Nullification comes to mind. Not the kind asserted unsuccessfully by State’s rights advocates but the kind that begins at the “grass roots” as they say. The kind of nullification that looks East from West.
Let me begin. Many Iowans turned out, almost defiantly as so many reporting the news said that severe cold would keep many in. And some stayed home. The Iowans that turned out were not January 6 “take over the government at all costs” people. They were not frothing at the mouth. Indeed CNN, one of two channels I watched, made this clear as they interviewed dutiful caucus-goers with their kids looking on.
The interviews fleshed out MAGA (Make America Great Again). Rather than a besmirched minority, it was clear that in Iowa they were regular citizens who do not like the turn America has taken. They have heard Harvard, Harvard, Harvard when worthies are being discussed and then found out its President thought calling for genocidal actions against Jews was not harassment sufficient to be a violation of the schools code of conduct.
And then what’s all this stuff about pronouns and males who want to transition to female sports? While in many respects these are arguments that do not represent majorities passing new laws the evening news from whatever source makes sure we hear over and over about the movements.
The former President, Donald J Trump, has been talking about these things. He directly or indirectly says we must turn the page; although he is short on detail. Why get into detail when your four word slogan allows people to dream about the “good old days”.
Of course there is the inevitable “but”. While President Joe Biden and Trump see-saw in the polls of the day, Trump must be unnerved by the 20 to 30% in his own party that said a felony conviction would be disabling. Right now Trump is playing his various legal problems as the Left is weaponizing the justice system. “I am your retribution” his supporters are told. Trump, an unlikely leader of a revolution, has nonetheless positioned himself to be seen that way by many in his Party and beyond.
The legal problems are both Trumps and ours. Are we done with the Courts? As an institution is our court system to be honored? As a way-out-of-practice lawyer looking at the court calendar and the political one it appears to me that the Republicans will have virtually chosen their nominee before the first jury panel is sworn in. Voir Dire, the choosing of jurors will be one for the TV cameras and history books. Can you imagine a jury of 12 persons who do not have pre-conceived notions about Trump?
But, Iowa is just one State. Yet, President Biden choose to bypass it because political professionals know it punches above its weight.
It’s now on to New Hampshire where polls show Niki Haley doing well. Ron DeSantis promises to take her on there and again in the third primary in her home state. Good luck with that. DeSantis was the big loser in Iowa as he put all of his chips down after being endorsed by it’s popular Governor.
While Biden shoved Iowa down his calendar, he is paying attention. He can’t be pleased to see Immigration as the top issue on caucus goer’s minds. Or the economy close behind with inflation top of mind. Nor can his Party stalwarts be pleased as they see Congressman Dean Phillips gain more support in the unauthorized primary in New Hampshire. And the latest poll from ABC/Ispos has Biden’s approval rating at only 33%.
While I am not a fan of incessant polling and believe it particularly discriminates against the emergence of new candidates, I know that politicians read the polls at breakfast. And the polls say that President Biden is weak even against Trump. If you could find a group of people who were neutral about today’s polarizing politics and overlayed on a mythical Republican candidate Trump’s problems, this group of neutrals would say he was fatally damaged. But, the polls say not against Biden.
It will be very difficult, if not impossible, for a national alternative to Biden to emerge without Biden stepping down. And it is hard to win nationally if you are unknown. The only candidate, in my view, who is a true alternative, is Niki Haley. She has put in the work. Even though castigated by her Republican competitors as not “tough enough” she has proven plenty tough. The “not tough enough” label sounds an awful lot like male arrogance. I have daughters, I listen. Plus, any good leader in a democratic system must display collaborative temperament.
While Haley will undoubtedly do better in New Hampshire, is there a path in today’s Republican Party to the nomination? Not without developments not easily anticipated. She might, however, find her Party has left her and take the Independent line presumptively through the No Labels independent candidate structure.
Maybe Iowa’s results are just not very important. We are certainly at the beginning of the sorting out process. Yet, I have the feeling that Iowans on the Right have delivered some sobering messages to all Never Trumpers, regardless of which side of the divide they are on.
January might be a disagreeable weather month, but this January is going to be eventful. It is likely that a presumptive nominee of the Republican Party will be an all but certain choice. The President will either stand down or not. Vice President Kamala Harris will either remain the presumptive Vice President nominee or not. And the emergence of a third party with the resources to actually win will emerge or not. If not January, then maybe a week of two in February.
Al Sikes is the former Chair of the Federal Communications Commission under George H.W. Bush. Al writes on themes from his book, Culture Leads Leaders Follow published by Koehler Books.