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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Administration Officially Robs Peter to Pay Paul
      •  Pence Visits Ireland
      •  Biden Campaign: Iowa Primary Is Not a "Must Win" for Us
      •  No Mansion for Manchin
      •  The Buck Is Passed
      •  McConnell Maligns "Moscow Mitch" Moniker
      •  North Carolina Court Strikes Down District Maps
      •  Democrats Are Clearing the Decks for Hickenlooper
      •  Boris Johnson's Life Just Got a Lot Harder
      •  Wednesday Q&A

Administration Officially Robs Peter to Pay Paul

Donald Trump wants to use Pentagon funds to build his wall, and he made a point of choosing a Secretary of Defense who supported that position. Although the matter is still being considered by the courts, the injunction that was once in place has been lifted by Trump-friendly judge Trevor McFadden. And so on Tuesday, at the instruction of Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, the Pentagon formally diverted $3.6 billion in funds from 127 military construction projects so that work can commence on the border wall.

If all goes according to plan (i.e., no setbacks in court), then construction will take place in 11 different locations, and will begin in five months, just as election season is getting underway. Undoubtedly that timing is just a coincidence. Democrats, including Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) tore into the administration after the announcement was made. Republicans were almost universally silent.

The court cases challenging Trump's authority to redirect money as he sees fit do have some teeth, so this may be much ado about nothing. If the construction does go forward, however, then it remains to be seen how it affects his political fortunes. Undoubtedly, there will be many photo-ops with the President standing in front of some bit of new construction. But will his base actually accept that he's delivered on his main campaign promise, especially since only a little bit of wall/fencing will be built, and since the money will come from the military and not from Mexico, as promised? On top of that, it's not entirely clear which military projects will get shortchanged yet, since the list hasn't been published. However, rerouting funds from any of them that were domestic (about half of the 127, reportedly) will mean taking pork away from various members of Congress. They aren't going to like that.

In the end, Trump is desperate to come up with some accomplishments to run on, and he also really needed to be able to make the case that he has delivered on the biggest campaign plank of them all. However, with all the eggs he's breaking in order to get that done, he may end up doing himself much more harm than good, both with voters and with the members of his party. (Z)

Pence Visits Ireland

Vice President Mike Pence is in Ireland to visit with leaders there, on behalf of Donald Trump. There is very little coverage of the Veep's actual business there, however, as everyone is focused on his choice of lodgings. You see, although the Irish officials he's meeting with are located in Dublin, on the nation's eastern coast, Pence is staying in Doonbeg, on the western coast. Here is the commute that he will have in order to get to his meetings:

The drive from Doonbeg
to Shannon airport is short but curvy, and that's followed by a straight-shot flight to Dublin.

That's a 40-minute drive, followed by a one-hour plane flight, covering about 200 miles.

When asked why he would stay in such an inconvenient location, Pence initially suggested that it is because of his familial connections to Doonbeg; his great-grandmother was born there, and he still has distant relatives living there. Then, when that didn't exactly fly, he said it was because Doonbeg was best able to accommodate the "security footprint" of his detail. Also dubious. The real reason Pence is staying in Doonbeg is this:

Trump International Golf Links and Hotel

When the boss says "jump," Pence says "how high?" And when the boss says "stay at my resort," Pence says "how long?"

We bring this story up for two reasons. The first is that it really seems like Trump is getting sloppier and sloppier about lying, about conflicts of interest, and about bad optics. There's this situation, the golfing while Dorian bore down on the East Coast, the plans to schedule the G7 at his Florida resort, and at least a dozen other impolitic moves in the last month or two that we likely would not have seen two years ago (even though the administration has always operated under relatively low standards for such things). Maybe Trump has gotten complacent, since he's gotten away with so much for so long. Or maybe he's tired, or is otherwise in decline, and is investing even less effort in playing politics. Or maybe life in the bubble has left him further disconnected from reality than he already was.

We also bring this up because Mike Pence has presidential aspirations of his own, once his time as Donald Trump's lap dog is over. We are skeptical that he'll ever gain traction, as he was the not-too-popular governor of a smallish state, and he really excites only the evangelical portion of the base (which is shrinking rapidly before our very eyes). Buf if and when he does become a serious candidate for president, incidents like this one are not going to reflect well on him, particularly if Trump ends up paying a significant price (e.g., impeachment, conviction in a court of law, a humiliating electoral defeat) for his venalities. (Z)

Biden Campaign: Iowa Primary Is Not a "Must Win" for Us

The seven polls of Iowa caucus voters conducted since the start of July have been a mixed bag for Joe Biden. Three of them had him in the lead, by 9 points (Monmouth), 8 points (Suffolk), and 5 points (YouGov). One had him tied with Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), 23%-23% (Firehouse Strategies). Two of them had him trailing Warren, by 11 points (Change Research) and 3 points (David Binder Research). And one had him tied with Warren for third place, trailing...Mayor Pete Buttigieg (D-South Bend) by 9 points (also Change Research).

You can probably toss both of those Change Research polls out. But even if you do so, the picture is murky. Biden is probably the frontrunner in the notoriously-hard-to-poll state, at least until Ann Selzer says otherwise. However, his lead is not large, and could very well disappear in the five months between today and caucus day. Making sure to cover all the bases, a senior spokesperson for the Democratic frontrunner said on Tuesday that Team Biden expects to win in Iowa on Feb. 3, but also said "Do I think we have to win Iowa? No."

It may literally be true that Biden could survive a loss in Iowa. However, it would be a huge kick in the pants and would not be easy to survive. If the former VP loses there, then it will significantly undermine his electability argument and his frontrunner status, especially since Iowa is the kind of state (Midwestern, blue-collar, lots of white voters) that he's supposed to recapture for the Democrats. Further, Iowa is followed by New Hampshire, where he is likely to lose to near-local son Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and/or near-local daughter Elizabeth Warren . Next up is Nevada, where the demographics aren't great for Biden, and where Warren has been opening campaign offices by the dozen. And then it will be South Carolina (where Biden will likely win), followed by Super Tuesday. Point is, if Biden loses Iowa, he could easily go into the critical Super Tuesday contests with only one win in four states under his belt, and with big-time questions about how electable, and how much of a frontrunner, he really is. So, his team can say that Iowa is not a "must win," but they don't really believe it. (Z)

No Mansion for Manchin

The Democrats got some happy news on Tuesday, when Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) announced that he will not run for the West Virginia governor's mansion (which he previously occupied from 2005-10). In his statement, the Senator said:

When considering whether to run for governor, I couldn't focus just on which job I enjoyed the most, but on where I could be the most effective for the Mountain State. Ultimately, I believe my role as U.S. Senator allows me to position our state for success for the rest of this century.

If Manchin had run, and had won, he probably would have appointed his own replacement. Even if he did so, however, when his seat came up in 2022, any non-Manchin Democrat would have had enormous trouble holding on, unless the blue team somehow figured out how to resurrect Robert Byrd.

There is no question that Manchin is unhappy as a member of the minority party in a chamber that doesn't do very much. That is why he was thinking about fleeing for the governor's mansion in the first place. Reading the tea leaves, the fact that he chose to stay in Washington suggests that he thinks that either the gridlock, or the Democrats' minority status, or both, are going to come to an end in the near future. In fact, he's undoubtedly licking his chops at the very real possibility that he'll be vote #50 on pretty much everything the Democrats want to do. If that does come to pass, he would quickly become one of the most powerful people in Washington, as he would be the one to decide exactly how much healthcare reform, or how much environmental legislation, or how many tax increases, are acceptable.

Also of note, if the Democrats take control of the Senate, Manchin will become chairman of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. That's the committee that deals with coal, a subject near and dear to Manchin's heart. As chairman, he is certain to do his best to push coal, which is equally certain to displease all the environmentalists in the Democratic Party. Some hard bargaining is sure to take place. However, it is not hopeless, as Manchin is also quite pro union, especially the coal miners' union, and deals might be possible since it is not the coal itself that Manchin cares about, but the miners. (Z)

The Buck Is Passed

Speaking of the do-nothing Senate, primary culprit and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is looking at the toughest reelection campaign of his political career. Since he's got a fair amount of baggage, he would prefer not to be known as the guy who stood by and did nothing while another 200 or 300 or 400 mass shootings took place. So, he announced on Tuesday that he is willing to bring any gun-control legislation that Donald Trump supports up for a vote.

The buck is thus passed to the White House. McConnell, who has taken more than $1 million of the NRA's money since taking office, has no actual interest in voting on gun-control legislation. However, he knows three things: (1) that Trump has virtually no ability to put legislation of any sort together; (2) that Trump is even more fully in thrall to the NRA than he is, and so is particularly unlikely to put gun-control legislation together; and (3) if something does come to the Senate floor, it will almost certainly be a meaningless half-measure. For example, the Justice Dept. is working on legislation that would make it easier to impose the death penalty for mass shooters. It is debatable that the death penalty works as a deterrent in any circumstance, but it's definitely the case that mass shooters are either deranged enough or angry enough that approximately 0.0% of them would reconsider if they knew they were at (a slightly higher) risk of being executed. Especially since a sizable percentage of mass shooters are either killed by police, or else kill themselves, before being captured.

Meanwhile, at the same time that McConnell was reminding us of his membership in the kingdom invertebrata, Walmart was announcing surprisingly aggressive measures regarding the sales of guns and ammunition. They will cease selling handgun and short-barrel rifle ammunition, will end handgun sales in Alaska (the only state where the chain was still carrying such weapons), and they will ask that customers in open-carry states no longer bring their guns into stores. This is substantially a response to the fact that the recent mass shooting in El Paso took place in a Walmart. But it also means that the GOP now lags the country's single-largest seller of firearms when it comes to placing limits on what people can and cannot buy, guns- and ammunition-wise. (Z)

McConnell Maligns "Moscow Mitch" Moniker

Speaking of Mitch McConnell, he does not like it that people are calling him "Moscow Mitch." Not one bit. He gave the clearest statement so far of his feelings on the matter when he appeared on Hugh Hewitt's radio program and said, "You know, I can laugh about things like the 'Grim Reaper,' but calling me Moscow Mitch is over the top." He also declared that it is "Unbelievable for a Cold Warrior like me who spent a career standing up to the Russians to be given a moniker like that."

It is remarkable that someone with McConnell's political savvy would say such things, though perhaps that's what happens when you live life in a bubble. First of all, of course he likes the "Grim Reaper" nickname; it plays into his carefully crafted image of himself as a destroyer of liberal legislation. But let's not pretend that he's generally a good sport who can laugh at himself, because he also loathes being called "turtle." Beyond that, however, the line about being a cold warrior highlights exactly why he's been given the nickname, while at the same time reminding us of how much he (and other Republicans) have turned on a dime when it comes to abandoning past principles and paying fealty to Donald Trump. In other words, the Majority Leader is kind of doing the opposition's work for them when he makes such pronouncements. And finally, and most importantly, did he never learn what happens when you let a bully know that he's getting to you? That's not to say that using "Moscow Mitch" is bullying McConnell, especially since he's a big boy and he knows politics is a rough game. However, the fundamental dynamic is the same—he's letting the world know that the nickname bothers him, which, strategically speaking, is just about the best argument possible for the Democrats to use it as much as they possibly can. (Z)

North Carolina Court Strikes Down District Maps

On Tuesday, a three-judge panel ruled that North Carolina's current map of legislative districts is an unconstitutional gerrymander, and struck the map down. In their 357-page ruling, the judges said that Republicans "had a partisan intent to create legislative districts that perpetuated a Republican-controlled" assembly. The Assembly now has until Sept. 18 to come up with a better map, and will be required to seek public input as they do it. This marks the second time in as many years that the legislative map has been struck down by the courts.

North Carolina Republicans could appeal the decision, but the federal courts are not likely to get involved, and the North Carolina Supreme Court (which would be the next and final appeal) currently includes five Democrats and just one Republican. So, the GOP is probably out of luck. At the moment, the blue team controls the governor's mansion in the Tar Heel State, but just 21 of 50 seats in the state senate and just 55 of 120 seats in the state house, despite the fact that the two parties have nearly equal numbers of registered voters. Given that Donald Trump's net approval in the state has gone from +17% to -1% since he took office, and that Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC) is currently underwater by two points (33% approve, 35% disapprove) and trailed his probable 2020 opponent by 7 points in the first poll conducted of the race, it is even possible that there will be a blue wave in North Carolina that, when paired with new maps, will give the blue team the state trifecta. (Z)

Democrats Are Clearing the Decks for Hickenlooper

In the race to unseat Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO), who is probably the most endangered senator in 2020, the Democrats had a number of solid B-list candidates, but no real A-lister. That is, until former governor John Hickenlooper concluded (correctly) that he was wasting his time running for president, and that a nice lifetime job in the U.S. Senate was much more plausible. He'll even get a raise. The governor of Colorado makes $123,000 whereas a senator makes $174,000. He's already up 13 points over Gardner in polling.

Hickenlooper's entry into the race leaves all of those B-listers with a tough choice to make. On one hand, they can keep on keepin' on, and hope for a miracle. But if they don't make it, they will have alienated the Party pooh-bahs, and will have spent months and months on the campaign trail for nothing. And if they do make it, they would probably be broke and bloodied for the general election campaign. The alternative is to bow out gracefully, and stick to their current jobs, while waiting for another opportunity to come along. The best of the B-listers, as judged by both polling and fundraising, is former state senator Mike Johnston. And he has done the math and concluded it doesn't add up, so he suspended his campaign on Tuesday.

Johnston is the third Democrat to withdraw from the race since Hickenlooper entered, though that still leaves a dozen Democratic challengers remaining, with the two most prominent being former majority leader of the Colorado House of Representatives Alice Madden and former speaker of the Colorado House of Representatives Andrew Romanoff. Perhaps these folks will also see the light sometime soon, but even if they don't, Johnston's exit removes far and away the biggest threat to Hickenlooper, and means that the nomination is all but in the bag for him. (Z)

Boris Johnson's Life Just Got a Lot Harder

As Prime Minister Boris Johnson prepares to suspend parliament and to ram through Brexit at all costs, his life just got a lot harder. Due to a recent loss in a special election, he was operating with a slim majority of one MP (out of 650). And now, he doesn't even have that, as Phillip Lee defected to the anti-Brexit Liberal Democrats on Tuesday, accusing his now-former party and its leader (Johnson) of "political manipulation, bullying and lies" in their quest to achieve Brexit.

As a practical matter, one defection probably does not matter too much, since some Conservatives either oppose Brexit, or oppose it on the terms that Johnson is prepared to accept. So, the PM was theoretically going to need some crossover support, regardless of Lee's defection. But symbolically, it's not good. Also not good for Johnson is that he lost his first big vote in Parliament yesterday, with 21 members of his party crossing over to vote with the opposition in favor of considering a bill that would forbid a no-deal Brexit. The bill itself will get a vote today, reportedly, and the 21 defectors, including Winston Churchill's grandson, are going to be drummed out of the Conservative Party.

Johnson is furious about this setback, and issued a tersely-worded statement Tuesday night declaring: "Let there be no doubt about the consequences of this vote tonight. It means that parliament is on the brink of wrecking any deal we might be able to strike in Brussels." The PM also said that "I don't want an election but if MPs vote tomorrow to stop the negotiations and to compel another pointless delay of Brexit, potentially for years, then that will be the only way to resolve this." In other words, a pre-Brexit snap election, which was already pretty likely, is getting close to becoming a certainty. For what it is worth, the books are giving anywhere from 2/9 to 1/50 odds that an election will be called, which works out to an 82% chance on the low end, and a 98% chance on the high end. (Z)

Wednesday Q&A

We're still tinkering with the scheduling of this feature a little bit, but we'll have it figured out soon.

In terms of Senate procedure, there's lots of talk of getting rid of the filibuster after the next election—from both sides, even if Mitch McConnell tries to downplay it. I know the current filibuster procedure is NOT the way it always worked. Can you explain how it worked in previous eras? Also, why is there no talk of just going back to the older way of filibustering? Wouldn't that help preserve some of the traditions of the Senate (and ability of the minority to have its voice heard), while getting rid of the ridiculous super-majoritarian votes currently required in the Senate to get anything done? D.M., Denver, Colorado

In the House of Representatives, there are, and always have been, rules about how long each member can speak on the floor while a piece of legislation is being considered. The Senate, however, did not have any limits (at least, not for a long time), and so nearly two centuries ago, during an 1837 dispute over the Second Bank of the United States, some very clever senators realized that if they just kept talking and talking and talking, then the legislation re-chartering the bank could never come to a vote. Thus was born the filibuster.

For many years, the filibuster was used sparingly, since it was physically taxing (members had to literally stand in front of the Senate and talk, talk, talk, 24/7), and since it was considered to be a last-ditch maneuver to be used in only the most dire of emergencies. Still, when it was used, there was no counter-measure other than compromising with the filibustering senator(s), and/or hoping that they just gave up. It was during World War I, under significant pressure from President Woodrow Wilson, that the Senate allowed cloture to be invoked by a 2/3 vote of all senators, thus forcibly ending the filibuster. Eventually, the number was dropped to 3/5, where it stands today.

Now, let's take a look at the number of filibusters by decade since the cloture rule was created:

Decade # of Filibusters
1920s 10
1930s 4
1940s 10
1950s 2
1960s 28
1970s 160
1980s 205
1990s 362
2000s 477
2010s 837

As you can see, the filibuster was pretty rare though the 1960s, and then the number took off during the 1970s, and has grown consistently ever since. In part, that is due to a cultural change in the Senate, as partisans have felt more justified in using the tactic (since, hey, the other guys did it). However, it's mostly due to a major rule change adopted in 1975. Prior to that time, the Senate could consider only one item of business at a time. Thereafter, they were allowed to consider multiple matters simultaneously. The somewhat necessary implication of this was that literal filibusters were no longer practical, and so were no longer required.

In other words, when a group of Southern senators is filibustering the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and that is the only thing the Senate is working on, then it's plausible for those senators to take turns at the Senate podium and to read the phone book, or the Bible, or Shakespeare's collected works. However, if the Senate is working on 10 things, and a particular Senator wants to block, say, Obamacare, then it doesn't particularly make sense for that Senator to stand at the front of the chamber and read the phone book while the other senators are busily considering an infrastructure bill. Put another way, the 1975 rule change transformed the literal filibuster into a virtual filibuster. And since it is way easier to say "I'm invoking the filibuster on that" than it is to mount an actual filibuster, particularly if it's only one Senator (who is going to need bathroom breaks and sleep, eventually, and so cannot single-handedly mount an endless actual filibuster), the use of the filibuster exploded after 1975.

It is possible that going back to the old way of doing things could be a compromise that would protect the minority's right to object in dire circumstances, while cleaning up the gridlock that has become customary in the Senate. However, consistent with the above discussion, that would almost certainly require an additional change, back to the "one item at a time before the Senate" rule. That may not be advisable given the complexities of the modern world, and would also set up a situation where two angry Senators (say, Ted Cruz, R-TX, and Lindsey Graham, R-SC) could take 12-hour shifts and shut down all Senate business for as long as they felt necessary.

Can you explain the Democratic Party's proportional primaries and the 15% minimum threshold for earning delegates? And the effects this might have, given that the 2nd and 3rd place candidates often come up less than 15% in polls these days? It seems that everyone consistently under 15% is so far under 15% that those candidates are unlikely to ever garner ANY delegates, and they are therefore wasting everybody's time. S.G., Guanajuato, Mexico

We'll do our best, but buckle up, because it's going to be a bumpy ride.

To start with, we are going to address primaries here, not caucuses. Caucuses employ a form of instant-runoff voting, and so play by different rules, which means they are less likely to generate fluky results. Thus, the six remaining caucus states (Iowa, Nevada, Kansas, North Dakota, Wyoming and Maine) are not covered by this answer.

Similarly, there are a lot of local variations in exactly how things are set up, so this answer will have to be generally correct, not universally correct. Also, you asked about the Democrats, so we will focus on them (the Republican process is not a lot different, but it is a little different). If you really want to get into the weeds, on a state-by-state and party-by-party basis, then The Green Papers is the site for you.

Anyhow, the Democrats have a situation that is designed to accomplish two things. The first is to create consensus around a single candidate as quickly as is possible. The second is to make sure that all party factions are heard from, with a particular emphasis on longtime party loyalists. You may notice that these two goals are not always in harmony, which is part of the reason that the process is so messy.

It is true, as you note, that the Party has a 15% threshold for claiming delegates (unless nobody reaches 15%, in which case the threshold is 0.5x, where x is the number of votes received by the top vote-getter). And what happens is that anyone who crosses the threshold gets delegates in proportion to their final total. So, if Joe Biden gets 30% of the vote, Bernie Sanders gets 20%, and nobody else clears 15%, then Biden would get 3/5 of the delegates and Sanders would get 2/5. The circumstance where this would generate wonky results, of course, is if one candidate barely clears 15% and one or more others barely miss 15%. So, if Biden gets 16% of the votes, and Sanders and Elizabeth Warren get 14.5% each, then Biden would get 100% of the delegates, despite having beaten his two rivals by a narrow margin.

At this point, you might be thinking that under the right circumstances, Biden might claim, say, all of California's 416 pledged delegates while receiving only a few thousand more votes than his nearest rivals. This is not mathematically likely, however, because of the steps the blue team takes to make sure everyone's voices (especially the voices of loyalists) get heard.

Since we've already mentioned California, we will use them as our case study. 272 of those 416 delegates are apportioned by Congressional district, with the state's 53 districts receiving an average of 5.13 delegates each (districts get more delegates if they've gone Democratic in recent elections and fewer if they've gone Republican). If Joe Biden wanted to take all of these 272 delegates with just 16% of the vote, then he'd have to win 53 different contests by the same narrow margin. Not very likely.

Meanwhile, those 272 delegates, once chosen, head to the state convention and vote on another 90 statewide delegates. Those 90 can be any Democrat who applies and who is committed to a particular candidate. In addition to those 90, the state convention approves an additional 54 delegates for whom the requirements are more stringent. In addition to being a Democrat, applying for the job, and being committed to a particular candidate, the folks in this group must also hold some sort of office (county chair, mayor, member of the state assembly, etc.). So, that is a total of 144 more delegates who are approved by the original 272. The majority faction among the 272 tends to get the majority of the 144, but they don't get all of them, by any means.

And finally, on top of the 416 pledged delegates that are awarded during the primary and/or the state convention, there are 79 California "superdelegates" who are ex officio, and include the governor of California, the Democrats who have been elected to Congress, the state's representatives on the DNC, and various distinguished members of the party. Due to new rules adopted after the fiascoes of 2016, these delegates do not get to vote in the first round of balloting at the Democratic convention. However, if and when the second round arrives, they are free agents and can vote for anyone they please.

The upshot of all of these rules is this: The system does tend to give a boost to frontrunners, candidates who are party insiders, and—in particular—frontrunners who are also party insiders, like Hillary Clinton or Joe Biden. However, it would be very, very unlikely for the system to deliver truly nutty results. To claim the nomination, a candidate really has to claim a sizable chunk of the vote, not just a shade bit more than his or her rivals.

As to the final part of your question, if folks like Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) or Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) or even Pete Buttigieg remain at their current levels of support, then they are indeed wasting everyone's time. They might claim a delegate here or there, clearing the 15% threshold in a few particularly friendly districts, but they have zero chance of claiming enough delegates to challenge for the nomination. For someone like Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren, by contrast, it is possible that they do not claim enough delegates for the nomination, but that they do win enough to be kingmaker. In that case, they would have a lot of leverage to extract concessions from the Party's nominee.

I have a quibble with your suggestion that Georgia, "may one day be blue again" [emphasis added]. Technically, that is true since Georgia was a reliably Democratic state until the mid-20th century. However, the Democratic party of that time (supporting states' rights, and with fervent opposition to the abolition and later the civil rights movements) bears little resemblance to today's political party, in much the same way that the Republican Party, which loves to describe itself as the party of Lincoln, has transformed itself since its founding. Wouldn't you agree, then, that Georgia has always been a "red" state until recent times, if not in color, but in spirit? D.F.S., Miami Beach, FL

When writing for this site (or, for that matter, when lecturing in class), there is always a trade-off between thoroughness and understandability. If we throw too many qualifiers into our items, they will become very hard (or impossible) to parse.

In the case of that item, we considered adding a qualifier that being a blue state in the 1960s South and being a blue state today are somewhat different things. However, we would also say that your characterization overstates the case for Southern, Democratic conservatism, at least a bit. Back then, both parties had liberal and conservative factions, even in the South. It's true that quite a few Southern Democrats of the 1950s and 1960s became either de facto or actual Republicans, including Strom Thurmond, John C. Stennis, Fritz Hollings, and Howell Heflin. But it's also true that there were some bona fide liberal Southern Democrats, even back then, including Lyndon B. Johnson, Claude Pepper, Robert Byrd, and Jimmy Carter. So, a newly blue Georgia would not be a completely different place from the formerly blue Georgia.

You, and others, are comparing Donald Trump's current state-by-state approval to his state-by-state approval on January 20, 2017. What about current vs Election Day, 2016? Can you compare them side by side? Either vote totals, or favorability, or both? E.S., Rochester, NY

This is not really possible. State-by-state polls are expensive, and leading up to an election, anyone who conducts such a poll asks the more useful question: "Whom do you plan to vote for?" Once an election is over, and for the next three years or so, the more valuable question is "Do you approve of the president?" Until the primaries and caucuses get underway, asking respondents whom they plan to vote for is not especially useful, since at least one of the candidates is not known, and since preferences can change frequently, and since most folks are not entirely certain they will be heading to the polling place on Election Day.

It's true that we could put Donald Trump's vote totals from Nov. 2016 side-by-side with his approval ratings at the moment. However, that is something of an apples-to-oranges comparison, as some people who approved of him didn't vote for him, and some people who voted for him didn't approve of him. January 2017 is the first month we have state-by-state approval numbers, for a true apples-to-apples to comparison. It's pretty reasonable to assume that the President's approval levels did not change that much between Election Day and Inauguration Day, since people are distracted by the holidays, and since he wasn't actually in office yet.

You dinged Elizabeth Warren for supporting the Medicare for All proposal as unpopular. I was wondering what the basis of that statement is? Multiple polls have shown it to have 70% support among Americans. Compare this to the individual mandate supported by Biden, which has been shown to have around a 35% rate of support. J.M., Boston, MA

There are two major complications here. The first is that it depends a lot on which faction we are talking about. Democrats are pretty enthusiastic about Medicare for All, but Independents and Republicans are much less so. The second is that "Medicare for All" is actually used to describe two different things. Sometimes, it means that everyone in the United States becomes a Medicare enrollee. That is the basic plan that Warren and Sanders favor. Other times, it means that everyone in the United States has the option to join Medicare if they wish, but they don't have to. This is the basic approach that Biden favors (along with the individual mandate), he just doesn't use the term Medicare for All because he doesn't want to be labeled a left-wing Commie.

Anyhow, it is true that the individual mandate polls poorly. However, most polls (like this one from Marist) show that "you can buy into Medicare if you want" (a.k.a, the Biden position) has the support of roughly 90% of Democrats, 70% of Independents, and 50% of Republicans. On the other hand, "you must become a Medicare enrollee" (a.k.a., the position of Warren and Sanders and, for that matter, Sen. Kamala Harris, D-CA) enjoys the support of roughly two-thirds of Democrats, 40% of Independents, and just 15% of Republicans. If you think about it, this all makes sense. Americans don't like to be told what to do, particularly by politicians whose party they are not a part of. So, anything compulsory (you must buy insurance, you must join Medicare) is going to poll somewhat poorly, while anything voluntary (you can join Medicare if you want) is likely to do much better.

We will also note that what we actually wrote is that Medicare for All is maybe the only Warren proposal that is not very popular. That was us trying to cover all of the bases in an efficient manner, because of the variance we describe above, i.e., her base pretty much loves the idea, but many folks beyond the base are not so excited about it.

Simple question : Isn't Elizabeth Warren the George McGovern of 2020? E.K., Brignoles, France

You mean, someone who is too liberal for most of the populace, and whose nomination would set up a blowout of historic proportions? Simple answer: No.

We would point out many key differences. First, as a South Dakotan, McGovern did not have an obvious base of support, and he won the nomination primarily because his opponents were quite weak, and he was able to out-maneuver and out-organize them. Warren, by contrast, comes from the populous Northeast, has substantial nationwide support among educated progressives and women, and would have to knock off some serious heavy hitters to claim the nomination. If she pulls it off, she'll be a legitimate, battle-tested candidate and not a borderline fluke. Second, McGovern was bitterly hated by a huge segment of his party (Southern Democrats). Not all Democrats love Warren, of course, but nobody despises her the way that most Dixiecrats hated McGovern. Third, McGovern was much further outside of the mainstream of his time than Warren is. Did you know he was advocating Andrew Yang's $1,000 a month universal basic income before Yang was even born (though McGovern called it his "demogrant" program)? Warren is lefty, no doubt, but as we discussed in the previous answer, even her leftiest idea (Medicare for All) is not that far outside the mainstream. Fourth, McGovern saddled himself with a poorly vetted running mate who ultimately had to be jettisoned, in the form of Thomas Eagleton. Warren, if she is the nominee, is very unlikely to make such a big, unforced error. Fifth, the Democratic Party of 1972 was bitterly divided between liberal doves and conservative war hawks. It is much less divided today, given the powerful, unifying desire to send Donald Trump packing. Sixth, and finally, Richard Nixon had a long record of accomplishment (detente with China, ending the Vietnam War, environmental reform, welfare reform, etc.) that left him with an approval rating in the 60% range in 1972, and made him nearly unbeatable, regardless of whom the Democrats nominated. In fact, Nixon barely campaigned in 1972, because he didn't need to. Donald Trump, by contrast, can only dream of a 60% approval (or of a long record of accomplishment, for that matter).

I've always thought that Mike Pence was more dangerous than Trump, because Pence knows how to play the game. How likely is it that one day we will see Pence elected president? Would his chances increase if he were already in the Oval Office due to the death or impeachment of Trump? Is he likely to run in 2024, regardless of what happens next year? J.K., Las Vegas, NV

We said a little bit about this above, but now we will expand upon it. First of all, actually being in the White House is a huge advantage, particularly if the candidate can run on the memory of his dearly departed predecessor.

We also believe that, short of succeeding to the office under the terms of the 25th Amendment, Pence will never, ever be president (though he'll probably run). As we already noted, his base—evangelicals—is narrow and shrinking. The VP has neither the charisma nor the stomach to do what Trump does, going to rallies and thrilling the non-evangelicals with talk of fake news and the deep state and evil Hillary. So, he would have little hope of holding together the barely-adequate base that got Trump elected by a whisker. Meanwhile, to most Americans outside of Trump's base, a lot of Pence's ideas are either kooky or downright offensive (not dining with women other than his wife, gay conversion therapy, etc.). If you want someone like George McGovern (see above), albeit from the opposite end of the political spectrum, then it's Mike Pence, and not Elizabeth Warren. In other words, our prediction is that if Pence were to run, he'd get blown out, assuming he was even able to land the GOP nomination.

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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