Tuesday, January 16, 2024

It’s Tuesday, January 16, 2024.

I’m Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

Former President Donald Trump Dominates Iowa Caucus: It’s a Clear Victory for Trump — The Rest of the Picture Not Yet Clear

Well, now we know the Iowa caucuses were held last night, and Donald Trump, the former President of the United States, came through with a smashing victory, earning more than 50% of the vote. This was even higher than many had anticipated, and it comes after numerous indictments, criminal charges, and all the rest. And it just goes to prove right now that Donald Trump is the dominant political personality in the United States of America. We should note that that is exactly what Donald Trump set out to be, and his achievement is spectacular when you consider the background to the 2024 race. There is something about Donald Trump with the Republican electorate, and Iowa made that point abundantly clear.

With about 95% of the caucus vote in, Donald Trump led with 51%. Now, that’s not only a plurality, that is a majority. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis came in a distant second with 22,437 votes, so that’s only 21.3%. And former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley came in with what just a few days ago, would’ve been considered a rather strong showing with 19.1%. Now, that means that DeSantis and Haley are separated by less than three percentage points. Now in analysis, there’s several big stories here, and as I said, the first big story is the strength of Donald Trump as a candidate in the 2024 race for the Republican presidential nomination. At this point –and the polling has indicated this for weeks, indeed, for months–at this point, the nomination in 2024 is clearly Donald Trump is to lose.

And it’s also true at this point that it’s hard to imagine how he will lose it. There may be unforeseen circumstances. By definition, they’re unforeseen, but at this point, even the criminal charges against Donald Trump have not put a dent in his political support. If anything, it can be argued that that political support has solidified and it has widened, at least some of the preliminary reports coming out of Iowa indicate that there was unexpected strength for Donald Trump as a candidate among college educated Republican caucus goers. So we really are looking at a very interesting pattern. In Iowa, at least at this point, it looks like the urban, suburban rural differentiation does matter. As you look at the suburban areas, that’s where you have alternatives to Donald Trump who ran stronger.

Nonetheless, even as much of Iowa is rural, the reality is that in the entire state, Donald Trump emerged absolutely victorious. And then, you have the second tier. The second tier is Governor DeSantis and former governor, former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley. In this case, you have what you might call a dual story. When it comes to the Iowa caucuses, DeSantis and Haley did not have what you might call equal skin in the game. It’s just not even, and that’s because Ron DeSantis’ entire candidacy, the future of any plausibility to his presidential race, for the Republican nomination, it came down to at least placing second in Iowa.

If DeSantis had not placed second, it’s hard to imagine how he could have gone forward. As for Nikki Haley, she has been, at least in recent days, growing in the polling and in this case, she did come very close within say three points. And that’s with 95% of the caucuses reporting, 95% of the vote in. It appears that she’s within about three points. Now, DeSantis presented himself as having policies basically very similar to Donald Trump, but with a different character, a different personality, a different approach. Nikki Haley actually represents some different policies, and that’s true both in terms of domestic policy, but even more so when it comes to international policy.

That’s where some ironies come to the fore, since Nikki Haley with Donald Trump’s ambassador to the United Nations, that’s where she got her international experience. So Donald Trump emerges as the victor and Ron DeSantis emerges as still a candidate. Nikki Haley emerges as someone who did stronger than would’ve been expected, a matter of just days ago in Iowa. We are going into her territory with the New Hampshire primary coming next Tuesday. So that’s just a week from today. And if anything, the New Hampshire primary is likely to further thin the ranks of the Republican candidates. Ron DeSantis, the governor of Florida, has not run much of a campaign in New Hampshire as compared to others.

And you also have the fact that in New Hampshire, you have very strong support for Nikki Haley from, for instance, the Republican governor. That governor is Chris Sununu, who’s known as a fairly moderate Republican, much like his father, who was also governor of the state, John Sununu, who became chief of staff to President George H.W. Bush. Now, that’s a convoluted story in itself. Sununu has endorsed Nikki Haley, a fellow governor and has not endorsed Ron DeSantis. Nikki Haley is running very strongly in the state of New Hampshire and has a strong campaign presence there, but going back to Iowa, Ron DeSantis followed the traditional pattern of ground mobilization and political organization there in Iowa. He himself visited all the counties in the state.

He spent a great deal of time in Iowa. The big question is, will it pay off? Of course, there’s a bigger question, and the bigger question is, does it really matter who comes in as number two or who comes in as number three in this race for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination? Because at this point, to be honest, it’s not really likely to matter.

Now, there were a couple of other twists to the developments of the last several days. For one thing, former New Jersey governor Chris Christie dropped out of the race. Christie was a more moderate Republican to be sure, but he had also at one point, been basically an ally to Donald Trump. Now remember that Trump was in New York, meanwhile, Christie was the governor of New Jersey, and remember, Trump and the casino business and all the rest has big interests in New Jersey.

And there appeared to be something of a friendly relationship between Trump and Christie. As a matter of fact, it was considered at one point, plausible that Christie might be his running mate in the 2016 presidential election. Things have gone very sour in the relationship between the former New Jersey governor who’s also, by the way, a former United States attorney, and the former president of the United States. Chris Christie entered the race for the 2024 Republican nomination saying that he was doing so basically just to derail Trump’s path to the 2024 nomination. Now, he’s been spectacularly unsuccessful in doing that. Just to state the matter as plainly as possible, there was absolutely no chance that Chris Christie would’ve been the 2024 Republican nominee.

He wanted to play a role in the primary process, and he basically has, because it is arguable that his exit from the race is an advantage to Nikki Haley. Now, will it be? It may be hard to tell, but nonetheless, you are looking at a thinning of the ranks. One more dropped out last night, Vivek Ramaswamy, a capitalist and investor, a financier, who was very well known as running an untraditional campaign for the 2024 presidential nomination. He came in number four, by the way, but he came in a distant fourth and he came to the conclusion that he would suspend his campaign. Meanwhile, largely forgotten, former Arkansas governor Asa Hutchinson, who as of the caucuses themselves was still in the race, came in with less than one percentage point.

To take the matter, obviously, it’s hard to imagine why he continues in the race. Then again, it was almost as hard to imagine why he got into the race. You have people who will get into this kind of race for a couple of reasons, and I want to state this explicitly. Some people who run for president aren’t actually running for president. They’re running for something else and a presidential campaign of one sort or another with all the stuff that comes with a campaign, and especially with the media attention and press appearances, that’s a way of presenting one’s own name and one’s own brand. And as I’ve stated before in the briefing, some of these candidates aren’t really running for president, they’re running for some kind of commentary slot on cable news.

Now, at this point, it’s important to say that we will know more about the results from the Iowa caucuses as the day unfolds today. For one thing, we have about 5% of the votes still out, but they’re not going to matter much because they can’t fundamentally change the math, but there’s another reason we’re not likely to come back to the Iowa caucuses and it’s simply this, a race like this runs forward very quickly, and the Iowa caucuses, even as we’re talking, are already yesterday. Next week on Tuesday, the New Hampshire primary and then, we’re headed very quickly into Super Tuesday and an entire sequence of presidential campaign appearances and of course ballot voting to come primaries most importantly.

Part II

How Has Iowa Turned So Red? How Iowa Has Moved Deeper and Deeper Red While Surrounding States Have Gone Deep Blue

Before we’re leaving Iowa, I think it’s really important that we look at some analysis of Iowa and why Iowa matters and why it matters right now that Iowa is deep red, increasingly surrounded by states that might be deep blue and they might be enduringly so. So, let’s look at the situation and understand what’s going on here. Now, as we’re thinking about a distinction in worldview and a distinction in politics, liberal-conservative spectrum, it does come down sometimes to the simple way of understanding a map divided between the blue and the red. Here’s the interesting thing. Over the last several years, Iowa has become increasingly red. As a matter of fact, it arguably has been the fastest reddening state in the entire union.

At the same time, two states in the same region that border on Iowa, Illinois and Minnesota have moved at the same time and virtually at the same speed into the deep blue category. How do you have one state that turns deep and deeper red while you have two bordering states in the same region that turn deep and deeper blue. When it comes to abortion. When it comes to so many issues, when it comes to partisan, and when it comes to political affiliation, you have Iowa moving in one direction. You have other states and as I said, most importantly, you have Illinois and Minnesota moving in the opposite direction. A good analysis of this landed on the front page of the New York Times.

Just a few days ago with the Iowa caucus is then very much in view. Jonathan Weisman of the Times offered an interesting analysis published on the front page with the headline “Why Iowa Turned Into a Beacon That Burns Red After Deep Blue.” Weisman begins with these words, “With the Iowa caucuses just days away, politicians will be crisscrossing, the state blowing through small town pizza ranches, filling high school gyms and flipping pancakes at church breakfast.” Weisman then points out that all the action politically in Iowa right now is on the Republican side because there is no race for the Democratic presidential nomination.

There you have an incumbent president, Joe Biden, who is running again. That’s another story unto itself, but at this point, there were no democratic caucuses that had anything to do with the choice of an nominee for the Democratic Party in 2024. All the action was on the Republican side, but the point of this article is even if you take that equation off the table, the reality is Iowa has turned so deep red that it really matters far more to the Republicans than to the Democrats in the first place. Footnote here, that’s why the Democrats and especially the Biden administration and the Democratic National Committee have been working hard to sideline Iowa when it comes to the Democratic nomination process for the future.

Iowa is just too conservative and the Democratic party is so liberal and its future is clearly understood to be on the left. Thus, Iowa becomes a distortion field for the Democrats. It becomes an affirmation field for the Republicans. Thinking about Iowa unto itself, the Times notes, “No state in the nation swing as heavily Republican between 2012 and 2020 as Iowa, which went from a six percentage point victory for Barack Obama to an eight point win for Mr. Trump in the last presidential election.” So you are looking at a massive swing here, the most massive swing into the red category as is acknowledged here of any state. Why? Well, for one thing, the offering and the analysis and the Times is has something to do with the age of the population.

Iowa’s population is a bit older than some of the neighboring states, in particular Illinois and Minnesota. It has something to do, it is argued with the number of persons, the percentage of the population who are college graduates. It has something to do with the lack of really big cities and the very fact that so much of Iowa is rural farm territory. Now, here’s an interesting historical fact, and I want us to think about this in terms of the worldview dimension. In the worldview dimension, it would make sense that farmers are conservative. It really would. It makes sense that farmers are conservative because they have to deal with facts, they have to deal with soil, they have to deal with reality. They understand the relationship that is necessary in the stewardship of the land and with the planting of a crop and the investment of that labor.

And they understand the reality of just being close to the ground. The closer you get to an agrarian or an agricultural context worldwide, at least there is a likelihood you’re moving into more conservative territory. Just to give you an example, in the nation of France, that is, if anything, just as apparent as it is in the United States, farm territory in France, far more conservative than cities such as Paris. There’s another interesting twist to this tale because if you go back to the early 20th century, farmers in the United States, and even in the Midwest in particular, Iowa being a symbolic state there in the upper Midwest, in the early 20th century, farmers were the leading edge of populism in the United States.

That means a political movement that is based upon a popular uprising, and there are reasons why farmers were very much a part of that populism in the early 20th century. Donald Trump is basically running with that same populist mode and very much in a populist mood. So, in that sense, one of the distinctions between Minnesota and Illinois on the one hand is that Iowa was just very different and a populist candidate running a populist campaign. Well, he’s just to put a pun on it, more popular in a state like Iowa than he is even in neighboring states. There’s more to it than that because this isn’t just populism. Just take the issue of abortion. You’re talking about Iowa moving in a conservative direction while the state of Illinois, just to give one example, one of the border states on Iowa that’s turning deeper and deeper blue, it is turning more and more pro-abortion.

And it’s turning pro-abortion in a way that goes far beyond what even locals there in Illinois would’ve expected, just a matter of say, a decade ago. You were looking at a massive chasm in worldview between Illinois and Iowa on the issue of the sanctity of human life. The analysis and the Times, it also suggests that maybe what’s happening in a state like Iowa is that it is now trending in a pattern of other states, but those other states aren’t the neighboring states in the Midwest. They are, for example, other agriculturally dominant states and places such as the deep South. So in this case, you have Illinois acting, just to give one example, more like California, while Iowa is acting more like Alabama.

In worldview analysis, that really is interesting because it shows the rural urban divide. It shows the divide between say, very self-declared sophisticated centers of learning, where you have a lot of college graduates in major universities as opposed to states that have a more evenly distributed population. And of course, you’re also looking at religious factors as well, and the New York Times really doesn’t go into that. It would be very interesting to have a good analysis of how the religious denominational, even theological profile there in Iowa both shares and fails to share similar patterns with some of these neighboring states moving into a far deeper blue mode.

There are specific policy issues that are probably almost assuredly in play. So one of those has to do with the role of agriculture in the state. Now, Barack Obama won the state. He won it in the presidential election, and the New York Times suggested he won it partly because of a charismatic personality, but when it came to policies dealing with agriculture, well, the Obama administration was a big bust in places like Iowa. And yes, that does have political impact as you would understand, and at least is likely to have had something significant to do with the swing of Iowa from being at least sometimes blue or blue-ish into a state that is now red and even deeper red.

One last note when it comes to Iowa, it’s also important to recognize that the pattern at national politics is, and we should anticipate that it would be mirrored in state politics.

The state politics in Iowa now increasingly dominated by the Republican Party. And in order to understand what the opposite looks like, again, all you have to do is go to two other states in the same region, Illinois and Minnesota, to see exactly the opposite, particularly in the state of Illinois. It’s basically a Democratic machine in terms of the state government.

Meanwhile, one last comment when it comes to Iowa, there were those who predicted that the turnout in Iowa would be appreciably reduced by the bone chilling temperatures and the incredibly dangerous wind chill that was experienced last night. Iowans appear to be very politically motivated, and they turned out in large numbers for the 2024 Republican caucuses.

And that tells you something about the strength of the commitment to the democratic, that is to say the electoral process in a state like Iowa. That’s a very good sign for the future of American politics.

Part III

President Biden’s Hypocrisy, the Death Penalty, and the Imago Dei: What the Federal Prosecution of the Buffalo Shooter Reveals About Capital Punishment

Next, another big worldview issue that kind of snuck up in the headlines, take this, for example, an Associated Press story, “Death penalty sought for Buffalo Massacre gunman.” Carolyn Thompson is the reporter in this story, and the report is simply that Peyton Gendron the 20-year-old who’s already serving a sentence of life in prison with no chance of parole after pleading guilty to state charges after the 2022 deadly attack there in Buffalo, he’s now facing federal charges and federal prosecution, and in this case, he may face the death penalty.

Now, here’s what’s really, really interesting. When you look at a state such as New York, it doesn’t have a death penalty, even for a crime like mass murder undertaken in New York in a supermarket, killing innocent people. So here, you have a situation in which the state of New York didn’t even have the death penalty to bring to the table, but now, even as he pled guilty in New York, he’s facing these federal charges, and the federal charges do include the death penalty. And federal prosecutors have indicated they intend to ask for the death penalty. Now, all right, even as you look at this, this turns out to be a really, really significant issue because there’s another twist to this tale, and that is the President Joe Biden, who had been for the death penalty now says he is against it.

When he ran for president in 2020, he basically had aligned his position with the left wing of the Democratic Party, totally opposed to the death penalty, but now, his own Department of Justice with the permission of the attorney general and that means implicitly with the permission of the White House, is moving ahead to demand the death penalty in this case. Why? Now that appears to be massive hypocrisy, and I think at the bottom line it is. I think there’s more here that we need to note in terms of the biblical worldview. Now remember, the death penalty is found in Genesis chapter nine, where in the Noahic Covenant God says unto Noah, and thus to Noah’s heirs that if someone takes a human being’s life, that person forfeits his own life.

Now, this means what we would call premeditated murder, the willful taking of another life. And the Lord himself made the point that that’s the commensurate penalty when someone premeditate to kill an image bearer. As you look at this, you recognize that there is a deep impulse even in those who say they’re against the death penalty. There is a deep impulse that the death penalty and only the death penalty appears to be appropriate with the scale of certain crimes. Now, I’m not saying their logic is right, I’m saying that that direction is right, that there’s something fundamentally real there. And that’s why, for example, the Biden administration, more or less violated its own policy by allowing some previous death penalty cases to move forward, even as they had begun under the Trump Administration.

Now, this is a case that didn’t begin in the Trump Administration. This was a terror attack that took place in 2022. Joe Biden was president of the United States. This federal prosecution comes as the result of actions taken by the Biden administration. So as I say, on the one hand, you’re looking at something like hypocrisy here where it gets the death penalty, but in this case, we’re going to demand it. Is that just political, where politics is an angle here? And there’s also another strange angle in that, the federal prosecutors have said that one of the reasons they are seeking the death penalty is because of the aggravating circumstance of the fact that this was a racially targeted killing. Now, the racially targeted part of this killing is not morally insignificant.

It does raise the question of how in the world the death penalty is appropriate in this case, but not in other cases. Why would the color of a person’s skin as the victim of the crime of homicide determine whether or not the death penalty is sought? I think from a Christian biblical worldview perspective, that’s a huge problem. The problem is not that the death penalty is being sought in this case, but that by the same logic it might not be sought if the victims, and remember there was a large number of victims here, 10 persons were killed in this massacre. If the color of the skin has to do with whether or not the death penalty is appropriate, then we really left the ground of the image of God and the imago Dei and we are into something else.

Again, I want to state emphatically, I’m not saying that there are no morally consequential issues here, even in terms of the targeting of persons for their race. Clearly, there are morally significant issues here. I’m not saying the death penalty is inappropriate in this case. I think it’s certainly appropriate in this case. I just think that the Biden administration has boxed itself in a corner where it is explicitly now saying that skin color in this case is a determining factor in whether or not the death penalty is appropriate or even required.

The Associated Press article concludes with this paragraph, and it tells us a lot that these are the words: “Federal death penalty cases have become a rarity since the election of Biden, a Democrat who opposes capital punishment. Under the leadership of Attorney General Merrick Garland, the Justice Department, has permitted the continuation of two capital prosecutions and withdrawn from pursuing death in more than two dozen cases.” So let’s just be honest about what this paragraph tells us. It tells us that Joe Biden says he is against capital punishment, but he’s against it until he’s for it in certain cases. As you’re looking at this, you recognize this points to something even more basic than American law and the American system of justice. This goes all the way back to Genesis nine and the Noahic Covenant. And the fact is that most of us understand intuitively that only the death penalty becomes appropriate.

And I think most sane persons will say at least at some point, but if you admit that it’s appropriate at some point for some crimes, then you’ve already stated the fact that you don’t believe it’s categorically inappropriate.

Part IV

A Medieval Problem Returns to the Eton School: Students Encouraged to Stay Home Until School Can Fix Major Toilet Problems

There are many things that we lament about the modern age, but I’ll tell you one of the things we do not lament is clean water and functioning plumbing, and that includes toilets, for example. And that points to a problem right now in what is perhaps the most elite and famous school for boys in all the world and that is Eaton. Eaton College was established in the year 1440. That’s the 15th century by King Henry VI. It has since earned the reputation and charges the fees you might expect of the most elite school, basically in all the world for boys of that age.

The boys have just been asked not to come back for the most recent term because, well, there’s a problem at Eaton, and that problem has to do with the Thames River and it flooding and the sewer system isn’t working. So they say, don’t come. So it’s just a reminder to us that there are many lamentable things about the modern age, certainly in moral terms, but there are also some good things about the modern age and flushing toilet is one of them. When it comes to that system of your school, you want modern, not medieval.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

For more information, go to my website at albertmohler.com. You can follow me on Twitter by going to twitter.com/albertmohler.

For information on the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to sbts.edu. For information on Boyce College, just go to boycecollege.com.

I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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