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      •  Sunday Mailbag

Sunday Mailbag

We begin this week with the subject that was far and away the most popular among our e-mail correspondents.

Well, Florida Is Known for Oranges

V & Z: Donald Trump has recently talked about selling his D.C. hotel. Many have speculated that one reason for the proposed sale is due to his mounting debts. Maybe his move to Florida anticipates his sale of Trump Tower for the same reason. D.R., Anaktuvuk Pass, Alaska

V & Z: I suspect the move was done for two other reasons: (1) Chance to delay trial by fighting extradition to New York. Or, with a cooperative Florida governor, never get extradited. And (2) Easy to flee country by boat, avoiding getting stopped at airport. N.C., Boulder, CO

V & Z: My reading of the move to Florida is simple asset protection. I've heard about drug dealers and others holding property in Florida because state law protects property assets from creditors. K.M., Chicago, IL

V & Z: In the item "Trump Is Now a Floridian," you speculated as to the possible motivations for Trump to change his official residence from Trump Tower New York to Mar-A-Lago. I think you missed an important motivation. In 2016, Trump was booed when he went to the polls to vote in NY. He was recently booed at the World Series game. If he votes in Florida in 2020, it is likely he will not be booed, and may even be cheered when he does the obligatory voting photo-op. Yes, that would be a very petty and thin-skinned reason to change residency, but those characteristics are entirely consistent with Trump's character. G.W., Oxnard, CA

V & Z: David Cay Johnston tweeted Thursday night that Trump may be looking to shield property using Florida's homestead law from bankruptcy (which may tie into Trump's potential sale of his lease on Trump International in D.C., one of his few profitable properties). In fact, the law might protect Trump from civil (or, as he might say, "cival") asset forfeiture, something he faces in NY state court. J.A., Austin, TX

V & Z: It's well established Trump's base is almost untouchable. So he doesn't need Pence (and could make him the fall guy for various nonsense) to keep the base in line. Therefore to expand his support he needs to pick up some independents. With the Democrats going to have a mixed-gender ticket, most likely (Biden/Abrams, Warren/Buttigieg or some combination) Trump might be of a mind to try the same. He needs a woman who can attract the attention of the media, be photogenic, have a reputation of being softer than Trump himself and yet high profile enough to maybe just maybe turn some heads.

I suggest to you Trump (Sr.)/Trump (Ivanka) as the most Trump ticket possible—why, they don't even need to have two names on the bumper stickers—just TRUMP in a bigger font. D.A., Edinburgh, Scotland

V & Z: Florida has no inheritance tax and Donald Trump is an unhealthy 73 years old. I.H., Washington, D.C.

Note: All of these theories have merit, perhaps some more than others. It is instructive that when Trump made the announcement, the assumption that something duplicitous is going on was automatic, and the only question was exactly what the nature of the duplicity is.

This Week in Impeachment

V & Z: Regarding Trump's potential defense strategy, you wrote: "He could also try to put together the best legal case to show that extorting a foreign country for political gain is not an impeachable offense, but that will be a tough sell."

Maybe you said it before, but I didn't notice it. You used the key word "extorting" which I think everyone has missed, preferring to refer to it as the much milder and often acceptable (in business, anyway) quid pro quo. His dealing with Ukraine amounts to extortion, pure and simple. M.B.T., Bay Village, OH

V & Z: The whistle used by the whistleblower has become a calliope. S.R., Kansas City, MO

V & Z: Today, you argued that Trump's move to bribe his jury is unlikely to be effective because the bribees are smart enough to realize they'd be committing a crime. Which is probably true enough.

Aside from that, isn't Trump's attempt a pretty clear example of obstruction of justice? Even if no money changes hands, his every attempt to bully those jurors is yet another instance of obstruction. B.L., Mountain View, CA

Note: It seems clear, at this point, that obstruction charges (if they ever come) will be handled by the courts once Trump leaves office. Apparently, this particular misdeed is too opaque or too unsexy to form the basis of an impeachment trial.

V & Z: If you think only a small number of Trump's followers will throw themselves on a grenade, you have not been paying attention. Trump will get away with everything because 40% of the population worships him. D.J., Tucson, AZ

Note: In fairness to us, our point was about Trump's underlings and his fellow Republican officeholders. It's true that some of them are modern-day G. Gordon Liddy-types, and would be willing to stand on a street corner and be assassinated in order to save the President. Most, however, will not risk their necks to save his, when and if it comes to that.

Our Liberties We Prize and Our Rights We Will Maintain

V & Z: I have my second minor bone to pick with you regarding Iowa. You mentioned that Iowans are more likely to pick a Gephardt as they are an Obama, compared to putting the wind in Carter's sails. Iowa has picked the eventual nominee for the Democrats every single time going back to 1992 when Tom Harkin, an Iowa senator, won that race. I'm not sure where your misgivings of Iowa's relevancy are coming from. As in my other post, Iowa is a bona fide swing state, in my statistical opinion. They have an average of 6.01% margin of difference for major candidates dating back to 1992 (10th smallest), they've flipped three times in the same period from one party back to another, and only sided with the loser of the Electoral College once since 1992 when it voted for Gore in 2000. What gives?. J.C., Mullinville, KS

V & Z: It's been 28 years since Iowa didn't pick the Democratic nominee, and longer if you think 1998 and 1992 were flukes. I think you're understating its importance. M.A., Wilmington, NC

Note: In roughly half of the presidential elections since the 1980s, the Democratic nominee was basically a done deal before the primaries began (Clinton in 1996, Gore in 2000, Obama in 2012, the other Clinton in 2016). So, it's not that hard to establish an impressive track record. In any event, we believe that Iowa is able to create some separation between frontrunners (for example, Obama and Clinton in 2008). We also believe that they can render judgment that a candidate is not viable. However, there has been only one case of the state's voters, Democratic or Republican, propelling a second-tier candidate to the first tier (and the nomination), and that was Carter. We don't think they can do that in 2020, and so we don't think Sen. Kamala Harris' (D-CA) Hail Mary pass (putting all her eggs in the Hawkeye basket) can work.

Two Photos Are Worth Well More than 2,000 Words

V & Z: Your piece "A Tale of Two Photographs" has clear pro-Obama and anti-Trump undertones. The photos could have been equally interpreted to be pro-Trump and anti-Obama. Trump is clearly front and center in the room, clearly in charge on the situation, taking ultimate responsibility for the events. He is dressed for the occasion, giving the event the respect it deserves for its seriousness and historical significance. The photo is taken at an angle that does not reveal any potentially classified information in front of the people in the room. Obama is clearly along for the ride in his photo, he is off to the side and letting others take the responsibility, dressed in casual clothes since it is after hours. Hillary Clinton, true to her pattern, is not protecting classified information.

My point is these photos could be interpreted either way, why not at least give both presidents, who both have different personal styles, the ultimate benefit of the doubt in your analysis, and at least give a neutral piece? S.P., Harrisburg, PA

Note: It is difficult, and generally confusing, to try to interweave two completely different interpretations of a text, photo, film, etc. More importantly, it is all-but-impossible to advance an interpretation that we simply don't believe in, and fool our readers. The Obama shot is undoubtedly candid, was clearly unstaged, and is unquestionably iconic. The Trump photo was not candid, was clearly staged, and is highly unlikely to become iconic. While these assertions are technically opinions, we think that they are particularly well-founded opinions, and we have to call things as we see them.

V & Z: Has nobody noticed that in the Trump photo that every cat6 cable is disconnected? That means that the photo was obviously staged. I believe that this a way for the military to shade the worst president for the military in our nation's history. M.S., Rancho Santa Fe, CA

Note: It's a fair point. We thought about noting that, but it seemed at least possible that the wiring was just random detritus left on the table. Now that we think about it, it was clearly placed there as a prop, but a prop that would only fool people who don't know what those kinds of wires are for.

Presidential Rankings

V & Z: I don't know how you can rank Trump higher than negative 10 on your scale as Chief Executive. The next president—Republican, Democrat, or Duck—will have to painstakingly put the executive branch back together from its current near-nonexistent state. Where it is thriving, it is tending towards evil, or at least the opposite of whatever its charter is.

During campaigns, and in particular debates, there is seldom if ever a treatment of how a candidate would govern, rather than what proposals she or he has for policies that are, after all, primarily the domain of the legislature. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) will get Medicare for All through any near-term congress with about the same probability that she will fully solve the problems of the Middle East.

Note that nowhere here have I expressed an opinion about which way any given policy should go. The issue with Trump is not his politics. I'm astounded that more Republicans haven't come to this conclusion. D.S., Palo Alto, CA

Note: Well, if you start going outside the scale you've set, then the whole exercise loses all meaning. It's like the scene from This Is Spinal Tap, with the amps that go to 11.

In any case, we thought about assessing Trump according to each of the six categories that (Z) likes to use, but then decided the answer was wordy enough, and that the question did not actually call for it. That said, you're right that he's been an unusually weak chief executive, very possibly the worst in U.S. history.

Another Trojan Heard From

V & Z: What is the basis for your assertion that USC pays players under the table?

Is it the scandal from 15 years ago, when unscrupulous sports agents, with no ties to the university, gave Reggie Bush illegal benefits? Of course, those same agents convinced Bush to leave a year early, much to USC's detriment, but I suppose that doesn't fit the narrative.

Remind me again—which school does Zenger teach at? Is it the one who last won the Rose Bowl when the Challenger was still flying? J.G., New York, NY

Note: Well, it was sort of a generic joke. That said, USC did get caught paying its basketball players just last year, so it's not outlandish to suggest that the football players could be on the take (again).

Still, we'll take it easy on you, given the unhappy news coming out of USC this weekend. It was bad enough that the library burned down, and that not all the books had been colored in yet. But it really adds insult to injury that, on the same weekend, they had to cancel this year's Christmas pageant because they couldn't find three wise men or a virgin. Very unfortunate.

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Nov02 Beto Says "No Más"
Nov02 Saturday Q&A
Nov01 House Formalizes Impeachment Inquiry
Nov01 About That Offer to the Republican Senators...
Nov01 Trump Unveils 2020 Strategy
Nov01 The Nine Lives of Obamacare
Nov01 Funding Medicare for All May Just Be Viable
Nov01 Democratic Deluge in Virginia
Nov01 Trump Is Now a Floridian
Oct31 Democrats Get Serious About Impeachment Inquiry
Oct31 Senators Start to Squirm
Oct31 Trump Begins Planning His Defense
Oct31 More on Alexander Vindman
Oct31 Mr. Bolton, Please Report for Your Deposition
Oct31 What's a Trump Staffer to Do?
Oct31 Twitter to Reject All Political Ads
Oct31 Harris Campaign Begins Death Spiral
Oct30 Vindman Speaks, Trump & Co. Counterattack
Oct30 Two Amigos May Have Some Explaining to Do
Oct30 Early State Polls Suggest Rocky Start for Joe Biden
Oct30 Democratic Candidates Don't Care About California
Oct30 What Do Evangelicals Believe These Days?
Oct30 Bet You Didn't Know that Lindsey Graham Is a Big Supporter of the Green New Deal
Oct30 Good News for House GOP?
Oct29 House Democrats to "Formalize" Impeachment Proceedings
Oct29 This Week's Witness List
Oct29 A Tale of Two Photographs
Oct29 Mike Pompeo May Be Interested in A New Job
Oct29 Sessions May Want His Old Job Back
Oct29 North Carolina Republicans Suffer Another Gerrymander Defeat
Oct29 Florida Republicans Forced to Postpone Annual Event
Oct29 Rep. Greg Walden Will Retire
Oct28 Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi Is Dead
Oct28 Trump Organization May Sell Washington Hotel
Oct28 This Is Why Trump Doesn't Go Out in Public
Oct28 We Now Have a Trump Tweet Baseline
Oct28 Show Me the Money
Oct28 Rep. Katie Hill to Resign
Oct28 Details for Sixth Democratic Debate Announced
Oct27 Sunday Mailbag
Oct26 Saturday Q&A
Oct25 Trump Administration Did More than Withhold Aid
Oct25 Democrats Strategize on Impeachment...
Oct25 ...And So Do Republicans
Oct25 Barr Is Paying Dividends for Trump
Oct25 Warren Grapples with Funding Medicare for All
Oct25 Biden Will Accept Super PAC Money
Oct25 Sanders Unveils a Weedy Proposal
Oct25 Klobuchar Makes November Cut
Oct25 Ryan Drops Out