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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Yovanovitch Testifies, Republicans Obfuscate, and Trump Instigates
      •  Stone Is Guilty as Charged
      •  Saturday Q&A

Yovanovitch Testifies, Republicans Obfuscate, and Trump Instigates

We guessed that Donald Trump might just shoot himself in the foot on Friday, though we certainly didn't foresee how he'd do it. He showed the whole country that, first of all, he just can't keep his mouth shut, and second, that he and his allies in Congress are not on the same page, strategically.

Marie (Masha) Yovanovitch, the former ambassador to Ukraine who appeared before the House on Friday, was just about as strong a witness as the Democrats could have hoped for. She was sympathetic, emotional, knowledgeable, and exuded competence and integrity. Even some of the (non-Trumpy) Republicans commented on it. "You're tough as nails and you're smart as hell," said Rep. Will Hurd (R-TX). "You're a great example of what our ambassadors should be like." "I appreciate your years of service and enduring years of moving around the world to dangerous places," added Rep. Brad Wenstrup (R-OH). Fox News' Chris Wallace said that "If you're not moved, you don't have a pulse." As expected, Yovanovitch spoke of Rudy Giuliani's Ukraine-related machinations, the smear campaign against her that was waged by Trump and his underlings, and the "gutting" of the State Dept. under Secretary Mike Pompeo.

The Republicans on the committee, most of them lawyers, recognize that you have to be very careful with a witness like that, as a direct assault would be a very bad look. The only thing of substance that they managed to establish was that Yovanovitch was a second-hand witness to many of the things she spoke of, particularly the attempt to extort Volodymyr Zelensky. Beyond that, however, the Republicans in the room had to content themselves with stunts. For example, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), who is so experienced at stunts they should hire him to work on the next "Fast and Furious" movie, pursued this line of questioning:

If you don't care to watch it—and we don't blame you, because it's very uncomfortable—Jordan quoted a few members of Ukrainian government who were critical of Trump during the 2016 election. After Yovanovitch agreed that such commentary was not appropriate, the Representative tried to weave together an extremely verbose "question" that had two underlying points: (1) it reflects badly on Yovanovitch that she did not lodge an official complaint with the Ukrainian government, and (2) this is rock-solid proof that Trump had every right to be concerned about "corruption" in Ukraine, and thus to attach conditions to any and all military aid.

We put the word "question" in quotation marks, because it was so meandering that it was difficult to understand as such, with the result that Yovanovitch had to ask Jordan exactly what the question was. Eventually, she tried to answer by pointing out—quite rightly—that a few mouthy officeholders do not speak for their nation's government. Left unsaid, but implied, was that this situation is no different than the many times that GOP members of Congress have felt free to publicly comment on the governments of Iran, China, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Mexico, Canada, etc. Jordan did not much care for this answer, and tried to squeeze Yovanovitch for more, but he was eventually gaveled down by Chair Adam Schiff (D-CA) for going well beyond his allotted time, and for chasing wild geese.

To give another example of GOP strategy, consider the performance staged by Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY) and Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA). Nunes, as ranking member, tried to yield some of his questioning time to Stefanik, so she could do some Jordan-style grandstanding. The rules for these proceedings, as everyone involved knows well, state that the 45 minutes for questioning allotted to the chair and to the ranking member may be used only by them, or by their staff counsel. Stefanik is neither the ranking member nor the GOP counsel, and so she was out of order when she tried to speak, and Schiff shut her down. This generated the exact headlines that Nunes and Stefanik were looking for, like this one:

The Headline is: Adam Schiff Repeatedly Refuses To Let GOP Congresswoman Talk During Hearing

Either the staff of the Daily Wire does not know what the rules are, or does not care.

Undoubtedly, Trump's supporters in Congress are doing what they can with the hand they have been dealt. The problem, as was clear on Friday, is that the 800-pound-gorilla in the room—well, in the roundish office on the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue—is not coordinating with his allies on the Hill, and is not particularly happy with their indirect approach. While Yovanovitch was in the midst of her appearance, he was busy on Twitter launching slings and arrows in her direction. Here's the key tweet:

This is, first of all, extremely unfair. An ambassador does not bear responsibility for the situation they inherit when they arrive at their postings. It's also very bad optics, as it involves a very powerful man directly attacking a less powerful (and very sympathetic) woman. And finally, it was terrible timing, as it allowed Schiff to introduce the tweet into the proceedings in near-real time, and to get Yovanovitch's response. Here is that portion of the proceedings:

Even if you skipped the previous clip, you should really consider watching this one, as it's shorter and gives a good sense of the overall tenor of the proceedings. But for those who don't wish to watch/listen, Schiff read the tweet, and asked Yovanovitch how she felt about it. Clearly shaken, she said, "I don't think I have such powers, not in Mogadishu and Somalia and not in other places," and also that she hoped she had left those places better than they were when she arrived. She also concurred with Schiff that whatever Trump's intentions are, such tweets are "very intimidating."

Even many of the folks who are inclined to support Trump were dismayed by the tweet. Stefanik, who had just been toting his water a few minutes earlier, said: "I disagree with the tweet. I think Ambassador Yovanovitch is a public servant, like many of our public servants in the foreign service." Fox News' Bret Baier sent this tweet:

And, indeed, the Democrats are now threatening to add witness intimidation to the list of charges against Trump. If and when the time comes, Senate Republicans are presumably going to be in the position of arguing that it wasn't witness intimidation, even as the witness said in real time that she felt intimidated, or else that it's entirely ok for a president to engage in such behavior. Neither of those will be a popular stance.

Yovanovitch's testimony, and Trump's response, were the big stories of the day. They were far from the only stories of the day, however, as other folks also contributed to the mounting pile of evidence of presidential malfeasance. Envoy David Holmes, who made his first appearance on The Hill Friday afternoon, confirmed the details of the July 26 cell phone call from Trump to Ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland. From Holmes' opening statement:

Sondland told Trump that Zelensky "loves your ass." I then heard President Trump ask, "So, he's gonna do the investigation?" Ambassador Sondland replied that "he's gonna do it," adding that President Zelensky will do "anything you ask him to."

During his testimony, Holmes explained that it was very easy to overhear the entire conversation because Sondland's cell phone volume was set so high.

Beyond that, in many ways, Holmes confirmed Wednesday's testimony from Bill Taylor, including Sondland's remark that the President doesn't "give a sh*t about Ukraine." He also said that Zelensky knew that "everything" (meaning the military aid and a meeting with Trump) depended on Zelensky announcing an investigation of the Bidens. Holmes said he was surprised that the requirement was so specific. While Holmes is a bit player here, what he offers is another piece of evidence that Trump extorted Zelensky to investigate the Bidens. All in all, the evidence is now overwhelming that Trump did precisely what half a dozen people have said he did. The Friday appearance was behind closed doors, but you can bet dollars to donuts that Holmes will be back to speak publicly sometime soon.

If all of this was not enough, there was also breaking news late Friday, courtesy of CNN, about Lev Parnas, the now-indicted associate of Trump's TV lawyer/fixer Rudy Giuliani. At the White House's annual Hanukkah party last year, Parnas was in attendance, and was photographed with the President. That, we already knew. The new information is that during the party, Parnas, his friend Igor Fruman, Giuliani, and Trump slipped away for a private meeting. And after that meeting, Parnas bragged to anyone who would listen that he was on a "James Bond mission" to put pressure on the Ukrainian government to investigate the Biden family. The President certainly does seem to have a gift for attracting people who are crooks, but are also stupid. And stupid crooks are about the worst kind of people to put your trust in. Anyhow, given that Parnas is facing some rather serious charges, and given that he clearly has serious dirt on the President, he would appear a prime candidate for a plea deal. That is especially true because Parnas and the other indicted Giuliani associate, Igor Fruman, have the same dirt. That means there's not only pressure to turn stool pigeon, but pressure to be the first to turn stool pigeon (since that person will have much greater leverage). It is a real-life version of the prisoner's dilemma.

As we have pointed out many times, Trump's instinct is not to sit on his hands as he suffers such setbacks. It's to go on the attack; hence the nasty tweet above. And that is not the only thing he did on Friday in an effort to improve his fortunes; he also released, against the advice of his staff, the transcript of his first phone conversation with Volodymyr Zelensky.

It is clear why Trump's underlings did not want him to release the transcript. What is immediately clear, upon reading it, is that Holmes was right and Zelensky does love Trump's ass. Or loves kissing it, at least. This undermines one of the main (and only) defenses that Team Trump has, namely that Zelensky says there was no quid pro quo. The Ukrainian President's sycophancy, which is understandable given who he was dealing with and how badly his country needs military aid, makes clear that he will say just about anything Trump wants him to say. He's certainly not going to publicly accuse the President of a crime.

That's not the worst of it, though. It took approximately two seconds for anyone and everyone to figure out that the transcript released on Friday, and the original readout of the call released back in April, don't remotely resemble each other. The original readout said that Trump "expressed his commitment" to promoting democracy and to rooting out corruption, among other things. Friday's transcript has nothing like that. What this means is that either the original readout was a lie, or the newly released transcript is a lie, or both. When the inconsistencies were pointed out, the White House blamed...Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, who might be the only witness even more sympathetic than Masha Yovanovitch. He will be on the Hill to testify publicly next week; there's just a slight chance this might come up. And given that Vindman has already credibly accused the administration of cooking the books with one transcript (Zelensky phone call #2, the notorious one), then it's pretty easy to guess what he's going to say about Zelensky phone call #1.

Finally, there's one other (possible) element to this story that unfolded on Friday. Army 1st Lt. Clint Lorance and Navy SEAL Eddie R. Gallagher were convicted of war crimes, while Army Maj. Mathew Golsteyn was facing a court martial for the same. All three were accused of murdering civilians in Afghanistan. The three men's circumstances came to Trump's attention, and he expressed interest in pardoning them. Sec. of Defense Mark Esper, and pretty much the entire Pentagon, strongly opposed this. Their concern was that it would be bad for discipline, and would also undermine the system of military justice. On Friday, Trump decided to ignore that advice and to give pardons to the three men. Perhaps that timing is just a coincidence, but given all of the bad headlines from Friday (that are going to linger through the weekend), it looks an awful lot like an attempt to change the narrative a bit and to throw a bone to the base. If so, it's an interesting choice to try to distract attention from the charge that you put your own interests ahead of those of the country by doing something that even your loyal subordinates say puts your own interests ahead of those of the country. (Z)

Stone Is Guilty as Charged

If all the setbacks related to the 2020 election, and the caning of Volodymyr Zelensky, were not enough, Donald Trump also got bad news related to the 2016 election. Roger Stone, who worked closely with Trump during that election, has often claimed that he was also a part of the Nixon administration. Everyone who worked with Nixon denies it but, at very least, Stone now has something in common with many of those Nixon staffers: He's a convict because of the illegal actions he undertook on behalf of the president. On Friday, after a relatively brief trial, a jury found Stone guilty of all seven counts he faced: five of lying to Congress, one of witness tampering, and one of obstructing a congressional committee proceeding.

Stone's guilt is another success for Robert Mueller and his team, as it is they who investigated and indicted him. It's also another black eye for Donald Trump, as Stone is the seventh person in close orbit to the President and his campaign to be convicted of a crime since Trump took office. The others are Michael Cohen, Paul Manafort, Rick Gates, Michael Flynn, George Papadopoulos, and Alex van der Zwaan. And that does not include other, more peripheral folks who are in, or are headed to, the clink, including Richard Pinedo, Sam Patten, and Maria Butina. By way of comparison, the number of subordinates and campaign advisers of Trump's hated nemesis Barack Obama who have gone to prison for their "work" is holding steady at zero.

Trump has hinted at a prompt pardon for Stone, and Stone is certainly expecting one. However, the President's advisors, who recognize that the midst of impeachment hearings might not be the best time for that, are pushing him to keep the pardon power in his pocket. Maybe Trump will listen to them, and maybe not (see above). For now, however, Trump is limiting himself to venting on Twitter:

It's probably true that, at one time or another in their many decades on this earth, each of those folks has told a lie or two. One assumes, however, that Trump (and his base) have at least some awareness that lying to a jury or to Congress is a tad bit different from lying to your mechanic or your best friend or the people in attendance at one of your rallies. If the President means to seriously suggest that any lying is a criminal offense and should be prosecuted...well, he might want to think twice about the implications of that. Oh, and by the way, the most recent update of the tote board: 13,435 false or misleading claims over 993 days.

Stone is currently free on bail while he awaits his sentencing next month. Given the offenses he's convicted of, the possible aggravating circumstances, but also his status as a first-time convict, experts are guessing that his sentence will run anywhere from 14 to 60 months.

The Stone verdict couldn't have come at a worse time for Trump. On Wednesday, Gordon Sondland is scheduled to testify before Adam Schiff's committee in public. He has talked to Trump at least once, probably many times, and potentially knows where many of the skeletons are buried, and some not very deeply. Until yesterday, Sondland's strategy could have been to lie to Congress and protect both his rear end and Trump's. After all, has anyone ever been sent to prison for lying to Congress? The Stone verdict changed that calculation just a wee bit. Now, Sondland has four choices:

  • Don't show up: Sondland could suddenly notice that Trump is claiming that executive privilege, immunity, and an invisible magic force field that protects everyone and everything in his orbit, so sorry, I can't testify. In the short term, it might work. In the longer term, he might be facing contempt of Congress charges.

  • Take the fifth: Alternatively, and probably safer, is to show up and answer every question: "I respectfully decline to answer that question based on my Fifth Amendment rights not to incriminate myself." It looks fishy, but is certainly legal.

  • Lie: Sondland could just throw caution to the winds and lie through his teeth to protect Trump and himself. Given his background and the fact that he is a rich guy who is in way over his head and never signed up for anything like this, it is a risky strategy, especially in light of Stone's conviction and the likely testimony of Holmes and another Ukrainian embassy staffer, Suriya Jayanti.

  • Come clean: Sondland could decide he is going to compete for the 2019 John W. Dean III Award and tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. He is surely aware this will generate some nasty tweets in his direction, while it takes down the Trump presidency.

Or maybe Sondland will try some hybrid form with a bit of truth, a bit of lying, and a bit of obfuscation. He's got 4 days to think about it. (Z & V)

Saturday Q&A

This one's a little abbreviated, given how much news there was on Friday.

Q: Why aren't presidential phone calls, especially those to foreign leaders, recorded and saved? It seems odd we have to rely on reconstructed transcripts instead of an actual recording. Is this a result of Nixon's taping system? E.W., Skaneateles, NY

A: You have the right of it. Nixon taught his successors that direct recordings of phone calls cannot be spun or selectively edited, but that they can be quite incriminating. Further, there is the problem that classified information might (and probably will) be discussed. So, the custom of producing readouts instead of recordings or complete transcripts has been in effect since the 1970s.

Q: Why (seemingly) no attempt to get the actual recording of the July 25th Trump/Zelensky phone call? And why is no one pointing out that the U.S. support for Ukraine in FY 2018 (10/1/17 to 9/30/18) was roughly $500 million, for which there was no particular corruption concern? Perhaps because Biden was not yet a candidate? A.R.S., West Chester, PA

A: As to the recording, it almost certainly doesn't exist, for the reasons outlined above. Reportedly, a less-edited readout exists, and House Democrats will surely try to get it, but they have to tread lightly for fear that it will "accidentally" disappear, just like the key Watergate tape was "accidentally" erased.

And you are entirely right that the narrative of events that Trump and his supporters are peddling is full of holes and inconsistencies. What the GOP is performing right now is a version of the Gish gallop, where they raise an overwhelming number of questions and arguments, even if those questions/arguments are weak or are inconsistent with one another, so as to create an overall impression that the Democrats' case is weak.

We outline some examples of this above. To give another, earlier this week, House Republicans grilled Bill Taylor about the need to investigate the Bidens and their "corruption." He refused to give them what they wanted, and said he had no information whatsoever pointing to corrupt behavior on the part of the Bidens. How did the right-wing media cover this? They said that if Taylor is unaware of the Bidens' corruption, then clearly he doesn't know enough about Ukraine to be testifying in an impeachment inquiry. In other words, any answer to the question that he gave would have been interpreted as "proof" of how weak the Democrats' case is. "There is no correct answer to the question" was also a major theme of the hearings conducted by Joe McCarthy in the 1950s; it is therefore ironic that it is the Democrats who are being accused of McCarthyism.

Q: Language evolves over time. So, what someone believes is the meaning of a word in 2019 could differ radically from its meaning in an earlier era. This has impact in the legal world as the words in contracts written many years ago (say 50, 100 or more) need to be read and understood with the definition of the language as of the day they were written, rather than a modern definition of the very same words.

Specifically, the word "bribery" is associated with Congress's impeachment power. But what did this word mean to the framers? Does it differ from the meaning as we use it today? My understanding of "bribery" is, "I'll give you money to encourage you to do something that is either illegal or unethical." But bribery is not "I won't give you money unless you do something that is either illegal or unethical." In modern parlance, this would be extortion, but not bribery.

But I've heard that the word bribery had a broader meaning in 1789. And the 1789 definition would have also included what I consider to be extortion.
P.W., Valley Village, CA

A: You're right that language evolves over time, but we would suggest that the issue you raise is more a byproduct of evolving circumstances.

The first thing to note is that the fellows writing the Constitution actually wrestled with the verbiage about impeachment, so much so that the matter was taken up by the Committee on Postponed Matters. Yes, that is a real committee. Originally, the standard for an impeachable offense was "malpractice or neglect of duty." That was a bit too broad, as they feared that partisans might try to remove officeholders due to political disagreements rather than the commission of a crime, so they switched to "treason and bribery." That was too narrow, so they eventually settled on "treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors."

This tells us, then, that the framers considered bribery to be a fairly serious act of misconduct, but also a fairly broad one, as it is one of only three categories that they named. This fact alone argues against a narrow interpretation of the word "bribery." But beyond that, it is also important to note that there was no federal code back then. So, anyone who tries to apply the U.S. code to understanding the Constitution's meaning on this point is, by definition, engaging in an anachronism.

The body of law the founders were working with, of course, was English common law. And in English common law, which relies not on the written word, and instead on experience and precedent and common sense, bribery had a very broad meaning when it came to government officials. Something along the lines of "an abuse of power in order to achieve private goals." What this means is that when Gordon Sondland donated $1 million to Trump's inauguration, and got an ambassadorship in return, that would have qualified as "bribery" in the minds of the Founding Parents. And it's even more of a slam dunk that what happened with Volodymyr Zelensky would be covered by "bribery," as they meant it.

If you would really like to get into the weeds here, the Lawfare blog had a very thorough piece on this very subject last month.

Q: It is my understanding that after a pollster has collected a bunch of answers, then they adjust for having sampled too many of one type of person and too few of another. How do they determine how many of each type of voter they should have sampled? Also, I know many people who are still registered as Republicans, but who have definitely left the party, so they likely would not call themselves a Republican even though the Registrar would say they are. How much error in poll results gets introduced from this type of thing? C.W., Haymarket, VA

A: Each pollster's secret sauce is, well, secret. However, they really do not rely on census data. What they do, largely speaking, is look at past elections, and blend that with what their polling data is telling them about this election. For example, imagine that 53% of the respondents to polls in 2016 were Democrats who reported being "enthusiastic" or "very enthusiastic" about voting, but when the votes were counted, only 48% were cast for Democrats. Well if, in this year's polls, 58% of respondents are Democrats who report being "enthusiastic" or "very enthusiastic" about voting, then a pollster will tend to assume that will translate to about 52% of the ballots being cast for Democrats on Election Day. In other words, they will take the 10% or so shrinkage from 2016, and apply it to the data they're collecting now. This is a pretty simplistic example, but that's the basic concept.

As to party registration, they correct for that in much the same way. The pollsters are pretty good, some more so than others, but it is true that they can miss unusual developments, like a particularly high number of people defecting from their party of registration.

Q: In the relentless polling and punditry, I have seen very little attention paid to the huge on-the-ground organizing initiatives. As a swing-state resident, I am astounded by the amount of work being done by TurnPABlue, Indivisible, and a host of other groups. The recent Pennsylvania victories, flipping four suburban counties from historic red to blue is a very, very big deal and huge achievement gained through people canvassing, phone-banking, postcarding, and donating. This is being replicated all over the country in advance of 2020. How do you factor this high level of voter engagement and grass-roots activism into predicting outcomes? Don't polls base their results on previous lower levels of Democratic engagement? B.T., Philadelphia, PA

A: As we note in the previous answer, pollsters do have sophisticated mathematical models that will capture some of this, but they do have trouble with movement in the electorate that is unusual or unprecedented. So, this sort of grassroots activism could very well be understated in some (or many) polls.

Not helping things is that there is a certain pressure towards pollster groupthink. That is to say, if you predict that Donald Trump is going to win by 2 points, and he wins by 4, nobody is going to remember your error. But if you predict he is going to win by 10, and he wins by 4, then everyone points out how badly you missed (and how biased you are, etc.). So, pollsters tend to be wary about results that are too far outside the box.

And finally, there's Mark Twain's old line: "There are three kinds of lies—lies, damned lies, and statistics." We don't exactly mean to imply that all statistical interpretations are lies, or are inherently biased. However, when you have a lot of numbers, they can often point very clearly in multiple, mutually-exclusive directions, and reasonable people can disagree about which of those directions is the right one (or the wrong one).

Q: This Monday, when the president spoke, he gave his speech behind bullet proof glass, just as he did during the 4th of July event. I can understand why presidents would have this special protection around them; my question is: When did this become the norm, and is there a guideline on when this is or is not in place for presidential speeches? M.D., San Tan Valley, AZ

A: You may be surprised to learn that the first bulletproof glass was developed nearly 400 years ago (1640s). The modern version was invented in France in 1903 and patented in that nation in 1909.

That said, bulletproof glass did not achieve quick usage as a means of protecting presidents. The issue here is not one of technology, but one of...image, for lack of a better term. Presidents, from Washington to Trump, have consistently pushed back against the measures taken to protect them. In part, it is because they don't want to be seen as "elitist" and separate from "the people." But mostly it is because they don't want to appear weak or unmanly. Abraham Lincoln, to take one example, was notoriously lax about his own personal safety and took risks that would be utterly unacceptable today. For example, he snuck through Baltimore, where anti-Lincoln riots were underway, en route to his inauguration, and had only one companion (though Abe did have the good sense to do this late at night). "I cannot bring myself to believe that any human being lives who would do me any harm," he reportedly said, making a very incorrect assessment. And indeed, it took three presidential assassinations in less than 40 years (Lincoln in 1865, James Garfield in 1881, and William McKinley in 1901) to finally persuade chief executives to allow the U.S. Secret Service to keep them safe. Before that, the USSS's main job was investigating counterfeiters (and that is still part of their mission).

The first president to make significant use of bulletproof glass was FDR, who was nearly assassinated in 1932, and who faced obvious security challenges in view of the unrest of the 1930s and the world war of the 1940s. However, his use of the technology was limited to the windows in his cars (including the limousine he used that was confiscated from Al Capone), and eventually to the windows in the Oval Office as well. The first president to deliver speeches behind bulletproof glass was apparently Lyndon B. Johnson; that precaution was taken during his inaugural and several other public addresses, in an obvious response to the assassination of John F. Kennedy.

We do not know if the USSS has specific guidelines for when bulletproof glass is and is not used; if they do have such guidelines, they would never allow them to be made public. However, they undoubtedly press for it to be used for any outdoors addresses, when it may be difficult to fully secure the perimeter. And presidents undoubtedly push back, at least sometimes, influenced by the same concerns that helped get Lincoln killed.

Q: In your analysis of Pennsylvania's electorate, you bring up the old James Carville statement that the state is Philadelphia and Pittsburgh with Alabama in between. My township in Central PA is definitely strongly Republican but there are quite a few of us Democrats that are keeping the faith. And some of us are actually "old folks" who worked hard in the anti-war movements in the 60's and 70's. Since in a national election it doesn't matter where you live, why does the Democratic Party ignore us in their campaigns? I worked on phone banks for both Obama's and Clinton's campaigns but we only called registered Democrats to make sure they were going to vote. That is all well and good, but what's wrong with trying to convert some Republicans, too? I mean, I get it that there is only so much money to spend but it is discouraging to be written off as Alabamites and/or seniors who only vote Republican. L.H., Middleburg, PA

A: This is not unique to Pennsylvania. Both parties learned, long ago, that it's far easier to make sure to get your voters to the polls than it is to try to convert the other party's voters. So, most of their focus is on "get out the vote" operations, and not so much on trying to talk to the folks on the other side. This tendency has both heightened, and been heightened by, the polarization of the electorate.

Q: If all of those candidates polling below Mayor Pete (including Harris, as much as I wanted her to catch on) were to drop out, is there any way to guess at which candidates would most benefit? Is it likely they would, generally, just evenly distribute? J.R., Westminster, CO

A: A few pollsters do "ranked-choice" polling, but it's very rare. So, there's no trove of data out there that would really help answer this question. Further, there are basically three types of voters who are still indicating support for a Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) or a Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) or a Julián Castro. The first group is "message senders," who would like to signal something to the eventual nominee. For example, "I expect Latino representation in your administration." The second group is "aspirational" voters, who are hoping that, some how, some way, their candidate will turn things around. Both of these groups recognize that they're not really committing to anything by supporting a lesser candidate right now, and they can reasonably be expected to line up behind the eventual nominee when the time comes.

The third group, however, is the true believers. These are the folks that, for example, were "Bernie or Bust" in 2016. They are committed to one candidate (or maybe two), and—at least at the moment—they are not open to other options. How these folks will respond, once their candidate drops out, is hard to predict. Maybe they will fall in line behind the nominee. Maybe they will vote third party. Maybe they will stay home on Election Day. Maybe they will vote Trump. The latter case is what happened with a surprising number of Bernie Bros' in 2016, including the most famous Bernie Bro of them all, H.A. Goodman.

It is not easy to tease out group three from the other two, especially since they themselves might not be able to project their future behavior. For example, it's plausible that a devout Gabbard supporter might be open to flipping to Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), but not to Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). Between that, and the margin of error inherent in all polls, it's just too hard to project forward to what will happen to Booker's supporters, or Gabbard's, or Castro's until they actually drop out.

Q: Sanders and Warren are each running a few points lower than Joe Biden in the polls. But if you combine their percentages, together they are way up top. If they were to coalesce and choose one of them to stay in the race, and explain that move to their supporters, chances are good "they" could become the frontrunner, by a lot. I recognize that is unlikely, because of how big candidates' egos tend to be, but could you still comment on the fact that the progressive Democratic electorate could conceivably win the nomination, given poll numbers as they are now? S.B., Camarillo, CA

A: Our answer here is going to be similar to the previous one. It's true that Sanders and Warren are lumped together as the "progressive" candidates. However, as we've written a few times, they actually appeal to somewhat different demographics. Sanders is more popular among men, people who did not graduate college, and Latinos. Warren is more popular among women, college graduates, and moderates.

It is entirely plausible that a progressive could take the nomination. In fact, it is probably more likely than not. After all, the party that is out of power tends to gravitate toward a candidate who is the opposite of the person in the White House. However, it is just not as simple as adding up all the "progressive" support and all the "moderate" support.

Q: Doesn't it seem awfully odd that Deval Patrick is entering a race with no major platform, no real path toward winning, and not making the debate cut or some of the filing deadlines? To me, it seems that he sees Warren as having the best chance at winning the Democratic nomination, and he suspects that: (1) she won't choose another female for the ticket as VP, and (2) the current minority candidates are more likely to drop out early, allowing the new kid on the block to make a pitch to the American electorate. The fact that they both govern(ed) and presumably live in the same state is easily resolved, as we saw with Dick Cheney, when he "moved" from Texas to Wyoming. I believe that Patrick couldn't be more transparent that he's running for the VP slot than the top job. B. S-C., Pittsburgh, PA

A: You make a strong case for your interpretation of events. We're somewhat skeptical that two liberals from Massachusetts is an optimal pairing, and would actually guess that Patrick pairs better with Joe Biden. However, presidential candidates' thinking about their running mates can be surprising. Al Gore was something of a curious choice, as "white Southerner" would seem to be redundant with "white Southerner," but Bill Clinton decided he needed a Washington insider, and Gore was the one he liked. Similarly, folks are still trying to figure out exactly how George H.W. Bush ended up with Dan Quayle. Perhaps Poppy Bush had eaten one potatoe too many the day he made the decision.

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