Hello, and happy New Year’s Eve. I don’t know about you, but if I still wrote checks, I’d just now be remembering to date them with 2023 instead of 2022. It was just that whirlwind of a year. To be honest, we haven’t had anything resembling a normal year since we launched The Dispatch back in 2019. (Remember, correlation does not imply causation!)
No, the fates keep finding new ways to engender historic levels of chaos: There were no pandemics or impeachments or insurrections this year, but we did see a former president charged with a felony (91 felonies, actually) for the first time in American history, not one but two House speakership elections, Hamas launch the worst pogrom against the Jewish people since the Holocaust, and the war in Ukraine continuing to grind on.
There is no tidy way that is fair—nor any fair way that is tidy—for me to crank out a list of our best work of the year. There was a lot of it, and I’d definitely forget something. But in compiling this look back on 2023, I tried to select some of our best big-picture analyses on the most important events. Thanks for reading, and here’s to a great 2024.
Rep. Kevin McCarthy really wanted the speaker’s gavel, but Republicans secured only a slim majority in the 2022 midterms, so he needed the support of just about everyone in the GOP conference to secure it. Rep. Matt Gaetz and a small group of Republicans seized the opportunity to demand concessions, notably “more power for rank-and-file members on the House floor and a one-member threshold to begin proceedings to depose McCarthy if he does become speaker,” as we noted in a piece after the 11th vote. After 15 votes on the House floor, during which time McCarthy supporter Rep. Mike Rogers nearly came to blows with Gaetz, the California Republican finally became speaker.
The humiliation of that speakership vote was nothing, however, compared to what McCarthy would endure nine months later. That “one-member threshold” concession came back to haunt him, as Gaetz invoked it after McCarthy made a deal with Democrats to avoid a government shutdown. Unfortunately, Gaetz had a plan to get rid of McCarthy, but he didn’t have anyone to replace him. That led to another bout of drama. McCarthy was voted out, resulting in Steve Scalise and Jim Jordan both seeking the job—but neither could garner enough support. Eventually, we ended up with a little-known congressman, Mike Johnson of Louisiana, as speaker. Michael Warren provided some background on Johnson for those in need of a catchup: “He is known internally for promoting conservative policies on abortion and same-sex marriage, yet is regarded highly even by his more socially moderate colleagues as a trustworthy person.”
The year that began with the House floor looking like the setting for an over-the-top reality show ended with McCarthy exiting the stage all together. He officially retired at the end of the year, but sat with David Drucker for an “exit interview” before he left. David looked back at McCarthy’s journey from California state representative to the speaker’s office, asked McCarthy about Trumpism’s influence on the Republican conference, and got into the fight McCarthy had with the Gaetz bloc. “There is a group inside the Freedom Caucus that would argue against Mother’s Day,” McCarthy told him. “They just want to fight. They don’t care about policy, they just care about fighting.”
War between Israel and Hamas is not new—or uncommon—but such conflicts tend to last weeks, or maybe even just days. Since we woke up to the news on October 7, however, we knew this round of fighting would be different—and not just because of the horrific nature of Hamas’ attacks on Israeli civilians and the large number of hostages who were swept away into Gaza. The fight between a small country of 10 million people and the Iranian-backed terrorist outfit that governs the 2 million residents of the Gaza Strip has had global implications. And it has revealed a strain of antisemitism around the world that is both broad and deep.
Fortuitously, Charlotte had recently moved to Tel Aviv, and she’s provided some great on-the-ground reporting in recent months. She explained how Qatar has positioned itself as a player on the international stage by maintaining relationships with both Western nations and terror groups like Hamas and Hezbollah—and noted that Qatar’s intentions in mediating the hostage exchanges in November may not be entirely altruistic. Her pieces about civilian groups stepping up to provide assistance and about the struggles of Israelis displaced within their own country put a face on the human toll of the war.
We’ve also covered numerous policy and diplomacy angles. Paul D. Miller suggested that, when Israel finally eradicates Hamas, Gaza should be handed over to the United Nations. Jonathan Ruhe looked at how Iran is challenging the U.S. throughout the Middle East at the same time that Hamas is waging war against Israel, and advised the Biden administration to undo America’s history of hollow threats against the Islamic Republic.
And then there’s the antisemitism. I’d write “and then there’s the rise in antisemitism,” but I don’t know that the war has inspired new levels of Jew hatred so much as it has revealed something that’s been there all along. Kevin touched on this, pointing out that many of the arguments made against Zionism really just boil down to antisemitism. Many of the protests on college campuses and in major cities around the world have gone beyond support for the Palestinians to feature outright support for Hamas—and a number of antisemitic tropes. And when House Republicans called the presidents of Harvard, Penn, and MIT to testify how they were handling antisemitism on their campuses, it … did not go well. Penn’s president has since resigned, and pressure is rising on Harvard President Claudine Gay to do the same. Jonah argued the presidents’ attitude was unsurprising, really, given how progressive academics have been promoting critical race theory and breaking the world down into oppressors vs. the oppressed.
While Hamas started the war and one can blame the terrorists for all the collateral damage, understanding the Palestinian perspective is also important. British Palestinian writer John Aziz looked at polling that shows Hamas is popular among Gazans, and tried to make sense of why—bravado, fear of Hamas, antisemitism? “Or is it some blend of all the above, combined with the incoherent wailing of a desperate, traumatized people?” he asked. And he argued that, to have peace, Palestinians must abandon Hamas and work toward negotiations.
Donald Trump’s Legal Woes
Where to begin? The former president has been indicted four times this year, and he’s facing a total of 91 felony charges. Manhattan D.A. Alvin Bragg made history when he charged Trump for falsifying documents in relation to his hush money payments to Stormy Daniels in 2016. Trump enters 2024 facing federal charges for allegedly mishandling classified documents after leaving the White House and trying to overturn the 2020 election, and state charges in Georgia for trying to do the same in the state.
We realized we had an opportunity to cover this unprecedented mashup of jurisprudence and politics by combining the talents of Sarah, who is not only a lawyer but has worked on campaigns and in the Justice Department, and Michael Warren, an experienced political reporter. Enter The Collision. Check out the complete archives, but for a few excellent examples of their work, see how they ranked the four cases against Trump pondered what would happen if Trump wins the presidency and a state-level case such as the one in Georgia is ongoing.
You can count the number of staff editorials we’ve published in the past four years on one hand—we try to save those for the really big/bad stuff—but we used the occasion of the classified documents charges against Trump to publish an editorial warning Republicans that continuing to defend Trump is a bad idea—both morally and politically—and calling on those who express concerns about him privately but support him publicly to drop the act.
Most recently, Trump has faced efforts to kick him off the ballot in several states, with petitioners arguing that he’s ineligible under Section 3 of the 14th Amendment, which bars from office any officer who has taken an oath to uphold the Constitution and then engages in insurrection. It’s a thorny legal question, and David and Sarah welcomed William Baude—one of the authors of a law review article weighing the issue—onto Advisory Opinions to discuss the case. And don’t miss Sarah and David’s emergency podcast from after the Colorado Supreme Court ruled Trump ineligible to be on the ballot there (pending a whole bunch of litigation).
The 2024 Primary
One of the more confounding aspects of the 2024 Republican presidential primary is not just that Donald Trump is the overwhelming frontrunner, but that every bit of bad news for him legally seems to be great news for him in terms of polling and fundraising. David Deucker notes that this has a lot to do with the fact that a lot of Republicans have problems with the Republican Party: “That Trump is a former president, the titular leader of the GOP, and therefore the epitome of the Republican establishment, is immaterial,” he writes. “The Republican base still views him as a political outsider who uniquely speaks to the beef they have with their party and Washington.
We entered the year waiting for Ron DeSantis to announce his campaign and see if maybe his strategy of running as “Trump, but competent” might pay off. We watched as a bevy of other candidates entered the race—from Nikki Haley, to Tim Scott, to Mike Pence, to people who never had a chance like former Rep. Will Hurd, former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, and wealthy North Dakota Gov. Doug Bergum. Warren had a great piece profiling Scott that could probably also apply to most of the traditional conservatives running: “Tim Scott’s a Good Guy. But Is That Enough?” (For Scott, it wasn’t.)
As early as April, David Drucker highlighted one problem that would plague DeSantis throughout the campaign—he might be an effective governor, but he’s not so great at campaigning. Nick has written about the primary extensively, particularly DeSantis’ struggles. He writes every day and it’s hard to play favorites, so I’ll let you pick.
We launched The Dispatch Politics newsletter this year, and Andrew, Drucker and Mike Warren have been filing from early primary states and other key battlegrounds across the country. In a recent issue, they looked at why Sen. Josh Hawley, who is plenty popular in his own state and doesn’t need to be in Trump’s good graces, nevertheless endorsed the former president—and what it all says about Trumpism and the state of the GOP.
If you find all of this as bizarre and mystifying as we do, and if you could use a laugh, may I recommend going back and reviewing this weird but delightful piece in which Kevin imagined himself as the moderator of the first primary debate.
Best of the Rest
I’m leaving out a ton—the war in Ukraine has unfortunately, but understandably, been forced to share global attention as Israel fights Hamas and the election heats up. But you should check out Kevin’s report from the war-torn country, where he visited Kyiv and Irpin. More than a year after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, Patrick Brown looked at how the pro-life movement is struggling and tried to figure out what happened. Speaking of the Supreme Court, Adam White looked back on the term that ended in June and what the court’s decisions said about issues it would likely confront over the next few years.