In a manner of speaking
The back-to-back nature of the Iowa and New Hampshire contests has in the past fulfilled an important function for Republicans as they choose their presidential nominee: they’ve made clear who the top-tier candidates are for the job, and in several key points, dramatically changed the race. This time around, Iowa failed to do so — and New Hampshire may follow suit.
For Donald Trump, the caucus win went as expected, with a slim majority of the overall vote, in what looks to be the lowest turnout competitive Iowa caucus in a quarter century. It’s a significant victory earning him twenty of the forty delegates up for grabs in the state, but it was somewhat less impressive than it could have been without fourth finisher Vivek Ramaswamy in the race — then, Trump might have sniffed 60 percent. The biotech investor exited the race Tuesday evening after several days of jabs from Trump himself and his camp, clearly irritated that the stalking horse overstayed its welcome.
What didn’t happen in Iowa that easily could have, given the media reports and poll trends in the run-up to the voting, was a total collapse of the Ron DeSantis forces and a surge from Nikki Haley. Despite the chaotic nature of the DeSantis campaign in the past few months, his final push kept him in second, snagging eight delegates and going on to fight another day. The ever-scripted Haley stuck to her message of Iowa making it a two-person race — but she did so looking up from third.
This primary race still has the tone of one that will be resolved by the end of next month. It’s very hard to see how Haley, even with a solid performance in New Hampshire and the backing of the Koch machine’s wealth, can continue her momentum to outright victory in her home state of South Carolina on February 24. It’s also doubtful that it would be helpful for DeSantis’s political future to go down to defeat in his home state of Florida, which votes on March 19. The Michigan primary on February 27 looks like an appropriate finish line for the also-rans.
There will be clamor from Trump’s camp and his supporters that DeSantis and Haley are just wasting their time and money, hurting the Republican cause by continuing this primary. But that rings no different than calls to “stop the count” when you’re ahead. Trump’s own supporters need to understand the importance of beating DeSantis and Haley fair and square if the aim is to hang on to their voters — a harder proposition for the latter, who seems to be benefiting a great deal from voters who are decidedly anti-Trump, and can’t be counted on to remain in the coalition in November.
What’s clear this time around is that Trump’s base of support is vastly different than it was in 2016, as if anyone needed to be disabused of that notion at this late stage. With the rare exception of a few weeks surrounding January 6, Trump has the power and fealty of incumbency in a party whose overwhelming portion is eager for his return and believes, whether legally or not, that he and they were robbed in 2020. Barring a major event in the ongoing Democratic lawfare attack on the former president, the GOP is choosing to nominate him again, unfavorables be damned. It’s a bold strategy, Cotton — let’s see if it pays off for them.
Other Reactions to Iowa
DeSantis’ failure can be traced to his odd resistance to directly contrasting himself with Trump. He needed to tell MAGA voters that Trump was a fair-weather friend, someone who talked a big game but backed down when the going got tough. DeSantis meekly made that point occasionally toward the end of the campaign, but never ran a television ad that made the point succinctly and directly. The candidate who pledged to “never back down” backed down from making the only appeal that could get him the nomination.
Haley is still arguably alive, as her third place showing is due to Iowa’s caucus system. Unlike primaries, where a voter can come any time on election day and cast a ballot, caucuses require someone to go to a place in the early evening and wait for hours before voting. Hard core partisans will make that sacrifice, but more moderate voters tend not to. Add in the fact that Iowa suffered from record low temperatures on caucus night and Haley was always going to have an uphill climb.
She lives to fight another day solely because the next state to vote, New Hampshire, both conducts a primary and is much more moderate than Iowa. She has been running close to Trump in polls, and those were taken before Chris Christie – who has also appealed to moderates – dropped out of the race. Haley would have liked to have finished second as that would have fueled talk that it was a two-person race. She could still win in New Hampshire, but now she won’t get the clear media boost that she could have.
The Humiliation of Davos Man
As war spreads and the global economy slows, chances for progress on the Davos social agenda are fading. Topics like the energy transition and gender justice, however worthy and important, drop down the priority list when countries are waging or preparing for war. The number of desperate refugees, currently estimated at 114 million, inexorably grows. Violence against civilians accompanies the rising tide of war. Under these circumstances, human-rights groups and other social campaigners must focus on humanitarian crises rather than existing social problems.
Given this background, the Davos hills are alive with the sounds of failure. Davos conversations that used to be about how to take advantage of the level global playing field that U.S. presidents and allies sought to build after World War II and 1990 have shifted. The question now is how companies, and countries, can manage the risks of a disrupted world order. How do you manage supply chains in an era of U.S.-China rivalry? How do you adjust to the effective closing of the Red Sea, and perhaps the Strait of Hormuz, by Iran and its proxies? How does your country manage its security policy in a world where U.S. power seems to be waning and the comfortable assumptions of the past no longer hold?
The meeting’s “Rebuilding Trust” theme acknowledges that something has gone wrong. That is a good start, but it doesn’t go far enough. Lying Russian propagandists and Chinese attempts to influence American opinion are problems that need addressing, but people aren’t losing trust in their leaders because disinformation has muddled their brains. They are losing confidence because they sense that the establishment’s approach to the chief problems of the day isn’t working.
This isn’t, at its core, a crisis of trust. It is a crisis of competence. Why would voters expect an “expert class” that was so wrong for so long about Russia, China, Iran and Covid to know how to cope with a challenge as difficult and multifaceted as the energy transition? Why would they trust European and American politicians who are failing so woefully to handle massive illegal migration to manage the rise of artificial intelligence?
“The emperor has no clothes!” is the cry of populists everywhere. To render this message ineffective, Davos Man doesn’t need image consultants and disinformation specialists. He needs to get dressed.
Clarence Thomas and Me
Despite his now-undeniable skill as a jurist and judge, Thomas finds himself the target of criticism that differs in kind from that reserved for the Court’s other conservative justices. One expects public disagreement with his most controversial opinions; we should welcome intellectually rigorous dissent, for no one can test the validity of ideas without it. But too often, critics attack not Thomas’s ideas but the man himself—and this is especially true of black critics, who regard him not merely as mistaken but as a traitor who has forfeited his status as “authentically black.” For them, he is an Iago-like figure, driven by a perverse impulse to degrade African Americans. The quasi-religious conviction that Thomas’s reasoned defense of capitalism, color blindness, and individual liberty amounts to a disgust for his fellow blacks is, in my view, the outcome of a projected disgust for Thomas himself.
Why should this be? Other more or less conservative black figures have attained a status in the nation’s historical memory, and in the folklore of rank-and-file blacks, in line with their achievements. While Booker T. Washington’s program for post-emancipation uplift has fallen out of favor, no serious historian of African American history denies his significance. Ralph Ellison, while too idiosyncratic to pin down to any ideology, looks, from our historical vantage, like a more conservative figure than he may have appeared in his time. Though parts of Invisible Man can easily be read as a rejection of left-radical politics—the book rejects seemingly every conventional political position—its violation of the norms of contemporary mainstream black intellectual life has not kept it off college syllabi. One could argue that Invisible Man is too monumental a literary achievement simply to brush aside because of its purportedly errant politics. Even for those who see Ellison as a retrograde figure, his book is too important to the intellectual and social history of twentieth-century America to write out of the canon.
I would say something similar about Thomas. However controversial he may be, and however unrepentantly conservative his views, it is no longer possible to deny his stature and his influence on American life and law. He is a great man in a position of great power. Like any great man, he makes decisions whose consequences not even he can fully predict. And as with any great man, his very humanity—his virtues, flaws, personality, and persona—appear magnified, and often distorted, by the lens of the media and of history. His occasional errors in judgment and personal quirks take on symbolic significance. Thus, while recent controversies about his plane flights and vacations with friends may appear to tell deep verities about the nature of power, it is also true that his extraordinary biography has become an allegory of race in America. In fact, his identity as a black man sometimes overshadows the more basic, and yet more complex, fact that he is, first and foremost, a man—a human being.
Items of Interest
“No power can long insist on itself without evoking an opposing power.”
— Shelby Steele