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Trump Wants to Pull Out of Syria Immediately

On Tuesday, we observed that it was at least possible that, facing a divided Congress, Donald Trump had decided the time has come to act like a conventional president. We also noted, however, that he's fooled everyone before, such that you shouldn't hold your breath. Well, Trump gotta Trump, and on Wednesday he went right back to being a loose cannon, announcing (via Twitter, of course) that he planned to pull all U.S. troops out of Syria by the end of the year:

This surprising decision was made after consulting with...nobody, apparently. The military is upset, with one insider calling it "a mistake of colossal proportions." America's allies are upset. Just about everyone on The Hill is upset, including Republicans. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who no longer needs to audition for AG, was particularly harsh, describing the decision as "a stain on the honor of the United States."

Even the White House staff was caught by surprise; throughout the day on Wednesday, they struggled to explain how or why Trump reached this conclusion. That means that anyone and everyone who is trying to make sense of this is pretty much flying blind. So, let's break it down like this:

This is good news for:
  • Russia: The Russians would prefer that Syria be their exclusive sphere of influence, perhaps with an assist from their Iranian allies. It would appear that they are going to get their wish.

  • Iran: The fewer American troops in the Middle East, the happier the Iranians are. In particular, the US base at Al-Tanf, located along the Syria-Iraq border, has been keeping a careful eye on what the Iranians are up to. Iran would be thrilled to see it evacuated, especially without having to give up...anything.

  • ISIS/Al-Qaeda: Despite Trump's claims in the video linked above, ISIS—while certainly on its heels—has not been defeated. And then, on top of that, Al-Qaeda's strength in Syria has been growing, such that it's estimated that there are about 20,000 militants of various stripes to be found in that nation. Experience (particularly in Iraq) has shown that the vacuum created by a U.S. withdrawal allows militant groups to flourish.

  • The Syrian government: The U.S. would prefer that Bashar al-Assad, who is not a nice fellow, be swept out of power. That is not likely to happen with the U.S. gone and the Russians running the show.

  • The Turkish government: They regard the Kurds as anti-Turkish terrorists, and will be pleased to have free rein to do as they please.
This is bad news for:
  • The Kurds in Syria: The Kurdish people of Syria have been fighting alongside the U.S. and its allies for years, and have been doing vastly more than their share of the dirty work (and the dying). Now, they are going to be left high and dry.

  • Israel: The Israelis are rivals with Syria, Russia, and—particularly—Iran, and so the announcement was a particular setback for them. They are very angry. Former prime minister Ehud Barak, for example, said that, "Trump is deserting Syria and the Iranians are celebrating." Current prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu remained eerily silent while his rivals spent the day reminding him that he has just become the latest foreign leader to put his trust in Trump and then to be left holding the bag. For example, Yair Lapid, who leads the centrist Yesh Atid party, declared that, "The surrender of the Americans from Syria is a failure of Netanyahu's foreign policy. It clears the way for Iran's expansion and narrows Israel's ability to bargain with the Russians."

  • America's closest allies: Besides Israel, other allies, particularly India, the UK, France, and Germany, will ostensibly now be put in the position of sitting back and watching while Syria does what it wants and Russia expands its sphere of influence, or else getting involved in a messy situation where their expertise and experience is not a match for that of the United States.

  • James Mattis: The number of troops in question is actually quite small: About 2,000. And they are not fighting the war themselves so much as they are training others (namely the Kurds) how to fight ISIS. Mattis understands geopolitics well, and he also understands that the United States is getting a lot of value out of a relatively small detachment of soldiers, so he's been a firm advocate of keeping the troops where they are. The decision thus represents a big setback for him, and could be prelude to his exiting the administration.

In view of all this, it's pretty easy to reach the conclusion that Trump never particularly cared one way or another about Israel or Iran, and that he was really only interested in using them as political props in order to poke Barack Obama and the Democrats in the eye. It's also clear that the President doesn't give a tinker's dam what Mattis or any of the other generals have to say. This move is also very unlike John Bolton, so it may be that Trump has begun to tune him out, as well.

But what motivated the announcement? With the caveat, once again, that this is all guesswork at this point, the biggest winner here (if Trump goes through with his plan) is the Russians. Whatever the reason may be, whether kompromat or business opportunities (see below) or something else, it is clearer and clearer that the President places more value on his relationship with Russia than any other nation, even the United States' longest-standing and most loyal allies.

Beyond that, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that this is another patented Trump distraction. He's not having the best of weeks, between the Michael Flynn story, and the dissolution of his "charity," and the likelihood that the wall is never going to be built (see below). Given the early-morning timing of the announcement, and that literally nobody seems to have seen it coming, this has all the hallmarks of Trump having awakened and said to himself, "I need to change the narrative."

Of course, if that is true, then it is entirely possible that this will prove to be much ado about nothing, and that Trump—after a day or two—will announce that he's considered the matter, and that he's going to hold off on any action for now. This would, of course, be far from the first time that the President threatened some dramatic action, and then backed down in the face of negative blowback. Heck, it's already happened once this week, with his threats to shut down the government if he doesn't get funding for the wall. So, by the time you read this, it might already be moot. (Z)

Shutdown Averted--For Now

Yesterday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) officially decided to try to kick the can down the road. He introduced a bill to fund the rest of the government until Feb, 8, 2019. It passed the Senate yesterday and is expected to pass the lower chamber of Congress today, thus averting a shutdown of a quarter of the government tomorrow at the stroke of midnight. The bill does not include any funding for Donald Trump's pet project: A wall on the Mexican border. Trump is expected to sign the bill, nonetheless, while at the same time continuing to insist (incorrectly) that he can use funds allocated to the military for the wall.

Some time in January, the new House is virtually certain to pass a year-long extension of the funding, also with no funds for a wall. The Senate is very likely to send it to Trump's desk with a sticky note saying: "Take it or leave it." If he signs it, it is likely there will be no wall before Jan. 20, 2021 at the earliest. If he vetoes it, the government will shut down and Trump will get most of the blame. The only way for Trump to get any wall funding will be to make major concessions to incoming Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), who is a far better negotiator than he is. Barring something very unexpected, Trump will cave and get nothing from the Democrats. (V)

Michigan Power-Grab Partially Fails

In a lame-duck session, the Michigan state legislature considered several bills to hamstring the incoming Democratic governor and secretary of state. The maneuver did not fully succeed, certainly not as well as it did in Wisconsin last week. On one hand, a bill that protects the identity of donors to dark-money nonprofit organizations passed the legislature and will be signed by outgoing Gov. Rick Snyder (R-MI) next week. On the other hand, a bill that would strip oversight of campaign finances from the incoming secretary of state, Jocelyn Benson (D), passed the state Senate but died in the state House. If it had passed, it would have effectively ended any enforcement of the state's campaign finance laws.

The legislative session is expected to end tomorrow, with several bills in limbo. One would let the legislature get involved in lawsuits, thus reducing the power of the attorney general. Coincidentally, the attorney general-elect, Dana Nessel, is a Democrat. Another bill would prevent the administration of governor-elect Gretchen Whitmer—another Democrat, coincidentally—from setting environmental regulations stricter than the federal ones.

Of course, if a future governor is a Republican and the Republicans still control the state legislature, they can always repeal the laws they are passing in the lame-duck session. We may end up with a system in which different laws apply, depending whether the governor is a Democrat or a Republican. (V)

Cummings Is Already Sending Out Letters Requesting Information

Elijah Cummings, the ranking member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, has sent out 51 letters to multiple executive branch agencies politely requesting documents. Since agencies are not required to respond to queries from ranking members, they can put them all in the paper shredder if they wish. However, on Jan. 3, 2019, Cummings will become chairman of the Committee and they will all be sent out again, this time as subpoenas, which the agencies may not shred. They wont be able to claim they weren't warned.

The requests touch on a broad range of issues, from former EPA administrator Scott Pruitt's misconduct, the use of government jets by cabinet members for personal travel, and the use of private e-mail accounts. The latter is aimed squarely at Ivanka Trump and her husband Jared Kushner, although other members of the administration are known to have used private e-mail accounts, despite Donald Trump having made Hillary Clinton's use of same a major campaign issue. The list also includes the two Stephens, Bannon and Miller, Reince Priebus, and former economic advisor Gary Cohn. Three of those four have been sent packing, but Miller is still hanging around, and is a particular bugaboo of Democrats, so he could soon be under the e-mail microscope, too. (V)

Trump Signed a Letter of Intent on Moscow Project during the Campaign

During the 2016 campaign, Donald Trump steadfastly denied having any business dealings with Russia. Turns out that wasn't the slightest bit true. On Oct. 28, 2015, after Trump had announced his candidacy, he signed a letter of intent for a real-estate project in Moscow. The project included condominiums, a hotel, and commercial property. Working on a deal in Russia while running for president would be an unprecedented conflict of interest.

While there is a lot of speculation that Russian President Vladimir Putin has kompromat on Trump, it is also at least conceivable that there isn't much kompromat (maybe a pee tape or two), but that Trump's friendliness to Russia might be due to his desire to make many lucrative deals with the Russians. In other words, Putin may be using more carrots and fewer sticks than suspected. Of course, it could also be a combination of both. The real reason isn't known publicly yet.

It is also worth noting that Trump's TV lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, previously declared that no such letter had been signed. On Wednesday, Giuliani was forced to "apologize," and to admit he should not have said that. This is yet another incident that shows that Giuliani is either: (1) saying whatever he wants to say, without evidence, or (2) lying much of the time, or (3) being lied to by Trump, and repeating those lies unknowingly, or (4) becoming senile. It's probably #2, but whatever the case might be, it makes clear that there is really no reason to listen to anything he says. (V & Z)

Paul Ryan Bids Farewell

Speaker Paul Ryan's (R-WI) political career will come to an end this week, at least for now. And consistent with that fact, and tradition, he delivered his farewell address on the floor of the House on Wednesday:

If you are not a glutton for punishment, and do not wish to be subjected to 29-plus minutes of politician-speak, then here is a (blunt) one-word summary: "delusional."

Ryan spent much of his time bragging about how much he has accomplished as Speaker. In addition to specific mentions of tax cuts, military funding, and the bustling economy, he declared: "This House is the most productive we have had in at least a generation. To date, we have passed 1,175 bills, more than half of them with bipartisan support." The notion that the current House is the most productive in a generation (or more) is about as accurate as the notion that Donald Trump has achieved more than any president in history. In fact, the 116th Congress will go down as a case study in legislative dysfunction, right alongside the 80th Congress (the "do-nothing Congress" of 1947-49) and the 36th Congress (the one that helped make the rift between North and South vastly worse, from 1859-61). That Ryan has to use misleading statistics to bolster his claim makes clear his dishonesty. Most of those 1,175 bills never became law, of course, and most of the ones that did become law did things like rename post offices in honor of Merle Haggard.

Maybe this can be forgiven, on some level, since Ryan is naturally going to put as positive a spin as he can on things as he walks out the door. However, he also had the temerity to move on to a lecture about how divisive and partisan the House has become. "[T]oo often," he said, "genuine disagreement quickly gives way to intense distrust. We spend far more time trying to convict one another than we do developing our own convictions." This is coming from a man who had the power to stop any of two dozen sham investigations into Benghazi, Hillary Clinton's e-mails, text messages between two adulterous FBI agents, the Steele dossier, James Comey, etc., and never once lifted a finger to do so. A man who was in a unique position, given his high profile and imminent retirement, to stand up to Donald Trump's worst behaviors, and chose instead to hide in the shadows. And yet he had the gall to lecture others about partisanship and ill-will. In other news, the fox has finished his dinner and is lamenting the fact that the hen house doesn't have better locks.

Still, the speech does give some insight into what a post-Ryan Washington will look like. Having spent years pursuing spurious investigations, the GOP is now going to have to stand aside while the Democrats launch a few (hundred) investigations of their own. By all evidences, the blue team's investigations are going to be vastly more justifiable than the red team's were (although power corrupts, so you never know for sure). But even if the Democrats' activities are completely legitimate and entirely in line with Congress' oversight role, folks like Ryan are going to go on Fox News and "Meet the Press" and lament how partisan the Democrats are, and how badly they are abusing their powers, and how everything was so much better in the days of GOP control. Undoubtedly, the base will buy it; the $64,000 question is whether anyone else will. At very least, it is very clear that the Democrats have the right of it in thinking that investigations and hearings can only be one of the two tracks they spend the next two years pursuing, with the other being the passage of significant legislation for the consideration of the Senate and of the President. (Z)

No Sanctions for Kavanaugh

During and after his contentious confirmation hearings, Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh was the subject of 83 different ethics complaints, covering the gamut from his behavior as an adolescent to his temperament during the Christine Blasey Ford hearing. A special panel of judges from the Tenth Circuit was convened by Chief Justice John Roberts to consider the charges, and on Wednesday they dismissed every single one of them.

So, Kavanaugh has been exonerated, right? Not quite. The panel's conclusion was that while the Judge's behavior was "serious," it is simply not within the authority of lower-ranking judges to sanction a higher-ranking judge. Especially when that higher-ranking judge is a Supreme Court justice, whose authority comes directly from the Constitution, and not from acts passed by Congress (as is the case with all non-SCOTUS judges). This is known as "getting off on a technicality."

The panel that excused Kavanaugh also suggested, as others have before, that Congress should create a standard of conduct for Supreme Court justices, along with some level of sanction that falls in between the two current options, which are "do absolutely nothing" and "impeachment." This seems like another area that the Democrats might just decide to follow up on once they are back in power, daring the GOP-controlled Senate and/or Donald Trump to reject their efforts, and thus to effectively announce that they don't feel it is important for Supreme Court justices to be held to any sort of standard of behavior. (Z)

Kasich Doesn't Think He Could Beat Trump in a Primary

Gov. John Kasich (R-OH), who will be out of a job in January, said yesterday that he wouldn't get into a presidential primary with Donald Trump unless he thought he could win, and right now he doesn't think he could do so. Kasich didn't rule out a run, however. If circumstances change (for example after special counsel Robert Mueller issues his report), Trump's approval could drop. In that case, Kasich might reconsider. Although, the GOP might take steps in some places to stop him from even trying it (see below).

Kasich also brought up the possibility of running as an independent, but noted that independent candidates never win. So, that doesn't appear to be on his agenda at all. (V)

South Carolina GOP May Skip 2020 Primary

On Tuesday, we learned that the RNC and Trump 2020 are merging, a step that will take Donald Trump's rather sizable built-in advantage as the incumbent, and make it all the greater. And on Wednesday, the South Carolina GOP followed that news by announcing that they will likely forgo holding a primary in 2020. "Our party totally supports the President," explained state Republican chair Drew McKissick.

Generally speaking, the South Carolina primary has outsized importance in Republican presidential politics, since the Palmetto State is the first Southern state and the first deep red state to cast its votes (Iowa goes earlier, but it is light red). Indeed, since the South Carolinians moved (almost) to the front of the line in 1980, the only person who won the Republican side of the primary and did not get the Party's nod was Newt Gingrich in 2012.

The South Carolina GOP's official reason for canceling the primary is that they don't want to spend the money on a foregone conclusion. Maybe so, but this also has the obvious effect of making a primary challenge to the President even more challenging. Without South Carolina, it would be very difficult for a John Kasich or anyone else to make a real statement until Super Tuesday. And given the vast size of the Super Tuesday states (which include California, Texas, Massachusetts, Virginia, and North Carolina), it is nigh on impossible for a challenger to truly compete against a person who can campaign from the bully pulpit (i.e., free publicity).

This is not the first time that the South Carolina GOP has made this call; they also canceled their primary in 1984 (giving Ronald Reagan a freebie) and in 2004 (giving George W. Bush a freebie). It would seem, then, that Republican voters are OK with this sort of thing. One can only imagine what would have happened, however, if the DNC had announced in 2012 that it was merging with the Clinton campaign and that, by the way, the Iowa Democratic Party wasn't going to bother with a caucus, and was going to give all of its delegates to Hillary. (Z)

Thursday Q&A

So much of what is happening in Washington these days is unprecedented, which means we get an awful lot of questions exploring corners of civics that have rarely needed exploring before...

Former Joe Biden Chief of Staff Ron Klain tweeted that by installing a Senate-confirmed official (OMB director Mick Mulvaney) as temporary chief of staff, Donald Trump could be the first POTUS to have a chief of staff who can be called to testify before Congress:

If he was called to testify, would he be able to limit his testimony to OMB matters, or could relevant Congressional oversight committees get answers to White House matters related to his chief of staff responsibilities? What is the role of executive privilege in such situations? I assume if he would quit as OMB director, the question becomes moot. D.Z., Kingston, NY

The easiest part of your question is the last part, so we'll answer that first. If Mulvaney quit as OMB director, then the point would indeed become moot.

Now to the trickier part. The authority to compel testimony is rooted in the committees' right to exercise oversight over the parts of the government for which they are responsible. In theory, that means that—for example—the Appropriations Committee should be asking questions only about appropriations. However, it is pretty easy to word just about any question in a way that it has some relevance to appropriations. For example, "Mr. Mulvaney, while you were drawing a government salary appropriated by this very committee, did President Trump ever instruct you to mislead Congress about his conversations with Russia?" Consequently, there is a general precedent that committees can ask pretty much whatever they want.

If Mulvaney wanted to avoid their questions, he might very well attempt to assert executive privilege. Then, Congress could (and probably would) hold him in contempt. And then, it would be up to the Courts to decide, as was the case with Richard Nixon's attempts to exert executive privilege. The liberal SCOTUS of the 1970s largely didn't buy Tricky Dick's arguments; who knows what the current 5-4 Republican SCOTUS would decide?

You noted in the last Q&A that, "it takes time to prepare to assume is somewhat impractical that newly-elected folks could take office much more quickly than they already do." And yet, in European countries, power changes hands immediately after a general election. In the U.K., we can have a general election one day, and a new administration taking office by mid-afternoon the next day, with a new cabinet largely in place by the evening. What (other than long tradition and a constitutional amendment) is to stop the U.S. from adopting such a practice at the federal and the state level? S.K., St. Ives, UK

Since you used the U.K. as your example, we will do the same, while noting that what we say here would also be largely applicable to many other countries (Canada, Australia), but only partly applicable to others (Japan, Israel). We also assume that, as a resident of the U.K., you are familiar with the substantial differences between the British and American systems. However, we will explain them here for those who may not be as familiar.

Anyhow, the British way of doing things is called the Westminster System. It's named after the Palace of Westminster, where the British parliament meets, which is apropos because the Brits invented the system. The key, for our purposes here, is that the executive and legislative branches in Britain are not separate in the way that they are in the United States. In fact, the executive branch is pretty much drawn from the leadership of the legislative branch. The leader of the majority party (or the majority coalition) in Parliament becomes prime minister, and he or she chooses ministers from among the other members of Parliament. While it is theoretically possible to choose a non-member of Parliament for the cabinet, British law requires that such a person be elected to the legislature within six months. So, as a practical matter, all of the cabinet ministers are drawn from the senior ranks of the majority party (or the majority coalition).

The upshot of all of this is that when a new government takes control in the U.K., the number of people who might plausibly become high-ranking government officials is very small. In the U.S., by contrast, it is very large. Further, cabinet members in the U.K. effectively need be approved by only one person, the prime minister. Cabinet members in the U.S., of course, have to go through a much more rigorous process, one that often gives a veto to the opposition political party (if the GOP controls the Senate and the Democrats control the White House, or vice-versa). And, as you certainly know, the situation in the U.K. actually goes beyond what we have outlined here. In recognition of the fact that the government could change hands at any time, the largest minority party (or minority faction), a.k.a. Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition, appoints a Shadow Cabinet of officers that follow in the footsteps of the actual cabinet officers, scrutinize their decisions, develop alternate policies, etc. in preparation for the day they will (potentially) take over.

In short, then, the British system has a built-in "new" government made up primarily (or entirely) of senior politicians who already live in London, already have a staff, already have experience in the department they are to head, and who are just waiting to be told "go." It's true that newly-elected MPs get sworn in very quickly after their election, and so spend some of their first few weeks in office getting up to speed. But there aren't too many new MPs after most elections, and the parties have set things up so that newly-elected members can get up to speed very quickly.

If the United States really wanted to eliminate lame duck periods, either on the state or the federal level, it would not be too easy to do. On the federal level, a constitutional amendment moving the start of new congressional and presidential terms to the day after the election (or the Monday after, or something like that) would be required. Then, it would probably be necessary to develop an expectation that presidential candidates identify a tentative cabinet once they land their party's nomination, so that those folks can be vetted and can begin to learn the ropes, with the notion that they will be approved quickly after the election, and can begin work by late November or so. That would be quite a task to add to the presidential candidate's plate in the middle of an election campaign, though. Meanwhile, the government would have to spend some money to set up a bureaucracy whose job is to help new members of Congress and the executive branch find housing in Washington, hire staffers, etc., since those folks would be starting work so quickly. Given that Americans tend to be pretty suspicious of change, we do not think it is likely this will ever happen.

Is there any scenario for having presidential elections before the regular four-year term has ended, thus interrupting the four-year-rhythm? For example, in Germany we generally have the four-years rhythm as well, but there are cases when elections are held earlier, usually during a change of government. Is there any scenario like this in the U.S., or is it quite certain that there will be elections in November of 2056, 2092, 2180, etc.? A.C., Aachen, Germany

We are going to start by setting aside scenarios like what happened in Rome circa 200 A.D., when the Praetorian Guard was constantly offing emperors and installing new ones. If we get to the point that the U.S. "democracy" evolves more into an oligarchy run by the dictator du jour (more than it already has, that is), then anything is possible.

Anyhow, assuming the government continues to function in a basically normal way, the only plausible scenario we can think of where an election might be held early would be in the event of a devastating national disaster (tsunami, nuclear attack) that somehow managed to wipe out the entire line of succession. In that case, a new election would presumably be called for lack of any other alternative. It is also plausible that things could work in the other direction, such that a national disaster right around Election Day (terrorist attack, outbreak of Spanish Flu v2.0, etc.) could cause a postponement until January or February of the next year. In both of these scenarios, it is likely that the next regularly-scheduled election would still be held on the correct date, not unlike what happens when a member of Congress dies while in office. So, the bottom line is that assuming the U.S. government continues to exist in 2056 or 2180, then yes, there will be a presidential election that year.

The only time that a presidential election was held in a year other than one divisible by four, incidentally, was the first one. It took long enough to approve the Constitution that the election of 1788 actually spilled over into 1789. And the only time that there was serious consideration given to postponing a presidential election was in 1864, in the midst of the Civil War. However, Abraham Lincoln vigorously opposed the plan, observing that "if the rebellion could force us to postpone a national election, it might fairly claim to have conquered us." So, that was that.

With Gov. Ducey's appointment of Rep. Martha McSally (R-AZ) to the McCain Senate seat, what about her seniority? The appointment is effective next year, and Senator Kyl's resignation isn't effective until 12/31/2018. Presumably, the 115th Congress will have adjourned by then. Will McSally's seniority be based on date of appointment on January 1st (thereby leap frogging the woman who just beat her in November's election, Senator-Elect Kyrsten Sinema, D-AZ)? Or will McSally join the Senate on January 3rd with the elected freshmen and Sinema will be more senior by virtue of her long term of service im the House? A.B., West Hollywood, CA

If Ducey made the appointment effective January 1, the day after Kyl is done, then McSally would indeed be more senior than Sinema, because appointed senators are (theoretically) sworn in as soon as they are appointed, while elected senators are sworn in on the day their term begins..

That said, it is not likely to matter all that much. Many of the privileges of seniority (better office space, a better desk in the Senate chamber, the chance to be president pro tem of the senate) won't really matter for a decade or two or more, by which time Sinema or McSally or both may well be out of office. The single most important benefit of seniority comes when committee assignments are being made, as more senior senators have dibs over their less senior counterparts. In this case, however, that is not germane, as the two women are from different parties. Consequently, they would never be in direct competition for the same committee assignment. If they were somehow to be on the same committee, their rank would be determined by which senator's party is in the majority, not which of the pair began their service first.

Probably because it does not matter that much, and there's therefore no need to ruffle Democratic feathers, Ducey has announced that he will make sure Sinema is sworn in prior to McSally's appointment, so as to "respect the will of the voters."

In 2016, the DNC was accused of being biased for one of the candidates (Hillary Clinton) over the others. Wouldn't this be much, much worse of a problem if the Trump campaign is actually running the RNC? Wouldn't this be a huge issue if anyone decides to primary him? M.G., Madison, WI

As noted in the item above, the answer is: absolutely. The change to the RNC, and the one to the South Carolina primary, make the already-monumental task of knocking off Trump nearly impossible for a would-be GOP nominee unless the Mueller report was so devastating that even Republicans thought Trump has to go.

An interesting question is: Why are Republican voters apparently OK with their party manipulating things in this way, while Democrats clearly are not? That is a very difficult question to answer; all we can do is offer a few theories:

  • Your average Republican is more used to accepting marching orders from people in authority (military officers, religious leaders, etc.) than your average Democrat is

  • The Republican Party is more homogeneous than the Democratic Party, and it is easier for them to unify behind one candidate

  • Anti-authority Democrats remain engaged in the political system and support rebels like Bernie Sanders, anti-authority Republicans ignore the political system and/or do things like join militia groups

  • The Republican rank-and-file dislikes stuff like this as much as the Democratic rank-and-file, but Republican leaders are more comfortable ignoring their supporters' feelings, knowing they will fall into line in the end

  • The South, having been under one-party rule for nearly 200 years, is more comfortable with letting that one party (whichever party it might be) call all the shots

  • The Democrats have more people who are educated, more people who came from other (less-than-stellar) countries, more people who have felt the weight of oppression, and so in all three cases more people who are aware of the dangers of allowing authority figures to have too much power

  • Voters are ok with their party giving an incumbent president an easy path, but not a non-incumbent.

Note that all of this is just spitballing; it would take a very good political scientist many years to come up with a solid conclusion, supported with evidence.

Why is it ever a good idea for the U.S. to recognize "dual citizenship"? Who in the U.S. can have dual citizenship? Can people in the U.S. with dual citizenship vote in U.S. elections? If so, why would we allow those with divided loyalty to do that? K.M., Charlotte County, FL

Let's start with the factual elements of your question first: Anyone in the U.S. can have dual citizenship, and folks with dual citizenship are allowed to vote. They might not be allowed to run for president (that is a matter for the courts), and they might not be given a security clearance in some circumstances, but they are entitled to the normal civil rights accorded any American.

The other part of your question—"why is this a good idea"—misunderstands the issue a bit. The key is not that it's a "good idea," it's that the government has never made a compelling case for why it is a "bad idea." And so the Supreme Court has ruled in several cases, most notably Afroyim v. Rusk (1967), that the federal government cannot force Americans to give up their U.S. citizenship if they also take citizenship in another country. That said, because of the potential security risks, and the possible bureaucratic hassles, the State Dept. does what they can (within the bounds of the law) to discourage people from becoming dual citizens. For example, this comes from a State Dept. "for your info" website:

Dual nationals owe allegiance to both the United States and the foreign country. They are required to obey the laws of both countries, and either country has the right to enforce its laws. It is important to note the problems attendant to dual nationality. Claims of other countries upon U.S. dual-nationals often place them in situations where their obligations to one country are in conflict with the laws of the other. In addition, their dual nationality may hamper efforts of the U.S. Government to provide consular protection to them when they are abroad, especially when they are in the country of their second nationality.

Translation: "You can do it if you want to, but we really don't recommend it."

In a recent Q&A, you mentioned that most Presidents and their VPs do/did not get along very well. Can you elaborate on some of the more famous (or infamous) rocky relationships? And what about some of the more famously friendly pairings? M.B., St. Paul, MN

To start, let us note that the vice presidency (and, quite often the cabinet) were used for years and years to recognize various regions of the country and, often more importantly, factions of a party who might not be thrilled with the presidential candidate. In other words, far more often than not, the veep was a prominent rival of the presidential candidate who would be put on the ticket to "unify" the party, and then would be ignored (or worse) for the next four or eight years. That means that there have been a fair number of President-VP relationships that were basically nonexistent, and a fair number that were positively chilly. Half a dozen of the most notable entries in the latter category (in chronological order):

  • Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr: The way that the Electoral College was originally set up, each elector voted twice, first for their favorite candidate, then for their second favorite candidate. The idea was that the person with the most votes across the two rounds would become president, and the person with the second-most would become VP. The problem with this system is that it did not envision the emergence of parties. And so, when the Electoral College met in 1800, the Democratic-Republican electors all loyally voted for Thomas Jefferson on the first ballot. And then, failing to foresee the problem they were about to create, they all loyally voted for Aaron Burr on the second ballot. That meant a 73-73 tie, and while everyone knew Burr was supposed to be the VP candidate, he refused to step aside and defer to Jefferson. Eventually, Congress broke the tie (with just days to spare before the inauguration). Jefferson never forgave Burr, and booted him off the ticket in 1804.

  • Andrew Jackson and John C. Calhoun: While both men were slaveholders from the South, Jackson was a fierce nationalist while Calhoun was a dyed-in-the-wool Southern partisan. The first major cracks in the foundation of the country, which would eventually lead to civil war, began to show themselves during Jackson's term. And while the President was doing what he could to hold the country together, the Vice President was conspiring behind his back to tear it apart. Although Calhoun was careful to keep his name out of things, Jackson was not stupid, and knew what was going on. Also complicating things was the Petticoat Affair, wherein the wives of Calhoun and the other cabinet members shunned Peggy Eaton, the wife of Secretary of War John Eaton, because the Eatons' marriage had come too soon after Peggy was widowed. As Jackson had faced similar circumstances during his marriage (prompting him to fight many a duel), he sided with the Eatons and against the Calhouns. This eventually prompted the resignation of the whole cabinet, excepting the widower Martin Van Buren, who had no wife to participate in such intrigues. Calhoun's behavior led the President to threaten to hang the VP, and caused Jackson to throw him overboard (for Van Buren) in 1832.

  • Martin Van Buren and Richard Johnson: Johnson, chosen for the Democratic ticket because he was a war hero, embarrassed Van Buren in a number of ways. He took a slave as his common law wife and had two children with her, in an era where that was...frowned upon. Short of cash, he also left Washington during his vice-presidential term, went home to Kentucky, and spent most of his time there running a saloon. The experience left such a bad taste in Van Buren's mouth that he did not bother to choose a running mate when he ran (unsuccessfully) for reelection.

  • William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt: McKinley thought Roosevelt was too impulsive, and too eager for military conflict. Roosevelt thought McKinley was overly cautious, and not particularly committed to confronting the ills of the Gilded Age. They were both right. Following the Spanish-American War, Roosevelt rode his fame as a military hero to the governorship of New York. He was kicked upstairs to the vice presidency a year later in order to shut him up. Imagine the surprise of the Republican pooh-bahs when McKinley was shot and killed not long after the start of his second term. Actually, we don't have to imagine. "Now that damn cowboy is in the White House," lamented Mark Hanna (the Karl Rove of his day).

  • Franklin D. Roosevelt and all three of his VPs: Roosevelt was a liberal New Dealer, and he was compelled to choose VPs that would appeal to more conservative voters to "balance" his four tickets. He had no real use for any of his three running mates, but was particularly hostile to John Nance Garner, the man who was rendered so irrelevant that he famously complained that the vice presidency was "not worth a bucket of warm piss." With not much to do all day, he became an outspoken critic of the New Deal, which infuriated Roosevelt, of course. There is some evidence that FDR ran for a third term, in part, to make sure Garner wasn't elected. Roosevelt also ignored Garner's replacement, Henry A. Wallace, and Wallace's replacement, Harry S. Truman. In fact, although FDR surely knew he was dying, he met with Truman only one time after they were elected in 1944. During that brief meeting, it did not occur to FDR to mention that the U.S. was at work on the atomic bomb. Truman didn't find out until a week after he became president, when one of the generals clued him in.

  • John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson: Johnson was added to the ticket for one reason: To carry Texas (which did happen). However, the elite, urbane, Harvard-educated Kennedys looked down their noses on the salt-of-the-earth, crude, Southwest Texas State Teachers' College-educated Johnson. Johnson not only resented their snobbishness, he also felt the Kennedys were not half the politicians he was (he was probably right about that), and he particularly resented JFK's reputation as a ladies' man. "Hell, I've had more women on accident than he's had on purpose," Johnson was known to brag. If Bobby Kennedy had lived to win the election of 1968, and to (probably) end the Vietnam War, it would have eaten LBJ alive.

So, those are the bad president-VP relationships (some of them, at least). There have been some President-VP partnerships that were friendly, but they were fairly few and far between. And even some of the ones that started out chummy turned sour over time (for example, George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, Bill Clinton and Al Gore). So, for this list, we kind of have to bend and twist things a bit to come up with multiple examples (again, in chronological order):

  • John Adams and Thomas Jefferson: The two were bitter rivals while in office, but after the death of Adams' son, which Jefferson handled with much grace and sympathy, they struck up a deep and abiding friendship, and were thick as thieves for decades, writing many lengthy letters to each other. They famously died on the same day (July 4, 1826, the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence), and Adams' last words were allegedly "Thomas Jefferson lives." He was wrong, though, Jefferson had died about eight hours earlier.

  • Andrew Jackson and Martin Van Buren: Although each had their own experiences with vice-presidential hatred (see above), they liked each other during their time of service together (1833-37). Jackson was always grateful that Van Buren took the "right" side during the Petticoat affair, and the fact that both men were widowed meant they socialized a fair bit together. Further, Van Buren knew the benefit of a little bit of flattery, since he aspired (successfully) to secure Jackson's blessing to be the next president.

  • Barack Obama and Joe Biden: It's nearly a 200-year gap between the second and third entry on this list, and with good reason. The U.S. had a long, long run of not-so-good presidential and vice-presidential relationships. Obama and Biden are, almost without question, the closest #1 and #2 in U.S. history (certainly while in office; the Jefferson-Adams post-politics relationship comes close). "I don't like this man," Biden once remarked. "I love him."

So, there you have it. It does not appear that Donald Trump and Mike Pence particularly like one another; if so, then they are the rule, and not the exception.

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