Needed 1990
Biden 0
Booker 0
Buttigieg 0
Castro 0
Klobuchar 0
Sanders 0
Warren 0
Yang 0
Political Wire logo Democratic Debate Drew Smallest Audience Yet
Republicans Far Outraising Democrats
Trump Boasts of Putin’s Support Against Impeachment
Budget Officials Questioned Ukraine Aid Freeze
Owner of ‘Wine Cave’ Speaks
Road to Nomination Goes Thru Buttigieg
TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Saturday Q&A

Saturday Q&A

For the last couple months or so, we've tried to keep it to about six impeachment questions, max. That's not going to be viable this week.

Q: Could Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) hold the Articles of Impeachment until Jan. 2021, before a new Congress is sworn in and a possible second Trump term begins? What's the likelihood of this, in your estimation? M.L., Van Nuys, CA

Q: Per your comment that Nancy Pelosi can only hold out till January 10, why is that the end date? Why not never send them over at all and deny the Senate a chance to acquit Trump? After all, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) denied Barack Obama a chance to appoint Antonin Scalia's replacement, something unheard of in history and nakedly partisan, but it didn't seem to hurt his party any. Pelosi would only be returning an eye for an eye. D.E., San Diego, CA

A: D.E. makes the valid point that we now live in an era where the customs of Congress no longer mean all that much if they interfere with the exercise of raw power. Scholars have recognized for many generations that the "unwritten rules" of how the Congress works are just as important as the written rules (this is a major theme of Woodrow Wilson's 1885 Ph.D. dissertation, "Congressional Government," for example). Now, the general public is learning that lesson, too.

It's true that, like anyone who tries to read the tea leaves, sometimes we make incorrect guesses. And that could certainly be the case here. However, we stand by our belief that there are several things putting pressure on Pelosi not to drag her feet for too long. Three of the most important:

  1. The Democrats have argued that they simply cannot wait for the courts to weigh in on things like forcing former NSA John Bolton to testify because Donald Trump's corruption is ongoing and poses a threat to the 2020 elections. Our guess is that they really believe this, and are not just saying it for purposes of spin. But whether they believe it or not, it is very bad optics if Pelosi suddenly announces "You know what? It can wait after all."

  2. The various Democrats running for office in 2020 want to be able to talk about their platforms, and not deal with a stream of questions about impeachment every day while they campaign.

  3. An ongoing impeachment process gives Donald Trump red, red meat to use to drive the crowds at his rallies into a frenzy (the same is true for the audience of Sean Hannity, and his ilk). A concluded impeachment process, particularly if a half-dozen GOP votes in the Senate go against the President, less so.

In any event, M.L.'s plan of waiting until Jan. 2021 is implausible. One can hardly think of any maneuver that would give more credence to Republican claims that "the Democrats are trying to overturn an election" than that. Further, by law, the new Congress takes office on Jan. 3, 2021, and on that day any bills passed by the previous Congress (e.g., the articles of impeachment) are null and void. If Pelosi were to try to hand them off to the Senate on, say, Dec. 10 or Dec. 20 of 2020, then Mitch McConnell would just refuse to convene (or to begin a trial) until Jan. 3 arrived.

Q: I've seen you mention several times that it is a federal felony to solicit the help of a foreign national in elections, which of course comprises only part of the redacted call summary that Trump's own office released. I haven't heard this anywhere else and I don't understand why. In fact, on The New York Times' "The Daily" podcast recently, a Trumpist who was loudly yelling "What law did he break? What law did he break? Give me one!" as if the idea that Trump broke a law in his Ukraine call was unheard of. I know that impeachment is not a criminal trial, and that you can break a law but not be impeachable. But I still wonder why more people aren't talking about this law that Trump broke. Any ideas? Is there maybe some legal gray area here? E.D., St. Paul, MN

Q: During all the impeachment hearings so far, Donald Trump's defenders have screamed about how there was "no quid pro quo". My understanding is that whether there was or not, the fact that POTUS solicited assistance from a foreign power by asking his Ukrainian counterpart to investigate one of his political rivals, is a campaign finance violation, and the quid pro quo part doesn't matter. Why don't Democrats call attention to this point more often? H.R., Cudahy, WI

A: Let us start by showing our work. Here is 52 U.S. Code 30121, which says: "It shall be unlawful for a foreign national, directly or indirectly, to make a contribution or donation of money or other thing of value, or to make an express or implied promise to make a contribution or donation, in connection with a Federal, State, or local election [or for] a person to solicit, accept, or receive a contribution or donation described in subparagraph (A) or (B) of paragraph (1) from a foreign national." Here is the FEC's page communicating the same thing.

As you can see, it really couldn't be more black and white; there is literally no loophole here for the President, as it covers direct/indirect, money/other things of value, and express/implied. In fact, Volodymyr Zelensky's proposal that he would investigate Joe and Hunter Biden was enough to violate the law; it doesn't actually matter what Trump said, it only matters that he did not say, "No. I cannot accept that."

We can only guess as to why you aren't hearing more about this, of course. For Democrats, we suspect that the problem is that to most voters, this seems like a technicality, and not a "serious" offense. The notion that Trump tried to extort a foreign leader/solicit a bribe is more likely to get the blood boiling. And given that impeachment is a political process, getting the blood boiling matters.

For Republicans, they don't talk about this because—despite their public posture—they know what "dead to rights" looks like. The GOP has, of course, tried to make the case that Trump's request was in service of national goals, not his personal political goals. But that doesn't stand up to scrutiny very well, especially since the GOP has also argued that he never made a request. Can't have it both ways, and the fact that Trump and his acolytes are trying to is illustrative of how weak the hand they are playing is.

Even though this particular angle doesn't come up much in the court of public opinion, you can be quite certain it will come up in the Senate trial, as the Democrats force 53 Republican senators to decide if they really want to go on the record with their denials of reality, and to be all-in on the notion that night is day, up is down, black is white, war is peace, freedom is slavery, and ignorance is strength.

Q: It's very rare that you mention John Roberts without commenting that he cares very much about the image of the court, his legacy as Chief Justice, and the appearance of impartiality. Other outlets make similar comments. What is the basis of impression? There's the brief, very mild spat he had with Trump about "Obama judges." There's the decision to save Obamacare, which was made one thousand years ago. Is there more? A.W., Brooklyn. NY

A: You're right, Roberts has a limited record of bucking the party line. That makes sense, because he's really quite partisan. He's actually in the running as the most partisan Chief Justice of the last century-plus, which is saying something for a job that was also held by William Rehnquist and Melville Fuller.

A sizable part of the reason that Roberts is regarded as an institutionalist is that all chief justices are, to a greater or lesser extent, institutionalists. There are two, related reasons for this. The first is that they all care, at least to some extent, about the past traditions and the future efficaciousness of the Court. The second is that they care about the Court's influence and power while they run it. Since SCOTUS commands no troops or police, and has no power to enforce its own decisions, it is very dependent on its moral authority. And that authority is bolstered by cultivating the Court's reputation as an independent tribunal that just calls balls and strikes. Decisions that have run contrary to that reputation, like Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857), can gut the Court's power for years, if not decades.

The Brett Kavanaugh mess is still fresh in most people's memory, and Roberts surely knows that another blow to the Court's reputation will encourage blue states, Democratic presidents, and even private citizens to ignore SCOTUS decisions. Also, though he clearly likes some elements of Trumpism, he also appears to be more of a Reagan Republican (makes sense for someone born in 1955). Odds are he feels a need to side with the Democrats at least a couple of times during the impeachment hearings.

Q: In light of the current impasse over the rules the Senate will follow during the impeachment trial, could Chief Justice John Roberts, as the presiding officer, make a ruling that would require the two parties to reach an agreement before the proceedings begin? Could he also remind all senators that they are jurors in a trial and will swear to be "impartial"? D.G., Silver Spring, MD

Q: Senators must take an impartiality oath as part of an impeachment trial. At least several of them (Moscow Mitch, Graham, etc.) have publicly stated they will not act impartially. Is there any mechanism for disqualifying them? And who would rule on such questions? Roberts? The parliamentarian? D.E., Santa Clara, CA

Q: If Mitch McConnell and the Senate refuse to allow Democrats to call witnesses or obtain documents needed to make their case for conviction, what options to force the issue can Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Nancy Pelosi employ? Could the Democratic House or Senate impeach McConnell, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), et al., for obstruction of justice or obstruction of Congress? M.C., Simsbury, CT

A: The Constitution offers no guidances as to the presiding officer's role in an impeachment trial. The other two presidential impeachments also afford very little to go on. During those two trials, Chief Justices Salmon P. Chase and William Rehnquist were very passive. However, it was easy for them to be so, since the Senate had already reached agreement on witnesses and rules of evidence before the trial began.

The odds are pretty good that, in the end, the same thing happens here and that Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer hammer something out. If they do not, however, then it is entirely possible that Roberts might assert himself a little, or a lot. And even if he tries to do his best impersonation of a wallflower, the Democrats would surely put him on the spot, and specifically ask him to rule on certain questions. It will be tough for him to defer, depending on what the question is. Any decision he makes could be overruled by 51 senators, but it could be tough for McConnell to find 50 of his colleagues willing to stand up and declare that the Chief Justice of the United States doesn't understand the law.

If the Democrats cannot get what they want out of McConnell or out of Roberts, their next stop is (some of) their GOP colleagues in the Senate. All they need is four of them to win procedural votes. It is entirely possible that, say, Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) could be persuaded that she (and the Senate) would be well served for her to announce: "I may not vote to convict the President, but I do want to hear all the relevant evidence before I decide, so I'm supporting the subpoenas of Mick Mulvaney and John Bolton." She's pretty famous for hedging her bets like this, and so are some of her fellow senators.

It is certainly possible that the Democrats could try to go to the Senate parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough on some questions. That said, this is somewhat outside her wheelhouse, and—as with Roberts—her rulings can be nullified by 51 senators.

There is no established procedure for disqualifying senators based on the argument that they have violated (or intend to violate) their oath. That is because there has never been a need to consider the question; no senators have ever been so brazen as McConnell, Graham, etc. in announcing their intentions. The Democrats could plausibly ask Roberts, 51 Senators, or MacDonough to disqualify them, but that would be quite the power play, and not likely to yield fruit. It is also a federal crime for an officer of the government to violate their oaths, and in certain circumstances, doing so can result in a fine and/or imprisonment, per the terms of 18 USC 1918. So, a sympathetic U.S. attorney could try to charge McConnell or Graham with a crime under that statute. That would be a tough sell, though, both from a legal and a political standpoint.

Impeachment and removal is not an option; members of Congress can be expelled by their fellow members, but they cannot be impeached.

Q: All the talk prior to the impeachment vote was whether or not Democrats in swing districts would break from their party and vote against it. What about Republicans in swing districts? Shouldn't they have had a similar concern? Isn't is equally possible that they could pay a political price for their vote? It seems odd to me that not a single Republican representative was under the kind of pressure that Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME), Cory Gardner (R-CO), Thom Tillis (R-NC), etc. are under. R.L., Alameda, CA

A: That is because, due to Democratic successes in the midterms there actually aren't all that many swing district Republicans left. In fact, only one Republican (John Katko in NY-24) represents a district with a Democratic PVI (it's D+3). All four of the other D+3 districts, all six of the D+2 districts, all six of the D+1 districts, all eight of the EVEN districts, six of the eight R+1 districts, all eight of the R+2 districts, and seven of the nine R+3 districts are represented by Democrats. To put that another way, of the 46 districts that have a PVI between D+3 and R+3, 41 (89%) have Democratic Representatives. And of the 5 Republicans that leaves, two (Peter King of NY and Will Hurd of TX) are retiring.

Q: To what extent did Bill Clinton's impeachment cost Al Gore the 2000 election? D.M., Granite Bay, CA

A: Because Clinton remained popular with the base, and because he had a strong legacy (good economy, NAFTA, Brady Bill, Omnibus Crime Bill), Gore could not turn his back on him entirely. Because of the Lewinsky scandal, and the disgust of moderates, independents, etc., Gore could not hold Clinton close. So, during the 2000 campaign, Gore held Clinton at arm's length. Most obviously, Gore and Clinton did not campaign together, and Clinton largely stayed off the campaign trial. If the most gifted campaigner of his generation was not forced to remain in the bullpen, then Gore surely would have won the election.

Q: While I completely support impeachment of this corrupt president, from the Republicans standpoint, this was nothing but a political game: a hoax and overt act of partisanship. Taking their point of view to the next logical step, what is to stop the next Republican-controlled House from impeaching a Democratic president over nothing? After all, if their mentality is "the Democrats impeached Trump over nothing," it wouldn't seem like such a stretch that they'd do the same in return. J.C., Bloomington, IL

A: That is a real risk, and is certainly something the Republicans are laying the foundation for. That said, impeaching a president is playing with political fire, and everyone knows it. The Democrats would have loved to impeach George W. Bush, and the same is true for the Republicans and Barack Obama. And yet, neither party moved forward, because they just didn't feel they had strong enough grounds to protect themselves against potential blowback.

The extent to which impeachment becomes a tool in the modern Congressional toolkit is obviously going to depend a lot on what happens with Donald Trump. If the Democrats are punished at the polls in 2020, and impeachment appears to be the reason, then impeachment will become toxic, and neither party will touch it with a 10-foot pole. If they sweep Trump out of office, on the other hand, and impeachment appears to be the reason, then it surely makes future impeachments more likely. There's also a version of events where Trump is impeached, acquitted, and reelected, and then he goes on to commit greater and more problematic acts, as he feels he is invulnerable. That could serve to underscore the importance of both legitimate impeachments and legitimate trials, and could rebound on the GOP in 2022 and 2024.

Q: For those of us watching the live impeachment tally, there was a point late in the first article voting when a Republican "aye" vote registered. Then it went away. What was that about? C.W., Carlsbad, CA

A: For roughly 50 years, Congress has used electronic devices for most votes. Pictures of the ones used by past generations can be viewed here; they look something like a modem with a slot for the member's ID card and buttons for "yea," "nay," and "present." We cannot find a picture of the current machines in use, which is not a surprise, because it's forbidden for members to take photos on the floor, and the specific design of something like this is the kind of thing the government tries to keep under wraps. However, the devices have LCD touchscreens and Braille lettering, and look something like a GPS.

It is tempting, for those who would like to see a GOP defector or two, to interpret that temporary Republican "yea" as a sign that at least one member was wavering. However, that's probably not what was going on. What almost certainly happened is that a GOP member recorded their vote incorrectly, and then Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) looked at the roll to figure out who it was, and then he warned them about their error. It's also possible they voted "yea" deliberately, McCarthy figured out who it was, and then he warned them to switch their vote or else. But the first sequence is far and away the likeliest.

Q: I took note of your item on the 18th regarding potential Senators who may buck their party, and it brought to mind something I was thinking about earlier in the year. While the current conventional wisdom has it that there is no way enough Senators vote to convict, I'm curious to know if there may be a certain 'tipping point' that may push enough Republicans to vote to convict, especially given that it may give them the political cover they need. R.M., Pensacola, FL

A: Your question raises an important point. Every time a senator bucks their party, it becomes just a little easier for the next senator to do so. First, because the rebels afford cover to one another, and the more rebels there are, the more cover there is. Second, because the more rebels there are, the more that holding the Party line looks partisan, rather than legitimate. To conceptualize this second point, consider the half-dozen or so GOP senators who remained loyal to Nixon until the bitter end. Is there really any question those folks were on the wrong side of the question, and were just partisan hacks?

Exactly where the tipping point arrives, that Trump has to start worrying seriously about removal, we just don't know. That number is probably higher than 10 Republican senators and probably lower than 25, but anything more precise than that, we cannot say.

Q: Around Thanksgiving, my son and I divided all 53 GOP Senators into four broad categories based on their likelihood to vote for impeachment. We assessed 6 as "Maybe," 12 as "Possible," 18 as "Improbable," and 17 as "Never." Your list of the "most likely GOP Senators to buck their party" pretty closely matched ours. That said, we have some questions:

  1. Why do you place Pat Roberts (KS), one of our Improbables, and Michael Enzi (WY), one of our Nevers, on your list just because they are retiring? Bob Corker and Jeff Flake both retired, but took no significant action defying Trump. Why would Roberts and Enzi?

  2. Why do you place Rand Paul (KY), one of our Nevers, on the list, just because he is a wild card? Hasn't he shown his cards by recently appearing at Trump rallies strongly defending the President?

  3. Do you agree that Shelley Moore Capito (WV), Deb Fischer (NE), Mitch McConnell, Rob Portman (OH), and Marco Rubio (FL) are possibles? We put McConnell in that group only because he will do what only benefits him and no one else, and some unexpected development could turn Trump toxic even to McConnell.

  4. Could you expand your list to be the Top 20 most likely GOP Senators to defect, so that if all 47 Democratic Senators voted to convict, the total reaches the magic 67? M.W., Richmond, VA

A: When we made the list, we were trying to identify senators that could be categorized on a (largely) objective basis, as opposed to just listing folks based on gut feel. We agree with the basic theory of your list: about a third of the GOP members are definite candidates for apostasy, about a third might plausibly go rogue under just the right circumstances, and about a third will stay loyal no matter what.

That leads us to the next tricky element of compiling the list: we were trying to steer a course between "people who might vote against Trump based on current circumstances" and "people who might vote against Trump under circumstances that do not currently exist, but plausibly could exist in the future." For example, if the vote was to be held on Monday (with no trial whatsoever), Mitt Romney might vote against Trump, but it is impossible that Pat Roberts would vote to convict. On the other hand, if John Bolton testifies and says some hair-raising things, it's possible Roberts' conscience could be so offended that he turns against Trump. He's much freer to do so than, say, Cindy Hyde Smith (MS).

Anyhow, the ten or so senators most likely to vote against Trump are pretty easy to identify: Romney (UT), Collins (ME), Gardner (CO), Murkowski (AK), Tillis (NC), Ernst (IA), McSally (AZ), Grassley (IA), Alexander (TN), and Sasse (NE), in roughly that order. Beyond that, the difference between "11th most likely to vote to convict" and "25th most likely to convict" is very small, indeed, and impossible to predict with any confidence. For example, Ted Cruz (TX) is probably 5% to convict and Pat Toomey is probably 5.2%. Can we really rank them, and the others in their general range, with any confidence? We do agree that there's a strong case that Fischer, Portman, and Rubio should have made our original list. Especially Rubio, who comes from a purple state, doesn't like Trump, and probably won't run for reelection because he dislikes being a senator.

Q: As a physical document and a signed presidential artifact written on White House letterhead, it seems to me that Trump's rant may outlast his Twitter stream, which by sheer volume deprecates any individual tweet by drowning it out with the next.

Speaking from the perspective of a historian, (Z), how do you think that his letter will be judged in say 100 or more years (assuming our democracy survives until then)? Will future generations read snippets of it on whatever their electronic media of the day will be? Will historians be willing to use the word "unhinged," or will it be softened so as not to give the appearance of bias? Will historians make reference to his profuse grammatical and syntactic errors?
D.H., San Francisco, CA

A: When a historian chooses documents for use in their books or their classes, they try to select those that encapsulate the person, era, event, etc. as fully as possible, and ideally in as short a space as possible. This is why just about every U.S. history teacher on Earth uses the 1848 Seneca Falls Declaration of Rights and Sentiments, Frederick Douglass' autobiography (especially the battle with Mr. Covey), FDR's First Inaugural ("We have nothing to fear but fear itself"), and MLK Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech, among others.

When it comes to the Trump presidency, the story is going to be populism, xenophobia/isolationism, and subversion of the norms of constitutional government. That will be the case even if the democracy doesn't survive. After all, people still study the Roman Empire. And the two Trump-related documents that are going to find their ways into books, dissertations, document collections, course readers, etc. over and over and over will be his announcement speech from 2015 ("Mexicans are rapists") and the letter he sent to Pelosi. Both are enormously significant, and both squeeze a lot of Trumpism into a small space. You're right that the tweets will disappear into the ether, both because there are so many of them, but also because they are not terribly likely to be accessible in 100 years.

Generally speaking, grammatical and syntactic errors are allowed to stand in historical documents, as cleaning them up removes valuable information and also distorts the original documents. There are exceptions to this, like replacing outdated spellings (Mahomet becomes Muhammad, Congrefs becomes Congress) or correcting obvious typographical errors. However, these exceptions do not apply to Trump's letter; it will undoubtedly be allowed to remain uncorrected.

Using a word like "unhinged" is not problematic, as long as it's accurate. One can find many references to Andrew Jackson being apoplectic, George McClellan being befuddled, Ida B. Wells being terrified, James G. Blaine ("The Continental Liar from Maine") being immoral, Lyndon B. Johnson being vulgar, or Richard Nixon being disingenuous. Under some circumstances, those descriptions could be seen as judgmental, but if the shoe fits, it's ok to allow those historical personages to wear it.

Q: What do you make of the USA Today/Suffolk University poll that has the President beating all his major rivals from the Democrats head-to-head? Is it possible that the country implicitly backs the President on impeachment (despite the direct polls on the subject which has it more as a toss-up), or the trade deal with China, a soaring stock market, and an unemployment Rate at 3.5% are resonating with voters? J.K., Short Hills, NJ

A: Truth be told, we don't make anything of it. In the last week, there have been four national polls of Trump vs. the Democratic frontrunners, from Emerson, USA Today/Suffolk, IBD, and Fox News. Here are their results:

Candidate Emerson USA Today IBD Fox News
Joe Biden Biden +4 Trump +3 Biden +5 Biden +7
Bernie Sanders Sanders +4 Trump +5 Trump +1 Sanders +6
Elizabeth Warren Warren +2 Trump +8 Trump +4 Warren +1
Pete Buttigieg Tie Trump +10 Trump +2 Buttigieg +1

As you can see, these polls provide very different views, with 10-11 point gaps between Trump's best number and the Democrat's best number. They can't all be right, and they were all published in the last week, so the variances cannot be attributed to time. The USA Today poll is actually the outlier compared to the other three. That doesn't mean it's the incorrect one, but it does mean that one cannot hang their hat on USA Today's results.

There are a number of reasons that one should not take polls all that seriously at this point (which is why we're not tracking the polls, as yet). The most important of these is that the election is still a long time away. That makes accurate polling difficult, as it's nearly impossible to figure out with any certainty who is a likely voter and who is not. That question has a big effect on which respondents are counted and which ones are not.

Another problem with the election being so far away is that there are too many "known unknowns" between now and then, not to mention "unknown unknowns." Among the former: (1) What will happen at the impeachment trial?; (2) What's the situation with Trump's health?; (3) Who will the Democratic candidate be?; (4) How good will their campaign be?; (5) Will the Democrats splinter, as they did in 2016?; (6) What will happen with the economy?; (7) Will Trump's financial records be made public?; (8) And if they are, will they have damaging information within them?; (9) Will any of the other pending lawsuits against Trump (e.g., emoluments) go against him?; (10) Will there be trouble with North Korea, Syria, Iran, or other hotspots? It took us roughly two minutes to come up with 10 significant known unknowns off the top of our heads; there are many more, of course.

A third issue with these polls is that, as everyone surely knows, they are measuring the wrong thing. The presidency is awarded by the Electoral College, not the popular vote. To really have a sense of how Trump is doing, relative to where he was on Election Day 2016, we'd need state-level polls, particularly of the dozen or so swing states. The problem is that there aren't too many of those right now, because they are expensive and (as per above) not particularly accurate or instructive.

And finally, the polls themselves are problematic enough. Taking the next step and attributing their results to the economy, or the impeachment trial, or whatever, is—in the absence of specific questioning by the pollster—just semi-random guessing. The fact is that Trump has the ironclad support of about 42% of the population, while about 48% wants him impeached and convicted as soon as is possible. Only about 10% of the vote (if that much) is up for grabs, and most "movement" in the polls isn't movement at all, it's the product of imprecision in the polling process due to small sample size, which is expensive to fix because pollsters have to call 10 people to get one who is willing to talk to them.

Q: You wrote: "[T]he reason few black voters are supporting [Sen. Cory] Booker (D-NJ) is that they prefer one of the white guys, namely Joe Biden."

I think you have no right to say what "black voters" prefer. It is offensive and racist. You don't have a right to speak for "black voters." Please stop, and please issue a correction or, if you are ethical enough, an apology.
A.C., Santa Cruz, CA

A: We are not presuming to speak for black voters. We are summarizing the results of polls in which black voters have spoken for themselves. Nearly every poll has crosstabs that break down respondents demographically, including by race. Further, there are some states like South Carolina, where a majority of Democratic voters are black. Both of these data sources tell us that Booker (and Sen. Kamala Harris, D-CA) simply did not attract much support from black voters. When we write something like "black voters prefer Joe Biden," we are not referring to every single black voter, nor are we referring to any individual black voter. We are saying that, "Far more black voters are backing Joe Biden than any other candidate."

It is not racist to report this information. In fact, we would argue that we are poking a hole in a (passively) racist way of thinking, namely that black voters must choose their candidate based on skin color, because they don't care about (or aren't capable of considering) anything else. The polls clearly indicate that black voters are very capable of examining the candidates and deciding which one they prefer based on factors other than skin color.

Q: Trump likes to brag about the low unemployment rate. But today almost anyone can download an app and suddenly they have a "job." The Dallas Fed apparently has this article suggesting that some of the low unemployment rate is due to this effect. Now I am wondering how I should think about the unemployment numbers. How many of those people don't have "real" jobs? Is this significantly different from people who might have been handymen or doing odd jobs in a pre-iPhone world? To the extent that this is affecting the unemployment rate, why does Donald Trump (and to be fair, Barack Obama before him) get to take credit for it? J.L., Mountain View, CA

A: We've brought this up at least one time before, and now we're going to bring it up again. As most folks presumably know, the extent to which someone is overweight is judged—in most cases—by a measurement called Body Mass Index (BMI). This measure was created nearly 200 years ago—back when leeches, bleeding, holes drilled in heads, forcing patients to vomit, and blistering were all considered curatives—and it wasn't even a physician who did it. Lambert Adolphe Jacques Quetelet, the formulator of BMI, was actually an astronomer and statistician.

Anyhow, this should give you a pretty good idea of how good BMI is (hint: it isn't). Most obviously, it incorrectly assesses many body types (people with dense bones/wide frames, people who are heavily muscled, etc.). However, it's a measurement that everyone is used to, and so it lives on. There are lots of things like this, where inferior measurements live on because they are familiar, including Fahrenheit temperatures, RBIs in baseball, and the Dow Jones Index, among others. Unemployment rate is also in this category.

When the government first began publishing and collecting unemployment numbers (during the Great Depression), the range of jobs available was similar enough that such a blunt-force, simplistic number was at least somewhat useful. But now? Not so much. The unemployment figure does not adequately account for many things, including: (1) Full-time or part-time work?; (2) Traditional job or "gig" economy?; (3) Health insurance and other benefits or not?; (4) Permanent or seasonal? The number crunchers also do not consider those folks who have given up on the labor market and stopped trying to find employment. Further, we learn nothing about wages, which often remain stagnant even when unemployment is low (as is the case right now). And if all of this were not enough, the unemployment figure you see in headlines is actually just a guess based on partial data. The Bureau of Labor Statistics eventually issues a second number a month later, and another three months later, once they have more data and more time to crunch it. What this means is that if you hear that unemployment dropped by 1%, it's very possible it didn't actually drop at all, or even that it went up. But nobody ever reports on the updated numbers.

Q: Watching the debate, I was surprised that nobody went after Joe Biden for being too big of a risk now that Trump, Fox "News" and the right wing media have decided he's as corrupt as can be for helping his son get a fat paycheck out of Ukraine. True or not (not), I think this makes him a liability since we know they're going to pound on this until Election Day. It's Hillary's e-mails and Benghazi all over again, and we've yet to see anything from Biden that suggests he's found an effective response.

Do you agree it's a missed opportunity for the other candidates? Especially since electability seems to be every voter's number one priority. Why do you think nobody went after him in any meaningful way? He's at least as big a threat to the others as Mayor Pete Buttigieg (D-South Bend). If nobody changes the narrative, Biden is going to walk away with the nomination.
S.S., West Hollywood, CA

A: Let us start by pointing out that it does not matter who the Democratic candidate is, the Republicans are going to find something "scandalous" and hammer them with it, over and over. It does not particularly matter if it's true, all that matters is that the base buys into it. Recall John Kerry's swift boaters, Barack Obama's religion/birth certificate, along with Hillary Clinton's e-mail server. If Biden is the nominee, it will be Hunter Biden. If Warren, it will be "Pocahontas." If Sanders, it will be that he's a socialist who lives in a $3 million house. If Buttigieg, it will be his sexual orientation (probably raised via dog whistle, like "Shouldn't we have a president who is a good role model for the children?").

The Democrats know they can't avoid this, but they damn sure aren't going to facilitate it. Any Democratic debater who hit Joe Biden for his son's Ukraine dealings would look Trump-like, angering the Democratic electorate, and would also be doing the President's dirty work by legitimizing the charges and also by providing potential video footage for a future Trump commercial ("See? Even the Democrats know the truth!"). The folks on stage are all too smart for that. And so, no, we don't think there was a missed opportunity here.

Q: Which of the 50 states is the best? Why? T.B., Detroit, MI

A: We knew this was coming after we answered the question last week about which state is the worst. The challenge is that the things that might make a state "bad" tend to correlate to one another, such that it's easier to give a reasonably compelling answer.

Best state, that's less true. So, we're going to put forward three candidates, and the (differing) arguments for each

  • Massachusetts: One of the most historically significant states, Massachusetts took a leading role in the revolution and in the formation of the new government, as well as in the Civil War and the fight against slavery. The Bay State also gave us four presidents, and may give us another in 2020. It's got fantastic architecture, great scenery, and its populace is the most educated in the nation.

  • California: Speaking of history, California's importance in the 18th/19th centuries was not great, but it is arguably the most significant state of the 20th century, playing a critical role in training and supplying the armies of World War II, giving the nation (and the world) technological marvels like the integrated circuit and the personal computer, and defining the nation's pop culture through the film and television industry. Today, it remains at the center of technology, culture, and—though you might not guess it—agriculture, producing more farm goods than any other state. It's an economic powerhouse, with an economy larger than all but six of the world's nations.

  • Washington: Washington has many of the same things going for it as Califorina does, but with less smog, less heat, and an overall higher quality of life according to those who try to study these things systematically. Indeed, U.S. News & World Report has them at #1 on their "Best States to Live In" rankings, primarily due to excellent healthcare, a thriving economy, a very fine education system, low crime, and the second-best infrastructure of any state in the country.

One can make a strong case for at least a dozen other states (Illinois, Hawaii, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Arizona, Texas, Vermont, Oregon, Colorado, Maryland, etc.), and one could also point out some rather serious weaknesses in the cases of the three states above, like the on-its-last-legs infrastructure in Massachusetts, the sky-high housing prices in California, or the constant rain in Washington. Still, those were the three that most readily occurred to us.

If you have a question about politics, civics, history, etc. you would like us to answer on the site, please send it to, and include your initials and city of residence. If you have a comment about the site or one of the items therein, please send it to and include your initials and city of residence in case we decide to publish it. If you spot any typos or other errors on the site that we should fix, please let us know at
Email a link to a friend or share:

---The Votemaster and Zenger
Dec20 Democrats Debate in Los Angeles
Dec20 Senate Doesn't Have a Deal on Impeachment Rules
Dec20 Mulvaney Looks to Be a Short-Timer
Dec20 To Avoid Conviction, Trump Needs Only 15% of the Country
Dec20 Senate Republicans Are Praying that Trump Won't Tweet During the Trial
Dec20 Christianity Today Calls for Trump's Removal
Dec20 House Passes USMCA
Dec20 Mark Meadows Will Not Run for Reelection
Dec19 House Impeaches Trump
Dec19 Trump Wanted to See George W. Bush Impeached
Dec19 Giuliani Pal Lev Parnas Received $1 Million from Ukrainian Oligarch
Dec19 Things to Watch in the Democratic Debate
Dec19 Trump Will Use Transgender Rights as a Weapon in 2020...
Dec19 ...And Democrats Will Counter with Healthcare
Dec19 Good News and Bad News for Paul Manafort
Dec19 Collins Will Run for Reelection
Dec18 Tuesday's Impeachment Maneuvering
Dec18 What Senators Are Most Likely to Buck Their Parties?
Dec18 House Passes $1.4 Trillion Spending Bills
Dec18 Georgia Follows Wisconsin's Lead
Dec18 Anti-Trump Republicans form Anti-Trump Super PAC
Dec18 Democratic Debate Is On
Dec18 Gates, Meet Walls (and Bars)
Dec17 Schumer Makes His Impeachment Counter-Moves
Dec17 Van Drew Loses Staff, Gains Two Admirers
Dec17 About that 4%...
Dec17 Thursday Debate in Serious Jeopardy
Dec17 Beware of Stereotype-Driven "Analysis"
Dec17 Some States Spend on Census, Some Don't
Dec17 Not So Fast on NAFTA 2.0
Dec16 How Trump Wins in 2020
Dec16 Booker Asks DNC to Soften the Rules for Qualifying for the Debates
Dec16 Bloomberg: Boris Johnson is the Canary in the Coal Mine
Dec16 Democrats Have Found Their 2020 Campaign Issue
Dec16 Biden Is Counting on Texas
Dec16 Fox News Poll: Half the Country Wants Trump Removed from Office
Dec16 Judge Orders 234,000 Wisconsin Voters to Be Purged from the Rolls
Dec16 New Voters Are Not Like Old Voters
Dec16 Pompeo Opens a Personal Twitter Account
Dec16 Jefferson Takes a Stand
Dec15 Sunday Mailbag
Dec14 Supreme Court to Take Up Trump Taxes
Dec14 House Judiciary Committee Makes it Official
Dec14 Saturday Q&A
Dec13 No Articles of Impeachment, Yet
Dec13 Democratic Primary Debate Dates Announced
Dec13 Beshear Restores Voting Rights to 140,000 Felons
Dec13 Senate Recognizes Armenian Genocide
Dec13 About that Trump Family Hypocrisy...
Dec13 Boris Johnson Wins Big