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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Trump Finally Visits the Troops
      •  Effects of Government Shutdown Slowly Begin to Show Themselves
      •  Term Limits on the President Could be Abolished
      •  Markets Come Roaring Back
      •  Whitaker Falsely Claimed Honor He Never Got
      •  California May Lose a Seat in the House
      •  Thursday Q&A

PW logo Agency Offers Advice for Furloughed Federal Workers
Democrats Upend Iowa Caucuses
Parties Differ Wildly on Foreign Policy
Trump’s Reckoning Is Underway
‘Nude Selfie’ Is Part of Muller’s Evidence
Obamas Are Most Admired

Trump Finally Visits the Troops

When American troops are in a war zone, the president normally visits them to thank them for their service to the country and raise morale. Such visits are political winners, as well. Until this week, Donald Trump had never showed up in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, or any other country where American troops are fighting. Yesterday, Trump changed that with an unannounced quick visit to Iraq, where 5,000 American troops are still stationed. He was accompanied by his wife, Melania. He thanked the troops and let a couple of soldiers take selfies with him. The visit itself was not so different from what other presidents have done, but it took him a long time to get around to it.

Trump has announced that the 2,000 troops in Syria are coming home very soon, a move that Defense Secretary James Mattis opposed so strongly that he resigned over the matter. So far, Trump has not announced when the 5,000 troops in Iraq or the 14,000 troops in Afghanistan are coming home, but during the campaign he often said he wanted to wind down all the foreign wars and bring the troops home. He has suggested that he might draw down U.S. troop strength in Afghanistan by half next year, and on Wednesday said he currently has no plans to leave Iraq. Of course, with him, that could change any time. Watch Twitter for updates.

Of course, it would not be a day in the life of Trump if he did not create some controversy. Actually, there were three of them. First, about those selfies: They are a probable violation of military rules, which forbid active-duty troops from engaging in partisan political activities. The same applies to the soldiers who asked Trump to sign their MAGA hats. Rear Adm. John Kirby (ret.), who now works for CNN as a military analyst, described it as "completely inappropriate."

Now, the selfie/hat thing is not really Trump's fault, especially since he doesn't know the rules or the normal protocol for...well, much of anything. However, the second controversy is definitely his fault. He posted one of the videos from the trip to his Twitter account:

The problem here is that the fellows in the video are SEAL Team Five, and military protocol calls for the location of special forces to remain a secret. Needless to say, the location of SEAL Team Five is not a secret anymore.

The third controversy involves...wait for it...Trump telling a baldfaced lie. Hard to believe a president would do something like that, but there it is. This particular lie, delivered to a roomful of military personnel, involved the Donald bragging about the pay raise that the soldiers just got: "You haven't gotten one in more than 10 years. More than 10 years. And we got you a big one. I got you a big one. I got you a big one." It is true that the 2.6% raise is bigger than any in recent memory (just a tad ahead of the 2.4% from last year), but soldiers actually get a raise every year, and have for the last three decades. So every soldier in the room undoubtedly knew that the President was telling a whopper, though they were polite enough not to mention it to him.

In the end, his decisions and his comments in the last week or so mean that Trump's domestic and foreign policies are starting to become clear. Actually, it's more like one grand, unified policy for everything. Summarized briefly, it is: "Screw the world; we are going it alone." Domestically, that consists of trying to browbeat companies into not outsourcing manufacturing jobs (with little success) and encouraging the use of domestic energy sources, especially coal. Also it includes the building of physical walls and virtual (i.e., tariff) walls with the specific goal of reducing immigration, trade, and interaction with the outside world generally. In terms of foreign policy, it is isolationism, pulling back to our borders and letting the rest of the world do whatever it wants to. If Trump pulls this off, it probably means letting Russia spread its power and influence all over Europe and beyond and letting China dominate Asia and Africa (which has lots of natural resources China wants).

This is hardly the first time that the United States has veered in an isolationist direction, a tendency facilitated by the fact that the country is separated from most of the world's hotspots by an ocean or two. Isolationism was pretty much policy for the entire nineteenth century, primarily because the U.S. didn't quite have the military power to do anything else. The country dabbled with isolationism again after the Spanish-American and Philippine Wars of 1898-1902 (All of Europe's at war? Let them sort it out!), and yet again after World War I (League of Nations? Who needs it?). What the country learned is that, in a world with modern transportation and a global economy, those big, bad oceans aren't such a barrier anymore, and that anything big that happens in, say, Japan or China or Russia or Germany is likely to come home to roost in the United States sooner or later (and probably sooner).

Consequently, the U.S. rolled up its sleeves after World War II and committed to being a leading part of the world order. Sometimes, this resulted not-so-good effects (Korean War, Vietnam War), but generally it produced very positive outcomes (the Marshall Plan, the rise of the U.N., becoming the world's dominant economic power, winning the Cold War, etc.). Donald Trump has either forgotten the lessons of history or, given that he was presumably not the world's most attentive student, probably never knew them. What it boils down to is that, at least in the 21st century, it is not possible to have the good stuff (e.g., economic prosperity, a fairly high level of national security) without some of the bad (e.g., troops abroad, spending money to support international alliances, etc.). And so, whether he realizes it or not, Trump's approach to world affairs will have some pretty big consequences. Depending on how successful he is, and how long he remains in office, those consequences could be quite difficult, or even impossible, for the next president to reverse. (V & Z)

Effects of Government Shutdown Slowly Begin to Show Themselves

With the caveat that things often happen quickly in Washington these days—sometimes a trillion-dollar overhaul of the U.S. tax code comes together in just hours, for example—there currently appears to be absolutely no progress on a resolution to the government shutdown. It's true that Congress will be back in session today, but there are no votes scheduled, and it's not at all clear how many members will actually be available. Further, there has been no negotiating going on, and Donald Trump wasn't even in the country for much of the day (see above). Given that there is only one more workday (tomorrow) before the Democrats take the gavel in the House, it is wise to assume that there will be no movement until the middle of next week, at the earliest.

However, despite the holiday season and the generally languid pace of business in Washington right now, the effects of the shutdown are already presenting themselves. For example, at a time when the markets are all over the place, it might be nice for investors and other interested folks to have as much data as is possible. While the Dept. of Labor is currently funded, and thus is still providing employment figures, the Bureau of Economic Analysis and Census Bureau (which are both part of the Dept. of Commerce) and the Dept. of Agriculture are currently shuttered. So, the federal government is producing no data on economic trends, on population growth and movement, or—critically—on crop production, prices and sales. That means that if—for example—the brokerage Duke & Duke needs to know what frozen concentrated orange juice is projected to sell for in the next few months, they are out of luck. "Because we're already experiencing heightened volatility, this just adds another combustible element into the mix," observed Joe Brusuelas, chief economist for the consulting firm RSM US.

Meanwhile, in a fine demonstration of the truism that he who lives by the sword dies by the sword, federal government employees (and other folks) have taken to Twitter to express their displeasure, using the hashtag #ShutdownStories. For example:

Two things are clear, even from looking at just a handful of the thousands and thousands of tweets. The first is that even a partial shutdown during a slow period for the government is having a serious effect on many people, and in a way they will not soon forget. The second is that the pain is not limited to government employees, but also to their family members, friends, and the people with whom they do business.

Of course the big question, from a political standpoint, is "who is going to take the blame for this?" A perusal of Twitter suggests an answer to that question:

It may also be instructive that in the past day, the hashtag #TrumpShutdown has been used over 13,000 times, while the hashtag #SchumerShutdown has been used 400 times and #PelosiShutdown has been used 20 times. On a partisan basis, various forms of #RepublicanShutdown (including #GOPShutdown, #RepublicansShutdown, etc.) have been used about 600 times, while various forms of #DemocratShutdown have been used about 500. So, it seems pretty clear where most fingers are pointing right now. (Z)

Term Limits on the President Could be Abolished

Authoritarian presidents generally chafe at legal restrictions put on them. The worst of all are term limits, which prevent the president from declaring himself "president for life," which is common in African and Latin American countries. Now we are starting to see pushback on term limits. After all, if the president thinks he is doing a great job and the people love him, why shouldn't he be allowed to keep going?

Right now, this issue is playing out only in Russia, where the leader of the parliament is thinking about changing the ground rules to let current President Vladimir Putin continue after his term is up. If this happens, undoubtedly, Donald Trump, who is a great admirer of Putin, will no doubt become jealous and might try to pull this off himself.

If he can't get the Constitution changed, which would be a very tall order, he could try to make an end run with the Lurleen Wallace strategy. In 1966, then-Alabama-governor George Wallace was forbidden by the state constitution from running for another term, so he had his wife, Lurleen, run. She won. She knew little about governing, so de facto, he ran the state, the only difference being that when the signature of the governor was needed on a bill or other legal document, George handed the document to Lurleen to sign. Trump couldn't run that play literally because Melania Trump is not a natural-born citizen, but Ivanka Trump is. Alternatively, Trump could replace Melania with wife #4. While his odd-numbered wives have been foreign born, #2 was a U.S. citizen at birth, so why not #4? If Putin gets what he wants on this score, expect Trump to cheer and think about what might work in the U.S. (V)

Markets Come Roaring Back

Yesterday the bears retreated, and not just the polar bears being affected by shrinking Arctic ice. The Dow Jones index had its biggest gain in points ever (1,086) and the S&P 500 also had its best percentage gain ever (4.96%). Economic theory requires there to be a reason for such a gain after 4 consecutive days of big losses. The only news tidbit available that might have made investors feel safe was the assurance from White House economic adviser Kevin Hassett that Fed Chairman Jerome Powell's job is safe. Of course, in this volatile environment, anything could happen tomorrow. It is also worth nothing that even with the biggest point gain in all of history yesterday, the Dow is still almost 2,000 points below what it was at the start of this year.

The reality of today's markets is, however, very different from what classic economic theory predicts. The markets aren't affected much by individual investors (or even fund managers) reading news on the Wall Street Journal website and then issuing buy or sell orders. Market movements are dominated by computer programs that react to changes in share prices and issue buy and sell commands on a millisecond-by-millisecond basis. An algorithm could be programmed, for example, to wait until 25 of the 30 Dow stocks have risen on three consecutive trades within the last second, and then issue buy orders for them and other stocks (and vice versa on the way down). This is known as program trading. Of course, the algorithms could be primed by actual news, which could cause human fund managers to issue buy or sell orders, which the computer algorithms would notice and amplify. In any event, the point is that the functioning of the markets—which has always been rather mysterious and somewhat beyond human comprehension—is even more fully beyond human comprehension today, in a world where humans aren't even making most of the buy and sell decisions. (V)

Whitaker Falsely Claimed Honor He Never Got

Acting AG Matthew Whitaker claimed on his resume and other documents that he was an Academic All-American when he played football at the University of Iowa from 1990 to 1992. He wasn't. To win the award, a student-athlete must have a 3.3 grade point average and must generally be a starter or important reserve on his team. Whitaker never met the requirements, so he basically lied. Now that Donald Trump has nominated William Barr to be the new AG, Whitaker won't have to explain this discrepancy to the senators, though. And if he looks for a lower-profile job after Barr is confirmed, probably nobody will notice the details on his resume. (V)

California May Lose a Seat in the House

Less than a century ago (the 1930s), California was not even among the 10 most populous states in the nation. It was kind of like a much larger version of Pennsylvania back then: A couple of big cities, and a lot of not-so-populated rural areas. But then, the Great Depression brought millions of people in search of work, and World War II brought millions more for much the same reason. And those folks had lots of kids as part of the baby boom, with the result that California moved from "outside the top 10 states" in 1930, with 5.6 million people, to "number one by a longshot" by 1960, with almost 16 million people. It's grown steadily ever since; with the addition of more than 2 million citizens this decade, it is estimated that the total will surpass 40 million sometime in 2019.

Unfortunately for the Golden State, its population may not be growing quite fast enough to maintain its representation in Congress. Because every state gets at least one representative, and there are only 435 seats to go around, the number of people needed for each additional seat beyond one keeps rising. And since California has 53 seats in total, it means that every time the population per seat requirement rises, the state has to add 53 times that number to keep up. Given current projections, they may just come up short once the 2020 census has been completed. It's going to be a race to the finish line, but it's possible that Montana, of all places, will grow just enough to claim a second House seat, taking one from California. If that does come to pass, it will be the first time ever that California's congressional delegation has shrunk.

Other states that appear headed for changes: Florida, Texas and Colorado are likely to gain seats in the House (and, with them, electoral votes), while West Virginia, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, and Minnesota are all set to lose seats. Given that there are some red, blue, and purple states on both sides of the ledger, the net effect does not seem likely to be too significant. However, it does raise the question of whether the cap of 435, set nearly a century ago (i.e., when California had less than 15% of its current population) still makes sense. We'll take a look at that in an item sometime soon. (Z)

Thursday Q&A

The shutdown continues to be the hot topic of the day (and week, and month), to nobody's surprise.

Can the Democrats take advantage of the gift the President has given them with the shutdown? For once, play "hardball" with Trump, and pass a bill to reopen with the government with a laundry list of Democratic dream legislation attached. For example, pass a bill with 10 other pieces of legislation added, "negotiate" to get it down to 4, and then watch the "Great Negotiator" claim that he beat the Democrats at their own game and put pressure on his own party to pass the bill? M.D., San Nicolaas, Aruba

Certainly, this is a possibility, and would be an interesting way to come out of the gate with a "bang!" once the blue team regains the gavel. However, we think it is unlikely, for three reasons.

First, because the Democrats have not generally been the party of "hardball" in recent years. There are reasons for this, but perhaps most important among them is that they have considerably fewer "my way or the highway" voters than the GOP does. Evangelical voters, in particular, often do not see the value in compromise, and of course they have been a core Republican constituency for decades.

Second, because it behooves Speaker-designate Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) & Co. to move very rapidly once they get the gavel, to show that they can get things done. If they get bogged down in trying to reach agreement on 10 different things like DACA, and Medicare for All, and a higher minimum wage, that would be very bad PR. On the other hand, if they have a spending bill on its way to the Senate by, say, 3:00 p.m. on January 3, then that is very good PR for them at a time when everyone is watching, and makes sure that the buck is passed squarely to the Senate and/or the President.

Third, and related to the second, the evidence is very clear right now (see above) that Donald Trump is taking the blame for this shutdown. That's a big win for the Democrats, particularly if they hold his feet to the fire by sending him a Senate-approved spending bill very quickly. If they start tacking on a bunch of other stuff, however, it could easily change the narrative, as Republican politicians and pundits start griping about how the blue team is using the shutdown as an excuse to turn the U.S. into a socialist country. As a matter of tactics, it is almost certainly wiser for them to take the easy win that's right in front of them rather than to gamble on a bigger win. It's a version of "One in the hand is worth two in the bush."

Suppose the Republicans in Congress, yielding to pushback from their constituents, decide to pass a budget over a presidential veto. Could Trump simply decide to keep the government shut down anyway, just by being the CEO of the country? M.B., Montreal, Canada

Nope. As much as he wishes being president was like being the CEO, it's not. Once a budget is passed, even over presidential veto, it becomes the law of the land. And at that point, the various agencies that are shut down are allowed to begin spending money again, including cutting paychecks. Trump cannot stop that, no matter how hard he tries.

Put it this way: Imagine that, three months ago (when there was no government shutdown), Trump suddenly announced that he was cutting off paychecks for all employees of the FBI because they are part of the "deep state." Would that fly? It most certainly would not, and Congress, the courts, and the Dept. of Justice would all pitch a fit. The fact that the government is currently (partly) shut down does not change anything; it would be just as egregious an overreach now as it would have been three months ago, and would be equally likely to fail.

President Trump has already said he would not sign a government spending bill without money for a border wall. Technically, is this a veto? If so, can't the Senate override his veto and force him to sign the bill? I ask that knowing full well it would be impossible to get enough Republicans to flip on this to get an override. K.B., Roseland, NJ

What we're talking about here is a pocket veto, which is actually one of the trickier areas of U.S. civics. Let's start with the key passage from the Constitution (Art. I, Sec. 7):

If any Bill shall not be returned by the President within ten days (Sundays excepted) after it shall have been presented to him, the same shall be a Law, in like manner as if he had signed it, unless the Congress by their Adjournment prevent its return, in which case it shall not be a Law.

What is clear is that once a president receives a bill, he has 10 non-Sunday days to make a decision. If he does nothing during those 10 non-Sunday days and Congress is in session, then the bill becomes law. If he does nothing during those 10 non-Sunday days and Congress in not in session, then the bill is pocket vetoed, because the president cannot return the bill to them (so they can "fix" it).

The tricky part is that it's not entirely clear what it takes for Congress to be "in session." The Supreme Court has taken up the matter a few times, most notably in the Pocket Veto Case of 1929, but its rulings have not entirely resolved the matter, since they've taken an expansive view of the pocket veto in some cases, and a more limited view in others.

In any event, the point is academic in the current situation. These days, Congress generally makes sure to have pro forma sessions every few days during a break, such that they are never adjourned for 10 straight days. On top of that, the courts have established that the two chambers can designate members to receive returned bills from presidents, and so there are always a few of them on hand in Washington to perform that duty. Consequently, pocket vetoes are very rare these days. In fact, there has been only one in the last 25 years (Bill Clinton). And there is zero chance that is going to change in the next month since, of course, Congress will be in session once any spending bill is passed.

The only way this particular corner of the law could become relevant, then, is if Donald Trump decides to sit on a spending bill for 10 days and to thus allow it to become law without his signature. That would certainly allow him to create some reality-TV type drama, and would also allow him to technically claim that he did not back down, since the bill would not have his signature. However, the cost of these "victories" would be that federal employees (and others) would suffer the effects of a shutdown for almost two additional weeks. That seems an unwise trade-off to us, politically-speaking, but maybe the President will see it differently.

Which votes in the Senate need a supermajority? It seems like some votes go through with a simple majority, yet others—like the border wall—require a supermajority to pass. P.E., Fenton, MI

Let us start by noting that the Senate has two kinds of supermajorities: 60 votes (i.e., 3/5) and 67 votes (i.e., 2/3). The purpose in requiring supermajorities was to make sure that really momentous decisions have broad support, as compared to everyday decisions.

The circumstance where this comes up most commonly these days, by a long shot, is invoking cloture. That's the fancy term for ending a filibuster. It takes 60 votes for the Senate to do so, meaning that debate on a law or an appointment is closed, and the chamber moves on to a vote (which generally requires a simple majority). The filibuster for Cabinet nominees and lower-court judges was killed by the Democrats in 2013, and the filibuster for SCOTUS nominees was killed by the Republicans last year. This means that high-level appointments used to have to clear the 60-vote bar, but now they only have to get 51 votes (or 50 plus the VP). This is how you get people like Brett Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court, since he most certainly would not have gotten approved under the old rules.

There is also the special case of reconciliation. In essence, once a year, the Senate is allowed to pass a revenue-neutral bill that adjusts the budget. By the terms of the Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act of 1974, reconciliation cannot be filibustered, and so requires only 51 "yea" votes (or 50 plus the VP). This is how the GOP passed its tax bill, which never could have overcome a filibuster.

Most other Senate business, outside of the exceptions outlined above, is still subject to filibusters, including funding bills with $5 billion for Mexican walls. Reconciliation would not be usable here, because the bill is not revenue-neutral. And since Senate Democrats can "debate" (that is, filibuster) ad infinitum until debate is closed, it effectively means they can block a bill they hate, if they choose to do so, since the GOP doesn't have 60 votes for cloture. This might be the most powerful privilege that is still afforded to the minority party in the U.S. system of government as it currently stands. Note also that there is no House filibuster.

There are a few other special cases (certain kinds of bills) where 60 votes are required, but they are pretty rare. Meanwhile, the circumstances in which a 2/3 vote is required in the Senate: Convicting an impeached president, sustaining the removal of the president from office under the terms of the 25th Amendment, expelling a member, overriding a presidential veto, changing the rules of debate, ratifying treaties, and repatriating rebels (that one has not been terribly relevant since about 1870).

In your December 23 discussion of Sherrod Brown, you point out that Virginia and Ohio have done well in birthing presidents. My home, the Keystone State, was an original colony of the British Empire, and currently has a significant population of 12 million people. Yet we have produced only one president, and he did not excel at the position. Is there any logic or circumstance that contribute to why some states produce more presidents than others? W.F., Blairs Mills, PA

There is a certain amount of randomness to it, inasmuch as sometimes the greatest political mind of his generation just so happens to be born and raised in Arkansas. However, it's mostly a product of logic and circumstance.

To start, keep in mind that presidential candidates were selected by conventions up until the 1950s and 1960s, and that the real decision-making was often done in the infamous smoke-filled room. Under those circumstances, there is going to be a lot of tactical thinking that goes into the choice of nominee, including thinking about the state they come from (which, in theory, they should be able to carry). Most of the Virginia presidents were nominated at a time when Virginia was the most populous Southern state, and also a state from which the rest of the South took its cues. And most of the Ohio presidents were nominated at a time when Ohio was the most populous Midwestern state, and also a state from which the rest of the Midwest took its cues. So, choosing a president from those states was a good starting point for building a winning electoral map.

Since the 1950s and 1960s, the conventions (and the smoke-filled rooms) have been rendered far less relevant, and a candidate's home state matters far less. Still, it does matter some. In particular, coming from a large state affords a candidate higher visibility and, in general, a built-in pile of delegates. The major-party candidates since 1960 came from Massachusetts (4), Texas (3), Arizona (2), California (2), Minnesota (2), New York (2), Arkansas, Georgia, Illinois, Kansas, Michigan, South Dakota, and Tennessee. A few of the smaller states slipped in there, in a way that would not have happened as much before 1950, but there's still a clear bias toward very large states (even if they are not swing states). Note, on the other hand, the lack of South Carolinians, Iowans, New Hampshirites, and Nevadans on the list. Clearly, coming from an early primary/caucus state isn't all that much of an advantage.

Incidentally, your Pennsylvania president—James Buchanan—came during a brief time when the Keystone State was a critical swing state. In 1856, the Democrats needed a northerner with Southern sympathies (known in the parlance of the day as a "doughface"), and at a time when Pennsylvania politics were in flux. So, they went with Buchanan. Thanks to the Civil War, however, Pennsylvania became a GOP stronghold, and the only non-Republican presidents they voted for in the next century were named Roosevelt (Progressive Teddy in 1912, and Democrat Franklin in 1936, 1940, and 1944). So, there was no particular reason for the fellows in the smoke-filled rooms to look in Pennsylvania's direction. Today, it's back to being a swing state, of course, but again, swingy-ness matters less today than size and national profile, and Pennsylvania lags behind quite a few states by those measures.

In your Dec. 20 Q&A, you mentioned that because of FDR's liberalism, "he was compelled to choose VPs that would appeal to more conservative voters to 'balance' his four tickets." How did Henry Wallace appeal to conservatives? He seems to me to be to have been to FDR's left in 1940. Wallace certainly became more conservative in the 1950s, but that wouldn't have helped Roosevelt in 1940. D.R., Elizabethtown, PA

That answer illustrates two things. The first is the difficulty of threading the needle when writing for this particular medium. In a proper, scholarly volume, that matter could have been addressed in a paragraph or two, or in a footnote. In this case, however, it was a sub-point of a sub-point. And one does not want to bog the prose down with too many clarifications or parentheticals or asides. It was (Z) who wrote that particular sentence, and the potential problem you note did not escape his attention, but he felt there was no efficient way to clarify and so he let it stand as-is.

That said, you have now afforded us an opportunity to clarify, while helping us to point out the second thing that answer illustrates, namely the difficulty of threading the vice-presidential needle. In 1940, FDR couldn't have an anti-New Dealer, of course, which is why John Nance Garner was thrown overboard. Roosevelt also knew that a war with Russia as an ally and Germany as an enemy was likely coming, and Wallace had the ability to rally people to that particular coalition. Further, Wallace was beloved by farmers for his accomplishments in private business (he invented several important types of cross-bred plants, as well as new forms of bookkeeping for farmers) and as Secretary of Agriculture. Most non-Southern farmers back then, it should be noted, were registered Republicans. And finally, Wallace himself had been a Republican as a younger man. In short, FDR wanted someone who held Democratic positions on the New Deal and on the likely war effort, but might nonetheless bring some Republican votes into the fold. That's a tall order, but the President thought Wallace could do it. The South loathed the pick, since Wallace was a liberal on race, but FDR thought they would fall in line, and he was right.

In the end, Wallace did attract farmers' votes, but he proved to be a bit too liberal, and a bit too outspoken, and so he was dumped for a more conservative Democrat, and a Southerner, in Harry S. Truman.

You have written several times (most often in reference to the Arizona 2020 senate election) that the 2020 electorate will be more Democratic than the 2018 one. But didn't we just have a pretty substantial wave election year? Is there a case to say that most or all of the Democrats who will vote in 2020 showed up in 2018? J.O., Raleigh, NC

Nobody can predict the future with certainty, of course, but the smart bet is that more Democrats will vote in 2020 than did in 2018. Consider this chart:

Voter turnout in the last century

As you can see, the purple line shows the turnout in presidential years, and the blue line shows midterm years. And from this, two things are immediately clear. The first is that record-high midterm turnout, like we just had, would be close to record-low presidential turnout (less than half of eligible voters voted this year; the last time that happened in a presidential election was 1924). The second is that the two numbers track pretty well, in that if "X" is any given midterm year, the next presidential year tends to see about X+12% voters.

That second point is pretty critical. Since high midterm enthusiasm tends to be followed by high presidential enthusiasm, then there is every reason to think turnout will be up 10%-20% in 2020. And the people who tend to drive that increased turnout (young people, voters of color) break heavily Democratic. So, the available evidence suggests strongly that the electorate in two years will be more favorable to the blue team than even this year's "blue wave" electorate.

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Dec26 Trump Promises to Keep the Government Shut Down Until He Gets His Wall
Dec26 Why Immigration Is the Spark that Keeps Shutting Down the Government
Dec26 Another Migrant Child Dies in U.S. Custody
Dec26 Times Looks Into Spurious Claims that Got Trump out of Serving in Vietnam
Dec26 Trump vs. the Supreme Court
Dec26 The Invisible Primary Is in Full Swing
Dec26 Nasty Senate Primary in Arizona Is Also Already Underway
Dec25 Markets Tank and Trump Blames Powell
Dec25 Mnuchin May Get the Blame Next
Dec25 Trump Is Home Alone on Christmas Eve
Dec25 Trump May Have Ruined a Kid's Christmas
Dec25 McCaskill: GOP Senators Believe Trump is Nuts
Dec25 Interesting Facts about the 2018 Election
Dec25 Democrats Toyed Around with Dirty Tricks in Alabama Senate Election
Dec24 Mulvaney: Shutdown Could Stretch into 2019
Dec24 Trump Fires Mattis
Dec24 Syria Withdrawal Is Official
Dec24 What Will 2019 Bring?
Dec24 Americans Don't Want Trump to Pardon His Associates
Dec24 Nonvoters Didn't Vote Because They Don't Like Politics
Dec24 Connie Schultz Will Leave the Carrot Cake in the Fridge
Dec24 Monday Q&A
Dec23 Shutdown Enters Second Day
Dec23 Economy Having a Bad Month
Dec23 Trump Is Thinking about Firing the Fed Chair
Dec23 Syria Withdrawal Began with a Phone Call
Dec23 A Mueller Mystery
Dec23 Democratic Presidential Candidate of the Week: Sherrod Brown
Dec22 Government Shuts Down
Dec22 Sanders: All of America Wants the Wall
Dec22 Supreme Court Hands Trump a Defeat
Dec22 Ruth Ginsburg Had Surgery for Lung Cancer
Dec22 Russia Actively Tried to Compromise the Midterms
Dec22 Gallup To Cut Back on Political Polling
Dec22 Bettors Think Trump Will Be Impeached
Dec21 Mattis: I'm Out
Dec21 Trump Changes Course, Won't Sign Short-term Funding Bill
Dec21 Meadows to Federal Employees Who May Not Get Paid: You Signed Up for This
Dec21 Trump Administration Will Lift Sanctions against Deripaska's Companies
Dec21 Ethics Officials Told Whitaker to Recuse Himself, but He Refused
Dec21 Perez Axes the Kiddie Table in 2020
Dec21 Should the Democrats Use Ranked-Choice Voting in 2020 Primaries?
Dec20 Trump Wants to Pull Out of Syria Immediately
Dec20 Shutdown Averted--For Now
Dec20 Michigan Power-Grab Partially Fails
Dec20 Cummings Is Already Sending Out Letters Requesting Information
Dec20 Trump Signed a Letter of Intent on Moscow Project during the Campaign
Dec20 Paul Ryan Bids Farewell
Dec20 No Sanctions for Kavanaugh
Dec20 Kasich Doesn't Think He Could Beat Trump in a Primary