New Mexico Joins National Popular Vote Compact
Biden Spotted In Scranton
Trump Wanted New IRS Counsel Prioritized
Cohen Tells Congress He Has More to Add
Most Now Choose Environment Over Economy
Senate Blocks Resolution to Release Mueller Report
• Trump Changes His Mind on Releasing Mueller's Report
• Some Mueller Investigators Think Report Was More Damning than Barr Suggested
• House Democrats Officially Ask for Trump's Taxes
• Biden: I Won't Do It Anymore
• Senate Goes Nuclear
• Ambassadorships Now Cost $350,000
• War Erupts within the Democratic Party
• Iowa Will Allow Remote Voting in the Caucuses
• Conservative Leads in Wisconsin Supreme Court Race
• First Quarter Fundraising Reports Are Dribbling In
• Thursday Q&A
On a party-line vote, the House Judiciary Committee yesterday voted to subpoena the full report special counsel Robert Mueller wrote and handed over to AG William Barr. Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) had given Barr until April 2 to turn over the report and all the underlying evidence. Barr chose not to, saying that he will turn over a redacted report in a couple of weeks. Nadler wasn't having any of it, so he had the committee approve a subpoena.
For tactical reasons, Nadler is not going to issue the subpoena just yet. He wants to give Barr a chance to turn over the full report and evidence voluntarily because he feels when the Supreme Court gets the case, which is inevitable, he can argue that he tried to cooperate with Barr, but the AG wasn't interested. This could avoid a situation in which the Court says: "Why didn't you ask politely?" In effect, that is what Nadler is doing now, so if the Court ever asks that question, the answer will be: "I did."
Trump's chances of winning the case are not so great. The precedent people are looking at is Leon Jaworski's subpoena of Richard Nixon's Oval Office tapes. If ever there was a case for executive privilege, it is surely tapes of the president talking to his most trusted advisers inside the Oval Office. Nevertheless, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that Nixon had to turn over the tapes. Nadler's case is stronger because: (1) It is Congress that wants the report, not a prosecutor, and (2) It will be nearly impossible for Trump to assert executive privilege about a report someone else wrote far from the White House.
Some of the redactions may be needed to keep grand jury testimony secret. Existing law allows the AG to give the report to the chairman and ranking member of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees and the Democratic and Republican leaders of each chamber. Barr could do that, but if his mission is to protect Donald Trump, he probably won't, so ultimately it will be up to the Supreme Court to decide whether Congress may have the report.
There is another wrinkle here, namely that Barr (in his confirmation hearings) said that the DoJ cannot reveal information about someone who was not indicted. This general policy is meant to avoid doing undue harm to someone who is not going to be able to defend themselves in open court. For example, if the report were to say, "Jared Kushner apparently likes to download illegal pornography, but we don't have enough evidence to convict him of that in court," he would be pretty seriously harmed with no opportunity to exonerate himself.
The wrinkle is that we know Trump is not going to be indicted, and so Barr could decide to redact any and all information related to the President from the report. The obvious problem here is that if it is DoJ policy not to indict a sitting president and it is DoJ policy not to reveal information about those who are unindicted, then there would be no such thing as an investigation of a sitting president. A sitting president would be not only above the law, but also above being investigated. If Barr does try to make this move, the members of Congress are going to argue that it is their purview to decide whether or not to put a sitting president on trial, and that they can make that decision only with all of the relevant information available. It's a very strong argument, but the administration will push back hard against it, and the SCOTUS deck has been stacked in Trump's favor, so you never know.
The case could take a year or more in the courts, but there are things Nadler and/or House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA) can do while waiting. They could invite and/or subpoena Mueller and other members of his team to testify before the committee. A likely question might be: "Did you find any evidence at all that Trump broke the law?" If the answer is "yes," the obvious follow-up is: "Please tell me what you found."
Another path Nadler could take is issuing subpoenas to White House officials who might be able to provide useful information, especially about what Trump knew and when he knew it. In preparation for this testimony, the Judiciary Committee also approved subpoenas for Don McGahn, Steve Bannon, Reince Priebus, Hope Hicks, and Annie Donaldson. Again, Nadler will try to get them to come voluntarily before subpoenaing them, and since none of them currently work in the White House, they may be more willing to cooperate than Barr.
So the bottom line is that Nadler has set the ball rolling and a confrontation between the executive and legislative branches is now all but certain. (V & Z)
Just after William Barr announced that the Mueller report did not conclusively declare that Donald Trump obstructed justice, Trump called for the report to be released in full. That was then. This is now. And now, to nobody's surprise, he doesn't want to have the report released. Most likely he has realized that there is evidence in it that he committed one or more crimes, just not enough to convince a jury beyond a reasonable doubt. In addition, the Democrats want not only the report, but also the transcripts of all the interviews and all the documents Mueller obtained. Trump surely knows there is damaging material in there, even if there is not enough to convince a jury beyond a reasonable doubt.
Trump's approach now is to attack the two House committee chairs who can do the most damage to him: Jerrold Nadler (Judiciary) and Adam Schiff (Intelligence). He tweeted:
There is no amount of testimony or document production that can satisfy Jerry Nadler or Shifty Adam Schiff. It is now time to focus exclusively on properly running our great Country!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 2, 2019
That may or may not be true, but releasing the full report and the millions of pages of documents would keep them quite busy for weeks. (V)
Although it is called the Mueller report, it was actually the work of more than four dozen people. And while Mueller himself has apparently remained silent, the same is not true of his associates. They aren't speaking publicly yet, to the media or otherwise, but they have let a few things drop to co-workers. And the picture that emerges, as pieced together by the New York Times' Nicholas Fandos, Michael S. Schmidt and Mark Mazzetti, is that the report is not nearly so favorable to Trump as William Barr made it seem.
Given that the members of Team Mueller still have a duty to remain silent, and thus we are working with unspecific hearsay, it's not entirely clear what the concerns are. However, it appears that one problem is the speed and definitiveness with which Barr reached his conclusions about obstruction of justice. There's also some suggestion that the report implicates Trump in other, non-obstruction/non-collusion-related crimes. One of these days, we will presumably get more clarity, but for now, it's pretty clear why Trump lost his enthusiasm for releasing the entire report (see above). (Z)
The Mueller report was not the only thing that House Democrats demanded on Wednesday. They also pulled the trigger on Donald Trump's tax returns, with House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal (D-MA) sending a letter to IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig asking for six years' worth of personal and business information (2013-18) for the President. Neal said that his request had nothing to do with the activities of his colleagues, and it just happened to come on the same day as Jerrold Nadler's subpoena. If true, that is a remarkable coincidence.
In any case, everyone responded exactly as expected. The IRS had no comment, Trump's lawyers said this is going to end up in court, and Trump himself said he would be happy to comply as soon as his (apparently eternal) audit is over. Since there is no "audit exception," and since the President's lawyers have invented conditions that do not appear in the original law that Neal is invoking, it is likely that Trump is eventually going to lose this. At some point, he and his team are going to have to decide if they want to take their chances that Brett Kavanaugh will rescue the President, or if they want to accept the likely result, and release the returns semi-voluntarily. This would look less suspicious than being forced to release them, and would also allow Trump to put as much time as is possible between whatever dirt is in the returns and the 2020 election.
If the information in the tax returns is really (politically) damaging, what might Trump do if the Supreme Court rules that Neal has a legal right to see his tax returns? He could order Rettig not to comply with the Court and then tweet: "John Marshall...er, John Roberts has made his decision; now let him enforce it." Of course, Trump doesn't know enough history to paraphrase Andrew Jackson, and besides, the remark may be apocryphal anyway.
At this point, we can only speculate why Trump is so adamant about not releasing his tax returns. If he did something bad in the distant past, he could have released his 2016 tax return shortly after announcing his run for president, and claimed that the others were similar. That would probably have stopped the discussion in its tracks. So we have to assume that whatever damaging information is in there is fairly current. What could it be? That he claimed no charitable deductions? Everyone already knows he is a miser, so that wouldn't be big news. That he claimed huge charitable deductions for giving money to his own foundation? New York State is already on that case. The most plausible thing that would show up on a tax return and would be damaging would be transactions involving Russia, such as deductions for interest paid to Russian banks for loans, capital gains or losses on Russian real estate deals, etc. These would undercut his statements that he has no business with Russia. (Z & V)
Joe Biden made a non-apology apology yesterday, suggesting he wouldn't rub noses with women or sniff their hair without their permission anymore. But he didn't actually apologize for doing these things in the past. He also said that he would be mindful of people's personal spaces going forward.
Biden pointed out, in his own defense, that as a long-time senator, he led on many issues of concern to women, including the Violence Against Women's Act and combatting sexual assault on campus. It's hard to know at this point if this will be enough to stop the bleeding. It often happens that people do things that weren't objectionable at the time, but later public opinion changes and the once-tolerable behavior becomes intolerable. Unfortunately for Biden, the change didn't come after he left politics, or better yet, after his death. After all, George Washington personally owned hundreds of human beings, but at the time, few land-owning white Christian men thought that was a big deal. (V)
As expected, the Senate changed its rules yesterday to allow Donald Trump's judicial nominees to get through with only 2 hours of debate on each one. Under the old rules, 30 hours of debate was allowed, and the Democrats tended to use the full 30 on each candidate. This didn't stop too many judges from being confirmed, but it did gum up the works and slow down the process.
The rules for processing judicial nominations have changed substantially over the past few years, and all the changes have reduced the minority's power to block nominations. In addition to yesterday's change, the filibuster for nominations has been eliminated as well as the blue-slip rule, which required the assent of the senators from a judge's state before a nomination could go through. The minority is now essentially powerless to block judicial nominations, as well as sub-cabinet level appointments. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is planning to use the new rules to ram though a large number of conservative judges, including many for vacancies that occurred when Barack Obama was president and McConnell refused to bring his nominations up for a vote.
There is nothing the Democrats can do now but stew. Of course, if they win the White House and at least 50 seats in the Senate, they will probably take the final step and either abolish the legislative filibuster, or at least require the Republicans to stand on the floor of the Senate day and night reading Shakespeare, the Bible, or the Alabama phone book. In 5 years, all the cordiality and civility the Senate once had will be gone and the Senate will just be a smaller version of the House, where the minority has essentially no power. If 218 members of the House majority want to change the colors in the American flag to mauve, taupe, and chartreuse, there is nothing the minority can do about it. (V)
All recent presidents have appointed campaign donors to ambassadorships, but in the past about 1/3 were donors and 2/3 were career foreign service diplomats. In the Trump administration, fully half the appointments are going to donors. The average donation needed to buy an ambassadorship is $350,000. The more money you give, the bigger the country you get.
Some of Trump's appointments are as follows:
- United Arab Emirates: John Rakolta, a wealthy real estate developer
- Iceland: Jeffrey Gunter, a man who has never even been to Iceland
- Morocco: David Fischer, a car dealer (not yet confirmed by the Senate)
- Slovenia: Lynda Blanchard, the founder of an evangelical charity who often posted fake news to Facebook
- Bahamas: Douglas Manchester, billionaire real estate developer who thought the Bahamas were part of the U.S.
None of these people has any diplomatic experience at all. Again, previous presidents have also appointed campaign donors as ambassadors, but none has ever appointed as many as Trump. And given Trump's lack of interest in foreign policy, ambassadors are more important than ever. (V)
If there is anything Democrats like doing better than attacking Republicans, it is attacking other Democrats with whom they disagree. Case in point: The DCCC strongly discourages primary challenges to sitting Democratic House members, saying that the energy and money needed to dislodge an incumbent Democrat could be better spent trying to dislodge an incumbent Republican. Many progressives don't agree, saying they most definitely want to replace conservative Democrats with progressive Democrats, and primary challenges are the only way to do it.
Specifically, the flashpoint is a policy that the DCCC has adopted that requires consultants, pollsters, and other vendors of goods and services who want to be placed on the DCCC's list of approved vendors to sign a pledge not to work for a candidate who is challenging an incumbent Democrat. Since most Democratic vendors want to be on the approved list, this new policy will make it very difficult for challengers to hire staff. This is the intention, of course.
As soon as the policy was announced, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) criticized it. Both women unseated incumbent Democrats in 2018 and want to make sure that is possible in other districts in 2020. Ocasio-Cortez went further and told her supporters to stop giving money to the DCCC.
The Party immediately struck back. Rep. Katherine Clark (D-MA), the vice chair of the Democratic caucus, said that the Democrats' goals, such as passing H.R. 1, a major government reform bill, depends on holding their majority, and money spent trying to defeat Democrats is counterproductive. So far, the Party is sticking to its guns. (V)
The mechanics of elections are much more important than many people realize. For example, one of the things Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) had going for him in 2016 was that most of the red states that don't have a lot of people, but where the buffalo roam, held caucuses rather than primaries. That meant that having 5,000 strong supporters show up for caucuses in states like North Dakota netted him a few dozen delegates here and a few dozen delegates there. In the end, it adds up. Many of the caucus states have switched to a primary for 2020, which means this strategy won't be available to Sanders or anyone else this cycle.
The news out of Iowa is about its caucus. It is still having one, but it is changing the rules for 2020 and this could affect who wins. To see why this rule change (described below) matters, consider the difference between a primary and a caucus. In a primary, you show up, you vote, and you go home. Pretty simple. In a caucus, the caucusgoers split into presidential preference groups based on whom they support, discuss their candidate, and elect a chair. Then everyone comes together for a plenary session to count noses. Any candidate having fewer than 15% of the participants is eliminated and his or her supporters have to find a new home. This process is repeated until each remaining candidate has at least 15% of the attendees on his or her side. Then the chair of each group makes a short speech extolling the candidate and there is a vote that allocates delegates to the county caucus in proportion to the vote. Finally, there is an election for the delegates to the county caucus, where the process is repeated to elect delegates to the congressional district caucus and then to the state caucus. The whole process can easily take 4 hours.
For many rural voters in Iowa, especially older ones, driving perhaps 20 miles in the snow and then spending four hours arguing about candidates and then driving home late at night in the snow is too much, so they don't go. The Iowa Democratic Party has conceded that older people, shift workers who can't get off from work on caucus evening, disabled people, and others for whom caucus attendance is a burden, are effectively disenfranchised from taking part in this crucial event. So it has decided to do something about it in 2020. The solution is to allow Iowa Democrats to submit a ranked list of five candidates to one of the 1,700 precinct caucuses in advance. These votes will be counted the same way as in-person votes.
Iowa has 370,000 AARP members and the group estimates that 60,000 to 75,000 of them will participate in the caucuses, many of them by sending in a candidate list in advance. It is likely that the rule change will make the "electorate" (caucusate?) skew older than it has been, which favors those candidates older voters prefer. In particular, Joe Biden is the favorite among seniors, so the new rule could help him considerably, should he decide to run. Iowa is mostly white (91%) and older than the country as a whole, so a candidate who appeals to old white people, as Biden does, could make a big splash by winning the Iowa caucuses, even though the state is not representative of the country at all. But that is how it will be in 2020. (V)
Democrats were shocked when Donald Trump won Wisconsin in 2016, but were elated when the Democratic candidates won the gubernatorial and senatorial races in 2018. Now they are shocked again, as it appears that the conservative candidate, Brian Hagedorn, has apparently beaten the liberal candidate, Lisa Neubauer, in the election for the Wisconsin Supreme Court held Tuesday. The race is nominally nonpartisan, but everyone in the state knows who's who. Hagedorn is currently ahead by 6,000 votes, although a recount is possible. The chance of 6,000 switching in a recount is extremely low.
Hagedorn is an evangelical Christian and campaigned on his beliefs. If he wins, the Court will have five conservatives and two liberals, up from a four-to-three majority now, giving the conservatives the final say in state matters that come before it, like gerrymandering, abortion, gay rights, and much more. (V)
The Democratic presidential candidates are starting to report how much money they raised in the first quarter of 2019. While money isn't everything, it gives some idea of which candidates are hot and which are not. Here are the amounts and numbers of donors for the candidates who have reported so far.
|Candidate||Q1 haul||# Donors|
|Bernie Sanders||$18 million||525,000|
|Kamala Harris||$12 million||138,000|
|Beto O'Rourke||$9 million||218,000|
|Pete Buttigieg||$7 million||159,000|
|Andrew Yang||$2 million||80,000|
The numbers may sound impressive, but they really are not. In the first quarter of 2007, the corresponding numbers for the big five were: Hillary Clinton, $36 million, Barack Obama, $26 million, Mitt Romney, $21 million, Rudy Giuliani, $18 million, and John Edwards, $14 million. Of course, there are a dozen candidates who haven't reported yet, but it seems unlikely that any of them will even approach the 2020 Democrats who have already reported, let alone the 2008 leaders. (V)
Yet another nice smorgasbord of questions.
In regards to your item from yesterday, how would pollsters determine the intent of an Internet search? How would they know, for example, what percentage of the inquiries are positive (I want to know more because I think I might want to support the subject) or negative (I have misgivings and want to know if this is someone I should be wary of)? Interpreting a search as support was a fallacy that intelligence agencies had to overcome, which was done by establishing a complex matrix of activity informed by extensive data mining. M.M., San Diego, CA
Questions like this help illustrate why it must be an exciting (and terrifying) time to be a pollster. Just as the pollsters of the 1930s and 1940s didn't quite know how to get a handle on the data that was available to them, the pollsters of today—who surely know that telephone polling is a dying art—have to think about how to get a handle on the trove of data that is being offered by the Internet.
We can think of three ways this might shake out. The first is that, along the lines that you note, the pollsters develop complicated data mining operations that are able to reach conclusions based on multiple data points (Google searches, Facebook engagement, comments sections, etc.). This will be tricky, though, for a number of reasons. Among them is this approach may not capture day-to-day shifts in support very well. Further, the Internet evolves so rapidly that the algorithms of, say, 2020 might not be applicable by 2024.
A second possibility is that the pollsters transition to a model that is like what the Nielsen folks do. That is to say, they select representative members of the populace, and pay those folks to allow the pollster to track their Internet usage. This would, in effect, be a tracking poll. The big challenge here would be translating the data collected into meaningful conclusions. Also, this model would suffer from the same problem that all tracking polls suffer from, namely that the person's awareness that they are being tracked can influence their behavior and make them non-representative (a problem that gets worse and worse the longer the tracking goes on).
The third possibility, which is a variant of the second, is that the pollsters utilize website cookies as a way of tracking voter preferences. This would require partnerships with various websites, of course (presumably news- and politics-oriented sites). The good news here is that skillfully deployed cookies can be frighteningly good at allowing individuals' thoughts and desires to be discerned. The bad news is that legitimate news and political sites may not want to be a part of this. Further, if and when people found out they were being used in this way, they could be furious.
It seems to me you occasionally give some darn good advice to the growing field of presidential candidates or, at the very least, a useful perspective. Not to mention, the site is a pretty good aggregator of political news and opinions for those short on time who need a more nutrient rich source. My question given all that, are you aware of any presidential candidate, present or past, that reads your site? S.S., Ithaca, NY
We sometimes get e-mails from folks who work in D.C., or who work on campaigns, but they tend to be pretty circumspect about saying for whom they work. So it's certainly possible that one or more presidential candidates are reading what we have to say, or are hearing from someone who reads what we have to say. However, the only one who we know for certain has checked in is Mike Dukakis. And that is basically unrelated to politics; it's because (Z) is a former student of his. In 2004, when the site started (and it was the only one tracking the electoral vote on a daily basis), 15,000 people sent e-mail, and some were from people high on the political totem pole. They may still be reading, but are probably much more circumspect now.
We have seen various estimates of the expenses associated with the President's frequent trips to his own properties, with Mar-a-Lago leading the list. But I have not seen estimates of how much of the expenses being charged to taxpayers are going straight into Trump's pocket. When he takes a large group to dine at the Trump property in D.C., is the table presented with a bill? Do taxpayers pay this bill? Or is it comped because he owns the hotel? And at Mar-a-Lago, when taxpayers pay for rooms, food and beverage, and golf expenses for the President, his guests, and the Secret Service, do those expenses go into Trump's pocket also? In other words, while Trump is saying he is not taking a salary, is the Trump Organization and thus Trump himself making millions of dollars this way? B.B., Largo, FL
Let's start with the easiest questions first. Presidents are responsible for their own food and entertainment expenses (though they get a small budget, $19,000/year, to assist with the latter). So, when Trump dines at Mar-a-Lago or his hotel in D.C., he's on the hook for the bill. Presumably, he comps himself, though maybe he charges himself and then repays himself from the $19,000 budget.
For most expenses, however, Uncle Sam is on the hook. Most obviously, the government is paying for office space and lodging at Trump's building in New York, and at his club in Bedminster, NJ, and at Mar-a-Lago. The government also pays for anything else that the Secret Service uses, like food, transportation, etc. An exact figure is not known, in part because the price tag goes up every week, but when you consider that the USSS spent $137,000 in the first nine months of 2017...on renting golf carts from the President's properties, then you know that the overall tab is pretty considerable. Certainly into eight figures at this point. Exactly how much of that goes into Trump's own pocket requires information that is not publicly available, but inasmuch as he is the majority owner of the privately held Trump Organization, it's a sizable percentage, and is surely far more than his $400,000 annual salary as president.
This is actually just one way that Trump is monetizing the presidency, and it's not the most lucrative one. Here's a brief list of some of the others:
- Costs at Trump properties have doubled in the last two years. For example, the
$100,000 membership fee at Mar-a-Lago is now $200,000.
- Similarly, occupancy is way up, likely due (in part) to folks who are using their
stays at his properties as a backdoor form of lobbying. Between the higher costs and
higher occupancies, the Trump Organization's hotel income has jumped from $16 million
in 2015 to more than $61 million in 2017 (2018 figures aren't known yet).
- Commercial occupancy is another strong part of the portfolio. Trump's business collects
$175 million annually from its commercial tenants, like Industrial & Commercial Bank of China.
The Bank was a tenant before Trump became president, it should be noted. But would they still
be a tenant, and would they be paying as much as they do, if he wasn't president? That is
an unanswerable question.
- Speaking of foreign governments, the Trump Organization has also been granted at least 40
trademarks in other countries since January 2017. Foreign governments have also relaxed environmental
regulations, greased the skids on permits, and even granted free land to the Trump Organization.
How much of this is standard "encouraging commerce" activity, and how much of it is "kiss up
to the President of the United States"? Another unanswerable question.
- The Trump Organization's real estate sales are booming, with the $168.5 million they
netted in 2017 being their best year ever. Most of the purchasers (70%) are LLCs, so we don't
even know who is doing business with Trump.
- Trump properties have gotten into the business of holding political events, particularly
Trump campaign events, and RNC events, grossing multiple millions of dollars per year.
- Trump's online store is doing a booming business, including the just-introduced merch that features images of the White House.
These are just the most obvious ways in which Trump is profiting from the presidency. Measuring more amorphous commodities, like how much money he is making from all the free advertising for his brand, is all but impossible. Similarly, who knows what deals Eric and Donald Jr. are cooking up, to be consummated as soon as their father leaves office? Taken as a whole, it brings to mind the words of Tammany Hall boss George Washington Plunkitt, another politician who had no compunction about profiting from his office: "I seen my opportunities, and I took 'em."
Mitch McConnell has once again decided to trample on the Senate's traditions, in order to speed up dozens of pending confirmations. The Democrats had an awful map in 2018, and the 2020 map is...just a bit less awful (assuming Sen. Doug Jones is going to lose in Alabama, they'll need to win at least four seats). And the 2022 map is, once again, not very encouraging, before returning to the 2018/2024 map with all the endangered Testers and Manchins of the world. So, my question is: Has Mitch McConnell (a.k.a. "Forever Majority Leader") got anything to lose if and when he decides to abolish the filibuster with another "nuclear option"? Because the brief 2009 Democratic supermajority seems to be part of prehistory, and I really don't see when and how the Party will regain the upper chamber. Am I too much pessimistic? E.K., Brignoles, France
It is certainly the case that McConnell has adopted a "live for today" strategy that shows little regard for medium- and long-term consequences. And maybe the GOP won't pay for it (or, at least, won't pay for it until after he's long gone).
However, there are some specific reasons for Democrats to be hopeful. The Republicans are definitely defending more seats in 2020 than are the Democrats. GOP seats that are legitimately in play include AZ, CO, IA, ME, and NC, while AK, GA, KS, KY, and TN could potentially join the list. The only seat the blue team has to be truly worried about is Jones', the only others that could plausibly be put in play by the GOP are MN and NM. Netting four seats in a presidential election year, particularly if there's an anti-Trump backlash and/or a Democratic nominee with long coattails, is certainly possible.
We also think you're a bit too quick to dismiss 2022 as "not very encouraging" for the blue team. The GOP will have to defend PA, FL, WI, NC, OH, MO, IA, and GA, and may end up having to worry about KY, KS, LA, AK, or IN, depending on how things break. The first three of those (PA, FL, and WI) are in serious danger. There are no Democratic seats in serious danger, and only a few that they will have to worry about at all, namely NV, CO, and maybe NH. If you asked us to guess, we would guess that it will be this election where the Republicans lose their majority (even if there's a Democrat in the White House by then).
Finally, allow us to remind you—as we so often do—that in politics, a week is a lifetime. In November 2016, it was almost inconceivable that Nancy Pelosi would ever serve as speaker again. And we know what happened just two years later. The Democrats controlled the Senate as recently as five years ago; it's not like they are in a 40-year wilderness. So, McConnell and the GOP may very well come to regret their recklessness.
If Joe Biden decides not to get into the race, who stands to benefit most from both a fundraising and polling perspective? D.E., Kennett Square, PA
Interesting question. We're going to give you three answers, starting with the candidate who we think would benefit a little, and ending with the candidate who we think would benefit a lot.
In third place is Bernie Sanders. A lot of the polling and fundraising, especially right now, is about name recognition. And so, although the two men aren't very similar, some of Biden's "support" would probably head to Sanders, as the Vermont Senator is the other high-name-recognition candidate. It's also possible that some senior voters would prefer someone of their generation, and so would shift to Sanders on that basis. We have no evidence of this, though—it's just a guess.
In second place is Pete Buttigieg. He is clearly the "on the rise" candidate right now, and that's a good position to be in when a lot of oxygen suddenly becomes available. Further, Biden's base of support is the rust belt, and Buttigieg is currently the strongest non-Biden rust belt candidate.
And the big winner, we think, would be Beto O'Rourke. Although the two men are separated by about 30 years of age, and about 40 years of political experience, they are in the same candidates' lane, as we've pointed out numerous times. That is to say, they are both centrists running primarily on charm and personality. They are also both going after the Obama coalition. And so, Biden dropping out would be very good news for Beto.
I often see references on your page (and in other publications) to Obama-Trump voters. As a lifelong yellow-dog Democrat, enthusiastic Obama supporter, and outraged Trump opposer, I cannot imagine why any Obama voter would turn so drastically as to vote for Trump the next time around. Please explain the political thinking of these people, and what they might do in 2020. L.S., Black Mountain, NC
There is a fair bit of debate in the literature about these folks, but the Obama-Trump voters appear to be Republicans (and some disaffected centrist Democrats) who felt the world had crapped on them, and so wanted to vote against "the establishment" and for "change." To them, John McCain, Mitt Romney, and Hillary Clinton all represented "the establishment" and Barack Obama and Donald Trump seemed to be outsiders who might shake things up. The Obama-Trump voters will have an interesting choice in 2020, because Donald Trump certainly did shake things up, but not in a way that helped them. Some of them will stick with Trump due to the culture wars, which at least makes them feel less bad about the world crapping on them. However, we doubt they all do.
What would happen if a presidential nominee had an incapacitating or fatal heart attack or stroke after the party convention but before the election? Considering how old Biden and Sanders are (not to mention Trump) and how stressful presidential campaigns are, it seems to me this is a real possibility. Would the vice presidential nominee automatically step up, or would the party's candidate with the second highest delegate count be promoted? How would this be decided? G.M., San Francisco, CA
The quick and easy answer is that the bylaws of the Republican and Democratic parties both put the responsibility for choosing a new nominee in the hands of the party's national committee. That's about 450 people for the Democrats, and about 150 for the Republicans. In theory, they could choose any person who is eligible to be president as their new standard-bearer.
However, there are some complicating factors here. The first is politics. As you can imagine, it would likely aggravate the base if a small handful of pooh-bahs arbitrarily handed the nomination to someone. The VP nominee and the second-place finisher would likely generate far fewer complaints than anyone else, and so the choice would likely come down to one of those two individuals (with a distinguished senior party member, like Al Gore or Mitt Romney, as another slight possibility).
The second complicating factor is state law. Each state has its own rules about how late ballots can be changed, and also about how much freedom electors have when they cast their votes. Depending on when the candidate dies, their name might still have to appear on the ballot, and their electors might still be bound to them. The name of the VP would still be on the ballot, though, and given the way the Electoral College works, it would almost certainly be legal for electors to vote for them for president without triggering "faithless elector" laws.
In short, then, the choice of replacement candidate, in case of a death, is not determined automatically. However, the VP candidate would have a huge edge in getting the nod. Although, if it's a ticket-balancing but basically unelectable VP candidate like Sarah Palin or Dan Quayle, all bets are off.
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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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