear a lot of rumblings. People still love Nikki Haley here, but she’s got to figure out a way to deal with this. I don’t know how she does, though. Because Donald Trump doesn’t seem to be someone with a short memory.”

Haley’s standing in her home state’s primary looms large because the lanes the candidates will run in have both an ideological and geographical dimension. Since South Carolina is traditionally the third state to vote in a primary — and the first to go in the South — it exerts an extra gravitational pull.

In New Hampshire, sandwiched between the Iowa and South Carolina contests, Republican strategist Jim Merrill said that Trump Lite could be “potentially the broadest lane … a hybrid that is able to point out Trump’s shortcomings while also working to build on his gains with working class Americans.”

Trump Zero

Jeff Roe, who advised Cruz on his 2016 presidential bid, has polled Republican primary voters extensively in recent years on what type of candidate they would support. He’s determined that the party has three distinctive lanes: a Full Trump lane, a Most Conservative lane (composed of fiscal and social conservatives) and a Most Electable lane that reflects a preference for whomever can beat the Democrats.

“If you don’t pick a lane, you will get run over,” Roe said. “Candidates who try to hold a mirror up to the electorate and say, ‘Look at me, I’m just like you,’ instead of saying, ‘This is who I am, vote for me,’ will lose. Voters want authenticity. They want leaders.”

That focus on electability is at the heart of the Trump Zero lane. It is essentially the vehicle of the anti-Trump wing, the province of those who have called out the president frequently for his rhetoric and post-election behavior, yet can single out some positive aspects of Trump’s four-year reign.

The problem is the lane might be so small that it’s not much of a path at all, said David Kochel, a longtime GOP strategist from first-in-the-nation Iowa who counts Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan and Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse among this group.

“It’s probably not even a lane,” Kochel said. “It’s more like a gravelly shoulder on the side of the mountain that’s about to crumble into the ocean.”

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