• Yovanovitch Appears Before Congress
• Giuliani Won't Work on Ukraine-related Matters Anymore
• Trump Has a (Trade) Deal, Sort Of
• Kevin McAleenan Quits Team Trump
• Shepard Smith Quits Fox News
• Saturday Q&A
These days, we don't write about news stories on the weekends unless they are big news. As chance would have it, however, there was quite a bit of big news yesterday, starting with another court ruling adverse to Donald Trump's desire to keep his tax returns secret.
Friday's decision came courtesy of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. Working with blazing speed, at least by the standards of the federal judiciary, they affirmed a lower court decision from a few months ago. By a 2-to-1 majority, the judges said that Donald Trump's accounting firm Mazars USA must give 8 years' worth of tax returns and financial records to Congress if Congress wants them. The ruling also devoted considerable space to opining, in a more general sense, that the members of Congress have very broad rights of oversight, especially when conducting an impeachment inquiry.
In short, the ruling couldn't have gone much worse for the President, both in its contents and in the speed with which it was issued. He did get the one dissenting vote, from Neomi Reo, whom he appointed to the bench. However, a minority dissent is, at best, a moral victory. And, as we all know, a moral victory and five bucks will get you a venti Caffè Misto with soy milk at Starbucks.
Presumably, Trump and his lawyers will try to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court. However, he is now squarely in longshot territory. Assuming SCOTUS even agrees to hear the case, the President would need five votes in order to win the appeal. It's true that there are five conservatives on the bench, but for all of them to vote with Trump would require them to ignore virtually all precedent on this question, plus to risk the reputation of the Court as a neutral arbiter that just calls balls and strikes (something that matters a lot to Chief Justice John Roberts). It would also force the alleged originalists on the Court (Associate Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito, primarily) to argue that when the framers granted Congress the right to engage in oversight of the president, and to conduct impeachment inquiries, they didn't actually mean that Congress had the right to engage in oversight and conduct impeachment inquiries.
In short, while Trump might get SCOTUS to hear the case, and might get them to issue a 5-4 favorable ruling, the odds aren't too good. In fact, our guess is that he's more likely to lose 9-0 than he is to win 5-4, especially since his lawyers haven't really come up with a great argument here. Their case is based almost entirely on the DoJ policy that forbids indictment of a sitting president. DoJ policies, of course, are neither law nor court rulings, so the justices are not likely to take too much notice of that particular rule, particularly when doing so would mean putting an executive-branch policy above the Constitution itself. In addition, voting to give Congress oversight power would give Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh an opportunity to show they aren't in Trump's pocket, something they might want to demonstrate just in case their next 5 rulings give him what he wants.
Alternatively, Trump might get an adverse ruling, but one that doesn't come until November of next year. The odds of that are even worse, though, especially since the case has managed to make it through two levels of the federal judiciary in a couple of months. Further, this is just one case. If Trump pulls off a miracle and manages to seize victory from the jaws of defeat here, there are still half a dozen other tax-return-related cases he could lose. Add it all up, and it's looking like the American people are going to get a look at his returns before they get a look at their Christmas presents this year. (Z)
Correction: We initially wrote that the appeals court affirmed a decision from earlier this week. In fact, they affirmed a different decision from a couple of months ago.
In case the tough loss in federal court was not enough for Donald Trump, his former ambassador to Ukraine, Marie "Masha" Yovanovitch, appeared before members of several House committees yesterday. She had quite a bit to say, apparently, as her testimony lasted 10 hours.
Although the hearing was behind closed doors, the major themes have already become public. Yovanovitch said that she was removed from her job because she was not cooperating with the Biden-dirt-digging expedition. This aggravated Rudy Giuliani (and, possibly, the now-arrested Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman), who allegedly told Trump to get rid of her. She said that her demise came quickly once the whistleblower report was filed, and that she could absolutely confirm the details of the document that specifically related to her. Yovanovitch also opined that the State Department is being destroyed from within, and that it needs to be rebuilt under new, and better, leadership. In case her message is not clear, she's saying that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Trump are incompetent, at best, and actively malevolent, at worst.
Perhaps the most interesting, and instructive, aspect of the appearance was the response of the Republicans in the room, a group that included Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), who is one of Trump's most enthusiastic defenders on the Hill. The GOP folks reportedly focused very little on Yovanovitch or what she had to say, and instead spent most of their time slamming the Democrats for holding closed-door hearings, and for their failure to hold a formal vote on an impeachment inquiry. Don't forget: "If you have the facts on your side, pound the facts. If you have the law on your side, pound the law. If you have neither on your side, pound the table."
Thus far, Kurt Volker and Yovanovitch have appeared before the House, and both have done a fair bit of damage to the administration. Next up, apparently, will be U.S. Ambassador to the E.U. Gordon Sondland. The Ambassador arrived in Washington to testify, was blocked by the Administration, and then was subpoenaed by the House Intelligence Committee. Sondland said on Friday that he will obey the subpoena and will testify, though he's unwilling to turn over any documents that he views as property of the State Department. Small comfort to the administration, as Sondland's words will be plenty damaging, since he was personally privy to much of the negotiating between Team Trump and Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelensky.
Given that Trump is looking tax-return defeat squarely in the face (see above), that the Ukraine situation is rapidly going from bad to worse, and that a parade of folks is defying the administration and visiting the House to spill their guts, is it possible that the house of cards is nearing collapse? It certainly looks that way to us, and recent polls, most obviously the recent Fox poll that revealed that a (slight) majority of Americans want Trump removed from office, support that conclusion. What's really important, however, is not what we think, or what the polls say, it's what Congressional Republicans think. Reportedly, some of them are getting nervous, particularly as the administration suffers setback after setback. Trump thinks that the Republican-controlled Senate is his firewall and his insurance policy, but some presidential allies and Capitol Hill insiders aren't so sure; many Republican senators don't really like Trump or his brand of politics, and would be pleased to have cover for getting rid of him. So, it's very possible that judgment day could be nigh. (Z)
In a rather clear case of closing the henhouse door after the fox has already had his dinner, a White House source on Friday said that Rudy Giuliani is still Donald Trump's lawyer, but that he will no longer be involved with Ukraine-related matters. Given the stench currently emanating from America's former mayor, one would think his services would no longer be required. It speaks, once again, to the high premium the President puts on people willing to take bullets for him, regardless of how incompetent or how compromised they might be (see Cohen, Michael).
That said, Giuliani may not have a lot of time to work on Trump's business, since he's going to be kind of busy dealing with his own problems. Already, the facts of the Ukraine situation that are publicly known look pretty bad for him. There's also some new intrigue; the two associates of his who were arrested earlier this week (Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman) were about to fly (to flee?) to Vienna, and it turns out that Giuliani was set to join them 24 hours later. Perhaps you can think of a legitimate reason that a president's personal lawyer would need to meet with two people who were illegally funneling foreign money to GOP politicians, and to hold that meeting on foreign soil. We, however, are not that imaginative. Neither are they. Vienna, after all, is hardly a secret location. No telling whom you might run into there. The pros meet in out-of-the-way places like The Seychelles, and sometimes even that isn't obscure enough. Maybe Giuliani has a weakness for good opera.
We are also not convinced that Giuliani will actually remain in Trump's employ much longer. Like Cohen before him, Giuliani is likely to become too much of a liability, willing to take a bullet for Trump or no. Reportedly, the President's confidence in Giuliani has already grown very shaky. Further, more and more evidence directly linking Trump to Parnas and Fruman keeps leaking out. On Friday, Politico reported that Parnas attended the President's invite-only election-night party in 2016. That is not exactly consistent with Trump's already-not-especially-credible claim that he had no idea who Parnas and Fruman were. Anyhow, Giuliani is now a very visible reminder of the most threatening scandal of Trump's presidency, and so he will probably be thrown under the bus in an attempt at damage control. (Z)
On Friday, in search of both tangible achievements and a distraction from the Ukraine scandal, Donald Trump announced that he and Chinese Vice Premier Liu He had reached a tentative deal on some elements of the trade relationship between the U.S. and China, and that some of the tariff increases scheduled to take effect later this year would be delayed.
That's the positive version of events, and now the caveats: First, the deal does not address the substantive issues that led to the trade war in the first place; it just includes moderate improvements on peripheral issues. For example, China will allegedly try harder to protect American copyrights and trademarks, which is nice, but the main issues in intellectual property these days involve data protection and cybersecurity, not whether or not someone has pirated a bunch of "Toy Story" DVDs.
On top of that, the deal isn't actually complete or even close to it; Trump said it will be ready sometime in November, which means there's still plenty of time for things to go south. Recall other "deals" with countries like North Korea that were "done" right until they weren't.
And finally, do we really imagine Trump got the most favorable terms possible, given how badly he needed something, and given that the Chinese knew full well how badly he needed something? Certainly, the experts are not impressed. "What the U.S. is getting is purchases and several elements of nonsense," said Derek Scissors, an expert on China who works for the American Enterprise Institute and who sometimes advises the White House. "Today seems to be another 'China-is-Great' day, but future talks face a higher risk." Indeed, announcing the deal and declaring victory before it's complete just strengthened China's hand even more.
Undoubtedly, Trump will begin touting this as a great achievement on Twitter and at his rallies, regardless of how things actually turn out. The bad news for him is that the economy does not attend rallies or read Twitter, and may do what it wants to do. Further, the people feeling the pinch from the trade war are going to know whether or not they are still being pinched. So, our guess is that this will turn out to be a pretty hollow victory for the President. (Z)
Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Kevin McAleenan was the fourth person to lead that department for Donald Trump, following Kirstjen Nielsen, Elaine Duke, and John F. Kelly. Now, Trump will need to start searching for number five, as McAleenan submitted his resignation on Friday.
McAleenan's reason for leaving, according to those close to him, is that he wasn't going to be able to accomplish very much more, given that 2020 is an election year, and given that Congress is so bitterly divided. That's probably the truth, or part of it, at least. He must also have noted that this administration could be on the verge of Watergate-level trouble, and decided that he would prefer to get going while the getting is good. There's also a reason that there is so much turnover in the job; Trump is notoriously abusive toward his homeland secretaries, as he blames them for anything and everything that goes badly at the border as they try to live up to his grossly overreaching campaign promises. It is also the case that McAleenan's "acting" status could not last much longer, legally speaking, and that he would have required Senate confirmation. He might know something we don't about his odds of surviving that confirmation.
The next acting secretary will be David Pekoske, simply because he is next in the line of succession. The favorite to be the permanent replacement is acting U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Director Ken Cuccinelli, who is much more of an immigration hardliner than Pekoske is, and so is close with both Trump and Stephen Miller. Undoubtedly, Trump would like to just cut out the middleman and give the job directly to Miller, but it's unlikely that a lightning rod like him could get confirmed. In any event, the average DHS secretary has lasted 248.5 days under Trump, and only one of them (Nielsen) has made it past the one-year mark. So, whomever Trump chooses will have to be above-average at remaining on the job, or else the President will eventually be looking for secretary number six. (Z)
There aren't a lot of legitimate journalists at Fox News, but there are some. Most prominent among them is Shepard Smith, who often rankled Donald Trump due to an insistence on presenting information without distorting it beyond recognition. But as of Friday, Smith is no longer among them. Weary of being attacked by Trump, and of a constant duel with the opinion brokers (Sean Hannity, Jeanine Pirro, Tucker Carlson, etc.) that the Fox News pooh-bahs tend to favor, Smith persuaded the network to tear up his contract so that he could leave for greener pastures. That means he's leaving $15 million a year on the table, a figure he is unlikely to equal (or even approach) elsewhere.
We would be lying if we said we had any idea what this means for Fox, long term. On one hand, they are pretty much all-in on Trump now, especially since the face-of-the-network Hannity basically lives in the President's pocket. On the other hand, that is probably not a viable model long-term, as the sons of Rupert Murdoch (who now run the network) apparently realize. After all, Trump won't be in office forever, and the end could come sooner than anyone thinks. Also, the average age of Fox viewers is 65; in 10 years they will average 75. That is not the audience advertisers covet. Unless Fox changes pretty radically, young viewers are not going to be flocking to the network any time soon (assuming they watch television at all, which increasingly many of them don't). On top of that, despite being largely in the bag for him, the President still attacks Fox regularly, while also promoting their competitor, One America News Network. There is also much reason to believe that if the President stays out of prison after leaving the Oval Office, he plans to launch his own "news" channel. Add it all up and it will be very interesting, indeed, to see what Fox looks like in a couple of years. (Z)
Impeachment is still a popular topic, of course, but we tried to limit that to about half the questions this week.
Q: Is there any reasonable realistic scenario in which the Democrats don't impeach Donald Trump? It seems like the die is cast, and they have the votes. P.N., Austin, TX
A: The only realistic scenario we can come up with is the Nixon scenario, namely that Trump becomes so badly compromised that he leaves office before a vote on articles of impeachment becomes necessary.
Beyond that, you're right, the die is cast. Whether the House backs down on impeachment, or they vote for articles of impeachment only to see Trump acquitted, he is going to claim exoneration and Democratic members in swing districts are going to be attacked as members of the "party of impeachment." So, the blue team is going to suffer the downsides of impeachment whether they adopt articles of impeachment or not. At least by following through and adopting, their base will be happy that something is being done, and Senate Republicans (particularly those in swing states) will be forced to cast a very difficult vote.
Q: I have a question about the impeachment hearings that is confusing me. I keep hearing about Trump preventing former government officials from testifying in front of grand juries and the House impeachment committees. But from what I'm hearing, some of those officials want to testify. What prevents them from doing that under their own free will? Can the President prevent someone from testifying even if they want to? C.N., St. Louis, MO
A: He has very little formal power to stop them from testifying, should they wish to do so, particularly once they are under subpoena. He does have certain indirect power, in that he can fire current officeholders from their jobs if they testify, and he may also be able to ruin their future in terms of being involved in Republican politics as an operative or an officeholder. Meanwhile, for those who side with him and prefer not to testify, he can offer them some protection in the form of a large legal team and a possible pardon if they are ultimately charged with a crime due to their intransigence.
As we have seen this week, these tools have limited efficacy. Kurt Volker testified, as did Masha Yovanovitch. Next week, Gordon Sondland is apparently going to spill his guts. There are others who appear to be in the pipeline, up to and including Secretary of Energy Rick Perry, along with the (still anonymous) whistleblower. And every time one of these folks defies the President's wishes, the easier it becomes for others to do the same.
Q: Considering the possibility that Trump may be more than just a useful idiot
to Russia (even if it's just kompromat or Trump angling for business deals) and the walls close in
around him, it occurs to me he might try to jam in some last minute pro-Russia policy changes that
could have long term impact on national security that can't easily be undone. To me, the Syria
decision seems like it may be the start of something like that.
If he goes fully 'unhinged' and starts doing obviously dangerous things, how quickly can he be removed from office? I can almost imagine him needing to be physically restrained by White House staff as he starts emailing Putin the list of all our undercover assets in Russia.
Impeachment, conviction, and removal from office, even if the Republicans get on board, seems like it could take weeks or months, plenty of time to do some very damaging things. Is there a "break glass" process if things go truly sideways? C.R., Benton, AR
A: Yes. We would say there is both an unofficial and an official insurance policy against this sort of behavior. The unofficial insurance policy is that there is very little that Trump can do without at least some assistance from others. If he tries to do something truly reckless, it is likely that those others will not cooperate. On occasion, we note a similar situation at the end of the Nixon administration, when Defense Secretary James Schlesinger made certain that there could be no nuclear weapons launched without his say-so, regardless of what the President might do.
The official insurance policy is the 25th Amendment, which allows the veep and a majority of the Cabinet to remove the president if they believe he is no longer fit for office. Since this provision has never been put to the test, we can't say for sure how long it would take to activate it. But since it would only require agreement from nine people, all of whom are at the other end of a phone call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, it could surely be accomplished in a few hours, if it came to that.
Q: With Republicans demanding a vote on the house floor authorizing an impeachment inquiry, I'm wondering if this is something that happened with the Clinton impeachment. T.F., Potsdam, NY
A: Yes, on October 8, 1998. That said, the circumstances were a little different from those that exist today. Thanks to the ongoing investigations conducted by Ken Starr, and the (grudging) cooperation of the White House with those investigations, the GOP already knew for certain they would be moving forward with articles of impeachment, and they also knew what evidence they would use. The actual articles of impeachment were adopted just a couple of months later, on December 19, 1998.
If the current House decides to move forward with articles of impeachment—and, as we note above, we think that is eventually going to happen—then they too will ultimately vote to open a formal impeachment inquiry. But there is little value to them in jumping the gun, so they won't. Nothing in the Constitution, the law, or House procedures require a formal resolution to begin an impeachment inquiry. Only the actual articles of impeachment require a vote of the full House.
Q: Could Trump be impeached for letting Recep Erdoğan massacre our allies? J.R., New York, New York
Q: What is the likelihood that the combination of increasingly bad polling
combining with anger over Trump's tacit invitation to wipe out our Kurdish allies will provide cover
for more in the Senate to get onboard with the idea of convicting the president if/when he is
It seems to me that there are likely many in the Senate who would like to see Trump go, but don't want the reprisals from their voters that might come with such a vote. If blame for the Turkey offensive sticks to Trump, will this provide cover for the Senate to turn on him? C.B., South Bend, IN
A: As Gerald Ford observed, "An impeachable offense is whatever a majority of the House of Representatives considers it to be at a given moment in history." Given that impeachment is not a criminal matter, and that the Constitution does not spell out exactly what constitutes "high crimes and misdemeanors," the House could legally impeach him for his tweets ("a misdemeanor against public discourse!"), or his golf trips to Mar-a-Lago ("a domestic emoluments violation!"), or his habit of tying his tie too long ("a high crime against fashion!"). We still don't know exactly why Trump changed course on Syria so rapidly, or what Erdoğan said on that phone call. However, it is entirely possible that the President's decision was made for personal reasons (Trump Tower Ankara will be the tallest building in Turkey and Erdoğan gets the penthouse for free), rather than in the national interest, and if so then that would surely rise to the level of "high crimes and misdemeanors."
We also think that C.B. is right that the Turkey situation could be the cover that Senate Republicans need in order to convict and remove Trump. It's worth watching Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who represents a very red state, who is worried sick about getting re-elected, and who is willing to bend any "principle" to suit his voters' desires, as he perceives them. Right now, he is consistently lambasting the impeachment inquiry while at the same time blasting the President's decision to remove the troops from Syria. Often the Senator does this in the exact same breath. That tells us that GOP voters are not sold on impeachment for the Ukraine call, but that many of them are livid about Syria and the abandonment of the Kurds. That is a dangerous situation for him. One of the reasons that House Democrats have not formally voted on an impeachment inquiry is that a less formal arrangement allows them to change gears, as is needed. It would not be difficult for them to shift their focus to Syria, and an impeachment on that basis, particularly if it comes out that there was some sort of quid pro quo with Erdoğan.
Q: With the President's comment about Kurds not helping us in the Second World War, is this just a final indication of a worldview that is over 50 years out of date? Or do you think that most Americans are just as out of touch, and this plays to them? D.E., Atlanta, GA
A: Honestly, that is one of the most nonsensical and feeble defenses of his own policies that Trump has ever offered. We doubt that this is the product of an outdated worldview; Trump is stuck in the 1980s, not the 1940s. And beyond that, obsessing over who did and did not help on D-Day has never been much of a talking point among Americans. The criticism also makes zero sense, since the Kurds are an ethnic group, not a formal nation represented by a political authority. Complaining that they did not help on D-Day is like complaining that the Hmong did not do enough at the Battle of Midway.
Our best guess is that someone made an offhand joke or remark to Trump, and that he, not being much of a student of history, took it and ran with it. It certainly does not seem like it was crafted to please the base since, as noted above, the base appears pretty unhappy with all of this. Also, it just so happens that much of his base are fans of military history, particularly World War II history. So, many of them know full well that this criticism is nonsense.
Q: Can you break down what "associates of Rudy Giuliani" actually means in this new wrinkle of the Trump investigation? On one hand associates could mean they worked in the same office, but on the other hand it could mean they worked together on the same projects. Do we know yet how close or far was their association? G.C., South Pasadena, CA
A: Well, the exact nature of Giuliani's relationship with Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman is still being uncovered, so we are currently left with mostly guesses and assumptions. It does not appear that the two men worked for Giuliani or his law firm directly (and, frankly, it would be really stupid for him to enter such arrangement, since employment leaves a big, bright paper trail). What does appear to be the case is that the trio conspired together on certain things, and that they worked closely together on the effort to extract Biden-related dirt from Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy. This did not stop, even after the whistleblower blew a lid off the whole arrangement. As we note above, all three men were scheduled to meet in Vienna, Austria, this week, until Parnas and Fruman were arrested. Generally speaking, people do not take a 10-hour flight just to have a casual chat over a frosty mug of Almdudler.
Q: A past reader question has stuck with me. The reader said that "I do like to stray from falling into echo chambers on the left by reading sites like this one." When I read that, I thought, "Huh. I always felt this site was solidly within my left-wing echo chamber." As the authors, of course you have your own views: What is YOUR take on where you fit on the political spectrum? M.B., Cleveland, OH
A: Quite often, (Z) uses the following examples in class to address this basic issue:
Example 1: The reason that the Pittsburgh Steelers lost last week's game is because their top quarterback was injured, their wide receiving corps was fairly well contained by the San Francisco 49ers' secondary, and a couple of key calls went against them in the fourth quarter.
Example 2: The reason that the Pittsburgh Steelers lost last week's game is because all of their players are deliberately playing badly in hopes of getting traded, so they no longer have to live in a crappy city like Pittsburgh, and instead can move to an awesome city like San Francisco. Further, everyone knows that the whole team is on steroids; clearly this week's shipment didn't work correctly. Consequently, their no-talent players had no hope against a vastly superior team like the 49ers.
Although both statements answer the same question, the first is an example of analysis, the second is an example of advocacy from the perspective of a San Francisco 49ers fan.
And so, the answer to your question is this: If everything is going well, then our own personal political slant should be irrelevant. We are trying, as best we can, to provide analysis, not advocacy. And when we are successful, then we are indeed a respite from the left-wing echo chamber, since a site like the Daily Kos or the Huff Post or the Daily Beast is absolutely about advocacy.
Obviously, nobody can be perfect in this regard. And it's not too hard to guess that two people who have spent their entire careers teaching at large, diverse, public universities probably don't own MAGA hats. Still, we try our best to play it straight, and we're willing to give credit to anyone when we feel it is due, just as we are willing to be critical of anyone when we feel it is due.
Q: You quoted from Real Clear Politics today. I'm wondering if you could comment on the recent revelation of their alt-right website, and to what extent we can trust anything from them any longer. J.C., Binan, Laguna, Philippines
A: It's not exactly an alt-right website they have, it's a kooky Facebook page run by their parent company. In any event, although RCP presents itself as a down-the-middle site, it's really just a link aggregator with a pretty significant right-leaning slant. Probably the best way to think of it is as a better-looking version of Drudge Report.
Anyhow, we use them for only one purpose: Their collection of polls, which you can see here. Since they link to the actual polls, they can't cook the numbers without it being obvious. They could plausibly include only the polls that suit their partisan tastes, but we see no evidence they are doing so. By all indications, their database is comprehensive. So, even if their management has a strong political bias, or is up to shenanigans on Facebook, there's no reason not to use their polling database.
Q: I check the polls pretty regularly, and as you've noted, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) seems to be in the lead or right near the top of the pack in the national polls. Especially after the recent YouGov and Quinnipiac polls put her in the lead. But then HarrisX comes out, and has Biden up by 19 points on Warren. Talk about an outlier! I looked back at the previous HarrisX polls, and they show that Biden's lead is actually increasing! Could you explain what might be going on here? They seem to be out on an island with their polling. W.B., St. Louis, MO
A: First of all, we haven't seen any recent poll, by HarrisX or anyone else, that has Biden up by that much. The latest release from that particular house had him up 15, which is still a lot, but it was also released almost a month ago. It's possible that their next release will have it a bit closer.
As to your general question, there are three polling houses that pretty consistently give Biden far better numbers than any others: Harris, Politico/Morning Consult, and Fox News. All of them tend to have him up double digits. Although we don't have the details when it comes to their secret sauce, these numbers are surely the product of two things. First, they undoubtedly have a more Biden-friendly model of the electorate than other houses do. If a pollster believes that blue-collar workers are going to make up 20% of the electorate on Election Day, then they are likely to produce better numbers for Biden than a pollster who thinks such voters will make up only 14% of the electorate. Given sample sizes of only 500 to 1,000 respondents, it is essential for every pollster to weight each demographic according to its expected weight in the actual turnout, but since the latter is unknowable, the models are extremely important and different ones give different results. That's why when we get to the general election and start updating the map every day, we average 7 days' worth of polls, to try to eliminate the effects of one or two legitimate pollsters whose models disagree with everyone else's.
Second, at this point in the process, there are a lot of decisions that pollsters make that significantly influence their results. To take one example, some houses record responses from all registered voters, others only talk to people who say they are likely to vote. To take another, some houses read a list of candidates to respondents, others ask respondents to volunteer a name. Harris, for their part, will talk to any registered voter, but then they expect those folks to volunteer a name themselves. That combination will tend to include a lot of low-engagement voters who go with whatever name they know. That, in turn, means that someone with high name recognition, like Biden, has a big advantage.
Let us be clear that we do not believe that any house is deliberately manipulating their results, nor that any house is inherently unreliable. Each makes their assumptions, and then they have to stick with them.
This is not to say there haven't been cases of out-and-out fraud (pollsters simply typing in numbers without actually interviewing anyone). There have been. Strategic Vision and Research 2000 have been accused of that. But outliers like the one you point out are almost certainly due to methodological choices, not fraud.
Q: At least some use of social media is protected by the First Amendment of
the US Constitution. Yet trolls, extremists, and foreign governments have used social media to
corrupt a U.S. presidential election and drive extremism and divisiveness, at the expense of our
Can the Congress, relying on a combination of the Commerce Clause and the Guarantee Clause, legislate to protect the integrity of our elections and our democracy against abuses of social media, notwithstanding the First Amendment? G.A., Berkeley, CA
A: It would be very difficult to achieve something like this without running afoul of the First Amendment. And, as you may have heard, Facebook, et al., have a few bucks in the bank and may just be able to hire a good lawyer or two.
Of course, social media giants do respond to pressure from customers, and so that may be what eventually forces them to change. Twitter, for example, finally had to get serious about cracking down on the worst abusers (at least, the ones whose names do not rhyme with Tonald Drump) because failure to do so was costing them users. If the government steps up, our guess is that it will be something along the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) model. Just because it is difficult to regulate content producers doesn't mean the government can't try. The MPAA members (i.e., the movie studios) preferred not to deal with that, and so agreed to regulate themselves. It's worked in a manner basically satisfactory to all parties for close to a century.
One thing that could be done that might be able to pass constitutional muster is to end anonymity. The Constitution guarantees the right to free speech, but does it guarantee the right to anonymous free speech? Only John Roberts knows. One could imagine a law that required social media (and other) platforms with user-supplied comments to ascertain the true identity of anyone wanting to open an account to post things. It wouldn't be popular and it wouldn't be bulletproof, but if everyone knew that in the event of a court case, the judge could demand to see the scan of the poster's passport or driver's license and the details of how the platform verified its authenticity, trolling might become a lot less popular.
Q: As a fairly open-minded Democratic voter (for the most part), I can't seem
to connect with any of the candidates running. The candidates either seem to have no policy papers
or solutions that have any chance of being implemented, or they have too many policy papers and
solutions that overwhelm people, particularly with the cost of implementation. It's all well and
good for Senator Warren to "have a plan for that," but how about "a plan to really implement that?"
I realize that this may sound crazy, but why hasn't Hillary Clinton looked at the current field and determined that she could blow all of the current candidates, along with the current occupant of the Oval Office, out of the water? The people who are going to hate her aren't going to change their minds, but the people who voted for Trump and won't vote for him the next time may be willing to vote for HRC. There can't be anything left to dig up in her closet, so why not come out as an "elder stateswoman," criticize what the President has done to the Country (internationally and domestically), has done to the people of the U.S., and the promises he hasn't kept (e.g., manufacturing's recession). Do that for a few months, see where the others are polling, and jump in and steal the show? B.S.C., Pittsburgh, PA
A: From Clinton's perspective, we can certainly see why she wouldn't be interested in taking another shot at the White House. Running for president is grueling, being president is grueling, and she's four years older than the last time she ran. Does she really want to commit to something that could take her into her eighties? Further, although she developed one of the thickest skins this side of a Triceratops, being constantly heaped with scorn and ridicule has to get to anyone eventually, doesn't it?
If she did run, she might likely suffer from the same thing that Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) is—fatigue, for lack of a better term. She already had her chance, and blew it, and in a year where "electability" is Democrats' #1 concern, Hillary is the one and only Democrat that we can say for certain is capable of losing to Donald Trump. Further, for many voters, either Warren or Biden would appear to offer many of the same advantages as Clinton with fewer of the downsides. Add it up, and Clinton might not be able to rebuild her coalition and her donor base so easily. Since she delayed in giving the full Sherman earlier this year, we suspect that her people have done some polling, and confirmed this is the case.
Q: With Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY) leaving Congress, what do you think the odds are that Chelsea Clinton considers a run? I remember you had once mentioned that possibility a year or two ago when she moved in next door to her parents. Do you think Chelsea has the necessary skills to be a Congresswoman? J.M.R., Chappaqua, NY
A: A lot of interest in the return of the Clinton dynasty today. Undoubtedly, given her name recognition and her parents' political network, Chelsea would be a huge favorite if she ran to replace Lowey. However, going back to the observation we made above, does she really want to deal with all the abuse she would take? Our guess is that the right-wing media would be so vicious, it would make their treatment of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) look like a day at the park. Plus, she's got three kids under the age of five, including one who is only two months old. Is this really the right time for her?
There are definitely some Democratic muckety-mucks who are trying to convince Chelsea to run, but our guess is that if she has a political career in her future, it will begin in the 2020s, not the 2010s. And we would not be the slightest bit surprised if, like Michelle Obama, Chelsea has seen everything she needs to see, and will focus on doing good works outside the political arena.
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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Oct11 Rick Perry Gets Subpoenaed
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Oct09 U.S. to Pull Out of Another Treaty
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Oct09 Polling Update
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Oct08 Brace Yourself for 2020, Part II: Ratfu**ing
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Oct07 There Are Now Multiple Whistleblowers
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Oct07 Make Sure to Register
Oct06 Sunday Mailbag
Oct05 Saturday Q&A
Oct04 Digging the Hole Deeper, Part I: Ukraine
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Oct04 Digging the Hole Deeper, Part III: The IRS