briefing, Albert Mohler

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

It’s Wednesday, March 4, 2020. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

One Big Winner and Two Big Losers from Super Tuesday: Breaking Down Yesterday’s Stunning Results

Back on Monday of this week, the Wall Street Journal ran an editorial with the headline, “The Joe Biden Comeback.” By Monday, it was clear that Biden had won his very first presidential primary in three different attempts to gain the Democratic nomination, and the editorial board of the Journal declared, “At 77 years old, Joe Biden can’t really be called a Comeback Kid. But then,” pointed out the editors, “he is a year younger than Bernie Sanders and Michael Bloomberg.” And then they referred to what they described as his runaway victory in South Carolina’s primary last Saturday.

Well, Super Tuesday was in every way super for Joe Biden. He won at least eight of the fourteen contests and he won many of them big, some of them unexpectedly. Most importantly, he surprised just about all Democratic observers by winning not only in the South, but also winning the Democratic primaries in the States of Massachusetts and Minnesota, two bellwethers for the Democratic Party.

For the Bernie Sanders campaign, it must’ve appeared that this was a movie in the Star Wars series, The Empire Strikes Back. In this case, the empire is the establishment of the Democratic Party. One of the things that must be noted is that Bernie Sanders is not running only against the incumbent Republican president, Donald Trump, he’s running not only against the other Democratic candidates, he has basically been running against the establishment of the Democratic Party. So far as Sanders and his brand of populism is concerned, the Democrats are just slightly less offensive to political revolution than the Republicans.

What you saw in the last several days, especially with the endorsements of Joe Biden by Amy Klobuchar and Pete Buttigieg after they withdrew from the race, is the political establishment in the Democratic Party pulling out all stops to stop Bernie Sanders at all costs. What exactly happened on Tuesday? It’s not going to be clear for some time. It is clear at this point that we can safely call eight of the contest for Joe Biden and three of them for Bernie Sanders.

The big loser may have been Sanders in terms of momentum, but the biggest loser of the night was undoubtedly Elizabeth Warren. But she’s going to have to share at least some of the competition for the losing title with Michael Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York City. As the results came in last night, it was apparent that Mayor Mike was not able to buy an appreciable support that would lead to any kind of meaningful delegate count in the 14 Democratic contests this week. It is also clear that the results were a humiliation for the woman often considered to be the front runner in the 2020 Democratic race before any votes were cast.

It turns out that makes a huge difference. When the votes were cast, Elizabeth Warren did not get many of them. It was an abject humiliation for Warren. She didn’t pull out of the race. She continued through Super Tuesday and her campaign was giving signals last night that she intends to continue, but she hasn’t won a major contest. She actually hasn’t even come close. And in her home state of Massachusetts, she came in third behind both former Vice President Joe Biden, who surprisingly won the primary and Bernie Sanders, the Vermont Senator, a neighboring state, who was expected to win but actually it turns out came in second.

There are some huge lessons for us here. For one thing, we’re reminded of the fact that politics is more personal than many people might think. In a day of pollsters and scientific surveys and political science itself, it’s hard to sometimes remember that politics is a matter of voters deciding not only that they agree with the candidate, but to some extent they like the candidate. And likability is very different in public than in private. There are persons who have very close personal friends and exude personal warmth, but when it comes to a public persona, far less attractive.

It turns out that Elizabeth Warren was not able to gain the kind of popular support that indicates that voters had warmed it to her. Paul Begala, the well-known Democratic consultant said that when it comes to Elizabeth Warren, too many voters saw her as Professor Warren from Harvard, not as Betsy from Norman, Oklahoma. It turns out that many voters actually are looking for Betsy rather than Professor Warren from Harvard. And of course the policy directed and wonkish Professor Warren famously has a plan for everything. Just before the Super Tuesday primary, she released her plan for dealing with the coronavirus. At this point, the plan she had better have is the plan for her own political future and for the future of her presidential campaign.

Vox ran a news story pointing out that Elizabeth Warren’s support was limited to a rather thin slice of the electorate, highly educated white voters. But many of those voters actually also tended to support Bernie Sanders or as an alternative, Joe Biden. Shane Goldmacher, writing for the New York Times ran an article yesterday with a headline, “A Populist for the Professional Class.” That’s very insightful. A populist of some sort to be sure, but a populist, ironically enough for the professional class. Not so much a populist for the people who vote for populist candidates.

When the final results from Texas and California come in, we’ll have an even clearer picture of Super Tuesday, but Bernie Sanders is expected to sweep California. The polls had him leading by a two to one advantage as Monday dawned, but it is also clear that Bernie Sanders has considerable support in Texas. But what we are probably witnessing right now is something of a reality check amongst Democrats. They’re checking as to whether they really are going to flirt further with an openly declared Democratic socialist nominee who after all isn’t actually even now a registered Democrat. That fact might just be dawning on many in the Democratic Party and voting in the Democratic primaries.

But as a Washington Post editorial declared yesterday, Super Tuesday is making very clear the debate within the Democratic Party concerning its future and its vision of government. As I stated yesterday on The Briefing, this simply makes clear that there are not only ideological divides between the two parties, but within them, most acutely within the Democratic Party which has always throughout its history been a constellation of disparate interest groups.

Part II

America’s Predictable Worldview Divide: Whether You Live Near Whole Foods or Cracker Barrel Often Correlates to How You Vote

But now let’s step back from the electoral contest for a moment and consider what we learned by another form of political analysis. This one very rich with worldview significance. The New York Times ran an absolutely fascinating article in recent days with the headline, “Looking Beyond the ‘Whole Foods’ Bubble.” David Wasserman is the reporter on the story. The subhead: “To Beat Trump, Democrats must persuade voters who live nearer to Cracker Barrel.”

Now, this takes us back to a retail dichotomy that was observable in the 2016 presidential election. The dichotomy between those who shop at Whole Foods and those who eat at Cracker Barrel. It turns out that voters on the Republican side, voters for Donald Trump were overwhelmingly likely to live near a Cracker Barrel, not a Whole Foods, whereas the opposite was true for those who voted for Hillary Clinton. And when you’re looking at the Democratic vote, it tends to be coastal. It tends to be urban and urbane. It tends to be concentrated around college and university towns, all the things that also mark America’s basic pattern of less and more secular America.

But the analysis that was offered in this article by David Wasserman goes far beyond the kind of analysis we have seen before. For example, we return to Senator Elizabeth Warren when she talked about big structural change and when she stood in those now infamous selfie lines. As Wasserman points out, “At each stop, her trademark selfie lines were less than a mile from a Whole Foods Market, a Lululemon Athletica and an Urban Outfitters.” Notice not just near one of those brand stores, but near all of them. And not just some of her selfie lines, all of them.

Wasserman then summarizes, “These high-end retailers and brands, popular with urban millennials and affluent suburbanites alike, are increasingly correlated with which neighborhoods are trending blue.” That means of course, Democratic. “The drawback for Democrats?” he asks, “Just 34% of U.S. voters and only 29% of battleground state voters live within five miles of at least one such upmarket retailer and the Democrats brand is stagnant or in decline everywhere else.”

Now as Christians try to apply worldview analysis, we do come to understand that human beings tend to cluster according to affinity, even according to religious and political affinity. We also understand that human beings tend towards a certain kind of consistency. That’s not to say that conservatives never shop at Whole Foods. It is to say that the kind of demographic that would support a Whole Foods store location tends to be a demographic that tends to vote overwhelmingly Democratic, far more liberal, a worldview that is far more secular. And what you have in this article by David Wasserman is an absolute wealth of information that breaks down dozens and dozens of American brands by where they fit on the political spectrum.

Now, this of course does not mean that all of these stores and brands and companies have positioned themselves politically. Some of them have, but some of them have not. The point is, their locations tell a political and thus a worldview story. They tend to be clustered by the voters who vote either Democratic or Republican. It’s also very interesting that there are relatively few locations where there is a Whole Foods store close to a Cracker Barrel. That’s a part of what some have called the big sort in the United States: it’s red, blue; conservative, liberal; more and less secular; and yes, it’s Whole Foods and Cracker Barrel.

There have been other forms of consumer clustering noted with electoral results. One of those is a barometer established by the pickup truck. Where you see more pickup trucks, you tend to see more Republican voters. Where you see fewer pickup trucks and where you see more Subarus or Priuses, you’re likely to find more Democratic voters.

But let’s look at the point that is made by Wasserman. He talks about Democrats being increasingly clustered in what he calls the “upmarket cohort.” Wasserman says that in his research, along with a team, they identified out of over a hundred popular American chains, eight national brands, each of which had retail locations in over 40 states. He found that of the 100, the eight that were separated out proved useful predictors. “Of the eight brands,” he says, “the four correlated with the Democratic vote were the Amazon-owned organic mecca Whole Foods Market; the Canadian-based yoga and athleisure apparel retailer Lululemon Athletica; the hipster fashion magnet,” these again are his descriptions, “Urban Outfitters, and the glassy, minimalist Apple Store.” He refers to those brands as upmarket brands.

He then writes, “The four brands correlated with recent Republican gains were the Southern-themed Cracker Barrel Old Country Store, the booming rural lifestyle chain Tractor Supply Company, the arts-and-crafts giant Hobby Lobby, and the outdoor recreation hub Bass Pro Shops.” He doesn’t refer to them as down market, rather he refers to them as down-home brands. That’s a bit of branding by the New York Times.

Wasserman and his team then divided America’s voting segments into three different types. Not just two, but three. The first is upmarket hubbies, and they are where you find within five miles a current Whole Foods, Lululemon, Apple Store or Urban Outfitters. They tend to be places such as Madison, Wisconsin; Minneapolis, Minnesota. Then he referred to the down-home zones. These are places where voters live less than 10 miles or occur at Cracker Barrel, Tractor Supply, Bass Pro Shop, or Hobby Lobby location. They are far more rural.

And then there are the regions that he refers to as chain sparse communities. This is where voters don’t live close enough to any of the major retail brands to fall into either category. That was only about 16% of the electorate in the 2016 election, but it covers an awful lot of American territory. That’s that basic rural urban divide in America, which as we know is not only a population divide, it is increasingly a political divide and a religious divide and a worldview divide.

Now, when you consider this particular analysis along with the reality of the Electoral College, you understand why even though there are far more Democrats registered in the United States than Republicans, Republicans still have a good chance of winning presidential elections. And as the Wasserman study indicates, Democrats are going to have a significant challenge given the pattern of their clustering. Too many Democrats are clustering in places where they are just concentrating themselves in big urban metropolises.

He also writes this, “69% of US voters live closer to a Cracker Barrel, Tractor Supply company, Hobby Lobby, or Bass Pro Shop than to any one of the high end brands: Lululemon, Urban Outfitters, Whole Foods or an Apple store.” Look at that number again. 69% of Americans live closer to the down-home brands than to the upmarket brands.

In his article, Wasserman cites James Carville, veteran Democratic consultant, and in many ways the mastermind behind Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential victory. James Carville accused his fellow Democrats of cultural arrogance. He says the Democrats are in the majority, in his view, not only amongst registered voters, but also on many issues. But then he said this, “In this country, culture trumps policy. The urbanist voters think they’re too cool for school, and voters pick it up.”

Carville then made an insightful statement although his frustration with Democrats is clear. I don’t think he thinks the Democratic Party is going to pick up on his advice, but he did say this: “If you want to win back loggers in northern Wisconsin, stop talking about pronouns and start talking more about corruption in Big Pharma.” That come in about pronouns is extremely apt.

In a further analysis in the research entitled, “Retail Based Electoral Destiny,” Wassermann writes, “The challenge for Democrats is that relatively few voters, especially in Electoral College battleground states, live in these upmarket bubbles.” He continues, “Consider that in the most recent presidential election, 53% of all California voters and 57% of all Massachusetts voters lived within five miles of a current Whole Foods, Lululemon, Urban Outfitters, or Apple Store location. But in electoral battlegrounds, just 33% of voters in Florida, 32% in Pennsylvania, 24% in North Carolina, 20% in Wisconsin, and 19% in Michigan did the same.”

The Wasserman research finally also offers a long list of companies from those most clustered and correlated with the Democratic vote and those most correlated with the Republican vote. Remember, these are clusters by locations and voters. At the top of the Democratic concentration were brands such as Shake Shack, Urban Outfitters, Whole Foods, Lululemon, Ruth’s Chris Steak House, the Apple Store, Trader Joe’s, AMC, El Pollo Loco, Ralphs, and a few others such as Dave & Buster’s. But at the top of the Republican list were brands such as Tractor Supply, Sheetz, Murphy, Cracker Barrel, Anytime Fitness, Hobby Lobby, Texas Roadhouse, Sonic Drive-in, Regions Bank, Culvers and Publix supermarkets. Stuck right in the middle, brands such as Costco, Target, Five Guys, Sears, Wegmans, Kroger, Michaels, Chick-fil-A, and Jimmy John’s. Isn’t it interesting to see this breakdown and to have further affirmation of the kinds of correlations we look at regularly on The Briefing and isn’t it interesting that that basic pattern of both clustering and a form of consistency becomes very clear: where we shop, where we worship, where we vote, and where we eat. It turns out that all of these things are oddly correlated and strangely predictable.

Part III

Supreme Court Hears Important Abortion Case from Louisiana Today: Tellingly, the Pro-Abortion Side Fully Understands What’s at Stake

But finally, the biggest story for today isn’t actually about politics or Super Tuesday. It’s about the Supreme Court of the United States and the issue of abortion. The first big abortion case coming before the Supreme Court since the confirmation of Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch is going to be argued before the court today. The case is known as June Medical Services v. Russo and it comes from the State of Louisiana and it comes with enormous potential and with good many questions about how the court will rule on this question of abortion.

But there are basically two questions here. Both of them are important, but one of them arise now before the Supreme Court for the very first time. To set the stage for this case before the nation’s highest court, we have to go back to the year 2014 when Louisiana passed a law that requires abortion clinics to have physicians who are recognized with admitting privileges at local hospitals. A similar law that was passed in Texas was struck down by the federal courts and eventually also by the Supreme Court as an unconstitutional infringement on a woman’s right to abortion, as it has been called.

But the case is now coming from Louisiana. And even though in this aspect it comes as basically the same kind of law, it faces a new court and it also faces a continuing public conversation about abortion and a very interesting and indeed insidious argument coming from the pro-abortion side. The pro-abortion side argues that if a woman really has a constitutional right to abortion, then she must have a constitutional right to access to abortion. This is a very deadly logic.

Now, just to take an example, if we are talking about the Second Amendment when it comes to a citizen’s right to own firearms, no one really believes that that requires that there be a firearm store every few miles or according to whatever distribution of the population. The right to bear arms is quite different than a right to demand a gun store. But when it comes to abortion, abortion rights activists have been pressing for decades now the argument that a theoretical constitutional right to abortion is meaningless if there is no abortion clinic or abortion provider that is at close access to a woman.

Right now in the state of Louisiana, there are three abortion clinics. If this law passed by Louisiana is upheld, it is likely that there would be only one in the city of New Orleans. After Louisiana’s government passed this law, it was challenged and in the federal district court, the state lost with the court ruling that the law was an unconstitutional infringement on a woman’s right to abortion. But then the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the state and that set up the appeal that now comes before the U.S. Supreme Court.

But remember as I have explained before, the Supreme Court doesn’t have to take this kind of case. It decided to take this case, and thus it tells us a great deal that a requisite number of the justices voted to take this case and thus we expect it is taking the case for a reason. But the first issue has to do with whether or not the law that would require physicians that perform abortions to have admitting privileges in hospitals, the first issue is whether or not the court will find the Louisiana form of that law constitutional. Some of the arguments being made are actually about population and proximity. But of course there are far larger issues here at stake and Christians understand that.

But the second aspect of this case coming before the court today is an issue that has never arisen in this context before. The state of Louisiana is arguing that abortion clinics and abortion doctors should not be recognized to have what is called third party standing to sue states and other legal jurisdictions for restrictions on abortion as if they are acting on behalf of women seeking abortions. That is absolutely crucial. For decades now the federal courts have acted as if abortion doctors have third party standing to sue, charging that state restrictions on abortion are unconstitutional. The cases are not brought by women seeking abortions. That would be very cumbersome. Those challenges would be far fewer working their way through the courts, but instead they have been made by doctors, groups of doctors, and most importantly abortion clinics. The lawyers for the state of Louisiana are arguing that abortion providers should not be granted this third party standing because they are acting in their own interest rather than in the interest of women who might be seeking an abortion.

It is a straight forward argument. It’s an incredibly important argument. It is a major error in American law and jurisprudence that these abortion clinics have been recognized, or abortion providers, as having third party standing to sue against infringements or restrictions upon abortion. After all, as the state of Louisiana will make clear, they have a vested interest, even an economic interest in performing abortions.

But as we conclude, I want to look squarely at the moral argument that is made by the pro-abortion side. This is reflected in an editorial statement. It covers the better part of the full page of yesterday’s edition of the New York Times. The final paragraph of the editorial condemns the possibility that the Supreme Court could uphold the Louisiana law and then it says that if the court did, “Millions more American women would be left with a constitutional right that they’re not able to exercise, which is to say no real right at all.”

Let’s face very squarely that logic. It’s the logic that not only does the U.S. Constitution grant what they claim to be a woman’s right to an abortion, but they also claim that that includes a constitutional right for access to abortion. But keep in mind that that logic then points to where the New York Times editorially is already committed along with the Democratic Party, and that is that a woman’s constitutional right to an abortion, as they claim, is not only a constitutional right, it’s a constitutional right to access and furthermore it’s a constitutional right without reference to ability to pay.

That’s why they have all come out against the Hyde Amendment. That is why they want taxpayer funding for abortion. That is why they want the American taxpayer to be coerced into paying for abortions. Pro-life Americans seem not yet to understand what is at stake in the case that comes before the Supreme Court today. But tellingly, the pro-abortion side understands it full well.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

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I’m speaking to you from Orange County, California, and I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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