Monday, January 22, 2024

It’s Monday, January 22, 2024.

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

Part I

And Then There Were Two: Governor Ron DeSantis Suspends Republican Primary Election Campaign

And then there were two. Two major candidates for the Republican presidential nomination in 2024, that is, but in reality it’s one candidate and one other candidate. Because one candidate, former President Donald Trump, is zeroing in on a commanding lead in the Republican nomination process, and there’s an important historical pattern to keep in mind here. And that is that no candidate in recent Republican primary history who has won the Iowa caucuses and then has won the New Hampshire primary, has been denied the nomination. That’s a very interesting historical pattern.

By the way the same thing does not pertain on the Democratic side. But on the Republican side, there are two, the former president and former South Carolina governor, and former US ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley. Now, according to some polling and composite polling’s hard to find over the weekend, it looks like Nikki Haley is running over 30%, some as high as 39%, but Donald Trump is holding fast at about 50% or a little greater than 50%.

But the big news going into the weekend is not really about who’s running, but who’s not. And who’s not is former governor Ron DeSantis, who suspended his campaign. That’s a little bit different than ending a campaign. And by the way, that’s a legal technicality because in suspending a campaign, at least in theory, you can pick it back up. That’s not likely to happen, there’s no momentum once you suspend a campaign, but you are allowed to continue to function as a candidate in legal terms with some fundraising issues, and there’s certainly a lot of that going on, and will be. But Ron DeSantis is out of the race, and that is an unexpected development, certainly before the New Hampshire primaries.

If you were to talk and just conjecture about the 2024 race for the Republican nomination, I don’t know of anyone who would suggest that Ron DeSantis wouldn’t make it to the New Hampshire primary, so this is a stunning development. Is it a stunning development because of the weakness of the Florida governor in the Republican Party? Well, there’s something to that, but that can’t be the big story. The big story is actually the unexpected strength of Donald Trump as a candidate. No one else has come close to, say even reaching double digits for any length of time. Coming anything close to, say 40% in any of these calculations. So Ron DeSantis has folded his campaign for now, that leaves Nikki Haley, as I said, the former South Carolina governor and UN ambassador.

But there’s a lot more to this story that we need to consider. For one thing, what exactly happened? How would we explain how Ron DeSantis is out of the race? Now, if you look at the New York Times, the Washington Post, and you listen to the political pundits, they’re going to say that there were massive mistakes made in the DeSantis campaign. Well, what have those mistakes have been? Well, first of all, DeSantis himself has spoken of a mistake of running without engaging the national media. A second question has to do with the timing. A lot of people gaming the situation say that the Florida governor would’ve been in a much stronger position had he announced his candidacy and begun active campaigning earlier. The reason he did not is explained, at least in part by his very successful race for re-election as Florida governor, and then dealing with some of the challenges of legislation within the state. At least that was a big part of the equation.

But looking at the situation, you also have to consider the fact that one of the rules of American politics is that success in statewide elections does not always translate in any sense into success, say in a presidential campaign or a presidential nomination race. That raises some very interesting questions. Why wouldn’t it? Well, for one thing, even in a statewide election, even in a state like Florida, you really are talking about running with people who have a great deal of interest in your leadership and in the legislation that comes under a governor’s term, that isn’t translated into the same kind of national exposure. People in Florida have a very good idea of who Ron DeSantis is, and they are surrounded by the evidence of his influence as governor, which has been massive. He’s been a massively successful governor, and as contrasted with many other governors, he has been remarkable in translating his own priorities into legislation.

Couldn’t do that without overwhelming Republican majorities in the Florida legislature. But to be sure, Ron DeSantis understands how government works. He has transformed much of the state. He’s had a vast influence in the judiciary, in the state of Florida. And he’s translated that into the mechanics of institutions, including even the University of Florida where former US Senator Ben Sasse is now the president, and that’s in large part traceable to massive changes in the regent structure of the state universities, undertaken directly by Ron DeSantis.

Ron DeSantis understands the nuts and bolts of leadership and certainly of government. He’s a graduate of Yale University, later a graduate of the Harvard Law School. Now, one of the interesting things is that he runs against the academic establishment and has certainly cut his teeth running against the woke regime that is in control of higher education, but he himself is the product of those elite institutions. By the way, that’s an interesting pattern. You also have Representative Elise Stefanik, who very famously stared down the three women university presidents just a matter of weeks ago. She also is a Harvard graduate, so when she criticizes Harvard, she does so at least in part, from the inside, not just the outside.

There’s another interesting distinction between statewide elections and in particular elections for governor of states, and presidential elections. Presidential elections often follow an overarching theme. They often fit within an historical context, more on that in just a moment. But they certainly also tend to deal with different issues. As I said earlier, governors have to deal with all kinds of policy questions, and they really can’t avoid getting deeply involved in those policy proposals and in the crafting of legislation.

In the case of President Trump, for example, as President of the United States, he was not heavily involved in any of that. It’s hard to imagine his personal involvement going all the way down layers of government in transforming the inner bureaucracy of the state the way that Ron DeSantis has. Ron DeSantis ran a campaign in which he basically offered Republican voters what he saw as a golden opportunity, to elect someone with Trump’s agenda of disruption in his populist agenda, but without his character problems. And Ron DeSantis is famously married, and is the father of young children, and has a very stable family life. And there is so much about Ron DeSantis that commends himself, and obviously has commended him to Florida voters, who elected him once and then overwhelmingly elected him a second time.

Is Ron DeSantis finished in national politics? Well, that remains to be seen. Some people are immediately saying that this means the end of Ron DeSantis as a major figure in the Republican Party. Well, I will just remind people that that kind of statement has been made before. On the Republican side most famously, it was made about Richard Nixon who lost the 1960 presidential election to John F. Kennedy, and then went on to lose a race for California governor. Famously he said to the media, “You won’t have Dick Nixon to kick around anymore.” But Nixon was back. Even by the mid-1960s he was clearly positioning himself for a race for the White House again, and then he gained the 68 presidential nomination on the Republican side, went on to be elected, and then won a famous, later infamous landside election, in 1972. That is his reelection campaign.

You can also say this about Ronald Reagan. He ran an insurgency against an incumbent Republican president in 1976. When he lost that race, having taken it all the way to the National Convention, it was mostly said among Republicans, that Ronald Reagan was a spent political force. Of course, he would come back and win in a landslide, that came just four years after his failure at the convention to wrest the nomination from Gerald Ford. And then four years after that, he also won in a massive landslide reelection campaign.

So you can say that it’s unlikely that some of these candidates will be back, but you can’t write them off. Furthermore there are a couple of other huge considerations. Number one, if Donald Trump goes on to win the Republican nomination, and if he is elected President of the United States, he can serve only one term according to the U.S Constitution. And given the cycles of American presidential politics, when you have someone as controversial as Donald Trump, they are seldom followed by a president of their own party. As a matter of fact, even as in the Roman Catholic cycle of electing popes, you have the expression fat Pope followed by skinny Pope, followed by fat Pope, just to say people want, the next time, the opposite of what they’ve got.

That doesn’t always play true in American national politics, but in terms of presidential cycles, when you have someone like Donald Trump, well, the big question is who would come after him? What will the Republican Party look like in the year 2028, or in the race for the 2028 Republican presidential nomination? Will Ron DeSantis be a factor then? Well he has almost three years left on his term as Florida governor, given the strategic importance of Florida, an awful lot can happen. An awful lot can happen in the Republican Party, but there’s also, of course, the reality that Donald Trump may win the nomination and then lose the general election. In that case, the future of the Republican Party becomes much more open. It will be absolutely fascinating to see the jockeying for position, but at that point, you’re going to have a lot of people enter the picture who weren’t in it in 2024.

That includes Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin, who at that point will be a former governor, but at this point also probably a very considerable political factor on the Republican side, or at least he’s likely to have that ambition. We will see. But Ron DeSantis is not going back to nowhere. He is going back to fulfill his term as the Governor of Florida, which is one of the largest, most populated, most influential and culturally important states in the Union. That’s no small thing.

Meanwhile, voters in New Hampshire have a big decision to make, and that’s complicated, as we shall see on tomorrow’s edition of The Briefing, by the fact that in New Hampshire, voters can basically vote in whichever primary they choose. And since there’s really no interesting primary action on the Democratic side, little footnote there, wait till tomorrow, the reality is that an awful lot of independents and even some Democrats could choose to enter that Republican primary. So again, that is going to come down to Donald Trump and Nikki Haley on Tuesday, in New Hampshire. And the reality is that the nomination race on the Republican side could be sewn up by the end of the night on Tuesday night. Then again, maybe not. We’ll simply have to see and we’ll talk about it then.

One final note on this, the one path that does not seem open in the Republican Party, certainly at the national level, is a moderate or liberal angle to the party. There appears to be a basic dichotomy between the more and less populist and the more and less conservative, but some mixture of conservative and populist is, at least we can say very much the Republican mix at the present, certainly at the national level.

Part II

President Biden Hones In on Re-Election Strategy — Its Message? Abortion On Demand

But next, this past Sunday was Sanctity of Human Life Sunday, and of course you also had the March for Life. All of this staged, by the way, as scheduled to mark the anniversary of the Roe V. Wade decision handed down in January of 1973.

The reversal of the Roe decision, and that came with the Dobbs decision handed down by the Supreme Court in 2022, that was one of the great achievements of the pro-life movement. But as we have seen since the Dobbs decision, just a matter of about a year and a half ago, what we have seen is that the challenge we face in the defense of human life, especially human life in the womb, it is a much greater challenge than we understood. And politically, it is turning out to be a very volatile issue. In particular, Democrats believe it is a winning issue for their party, for their candidates at almost every level, and in particular for the presidency, as Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are going to be running for re-election in 2024.

Now, that leads to a report that came yesterday in the New York Times. The headline is this, Biden Campaign Sharpens Its Post-Roe Message. Katie Rogers is the reporter on the story, and this is not news in the sense of being shocking to us, but it is a very thorough and important documentation of the strategy, and especially the strategy on abortion on the Democratic side. The article tells us that the Biden administration is pushing this issue to Vice President Kamala Harris. That’s an interesting development in itself, and it appears to be driven by a couple of considerations.

Number one, she is a woman. That’s pretty straightforward, but the Democrats believe it’s to their advantage that she be the spokesperson running point on this issue. The second thing is that frankly, they need something for her to talk about in the campaign. And you could add one more thing, and that is that her position on abortion has been, if anything, more consistent, if consistently pro-abortion, than as compared to Joe Biden, at least in terms of his period of several years and terms in the United States Senate. But first of all, let’s just get to the Democratic message.

It is quite clearly an advocacy of the pro-abortion position, virtually without restraint, and packaging it as a major priority of the administration. One of the reasons why pro-abortion, or what they might call pro-choice voters, must support the Biden-Harris administration and its run in 2024. Now, the paper tells us that this is being reflected in the schedule about the president, and most importantly, the vice president. “On Monday, Ms. Harris will visit Wisconsin to begin a national tour focused on preserving access to reproductive healthcare as Republicans call for more restrictions. Then,” and again, I’m quoting the article, “On Tuesday, she will join Mr. Biden at a rally for abortion rights in Virginia, where Democrats recently took control of the state legislature and have proposed to enshrine abortion protections in the state constitution.”

It becomes really interesting at this point, “Ms. Harris,” that’s Vice President Kamala Harris, “Offered a preview of the administration’s election year messaging to Americans when she visited the View.” The paper goes on to say it’s “the most popular daytime talk show in the country”. The vice president said this on that program, “We’re not asking anyone to abandon their personal beliefs. She went on to say the government should not be telling women what to do with their bodies.”

Now, what I want to note is that there’s a strategy that’s evident here, but there is also a dishonesty that is evident here. Here you have Kamala Harris saying, “We’re not asking anyone to change their position, but we want our position legislated in all 50 states as the law of the land. We want absolutely no legal restrictions on abortion. So you can continue to believe whatever you want to believe, but it’s our beliefs that must be translated into public policy and into a political mandate.” So there’s a basic dishonesty there. The Democrats, if not asking all Americans by coercion to agree with them, they’re quite willing to use coercion to make the law agree with them, regardless of the population.

But what you also have here is the fact that since the Dobbs decision in 2022, the pro-life position has been thrown into a defensive position, which is a new dynamic in terms of the relationship between the pro-abortion and the pro-life forces in the United States. Ever since the Roe V. Wade decision, the pro-life forces have been on a very clear agenda to reverse Roe and bring about legal restrictions to end abortion in America. But after the Dobbs decision came down, well, the pro-life movement was found without an adequate strategy to translate that into winning political action. And so quite frankly, we have lost battle after battle, even in unexpected places like the state of Kentucky. But at the same time, even as we understood that the reversal of Roe, V. Wade was necessary, it was essential, no sane person believed that that would be sufficient. It would be a battle for the minds, going forward.

Now, here’s what the Democrats are counting on. They’re counting on the fact that they can package, and you’ll notice the New York Times was absolutely complicit in this article in not referring to abortion, but rather a woman’s reproductive health. Now, if you can repackage that, all you have to have is the insight of someone like George Orwell to know that if you can simply rename something, then you can change the moral dynamic. That’s a big worldview realization for Christians, we must call things what they are. This is not about a woman’s reproductive health. This is not pro-choice in terms of the Democratic agenda. This is pro-abortion. It is about the intentional killing of unborn human life in the womb, so let’s just be really clear what we’re talking about.

But this article in the New York Times indicates that the White House and the Biden re-election campaign, well, they both see the abortion issue is now all of a sudden swinging to their side in momentum, and they intend to ride it. Now, here’s another irony and another demonstration of absolutely gross hypocrisy. When he first emerged as a political candidate on the Democratic side decades ago, Joe Biden clearly identified as a Roman Catholic, and he was certainly not at that point an advocate for abortion rights. But all that changed, and it changed because of political necessity. It also changed, just to be absolutely honest, it changed because of his national political ambitions.

But even in terms of his pro-abortion policy, and he has followed the traditional Roman Catholic liberal two-step of saying, “I’m personally opposed, but abortion’s the law of the land.” After the reversal of Roe, abortion is not the law of the land, and so here’s where you find out where someone like Joe Biden really is. He’s now calling for abortion to be the law of the land. So he has gone from saying, “We’re just acknowledging because of the Roe decision,” to advocating for it, indeed trying to turn this issue into a partisan issue to his advantage.

And on the campaign trail, just in recent days, he has pointed to Donald Trump and said, “The only reason that there are these restrictions on abortion, is because of Donald Trump.” Now, he didn’t connect the dots, but clearly what he meant there was a reference to the three justices on the United States Supreme Court that were appointed by Donald Trump. But on the Republican side, there’s an interesting question as to exactly where Donald Trump stands on the abortion issue right now. That’s a consideration for further information. In other words, we’re going to have to find out more from Donald Trump about where he stands on this issue. And at least on this issue, it’s not particularly helpful that Nikki Haley is the only candidate now opposing Donald Trump for the nomination. The two of them in particular are not likely to define that issue any further, so that will frustrate those of us with very clear pro-life convictions.

But back to the Democratic side, they see a great opportunity to seize on this issue, and they may be right just in terms of the political moment. Sadly enough, they may be right. Our challenge in defending the sanctity and dignity of every single human life, including life in the womb, that may turn out to be, indeed right now looks as if it is a far greater challenge than we thought just a matter of two or three years ago. But we must remain undaunted because this is the challenge to which we are called, and it’s not just about presidential elections, it’s about much, much more. And we’ll be talking about that, and praying and thinking about that in weeks and months ahead.

Part III

One of the Deadliest Tyrants and Ideologues in Human History: A Look at the Legacy of Vladimir Lenin Occasioned by the 100th Anniversary of His Death

But finally, for today, a few years ago, the historian Robert Conquest made this statement. He said, and I quote, “The huge catastrophes of our era have been inflicted by human beings, driven by certain thoughts.” And he went on to say that some of those thoughts have become so deadly that they have killed millions. He then asked the question, “Who were the Typhoid Marys who spread the infection?” That is the infection of these deadly ideas, undertaken by human beings, driven by certain thoughts?

Well, one of the most dangerous and deadly of those Typhoid Marys was Vladimir Lenin, the leader of the Bolshevik Revolution. The revolution that led of course, to the development of the USSR, the Soviet Union, and led to, and this is no exaggeration, eventually tens and well over a hundred million deaths. All of it traceable to the Bolshevik Revolution, all of it traceable ultimately to Vladimir Lenin, one of the most deadly of the typhoid Marys of modern times. And indeed of any times because it requires the technology of modern times, and the political reality of modern times, to have the reach of someone like Vladimir Lenin.

The reason we’re talking about him today on The Briefing, it’s because he died 100 years ago yesterday. He died on January the 21st, 1924, and that brought an end to his life, but it did not bring an end to Soviet tyranny. It did not bring an end to the murderous, indeed genocidal reality of the Soviet Union. He may have died in 1924, but he was born on April the twenty-second of 1870.

Something very important for us to realize is that the revolutionary fervor and even the revolutionary movement that led to the Bolshevik Revolution and to the formation of the Soviet Union in the 20th century, it wasn’t the first uprising in Russia. The 19th century in Russia was a century of ongoing attempts at revolution. Sergey Nechayev in his work entitled The Revolutionary Catechism… By the way, in 1869, so this is in the middle of the 19th century… About Russia wrote this quote, “The revolutionary is a dedicated man. He has no personal interest, no private affairs, no emotions, no attachments, no property and no name. Everything in him is subordinated towards a single thought, a single passion, the revolution.”

Now, among those revolutionaries, most people forget in terms of Russia, is a young man who was actually the older brother of Vladimir Lenin. He was involved with a group of other college students or university students in an attempted assassination of the Tsar, and he was executed for that. So as a teenager, Vladimir Lenin was forged in this revolutionary environment, which was fueling much of the unrest there in Russia. And of course, there’s an historical consequence there, and the context of the fact that Russia was an autocracy in terms of the Romanov dynasty, that frankly went beyond any of the major monarchial powers in Europe. That’s why, at least for one reason, along with other economic stresses, that there was this revolutionary fervor in Russia. Vladimir Lenin was a product of, and later a driver of that fervor.

Marx came along in the 19th century, and of course, Marx and Engels wrote the Communist Revolution. Lenin became an advocate for a Marxist revolution in Russia, and what would become, of course, by its product, the Soviet Union. But the uniqueness of Vladimir Lenin was the fact that he warped Marxist ideology in a way that made it even more dangerous and even more murderous. He developed the idea of what he called a vanguard party. That’s the idea that a party would seize control, and basically in the name of the people, would maintain that control, and it would largely maintain the power of its control by killing many of its own citizens. It was an intentional attempt to create a new communist reality with this vanguard party at the very head. And thus, there was no excuse for the power of this party because in Lenin’s theory, in his ideology, the party became everything.

The worth of human beings was denied if that worth was not to the party. Anyone opposed to the party became, well, as the Nazis would refer to them, life unworthy of life. Paul Johnson, one of the major historians of the 20th century, wrote this, “Once Lenin had abolished the idea of personal guilt, and had started to exterminate, a word he frequently employed, whole classes merely on account of occupation and parentage, there was no limit to which this deadly principle might be carried. There is no essential moral difference,” said Paul Johnson about Lenin, “Between destroying a class and destroying a race. Thus, the practice of genocide was born.”

And of course, the Soviet Union was also born, and it became one of the most malignant forces in the history of the entire human story. But it’s also clear that when Vladimir Lenin died, it was not a better that replaced him, but if anything, a worse, and that was Joseph Stalin. As Winston Churchill said, and he had long history observing the Soviet Union and both dictators, he said this, and I quote, “For Russians, their worst misfortune was Lenin’s birth. Their next worst, his death.”

And thus, it set the stage for the Soviet Union in terms of famine and war, and the internal genocide of its own people, the subjugation of many others. So a very long reminder, a very tragic reminder of the fact that ideas do have consequences. The consequences of the ideology of Vladimir Lenin turned out to be some of the most deadly and toxic of the entire human story.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

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I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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