January 16, 2024
[Warning: paragraphs 6–8 talk about rape.]
In yesterday’s Iowa caucus, 51% of Republican caucusgoers chose former president Donald Trump as their preferred candidate for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination. Twenty-one percent of Republican caucusgoers chose Florida governor Ron DeSantis. Nineteen percent chose former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley. Seven percent chose technology entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy. These results mean that 20 of Iowa’s 40 delegates will go to Trump; 8 to DeSantis; 7 to Haley; and three to Ramaswamy. An apparent Trump surrogate in the primary debates, Ramaswamy suspended his campaign after the caucus and endorsed Trump.
Turnout was much lower than expected, with only about 110,000 people voting. That’s about 15% of Iowa’s three quarters of a million registered Republicans out of a population of just over 3 million people.
On Friday, January 12, in Des Moines, DeSantis blamed right-wing media for Trump’s continued popularity. “He’s got basically a Praetorian Guard of the conservative media—Fox News, the websites, all this stuff,” DeSantis said, referring to the elite unit of the Roman army that protected the emperor both physically and through intelligence collecting. “They just don’t hold him accountable, because they’re worried about losing viewers and they don’t want to have the ratings go down. And that’s just the reality.”
For his part, true to form, Trump has shared a story that Haley is not eligible to be president because her parents were not citizens when she was born in the U.S. in 1972. This reflects both his “birther” history and his promise to end the birthright citizenship established in 1868 by the Fourteenth Amendment. Also true to form, he made no accusations of voter fraud or rigged voting last night as he has done in the past when he lost elections; indeed, he told supporters this was his third win in Iowa. The truth is that in 2016 he lost Iowa’s caucus vote to Texas senator Ted Cruz.
The Iowa results pretty much told us what we already knew. Trump remains the dominant leader of the hard-right older Republicans who turn out for caucuses, but is so generally unpopular that 49% of Iowa caucusgoers—the party’s most dedicated supporters in a deeply Republican state—chose someone else. The Trump base is older—entry polls showed that only 27% of yesterday’s voters were under the age of 50—and Trump won most handily in the rural, white counties that look least like the rest of the country. His greatest increase in support since 2016 came among white evangelicals.
That support from those who claim fervent religious beliefs seems an odd fit with the candidate, who was in a federal courtroom in New York City today for the start of a trial to determine the additional damages he owes writer E. Jean Carroll for defaming her after she said he raped her in the 1990s, claiming she was lying to sell books. Carroll sued him in 2019, but the case has been delayed as Trump argued that he had presidential immunity for his comments.
While it was delayed, in May 2023 a jury found Trump liable for sexual abuse in a second civil trial known as Carroll II. The jury ordered Trump to pay Carroll $5 million. When Trump’s team countersued Carroll for defamation, saying the jury had found him liable not for rape, but for sexual abuse, U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan said Carroll’s words were “substantially true.” Kaplan made it clear that New York law defines rape very narrowly. He said “the jury found that Mr. Trump in fact…‘raped’ her as many people commonly understand the word ‘rape.’” “The jury,” he wrote, “found that Mr. Trump forcibly penetrated her vagina.”
Today the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit denied Trump’s claim of presidential immunity for his defamation of Carroll and dismissed his argument that his comments weren’t defamatory.
Carroll II established guidelines for the previous case as it finally moved forward. In a pretrial judgment, U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan determined that Trump is liable for defamation for his ridicule of Carroll. Trump remains undeterred. As he arrived at the courthouse this morning, Alex Woodward noted in The Independent, his social media account released a flood of “potentially defamatory statements” attacking Carroll.
In Politico, Erica Orden noted that today’s trial is just down the street from the Trump trial for civil fraud that ended last Thursday. In that case, Judge Arthur Engoron has already ruled that Trump committed business fraud. The trial was over fines, disgorgement of ill-gotten gains, and the Trump Organization’s continuing ability to do business in New York. Trump’s outburst at the end of the trial attacking the judge and New York attorney general Letitia James suggests that he has little faith that he is going to win that case and is instead turning it into a political pulpit as part of his attempt to undermine the American justice system. On Thursday morning, law enforcement officers showed up at Judge Engoron’s house in a “swatting” incident after someone falsely told police a violent crime was being committed there.
Attorney Joe Tacopina filed papers to withdraw himself and his two partners from Trump’s defense team yesterday.
White evangelicals heartily endorse a crook and a rapist apparently because they expect that he will put in place the world they envision, one controlled by white, patriarchal evangelical Christians.
But as even the Iowa caucuses indicated, the idea of replacing American democracy with an authoritarian who will enact Christian nationalism is not generally popular. In the Washington Post on January 11, Philip Bump explored a new poll by YouGov showing that when U.S. adult citizens are presented with 30 of Trump’s declared policies, majorities oppose 22 of them. A majority approved only four of them, and those were the ones the right wing has been hammering: banning hormonal or surgical treatment for transgender minors (57%), legally limiting recognized genders (53%), requiring immigrants to remain in Mexico while their asylum claims are being processed (56%), and—by a narrow majority of 51%—deporting immigrants in the U.S. illegally.
Some of Trump’s signature policies are deeply unpopular. Only 21% of Americans support getting rid of the nonpartisan civil service; only 18% support giving the president control over regulatory agencies like the Federal Communications Commission. Only 31% support sending U.S. troops into U.S. cities to enforce order; only 33% support sending troops into Mexico to fight drug cartels. Only 23% support further cuts to taxes on corporations. Only 29% want to get rid of the Affordable Care Act (which has seen a record 20.5 million Americans enroll so far in the current enrollment period); only 28% support withdrawing from the World Health Organization. Only 38% want to end birthright citizenship, the same percentage as those who want to end U.S. aid to Ukraine.
The YouGov study shows that only 30% of Americans support withdrawing from the Paris Climate Accords, and a December 2023 CNN poll showed that 73% want the government to do more to address climate change. And yet, today, Scott Waldman of Politico previewed the Trump team’s preparation for ending all efforts to address climate change. Complaining that the people in Trump’s first administration were “weak,” Trump advisor Steve Milloy told Waldman that “The approach is to go back to all-out fossil fuel production and sit on the EPA.”
“We are writing a battle plan, and we are marshaling our forces,” Paul Dans, director of Project 2025 at the Heritage Foundation, said last year. “Never before has the whole conservative movement banded together to systematically prepare to take power Day 1 and deconstruct the administrative state.”
Meanwhile, Politico’s roundup of Washington, D.C., news shows that President Joe Biden has invited top congressional leaders of both parties—Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), House speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA), and House minority leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY)—and relevant committee chairs to a meeting at the White House tomorrow to discuss the stalled aid package to Ukraine, Israel, Taiwan, and the U.S. border. Also today, the Senate is considering the continuing resolution to fund the government before the current continuing resolution ends on Friday.
Speaker Johnson has pushed off House votes until Wednesday out of apparent concern about the snow in Washington today.