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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  The Reaping Has Begun
      •  Friday Night Lights
      •  Life Hasn't Been Good for Walsh
      •  Saturday Q&A

The Reaping Has Begun

At the tail end of yesterday's post, we wrote this:

Circumstantial evidence also suggests that the score-settling has already begun. Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, who was one of the star witnesses against Trump during the House investigation of the Ukraine affair, will reportedly be booted out of the White House and back to the Pentagon. It's possible this is just a coincidence, but the smart money does not favor that interpretation. We shall see how long Gordon Sondland keeps his job.

It certainly didn't take long for us to be proven correct. Maybe six hours, give or take, for a double bullseye.

First to fall was Vindman. It didn't take much insight to guess he was being terminated, as opposed to being voluntarily reassigned. However, the administration didn't even try to hide what it was doing. Nope, they very publicly announced Vindman's firing on Friday; he was promptly escorted from the premises by the U.S. Secret Service. That means that in the past 72 hours, the draft-dodging Rush Limbaugh got a medal from the President, while a bona fide decorated veteran got a perp walk (Joe Biden made a similar observation during Friday's debate; see below).

Next on the chopping block was Gordon Sondland. Friday afternoon, a couple of hours after Vindman's White House career came to an ignominious end, the US Ambassador to the EU announced that he is now the former US Ambassador to the EU. In a statement, he explained: "I was advised today that the president intends to recall me effective immediately as United States Ambassador to the European Union." Although Vindman and Sondland only managed to survive roughly 48 hours after the President's acquittal, that was actually longer than Trump wanted. He had every intention of running them out of town weeks ago, but aides convinced him that would be a bad look.

So, who is next? The rumor is that it could very well be "Acting" Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney. It's not a secret that Trump lost confidence in Mulvaney months ago, and that he's become as marginalized as John Kelly and Reince Priebus were before him. Reportedly, the President wanted to cashier him at the end of last year, but was persuaded it would be too disruptive in the midst of impeachment. It's also entirely possible, although nobody is saying so publicly, that the President feared that Mulvaney would go Full Bolton, and would take revenge for being fired by spilling his guts to the press and/or Congress. Whatever the reason, the impeachment trial is over now, and so Mick the Knife can be chopped at Trump's leisure.

That said, it's not entirely clear that Mulvaney's head will roll right now. Trump, in effect, acts as his own chief of staff, and his favored candidate to replace Mulvaney, Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC), is apparently lukewarm on the job. So, just for appearances' sake, Trump might keep Mulvaney on the payroll, but give him nothing to do. Whatever happens with the Acting Chief of Staff, though, it's clear that the campaign of impeachment-related retribution is not over, and that others will soon feel the President's wrath. We're just waiting to find out who. (Z)

Friday Night Lights

Seven Democrats converged on Goffstown, NH, on Friday for the DNC's eighth candidates debate. It's the last time that the field will be so large, presumably, and while it was a tad more interesting than a few of the earlier debates, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences does not exactly need to worry about whether the Oscars will win this week's Nielsen ratings. Anyhow, here's what we saw:

Who helped themselves the most? Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT). There was a target on his back, and he definitely took a few shots, particularly early in the debate. However, no serious damage was done. Further, now that he is the frontrunner (or co-frontrunner), he appears to be getting realistic about some of the concerns people have about him. Previously, he has basically been happy to embrace his image as an uncompromising idealist. The problem is that "uncompromising idealist" is a synonym, in many voters' minds, for "someone who can't get things done." So, the Senator made a point of noting that he sometimes changes his mind on issues (gun control), and that he was very good at working across the aisle when he served in the House of Representatives. We have not heard much of this kind of talk in the previous debates.

Who helped themselves the least? Joe Biden. At the very start of the evening, he was asked about what happened in Iowa, and he engaged in some very frank expectation-setting, declaring: "I took a hit in Iowa and I'll probably take a hit here. Traditionally, Bernie won by about 20 points last time, and usually it's the neighboring senators that do well." Here is the video, if you would care to see it for yourself:

The thinking here is clear; Team Biden does not want another cycle dominated by "Can you believe how badly Biden did?" headlines. However, we think this was a big mistake. This was the very first thing he said, and is going to be the thing folks remember (especially those who tune out before the end of the debate, which is most people). If Biden himself is not enthusiastic about his chances, then why should voters in New Hampshire (or Nevada) be enthusiastic? Surely, this needle could have been threaded a little better. The former Veep actually had a pretty good debate after that point, but it's the clunkers that linger long after the "pretty good" moments are forgotten.

Pete Buttigieg had a similar sort of night. Like many of the candidates on stage, the former mayor has a pretty high floor on his debate performances—he's consistently quite smooth, and confident, and he speaks with conviction. So it was last night. However, his immediate problem is that his current near-frontrunner status is at risk of collapse as soon as he faces voters in a state that's not 90% white (e.g., Nevada, South Carolina). Predictably, he got a question that probed his record on race, specifically about the high number of black people arrested for marijuana possession while he was running the city of South Bend. And uncharacteristically, he botched the question, first stammering that the rate of black arrests lagged the rest of Indiana (not exactly a shining accomplishment), and later linking the pot arrests to the fight against gang violence. This basic subject is Buttigieg's Achilles' heel, and everyone knows it. How does he not have a good response already prepped going into the debate? All of his good answers on Iran or healthcare or climate change don't matter much if he can't convince voters of color he's on their side.

Anyone else worth mentioning? Sen. Amy Klobuchar (DFL-MN) gave another great performance, her third or fourth in a row. She's funny, she's knowledgeable, she's experienced, and she'd give Donald Trump fits if he had to debate her. The problem is that her previous strong performances haven't moved the needle. There's no reason to believe this one will.

How did the moderators do? Meh. George Stephanopoulos was solid, as he usually is, but the other two moderators might just as well have been replaced by two people selected at random from the crowd. And beyond that, three moderators usually works out to be one too many. Obviously, the moderating team has to be "diverse" (at least, as network honchos understand "diversity"). However, it's just too hard for three people to stay on the same page and to maintain discipline.

Further, the selection of questions was, on the whole, uninspired. It's true that healthcare is a very important issue, and one where the distinction between candidates is particularly clear. However, is it really necessary to spend 20 minutes on the subject at every single debate? Everyone who cares already knows where all these folks stand. Meanwhile, there was too little attention to more timely stuff, like impeachment. And the issue that New Hampshirites care most about? Opioid abuse got less than five minutes.

Issue of the night: Unity. The moderators did not intend to highlight this, but sometimes the candidates have minds of their own. While they were willing to do some punching Friday night, it was only jabs, no roundhouses. And nearly every one of them made a point, at least once or twice, of pointing out how much they like the other folks on stage, and how any of them would be a vastly better president than Donald Trump. If anyone is waiting (hoping?) for the day that the Democratic candidates finally get down and dirty, it's not coming.

Snarky line of the night: We're going to interpret "line" liberally here, to include gestures. When making the case for why he should be the nominee, Biden said that the key was that he can win back key swing states. "Who on this stage can win back a Florida? Or an Ohio? Or a Pennsylvania?" he asked, rhetorically. However, the moment the words were out of his mouth, the hands of Buttigieg, Sanders, Klobuchar, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) all shot up. That got a very big laugh.

Non-snarky line of the night: Buttigieg was asked about Hunter Biden, and whether that should give Democrats pause when it comes to nominating Joe Biden. The former mayor was clearly ready for the question, and he took the high road: "We've got to draw a line here. To be the kind of president, to be the kind of human being who would seek to turn someone against his own son, who would seek to weaponize a son against his own father, is an unbelievably dishonorable thing."

Reddest meat of the night: It's usually a bad idea to call on the audience to applaud, or stand up, or anything like that, because it can look gimmicky, and can also backfire if they don't respond. However, Biden went there nonetheless, declaring that: "[Donald Trump] should be pinning a medal on [Alexander] Vindman and not on Rush Limbaugh. I think we should all stand to give Col. Vindman a show of how much we support him. Stand up and clap for Vindman." It actually got a very good response from the crowd.

Blunder of the night: We've already covered it. Sometimes, it takes a day or two for a debate blunder to reach full bloom. For example, George H. W. Bush's glance at his watch during his first debate with Bill Clinton did not trigger much commentary in the moment, and only became a problem over the course of the next 48 hours. Our guess is that Joe Biden's admission that he is expecting to get trounced in New Hampshire will age poorly over the next two days.

A little historical perspective: In her closing remarks, Klobuchar told a story about one of the mourners who watched Franklin D. Roosevelt's funeral train as it "crossed the country." The story is true, although the characterization of the trip is a tiny bit misleading. He died in Warm Springs, Georgia, the location of the hot springs that gave him relief from what he and his doctors thought was polio, but what some medical historians think may have been Guillain-Barré syndrome. Anyhow, the train took Roosevelt from Georgia to Washington, D.C., and then—after he lay in state at the White House—to Hyde Park, NY.

Although Klobuchar did not mention it by name, the train car that carried FDR's body is quite famous. It was named Ferdinand Magellan, and was custom-built by the Pullman Company for presidential use (including a bulletproof exterior). It was, in other words, the train equivalent of Air Force One. Roosevelt used it extensively, in life and then in death, and so too did Harry S. Truman. Dwight D. Eisenhower used it sparingly, and then the car was retired, only to be brought out of mothballs one last time by...Ronald Reagan, for use during his 1984 campaign. Designated a historical monument shortly thereafter, the Ferdinand Magellan now lives at the Gold Coast Railroad Museum in Miami. Anyhow, one wonders if this FDR story was also a teeny-tiny nod to Reagan Republicans who might recall the Gipper's use of the car, and might be thinking about voting for Klobuchar.

A detail that may fly under the radar: Elizabeth Warren was neck and neck with Bernie Sanders for the better part of a year, but now she's fallen behind. She needs to take him down a peg, but that's not so easy. First, direct aggression is not her style. Second, as noted above, the candidates have clearly decided to make this a cold war and not a hot war. Third, she saw what happened in 2016 when Hillary Clinton stepped on Sanders' toes. Add it all up, and the Massachusetts Senator's critiques of the Vermont Senator have to be subtle. For example, when she said on Friday: "[E]veryone on this stage except for Amy and me is either a billionaire or receiving help from PACs that can receive unlimited help." Translation: "Bernie complains about candidates who take money from billionaires, but don't forget that his Our Revolution PAC has more money than Musa I of Mali."

On a scale of 1-10, how contentious was it? About a 4. They weren't playing patty cake up there, but it wasn't Ali vs. Frazier, either.

On a scale of 1-10, how much will this debate move the needle? Perhaps a 2. Does the DNC really think people are dying to spend their Friday night watching a bunch of politicians argue with one another for three hours? For the eighth time in as many months? Surely, the audience for this is going to be as low as for any debate in recent memory. Meanwhile, none of the folks who are headed for a rough day next Tuesday did anything that is likely to change their trajectory in the next three days.

The bottom line: The DNC really needs to think about having fewer and shorter debates, perhaps even with each assigned a theme. There is just too much repetition of the same things, over and over. Tom Perez was Barack Obama's handpicked candidate to lead the Party, but one struggles to think of one thing he's done since taking over that was a clear-cut home run.

That's it for now, but for those who just can't get enough of debating Democrats, you need only wait 11 days for another helping. The next tilt is Feb. 19 in Las Vegas. We'll see if what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.

Life Hasn't Been Good for Walsh

Former congressman Joe Walsh looked into the lyin' eyes of Donald Trump, and decided to do something. So, he launched a challenge for the Republican nomination, and did what he could to take it to the limit. However, Walsh figured out that even if the President is guilty of the crime for which he was impeached, the Republican Party is already gone. And so, Walsh decided to get over it, and to drop out of the race. He made it official on Friday.

Before exiting, Walsh decided to share a few thoughts. In an op-ed for the Washington Post, he writes:

I reminded folks that I'm a conservative, but I said conservative policies aren't good enough. Decency, honesty and compassion matter, too. But they wanted nothing to do with it. There was more booing, more yelling, and I caught a middle finger or two. I'm a big boy, and I can take a tough crowd, but leaving the caucus that night, I realized once and for all that nobody can beat Trump in a Republican primary. Not just because it's become his party, but because it has become a cult, and he's a cult leader. He doesn't have supporters; he has followers. And in their eyes, he can do no wrong.

They're being spoon-fed a daily dose of B.S. from "conservative" media. They don't know what the truth is and—more importantly—they don't care. There's nothing that any Republican challenger can do to break them out of this spell. (Thanks, Hannity.)

Put another way, Walsh communicated what a great many commentators are thinking, but can't say in print. Now that the former candidate has that off his chest, maybe he can book himself a nice vacation at the Hotel California. And for those who are wondering, that is Eagles song title #7. (Z)

Saturday Q&A

With a big news day, and a big news week, we're giving you an awful lot to read with your Saturday coffee.

Q: The New York Times and other sources are describing Mitt Romney as "the first Senator of a President's own party to vote for impeachment." The vote to impeach Andrew Johnson was not by straight party line vote. Now technically, Johnson was originally a Democrat who was elected on the fusion Unionist Party ticket with Abraham Lincoln in 1864, but if that is the only reason his impeachment does not count as bipartisan then the claim about Senator Romney deserves the world's biggest asterisk next to it. Your thoughts? J.V., Madison, WI

A: There's no asterisk. Andrew Johnson was elected to municipal, state, and federal office as a Democrat before he ran for VP. In 1864, everyone understood that the Unionist ticket was a fusion of one Republican (Lincoln) and one Democrat (Johnson). When Johnson was re-elected to the Senate after leaving the White House (the only person to pull off that particular trick), it was as a Democrat. You're right that Johnson's acquittal was not on a straight party line vote, but that is only because some Republicans voted to acquit. All of the Democrats in the Senate stuck with their fellow Democrat.

Q: This week, you wrote that a court battle over the use of executive privilege for blocking congressional testimony "...could take years to settle."

Isn't there precedent in favor of Congress, because the Supreme Court ruled that Richard Nixon must turn over his tapes? Couldn't the case be fast-tracked directly to the Supreme Court?
K.P., Cedar Park, TX

A: This is a very good question that has no clear, publicly known answer. Maybe we will find out when everyone involved with impeachment writes their inevitable books. In any event, there is no doubt that Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) & Co. are well aware of existing precedent and are well aware that fast-tracking is a possibility. Surely, they have explored the possibility. The fact that they have not moved forward suggests that they have some sort of inside information about their odds of success. Maybe they know the courts are unwilling to play ball for fear of looking partisan. Or maybe they have reason to believe that the Roberts Court will reach a very different conclusion than the Burger Court did. Those are just guesses, of course. We wish we had a better answer than this, because we'd like to know, too.

Q: It appears that, in the short term at least, Speaker Nancy Pelosi's (D-CA) reluctance to proceed with impeachment was correct. Donald Trump and his allies are jubilant and Democrats look like losers, a perception amplified by the fiasco in Iowa. The night of the State of the Union address, Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) was on MSNBC arguing that despite Trump's acquittal, impeachment was the right thing to do because Congress couldn't let Trump's crimes go unnoticed. My question is: Do you think that's true? Obviously, we won't know for sure until November or beyond, but do you agree that this was a case of the moral imperative outweighing all other considerations, or have good intentions led to worse consequences than might otherwise have been the case? C.C., Los Angeles, CA

A: We agree entirely with Tlaib. If the Democrats had looked the other way when presented with such overwhelming evidence of bad behavior, then they would be no better than the Republicans who looked the other way when presented with such overwhelming evidence of bad behavior. Sometimes it is necessary to take a stand, even if you know that your efforts are doomed to failure.

At the same time, there are also some political calculations going on here. We have seen ample evidence that the modern Republican Party has grown rather Machiavellian when it comes to political power—the ends justifies any means necessary. That isn't true of the modern Democratic Party, largely speaking. And so, a failure to act would likely have led Democratic voters to punish officeholders at the polls. In other words, "They looked the other way when Trump tried to extort Ukraine" isn't going to cost Matt Gaetz (R-FL) or Jim Jordan (R-OH) their jobs, but it could definitely cost someone like Harley Rouda (D-CA) or Lucy McBath (D-GA). Further, there was never any chance that Trump was going to get booted from office, but there is every chance that some GOP senators (Susan Collins, R-ME; Cory Gardner, R-CO; etc.) were forced to cast votes that will get them booted from office. In other words, until we know who the Majority Leader of the Senate is on Jan. 4, 2021, we cannot truly evaluate whether this was a failure or not.

Q: When the oft-talked-about Founding Fathers devised the impeachment process, they required a two-thirds majority. At the time, the vice president was most typically from the opposite party because the vice president was the second place vote getter. So, impeaching back then meant a radical political change. These days, the removal of a president merely elevates his (or her) understudy and does not undermine the American electorate. I found Democrats failed to call out Republican representatives when they resorted to histrionics about this. Democrats should have talked about turning the reins of government to a level headed Mike Pence, whom the American public elected for just that purpose. We should consider lowering the criteria to five-eighths rather than two thirds. E.R., Wilmington, DE

A: Yep, there are quite a few things in the Constitution that could use tweaking. The problem is that the Founding Parents were so distrustful of the people in so many ways that they also made it really, really hard to amend the thing. Only nine times in the last century, and one of those was just a cancellation of another amendment.

Q: I don't understand Mitt Romney's vote to convict on the first article but acquit on the second article of the impeachment. While voting to acquit, given the evidence, seems preposterous for either article, it seems there is an easier case to be made for ignoring the quid pro quo, "do me a favor though" plot—the aid was later released. The fact that the GAO called the delay a crime gets little attention. The second article provides no possibility of a defense. President Trump refused to allow any witnesses or documents in response to a valid attempt at oversight by the Congress. What is the logic that lets you acknowledge that the President abused his power and committed a crime while at the same time conclude he did nothing wrong while trying to cover up his actions? If anything, it seems that it would be easier to say his stonewalling was obvious even if the abuse of power was not. J.H., Edison, NJ

A: You're right, if he was going to split his vote—presumably to avoid aggravating the Trump supporters too much—the second charge seems much more a slam dunk than the first. And although he gave a widely reprinted speech in which he tried to explain himself, he did not say anything about his "nay" vote on the second article.

Our only guess—and we're grasping at straws here—is that he still harbors dreams of another presidential run in 2024, and he doesn't want to be on the record in favor of anything that could come back to haunt him in that eventuality. Better, in that case, to vote for "the president can't extort Ukraine" instead of voting for "the president has to give Congress whatever it wants."

Q: I consider your site and commentary to be left-wing and that's ok! I think what I, and some other readers who have asked the same, are saying is that you seem adamant about not admitting this. I don't think there is any problem with admitting your perspective and saying that you try to give unbiased analysis but it comes from a liberal background.

To demonstrate this, I've decided to compare some notes from your previous coverage of The 2016 State of the Union address to the coverage on Wednesday:

  • In 2016 you called it "very poor form" for Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) to skip the SOTU since he was campaigning. There was no disdain or even mention of Bernie Sanders, Amy Klobuchar, or Elizabeth Warren skipping for the same reason. Similarly, you didn't call it poor form for the people who showed up and left, merely noting that it happened. Finally, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and other House Democrats skipping the SOTU entirely wasn't mentioned (with disdain or otherwise) either.

  • If you're going to make reference to reality TV, I don't see how you can't mention Trump surprising that military family with their Dad being home from the Middle East. It seems to me that ignoring that and solely focusing on Rush Limbaugh was just for there to be something to complain about.

  • In 2016 you also got after Republicans for setting "...a record for the fewest positive responses ever given to a SOTU." How, then, can you not mention the Democratic Party in this SOTU when they refused to applaud for almost everything. Even bipartisan and definitely not red meat like the strong economy and that little girl getting a scholarship were met with a lot of Democrats sitting on their hands.

I hope this isn't taken to be an indictment or anything other than my opinion. I enjoy your site and even if you admit to having a liberal perspective, as I believe you should. J.M., New Glasgow, Nova Scotia, Canada

A: By profession, we are both teachers at large, diverse public schools. Long ago, we both decided that there are more important things in life than making as much money as is humanly possibly. Nobody doubts that these facts, which mean that our worldview is about 180 degrees removed from that of Donald Trump, affect our understanding of the world, and of politics.

With that said, to "concede" that we and/or the site are left-wing, or left-center, or whatever, is to imply that we are in the business of advocacy, which we are not. We are, once again, teachers who try our best to make sense of things and then to communicate that understanding to others. Sometimes, that means writing things that we wish weren't true, which would not happen if we were in the advocacy business. Similarly, we may reach the same strongly worded conclusion on a subject as a political partisan would, but for a non-political reason. For example, as a historian, (Z) knows that some percentage of every generation of white, native born Americans for the last 200 years has pointed the finger at some group of immigrants (Irish, Chinese, Eastern European Jews, Italians, etc.) and blamed them for all that is wrong with the country. And so, that informs his point of view on the efficacy of the wall and the likelihood that it's going to solve...anything.

We can also say that we've gotten many, many e-mails accusing us of holding opinions, both big and small, that we do not actually hold. Sports reporters on national beats get the same thing; every single baseball reporter, for example, has been accused of hating every single one of the 30 major league baseball teams, and at the same time being in the bag for every single one of the 30 teams. Point is, there are some things we write where we have a bit of a blind spot about our own biases, but there are also plenty of occasions where we know, objectively, that a reader's accusation of bias is incorrect.

Your specific remarks provide a useful case study of our thought process. As we made clear in that posting, we felt the Iowa results were the big news of the day. And by the time (Z) starting writing about the SOTU, he had already written 4,000 words about Iowa. That meant that some amount of brevity was called for, in part because we can't ask people to read a novel every day, and in part because we try to get the page posted by 6:00 a.m. ET. On top of that, given the similarities between SOTUs, a blow-by-blow account of everything would be very dry. So, (Z) chose to focus on the things that stood out, and that were likely to be the subjects of conversations on Thursday. It's true that some things adverse to the Democrats were skipped, or mentioned only briefly. On the other hand, so were some things adverse to the President. For example, the various falsehoods and distortions he included in the address did not seem particularly notable or interesting because he issues forth with falsehoods and distortions anytime he opens his mouth.

To get even more specific, our verbiage in 2016 implied—perhaps not very clearly—what we thought was really going on there; namely that Cruz was making a show out of skipping the SOTU. That is considerably poorer form than merely not attending. As to the military family, every president does something like that in every SOTU. Every year, and it's been going on for decades. Go search Google News for "Rush Limbaugh SOTU" and then "Townsend Williams SOTU" and see how many hits you get for each. We think you'll find that sustains our judgment about which story would get far and away more attention. And finally, like most other commentators, we weave together our own observations and ideas with observations and ideas we get from other people. In 2016, we picked up that bit about the record lack of applause from CNN's Wolf Blitzer. This year, we didn't hear anyone say anything like that, and so didn't think to include it. We also felt that, having mentioned the "H.R. 3!" chants and the walkouts and Pelosi's speech-tearing that we had done a pretty good job of communicating the Democrats' tit-for-tat behavior.

In short, we are happy to hear critiques of our work, and we always reflect on whether we could have done better. But it is also the case that not all critiques are on target.

Q: In your SOTU recap, you wrote: "We suppose that Rush [Limbaugh] is an excellent poster child for the First Amendment, and people's right to political speech, but someone who quite literally hates half the country is an odd fit for an award that has gone to folks like Rosa Parks, Neil Armstrong, Muhammad Ali, Cesar Chavez, Roberto Clemente, and Harvey Milk."

There are tens of millions of Americans who do not admire or even have contempt for the people you list. Tens of millions are not in favor of equal rights and do not like Rosa Parks. Tens of millions think the Moon landing was faked and Neil Armstrong was just a big fraud. And so forth. The point is you chose a list of people who have received the Presidential Medal of Freedom whom you think are more deserving than Rush Limbaugh. But there is no perfect recipient, especially in these divided times. The Presidential Medal of Freedom is a political tool; that's why the president gets to decide and we don't all get a vote. To fail to recognize that there are tens of millions who feel Rush Limbaugh is deserving of the Presidential Medal of Freedom is to fail to recognize that we are America, even people you and I disagree with.
G.W., Oxnard, CA

A: This is a good follow-up to the previous letter. We would submit, first of all, that we did a fair job of laying out the justification for Limbaugh, even if we don't agree with it. However, the real issue here is not the one you posit. There is no doubt that nearly any important historical or cultural figure has a great many detractors. Similarly, we understand entirely that this is a presidential prerogative. There are a lot of people whom Trump or any other president could recognize, and for whom we would not say "boo," even if we're not fans. We realize that a lot of people like and/or admire, say, Garth Brooks, or Bobby Bowden, or Tony Robbins, or Condoleezza Rice, even if those folks aren't quite our cup of tea.

The problem with Limbaugh is that he's a very hateful and angry person who, for decades, has made his living dividing Americans and pitting them against one another. He called Chelsea Clinton "the White House dog." He said that "I'm fine with Blacks in America, somebody needs to clean out the sewers." He compared an NFL game to a fight between the Bloods and Crips. He slut-shamed Sandra Fluke because she advocated for birth control. He mocked Michael J. Fox's Parkinson's Disease. He's consistently been homophobic, transphobic, and anti-feminist. Someone like David Duke, or Fred Phelps (of the Westboro Baptist Church) also attracted millions of followers, but should they get medals? There's got to be a line, right? Other presidents generally aspired to recognize folks who made America a better place, even if they were members of the other political party. We think it is both instructive and characteristic that Trump does not feel that way, and is willing to honor someone who has almost certainly made the country worse, not better. And, by the way, we'd be saying the same thing if a president honored a hate-filled left-winger. Valerie Solanas, for example, or Ward Churchill.

Q: In the final table of Iowa caucus results, Michael Bennet has four ballots to his credit. And in the original table, he had just one ballot. If I've understood the rules correctly, in order for this solo ballot to survive realignment, it alone would have to constitute at least 15% of the ballots at its precinct, which would require the precinct to have at most 6 attendees. Is this really the case? S.K., Sunnyvale, CA

A: It could be the case, but probably not. People who supported sub-15% candidates were not required to realign, but if they chose to abstain from realignment, then they did so knowing their vote would not count toward delegates.

Q: You've alluded a few times recently to Iowa and New Hampshire being unrepresentative of the country (and the Democratic demographic) as a whole. You've also alluded many times to certain states (e.g., FL/NC) being large and expensive to campaign in, giving an unfair advantage to the richer candidates and the ones with name recognition. So if you had your choice, which state would you pick in order to square these circles? G.S., Basingstoke, UK

A: To start, there have been numerous attempts to identify the most "representative" state in America. The analysis done by NPR was particularly good, we think. They considered several key demographic factors: ethnic diversity, education, age, median income, and religiosity. Obviously, no state is right at the median in all of these categories, but the most "average" state, across all dimensions, was...Illinois. And in case you are wondering, Iowa came in tied for 16th, while New Hampshire was...49th.

Of course, Illinois can't be "the" state, because it's so very large and expensive to campaign in, and would bias the results in favor of well-off/famous candidates. That said, the current process is not designed around one completely representative state, it's built around four states that are meant to capture different dimensions of the electorate. And so, to answer your question, we're not going to name one state, we're going to name a sequence of four, along with what they would test:

  • First in Line: #3 Arizona, which is neither too big nor too small, would introduce minority voters (namely Latinos) into the process from the start, and would also indicate candidates' appeal in a moderate state.

  • Second in Line: #2 Kansas, which is smaller than Arizona, and so would test the candidate's ability to do some retail campaigning. It would also measure their strength in a very conservative state.

  • Third in Line: #20 Georgia, which is also moderate, is a bit larger than Arizona, and would measure a candidate's strength in the Deep South, as well as with black voters.

  • Fourth in Line: #1 Illinois, which would test ability to reach many different groups, to run a truly large-scale campaign, to connect with voters in the Midwest, and to win votes in a blue state.

It's not easy to put a good list together, but surely this one is better than Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, South Carolina.

Q: I have some questions about who decided what constitutes a "win" in the Iowa caucuses: It seems to me that the obvious metric for "victory" in the Iowa caucuses should be either the popular vote, which Bernie Sanders won, or the projected Democratic National Convention delegates that Iowa will award, which is a straight tie between Buttigieg and Sanders.

Yet, in fact, the metric the media is using is the projected SDE, the "state [Democratic convention] delegate equivalent" which seems to me is a metric that has no real meaning or worth for anyone but the administrators of the Iowa Democratic Party, yet conveniently is the only metric that gave Mayor Pete a (minuscule) victory.

Has "SDE" always been the metric used to judge the Iowa caucuses? If not, when was it changed and why? If so, who decided upon it and when?
R.S., Sleepy Hollow, NY

Q: Could you explain why some sites are saying that Joe Biden and Amy Klobuchar have both won delegates (2 and 1) but you do not? J.C., Taguig City, Philippines

A: The SDE total has always been used to declare the election night (or, two days after election night) victor in the Iowa caucuses because it's more fine-grained and more accurate. Imagine that the Packers win two games, 41-2 and 55-0, while the Steelers win two games, 7-6 and 3-0. Yes, we know that the Steelers are not likely to win two games in a row, but this is just a hypothetical example. Anyhow, although both teams went 2-0, the Packers obviously played much better. So it is with SDEs, which might indicate that a candidate is stronger (or weaker) than his or her delegate total indicates.

As to the delegate totals, only 27 delegates have been awarded so far (or, at least, they will be awarded once everyone agrees Iowa's results are official). The balance will be awarded during later steps in the process. It's possible to make a pretty good, educated guess as to what will happen during those later steps. However, those are only educated guesses, which is why we don't use them.

Q: One of my pupils asked me why Americans keep to their old systems of measurements when the rest of the world counts in meters, kilos, and the like. My question is: does the defending of the quaint metrics reflect Anglocentrism, and does it help to fuel both American and British exceptionalism? S.S.T., Copenhagen, Denmark

A: Now, wait one minute. The United States is not the only country that has not adopted the metric system. Liberia and Myanmar reject it as well. So, we Americans are in very broad company.

Anyhow, the answer to your question is indeed Anglocentrism, although probably not in the way you're thinking. As you presumably know, the metric system was developed by French revolutionaries around the time they relieved their king of his head. In the United States at that time (and for many decades afterward), a preference for France vs. a preference for England was one of the dominant issues. The Federalists favored England, and they were running the government at that time. So while there was a push to adopt the metric system, with Thomas Jefferson taking a leading role, the Fed Team pushed back and observed that if feet and gallons were good enough for Jesus, they were certainly good enough for the Americans of the early republic.

We cannot speak to the modern U.K., which appears to largely be on the metric system today, as far as we can tell. However, we can say that subsequent attempts to convert the U.S. to metric have bumped up against businesses' unwillingness to spend money on conversion and against Americans' well-established resistance to change. That said, the U.S. is more metric than most people think. Nearly everything that comes in measurable quantities, like sodas and spirits, has metric measurements in addition to English ones. Scientists and other researchers are mostly metric, as are businesses that operate internationally.

Q: How much credit does Donald Trump really deserve for the good economy? To me, it feels like the rooster taking credit for the sunrise. He inherited a great economy from Barack Obama. It was Obama's policies that turned the economy around after the Great Recession. If Trump does deserve credit, what exactly did he do? It seems like he's done more harm than good in the last 3 years. J.B., Forest Hills, NY

A: Generally speaking, presidents have fairly little power to bend the economy to their will. That means they tend to get too much credit for good times, and too much blame for bad.

That said, one of the things that does have an effect is a big, fat infusion of cash into the economy. Obama's stimulus package had a real, measurable effect. Trump's tax cut did, too, although a smaller one because the economy was already humming along. The problem is that when a downturn inevitably comes, the best arrow in the quiver has already been fired. Plus, the overall foundation of the economy is shakier, given the size of the deficit and the growing wealth disparity between rich and poor.

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Feb07 Final Iowa Results Are In...Kinda
Feb07 In Spiking Poll, Selzer Made a Wise Decision...and a Mistake
Feb07 If You're A Presidential Candidate, Don't Believe Your Hype
Feb07 Sanders, Buttigieg Polling Well in New Hampshire
Feb07 Warren Gets Unhappy News in Nevada
Feb07 Democrats Debate Tonight
Feb07 Trump Commences Victory Lap
Feb06 Senate Acquits Trump
Feb06 Nadler: House Likely to Subpoena Bolton
Feb06 Will Anyone Ever Honor a Congressional Subpoena Again?
Feb06 Iowa Results Are Still Dribbling In
Feb06 Pelosi Dumps on Trump in a Private Meeting after SOTU
Feb06 Sanders Leads in New Hampshire Poll
Feb06 New Hampshire Becomes Even More Crucial Now
Feb06 Biden Still Hasn't Addressed His Son's Job at Burisma
Feb06 Cummings' Widow Loses House Primary
Feb05 The Results Are In...Mostly
Feb05 So, What Happened in Iowa, Exactly?
Feb05 Did the Iowa Results Contain Secret Bad News for the Democrats?
Feb05 Trump Delivers State of the Union
Feb05 Impeachment Acquittal Right on Pace
Feb05 Trump Gets Highest Ever Approval from Gallup
Feb05 Most Farmers Are Sticking with Trump
Feb04 And the Winner of the Iowa Caucuses Is...???
Feb04 Don't Forget, There's Also an Impeachment Trial Going On...
Feb04 State of the Union Address Is Tonight
Feb04 This Probably Won't Make the SOTU...
Feb04 ...Or This, for That Matter
Feb04 Bloomberg Gets in the Gutter with Trump
Feb04 Rush Limbaugh Has Lung Cancer
Feb03 Finally the Voters Get Their Say
Feb03 Should Iowa and New Hampshire Go First?
Feb03 Can the Caucuses Be Hacked?
Feb03 Ann Selzer's Poll Will Not Be Released
Feb03 Poll: All the Leading Democrats Could Beat Trump
Feb03 Biden Wins Endorsement from Union That Backed Sanders in 2016
Feb03 DNC Changes the Admission Requirements for February Debate
Feb03 Vote on Trump's Conviction is Expected Wednesday
Feb03 Ernst Says President Biden Would Be Impeached Immediately
Feb03 Schiff Won't Say Whether He Will Subpoena Bolton
Feb02 Drip, Drip, Drip...
Feb02 Sunday Mailbag
Feb01 Party First (and Second, and Third...)
Feb01 Delaney Is Out
Feb01 The UK Is Out, Too
Feb01 Saturday Q&A
Jan31 The End Appears to Be Nigh
Jan31 Sanders Campaign Prepping List of Executive Orders
Jan31 Today in Metaphors
Jan31 Time to Get Creative