Feb 9, 2023

Democrats change their primary calendar.

Is this a push to lock up Biden's 2024 odds?

I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, nonpartisan, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum on the news of the day — then “my take.”

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Today's read: 12 minutes.

Democrats just upended their primary calendar, which could change who their presidential nominee is. Plus, a question about bipartisan legislation, a correction, and a preview of tomorrow.


One of the most frequent requests I get in Tangle is to revisit the Trump-Russia story, since most of it happened before Tangle even existed. I've wanted to write about it for a long time, but have been waiting for new information to make it relevant to cover. Recently, thanks to some excellent reporting, we got some improved clarity about the full picture. So in tomorrow's Friday edition, I am going to write about the "Trump-Russia story," "Russiagate," the "Russia hoax," or whatever you want to call it... and hopefully close the book on some of these issues for good.


Yesterday, we (for the second time) abbreviated Sen. Tom Cotton's state as "AK"... which is Alaska. Sen. Cotton is from Arkansas (AR). This is a small error, I know, but one we should not make — and certainly not twice.

This is our 77th correction in Tangle's 185-week history and our first correction since January 23rd. I track corrections and place them at the top of the newsletter in an effort to maximize transparency with readers.

Quick hits.

  1. Four former Twitter executives testified before the House Oversight Committee on their role in suppressing the New York Post's articles about Hunter Biden in 2020. (The testimony)
  2. Russian President Vladimir Putin was implicated by Dutch prosecutors for signing off on a decision to supply anti aircraft missiles to pro-Russia separatists who shot down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in 2014, killing 298 passengers. (The claims)
  3. Several European leaders said they were open to sending fighter jets to Ukraine yesterday. (The support)
  4. President Biden's State of the Union address drew just 27.3 million viewers, a 29% drop from 2022 and the smallest audience in 30 years. (The numbers)
  5. The United States may have paid out as much as $191 billion of improper pandemic unemployment benefits, according to a Labor Department watchdog. (The waste)

Today's topic.

The DNC primary calendar. On Saturday, the Democratic National Committee approved President Biden's proposed changes to the primary calendar for 2024, making South Carolina the first state to vote in Democratic primary elections while moving Iowa back . In the new plan, New Hampshire would follow South Carolina, then Nevada, and then primaries would be held in Georgia and Michigan.

The change is the biggest shake-up to the primary calendar in recent memory, and could reshape the way candidates strategize across the Democratic party. Since the 1970s, Iowa has been famous for its unique caucuses — town hall meetings where residents debate and sort out who they want to vote for. Iowa has also created an opening for upstart candidates like Barack Obama, Jimmy Carter and Bernie Sanders, whose early success in the state gave them national attention that led to more success later in their campaigns.

One immediate impact of placing South Carolina first on the calendar is that it is likely to improve Biden's odds of running unopposed and winning re-election if he decides to stay on the ballot for 2024. It would also give Black voters an earlier and more prominent voice on the direction of the party, as Black Democrats comprise much of the party's base in states like South Carolina and Georgia, which will also be bumped up in the calendar.

“This is a significant effort to make the presidential primary nominating process more reflective of the diversity of this country, and to have issues that will determine the outcome of the November election part of the early process,” Representative Debbie Dingell (D-MI), who supports the change, said.

While the vote from the DNC makes the party's decision final, it does not entirely cement the changes. Democratic and Republican leaders in Iowa and New Hampshire are both strongly opposed, and some have vowed to defy the new schedule and hold elections first anyway. Changing the calendar in New Hampshire, which is currently the first primary (after the Iowa caucuses), would require new law in the Republican-controlled state — which currently looks unlikely.

The DNC has asked New Hampshire to meet the new calendar requirements by June. However, many powerful Democrats in the state, like former Gov. John Lynch, also appear unflinching in their opposition.

“They could say June, they could say next week, they could say in five years, but it’s not going to matter,” Lynch said. “It’s like asking New York to move the Statue of Liberty from New York to Florida. I mean, that’s not going to happen. And it’s not going to happen that we’re going to change state law.”

While Biden could risk upsetting local politicians in Iowa or New Hampshire, and potentially drawing out a primary challenge, there are risks for the states, too. DNC rules say that any states disobeying the party-approved timeline could lose delegates in the nomination process, removing their voice entirely. If Biden runs again, the issue would largely be moot, as he is expected to run uncontested. But it would set Democrats up for an intra-party brawl in 2028.

In 2020, President Biden performed poorly in both Iowa and New Hampshire. The Iowa caucuses also were mired in a logistical meltdown, with so many things going wrong that many party leaders were calling to remove Iowa from the early slate of states before the election even ended. Weeks later, Biden's campaign turned it around in South Carolina, riding a wave of support from Black Democrats that would ultimately carry him to the White House.

Today, we're going to take a look at some reactions from the left and right to these potential changes — then my take.

What the left is saying.

  • Many on the left support moving Iowa back in the schedule, but are divided about South Carolina replacing it.
  • Some argue Democrats should prioritize a swing state.
  • Others say South Carolina is the right move as a small-market state that will give Black voters a stronger voice.

In Politico, Howard Dean — another dark horse candidate who got traction in Iowa — made the case for bumping it back on the calendar.

"There is a longstanding tradition in the Democratic Party’s presidential primary process of creating space for every type of campaign to compete during the first month," Dean wrote. "This tradition is critical not just to our party but to our democracy: It means that any candidate, no matter where they’re from, their name ID, or how much money they have, can compete. And that is why I support the 2024 primary calendar developed by the Democratic National Committee’s Rules and Bylaws Committee — because it preserves that critical part of the process while correcting longtime issues with diversity in the early electorate.

"The first month of the presidential primary is about two things: momentum and money," he said. "By putting three small states up front, this calendar gives smaller campaigns an opportunity to compete on smaller battlegrounds and build momentum before they hit the larger contests at the end of the month. Money is a critical resource for any campaign, but especially so for smaller campaigns... Once again, this calendar addresses that issue by starting candidates off in small media markets. This calendar also accomplishes another critical goal that is long overdue. It demonstrates our values and makes the primary process look more like our country."

In The New York Times, former Bernie Sanders campaign manager Faiz Shakir expressed support for punishing Iowa and moving battleground states to the front, but said the plan has a fatal flaw.

"Our party’s lineup of states that nominate our presidential candidates every four years needs to change badly. The 2020 caucuses in Iowa — the state that has been first on the calendar for decades — were a disaster," he wrote. "But the Biden nomination calendar contains a fundamental, dooming flaw: the replacement of Iowa with South Carolina as the first state. The change would be comical if it weren’t tragic. We all know why South Carolina got the nod. President Biden, Representative Jim Clyburn and many of his top supporters were buoyed by their campaign’s comeback in February 2020 when the state delivered Mr. Biden his first victory of the season — and a big one at that. The media attention from that victory, and the consolidation of the Democratic field that it yielded, helped catapult him to winning a majority of the following Super Tuesday states.

"South Carolina is not a battleground state: Mr. Trump carried it by double digits in 2020. It is way more ideologically and culturally conservative than our party and our nation. And the state is not trending in any way toward the Democratic Party. Just two years ago, we witnessed Jaime Harrison — now the chair of the Democratic National Committee — spend the eye-popping sum of $130 million to try to defeat Senator Lindsey Graham. After outraising and outspending Mr. Graham, Mr. Harrison still lost the 2020 Senate race decisively," he wrote. "Let’s not compel all other Democratic campaigns to waste more money that could be better spent elsewhere. If we really want to pick a diverse primary electorate, look to South Carolina’s neighbor to the north — an actual battleground state."

In The Hill, Rick C. Wade said the new plan empowers all Black voters.

"Black voters in South Carolina account for more than 60 percent of the state’s Democratic turnout and nationally have been the backbone of the Democratic Party, yet they’ve had to wait too long to have a say in the primary process," Wade wrote. "As President Biden said ahead of the South Carolina primary, '99.9 percent of Black voters' had not had the chance to vote at that point. This calendar puts the national spotlight on South Carolina, which translates to everything from strengthening party infrastructure to stimulating the state economy and ensuring that the concerns of Black voters across South Carolina and America are heard and top of the national agenda.

"I’ve seen this benefit firsthand and know what the impact of South Carolina being first in the nation can mean. While serving as national senior advisor and director of African American vote for Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign, I spent significant time on the ground in both Iowa and South Carolina," Wade added. "Being first defines how presidential candidates run their campaigns, the promises they make, the voters they talk to, and the issues they focus on. It means that Black voters will be driving the conversation — and issues that impact them will be at the forefront of candidates’ platforms. Those issues may include increasing capital for Black business owners and helping them access the global marketplace, addressing health disparities, modernizing local infrastructures, ensuring equitable educational funding and advocating for second-chance hiring for the formerly incarcerated."

What the right is saying.

  • Many on the right are critical of the move, saying Biden is making the change for his own benefit.
  • Some argue it’s an effort to tee up Kamala Harris to replace Joe Biden in 2028.
  • Others say moving Iowa makes sense, but South Carolina is a poor choice for first.

In The Federalist, Tristan Justice said Biden is "teeing up" Kamala Harris for a 2028 run.

"Kamala Harris knows she would never win a presidential primary in the Democratic Party with last cycle’s nominating calendar. So, at the behest of the White House, party leaders changed it," he wrote. "Harris remains even less popular than her predecessors. According to an outline of national opinion polls by the L.A. Times last month, Harris’ net favorability is 14 points below Mike Pence, 17 points below then-Vice President Biden, 44 points below Dick Cheney, and 41 points below Al Gore at the same point in their tenures.

"Of course, the move highlights the Democratic Party’s embrace of coastal elitism,” he said. “Not one member of the Democrats’ House leadership team is from the Midwest, and now, the region will lose its influence in the presidential nominating contest," Justice wrote. "The calendar switch is not only an insurance policy for President Biden to avoid an embarrassing primary defeat should he choose to run again, but it’s a favor to Harris for a bid in 2028 if not next year. South Carolina is home to a majority black electorate in the Democratic Party, a key constituency for the first black woman to serve as vice president."

The Wall Street Journal editorial board called it "rigging the primaries for Biden."

"Imagine if the Republican Party rigged its presidential nominating calendar to help Donald Trump slide past states where he’s politically weak. Would that go down easily with the GOP or the press corps? That’s essentially what Democrats are doing to help President Biden—to little protest or even much media notice," they wrote. "All of this is being done at the request—please don’t say orders—of the Biden White House... Mr. Biden finished fourth in Iowa and fifth in New Hampshire, where retail campaigning in restaurants and school auditoriums counts for as much as TV advertising. The last thing the White House wants is Mr. Biden at age 81 unscripted on the hustings.

"This insider political play isn’t going down well in the Granite State, which has a law stating that it must be the first primary," they said. "The state’s Democrats aren’t happy, and perhaps GOP Gov. Chris Sununu and the Legislature will respond by moving the primary ahead of Feb. 3, though maybe the DNC will then kill its primary. The main benefit of the early New Hampshire and Iowa contests is that they give voters a chance at close-up vetting, and they give long-shot candidates a chance to elevate an issue or emerge from obscurity... The risk for Democrats is that by greasing the wheels for Mr. Biden they will miss such a signal from the electorate.”

In AEI, Nate Moore, Karlyn Bowman and Ruy Teixeira argued South Carolina was the wrong pick to go first.

"The early states are meant to produce a primary frontrunner and select a strong general election candidate," they said. "In the five contested New Hampshire Democratic primaries since 1992, Granite Staters have voted for the eventual nominee just once (John Kerry in 2004). With neither demographic diversity nor kingmaker prowess, there is a strong case to replace the ‘first in the nation’ pair. But South Carolina, the Biden administration’s handpicked replacement, presents different challenges. The president’s motivations are obvious: After lackluster finishes in Iowa and New Hampshire, a convincing win in South Carolina revived his candidacy.

"Its politics and demographics do make for a strange first primary," they wrote. "The central 'black belt'—a swath of majority-black counties—has hemorrhaged population in the past decade... As the black belt has suffered, coastal South Carolina has boomed. Horry County (Myrtle Beach) and Berkeley County (Charleston suburbs) both approached 30 percent growth over the past decade. Each is solidly Republican, which, when combined with a stagnant black population, offers little hope for South Carolina Democrats... The Democratic plan to reduce the influence of Iowa and, to a lesser extent, New Hampshire is a smart one. Party coalitions and presidential battlegrounds have changed. The primary schedule should change with them. South Carolina, however, offers little to Democrats. Places like Michigan or Georgia appeal to more factions of the party—and, most importantly, would help produce strong general election nominees."

My take.

Reminder: "My take" is a section where I give myself space to share my own personal opinion. If you have feedback, criticism, or compliments, don't unsubscribe. You can reply to this email and write in. If you're a subscriber, you can also leave a comment.

  • Bumping Iowa makes sense, given its failures in 2020 and the make up of the state.
  • South Carolina is not the right replacement, though, and it looks like self-dealing on Biden's part.
  • Democrats would benefit more from placing a swing state atop the calendar.

It's the right move at the wrong time.

I've always loved the spirit and style of the Iowa caucuses. There is something about starting there that feels very old school American — a group of folks in gymnasiums across the state arguing about who to pick, candidates in diners and at gas stations whipping votes, a media frenzy in towns that are often ignored by the "elite" and the press. But Iowa dropped the ball in 2020 in a way that did irreparable damage. Candidates who staked their whole campaigns on the state didn't even get results until New Hampshire votes were being counted, which essentially made them moot.

It's also no longer an accurate gauge of the Democratic electorate. John Kerry is the only candidate in decades who won Iowa and went on to win the Democratic nomination. Meanwhile, South Carolina has performed well. Every Democratic candidate that has won South Carolina since 1992, with the exception of Kerry, has become the party's nominee. Iowa simply doesn't represent the party's base anymore, and the goal should be to lead with a state that does.

Fortunately, replacing Iowa with another small market state preserves some of what makes the Iowa caucuses great. It leaves the field open, since smaller campaigns with less money and name recognition can compete in places like South Carolina and New Hampshire without a war chest. That's part of the magic of Iowa, and it's a critical element of making sure primaries aren't simply bought year after year.

The issue, of course, is the self-dealing. Biden could have pushed for any number of states to go first, but he picked the one that got him the nomination. It is, as many of the commentators noted above, also a state that does not make a whole lot of sense for the party outside of its size and diversity. It's overwhelmingly and increasingly Republican, and its share of the Black caucus is shrinking. How could anyone read this as anything other than a play for Biden to run unopposed in 2024?

Priority should have gone to any of Nevada, New Hampshire, Georgia, Michigan, or North Carolina. They are all true swing states where Democrats can stake out voters and media relationships early on in the process. Michigan, Georgia and North Carolina are particularly strong options due to their large Black populations, which meet the party's admirable and reasonable goal of giving its base a bigger voice earlier on.

Instead, Biden pushed for the state everyone knows he has a personal connection to, the same state he bet his entire campaign on in 2020, and the state that most assures his success if he runs in 2024. It's a brazen political move, and one that should have drawn more resistance from party leaders. Not just that, but the move is being received just as you’d expect by factions of the party who already felt spurned after the DNC colluded to keep Bernie Sanders out in 2016.

Pushing out Iowa was the right move — one the state earned after the mess it made in 2020. But replacing it with South Carolina is a mistake, one that reeks of exactly the kind of establishment self-dealing that has long plagued the Democratic party.

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Your questions, answered.

Q: Do you really consider 12 Republicans voting for the Respect For Marriage Act to be bipartisan? This is typical of the "bipartisan" bills that have passed under Biden. A very small number of RINOs vote for a Leftist bill and the Leftists call it bipartisan.

— Michael from Wylie, Texas

Tangle: I like this question. What qualifies as "bipartisan" is something that I think the media generally has a hard time defining. Presumably, any major bill that gets passed is "bipartisan," since it would have had to get 60 votes in the Senate. Many in the media called the January 6 committee "bipartisan" because it included two Republicans — Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger — even though both would soon be voted out and were clearly on one side of the issue.

To me, I look for a few things when I call a piece of legislation bipartisan: Some support from Republicans and Democrats not just in the Senate (where most big legislation needs 10 votes from the other side in its current composition) but the House. Multiple sponsors who are both Democrats and Republicans (i.e. the people crafting and whipping votes for a bill come from both sides of the aisle). And, of course, some support for the bill from the voters Congress is supposed to be representing.

Biden boasted of 300 "bipartisan" bills. I sincerely doubt all of them — or even most — meet the above criteria. He’s probably counting anything that got a few Republican votes in one chamber of Congress. But personally, I would count bills like the Respect for Marriage Act. That bill picked up 39 Republican votes in the House (and initially had 47). In the Senate, it had 12 Republican votes, and some Republican sponsors. It was limited in scope, and I suspect would be supported by most of the 71% of Americans who support same-sex marriage if they were fully informed on it.

The infrastructure bill, the CHIPS Act, support for Ukraine's defenses, the Violence Against Women Act, and the reforms to the Postal Service are other big ticket pieces of legislation I would consider bipartisan. Without seeing Biden's purported list of "300" others, it's hard to comment.

Want to have a question answered in the newsletter? You can reply to this email (it goes straight to my inbox) or fill out this form.

Blindspot report.

We're bringing back the Blindspot Report from our partners at Ground News, an app that tells you the bias of news coverage and what stories people on each side are missing.

Many on the left missed Democrats' vote denouncing socialism, which split the caucus.

Many on the right missed a story about the ways poverty and other toxic stress negatively impact the brains of Black children.


  • 54%. The percentage of Biden voters in the general election that were white.
  • 22%. The percentage of Biden voters in the general election that were Black.
  • 91%. The percentage of the Iowa primary electorate that is white.
  • 3%. The percentage of the Iowa primary electorate that is Black.
  • 40%. The percentage of the South Carolina primary electorate that is white.
  • 56%. The percentage of the South Carolina primary electorate that is Black.
  • 55-33. The margin of Donald Trump's victory over Joe Biden in South Carolina in the 2020 election.

The extras.

Have a nice day.

Preparatory work has finally begun to restore the sharp spire at the Cathedral of Notre Dame, which was destroyed during a fire four years ago. Scaffolding has been set up and custom-cut stones delivered, increasing hope that restoration could be completed by the end of 2024. The stones were delivered for the spire by barge along the River Seine, just as they would have been in the 19th century when the spire was first constructed. Once complete, the new spire will be 100 meters tall. Good News Network has the story.

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Isaac Saul
I'm a politics reporter who grew up in Bucks County, PA — one of the most politically divided counties in America. I'm trying to fix the way we consume political news.