Our Best Stuff From a Crazy (and Historic) Week

The Iowa debacle, the State of the Union spectacle, and more.

Well, the Democrats certainly found a way to make sure that the conclusion of Donald Trump’s impeachment trial didn’t overshadow the Iowa caucuses that marked the formal start to the 2020 primary season. All they needed was a massive technological failure that was guaranteed to anger the candidate who complained that the 2016 Democratic primary was rigged against him. That in turn left a high bar for the State of the Union speech to break through the noise. Have no fear: Trump awarded Rush Limbaugh the Medal of Freedom in the middle of the speech and Nancy Pelosi dramatically tore up her copy of the speech at the end. Yes, yes, we do feel like we’re living in someone’s rejected idea for a reality TV show. Thanks for asking.

We hit the high notes in The Morning Dispatch. Elsewhere, Andrew traveled around Iowa, David and Jonah both weighed in on the fallout from the caucuses, Declan went to New Hampshire, and we even had pieces on topics outside of those big stories. If you like what we’re doing please share widely with your friends and encourage them to sign up. A friendly heads up: All of our content is free for now, but we will be announcing a date for our paywall very soon. Thank you to those who signed up ahead of time.

Make America Competent Again

There will be finger-pointing after the Iowa caucus debacle, and it might last longer than the primary season itself. David French looks past the technology failures and the resulting communications failures that have left Pete Buttigieg and Bernie Sanders both declaring themselves victors to examine our broader (and deeper) problem of incompetence. He takes us down a thought-experiment path that revisits hanging chads, bad intel around Saddam Hussein, subprime mortgages, and the consequences of calling ISIS the “jayvee team.” “America will never be free of mistakes, and the more difficult and complex the job, the greater the likelihood of confusion and failure,” he writes. “But perhaps America’s political and journalistic class needs a bit of a course correction—instead of measuring virtue by ideas and intentions, let’s place a greater emphasis on execution and accountability.” In a different angle on the same topic, Jonah Goldberg looks at how our political parties have effectively dismantled themselves, and how that has created a wide array of problems. 

Mayor Pete Is Having a Moment

Whatever the actual vote totals were in Iowa, Pete Buttigieg was not wrong to give a victory speech or three. His strong showing gave him an immediate boost in New Hampshire, with two polls showing him virtually tied with Vermont native Bernie Sanders (and well ahead of Massachussetts’ Sen. Elizabeth Warren). That leaves Joe Biden in an awkward--and dangerous--position. Declan Garvey reports from the ground: “Buttigieg held five events in the Granite State on Tuesday, participated in a town hall on Wednesday, and spoke to veterans in Merrimack Thursday afternoon. Biden made two get-out-the-vote appearances Tuesday and one on Wednesday (coupled with a CNN town hall in the evening), but was notably absent from the campaign trail on Thursday.”

A Year of Discontent on Campus

The comments read like satire: “His confident lack of awareness perpetuates the unsafe white-centric and white-supremacist environment.” And “[the instructor] creates a negative space to allow microaggressions and is a strong example of white fragility.” But this ain’t The Onion, folks. They are real-life examples of reports to the University of Wisconsin “Bias or Hate” tool. (In the first, the professor used the term “sacred cow” and in the second, a teacher commented positively on ideological diversity.) Christian Schneider acquired 107 such reports the school from a FOIA request and explains how such “bias response” tools might actually contribute to a sense of learned helplessness and victimization on college campuses.

Other highlights from The Dispatch this week:

*The Trump administration announced Thursday that the U.S. had killed al-Qaeda bigwig Qasim al-Raymi, leader of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and a deputy to Ayman al-Zawahiri. Not coincidentally, Thomas Joscelyn had just discussed al-Raymi in his Vital Interests newsletter on why we still need to worry about the terrorist organization.

* We can complain that neither major party pays even lip service to deficits and debt anymore, but sooner or later we’ll have to do more. Brian Riedl does the math on Social Security and Medicare, and he spills a lot of red ink in the process.

* Mitt Romney rose to the moment and became the first senator in U.S. history to vote to convict a president of his own party in an impeachment trial. What about the others? Declan reached out to their offices and tracked their public statements

* On the pods this week: On Advisory Opinions, David and Sarah nerd out on the 17th Amendment; Jonah talked to Steve for the first Remnant podcast and Bridget Phetasy for the second, and on the flagship Dispatch podcast, the crew discussed all the big stories: Iowa, the State of the Union, and impeachment.