Mike Bloomberg’s Critique of the Primary System Makes Sense


Why are Democratic candidates running all over Iowa when the nominee will have no chance of winning the state in November?  Former New York mayor and presidential candidate Mike Bloomberg is asking this question.

Here is a taste of his recent piece at CNN:

It’s true the party has come a long way from the days of candidates being selected in smoke-filled back rooms by party bosses. But our current system—in which two early states dominate the candidates’ time and resources—is in urgent need of reform.

The Democratic Party reflects America’s incredible diversity. But the first two voting states, Iowa and New Hampshire, are among the most homogenous in the nation. While it’s great that candidates reach out to voters in these states at every pancake breakfast and town hall around, what about African-American, Latino, Asian American, Pacific Islanders, and other voters in places like Detroit, Montgomery, Phoenix, and Houston? I’ve visited them all recently, and almost to a person, voters tell me the other campaigns have almost no presence in their cities.

The problem is compounded by the fact that the two early voting states are unlikely to be consequential in the general election. So as a party, we are spending all of our time and resources outside of the battleground states we need to win.

Meanwhile, President Trump is spending his time in Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida, and North Carolina — all states we lost in 2016 by razor-thin margins. In 2020, we need to reverse at least some of those results — and we also have the chance to flip other states that voted for Trump, including Arizona and even Texas.

But right now, we are in danger of repeating 2016 in large part because, as Democrats focus on Iowa and New Hampshire, Trump is operating at full-speed in the battleground states, with field staff and targeted television and digital advertisements. Tuesday, while Democrats are on stage in Des Moines, he’ll be speaking to thousands of supporters in Wisconsin — a state Democrats need to rebuild the Blue Wall.

Read the entire piece here.

Steve King Compares His Suffering to Jesus on the Cross

King and trump

Trump stumping for King

Back in November, I noted that Rep. Steve King of Iowa’s 4th Congressional District is a white nationalist, favors a concrete border wall, compared immigrants to dogs, retweets Nazi sympathizers, said that only white people contribute to “civilization,” said that “we can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies,” and has a Confederate flag on his desk.  Read my post, with complete references, here.

Earlier this year, King lost his spot on the House Judiciary and Agriculture committees when he said in an interview that he did not think the phrases “white nationalist” and “white supremacist” were offensive.

You would think that King has learned to keep his mouth shut.  He has not.

Here is a taste of Alex Kirkpatrick’s piece at KCCI-Des Moines:

Rep. Steve King told constituents Tuesday that he has “better insight into what (Jesus) went through for us,” likening criticism from “accusers” in the U.S. House after fellow GOP colleagues stripped him of committee assignments.

King made the comments at a town hall meeting in Cherokee, a couple of days after Easter Sunday in which Christians celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

“For all that I’ve been through — and it seems strange for me to say it — but I am at a certain peace, and it is because of a lot of prayers for me,” King said, according to a Facebook live video posted on his page.

“When I have to step down to the floor of the House of Representatives and look up at those 400-and-some accusers, you know we just passed through Easter and Christ’s passion, and I have better insight into what he went through for us, partly because of that experience,” the Kiron Republican, who is a member of the Roman Catholic Church, continued.

Read the entire piece here.

Who are the “Good Christian People” Who Re-Elected Steve King?

King and trump

Last night the people of the 4th Iowa Congressional District re-elected Steve King.  Here is King’s track record:

And we could go on.

Yet, he continues to win re-election.

One of his constituents, Dordt College professor and writer James Calvin Schapp, is not amused.  Here is a taste of his post “Tribal politics“:

Almost 75 percent of my neighbors, just about all of them church-goers, voted for a man who was scolded by his own Republican party’s election chairman for his unseemly bigoted comments, a man who on the day before the election offered up a slur to two Supreme Court justices for no other reason than what he said is what he thinks, what he believes. 

Just about 75 percent of Sioux County voted for Steve King, the man internationally derided for bigotry, even by his own. No other member of Congress so willingly and frequently says things so universally recognized and understood as putrid. 

Yesterday, the good Christian people returned Steve King to Congress. It’s impossible not to wonder about “good Christian people.”

Sometimes people who are not from here ask me how it is that northwest Iowa voted so overwhelmingly for a presidential candidate like Trump. The answer, sadly enough, has become more and more clear every day: because they voted their values. 

In my many years as a writer–fiction, plays, meditations, histories, occasional essays–I’ve honored my religious and ethnic heritage. I’m a board member of the Sioux County Museum because I really do appreciate the history of my people, my tribe. It’s a story I love to tell–and have in many ways.

This morning I feel disowned. 

Yesterday I said some would be angry and sad this morning, the morning-after. 

Well, I am. I’m downright sick at heart and soul. Almost 75 per cent of Sioux County, Iowa, approve of Steve King. 

They’re not my tribe. They’re his.

Read the entire post here.

Thanks to my friend Doug Anderson for bringing Schapp’s post to my attention.

What Happens When the Economy of an Iowa Town is Powered by Workers that Trump Wants to Deport?


Ryan Lizza‘s recent piece on Iowa dairy farmers, immigration, and Devin Nunes‘s family is riveting.  A few key points:

  • The Nunes family farm is not located in California.  The family moved it to northwest Iowa over a decade ago.
  • The Nunes family farm relies heavily on undocumented immigrants.  Without these immigrants the farm would fold.  They are scared to death of ICE.
  • The Nunes family farm is located in Rep. Steve King‘s district, one of the most anti-immigrant, pro-Trump districts in America.
  • When the Nunes family learned that Lizza was in town and was working on a piece that exposed these contradictions, they stalked him.

Here is a taste:

There is massive political hypocrisy at the center of this: Trump’s and King’s rural-farm supporters embrace anti-immigrant politicians while employing undocumented immigrants. The greatest threat to Iowa dairy farmers, of course, is not the press. It’s Donald Trump.

But that’s not how the Nunes family apparently saw it. On my third day in Sibley, I became used to the cars tailing me. In the morning, I was followed by the redhead in the muddy white Yukon. In the afternoon, there was a shift change and I was followed by a different, later-model white Yukon. I stuck a GoPro on my dashboard and left it running whenever I parked my car. When I reviewed the videos, one of the two Yukons could always be seen slowly circling as I ate lunch or interviewed someone.

There was no doubt about why I was being followed. According to two sources with firsthand knowledge, NuStar did indeed rely, at least in part, on undocumented labor. One source, who was deeply connected in the local Hispanic community, had personally sent undocumented workers to Anthony Nunes Jr.’s farm for jobs. “I’ve been there and bring illegal people,” the source said, asserting that the farm was aware of their status. “People come here and ask for work, so I send them over there.” When I asked how many people working at dairies in the area are documented citizens, the source laughed. “To be honest? None. One percent, maybe.”

Read the entire piece here.  It is worth your time.

What is Going on at the University of Iowa?

The University of Iowa Campus looking west from Old Capitol and the Pentacrest.

The administration of the University of Iowa does not want a Christian student group called Business Leaders in Christ (BLinC) on campus because they do not permit LGBT students to hold leadership positions.  After de-registering BLinC as an official student group, a federal judge temporarily re-instated the group.

Over at Inside Higher Ed, Eboo Patel writes:

BLinC pointed out that lots of student groups are based around particular identities and affinities, and such associations generally reserve certain privileges for people who share those identities and affinities, thereby excluding people who do not. If the University was going to deregister BLinC, what was it going to do about the Imam Mahdi group, which wants its leaders to be Shia Muslim students? Or the Korean American Student Association? Students For Life? The Feminist Union? Would they all be required to have governing documents that complied with the University of Iowa’s human rights policy?

It turns out that, out of 513 student organizations at the University of Iowa, just 157 were in compliance with the University’s human rights policy. That means a whopping 356 were out of line.

A federal judge, in ordering that BLinC be temporarily restated as an official student organization, wondered why the University had applied its policy so unevenly.

I find this case extremely important and not at all easy.

Patel invokes the work of John Inazu in Confident Pluralism: Surviging and Thriving Through Deep Difference to help make sense of what is happening at the University of Iowa.

Here is a taste:

I belong to a religious community that excludes my wife. I am an Ismaili Muslim and my wife is a Sunni Muslim. Ismailis are defined by their belief in the Imam (a figure broadly similar to the Pope in Catholicism and the Dalai Lama in Tibetan Buddhism) who is held by Ismailis to be their leader and spiritual guide, the rightful interpreter of the Qur’an and Islamic tradition.

Only those who have declared formal belief in the Imam are allowed to take part in Ismaili spiritual ceremonies, or to enter certain Ismaili religious spaces. Ismailis are especially sensitive about these matters because we are minorities within the broader Muslim community who have experienced no small amount of life-threatening discrimination, and frankly still do.

This means that when I take our two children for prayers, my wife cannot come. When Prince Karim Aga Khan, the current Imam, made a special spiritual visit to the United States last year to celebrate being in office for 60 years, my wife was left out in the hall as the rest of our family went inside to be in the Imam’s sacred presence.

As you can imagine, I don’t like this very much. My wife likes it even less.

It’s also not something I have a vote in. There are no elections in the Ismaili interpretation of Islam. The Imam of the time is appointed by the previous Imam, has full authority to shape the rituals and practices of the faith, and then appoints representatives (both a priestly class of sorts and administrators) who are empowered to lead the community.

This Ismaili practice is distinctive in its particulars but not so strange in its general approach. Many religious communities have boundaries that include some and exclude others. If you are not Muslim, you cannot go to Mecca. If you are not Catholic, you cannot take communion. If you are not male, you cannot become part of the priesthood in either the Catholic or LDS churches.

Generally, there are not enough Ismailis at a college to form an official Ismaili Students Association. If there were, and if such groups needed to have some kind of recognition from an official Ismaili administrative body, it would surely say that at least the leaders of the group needed to be Ismaili. How could it be any different? How could the leaders of a religiously-oriented group be unable to enter the prayer hall of that group?

Under all-comers policies, a college would have to de-register an Ismaili Students Association. That would obviously negatively impact Ismaili students, who would lose access to college facilities and also lose the ability to advertise widely. It would also negatively impact the wider campus community. Ismailis love running social events and organizing service projects, and those are open to everyone. An organized Ismaili group would likely be involved in broader awareness campaigns around humanitarian issues in Central and South Asia, where a lot of Ismaili-run development projects take place. They would also simply be part of the diverse civil society of the campus, and by their presence educate people about the range of religious and cultural groups on the planet.

Doesn’t a college campus have a stake in the flourishing of identity groups like a hypothetical Ismaili Students Association? Doesn’t a diverse civic fabric require strong individual threads, including religious ones? 

Read the entire piece here.


The Mayor of a Midwestern City Takes a Civil Rights Tour


Jim Throgmorton, the mayor of Iowa City, Iowa, recently took a tour of major Civil Rights Movement sites in the South.  Here is a taste of his brief reflection at the Iowa City Press-Citizen:

After departing the parsonage, we visited the recently opened Legacy Museum in Montgomery. A “narrative museum,” it tells the history of black Americans from enslavement, through the Jim Crow era of lynching and racial segregation, through the heroic actions of the Civil Rights Movement, to the present moment of mass incarceration and retrenchment.

Again, imagine yourself with us. Shortly after you enter the museum, you turn down a darkened pathway lined with replicas of slave cages. Looking into the first of the cages, you see a hologram of an enslaved black woman waiting to be sold at the nearby auction block. She begins speaking directly to you. You feel like you’ve just encountered the ghost of a mother who was about to lose her husband and children. It is an emotionally shattering experience.

Every American would benefit from exploring it slowly and telling friends about what they learned.

Read the entire piece here.

As some of you know, I took a similar tour in June 2017.  It inspired the final chapter of Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.

Conservative Iowa Newspaper to Trump: “The campaign is over. You won”


In case you missed it, Trump spoke in Cedar Rapids, Iowa last night.  I tweeted some it.  (See below).

Yesterday the Cedar Rapids Gazette, a paper that leans conservative, ran a front page editorial on Trump’s visit titled “An Open Letter to President Upon His Return to Cedar Rapids.”

Here is a taste:

It’s always a big deal when a president comes to town. But we couldn’t help but notice the main event of your trip today is a campaign rally. We’re glad you’re also making a stop to tour Kirkwood Community College, an outstanding educational and economic development asset in our region.

Mr. President, the campaign is over. You won. Now is not the time to rally. Now is the time to sell your policies, listen to Americans with a stake in those efforts and govern.

Iowans have questions and concerns about your plans. They can’t be heard over the cheers of a rally.

Iowa farmers are concerned about how your efforts to rewrite trade agreements will affect valuable overseas markets for Iowa’s bounty. Your budget blueprint includes cuts in crop insurance and other programs our producers depend upon, especially now in tough times. They’re also worried about cuts to science agencies that approve new crop developments and responses to pests and disease.

Cedar Rapids still is waiting to hear whether the federal government will deliver on its promise to help pay for flood protection in the heart of the city. We hope you’ll let us know how you plan to address the issue and end our wait. And although we understand addressing climate change is not among your priorities, we will point out that the more frequent heavy rains it spawns have brought major flooding to this city twice in eight years. Preparing for the worst is a priority here, not a hoax.

Just a short chat with local leaders clearly would show the project’s importance.

We understand your strong desire to save America’s coal industry. But here in Iowa, we’re already generating a large percentage of our power through alternative energy sources. We’re a state that benefits from economic opportunities sparked by producing energy from the wind, the sun and the crops we grow.

Maybe you’ll see a wind farm or two as you fly in today.

More than 70,000 Iowans face losing health insurance obtained through the Affordable Care Act as uncertainty, indecision and partisan politics roil the health care system. You promised a “terrific” Obamacare replacement, but we haven’t seen anything resembling a terrific plan. There are fears of deep cuts to Medicaid funding for states such as Iowa, jeopardizing care for thousands more. Your appointee to run the Medicare and Medicaid system is the same consultant who advised Iowa to swiftly privatize its Medicaid program, spawning confusion and consternation for patients and providers.

Read the entire editorial here.

And here are a few tweets:

The Big Difference Between Iowa and New Hampshire GOP Voters

wleome_New_HampshireIt’s religion, of course.

Check out Tracie Mauriello’s article at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: “Devoutness doesn’t resonate as strongly in New Hampshire as it did in Iowa.” It does a nice job of explaining why GOP presidential candidates need to approach New Hampshire differently than Iowa.

I even got quoted at the end of the article about the independent spirit of New Hampshire voters.

Here is a taste:

Here in hardscrabble New Hampshire, the nation’s second-most secular state, you’re more likely to find candidates on barstools than in pews.

“Candidates who were appealing so openly to the religious right in Iowa are going to find their message faltering in New Hampshire a week later,” said Randall Balmer, who grew up in Iowa and now is chairman of the religion department at Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H.

To win here, candidates have to quickly tone down the religious conservative images they projected in evangelical Iowa.

“I don’t think you’re going to see Donald Trump going to church in New Hampshire” as he did in Iowa, said Seton Hall University political scientist Jo-Renee Formicola.

“Politics is about doing what you have to do in order to win votes, and if going to church is going to win votes, they’re going to go to church,” said Ms. Formicola, who studies church-state relations. “In New Hampshire, where do politicians go? They go to the bars. That’s where most of the business is done in New Hampshire.”

Read the entire piece here.

Evangelicals in Iowa Last Night

Cruz Iowa

I am not a pollster, political scientist, or sociologist, or theologian. (How’s that for lowering expectations!)  But here is my unscientific take about how to parse the evangelical vote in Iowa last night.

Last week Daniel Burke wrote an interesting piece at CNN suggesting that there were seven types of evangelicals in the United States.  Here is how he categorized them:

  1.  The Old Guard (leans Cruz):  James Dobson, Tony Perkins, and John Hagee)
  2.  Institutional Evangelicals (lean Rubio): Russell Moore and Rick Warren
  3.  Entrepreneurial Evangelicals (lean Trump): Paula White, Kenneth Copeland, and Jerry Falwell Jr.
  4.  Arm’s Length Evangelicals (lean Rubio): John Piper and Tim Keller
  5. Millennial Evangelicals: Eric Teetsel, Jordan Sekulow, and Johnnie Moore
  6. Liberal Evangelicals (lean Democrat): Jim Wallis, William Shaw, and Jimmy Carter
  7. Cultural Evangelicals (lean Trump):  People who say that they are evangelicals but do not go to church

I like these categories.  I think they work.  Falwell Jr. is not a natural theological fit with White and Copeland in the “Entrepreneurial” category, but I am not sure where else to put him, unless you put him in the “Old Guard” category because he is an extension of his father.

So here’s my theory:   The “cultural evangelicals” came out to caucus for Trump, but the entrepreneurial evangelicals (who held that famous prayer meeting in Trump Tower) may have left Trump for Cruz last night.  Cruz’s father Rafael, and maybe even Ted himself, is not immune to the kind of health and wealth prosperity gospel theology that people like Paula White and Kenneth Copeland espouse.

Rubio attracted, and will continue to attract, educated suburban evangelicals who normally avoid Pentecostal prayer meetings and change the channel when televangelists show up on their TV screens.  These are the evangelicals who send their kids to schools like Wheaton College or Messiah College or Moody Bible Institute (or even Liberty University) and have pastors with seminary degrees from places like Fuller Theological Seminary, Dallas Theological Seminary, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, Southern Seminary, and Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.

There are also class issues at stake here.  Middle-class to upper-middle class evangelicals with college degrees will gravitate to Rubio.  Working-class, largely uneducated evangelicals will continue to back Trump and Cruz.

All of this is irrelevant in New Hampshire, where there are very few evangelicals.  It will be interesting to see these GOP candidates (especially Trump) shift their rhetoric away from religion.  In South Carolina, religion will return, but it will be complicated even further by large African American populations.  This is where you may see Hillary play the religion card as well.

Iowa Caucus Jokes

Yesterday one of my former students sent me a Facebook message to tell me how much she is enjoying The Way of Improvement Leads Home podcast.  She said that her only “suggestion” for improvement was to put some more humor into the podcast.

I think I must have subconsciously imbibed her comment while I was sitting in a fast-food restaurant last night sipping coffee and waiting for my daughter to finish volleyball practice.   While following the Iowa caucus results on Twitter I found myself starting to write political jokes:

Here are three:

As I said on Facebook last night, my comedy influences are Buddy Hackett, Phyllis Diller, Sheckey Green, and Don Rickles.

Attention Conan, Colbert, Fallon, and Kimmel.  Contact me if you want to buy these for tonight’s monologue.  I’ll give them to you for a reasonable price! 🙂


Mark Silk Predicts Victories for Cruz and Sanders in Iowa

Mark-Silk_avatarIf you are interested in religion and politics you should be reading Mark Silk‘s blog Spiritual Politics.  I am looking forward to moderating a session featuring Silk and Diane Moore at the upcoming annual meeting of the Organization of American Historians in April. If you happen to be in Providence, Rhode Island on April 9, 2016 come and check out our session:  “State of the Question: What Is the Relationship between Church and State in the Teaching of Religious History?”

Here is why Silk is predicting victories in Iowa for Cruz and Sanders:

On the Republican side, it’s all about white evangelicals, who typically constitute 60 percent of GOP caucus-goers. Since 1988, when they catapulted Pat Robertson into second place, Iowa’s evangelicals have been the most highly mobilized and politically successful religious community in the country. They handed the state’s nomination to Mike Huckabee in 2008 and in 2012 put Rick Santorum over the top.

No, Cruz hasn’t sealed the deal with the evangelical rank and file, who support Donald Trump to a surprising degree. But Cruz has worked the pastors to a fare-thee-well, and they’re the key to getting the troops out. The pastors have no use for Trump at all. Who they like is Ted Cruz.

As for the Democrats, the energy is all with those who are feeling the Bern, and excitement is important for caucus turnout. But beyond that, it’s important to note that the Iowa electorate has become appreciably less religious since Barack Obama won the Democratic caucuses eight years ago.

Read the rest here.


The Associated Press on Trump’s Visit to Church


1st Presbyterian Church, Muscatine, IA

Donald Trump went to church yesterday. He attended a service at the First Presbyterian Church in Muscatine, Iowa.  Jill Colvin covered the story for the Associated Press. Her piece made me chuckle for a variety of reasons.

Colvin writes:

At one point, Trump shared a prayer book with Debra Whitaker, an Iowa supporter seated to his right. She put her hand gently around Trump’s waist as the congregation sang Hymn 409, “God is Here!” Trump could be seen by some mouthing the words of the hymn.

Do Presbyterians use prayer books?  If they do, is it customary to share them?  It sounds like Trump and Whitaker shared a hymnal–which is quite common in church.

Here’s more:

When it was time to offer tithes, Trump was seen digging into his pants’ pocket. Two folded $50 bills were later spotted in a collection plate that was passed down his pew.

Did Colvin actually interview the people in the pew?  Is this what political journalism has come to–the amount of money a presidential candidate puts in the collection plate?

“Can you imagine eye telling hand, ‘Get lost, I don’t need you’ or hearing the head telling the foot, ‘You’re fired, your job has been phased out?'” the reader said. “You’re fired!” was Trump’s signature catchphrase when he hosted “The Apprentice” television show.

Was this read by the minister or another person appointed to read the scriptures?  It sounds like this was part of a sermon on 1 Corinthians 12:21.  The real moment for Trump should have been the teaching in the passage about the inclusive nature of the body of Christ (“For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body–Jews or Greeks, slaves or free…”), not whether or not the reference to being “fired” was meant as a gesture toward “The Apprentice.” Trump, of course, “wondered if that was for me.”

Finally, Colvin writes:

Asked whether he thinks people are aware of his religion, he said. “I think they know now. I think they didn’t know at all at the beginning… it took a while.”

This is why political reporters should not write about religion and people like Donald Trump should not try to appeal to religious voters.

By the way, I wonder how many times Trump has gone to church since he announced his candidacy for POTUS?  Attendance at a service in Iowa less than a week before the caucuses doesn’t count.