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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Bolton Gets Broomed
      •  Trump Doesn't Like Foreign Assets
      •  Trump Administration Targets Homelessness in California
      •  Who's Really to Blame for America's Crummy Election Security?
      •  It's the Economy, Stupid
      •  Latinos Prefer Biden, Sanders
      •  GOP Goes 2-for-2 in North Carolina
      •  The End of Democracy?
      •  Wednesday Q&A

Bolton Gets Broomed

We are going to make three statements that are uncontroversial, we think, even if they are sharply worded:

  1. Donald Trump never, ever takes the blame for anything, under any circumstances, no matter how much responsibility he actually bears.

  2. Trump's foreign policy is an absolute train wreck. From North Korea testing missiles like it's going out of style, to increased tensions with Iran, to a failed meeting with the Taliban, to an emboldened Vlad Putin, to an angry Xi Jinping, to Western European allies who feel betrayed, how many nations are there where things are better today, from the vantage point of the United States, than they were on January 20, 2017? There may be a few—Brazil, Saudi Arabia, India, maybe Israel—but the list is very short, and largely has little to do with any positive actions undertaken by this administration, and more to do with a confederacy of right-wing populists.

  3. John Bolton, who crafted his fair share of that policy in his capacity as National Security Advisor, is a big jerk. He's the Ted Cruz of the executive branch; tolerated for his mental agility and hard work, but loathed by pretty much everyone who works with him. Recently, it was revealed that the latest person to become permanently soured on Bolton is Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who is supposed to consult with the NSA on a regular basis, but who was no longer speaking to Bolton outside of formal, scheduled group meetings.

These three propositions, taken together, pointed to an inevitable conclusion: Bolton was not long for this administration (as we speculated as recently as a couple of months ago). On Tuesday, the hammer fell, as Trump announced that he had fired the NSA. Bolton tried desperately to turn it into a voluntary resignation, even taking to Twitter to peddle that spin:

However, Trump wanted everyone to be clear that he had ordered Bolton to clear out. This is a pretty big breach of usual Washington protocol, even by the standards of this administration, which usually allows departing members the dignity of pretending they left by choice. Clearly, Bolton stepped on the wrong toes too many times (including a "heated" argument with the President on Monday), and Trump wanted to stick it to him as he exited.

The President says he will have a new NSA in place by next week. Who knows who Trump will dig up, but whoever it is will be the fifth person to occupy the post in this administration, an average of one every 7 months. That is more than any other president since the job was created in 1953, with the exception of Ronald Reagan, who had six NSAs. Of course, the Gipper spread those six out over 8 years, not 2-1/2.

Meanwhile, it's fair to wonder if Pompeo is not a short-termer, as well. It's possible that he "won" this power struggle, and that Bolton's exit cements his grip on power. On the other hand, Trump's foreign policy is still a train wreck, and Pompeo has as much responsibility for that as Bolton did, if not more. There is also some evidence that Trump is none-too-thrilled with his Secretary of State. Meanwhile, the soon-to-be-open Senate seat in Kansas is still there for the taking, and GOP pooh-bahs would be thrilled if Pompeo agreed to challenge far-right-winger Kris Kobach, whose nomination would very possibly hand the seat to the Democrats. In short, either side of this fraught presidential-secretarial relationship could decide very soon that the end has come.

Another player here is Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). He desperately wants to avoid having Kobach as the Republican Senate nominee in Kansas for the seat of retiring Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS). McConnell will do anything he can to get Pompeo to run for the Senate, such as promise him seats on the Senate committees of his choosing. McConnell can try to find out how Trump is treating Pompeo in cabinet meetings by sending a spy there to look. Oh, wait, no, he doesn't have to. His wife (Sec. of Transportation Elaine Chao) is already there. (Z)

Trump Doesn't Like Foreign Assets

No, not the kind of foreign assets you get by building a hotel in Istanbul, or a golf course in Ireland, or a housing development in Moscow. Donald Trump is just fine with that sort of foreign assets. The kind that he doesn't like are the ones who collect information on their local governments, and then report back to U.S. officials. According to new reporting from CNN on Tuesday, the President does not trust such sources, and also thinks they undermine his relationship with foreign leaders.

This news merely continues the overall Trump trend of undermining and disrespecting America's intelligence apparatus. Undoubtedly, the folks at the CIA, NSA, etc. are apoplectic that the President has demeaned an absolutely critical source of intelligence. Heck, maybe that's what he and John Bolton argued about yesterday (see above). This story also displays Trump's remarkable and ongoing naiveté when it comes to his interactions with foreign leaders. Every time he heads to a meeting with a head of state (though he tends to cancel most of those meetings these days), he should repeat to himself, over and over, "This person is not my friend." Oh, they may be very cordial and welcoming, but that is because they are politicians and it is their job to be that way. Their loyalty is always to their country and their interests first, with Trump a distant second or third or fifteenth. Further, they don't hold intelligence gathering against the U.S., unless they are the world's largest hypocrites, since they are doing the exact same thing in return.

The good news is that Trump knows so little about how these things actually work, and the CIA and other intelligence agencies have grown so accustomed to working around him, that he can't actually do all that much to interfere with the agencies' missions. They are just going to keep on keepin' on, and wait for the day in 2021 or 2025 when they get someone in the White House (from either party) who has a little firmer grasp of how the modern world works. (Z)

Trump Administration Targets Homelessness in California

Speaking of things that Donald Trump doesn't understand (and doesn't even try to understand), he has ordered a "crackdown" on homeless camps in California, with a focus on Los Angeles and San Francisco. Sizable numbers of federal officials have traveled to the Golden State this week for talks on the subject with local officials.

On its surface, trying to do something about homelessness is a worthy project for a presidential administration. The devil, of course, is in the details. As is the case with defeating ISIS or replacing Obamacare or bringing peace to Israel, the details of the Trump homelessness plan are rather opaque. Where, exactly, would these folks be taken? And on what authority would they be removed? Even if they are charged with something like loitering, that's only a misdemeanor, and there is little to stop them from returning to the spot where they were detained once they've gotten their slap on the wrist. Further, an enormous percentage of homeless folks are drug addicts, or have mental illness, or both. Is the administration prepared to make the commitment needed to engage with those issues? In sum, actually confronting this rather sizable problem requires the sort of long-term effort that is utterly inconsistent with Trump's preference for quick solutions, ideally implemented through executive order.

It's probably also worth noting that when Trump has previously held forth on this particular subject, he's shown a level of ignorance (or willful dishonesty) that is remarkable, even by his standards. In July, for example, he asserted that homelessness is "a phenomenon that started two years ago" and is the fault of "liberal mayors." Sort of like these homeless people, perhaps?

Hooverville with hundreds of temporary shacks made from plywood, cardboard, and aluminum siding

Presumably the hundreds of residents pictured here, living in Seattle under the leadership of Mayor Charles L. Smith (R), would disagree with the President's characterization. Well, they would disagree if they were alive, that is. That picture was taken in 1934 which, according to our staff mathematicians, is just a skosh more than two years ago.

So, this appears to be yet another case of much ado about nothing. We are left with the question, however, of why Trump decided to pursue this. Since he has rarely, if ever, shown concern for those less fortunate than he, it's hard to believe this is coming from the goodness of his heart. Particularly when we are talking about the residents of a blue state, and very possibly the blue state he hates the most. This tweet from July, sent shortly after the July interview quoted above, would seem to give some insight into his real motivations:

In the absence of new information, then, we are left to conclude that this is an attempt at a 2-for-1; Trump is trying to find an "accomplishment" to run on, while at the same time taking the opportunity to demean and degrade the Democrats who run California. (Z)

Who's Really to Blame for America's Crummy Election Security?

The short answer: Donald Trump's ego.

The slightly longer answer: There is a bill that would improve election security significantly and that has already passed the House. Mitch McConnell could bring it to a vote, and it might even pass. The Majority Leader won't do it, though. The general assumption, including from us, has been that he likes his elections crooked because crooked elections have recently favored Republicans. However, he's clever enough to know that might not be true in 2020, particularly if China gets involved. He's also really bothered by, and may be taking damage from, the "Moscow Mitch" moniker. And so, as it turns out, the main thing that is stopping him from bringing the bill up for a vote is that it would enrage Donald Trump and could pit the GOP members of the Senate in a battle against the White House. Trump, with some reason, interprets any discussion of 2020 election vulnerabilities as an affirmation that the 2016 election was tainted. And he interprets that, in turn, as a declaration that his victory was something less than 100% legitimate. So, if an election security bill reached his desk, he would likely flip out.

Of course, Trump's fragile ego doesn't deserve all of the blame, just a whole bunch of it. McConnell and Senate Republicans are also acting spinelessly here, and showing (yet again) that they value party (and their own hides) above country. And local officials, particularly in red states, but also in some blue states, are part of the problem as well. Many of them are being less than proactive, either because they are in denial, or they don't like being told what to do by a bunch of hot shots in Washington and/or pointy-headed academics, or they expect to benefit in some way from less-than-secure elections.

If you would like to get a sense of the worst-case scenario in 2020, incidentally, you can read this very interesting thought piece from Alex Stamos at the blog Lawfare. It shows how easily we could end up in a situation where not only the presidential outcome is in doubt, but the legitimacy of the folks who would have to decide what to do, namely the members of Congress, would also be in doubt. There was a time, shortly before the Civil War, when the state of Kansas ended up with two different governments, one anti-slavery and one pro-slavery, and both claiming to be the "real" government of the state. That also happened in a few states during the Civil War, most obviously Virginia and Missouri. If anything like the scenario that Stamos outlines should come to pass, it could happen again, except on the federal level.

In fact, major disputes over the presidential election have happened multiple times, most recently in 2000 in Florida. But the all-time winner in this dimension is the 1876 election in which Democrat Samuel Tilden got more votes than Republican Rutherford Hayes, but the electoral votes of Florida (4 EVs because it was just a big swamp then), South Carolina (7), and Louisiana (8) were disputed on account of fraud and violence in those states. One elector in Oregon was also disputed because he was a government employee, which the Constitution forbids. The country was in the midst of a constitutional crisis, so Congress sprung into action and created a 15-member commission to figure out what to do. Then it got really hairy (see this Wikipedia article for the whole story). In the end, the commission voted along party lines 8-7 to give the disputed electoral votes to Hayes. The end result was questionable and probably corrupt, but at least there was a legally elected and legitimate Congress available to sign off on it. A 2020 version would be different, including, very possibly, the absence of a legally elected Congress, and so could tear the country apart. (Z)

It's the Economy, Stupid

Today's post has an awful lot of negativity about Donald Trump. A greater percentage than we'd like, really. But as we've said before, if the pitcher throws 12 pitches outside the zone in a row, we gotta call 12 balls. And the news on Tuesday just happened to be unusually unfriendly to Trump.

That includes the polls that were published yesterday, two of them particularly grim for the President. The first is a CNN/SSRS poll that asked, among other things, if Trump deserves a second term. 60% of respondents said no, while only 36% said yes. It hardly needs to be said that such negativity will be hard for him to overcome if he can't turn some people's opinions around. And those results track quite nicely with the second poll, from ABC/WaPo, which said that Trump's approval rating is down to 38%, while his disapproval is up to 56%, which puts him 18 points underwater. Trump was very upset by that second poll, and even took to Twitter to vent:

If we accept his narrative, namely that his lawyers threatened the two outlets, and they changed their poll numbers in his favor, one is left to wonder why he doesn't just dispatch the same lawyers again.

In any event, one would think Trump would be used to crummy approval ratings by now, since those are the only kind he gets. In the last 10 "presidential approval" polls, he's gotten 42%, 47%, 38%, 43%, 46%, 45%, 42%, 44%, 39%, and 41%. So, the ABC/WaPo result wasn't even an outlier, particularly if we ignore the 47% on the list because it was from Rasmussen. In truth, the real bad news from ABC/WaPo was in the part of the poll that Trump would never, ever look at, namely the crosstabs. There we learn that only 56% of respondents think the economy is doing well, 60% expect a recession, and the single most common cause they see for a recession is the President's trade war with China.

That is all kinds of bad news for the President. First, it shows that even as the economy is doing reasonably well, his number one argument for reelection is slipping away from him. It also shows that if a recession actually does happen, he and his China policy are going to get the blame. And finally, the single-biggest cause of a recession is...a widespread belief that a recession is coming. That causes people to stop spending quite so much, which contracts the economy, and thus creates a self-fulfilling prophecy.

There has also been much news in the past few days that reflects badly on the state of things, and that is exactly the sort of stuff that is likely to make consumers (and businesses, and investors) skittish or pessimistic. For example:

  • Despite the trade war, the trade gap with China is growing

  • The trade gap with other major trade partners is also growing

  • Business investment was down sharply in Q2

  • The New York Fed announced this week that it predicts a 1-in-3 chance of a recession in the next 12 months, its most bearish prediction since 2007 (when, in fact, a recession did happen)

  • In August, the U.S. manufacturing sector shrunk for the first time in three years

  • Also in August, job growth slowed significantly, with the result that the U.S. is averaging 143,000/month this year compared to 208,000/month last year

  • It was just announced that the number of uninsured Americans rose last year, the first time that's happened since the adoption of the ACA

  • The Senate is arguing bitterly about next year's spending bills, specifically wall money and abortion coverage, and another government shutdown is possible

Trump insists that there's nothing to worry about, although it is clear that even he and his administration don't really believe that. First, because he doth protest too much. Second, because Trump keeps pleading with the Fed to lower interest rates. Third, because Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin is already talking up the possibility of another tax cut in 2020 in order to juice the economy. How he plans to get that through the House is anyone's guess. (Z)

Latinos Prefer Biden, Sanders

Univision has released a new poll of Latino voters, and it turns out that their favorite Democratic candidates are Joe Biden (22%) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT, 20%). They are trailed by the only Latino in the race, Julián Castro (12%), Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA, 11%), Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA, 8%), and the faux Latino Beto O'Rourke (6%). These are the only candidates to poll above 2%.

This pretty much affirms what we've learned from polls of other ethnic groups, most obviously black voters. That is to say, identity politics matters quite a bit to a segment of the base that is young, progressive, and white, but somewhat less to actual voters of color. Most of them just want the best candidate, it would seem, not the one who looks the most like them. (Z)

GOP Goes 2-for-2 in North Carolina

The 2018 elections are finally over. In NC-09, where last November's result had to be overturned due to substantial Republican-engineered voter fraud, the GOP managed to win the seat again (presumably legitimately this time), as Dan Bishop (R) dispatched Dan McCready (D). It was very close through most of the night, but eventually the Republican pulled ahead to win by a small but clear margin, 50.7% to 48.7%. Now that's he's gone 0-for-2, McCready will probably conclude that politics just isn't his game.

There was also another election, in NC-03, to pick a replacement for deceased Rep. Walter Jones (R). In contrast to NC-09, NC-03 was not expected to be close, and it wasn't. State Rep. Greg Murphy (R) claimed the R+12 district over Greenville mayor Allen Thomas (D) with ease, 61.7% to 37.5%. Even with the two GOP pickups, though, the Democrats maintain a comfortable majority in the House, 235-199 (with former Republican, now independent Justin Amash being the 435th member).

A lot of Republicans are thrilled at this result, of course. That includes the fellow in the White House, who got on Twitter last night to crow a bit. And it's possible that he and his rally moved the needle a little bit, though there's no good way to know for sure. In any case, as we have noted, the final tallies don't actually mean all that much. Special elections, in general, are wonky, and NC-09's election was doubly so because of the circumstances surrounding it, and because the GOP brought out all of the big guns to try to save it. The fact remains that an R+8 district produced an R+2 result, which means that any district that is not at least double-digit Republican is in play next year. And the Party won't be able to send a murderers' row of campaigners—Donald Trump, Mike Pence, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA)—to 50 different districts right before next year's election. Put another way, any GOP member who is thinking about retiring instead of facing a tough reelection campaign shouldn't interpret last night's results as a sign that they're home free. (Z)

The End of Democracy?

According to the Washington Post's recently adopted slogan, "Democracy dies in darkness." However, if you believe an article published by Politico Magazine this weekend, it's actually happening right out in the light of day. The article reports on a paper given by prominent psychologist Shawn Rosenberg at the International Society of Political Psychologists' annual meeting. Rosenberg's thesis, in brief, is that "elites" (the media, the academy, political leaders, business leaders, et al.) used to hold democracies together, in particular by making sure that information is properly vetted, with lies and propaganda weeded out, before reaching the masses. These same folks, he says, also protected the foundations of civic life, making sure that things like the rule of law and civil discourse were respected and celebrated. Now, however, Rosenberg argues that is possible for right-wing populist demagogues to talk directly to the people, and to peddle xenophobia, racism and authoritarianism. The result, in his view, is that democracy worldwide is "devouring itself," and that "in well-established democracies like the United States, democratic governance will continue its inexorable decline and will eventually fail."

In short, the paper was kind of a downer. And Rosenberg could be right; after all, we have no precedent for predicting the long-term impact of the rise of social media and the Internet, since social media and the Internet have never risen before. That said, we are very skeptical. Rosenberg gives an awful lot of credit to people like...well, Shawn Rosenberg. It's also worth pointing out that he sounds an awful lot like the Founding Parents, who famously did not trust that the teeming masses could handle democracy. He also sounds like the folks in the 1820s, such as Thomas Jefferson (himself a Founding Parent), who predicted that democracy was doomed due to the fight over slavery. And the folks in the 1850s, who said much the same thing for the same reason. Not to mention the denizens of the 1890s, who were responding to the rise of the original Populist movement. And the people in the 1930s and 1940s, who feared that fascism (and, to an extent communism) had put democracy on life support. Even Franklin D. Roosevelt sometimes talked that way, as in this speech from 1941:

A New York Times
article from 1941, headlined 'President Warns Nation of Future,' includes a quote from FDR in which he predicts that
the deomcratic way of life in the U.S. will likely not survive if democracy dies around the world.

In short, Americans have heard this sort of thing before. And so, our view, with apologies to Mark Twain, is that the death of democratic government has been greatly exaggerated. Heck, Politico Magazine, the same outlet that gave wide attention to Rosenberg's talk, apparently agrees with us, since just days before they published an article speculating that right-wing populism has now peaked.

In contrast to Rosenberg, our opinion has consistently been that the circumstances of late 2010s America bear more than a passing resemblance to the circumstances of Gilded Age America, when it was also clear that the country had serious problems with political corruption, economic instability, the health of the natural environment, racial tension, and a host of other areas. After a whole bunch of failed attempts at reform (including, once again, the original Populist movement), Americans got serious about righting the ship and made a slew of changes for the better. That included fixing a bunch of flaws in the political system that had presented themselves, as citizens got behind civil service reform, direct election of senators, the Australian-style secret ballot and, oh yeah, extending the vote to women. That era of change was led by the Progressive Movement, which was made up of the same sort of elites that Rosenberg thinks have lost power today.

For those who agree with us, there was an interesting bit of evidence on Tuesday, in the form of a survey conducted of most of the Democratic presidential field, including all of the frontrunners. They agree, in short, that much needs to be done to codify the extent (and the limits) of executive power, and to rein in some of the abuses we've seen from Donald Trump. As one example, a law could be passed saying that if a cabinet position is temporarily vacant, the next in line who has been confirmed by the Senate (usually the deputy secretary or assistant secretary) becomes the acting secretary, thus stripping the president of the power to appoint acting secretaries. As a second example, a new law could specifically state that funds appropriated by Congress may be spent only for the purposes for which they were appropriated. As a third example, the law authorizing the president to levy tariffs in emergencies could be repealed since Art. I, Sec. 8 of the Constitution clearly gives Congress the power to regulate commerce with foreign nations. There are numerous other examples.

The candidates are not entirely in lock step on where those limits should be, of course. Further, it's also much easier to shorten the reins of power when they are in someone else's hands. With that said, it seems clear that this is going to get some serious attention the next time a Democrat is in the Oval Office. And the good news is that in that eventuality, it doesn't really matter who controls the two chambers of Congress. Democratic members will presumably be willing to go along with a Democratic president's agenda, while Republican members will presumably be willing to weaken a Democratic president. So, change may just be a-comin', like it did in the early 20th century. (Z)

Wednesday Q&A

We are getting close to settling on a more regular schedule for the Q&As. In response to reader feedback, it looks like we'll run one each week on Wednesdays (except when circumstances intervene, such as when there's a debate or a major news event), and a second one on...Saturdays. That will move us back to six days a week and will, it would seem, give people more time to read the sometimes-lengthy questions and answers.

I've seen you make assertions about candidates being helped by being from neighboring states, most recently "Warren and Bernie Sanders were first and second respectively. That is not entirely surprising since they each come from neighboring states." Is there any evidence this effect actually exists? I'm from New York and the fact that Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) is from the neighboring state of New Jersey has never crossed my mind as a point in his favor, nor that Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) or Mayor Bill De Blasio (D-New York City) are from New York. I can see how it could help bootstrap a campaign for some unknown local politician, but does it really matter to nationally known figures like Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders? V.P., New York, NY

It is absolutely the case that, generally speaking, candidates have an advantage in states that are close to their home states. However, the mechanism therein is not quite the one you infer. That is to say, it is indeed somewhat unlikely that someone would say "I'm from Minnesota. I like Wisconsin politicians better than I like politicians from Arizona." However, it is the case that voters are more likely to know politicians from nearby places than those from faraway places. You are skeptical that would help candidates as well known as Warren and Sanders, but keep in mind that anyone who reads this site is likely very well versed in politics. There are a lot of people out there who are far less informed. After all, 12% of Americans have no idea who Mike Pence is, and nearly 40% don't know the name of the member of Congress who represents them.

In addition, it is much more likely that a candidate from a nearby state will be culturally and politically similar to a voter, as opposed to one from a faraway state. Put another way, Elizabeth Warren is more in step with the political culture of Connecticut or Maine than with that of Pennsylvania or Indiana. Joe Biden is more in step with the political culture of Pennsylvania or Indiana than that of Connecticut or Maine.

Other than tradition, is there any real reason why each party doesn't have all of their presidential primaries on the same day? Seems to me, it would save time and money for the campaigns and allow them to gear up for the actual election. It would also prevent them from having to spend as much time attacking one another, which could cause damage in the general or give fodder to the opposition. N.W., Atlanta, GA

There are lots of reasons. To start, the benefits of a nationwide primary that you propose would probably not come to pass. After all, nobody will be casting a ballot for another five months or so, and yet the Democratic candidates are already spending time and money and energy and are sniping at one another. If everyone voted on, say, March 3, it would just speed up the timeline for serious cash outlays and serious efforts to draw rival blood.

Beyond that, however, there are some significant upsides to a piecemeal primary schedule that unfolds over several months:

  • The current system maximizes the number of states that get at least a little bit of attention, so that voters in those places don't feel left out. If there was a national primary, nobody would ever visit Nevada or New Hampshire or New Mexico or Arkansas.

  • If there was a national primary, it would make insurgent campaigns all-but-impossible, and would give a near-insurmountable advantage to party insiders, since they would be the only ones with the money and means to build a national infrastructure before anyone casts a vote. And sometimes, insurgents turn out to be pretty solid candidates. See, for example, Bill Clinton or Jimmy Carter.

  • The current system means that, once a candidate emerges as the nominee, he or she is pretty fully vetted and battle-tested. By contrast, if there was a national primary on, say, May 1, then the parties would be at considerably greater risk of nominating a candidate who has some major flaw that might not be discovered until it is too late. What if, for example, the Democrats had nominated then-frontrunner Gary Hart on May 1, 1988? His career-ending extramarital dalliance was made public...on May 3, 1988.

  • A dozen or so elections means lots and lots of headlines for a party, and so lots and lots of free publicity. Thanks to Donald Trump's "anointed one" status, and the canceled primaries, he's going to lose out on a lot of coverage. On the other hand, the Democrats and their campaigns will get daily coverage for months.

  • The four early states are well chosen. Each one represents a different region of the country, so the candidates and voters can get a feeling for how each candidate would fare in each region. For a week (at least) before the primary, all the attention is focused on one region and its population. For example, after South Carolina votes on Feb. 29, we will have a pretty good idea of who black voters prefer.

  • Perhaps most importantly, the current system (generally) allows a candidate to emerge as the candidate, as second- and third- and fourth-place finishers see the writing on the wall and drop out. On the other hand, a national primary would be considerably less likely to deliver a consensus candidate. Right now, for example, polls suggest that Joe Biden would get something like 30% of the primary votes, while the two progressive senators would get 20% or so each. This would mean that nobody would claim the nomination, and then it would be many months of an unstructured, bloody, battle royale until the convention could make a decision.

So, yes, there is some logic behind the current system, even though it happened by accident.

Has there been any polling, surveys or anecdotal stories on how employees at Trump properties feel about their boss? I'm particularly interested in hearing from lower level employees such as housekeepers, bartenders, cooks, golf pros, etc. R.L., Alameda, CA

No polling or surveys that we are aware of, but there have been plenty of books, articles, and the like written based on interviews with current or past Trump underlings. The dominant theme, as you might guess, is that a lot of them don't like him. For example, here is a piece with the headline "Ex-Trump workers describe egocentric micromanager: 'Donald loves Donald'" and the subhead "Interviews with former employees point to detail-obsessed boss with little regard for diversity or low-level staff: 'His identity is wrapped around being a winner'" You can guess the general tone and tenor of that piece.

There are also plenty of "my experience with Trump" threads on sites like Quora and Reddit. For example, here's a subreddit entitled "People who have worked for a Trump company - what was your experience like?" that has over 8,000 comments. It is certainly possible that posters are lying and they never actually worked for him, but not too likely (outside of a couple of people, perhaps). If you read the postings, you'll see certain motifs popping up over and over (including a subset that do have positive things to say).

I have a question about impeachment, in particular the timing with respect to the election. As you point out, the self-dealing could potentially hit a point where the Senate would feel compelled to convict. So, if Trump is re-nominated at the Republican convention next summer, then is impeached, convicted, and removed from office prior to the November election, would the Republicans be stuck with having a convicted ex-President representing them on the ballot? L.S., Greensboro, NC

There are three pieces of information that, we think, will fully answer your question. The first is that if a person is impeached and convicted, then the Senate makes a separate decision whether or not to disqualify that person from future officeholding. If Trump was disqualified, then GOP rules would allow the Party to switch to another candidate until pretty late in the process. But if he were not disqualified, then the GOP would indeed be stuck with him, unless the Party got very creative about its own rules.

In addition, there are deadlines beyond which ballots cannot be changed. So, at some point (in September or October, in most places), it would not matter if Trump died, or withdrew, or was impeached/convicted/disqualified, his name would be on the ballot anyhow.

And finally, keep in mind that the only thing voters do on Election Day is select presidential electors. If Trump's name was on the ballot and he was physically or legally unable to serve, the GOP could make it known that a vote for him is actually a vote for, say, Mike Pence. That probably would not work unless Trump was unequivocally unable to serve, because some GOP electors would probably not play ball. But if Trump was unequivocally unable to serve, it would not be too tough to arrange for the electors to go faithless, en masse. This would also be ok in terms of both the law and party rules, since electors are unquestionably allowed to go faithless if the candidate to whom they are pledged is unavailable for them to vote for. This happened in 1872, when Liberal Republican Horace Greeley died in between the general election and the meeting of the Electoral College, making all of his electors into free agents.

What it boils down to is this: If Donald Trump is impeached and convicted, then it would be best for the GOP if he was also disqualified. They would be able to work with that. On the other hand, if he's impeached, convicted, not disqualified, and refused drop out, then they would be in a world of hurt, because they would be stuck with a literal crook.

Why not a Biden/Warren ticket or Warren/Biden ticket (or Sanders/Biden, Biden/Sanders)? D.G., Boulder, CO

Well, this is an example of what scholars call second-level theory of mind. That is to say, when we or any other politics writers speculate about possible VPs, we are trying to guess what might be in the minds of Party pooh-bahs, who are in turn trying to guess what might be in the minds of the base. So, any guesses we make should be taken with a grain of salt or ten.

Anyhow, these pairings are all certainly possible. Any of them, regardless of the order, would incorporate two of the three most popular Democratic candidates, as it currently stands, and would also represent both the liberal and centrist wings of the Party.

That said, there's a few guesses about these pairings that we're willing to make. First, it is unlikely that Biden would accept the VP slot on any ticket. Been there, done that. Second, given his experience with Barack Obama, Biden would probably want a VP who could also be his partner/confidant/right-hand man or woman. Would he feel right about Warren or Sanders in those roles? Only he knows for sure, but we suspect that Sanders is not particularly his cup of tea. Third, the Party might be leery of nominating a double-septuagenarian ticket, if for no other reason than it may leave younger voters underwhelmed. Fourth, and finally, it is very unlikely that the Party will nominate a double-white-man ticket.

Again, anything is possible, and playing "Guess the VP?" is often a fool's errand. After all, nobody saw Sarah Palin coming. However, of the four pairings you propose, we feel pretty confident that Biden/Warren is the only one that might plausibly come to fruition, as we don't think Biden would go for any of the other three, and we don't think the Party would for Sanders/Biden or Biden/Sanders.

On a few occasions, we've seen Donald Trump point out that certain policies for which he takes flak (e.g., putting immigrant children in cages, slapping China with tariffs, building the wall) are the same policies that we saw from the Obama administration. While Trump tends to bend the facts to his benefit, in many cases he's actually right—Obama did support versions of the same policies. When he points out this hypocrisy, Trump gives himself cover, but he also calls into question the rosy memory of his predecessor. Do you see this pattern as a legitimate threat to Obama's legacy? R.W.P., Washington, D.C.

Historical memory is a funny thing, and sometimes the popular conception of the past settles on something kinda unexpected. It would blow James Monroe's mind to learn, for example, that he's mostly known for the Monroe Doctrine, which was a fairly minor policy statement in his time, tacked on at the end of one of his State of the Union addresses. Or how about William Howard Taft? Most people who have heard of him only know one thing, and that thing is not even true, namely he never actually got stuck in the White House bathtub. Or, to look at it from the other side, do you know what president oversaw the forcible relocation of five Native American tribes along the Trail of Tears? It was actually Martin Van Buren, who carried the vast majority of the removals, following through on a policy that Andrew Jackson merely initiated. Or, do you know what president busted the most trusts? It was actually Taft, who was more aggressive in this regard than the famous trust buster Theodore Roosevelt.

Point is, it's plausible that Barack Obama could be remembered for these things, since anything can happen. But we think it is unlikely. Past presidents tend to get distilled down to a small handful of memorable factoids, and Obama's list has many things that are more likely to make the cut—Obamacare, the first black president, the birth certificate conspiracy theory, Lilly Ledbetter, the Nobel Peace Prize, killing Osama bin Laden—than the things you name.

It's also the case that actions that future generations disdain, but that were basically acceptable in the president's own time, are usually forgiven. So, for example, FDR tends to get a pass on Japanese Internment (there was a war on), while his cousin Theodore gets a pass on being a full-blown paternalist and a white supremacist (that's how people thought back then). Obama's wall-building, in particular, will almost certainly be forgiven, since he was just following the instructions laid out by Congress.

Finally, it tends to be the case that if a president is bad in a particular way, but his successor is even worse in that same way, then the former gets a bit of a free pass. For example, Franklin Pierce's performance as the nation fell apart (1853-57) was utterly incompetent, but James Buchanan's (1857-61) was even worse, and so Buchanan is the one who is widely known as the worst president of all time, while Pierce is something of a nonentity. Trump is setting himself up quite nicely to be the Buchanan of the 21st century, and nearly any problematic act that Obama was guilty of, Trump is guilty of far worse. So, if there's a professor in 100 years who is talking about the days when the federal government used to lock up immigrant children, Trump is going to be the example, not Obama. At least, that's our guess.

I believe that some states allow voters to vote in either party's primary regardless of which party they are registered for. Is there any overlap between this group of states and the states that will not be holding GOP primaries in 2020? I imagine that lots of activist Republicans with nothing to do on primary day might attempt some mischief by voting for an unelectable or absurd Democrat. C.C., Hancock, New Hampshire

Let us begin by noting that voters who really want to do mischief can do it in any state, even a closed-primary state, just by re-registering. So, we are only speaking here about situations where voters could do mischief without re-registering. And of the four states that have thus far moved to cancel their Republican primaries, one of them is an open primary state, namely South Carolina.

The reason that it is an open primary state, incidentally, is not exactly that it allows people to vote in the other party's primary. Instead, it is because South Carolina is one of the 22 states that does not register voters by party at all. So, it's not that state law allows Republicans to request a Democratic ballot or Democrats to request a Republican ballot, it's that everyone in the state, regardless of the party they support, just gets "a ballot."

This means that it is theoretically possible that South Carolinians who support Trump and/or the GOP could indeed use their otherwise-unneeded ballots to mess with the Democratic race. We can even tell you the candidate they would likely support: Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), who has already been utilized in this way by Republicans who were trying to skew polling results. However, even if such an effort was extremely well organized, it would have a negligible effect. Recall that a candidate has to get 15% of the vote to qualify for any delegates whatsoever. That's a tall order for a bunch of rogues from the other party. And even if mischief-makers managed to get their candidate across that bar, South Carolina voters are only choosing 35 delegates on that day. That means that even if Gabbard got, say, a remarkable 30% of the vote, she'd get something like 10 delegates, or .53% of the 1,885 needed for nomination. Hardly worth the trouble, right?

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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