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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Trump Visits Toledo and El Paso
      •  Biden Eviscerates Trump
      •  Big News on Social Media
      •  Quinnipiac Poll: Biden, Warren, Sanders
      •  House Goes to Court to Force McGahn to Testify
      •  Warren Has a Huge Operation in Nevada
      •  Poll: Democrats Have Wide Lead in Generic Congressional Ballot
      •  Orange County Is Now Democratland
      •  Ocasio-Cortez' Candidate Loses in Queens
      •  Thursday Q&A

Trump Visits Toledo and El Paso

No, wait. He actually visited Dayton yesterday. He just thinks it is Toledo. It's a common mistake, as they are only 150 miles apart. In any case, on his Wednesday tour of the states that had mass shootings this weekend, Donald Trump went to Ohio first, no ambiguity about that.

When Trump's plane touched down at Wright-Patterson AFB, Gov. Mike DeWine (R-OH) was the first to greet him. Sens. Rob Portman (R-OH) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH) were next in line. Trump also spoke briefly with Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley (D). Brown and Whaley both pressed him to do something about assault weapons. The Mayor, who has clearly been paying attention the last two years, specifically encouraged Trump to do "what Obama couldn't." Although the 43-year-old mayor's bachelor's degree from the University of Dayton is in chemistry and she also has an M.P.A., she clearly picked up some child psychology along the way.

Trump later spoke to one of the people injured in Sunday's shooting, telling the victim in Miami Valley Hospital: "You had God watching. I want you to know we're with you all the way." Is the victim supposed to feel better now that he knows God was paying attention and did nothing to intervene, rather than, say, toss a lightning bolt at the shooter?

Scores of protesters showed up in downtown Dayton to greet the President, but the Secret Service kept him fairly far from them, probably for security reasons. For the most part, he stayed out of the public view during his visit to the Buckeye State, though his visit to the hospital went well. So much so, in fact, that White House social media director Dan Scavino, Jr. sent out this tweet:

So far, so good, right? No major issues, nothing from Trump that could be considered remotely controversial, right? Well, as you can imagine, it couldn't last. While the President was boarding Air Force One and jetting off to Texas, the second stop of the day, Brown and Whaley were holding a brief press conference. Here it is, if you really want to watch it:

The Senator and the Mayor had positive comments about Trump's visit to Miami Valley Hospital, and said that he was "received well by the patients," was "comforting," and that he "did the right things." Whaley said that she thought Trump understood her view on assault rifles, but that she was not optimistic that any action would be taken. Both politicians answered questions about the protesting crowds, opining that they were angry with the President's past rhetoric, which Whaley described as "divisive" and Brown characterized as "racist."

At this point, you surely know where this is headed. Somehow, Trump saw (or heard about) the press conference while aboard Air Force One, and he was outraged. His tweets pretty much tell the tale:

Trump even took aim at Fox News, which is presumably the channel he tuned into for comfort once he'd learned about the press conference:

Needless to say, most folks are somewhat mystified by the President's complaint. It's true that Brown and Whaley were critical of him, but they said nothing negative about his visit to the hospital. Did he misunderstand? Is he lying, for some reason? Is it something else?

Things did not improve when the President touched down in El Paso. He should have expected a chilly reception there, and that is exactly what he got. In part, the issue is that he is a Republican, while the city is pretty Democratic. In part, it is that he has repeatedly scapegoated El Paso as an example of "what's wrong" with America, and why a wall is needed. And in part, it is that many people there blame him for instigating the shooting that took place there this weekend.

In any event, the protesters were out in force:

Protester holds sign that 
describes Trump as a lying, corrupt racist.

There were some pro-Trump counter-protesters, but they were dwarfed in number by the anti-Trump folks. Meanwhile, where the politicians in Ohio were cordial, the ones in El Paso were downright chilly. "This is the office of the mayor of El Paso in an official capacity welcoming the office of the president of the United States, which I consider is my formal duty," said Mayor Dee Margo (R) when he "greeted" Trump. And when the President visited University Medical Center of El Paso, none of the victims who are still being treated there was willing to speak to him. So, two victims who had already been discharged had to be brought back for photo-op purposes. And as soon as Trump was back in the air, he was back on Twitter, and back on the attack. His target, during phase two of his Twitter tantrum, was...Joaquin Castro, who generated some controversy recently by tweeting the names of Trump donors, in an attempt to shame them. That actually happened several days ago, but apparently visiting Texas put it in the President's thoughts:

The original version of the tweet actually spelled Castro's name as 'Juaquin,' before Trump deleted it and corrected it (or, more likely, Dan Scavino did so). The President also lashed out at the media in general, and MSNBC and CNN in particular. He also took a shot at "world class loser Tim O'Brien," who once wrote a biography of Trump, and who appeared on Brian Williams' show on Wednesday. Before calling it a day, Trump (or Scavino) posted a slickly-produced video celebrating the President's triumphant day, complete with background music that sounds like it came from the soundtrack of the movie Rocky:

Rocky's gonna beat Apollo Creed. We can just feel it.

The overall theme of the day is really quite clear, albeit also something we already knew: Even on a day like Wednesday, when the focus should have been on the victims and on healing, Trump can't stop himself from getting down in the trenches, and he also insists on making everything about him. If that's not narcissistic personality disorder, we don't know what is. The headlines from yesterday tell the tale:

  • NBC News: "Trump turns day of grieving for El Paso and Dayton shooting victims into day of grievances"
  • NBC News: "In visit to Dayton, Trump finds a victim—himself"
  • CNN: "Trump gripes about his critics while at the scene of tragedy"
  • Politico: "Trump could stay 'out of the political fray' for only so long"
  • The New York Times: "Trump Uses a Day of Healing to Deepen the Nation's Divisions"
  • Washington Post: "Trump attacks local leaders as he visits two grieving cities"
  • Bloomberg: "Trump Takes Grievances On Road in Visits to Shooting Survivors"
  • Business Insider: "Trump made himself the victim on a day meant to be about the victims of mass shootings"

When George W. Bush botched handling Hurricane Katrina by attending John McCain's birthday party in sunny Arizona while New Orleans was drowning, this photo, which merely hinted at a lack of concern and empathy, was devastating to his presidency:

Bush McCain photo

For Trump, of course, this is just going to end up as another Wednesday at the office. (V & Z)

Biden Eviscerates Trump

In a speech in Iowa, Joe Biden went after Donald Trump in the aftermath of the two shootings last weekend, saying Trump "fanned the flames of white supremacy in this nation." Biden pointed out the screed most likely posted by the El Paso shooter and how closely it mirrored Trump's words, and also called Trump out for comments he made after white supremacists clashed with protesters in Charlottesville in 2017. The former vice president also pointed out that previous presidents have tried to heal the country after horrific attacks, but Trump just tries to use them for partisan gain, an observation that the President was providing more evidence for at literally the same moment that Biden was speaking (see above). Biden also said he didn't buy Trump's disavowal of white supremacy this weekend: "His low energy, vacant-eyed mouthing of the words written for him condemning white supremacists this week, I don't believe fooled anyone, at home or abroad."

Needless to say, Trump could not let Biden get away with this without trying to take him down. In among his attacks on Sherrod Brown, Nan Whaley, and the media, he also tweeted:

The tweet suggests what everyone already knew, of course: That Trump sees politics not in terms of governing and getting a program enacted, but as a television show whose success depends on ratings and clicks. (V)

Big News on Social Media

According to the weekly tracking chart published by Axios, the number one topic on social media is now guns, even surpassing immigration. Here are the hot topics for the week ending Aug. 4:

Hot topics on social media

One thing this shows is that although Donald Trump can drive the news, he can't do it perfectly, and sometimes a topic (like guns) that he would prefer not to be in the news, gets there anyway. It also shows that the Democrats have their work cut out for them, since their favorites, climate change and health care, are way down the list. (V)

Quinnipiac Poll: Biden, Warren, Sanders

Now that the second debate has had time to percolate a bit, Quinnipiac University has run another poll among Democrats and Democratic-leaning voters. Here are the results and the crosstabs. For example, 43% of moderates prefer Biden and 28% of white female college graduates want Warren.

Among whites
Candidate Total Very lib Somewhat liberal Moderate Men Women White Black College No college 18-34 35-49 50-64 >64 <$50K $50-100K >$100K
Biden 32% 19% 28% 43% 33% 31% 30% 47% 25% 38% 15% 30% 39% 42% 33% 32% 31%
Warren 21% 40% 20% 11% 16% 24% 27% 8% 28% 26% 25% 19% 23% 18% 20% 25% 19%
Sanders 14% 20% 14% 9% 19% 10% 10% 16% 11% 9% 24% 19% 6% 5% 19% 11% 6%
Harris 7% 7% 10% 4% 6% 7% 8% 1% 8% 7% 5% 7% 7% 7% 5% 5% 10%
Buttigieg 5% 5% 8% 4% 5% 5% 7% 1% 8% 5% 9% 4% 4% 5% 2% 6% 9%
O'Rourke 2% 1% 1% 2% 1% 2% 1% 2% 1%   2% 1% 2% 1%   2% 3%
Booker 2% 1% 2% 3% 3% 2% 2%   3% 2% 3% 2% 2% 2% 3% 1% 3%
Klobuchar 1%   1% 2% 1% 2% 2%   2% 1% 1% 1% 1% 2% 1% 1% 2%
Castro 1% 1%   2% 1% 1% 1%   1%   2% 2%   1% 2% 1%
Gabbard 1%   1% 1% 2%   1%   1% 1% 1% 1% 2%   1% 1% 2%
Yang 1% 1% 1% 2% 2% 1% 1% 1% 1%   4% 1% 1% 1% 1% 1% 2%

The results are that Joe Biden is far ahead, with Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Bernie Sanders (I-VT) second and third, respectively. Suppose we were to characterize each candidate by the top three demographic groups supporting the candidate. Then, for the Big Five, we get:

  • Biden: (1) black people; (2) moderates; (3) seniors
  • Warren: (1) strong liberals; (2) white college graduates; (3) baby boomers
  • Sanders: (1) young people; (2) strong liberals; (3) poor men, esp. 35-49
  • Harris: (1) somewhat liberal people; (2) the rich; (3) white college graduates
  • Buttigieg: (1) Age 18-34; (2) somewhat liberal people; (3) white college graduates

For the candidates down in the weeds, almost all the numbers are in the 1-3% range, and with a margin of error for the individual groups typically 5% or more, the difference between 1% and 3% is meaningless. But for the top candidates, the differences are significant. Biden's supporters are clearly different from the others. He is the favorite of black voters, moderates and seniors. These are the groups that make the least noise and get the least publicity, but form the core of the Democratic Party. Warren is the choice of strong liberals and college graduates (hello there, affluent college-educated suburban women). Sanders is the choice of the young(ish), men, and poor people. Hardly an affluent college-educated suburban woman in sight. Harris is very unpopular with black voters, but the somewhat liberal rich people like her. Buttigieg's base consists of rich white people with college educations who are somewhat liberal, along with millennials.

Of the many takeaways, the one that stands out the most (and we have seen this before) is that Warren's base and Sanders' base aren't the same. Put bluntly, she is the favorite of upscale women and he is the favorite of downscale men. That means as presidential candidates, they come with different strengths and weaknesses. She could pull in the suburbs around the country, although she might struggle in the Midwest. He would do well in the Midwest among noncollege men, but would struggle in the suburbs. Together they cover the spectrum, but a Warren/Sanders or Sanders/Warren ticket is probably too far left for the country as a whole. Ultimately, if one of them drops out and supports the other, some (but by no means all) of their supporters would gravitate to the other one, and thus strengthen the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party. Whether that would be enough to beat Biden is far from clear, but it might make one or the other a strong veep candidate, especially Warren, since the Democrats probably don't want two men on the ticket anymore. On the other hand, two septuagenarians may make for a ticket that is a bit long in the tooth for voters. (V)

House Goes to Court to Force McGahn to Testify

Months ago, the House Judiciary Committee issued a subpoena to former White House counsel Don McGahn to testify before it. McGahn ignored the subpoena. Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) went to court yesterday to enforce the subpoena. The move has long been expected, since McGahn was a key witness for former special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation.

Democrats want to ask McGahn about whether Donald Trump ordered him to remove Mueller. The Mueller report states that on June 17, 2017, Trump did just that. The report also says that McGahn declined to do so because that would be obstruction of justice. Having that in the report is one thing, but having him say that on national television and be cross-examined on it is something very different. Democrats are hoping that the courts will order McGahn to testify.

Trump has done everything possible to prevent McGahn's testimony and will continue the fight in court. The view from the White House is that current and former aides are covered by a blanket of immunity that protects them from having to testify. However, there is almost no case law on the subject. The case is certain to make it to the Supreme Court, and no one knows how it will turn out there.

Almost as important as the verdict is the timing. The administration will do everything in its power to delay McGahn's testimony until after the 2020 election, lest McGahn testify that Trump ordered him to obstruct justice.

McGahn is a lawyer and knows very well that if he lies to Congress, he could be disbarred. On the other hand, if he tells the truth to Congress, effectively ratting on Trump, he can forget being hired by any Republican organization ever again. Consequently, he will also be doing his best to avoid testifying. But the final call is not his to make. (V)

Warren Has a Huge Operation in Nevada

Although Nevada isn't one of the first two states to vote, and the caucuses there last cycle were a real mess, it is still important because it is the first state to vote that isn't essentially all-white. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) is apparently the only candidate to notice this so far, and she has set up a massive operation in the Silver State. She has paid staff in rural counties that other candidates haven't even visited. One Democratic operative said: "Warren has built a monster." Among the 17 strategists, activists, and experts Politico interviewed for the story linked to above, Warren's Nevada campaign was mentioned the most for being impressive.

Warren's strategy for Nevada didn't just fall out of the sky. Her staff knows very well that in 2008, Barack Obama also concentrated on the state and won it. She also has something else going for her there: women. It is the only state in which both senators are women, and a majority of the state legislature is female, and more than half of the congressional delegation consists of women. Given this background, it is not hard to imagine a woman winning the Nevada caucuses.

For Warren, Nevada could be crucial. If she were to win New Hampshire, that would be largely discounted because that is next door to her home state of Massachusetts. Nevada, by contrast, is not next door to Massachusetts. Furthermore, a week after the Nevada caucuses, South Carolina will hold its primary, with 60% of the Democrats there being black. Warren is not doing well with black voters, and a big win just a week before the South Carolina vote could give her a big boost there, something she is surely hoping for.

Warren has been to Nevada six times so far, although that is not the most of any candidate. Julián Castro has been there nine times and Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Kamala Harris (D-CA) have been there eight times each. In contrast, Joe Biden has visited only four times. When Warren goes, she draws big crowds. In Henderson last weekend, she drew 750 people to a high school gym. The next day, Biden got only 200 people to show up at a senior community center.

Despite Warren's head start in Nevada, the show is far from over. Harris is from neighboring California, and can easily send staff from California over there when needed. And sooner or later Biden will get the message that unless he gets going in Nevada, he could suffer a painful defeat there.

Polling of Nevada is almost nonexistent. Caucus states that don't have Ann Selzer living there are very difficult to poll. Furthermore, Nevada will have absentee and early caucusing in 2020, making it even harder to figure out who is ahead. But if Warren loses, it won't be for lack of trying. (V)

Poll: Democrats Have Wide Lead in Generic Congressional Ballot

A new Economist/YouGov poll released yesterday shows that 48% of registered voters plan to vote for a Democrat for Congress while only 38% plan to vote for a Republican. If the final result is anything like that, even with gerrymandering and possible voter suppression, Democrats will hold onto the House and possibly even make some gains.

As usual, Democrats did well with young voters and minorities. Surprisingly, they also won men, by a 45% to 42% margin. Republicans won among older voters and white voters. (V)

Orange County Is Now Democratland

California's Orange County has been a Republican stronghold for decades, going back to the early 1900s. Richard Nixon, the first nationally prominent Republican to come from California, was born there, in Yorba Linda. The Democrats picked off five Republican House seats in O.C. in 2018, with the result that there is not a single Republican representing any part of the county in the House now. As of yesterday, the fact that blue is the new Orange is official. The county registrar of voters noted that there are now more registered Democrats than Republicans. The former county Republican Chairman, Scott Baugh, once said that in the 1980s and 1990s, "you couldn't print registration forms fast enough to keep up with Republican demand." That's all past tense now.

Republicans are worried that Orange County is the canary in the coal mine. If a county as solidly Republican as this one can slip away, which one is next? In particular, Republican officials are worried about Texas, where counties like Nueces, Jefferson, Hays, Uvalde, and others went for Trump in 2016, but could flip in 2020. Together with Democratic strengths in Harris, Dallas, Bexar, and Travis Counties, along with the entire southern tip of the state, as many as half a dozen Republican House seats in the Lone Star State could be in play next year. (V)

Ocasio-Cortez' Candidate Loses in Queens

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) has some things in common with Bernie Sanders. Both are strong supporters of progressive politics, of course, and both attract a huge amount of media attention every time they say something. But they may also have something else in common: Not-so-useful endorsements. In 2018, Sanders endorsed progressive candidates Pete D'Alessandro (IA), Rich Lazer (PA), Greg Edwards (PA), and Marie Newman (IL) in Democratic primary House races. All of them lost. His only winner in 2018 was Jesus Garcia (IL).

Now Ocasio-Cortez has joined the club. She strongly endorsed Tiffany Cabán—a young, queer Latina—for Queens District Attorney. Yesterday, the final count was announced after weeks of battling over absentee ballots. Cabán lost to the establishment candidate Melinda Katz, a 53-year-old straight, white woman.

To the extent that Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez can win elections themselves, but can't transfer any of the magic to candidates they support, it makes them far less powerful, since other candidates will have little to fear if they cross these two. Leaders of movements are a lot more respected and feared when their endorsement means the difference between winning and losing. Donald Trump understands that extremely well. (V)

Thursday Q&A

We'll start with some questions about this week's main subject, namely the mass shootings. We'll have a few more on the subject on Monday.

I'm a little confused about the Senate and how it operates. On the one hand, the Majority Leader seems to have enormous power in what legislation can be considered and passed. But on the other hand, an individual senator can object to anything and gum up the works. Then, there is the filibuster for legislative matters. Could you clarify on how the Senate operates in the wake of calls for new gun reform legislation? R.H.D., Webster, NY

There are three different mechanisms that you might be thinking about here. The first is that the Senate Majority Leader is empowered, by custom and by Senate rules, to determine the agenda for the chamber. So, if Mitch McConnell (R-KY) doesn't schedule a bill for consideration, it doesn't get considered.

There is also, as you note, the filibuster. That, by Senate rules, allows any single member to block a piece of legislation from consideration by, in effect, insisting on infinite time for debate. Since this is a procedural maneuver, it is necessary for 60 Senators to vote to end the filibuster if the single, recalcitrant member will not do so. For this reason, you will often see it written (including here) that a piece of legislation will need 60 votes in order to get past the Senate.

And finally, there is consent. This is a less common subject of discussion, but it did come up a few times last week, as Sen. Cindy Hyde Smith (R-MS) blocked some election security measures. In this scenario, a senator can propose that a measure be passed with unanimous consent, and if nobody objects, then it is approved without a formal vote. Consent is generally used to save time, when a measure has little or no opposition (for example, a bill renaming a post office). Last week, however, the purpose in requesting unanimous consent was (likely) to force McConnell to take a more public stance in opposition to election security reform, as opposed to just sticking a bill in his desk drawer. By speaking up, Hyde-Smith was taking a bullet for the Majority Leader.

Anyhow, none of these things have a constitutional basis; they are a product of Senate rules and traditions. That means that anything here could be changed at any time, if enough Senators decide to do so. What stops that from happening is that it would require the majority party to get on board, and in general the majority party is not willing to give up so much power while they are in the majority. It is not until they are in the minority again that they start carping about changing the rules.

With that said, there are other times in American history where it became clear that the system was broken, and that tradition and longstanding custom were not getting it done, which effectively compelled the politicians to reform the system. We believe that the filibuster, in its current form, is not long for the world. It's already been eliminated in certain scenarios (approving judges, for example), and it could well be eliminated in all others. If it does survive, then the Senate will likely go back to the original filibuster rules, which literally required the senator to remain on the Senate floor, without sustenance or restroom breaks, and speak continuously (they often read the Bible, Shakespeare, or their local phone book). These days, they need only say they are invoking the filibuster, they don't actually have to do anything, physically.

It's also very possible that some sort of corrective to the enormous powers of the majority leader is coming. Not only are those powers not enshrined in the Constitution, the position has only existed for about 100 years, give or take. Clearly, the authors of the Constitution did not intend for one person, who receives as little as 51% of the votes in a single, smallish state, to wield such influence. The House is very different, since the speaker is elected by the entire chamber, not by the majority caucus. Also, the position of speaker is actually in the Constitution.

I have noticed a trend that it seems more and more of Donald Trump's tweets are likely not written by him. This was particularly evident to me in the two tweets you posted about the Ratcliffe nomination torpedoing. Is it legal for others to post as Trump? This, to me, is equivalent to sending an imitator to an international conference in place of the President. I understand speech writers write things for the President to say, but one assumes the President is in control of the actual words that come out of their mouth, and that does not apply with Twitter. Since Trump is essentially using Twitter to make public decrees, and it has been ruled that they must be preserved in government archives, and that blocking citizens on Twitter is unconstitutional, it seems that this should also be illegal. E.L., Dallas, TX

As far as is publicly known, the only people who actually tweet from the account are Trump and his social media guru Dan Scavino. That said, it's certainly possible that other members of the White House press operation are also sending messages, and it's kept under cover. It used to be much easier to tell when Trump was the one tweeting; he used an Android phone while Scavino (and others?) used an iPhone. Also, Trump didn't know how to create nested tweets, while Scavino did. However, Trump switched phones to a special, secure iPhone, and he also learned how to nest his tweets, so those clues don't work anymore. Today, the best indicators are: (1) if the tweet is sent before 10:00 a.m. ET or after 7:00 p.m. ET, it's probably Trump; (2) if the tweet is misspelled or contains grammar errors, it's probably Trump; and (3) if the tweet includes hashtags, it's probably not Trump. We are inclined to agree with you that the Ratcliffe tweets are not his. As to a general trend of more non-Trump tweets, we don't have a guess.

You raise a good point that it's a problem for someone who is not the president to, in effect, exercise presidential authority. There is some history of that—for example, presidential secretaries have been writing (and often signing) documents on their boss' behalf for centuries. Hell, Edith Wilson de facto ran the entire country after her husband, Woodrow Wilson, had a stroke in Oct. 1919 and was largely incapacitated. One senator at the time said: "The Presidentress who had fulfilled the dream of the suffragettes by changing her title from First Lady to Acting First Man." However, Trump's tweeting is probably more concerning, since those can be seen by (and could influence) millions of people (including government leaders) around the world. Probably another thing that Congress should be looking into, though if House Democrats tried to actually do something right now, they would be accused of being partisan witch hunters. And that would happen on Twitter, of course.

A lot of the coverage of the Democratic Presidential contest, yours included, seems to be framed that the Democratic Party has a decision to make: is it going to try to win over Trump voters, or is it going to excite the base? I know most media like to tell a story, and stories generally have conflict, but isn't this a false choice? Aren't the policies of at least some of the candidates (for example, Warren and Sanders) designed to appeal both to disillusioned Trump voters and the party's base? S.C., Mountain View, CA

It's not a false choice. There are many issues where Democrats of all stripes (and, quite often, voters of all stripes) can agree. For example, everyone in America likes job creation and building infrastructure. Nearly all Democrats like environmentalism, spending money on schools, and increasing taxes on the rich. Consequently, all of the Democratic candidates are in favor of these things, to some extent.

The problem is that the moderate wing of the Democratic Party, and the liberal wing (also known as the Progressive wing, or the Democratic wing) most certainly do not agree on some very big issues that strongly influence people's votes. For example, the left wants abortion rights to be protected by federal law, but many of the centrists (who are often Catholic, or a member of some other Christian religion) are not so sure. The left wants student loan debt to be forgiven, either entirely or substantially, while many of the centrists think that's not ok. Some of the Democrats want to abolish private health insurance while other Democrats strongly oppose this position. And even on the issues where the party broadly agrees, there is often disagreement about relative importance, as well as the extent of the action that should be taken. For example, the left sees global warming as a looming existential crisis, and is enthused by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez' Green New Deal. The center largely agrees that something should be done, but sees the Green New Deal as being over the top. It is the candidates' positions on these issues that, to a large extent, distinguish them from one another, and that dictate which voters support them and which do not (see above for more).

It bothers me that when discussing a court decision, all the media outlets, including you, indicate who appointed that judge. The judiciary was designated be the unbiased, nonpolitical branch of the government. By always listing who appointed that judge, you are inadvertently politicizing the judiciary and making the matters worse. I wish this would stop; it just feeds into the narrative certain politicians are feeding the public that the judiciary really is not an unbiased branch of government, and it is slowly tearing away the legitimacy of the judiciary branch of the government. C.S., Eagan, MN

You're right. We share your discomfort with this, and your sense of the damage that is being done. Unfortunately, the judiciary has become politicized (and always was, just not to this extent). Pretending otherwise doesn't change that. Further, indicating the judge's appointing president gives readers useful information, particularly about how likely the ruling is to stand on appeal, and about how the politicians (especially Donald Trump) are likely to respond. If an Obama appointee issues a ruling that, say, bars the use of military funding for the border wall, that shouldn't be different than if a Trump appointee issues that same ruling. But it is different, whether we like it or not.

Finally, you have surely noticed that when the Supreme Court makes a 5-4 decision, it is almost always the Republican appointees on one side and the Democratic appointees on the other. We don't believe that is just pure chance.

Leaving aside the First Amendment, why should political polling be allowed at all? True, politicians themselves can benefit from polls by cynically altering their stated positions to gain votes (for example, Biden's sudden alleged change of heart against the longstanding Hyde amendment, which bars most use of federal funds for abortion). And the media like polls because polls are mostly about horse races, which sell well to "consumers." Polling undercuts reasoned discussion, reducing complex matters to simplistic categories and, often, false or distorted choices. Especially destructive are polls on the eve of an election, and "exit polling" while an election is underway. Polls themselves and poll results sway people. But decisions about who and what are best for society should not hinge on the formulations of poll designers, or on the resulting views of often poorly informed or opinionated poll participants. G.A., Berkeley, CA

Well, "leaving aside the First Amendment" is kinda like the old line "But besides that, how was the play, Mrs. Lincoln?" The First Amendment is a rather sizable impediment to limiting or ending polling. And frankly, even if polling somehow became illegal, politicians would still do it (and media outlets probably would, too). They would just find ways to get around the rules. See, for example, Prohibition.

In any case, your concerns and criticisms are not unfounded, but we would also like to put in a word for the positive side of polls. They do help politicians to gauge their constituents' general feelings, which theoretically makes them more responsive. Polls also give the citizenry a sense of overall trends that are worthy of their attention, energy, and/or money. It is helpful, for example, to know that when Joe Biden announces a policy, or makes an error, that is potentially a much more consequential event than if John Hickenlooper does so.

You're also right that the negative effects of polls are most pronounced right around election time. Many countries have a legally mandated polling embargo 24-72 hours before people cast their ballots. That would be hard in the U.S.—again, given the First Amendment—but American media outlets have already voluntarily decided not to announce the results of exit polls until the polling place is closed. Maybe they would agree to a weekend-before-the-election embargo, too.

I think the question about the California requirement for tax returns in order to get on the presidential ballot was in the right direction, but did not use the best hypothetical example. Releasing medical records is very much like releasing tax returns—voluntary, but it is generally customary. So, what if Georgia requires medical records to be released in order to appear on their ballot? It would not be hard to write them such that they included reproductive medical records that just so happen to be more intrusive on female candidates than male. Want to know which female candidates have had abortions or what forms of birth control they have used? Thank California for giving some red state cover to pry loose that information. J.L., Chicago, IL

You're right that if the California law stands, and the red states decide to reply in kind, they would probably come up with something like this. That said, we think your example actually proves our point: That it would be very difficult to come up with something efficacious that also passes legal muster.

In particular, we note two particular weaknesses with your hypothetical example. The first is that, if the law specified that abortions/birth control be included, that would be obviously discriminatory against female candidates, and would surely fail a court challenge. The second is that "medical records" doesn't actually have a clear meaning. A tax return is a very exact document, with a clear-cut beginning, ending, and set of information contained within. "Medical records," however, could mean almost anything. What candidates generally do these days (and both of the candidates in 2016 did this) is publish a letter from their doctor that summarizes their situation. Would that be enough? If so, then the doctor would just omit anything that might be harmful to the candidate, particularly if it's not relevant to their current health status (and an abortion 30 years in the past would undoubtedly be omitted on both counts). Alternatively, a candidate could be required to submit the entire file maintained by their physician. But how can anyone know it's complete? What if a compromising page or two just happened to disappear? What happens if the physician the candidate saw in their twenties is now dead, and his or her records are long gone? For example, if (Z) was to be subjected to this requirement, he would only be able to come up with records back to about 1996; anything before that no longer exists. If (Z)'s brother was to be subject, he would only be able to come up with records back to about 2014, for various reasons, even though he's only four years younger.

In short, we don't think this is actually a viable counter-move for red states. And we think it will be very difficult to find one that is viable.

In your item discussing the states where DNC is focusing its hiring on August 6th, you refer to the Democrats winning back North Carolina as "a stretch," but you make no such comment about Ohio. Yet, Trump won NC by a smaller margin than OH (3 points vs 8). NC also elected a Democratic governor in the same election, while OH elected a Republican governor in 2018. Why is winning back Ohio treated as if it's more feasible than winning back NC, when by these indications Ohio is redder? R.K., San Francisco, CA

In fairness to us, this is not a correct summation of what we wrote. We were hypothesizing about what the DNC might be thinking, not speaking for ourselves. Further, what we guessed they might be thinking is that it will be easier to reclaim the 77,000 votes by which Trump won Michigan/Wisconsin/Pennsylvania than it will be to win North Carolina.

What we did not say is that Ohio will be easier for the blue team to win than North Carolina, because we don't think it is. If we were going to try to make that argument, however, we can think of two points we might raise. The first is that North Carolina is an unusually difficult and expensive state to campaign in, because it's got a lot of expensive media markets scattered all over the state. The same is true of Ohio, to an extent, but Ohio isn't as tough as the Tar Heel State. The second is that if the Democrats are indeed pursuing a Midwestern strategy, then that could make Ohio a more synergistic target than North Carolina.

But again, those are only hypothetical arguments. We didn't say Ohio would be easier to win than North Carolina because we don't believe that.

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Aug07 Let the Spin Commence
Aug07 Markets Bounce Back
Aug07 Huntsman Resigns Ambassadorship
Aug07 Nadler Hasn't Forgotten about Brett Kavanaugh
Aug07 More Legal Challenges to New California Law
Aug07 Fool Me Once, Part I: Venezuela
Aug07 Fool Me Once, Part II: Mississippi Elections
Aug06 It's Not Donald Trump's Fault
Aug06 Things Go From Bad to Worse with China...
Aug06 ...And Venezuela, Too
Aug06 Mueller Redactions May Soon Be Unredacted
Aug06 Impeachment Recommendation May Be Coming
Aug06 California Tax Return Law Officially Challenged in Court
Aug06 Democratic Party Starts Hiring Staff
Aug05 Thoughts and Prayers, Part 251
Aug05 Another Trump Nominee Goes Down in Flames
Aug05 New Poll: Debate Changed Nothing
Aug05 Another Texas House Republican Hangs Up His Cowboy Hat
Aug05 Are Immigrants Useful?
Aug05 Trump Plans to Woo Black Voters
Aug05 Buttigieg's Fundraising Secret: New Bundlers
Aug05 Colorado Republicans Are Fighting a Rear-Guard Action against the NPV Compact
Aug05 Gravel Meets the Dirt
Aug05 Politics Makes Strange Bedfellows--and Enemies
Aug05 Monday Q&A
Aug02 Debate Postmortem
Aug02 Bettors Are Betting on Biden
Aug02 More than Half of House Democrats Now Support Impeachment
Aug02 Trump Will Impose New Tariffs on China
Aug02 Trump Rallies in Cincinnati
Aug02 Soros Creates a Democratic Super PAC
Aug02 Kelly Craft Is Confirmed as Ambassador to the United Nations
Aug02 Hearing Set in Fight over Trump's New York State Tax Returns
Aug02 Lewandowski May Run for the Senate in New Hampshire
Aug02 Hurd Joins the Herd Heading for the Doors
Aug02 Friday Q&A
Aug01 10 More Democrats Debate in Detroit
Aug01 Fed Cuts Interest Rates
Aug01 Today's Racism News, Part I
Aug01 Today's Racism News, Part II
Aug01 Yet Another GOP House Retirement
Jul31 Democrats Debate in Detroit
Jul31 Second Debate Figures to Be Different From the First
Jul31 Trump Gets Another Court Victory
Jul31 California Will Require Presidential Candidates to Provide Tax Returns
Jul31 Today in Bad Optics, Part I: Trump's Speech
Jul31 Today in Bad Optics, Part II: McConnell's Donors
Jul31 Today in Bad Optics, Part III: Tax Cuts
Jul30 Trump Feels Threatened...
Jul30 ...And So Does McConnell