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Democrats Plan to Upend the Primaries
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Democrats Plan to Upend the Primaries

But not everyone is on board with demoting Iowa and New Hampshire.

Happy Thursday! San Francisco’s board of supervisors changed their mind yesterday and, at least for now, will not let police officers deploy remote-controlled robots equipped with explosives to kill suspects considered violent or dangerous. 

You almost had us, Skynet.

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • German law enforcement on Wednesday arrested 25 people suspected of plotting a coup to install ringleader German Prince Heinrich XIII as head of state. Arrested suspects include a soldier from Germany’s KSK special forces unit—reformed recently over concerns of far-right encroachment—and a judge who formerly served in Parliament in the rightwing Alternative for Germany (AfD) party. Prosecutors said the group embraced ideas from QAnon and the Reichsbürger, a conspiracy movement that considers Germany’s post-World War II government illegitimate. Members also sought support from Russia, prosecutors allege, though investigators haven’t found evidence that Russia offered assistance.
  • Peru’s Congress ousted President Pedro Castillo Wednesday after he attempted to head off an impeachment vote by dissolving the legislature, replacing the country’s Constitution, and imposing a curfew. Military commanders declined to follow Castillo’s orders and many formerly loyal cabinet ministers resigned, with some labeling his moves a coup attempt. The national police have detained Castillo, and Dina Boluarte—his former vice president—has been sworn in as president, promising to “install a government of national unity.” Castillo—a left-wing former schoolteacher and union leader—won office in 2021 on a platform of increased wealth redistribution and constitutional reforms but has been plagued by multiple scandals and corruption investigations.
  • Chinese officials further softened COVID-19 safety measures on Wednesday, dropping most mass testing requirements, narrowing lockdowns from entire neighborhoods or districts to individual buildings and floors, and allowing people with asymptomatic or mild COVID cases to quarantine at home. The sharp change from years of COVID-Zero measures follows recent street protests in several cities across the country, but, thanks to China’s previously limited case counts and comparatively low vaccine uptake, the moves may result in a COVID-19 surge capable of overwhelming the country’s hospitals.
  • Chinese imports fell 11 percent year-over-year in November according to CCP government data, while exports fell 8.7 percent—the largest dip since February 2020 and well above economists’ predicted 2 percent drop. COVID-19 lockdowns and a sputtering real estate market have clobbered China’s economy, fueling concerns about a global downturn next year.
  • Texas Gov. Greg Abbott on Wednesday joined Maryland, South Dakota, and South Carolina in moving to ban state employees from using TikTok on government-issued devices, citing concerns that the Chinese Communist Party could obtain U.S. citizens’ personal data from TikTok’s China-based parent company ByteDance. Abbott also urged Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan to pass a law codifying the rule and extending it to local governments.
  • The Supreme Court heard oral arguments Wednesday in Moore v. Harper, a case stemming from disputes over a congressional map implemented by North Carolina’s state legislature last year but struck down by the state’s Supreme Court as an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander. Justices are tasked with deciding whether the state court acted out of turn in blocking the map given the deference to state legislatures outlined in the U.S. Constitution’s election clause, even though the court believed the map violated the state’s constitution. A majority of the Supreme Court in Wednesday’s hearing seemed disinclined to embrace the “independent state legislature” theory, which would give legislatures sweeping power to regulate federal elections with minimal state court oversight.
  • A search overseen by former President Donald Trump’s legal team at a federal judge’s direction in recent weeks reportedly turned up two more items marked classified in a Florida storage unit that the General Services Administration—which aids presidents leaving office—helped Trump rent last year. The items were reportedly turned over to the FBI after the search—which was conducted by an outside team hired by Trump—in a belated effort to comply with a May subpoena that compelled Trump and his legal team to forfeit all materials with classification markings.
  • Outgoing GOP Rep. Lee Zeldin of New York announced Wednesday he will no longer challenge Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel for her post, but argued the GOP’s performance in recent years indicates she does not deserve a fourth term. “I won’t be running for RNC Chair at this time with McDaniel’s reelection pre-baked by design, but that doesn’t mean she should even be running again,” he said. “It’s time the GOP elects new leadership!” RNC Committeewoman Harmeet Dhillon is reportedly considering a bid. 

Will Democrats Upend the Primaries?

Joe Biden speaks at his primary-night event in South Carolina in 2020. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

For the last half-century, Iowa and New Hampshire have held a favored place as the starting-gun states of the presidential primaries, basking in the national attention and outside political spending that accompanied that position. In recent years, however, Democrats in the two small states have looked on nervously as a growing national chorus grumbled that their idiosyncratic, heavily white electorates made them a poor barometer of sentiment in an increasingly diverse party.

Now the hammer is dropping. Acting on recommendations from President Joe Biden, the Democratic National Committee’s Rule and Bylaws Committee voted last week to shuffle its slate of early-state primaries—assuming they can get buy-in from the states in question.

Under the proposed calendar, the coveted first-in-the-nation primary slot would be awarded to South Carolina, the former fourth state, which would hold its primary on February 3, 2024. Nevada and New Hampshire would follow, and Michigan and Georgia would also move up the calendar.

That Democrats would move to demote Iowa in particular comes as little surprise. The state’s Democratic caucus faceplanted in spectacular fashion in 2020 when the app the state party had deployed for local officials to report precinct results glitched out, throwing the outcome into confusion for days.

The other changes are designed to bring key Democratic constituencies, including black voters and union workers, to the primary-calendar fore. They also happen to align well with Biden’s own history and ongoing political prospects. It’s almost hard to remember how much trouble Biden seemed to be in during the 2020 primaries—having finished fourth in Iowa and fifth in New Hampshire—before he came stampeding back in South Carolina and other states across the south. Bumping some of those states up the calendar would serve the dual purpose for Biden of thanking the voters who resuscitated him last time and smoothing his path to 2024 renomination.

“It’s a reward and a thank-you to the most loyal and consistent and dedicated voting bloc in a generation—black voters—from the president,” Democratic strategist Antjuan Seawright, a South Carolina native, told The Dispatch. “And it’s not just about this last cycle: Since 1992, the candidate who won South Carolina has gone on to be our nominee, with one exception: native son John Edwards, who did not win the nomination but ended up being on the ticket.”

But will it actually happen? That remains to be seen. While it’s ultimately up to party organizations to choose their nominees according to their own bylaws, the administration of party primaries in most states has long been handled by the states themselves according to their own state laws. As a result, the Democratic Party can’t simply decree when primary elections will take place. In some states, like Iowa and New Hampshire, the date is a matter of state law. (Iowa law requires that its party caucuses take place “not later than the fourth Monday in February of each even-numbered year” and “at least eight days earlier” than any other state’s primary or caucus; New Hampshire law lets Iowa’s caucuses slide, but stipulates its primaries must take place 7 days or more prior to any other state’s “similar election.”)

In other states, setting primary dates is the responsibility of state officials. In Georgia, for instance, that’s Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, whose office has made it clear he has little interest in upending the schedule to suit the DNC’s desires.

“We’ve been telling them for literally a year—sure, it’d be cool if Georgia moved up in the thing, but we’re not doing anything that will make it be on two different election days or cost either side delegates,” a Georgia Republican official told The Dispatch Wednesday. “We’ve never changed from that position.”

Meanwhile, the slighted states are feeling mutinous. “We have our law,” New Hampshire Secretary of State Dave Scanlan told the New Hampshire Bulletin last week. “And so regardless of what the DNC does, we will follow the law and have a first primary.”

That’s not to say the DNC is totally powerless. They may have picked their presidential candidates through primary elections for the last half-century, but it’s ultimately the party’s own authority to choose its nominee in whatever manner it sees fit. If a given state tries to jump farther ahead in the queue than the party authorizes, the DNC is at liberty simply to declare that that state’s primary won’t contribute any delegates to the nominating process, turning that primary into a purely symbolic affair.

But that likely won’t be enough to dissuade the likes of Iowa and New Hampshire. After all, they already play mostly symbolic roles; neither state controls a king’s ransom of delegates in the first place. And if states like Georgia won’t play ball, the DNC likely has no recourse at all: It’s not going to punish a state simply for failing to move its primary earlier.

“Iowa will have to forge ahead in order to comply with our state law,” veteran Iowa Republican strategist David Kochel told The Dispatch. “The open question is whether or not any Dem candidates will defy the DNC and attempt to acquire delegates. If I were someone like [Pete] Buttigieg I might consider it.”

Worth Your Time

  • Is artificial intelligence going to end the student essay as we know it? “The essay, in particular the undergraduate essay, has been the center of humanistic pedagogy for generations. It is the way we teach children how to research, think, and write. That entire tradition is about to be disrupted from the ground up,” Stephen Marche writes in The Atlantic, describing OpenAI’s new advanced chatbot and other AI tools that generate text from written prompts. “Humanities departments judge their undergraduate students on the basis of their essays. They give Ph.D.s on the basis of a dissertation’s composition. What happens when both processes can be significantly automated? Going by my experience as a former Shakespeare professor, I figure it will take 10 years for academia to face this new reality: two years for the students to figure out the tech, three more years for the professors to recognize that students are using the tech, and then five years for university administrators to decide what, if anything, to do about it.” But there are silver linings: “Despite the drastic divide of the moment, natural-language processing is going to force engineers and humanists together.”
  • For the New Yorker, Rivka Galchen spends a little time with 90-year-old Vermont farmer and tree enthusiast Greg Williams, learning how cold it has to get before each tree can be cut without dropping its needles and which trees Williams invented by crossbreeding. “[Williams] wears a baseball cap probably seventy years his junior, and his green duck boots are unslit,” Galchen writes. “He has unmissable blue eyes, is strong, and is distinguished by what many might call a Santa beard. He owns a conifer nursery in Wolcott, Vermont, and part of it is dedicated to Christmas trees, though he’s thinking of phasing them out, both because it’s heavy work and because he’s not sure that he’ll be able to see any current saplings grow large enough to sell. ‘You’ll find that most Christmas-tree growers are growing Christmas trees on their worst land,’ he said. ‘On hills, rocky soil. The good land they’ll use for a cash crop, like marijuana.’”
  • With the National Baseball Hall of Fame announcing Wednesday that Pat Hughes will be inducted into the museum after winning the Ford C. Frick Award for excellence in broadcasting, The Athletic’s Jon Greenberg penned an ode to the longtime Chicago Cubs radio announcer. “Through good times and bad, Hughes has been the constant voice of Cubs baseball since 1996, a sweater-clad narrator for a franchise known for its rich history, day baseball and its many, many foibles,” he writes. “Hughes loves talking about his final out call for the World Series on a technical level, but if you really want to hear him at his best, just turn on the radio and listen to him banter with Ron Coomer and Zach Zaidman on some random summer night. That’s how a Hall of Fame career is made. ‘The big calls are really important,” [former Cubs announcer Len] Kasper said. ‘But the sign of a great broadcaster almost has nothing to do with those. Because most broadcasters can nail the big moments by just basically getting excited, right? In our sport, it’s so much more important to just turn on a game and for five or 10 minutes, just feel like you’re listening to friends. And it’s comfort, it’s pacing, it’s energy. It’s a sense of humor, it’s broadcasting with a smile on your face.’”

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Toeing the Company Line

  • Reminder: The Morning Dispatch is still accepting applications! If you’re interested in helping put this newsletter together, be sure to check out our job listing here. Questions? Shoot a note to members@thedispatch.com with “TMD Job” in the subject line.
  • Jonah doesn’t dig into the legalese on the 303 Creative LLC v. Elenis case in Wednesday’s G-File (🔒), but he does wonder whether the blunt instrument of government compulsion should apply to isolated dissent and argues that Jim Crow is the wrong analogy for the case of an artist refusing a commission on religious grounds. “If Grandma Helen wants to sell cornbread only to Zwinglians or Missouri Synod Lutherans, I’ll get my cornbread elsewhere,” he writes. “But if the government says Helen can’t sell to non-Protestants like me when she wants to, well, I’m getting a lawyer.”
  • David and Sarah do dig into the legalese on 303 Creative in the latest episode of Advisory Opinions, debating the line between law and morality before turning to discuss the “independent state legislature” legal theory coming before the SUpreme Court.
  • The baby formula crisis may be easing, but we’re likely to reinstate the protectionist policy that helped cause it, Scott writes in the latest Capitolism. “Bad government policies not only can persist but can even rise from the dead after being suspended,” he notes. “Once you turn on that protectionist spigot, it’s really tough to turn off permanently—even when it means taxing baby formula in the wake of a yearlong baby formula crisis.”
  • In Wednesday’s French Press (🔒), David scrapped his draft about Hunter Biden laptop developments to digest the Georgia runoff results. Each MAGA loss, he argues, underlines that “conservatism can still win, Trumpism loses, and no amount of bullying will push the most reluctant Republicans into supporting candidates who are not fit for public office.” And because he can’t abandon the topic entirely—read to the end for a discussion of Hunter Biden and Twitter censorship.
  • Herschel Walker’s loss is a very good thing for the GOP, Nick argues in Wednesday’s Boiling Frogs (🔒). “As weirdo populism proves itself unviable at the polls, conservative voters will retreat from it in primaries,” he writes. “And in time that’ll bring me and lots of those Kemp/Warnock voters fully back into the fold. Trump’s loss is the mainstream Republican Party’s gain.”
  • Brookings Institution scholar Jonathan Rauch returns to The Remnant to kvetch over primaries, polarization, and the state of democracy. Plus: some rumination on Republican dysfunction, contemporary racism, and the radicalizing impact of identity politics.
  • On the site today, Haley breaks down some emerging problems with enforcing the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, and Kevin Williamson writes about last week’s attack on North Carolina’s power grid.

Let Us Know

Which state would you like to see lead the primaries calendar, and why?

Andrew Egger is a former associate editor for The Dispatch.

Declan Garvey is the executive editor at the Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2019, he worked in public affairs at Hamilton Place Strategies and market research at Echelon Insights. When Declan is not assigning and editing pieces, he is probably watching a Cubs game, listening to podcasts on 3x speed, or trying a new recipe with his wife.

Esther Eaton is a former deputy editor of The Morning Dispatch.