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Political Wire logo How Trump Plans to Mobilize Evangelicals
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What Trump’s North Korea Stunt Means
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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Trump Says He's Talking with China, North Korea
      •  Trump to Putin: Don't Meddle in the Election (Wink, Wink!)
      •  41 Republicans Oppose Iran Amendment
      •  SCOTUS to Take on DACA
      •  Democratic Debate(s) Postmortem
      •  Debate Q&A

Trump Says He's Talking with China, North Korea

With domestic policy victories in short supply, and it growing less likely by the day that there will be any actual new wall construction prior to November 3, 2020, Donald Trump could use some "wins" on the foreign policy front. And so, he announced this weekend that talks with China's Xi Jinping are going well. The President also added a last-minute stop in the Korean Demilitarized Zone to his Asia itinerary, so he could have an impromptu chat with Kim Jong-Un.

On the China front, Trump says that his conversations with Xi were productive enough that it will not be necessary to impose new tariffs for now. Good news, but not surprising, since Trump and his voters likely cannot bear the strain of additional Chinese counter-tariffs. There is likely only one person who knows where this is heading in the next 12 months, and that is Xi. He may well be planning to hold the course, in hopes of getting Trump out of office, and having someone less mercurial in the White House to deal with. On the other hand, Xi might also be planning to hand Trump a small "win," along the lines of NAFTA v2.0, so that both sides can dial back the tariffs in time for the election.

On the North Korea front, Kim agreed to travel to the DMZ, so Trump got his meeting. He even became the first U.S. president ever to set foot on North Korean soil. Of course, no serious discussions can take place at an impromptu conference that lasts less than an hour. This is just another photo op for both sides, but particularly for Trump, who will use shots of himself and Kim on Twitter to celebrate how successful his trip to the G-20 was (thus distracting from the not so successful elements).

Ultimately, while meaningful movement vis-a-vis China in the next 12 months is possible, the chances that Trump will make any substantive progress with North Korea during that time are tiny. The basic problem, namely that Kim has no intention of giving up his nukes, and Trump insists on the nukes being gone, has not changed one iota. (Z)

Trump to Putin: Don't Meddle in the Election (Wink, Wink!)

While at the G-20, Donald Trump had a sit-down with Russian president Vladimir Putin, as expected. And during their press availability afterward, reporters asked Trump if he'd told Putin not to mess with the 2020 elections. The Donald laughed, wagged his finger, and—using his "not serious" voice—told Vlad, "Don't mess with the elections." As an added bonus, the President also joked about "getting rid of journalists." How delightful. Here's the video:

Later, Trump was asked to account for his apparently blasé attitude about warning Putin, and defended himself: "I did say it," making no allowance for the fact that tone and body language count here.

At this point, are any of these four statements in dispute?

  • Russia worked to help Trump get elected in 2016
  • Trump was aware of it, and—at best—did nothing to discourage it
  • Russia plans to interfere with the 2020 elections
  • Trump has made clear that he's open to assistance from them, and that he has no intention of discouraging or punishing them

Is this conspiracy? Possibly. Is it treason? Maybe. Is it "high crimes and misdemeanors"? It almost has to be. For reasons that made a lot of sense, even in their time, the Founders were deeply concerned about possible foreign interference with their newly formed government. Many of them were lawyers, and may have argued that Trump's actions do not constitute treason, simply because there is no state of war between the U.S. and Russia. But if you had described the list of behaviors above to James Madison, or Benjamin Franklin, or Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, and asked them if such behaviors ran afoul of the Constitution, they would absolutely have said "yes." And if treason does not apply, then "high crimes and misdemeanors" is what's left.

In fact, it's probably useful at this point to talk about what "high crimes" actually means. Most folks read it to mean something like "serious crimes" or "major crimes." In fact, what the Founders actually meant was "crimes of the sort committed by someone in high office." If the president was, instead, a king, then "high crimes" would be interchangeable with "royal crimes." That is to say, they were specifically concerned at the sort of bad acts that are not covered by written statutes (i.e., misdemeanors) because they can only be committed by a select number of important officeholders. And if encouraging foreign interference in an election does not meet that description, we don't know what does. (Z)

41 Republicans Oppose Iran Amendment

Speaking of the Constitution, Article I, Section 8 lays out Congress' powers in great detail. It's actually a list of 18 enumerated powers, roughly half of which grant them authority to declare war, raise the army and navy, pay the army and navy, deploy the militia, and so forth. The last item on the list also grants the legislature the broad power to "make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution the foregoing powers."

This being the case, it should not be particularly controversial to say that Congress should be consulted before taking a major step like, say, attacking Iran. It should also not be particularly controversial to pass a bill (or an amendment to a bill) that reiterates Congress' already-delegated powers in that regard. And yet, more than 40 GOP senators voted on Friday morning to kill such an amendment, so it's dead. The Constitution, and the War Powers Act notwithstanding, Donald Trump apparently has free rein to attack Iran as he sees fit.

The "check with us before attacking Iran" amendment was mostly the work of Senate Democrats, along with a few GOP iconoclasts, like Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY). Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) & Co. did not expect the amendment to pass; they just wanted to get Senate Republicans on the record so that their votes can be used against them in the future. If Trump never actually attacks, then this whole incident will be a footnote. But if there is violence between the U.S. and Iran and, in particular, if it goes badly, then those Republicans who voted against the amendment could find themselves regretting their vote, along the same lines as the folks who voted to authorize the invasion of Iraq in 2003. For what it's worth, the senators who voted against the amendment, and who might possibly face tough reelection battles next year, are: Bill Cassidy (R-LA), John Cornyn (R-TX), Steve Daines (R-MT), Joni Ernst (R-IA), Cory Gardner (R-CO), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Martha McSally (R-AZ), David Perdue (R-GA), and Thom Tillis (R-NC). (Z)

SCOTUS to Take on DACA

Apparently, Chief Justice John Roberts thinks that Brett Kavanaugh has had time enough to settle in, and is now a "legitimate" member of the Court, because SCOTUS is no longer shying away from taking controversial cases. The latest: The Court announced, on Friday, that next term it will take up Donald Trump's decision to terminate DACA.

Predicting Supreme Court rulings is a fool's errand, particularly when it's this Supreme Court. What is clear, however, is that: (1) presidents certainly have the right to overturn executive orders of their predecessors but (2) they can't do so if their intent is discriminatory and (3) several lower courts have already ruled against the administration. Recently, and presumably to avoid taking too much heat for being "political," the Roberts Court has tended to rule based on procedural issues, rather than diving into the actual legal substance of cases. They may do so again here, but whatever happens, their ruling is going to come right in the thick of the 2020 campaign. Think that might just move DACA front and center as a campaign issue, regardless of what happens? In fact, the blue team might be better off if Trump's cancellation of DACA is upheld, since that would presumably get more Democratic voters to the polls, which would presumably make it easier for the Democrats to retake the White House, which would presumably result in the next Democratic president immediately reinstating the program. (Z)

Democratic Debate(s) Postmortem

When we did this last cycle, the debates were coming one at a time. Or, even when they were coming in pairs, the earlier debates were the junior varsity, and we could ignore them like everyone else did. Now, the two debates are theoretically equal, so we're going to have to adapt a bit. Anyhow, you've already seen our reports on Day 1 and Day 2; here's how other observers had it:

Left-leaning media:
CNN: Winners, Day 1—Julián Castro, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ). Losers, Day 1—Beto O'Rourke, Amy Klobuchar (DFL-MN), Mayor Bill de Blasio (D-New York). "If one of O'Rourke's goals coming into this debate was to show he was more than a good-looking but sort of empty vessel, it, um, didn't work."

Winners, Day 2—Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), Mayor Pete Buttigieg (D-South Bend), Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO). Losers, Day 2—Joe Biden, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Marianne Williamson, Andrew Yang, Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA). "Unlike the relatively polite affair on Wednesday night, the candidates in Thursday's debate came out ready to scrap. It was a much more spirited affair and produced a series of powerful moments—the vast majority authored by California Sen. Kamala Harris."

Rolling Stone: Winners, Day 1—Castro, Warren, de Blasio. Losers, Day 1—O'Rourke, Klobuchar, Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH), John Delaney. "[Castro] strode on stage with a steely-eyed confidence and sharp elbows, demonstrating with every answer both an emotional depth and an impressive fluency with a broad range of policy."

Winner, Day 2—Harris. Losers, Day 2—Biden. Yang. "This was Harris' night. What will she do with the momentum?"

The Washington Post: Winners, Day 1—Warren, Castro, de Blasio. Losers, Day 1—O'Rourke, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI). "[Warren] went into the debate with the biggest target on her back as the highest-polling candidate onstage. But she largely skated. Other candidates didn't seem to have the appetite to put her on the spot."

Winners, Day 2—Harris, Buttigieg, Sanders. Losers, Day 2—Biden, Williamson. "This was a minefield for Buttigieg, and talking about his stewardship of South Bend, Ind., after police shot and killed a black man was inevitable. Then Buttigieg did something novel: Admit some fault. Asked why he had so few black police officers in a diverse city, Buttigieg responded, 'Because I couldn't get it done.' Humility is okay. And when talking about other issues like free college and health care, he managed to offer bold ideas but emphasize realism."

Vox: Winners, Day 1—Warren, Castro, de Blasio, Booker. Loser, Day 1—O'Rourke. "Bill de Blasio isn't especially popular in his hometown. And his presidential campaign has barely registered with Democratic voters. But damned if he didn't make the most of his national political debut. It is a daring strategy to run aggressively leftward in a field that includes Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, but if anything, he managed to position himself as more progressive than Warren on Wednesday night."

Winners, Day 2—Harris, Buttigieg. Losers, Day 2—Biden, Swalwell. "Biden's biggest weakness is and always has been a sense that his party has left him behind, that he is a relic of an earlier, less progressive era in Democratic history. Thursday night made that sense stronger than ever."

Right-leaning media:
The Hill: Winners, Days 1 and 2—Harris, Buttigieg, Warren, Castro. Losers, Day 1 and 2—Biden, O'Rourke. "Thursday night's debate was not a complete disaster for Biden, but the expectations were highest for the front-runner and he leaves Miami looking vulnerable."

Fox News: Winners, Day 1—Warren, Castro. Losers, Day 1—O'Rourke, de Blasio. "O'Rourke needed a big night to remind voters why they swooned for him in his Senate run last year. Instead, he looked like a deer in the headlights, wasting time on anecdotes from the trail, but light on policy proposals."

Winners, Day 2—Biden, Harris, Buttigieg. Losers, Day 2—Sanders, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY). "Based on two nights of debates, impeachment is a dead issue of little interest to the presidential candidates but free health care for undocumented immigrants is now a consensus issue among the candidates."

The New York Post: Winners, Day 1—Warren, de Blasio, Castro, Gov. Jay Inslee (D-WA). Losers, Day 1—Ryan, Booker, Delaney. "[Booker's performance was] death by a thousand platitudes. His riff about living in Newark has gone stale."

Winners, Day 2—Buttigieg, Harris. Losers, Day 2—Williamson, John Hickenlooper, Biden. "Harris had a tremendous debate and her answer on race and busing was an exceptionally powerful moment. She was clear, precise and passionate."

RedState: Winners, Day 1—Castro, Gabbard, Warren. Losers, Day 1—O'Rourke, de Blasio, Ryan. "Tulsi Gabbard, I think, had a better night than she'll be given credit for—particularly in her use of past military experience, her time spent in the Middle East serving our country, and the way she beat Tim Ryan like a rented mule over his comments on the Middle East."

Winners, Day 2—Sanders, Harris, Bennet. Losers, Day 2—Biden, Gillibrand, Yang. "Joe Biden did lose. He was the only one who had a job of not losing to be able to win, and he couldn't even do that. His talking points were easily torn apart by both moderators and other candidates, he relied far too much on Obama's legacy to help him out, and he could not make himself his own man."

Foreign media:
The Independent (UK): Winners, Day 1—Warren, Booker, Castro, Klobuchar. Losers, Day 1—O'Rourke, de Blasio, Gabbard. "[Klobuchar] sounded level-headed throughout the debate, whether she landed enough big hits is open to question—but she got a couple of quips in about Mr Trump's unsuitability for office."

Winners, Day 2—Harris, Buttigieg, Gillibrand, Bennet. Losers, Day 2—Biden, Sanders, Yang, Williamson. "[Harris] needed a strong performance to truly catapult her into the conversation about the likely next Democratic nominee—she got one."

The Guardian (UK): Winners, Days 1 and 2—Warren, Castro, Booker, Harris, Buttigieg, Gillibrand. Losers, Days 1 and 2—O'Rourke, Biden. "Clearly, this was not your parents' Democratic party. The stars of both debates were largely 'non-traditional' candidates—women and ethnic and sexual minorities."

British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC): Winners, Days 1 and 2—Harris, Warren, Castro. Losers, Days 1 and 2—Biden, O'Rourke. "Like the Hippocratic Oath, Elizabeth Warren's first directive was to do no harm. She had the lighter of the two debate draws and so avoided most of the fireworks—which, given her steadily rising poll numbers, is exactly what she needed to do. Fireworks can be fun to watch, but it's easy to get burned."

Australian Brodcasting Corporation (ABC): Winners, Day 1 and 2—None. Losers, Day 1 and 2—None. "For the most part, everyone was nice! When the debate fields get smaller, the punches are likely to be harder and better directed."

Across the 12 outlets, we end up with these totals (ordered by "net" wins):

Candidate Wins Losses
Kamala Harris 11 0
Elizabeth Warren 11 0
Julián Castro 11 0
Pete Buttigieg 8 0
Cory Booker 4 1
Michael Bennet 3 0
Jay Inslee 1 0
Bill de Blasio 4 4
Kirsten Gillibrand 2 2
Bernie Sanders 2 3
Tulsi Gabbard 1 2
Amy Klobuchar 1 2
John Hickenlooper 0 1
Martin Delaney 0 2
Eric Swalwell 0 2
Tim Ryan 0 3
Andrew Yang 0 4
Marianne Williamson 0 4
Joe Biden 1 10
Beto O'Rourke 0 10

There are four pretty clear tiers. Harris, Warren, Castro, and Buttigieg impressed widely. Booker and Bennet made slight progress, which may be enough as the field sorts itself out. Biden and O'Rourke clearly underwhelmed. And the rest of the field might as well have stayed home. Special recognition for de Blasio, however, for living up to his reputation for generating strong responses from people, and being the only candidate to tally more than two votes in both columns.

There is already some evidence that the "winners" got a boost from their debate performances. The Harris, Booker, and Castro campaigns had million-dollar takes the day after their candidate's appearance, with Harris' $2 million leading the way. Google searches for both Harris and Buttigieg were up 2000%, while searches for 'busing' were up 3000%. That said, one does not want to make too much out of Google trends. The single-most searched for candidate, outpacing #2 Harris and #3 Buttigieg, was Marianne Williamson. Many of those folks were presumably not trying to figure out how to give her money, or whether they should vote for her, especially since three of the five most common search strings were "Marianne Williamson net worth," "Marianne Williamson husband," and "Marianne Williamson stoned."

Another thing to take with a fistful of salt: insta-polls. In particular, the pretty-far-right-leaning Drudge Report generally runs a poll immediately after debates in which people can vote early, and often, without providing any identifying information. According to that poll, Tulsi Gabbard won the first night of the debates handily, taking 45% of the vote, while Andrew Yang won the second night, with 30% (followed by Marianne Williamson with 20%). This is clearly a skewed result, but is there any useful information to be gleaned here, at all? Maybe about the preferences of young people, or people who are technically inclined, or who are centrist or right-learning? The Daily Wire thinks there is, declaring that Drudge's polls "has served as a barometer for years on where candidates stand in the campaign." That assertion is, to use the technical term: nonsense, and gives you a sense of how much you should trust anything you read on the Daily Wire. In fact, Drudge's polls are less predictive than blindfolding yourself and throwing darts at a dartboard, while putting the dartboard in Tanzania. There are communities on reddit and 4chan who notoriously conspire to distort the results on Drudge, and any other poll where it's easy for a small number of people to cast a large number of votes. Similarly, there is a movement among Republican activists right now to donate to Marianne Williamson's campaign, in hopes of getting her qualified for the second and third debates.

Moving along, the fact checkers did their usual yeoman's work, although after two years of low-hanging Trump fruit, they had to break a little bit of a sweat to find things to talk about. Among the better ones are the entries from The New York Times (Day 1, Day 2); CBS News (Day 1, Day 2); CNN (Day 1, Day 2); PolitiFact (Day 1, Day 2); and FactCheck (Day 1, Day 2). Don't read them all unless you're trying to cure a case of insomnia. The executive summary: the 20 candidates fudged some things a bit, but rarely in an egregious way. That said, be wary of any specific statistics they quote, or of any candidate's explanation for their actions during the four or more terms they served representing Delaware in the United States Senate.

And finally, we should note that there was quite a lot of coverage of the historic nature of the Democratic debates, in terms of the number of minorities, women, and minority women involved; the participation of an openly gay candidate; and the engagement with issues like transgender equality. Vox has a particularly good overview, with thoughts from 14 different political experts.

The next debates are exactly a month away; they'll be held July 30 and 31 in Detroit, with CNN serving as host. So, brace yourself for a heaping helping of Anderson Cooper, Chris Cuomo, and Don Lemon. There are at least two candidates who didn't get to debate this time around, but who say they have now cleared the fundraising bar: Gov. Steve Bullock (D-MT) and Rep. Seth Moulton (D-MA). Mike Gravel says he also expects to make it. So, DNC Chair Tom Perez looks to have 22 or 23 people (or more) for 20 seats. We shall see what he does with this. (Z)

Debate Q&A

We've got enough good questions to do an all-debate Q&A. We'll be back to regular questions and answers tomorrow.

Throughout the debates, I heard Amazon mentioned, due to the "fact" that they don't pay taxes. Is it a well-established fact that tech giants use loopholes to avoid high taxes? If so, how did they do it? L.M.S., Harbin, China

It is absolutely true that Amazon does not pay federal taxes in many years (including last year). In fact, last year, they even got a tax rebate in excess of $100 million. They do pay state, local, and international income taxes, to the tune of $1.18 billion last year.

The reason that Amazon pays little or no federal taxes (or even gets a rebate) is that they are very good at taking advantage of the opportunities the federal tax code gives them (opportunities that got even more generous with the GOP's 2017 tax bill). In particular, Amazon invests heavily in research and development (more than $20 billion a year); spends lots of money on property, plants, and equipment ($60 billion a year); and pays a sizable chunk of their employees' salaries in stocks and stock options. Because the federal government wishes to encourage all of these things, all of them convey significant tax advantages, which the bean counters at Amazon squeeze for all they are worth. Those same bean counters are also very good at moving losses around, so that they "officially" occur in whatever year and (especially) country is best for Amazon's tax bill (or non-bill).

Amazon isn't the only company that is very good at avoiding federal taxes. Apple, GM, Goldman Sachs, and Southwest Airlines, among others, have managed to pull off a federal tax bill of zero (or a rebate) at least once in the last decade.

In last night's debate, Bernie Sanders said, "I do not believe in packing the court. We've got a terrible 5-4 majority conservative court right now. I do believe that constitutionally we have the power to rotate judges to other courts. That brings new blood into the Supreme Court..." I know what court packing is, but what is this rotating thing Bernie mentioned? If that is legally allowed, why didn't other presidents use the idea to rotate thorns in their own sides off the court? Or is this just a "wouldn't it be nice" idea, like 18 year term limits on Supreme Court justices? R.B., Champaign, IL

This is not an idea that has gotten wide circulation, nor is it a long-standing element of Sanders' platform (though he did mention it once or twice before, including at a town hall in April). It's not listed on his website, and he hasn't exactly explained what he was talking about. So, we're left to do some guessing.

Undoubtedly, Sanders thinks that court packing is a nonstarter. And if he, a person who is not exactly known for worrying overmuch about the feasibility of his proposals, thinks that court packing is dead in the water, that definitely says something. He's surely also aware that it is not easy to force justices into retirement. In fact, under current circumstances, it's impossible, unless they commit an impeachable offense, because Article III of the Constitution says "The Judges, both of the supreme and inferior Courts, shall hold their Offices during good Behaviour."

So, if you're not going to add more liberals, and you can't force the conservatives to retire, then what's left? Finding a legal way to demote the conservatives. This is what Sanders is talking about; he wants to send SCOTUS justices back to the courts of appeal after some unspecified period of time. Naturally, most justices would not accept demotion, and would retire voluntarily. But either way, if the plan were to be put into action, Clarence Thomas would be first to go (as the longest-tenured justice), and with him the conservatives' 5-4 majority.

Is this legal? Possibly. The structure of the federal judiciary, including SCOTUS, is set by statute, and not by the Constitution itself, so Congress is presumably free to change the rules, as long as they are not terminating judges "during good Behaviour." We also suspect that Sanders (or someone who works for him) is aware that until the 1870s, SCOTUS justices were also simultaneously circuit judges, and were expected to "ride circuit" and preside in lesser courts for roughly six months a year. That is one of the main reasons that justices back then often quit as soon as a better opportunity presented itself, whereas today they hold onto their jobs for dear life. Anyhow, that historical fact could serve as basis for an argument that SCOTUS justices' promotions are not "permanent," and that they are always eligible to be returned to an inferior court at Congress' discretion. Of course, if Congress actually tried to do this, there would be lawsuits that would end up in...the Supreme Court. That would certainly be interesting.

And finally, we will note that this idea only makes sense as a workaround within the context of the existing rules. If it becomes necessary to amend the Constitution, then it's no more viable than term limits or court packing.

Everyone seems to be assuming that any Democratic candidate for President who does not make the third debate is done. But if, say, only 7 make that debate, couldn't one of the others make an all-out retail politics assault on Iowa and/or New Hampshire and do well enough in the caucus/primary to get back into the mix? I admit it's a long shot, but doesn't seem to be impossible to me. After all, a lot of voters aren't actually going to start paying attention until next year. L.S., Greensboro, NC

We're skeptical. If someone fails to make the third (or fourth) debate, it actually means two things: (1) they are going to lose out on a really important PR opportunity, but also (2) they aren't gaining any traction. It's a Catch-22 of sorts; problem #2 is hard to resolve without fixing problem #1, but problem #1 is hard to resolve without fixing problem #2.

It's true that a candidate could ignore all of that, and put all their eggs in the Iowa basket, or the New Hampshire basket. But even if they are willing to take up residence in one of those states for the next two years, they cannot possibly compete with the big-time candidates in terms of ground game. The millions upon millions of dollars that Joe Biden or Pete Buttigieg or Bernie Sanders are spending translate into dozens or hundreds of campaign offices, along with data operations, door-to-door voter contacts, and the like. And even if a David-style candidate somehow shocks the world and outpolls the Goliaths in one of the early primary states, that would be forgotten if they did not follow up with more wins in other states, particularly if they didn't do well on Super Tuesday. Remember that in recent years, Tom Harkin, Dick Gephardt, Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum, and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) won in Iowa, while Paul Tsongas, Gary Hart, and Pat Buchanan won in New Hampshire. So, those states certainly do not get to hand out "Go straight to the nomination, do not pass 'Go,' do not collect $200" cards.

How would y'all run a debate? D.E., Baltimore, MD

Is this a "you think you could do better?" question, because we offered some criticism of the debate hosts?

In any case, we would do two things. The first derives from our view that the debate questions that are more useful to voters are the ones that...wait for it...come from voters. Sometimes the moderators take a question or two from a "real" voter (as they did this week), sometimes the whole debate is made up of voters' questions. However, we'd take it further, and take the job of curating the questions away from the moderators. In essence, we would like the viewers to be able to choose which questions they like best from a selection of 100 or 150 options. There are various ways to achieve this; it would just be necessary to make sure the process is not susceptible to being gamed by troublemakers, and that the candidates can't find out the winning questions in advance.

The other thing we would do is turn candidates' microphones off when the stage is not theirs. If they butt in and try to talk over the other candidates, nobody should hear them. If they are asked to give a one or two word answer, and they launch into a monologue, then the extra words should not be transmitted to the audience.

I thought your necktie discussion was 'filling the air with noise' and reading faaaaaarrr to much into the tea leaves. Occam's razor, which you often cite, would favor almost any other interpretation of necktie plumage. L.V.A., Idaho Falls, Idaho

Well, we specifically added that question to our list with the idea that we would talk about something there that you won't likely see covered anywhere else. That will sometimes mean focusing on very small details. Because this is specifically a "capsule" style of breakdown, readers can easily skip the parts that do not interest then.

As to what we wrote, we specifically noted that Sanders and Biden might not be aware of the associations their ties suggest. That does not mean, however, that viewers did not "receive" those messages, even if only on a subconscious level. As to Eric Swalwell's tie, we were 100% correct that the choice was conscious and not a coincidence. However, what we did not realize (until several readers pointed it out) was that he chose it specifically to show support for gun violence prevention.

Do you think that was a good idea for Cory Booker and Beto O'Rourke to speak Spanish (well, sort of Spanish)? I read this piece in the New York Times about the reactions of a dozen GOP voters in Michigan watching the debates, and they were not too pleased about that. Maybe that's fine for the base in the primaries, but don't you think this is not a very clever move for the general election, especially with the now proverbial "white Midwesterner man without a college degree"? E.K., Brignoles, France

It was almost certainly a mistake, we would say, although not in the direction you suggest. If a voter is uncomfortable hearing a sentence or two of Spanish, then they are not terribly likely to vote Democratic, anyhow.

The reason it was a mistake is that it came off as a hollow gesture. And given that a major complaint that Latino (and black, and Asian, and other minority) voters have about the Democrats is that the Party pays lip service to the concerns of those groups, but never actually does anything about those concerns, then a hollow gesture is a really bad look that has the potential to backfire with minority voters.

Another problem: O'Rourke's Spanish wasn't particularly good, and the speech appeared to have been pre-written, and wedged in as soon as he felt he could deploy it. That comes of as phony and non-genuine, which is poisonous for any candidate. Whatever one might say about Donald Trump, there is no doubt that his supporters love him because he seems genuine to them.

Why is the DNC sponsoring debates at all? Why not duck the issue of playing favorites and just let TV networks, the League of Women Voters, or whomever have debates and include/exclude whomever they like? J.L., Chicago, IL

The key here is that while the DNC might be singing "kumbayah" and bending over to give everyone a chance, they badly want to narrow the field as rapidly as possible. Every sling hurled by an Andrew Yang, every dollar sucked up by a John Delaney, every talented campaign worker that spends time on Bill de Blasio's campaign, is a loss for the Party and for their ultimate candidate.

And weeding out the non-viable candidates is not the only purpose of the debates, it's also to put the frontrunners to the test, and to make sure they are capable of being the party's standard bearer. For example, Joe Biden did not have a great night on Thursday, and some chinks in the armor are now showing. He's already been maintaining a very limited schedule of campaign events, and would almost certainly skip out on any "optional" debates. That's actually good strategy for pretty much any frontrunner, but it's not great for the Party if he lingers for a long time, and then is not the nominee. So, he needs to be given chances to sink or swim, to see if he sinks.

By organizing the debates themselves, the DNC effectively forces all of its candidates to show up, and to subject themselves to the bright lights of a national stage, where some of them will wilt. Further, by controlling the scheduling, the Party speeds that process along as quickly as is possible. Oh, and they also make sure that the debates are treated as "serious" events, and are given maximum coverage by the networks, which means maximum eyeballs watching.

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Jun28 And Now, the Heavyweight Debate
Jun28 SCOTUS: Partisan Gerrymandering is None of Our Business
Jun28 Supreme Court Blocks Citizenship Question for the Moment
Jun28 Trump Is at the G-20 in Japan
Jun28 Booker: I Wouldn't Be Biden's Veep
Jun28 Pelosi Capitulates
Jun27 The Democrats Finally Debate
Jun27 Trump Attacks Mueller
Jun27 Mueller's Staff Will Also Testify
Jun27 House Committee Subpoenas Kellyanne Conway
Jun27 Warren Has Passed Sanders as the Choice of Progressive Activists
Jun26 Mueller Will Speak With Congress
Jun26 Debate Day Is Here
Jun26 House Democrats Pass Border Aid Bill
Jun26 Judge Hands Trump a Setback on Emoluments Case
Jun26 Trump Is Tiring of Mulvaney
Jun26 Mike's Choice
Jun26 Border Protection Chief Has Resigned
Jun26 Stephanie Grisham Will Replace Sarah Sanders
Jun26 Biden Earned $200,000 a Pop for Speeches after Leaving Office
Jun26 Another Swing-District Representative Has Called for Trump's Impeachment
Jun26 Duncan Hunter Is in Deep Trouble
Jun25 Iran: The Plot Thickens
Jun25 White House: No Way Cummings Gets His Way on Conway
Jun25 Economic Trade Wind May Soon Become a Head Wind for Trump
Jun25 Sanders Unveils Student Debt Plan
Jun25 And Then There Were Two...Dozen
Jun25 Tuesday Q&A
Jun24 Trump Aggressively Shifts Gears, Twice in Two Days
Jun24 The Subpoenas May Fly This Week
Jun24 Poll: There Are Too Many Candidates
Jun24 Why Isn't Trump Benefiting More from a Good Economy?
Jun24 What If Trump Loses But Won't Concede?
Jun24 Conway Is at It Again
Jun24 Democrats Are Divided on Health Care
Jun24 Republican Senators Are Divided over Election Security
Jun24 Early Democratic Primaries May Influence the Senate Races
Jun24 Withdrawal from the Postal Union May Help Trump
Jun24 Nadler and Donaldson Reach a Deal
Jun21 Iran Pokes Trump in the Eye; Trump Blinks
Jun21 Senate Pushes Back on Saudi Arms Deal
Jun21 Hicks Transcript Is Out
Jun21 Roy Moore Is In
Jun21 Biden Steps In It, Again
Jun21 It's Summer, and That Means Fish Fry Day
Jun21 RNC Raises $14.6 Million in May
Jun21 DCCC Outraises NRCC in May
Jun21 Democratic Presidential Candidate Update: Mayor Pete Buttigieg (D-South Bend)
Jun20 Hicks Refuses to Answer Questions
Jun20 Sanders Takes a Potshot at Warren