Skip to content
One Short Week ‘Til the Iowa Caucuses
Go to my account

One Short Week ‘Til the Iowa Caucuses

The leading GOP contenders barnstorm the Hawkeye State.

Happy Monday! When we tuned into our editorial meeting on Friday, Declan was wearing a Chicago Bears jersey to, in his words, “troll Steve” ahead of the team’s big game against the Green Bay Packers this weekend. We wonder if Steve will return the favor later this morning.

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • A Russian missile strike on Pokrovsk, a town in eastern Ukraine, killed 11 people including five children on Saturday, according to Ukrainian officials. “The blow of the Russians was simply on ordinary residential buildings, on private houses,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky claimed. The Ukrainian Air Force said it had struck a Russian airbase in western Crimea in a drone attack overnight and early on Saturday, while the Russian Defense Ministry said air defenses intercepted Ukrainian drones and missiles overnight on Saturday.
  • Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia’ al-Sudani’s office said Friday that the country plans to begin the removal process for the U.S.-led military coalition in Iraq deployed to fight ISIS. “Government is setting the date for the start of the bilateral committee to put arrangements to end the presence of the international coalition forces in Iraq permanently,” Al-Sudani’s office said in a statement. The push to remove the troops comes after a U.S. drone strike in Baghdad last week that killed Moshtaq Talib Al-Saadi, a commander in an Iran-backed Iraqi militia group that had taken credit for multiple attacks on American forces in the region. 
  • Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant on Thursday outlined his vision for the next phase of the war in Gaza. What Gallant calls Phase III of the war would involve scaled-down operations in northern Gaza and continued fighting in the south until Hamas’ military and governing capabilities are destroyed. The plans also outlined a direction for a post-war Gaza that would involve Israel maintaining security control but Palestinians governing the enclave—notably absent was any mention of the Palestinian Authority. Gallant’s office emphasized that the plans don’t represent official policy, as the country’s war and security cabinets set policy (though Gallant is a member of both). Israel has yet to significantly scale down its operations, but Gallant’s office said today the next, lower-intensity phase of the war will start “soon.” Secretary of State Antony Blinken has been meeting with leadership throughout the region over the last several days—including Qatar, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt—in another whirlwind diplomatic tour aimed at keeping the conflict from spreading further. Blinken will travel to Israel this week. 
  • The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Friday that U.S. employers added 216,000 jobs in December—up from 173,000 in November and exceeding economists’ expectations. The unemployment rate held steady at 3.7 percent, and the labor force participation rate eased slightly from 62.8 percent in November to 62.5 percent last month. Average hourly earnings—a measure the Federal Reserve is watching closely in its fight against inflation—rose 0.4 percent month-over-month in December, and 4.1 percent year-over-year. Those figures were 0.4 and 4.0 percent in November, respectively. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen heralded the jobs and wage numbers, saying in an interview on Friday, “What we’re seeing now I think we can describe as a soft landing, and my hope is that it will continue.”
  • House Speaker Mike Johnson and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced an agreement on a $1.59 trillion topline spending number for fiscal year 2024, including $886.3 billion in defense spending and $704 billion in nondefense spending. The agreement also appeared to include the $69 billion side deal for additional nondefense spending negotiated between President Joe Biden and former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy last spring that would bring the total spending to $1.66 trillion—something the hardline House Freedom Caucus labeled “a total failure” last night. Lawmakers still have to pass all 12 spending bills now that a topline number has been reached, and the government is set to shut down partially on January 19 and fully on February 2 without approval of the appropriations bills or another continuing resolution. 
  • The U.S. Supreme Court agreed on Friday to review the Colorado Supreme Court’s ruling barring former President Donald Trump from the state’s primary ballot for allegedly violating the insurrection clause of the 14th Amendment. Oral arguments in the case are set for February 8. Massachusetts became the latest state to challenge Trump’s eligibility for the ballot, as a group of voters organized by Free Speech For People—an advocacy organization backing challenges in several states—filed an objection with the Massachusetts Secretary of State’s office. 
  • The Federal Aviation Administration ordered the temporary grounding of 171 Boeing 737 MAX 9 aircraft after a piece of fuselage ripped off an Alaskan Airlines jet en route to Ontario, California, from Portland, Oregon. The incident occurred approximately 10 to 15 minutes into the flight when the aircraft was flying at 16,000 feet and left a gaping hole in the side of the plane, resulting in a rapid decompression of the cabin and forcing the pilots to execute an emergency landing. No passengers were seated in the row where the blowout happened, and no one on board sustained serious injuries.
  • The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Friday approved a plan from Florida’s Agency for Health Care Administration to import certain prescription drugs from Canada. The approval is just one of several steps required before the state could actually begin importing pharmaceuticals—additional steps include the FDA approving a specific list of drugs to be imported as well as the state’s plan to verify drugs’ authenticity and safety. Florida’s plan could also face legal challenges from pharmaceutical companies and the Canadian government. “Canada has made it impossible for this policy to be implemented,” said former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, who currently serves on the boards of Pfizer and Illumina. “No wholesaler in their legitimate supply chain can ship to the U.S., and the FDA policy won’t allow drugs to be imported that are outside the legitimate supply chain.”
  • Saturday marked the third anniversary of the January 6 Capitol attack, and federal authorities are still making arrests and charging individuals for their roles in the assault. Attorney General Merrick Garland said Friday that the Justice Department has so far charged more than 1,250 people in connection with the riot, convicting more than 890. The Federal Bureau of Investigation arrested three fugitives on Saturday who were on the run from law enforcement and accused of participating in the attack. The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on Friday that people who entered the Capitol on January 6 can be found guilty of “disorderly or disruptive conduct” even if they didn’t engage in violence or vandalism. Judge Karen Henderson argued in her opinion that, “in determining whether an act is disorderly, the act cannot be divorced from the circumstances in which it takes place.” 
  • President Biden delivered his first campaign speech of 2024 on Friday, debuting what will most likely be the major themes of his reelection pitch. Biden painted the choice between himself and Trump in stark terms. “Democracy is on the ballot,” he said in remarks delivered at Montgomery County Community College, near Valley Forge. “Your freedom is on the ballot.” The president invoked the memory of George Washington and his troops at Valley Forge as a contrast to Trump. “Their mission, George Washington declared, was nothing less than a sacred cause,” he said. “Today, we’re here to answer the most important of questions. Is democracy still America’s sacred cause?” Trump responded to the speech at a political rally in Sioux City, Iowa, on Friday by saying Biden was engaging in “pathetic fearmongering” and ignoring issues that matter to voters.

Heaven, Iowa

Former President Donald Trump arrives for a rally at Clinton Middle School on January 6, 2024 in Clinton, Iowa. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Former President Donald Trump arrives for a rally at Clinton Middle School on January 6, 2024 in Clinton, Iowa. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Dispatch readers in Iowa will be happy to know that we here at TMD know the difference between University of Iowa basketball star Caitlin Clark and CNN anchor Kaitlan Collins—and we can only hope this morning’s newsletter won’t need to be corrected by any readers in New Hampshire.

GOP candidates are squabbling in the Hawkeye State, but one week out from the January 15 Iowa Republican Caucuses, former President Donald Trump looks poised to storm his way to victory. The former president is currently polling at 51 percent in the RealClearPolitics Iowa average, ahead of his nearest competitor by more than 30 points. But the lingering sense of inevitability hasn’t stopped Trump’s main challengers—including former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis—from finally pulling out all the stops and escalating their attacks on the frontrunner. With just days to go before voting in the GOP primary officially begins, is their willingness to take on Trump too little, too late?

Trump has held firm to a sizable polling lead in Iowa since the 2024 race began, hovering around the high-40s to low-50s since the spring—despite spending much less time in the state than his opponents. He has, and will continue to be, much more present in Iowa ahead of the caucuses, however, and his surrogates in the state have included MAGA stars like South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, and actress Roseanne Barr.

The former president himself made several appearances in Iowa over the weekend, giving speeches across the state encouraging supporters to “vote, vote, vote,” while indulging in some old-fashioned Trumpisms.

In Newton, Iowa, on Friday, Trump once again mocked the late GOP Sen. John McCain, relating injuries McCain sustained while a prisoner of war in Vietnam to his vote against repealing the Affordable Care Act. In Clinton, Iowa, on Saturday, Trump praised the January 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol “patriotic and peaceful,” and called for the release of the “J6 hostages,” urging President Joe Biden to drop the charges against those who had committed crimes that day. “I call them hostages,” Trump said at the rally, to cheers. “Some people call them prisoners, I call them hostages. Release the J6 hostages, Joe. Release them, Joe. You could do it real easy, Joe.” He also called Biden a “threat to democracy,” citing his rival’s “incompetence.”

Aside from the characteristically rambling speeches, Trump’s campaign has pieced together a forceful get-out-the-vote apparatus aimed at turning out thousands of first-time caucusgoers and evangelical voters and squashing his primary opponents early. Lurking in the background are 91 criminal charges—including those related to his attempts to overturn the 2020 election—that could clutter his campaign schedule with court appearances through 2024, and a growing number of states that are moving to remove his name from primary ballots.

These latest efforts may be redounding to Trump’s favor. “These heavy-handed efforts to disenfranchise his supporters, I think, are counterproductive,” former U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr, who opposes Trump’s nomination, told Fox News over the weekend. “If anything, they make him stronger.”

Competing for second place—or a miracle upset—are DeSantis and Haley, at 19 percent and 16 percent in the RealClear polling average, respectively. As the Dispatch Politics crew wrote last week of the race in Trump’s shadow: 

In Iowa, DeSantis has been buoyed by key endorsements from Gov. [Kim] Reynolds and Bob Vander Plaats, a prominent social conservative and caucus kingmaker by reputation. But Haley has allocated millions more in Iowa ad spending for the coming weeks and has increased her Iowa campaigning presence in recent weeks, threatening to retake ground crisscrossed all last year by the DeSantis campaign.

Though the leading competitors tended to tiptoe around Trump for most of 2023, the new year has brought a new willingness to criticize the frontrunner. When asked if he thought Trump was pro-life at a CNN town hall last Thursday, DeSantis replied, “Of course not,” citing the former president’s flip-flopping on the issue of abortion. “I think for pro-life voters in Iowa, Donald Trump is taking positions that are way different than what he professed to believe when he first ran for president in 2016.” This theme—that Trump today is a significantly different, less-ideal candidate than he once was—has become a core tenet of DeSantis’ recent attacks in the closing weeks of the campaign, hitting Trump on his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and his failure to meaningfully address immigration or border security while in office. 

But with DeSantis’ campaign seemingly on its last legs, Trump’s team has refocused much of its energy on Haley (though some pro-Trump activists have insisted they’ll continue to attack DeSantis for “sport”). At a campaign event in Sioux Center, Iowa, on Friday, Trump alleged “Haley’s campaign is being funded by Biden donors,” casting her as standing against everything his movement believes. “She likes the globe. I like America first.”

The Haley campaign has touted the uptick in attacks as a positive development and a sign of momentum. “Donald Trump must be seeing the same Nikki momentum that we’re seeing,” Haley campaign spokeswoman Olivia Perez-Cubas told Politico. “Why else spend millions in false ads attacking her? It’s clear this is a two-person race between Nikki and Trump.” Haley’s campaign is certainly looking to outperform expectations in Iowa, but its real focus is on New Hampshire, where she is polling neck-and-neck with the frontrunner.

This upcoming Thursday, Haley and DeSantis will face off in a CNN-hosted debate at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, giving Iowa voters one last chance to weigh their options. 

Unless, of course, they want to hear what Trump has to say. In that case, they’ll have to tune into the Fox News town hall, where moderators Bret Baier and Martha McCallum will ask Trump questions undeterred by his rivals—as has become customary throughout the campaign.

Worth Your Time

  • In his latest New York Times newsletter, old friend David French defended the Colorado Supreme Court’s decision to remove Trump from the ballot under the 14th Amendment. “Since the rise of Trump, he and his movement have transgressed constitutional, legal and moral boundaries at will and then, when Americans attempt to impose consequences for those transgressions, Trump’s defenders and critics alike caution that the consequences will be dangerous or destabilizing,” he wrote. “This is where we are and have now been for years: The Trump movement commits threats, violence, and lies. And then it tries to escape accountability for those acts through more threats, more violence, and more lies. At the heart of the ‘but the consequences’ argument against disqualification is a confession that if we hold Trump accountable for his fomenting violence on [January] 6, he might foment additional violence now. Enough. It’s time to apply the plain language of the Constitution to Trump’s actions and remove him from the ballot—without fear of the consequences. Republics are not maintained by cowardice.”
  • Writing for the Orange County Register, Steven Greenhut explained the modern miracle that is cheap aluminum foil and the corresponding modern indifference to conveniences that would shock earlier generations. “Americans are so used to our unparalleled abundance that we don’t pause and appreciate what this means in the context of human existence,” he wrote. “An NPR story on the history of aluminum notes that ‘it used to be more valuable than gold.’ The National Park Service explained that in 1884, ‘The U.S. government wanted to have a precious metal cap for the (Washington) monument, so it chose aluminum. I used it to cover up ordinary Christmas dinner leftovers. … Just as 19th-century robber barons would be astounded that we use aluminum as a throwaway, struggling people throughout history (and in less-affluent nations today) would be shocked we spend so much time, wealth, and effort making life costlier and more difficult. Obsessing over plastic bag use, gas stoves, electric vehicles, fish ladders, nearly immeasurable pollutants, and cow emissions might be justifiable—but it certainly smacks of ‘first world problems.’” 

Presented Without Comment

Politico: Pentagon Didn’t Inform Biden, White House for Days About [Defense Secretary Lloyd] Austin’s Hospitalization

The Pentagon did not tell President Joe Biden and other top officials about Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s hospitalization for three days, three U.S. officials said.

National security adviser Jake Sullivan and other senior White House aides didn’t know of Austin’s Jan. 1 hospitalization until the Defense Department sent over word Jan. 4, two other U.S. officials said. Sullivan informed Biden shortly after DOD’s Thursday notification.

Also Presented Without Comment

NBC News: [House GOP Conference Chair] Elise Stefanik Echos Trump’s Comments Calling Jan. 6 Rioters in Prison ‘Hostages’

NBC News’ Kristen Welker: “Do you still think [January 6] was a tragic day? Do you think that the people who stormed the Capitol should be held responsible to the full extent of the law?”

Stefanik: “I have concerns about the treatment of January 6 hostages.”

Also Also Presented Without Comment

The Guardian: [Supreme Court Justice Brett] Kavanaugh Will ‘Step Up’ to Keep Trump on Ballots, Ex-President’s Lawyer Says

Toeing the Company Line

  • The Monthly Mailbag (🔒) is back, and it’s assistant editor Luis Parrales’ turn to answer member questions. Drop any you have in the comments here.
  • In the newsletters: The Dispatch Politics crew previewed Biden’s Valley Forge speech, Jonah mused on his urban, intellectual, and television wanderings, Nick unpacked (🔒) what the GOP presidential primary has really been about, and Stirewalt argued (🔒) that January 6 will be an enduring element of our political memory as we head into 2024. 
  • On the podcasts: Jonah ruminated on the Nikki Haley and Ron DeSantis town halls, the U.S. response to the Houthis, and the reification of diversity, and Jamie is joined by political reporter Ben Jacobs on The Dispatch Podcast to discuss the state of the Republican primary.
  • On the site over the weekend: Aryana Petrosky reviewed David Brooks’ latest book, How to Know a Person; Nicole Penn unpacked what Hayao Miyazaki’s latest film says about art and grief; and Marvin Olasky explored the different approaches of Christian homeless shelters.

Let Us Know

Do you think the GOP presidential primary is over? Do Nikki Haley or Ron DeSantis have a shot?

James Scimecca works on editorial partnerships for The Dispatch, and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2023, he served as the director of communications at the Empire Center for Public Policy. When James is not promoting the work of his Dispatch colleagues, he can usually be found running along the Potomac River, cooking up a new recipe, or rooting for a beleaguered New York sports team.

Grayson Logue is the deputy editor of The Morning Dispatch and is based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Prior to joining the company in 2023, he worked in political risk consulting, helping advise Fortune 50 companies. He was also an assistant editor at Providence Magazine and is a graduate student at the University of Edinburgh, pursuing a Master’s degree in history. When Grayson is not helping write The Morning Dispatch, he is probably working hard to reduce the number of balls he loses on the golf course.