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Klobuchar 7
Biden 6
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Sanders Attacks Moderates In Nevada
Kobach Courts Trump as GOP Frets
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      •  Saturday Q&A

As you can see above, we've added a new bit of information (at the suggestion of reader N.G. in Milbury, MA): total pledged delegates remaining. One candidate's name had to go in order to make room, and so we bid farewell to Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI). She reminds us of the Bruce Willis character in "The Sixth Sense": She's the only one who doesn't seem to know she's dead. Also, from here on out, we are going to use the Green Papers as our authoritative source for delegate totals. As we have noted, there is sometimes more art than science in this calculation, as there are 56 different sets of state-level rules (including D.C., territories, and Democrats Abroad), and quite often, a state's full slate of delegates is not formally awarded until county-level and/or state-level conventions are held. Anyhow, this particular question is the focus of the Green Papers, and so we will defer to their superior insight on the matter.

Saturday Q&A

The end of the impeachment trial opens up space for a much broader variety of questions!

Q: You wrote: "Jennifer Rubin is a moderate Republican." Wouldn't it be more accurate to write "Jennifer Rubin is a neoconservative Republican?" Here is why I ask: Neocons tend to be highly educated, very sophisticated, and non-ideologues. Because of these characteristics, they generally seem to be very moderate Republicans on both social and economic policies. L.C., Atlanta, GA

A: The term "neoconservative" has gotten a little squishy over time, such that it is applied to a much broader variety of people than it once was. Rubin has certainly been described as a neocon, and we don't think that's wildly off target, though neoconservatives are usually pretty hawkish, and she isn't particularly so.

There was a time, not too long ago, when "moderate Republican" and "neocon" were two different categories. The right-wingiest folks in the Bush administration, like Dick Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz, and Donald Rumsfeld, were all neocons. It says something about how far right the right flank of the GOP has moved that the neocons are the moderates these days. Heck, if Barry Goldwater were still alive, he might not even be in the party anymore.



Q: Trump's Federal Reserve nominee Judy Shelton is one of the right-wing gold standard advocates. I know many, many reasons why this is a crackpot idea. My question is, Is there actually enough gold in the world to back the current amount of U.S. currency? B.C., Damariscotta, ME

A: Just to make sure everyone is on the same page, the United States went off the gold standard in 1933, and cut all connections between gold and the dollar in 1971. A switch back to the gold standard would make it much harder for the government to pump the gas/hit the brakes on the economy as needed, thus facilitating a return to the oh-so-delightful boom-and-bust cycle of the 19th century. It would also keep inflation low, which is great for people who already have lots of money, but not so great for everyone else. By reducing government power and giving a boost to the rich and well-heeled, this would therefore be a backdoor means of achieving some key priorities of the modern GOP.

As to your specific question, the short answer is "yes." According to the Federal Reserve, the U.S. has $1.75 trillion worth of Federal Reserve notes in circulation as of this Wednesday. There is some debate about exactly how much gold has been mined by human beings, but the most common figure is around 190,000 metric tons, which have a value of around $7.5 trillion. Even if the tonnage estimate is a little off, or a lot off, there is no chance it's 400% too high. So, there is certainly enough gold in the world to back all U.S. currency, at least theoretically.

Of course, we do not live in the theoretical world, we live in the real world. And in the real world, it would be impractical for the U.S. government to acquire all the gold that would be needed. After all, a fair bit of that 190,000 tons exists in the form of jewelry, or teeth, or electrical components, or works of art. Another big chunk is held by other governments, who are not eager to drain their reserves. It's been estimated that if the U.S. government actually tried to acquire the necessary amount of gold, it would drive the price, which is currently around $1,500/oz., up to something like $100,000/oz. Naturally, with a $1 trillion deficit, there aren't gobs of spare money lying around for use on such quixotic economic quests.



Q: Will we ever be able to evaluate whether impeachment, politically speaking, was a success or not? To me it seems very hard to isolate the effect, even after the elections. A.I., Oslo, Norway

A: You raise a very good point. The general narrative surrounding Bill Clinton's impeachment is that it backfired on the Republicans, and boosted Clinton's popularity. However, the boost in his polling numbers proved temporary, and in the next set of elections, the GOP claimed the White House by a whisker, while the Democrats gained four Senate seats and one House seat. Who was the real winner of that impeachment? Who knows?

In this case, it will likely be just as murky. Let's imagine that Donald Trump wins a narrow reelection. Will that be because of impeachment? Or despite it? After all, he won a narrow election last time, and everyone believed his path was just as narrow this time, even before the Ukraine mess. Maybe narrower. The effect of impeachment presumably won't be clearer if he loses by a narrow margin, or even if he wins/loses by a big margin. How can we possibly isolate impeachment from demographic changes, the relative strengths/weaknesses of Hillary Clinton vs. this year's Democratic nominee, voters' response to Trump's many other controversies, voter suppression/foreign interference, Trump's policy successes, and a host of other relevant factors?

To the extent that we can draw any confident or semi-confident conclusions, it will be based on the results of 2020 candidates who were put in a tricky position by the votes they had to cast. For example, if Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME), Cory Gardner (R-CO) or Kelly Loeffler (R-GA) go down to defeat, it is probably reasonable to assign some of the blame to impeachment. Same for a number of House members, particularly Democrats, in swing districts. It's also possible we'll get some polling that gives us insight, if a YouGov or a Quinnipiac asks something like: "Is your choice influenced by the impeachment and trial?"



Q: I've noticed that you consistently label Amy Klobuchar as (DFL-MN) rather than (D-MN). While I thought this was funny initially, this joke has more than run its course now that Klobuchar is a serious contender, even if she's not in the top 3. Please stop demeaning this candidate by labeling her as DFL. I.S., Durango, CO

A: We're not entirely sure what meaning you ascribed to that. Perhaps you were thinking about the world of sports, where DFL sometimes stands for "Dead Fu**ing Last"? In any event, we refer to her that way because she is a member of the Minnesota Democratic—Farmer—Labor Party, which is the official name of the Democratic Party's Gopher State affiliate. And so, we're simply honoring the label that she (and other Minnesota Democrats) have chosen for themselves. In a similar vein, we always label Bernie Sanders as (I-VT) even though he is running in the Democratic primary and caucuses with the Democrats. It's the label he wants, so we honor his wishes.



Q: I would like to ask you to give a straightforward answer to this question: Why do you so strongly dislike President Trump, so much so that you rarely post on the good things he has accomplished?

Admittedly, Trump often says things that he shouldn't. But I am referring to his actual accomplishments while in office, such as eliminating stifling government regulations (thus improving the economy), protecting babies from murder in the womb, replacing rogue judges with those who respect the Constitution, promoting religious freedom here and abroad, and so much more.

Similarly, why do you give little or no attention to the extreme socialist positions of many Democrats and the racist background of issues such as minimum wage, welfare, and abortion? You are both very intelligent, well-educated men, so you surely must realize that these laws and programs have a racist history and are particularly harmful to minorities. It would be wonderful to see you bravely tackle some of those controversial yet very important topics at this pivotal time in our country.
K.J., Roanoke, VA

A: Let us start by presenting a rewritten version of your message:

I would like to ask you to give a straightforward answer to this question: Why do you so strongly dislike Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), so much so that you rarely post on the good things she has accomplished?

Admittedly, Pelosi often does things that she shouldn't, like tear up the President's speech. But I am referring to her actual accomplishments while in office, such as pushing back against Trump's endless corruption (thus saving the country from utter ruin), protecting women from male patriarchy by keeping abortions safe and legal, pushing back against rogue judges who have zero respect for the Constitution and are merely stooges for the Federalist Society, resisting the GOP's attempts to turn the U.S. into a fanatical theocracy run by mentally unbalanced evangelicals, and so much more.

Similarly, why do you give little or no attention to the extreme fascist positions of many Republicans and the white supremacist background of issues such as climate change denial, the war on drugs, and opposition to Obamacare? You are both very intelligent, well-educated men, so you surely must realize that these laws and programs have a racist history and are particularly harmful to minorities. It would be wonderful to see you bravely tackle some of those controversial yet very important topics at this pivotal time in our country.

And now, the answer to your question. We are happy to note the achievements/missteps of Donald Trump and the Republicans, and we are happy to do the same with Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats. But we are never, ever going to use the extreme right-wing framing of things that occurs in your message any more than we are going to use the extreme left-wing framing that occurs in the rewritten version of the message.



Q: I've read news stories about candidates hosting fundraisers with wealthy donors, or criticizing opponents for doing so, but as I understand it $2,800 is the maximum amount any individual can contribute to a campaign under rules established by the FEC. No doubt $2,800 is more than the average person can afford to contribute, but I want to know if I'm missing something? I'm given the impression that these fundraiser dinners provide huge amounts of cash, but wouldn't any wealthy person attending already have maxed out their contribution if they genuinely supported the candidate? A.C., Oakland, CA

A: You're right about pretty much everything here: $2,800 is the maximum individual contribution, the dinners do raise huge amounts of money, and you are missing something. Several somethings, we would say.

To start, the $2,800 limit is per election. Nearly all election cycles, including presidential ones, actually include two elections—primary and general. So, we're already up to $5,600 for candidates who advance to the second round (if they don't, they'd have to give the second $2,800 back). Further, many people have a spouse and a shared bank account, so that's potentially another $5,600 that can be donated without running afoul of any rules. And maybe a donor's 18-year-old kid might also like to donate $5,600? While it would technically be illegal for someone to effectively launder a donation through their offspring, it would also be very hard to prove that is what happened. How would anyone know whether or not that is Junior's allowance, or his savings, or his money raised from mowing lawns?

Meanwhile, that is just the beginning of the opportunities for donors to give until it hurts, if they so desire. They can also give $5,000/year to an associated PAC (for example, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee or the National Republican Senatorial Committee), $10,000 a year to the state/local/district party committee (combined, not to each one), and $35,500/year to the national party committee (i.e., the DNC or RNC). When you hear about things like $20,000/plate dinners hosted by Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio, most of that money is going to party committees.

On top of this, of course, there are also unlimited contributions to non-affiliated super PACs. You can thank Citizens United for that. While a candidate cannot directly fundraise on behalf of such entities, it's not too hard for them to say, "Boy, we are really happy that we have the total and undivided support of Unite the Country, or American Values PAC." Most donors can read between the lines and figure out what that means.

And finally, a well-heeled donor might also be recruited to find other high-profile donors among their friends and associates. The folks who do this are called "bundlers," and are in line for things like a night in the Lincoln Bedroom if they do the job well. It's not unheard of for a particularly effective bundler to round up donations totaling in the high six figures or even into seven figures. Barack Obama's top bundler, for example, was investment banker Azita Raji, who shook her acquaintances down to the tune of $4.7 million across two election cycles. Although the Obamas didn't actually let people stay in the Lincoln Bedroom, Raji's efforts did land her an ambassadorship to Sweden.



Q: Can you please explain why the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact (NPVIC) laws are designed to be triggered only once the compact includes 270 electors? If the states are implementing it on philosophical grounds, then they should want it in effect immediately. If they are implementing it to help one party, then they should want to guarantee that party 209 (if things go as expected) electoral votes immediately. Why keep it dormant until they hit 270? R.S., San Mateo, CA

A: Well, it starts with the notion that the Electoral College is flawed. In theory, it was supposed to identify the best candidate to be president and second-best candidate to be vice president, to serve as an insurance policy against a real stinker of a president (or vice president), and to make sure the smaller states were not rendered irrelevant by the larger states. One could reasonably argue it's failed on all counts. The president/vice president thing proved clearly unworkable as soon as the nation's fourth presidential election (1800), and had to be overhauled by a constitutional amendment that effectively removed that function from the Electoral College. Meanwhile, in 58 presidential elections and counting, the Electoral College has never overruled the results of a presidential election, or come even faintly close to doing so, and so it clearly does not serve as an insurance policy against a bad president- or vice-president-elect. And not only does it serve to render many small states irrelevant these days, it does the same with many large states. This is much more likely, of course, when you've got 50 states of wildly varying sizes as opposed to 13 of moderately varying sizes.

Anyhow, in view of these concerns, it is plausible that states would be willing to yield up their electoral votes in service of fixing things. However, they are certainly not going to yield up their electoral votes only to have them used against themselves. Let us take 2004 as an example, because it is the most extreme example in recent history. The final electoral tally for that election, in reality, was 286-251. However, here is what the map would have looked like if the current NPVIC signatories had yielded up their votes to popular vote winner George W. Bush:

John Kerry wins only 
seven states, namely Hawaii, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Maine, and New Hampshire, along with Washington,
DC

That would have given Bush a 470-68 Electoral College win over John Kerry, one of the largest in U.S. history. In theory, a win is a win is a win, and it doesn't matter if it's 270-268 or 538-0. In practice, a huge electoral vote win is wielded by presidents, with some success, as a "mandate." Now, it's possible that if Bush had tried that, it would have come with an asterisk ("Yeah, he got 470 EVs, but only because of the NPVIC."). But maybe not—who knows?

Consider Donald Trump as a second example. His EV tally in 2016 was 304-227, which he has regularly presented (without factual basis) as a historic, record-breaking victory. If Trump somehow wins the popular vote in 2020, he will likely do so narrowly, and will reclaim the White House with about 300 EVs. But if the current NPVIC states were to be added to his 2016 states, then his EV tally would be...511-27. Still not the most lopsided in history, but close (it would be #7, or #4 if we exclude non-contested elections). Don't you think that his 500+ EV total might just come up once or twice during his second term? And don't you think his base will buy it, NPVIC asterisk or not? In any case, when the folks who created the NPVIC were drawing it up, they had to make it as palatable as possible. So, they chose to remove this sort of worst-case possibility from the equation.



Q: I have noted with some mild surprise that Elizabeth Warren's recent change of view on "Medicare for All" has gone largely unreported. In a recent NPR interview, she stated that she would let people try it if they chose and then we'd vote on it. It sounds like the "public option" to me. Do you think this is (partially) behind her recent underperformance in the polls and with the electorate? L.V.A., Idaho Falls, ID

A: You're right that she's shifted positions quite a bit in the last month or so. The reason that the shift has been underreported, we would say, is that "big" pronouncements produce something obvious to talk about and report on. Course corrections, implemented slowly and in a manner meant to minimize their noticeability, don't do that. If the U.S. sends 10,000 soldiers to Iraq tomorrow, for example, that is big news. If the U.S. sends 100 soldiers a day for the next three months, the net effect is the same, but it is likely to pass notice.

Anyhow, we doubt that her change in position is the reason for her swoon in the polls (and in the balloting). If anything, it's likely the reverse: She very probably saw that her numbers were slipping, decided that Medicare for All was hurting more than helping, and decided to tack toward the center. If there's any specific event that precipitated her decline, it actually looks to be the whole argument with Bernie Sanders, and the allegation that he said a woman can't win the presidency. Maybe that triggered a misogynist reaction, or maybe it made her look dishonest/calculating to some folks. Anyhow, that is when the decline seems to have started.



Q: In regards to your piece on the studies finding that swing voters don't exist anymore, do you know the criterion the authors used to determine if someone is a swing or non-swing voter? I don't know how you can do a survey like this and avoid any bias inherent in the fact that the major political parties have selectively targeted voters over the last 30 or so years. Did the authors attempt to control for this effect?

This argument, that swing voters don't exist and campaigns should just try to drive up turnout from the base, is very self-serving to the right and left flanks of the major parties, respectively. It basically sets the tone for governing for one faction of the electorate rather than the entire country, and it further eliminates candidates that may make a plausible attempt to win votes from a broader coalition. It's positively Trumpian in this regard. However, I suspect this assessment is wrong, and you have a situation where the bias inherent in the algorithms political parties rely on for political messaging and outreach have resulted in an apparent partisanship expressed by the electorate.
S.O.F., Bridgeton, NJ

A: There's a lot here; we'll see if we can address it all. First of all, that item was about the work of one person, namely Prof. Rachel Bitecofer of Christopher Newport University. She has been on Twitter this week pointing out that the original reporting, particularly by Politico, misrepresented her views on swing voters. She's not saying they do not exist, merely that they are not nearly as important to a party's success as turning out the party's base. Also note that, as a political scientist, she is not in the business of providing advice about what should happen. Her job is to identify and describe what has happened, what is happening, and what will happen. Although, in the end, her conclusions are even more dark (and Trumpian) than your summation suggests. She specifically argues that the approach that has been most effective in recent elections is "negative partisanship": motivating your base, not through specific policy prescriptions, but by making them hate the other side, thus persuading them that it's imperative to defeat the opposition at all costs.

As to your specific question, she does not define "swing voter," per se. She uses a lot of statistics, and some pretty sophisticated models, to illustrate that electoral victories do not correlate especially well with getting new kinds of voters into the tent. Nor do they correlate well with winning "independents," most of whom aren't all that independent. What they do correlate with is increases/decreases in the kinds of voters who make up a party's base. For example, in elections where a disproportionate number of college-educated people show up to vote, Democrats win. In elections were a disproportionate number of evangelicals show up to vote, Republicans win. It's a bit more sophisticated than that, but that's the basic idea.

Some of Bitecofer's views are in the minority among political scientists. Such is the nature of scholarly debate. However, there is a very broad consensus that American politics is extremely polarized right now, and that it's not just an illusion created by politicians or by problematic algorithms. There's also a pretty broad consensus that swing voters are something of an endangered species these days (even if many scholars would not go quite so far as Bitecofer in downplaying their significance).



Q: I have questions regarding Michael Bloomberg's comments on stop and frisk. He's been taped saying that 95% of the related gun crimes were committed by the young men of color in NYC and other cities. Is this statistic accurate? And if so, is it still considered racist? G.K., Westford, MA

A: Let's start by recalling his precise words, so we're all on the same page:

Ninety-five percent of your murders—murderers and murder victims—fit one M.O. You can just take the description, Xerox it and pass it out to all the cops. They are male minorities, 16 to 25. That's true in New York. That's true in virtually every city. And that's where the real crime is.

As random chance would have it, (Z) is rather unusually qualified to answer this. The first class he ever took in grad school was taught by Eric Monkkonen, who was the world's leading authority on murder rates in New York City before his untimely passing, and whose book Murder in New York remains the standard. If that were not enough, (Z) also worked as a researcher for the Los Angeles Times for a year, assisting on a series of stories on murder rates in Los Angeles (a series that was prompted by, and meant to serve as complement to, the Times' coverage of the O.J. Simpson trial). In that capacity, he read hundreds of court files on murder cases, and did so with the Simpson trial unfolding just a few floors above him (the records department of the L.A. downtown criminal courthouse is on the second floor; the trial was on the ninth floor).

What (Z) learned, both from Prof. Monkkonen and from his work for the Times, is that any statistics you read about crime rates should be taken with a handful of salt (or more), as they are ripe for being "interpreted" in a manner that serves the needs of the interpreter. For example, the reason that the Times' study was on "murders" in Los Angeles as opposed to "killings" in Los Angeles is that they wanted to win a Pulitzer Prize (didn't happen), and they wanted to reach the most shocking conclusion possible, namely that the majority of killers go unpunished. And so, they made several key decisions early on, among them excluding vehicular manslaughters from their study. This was not because they only wanted to focus on murders, but because vehicular manslaughter, the most common form of killing in Los Angeles by a large margin, is punished close to 100% of the time. Why is that? Because it's almost always drunk driving cases, where the killer is usually very easy to catch and identify. Very different from someone who shoots a person at 1:00 a.m. in a dark alley. Anyhow, if the Times had included the vehicular manslaughters in their study, their shocking conclusions about unpunished killings in Los Angeles would have been far less shocking.

A second example, also from the Times study. One of the documents that (Z) read in every court file was the police report. And the standard LAPD form for killings back then, which was around 8 pages long, had a bunch of checkboxes on it that the officer of record was expected to answer. One of those asked the officer if, in their opinion, the killing was gang-related. And (Z) very quickly noticed that anytime either the killer or the victim had a Spanish last name, the "gang-related" box was checked. That was true 100% of the time, without exception, across hundreds and hundreds of cases, including the case where a 65-year-old Mexican man had an angry argument with his 67-year-old neighbor, rushed into his house and grabbed the first blunt instrument he saw, and bludgeoned the neighbor to death with it. That's right, it was a drive-by via toaster, one that involved no actual cars, and two senior citizens. There is no way for (Z) to know why the police had that habit. Racism? Certainly a problem in the early 1990s LAPD. Or maybe it's that more drive-bys means more demand for the city to be "tough on crime" and thus results in more money for cops? Could be. In any event (and Prof. Monkkonen would agree entirely with this observation), police are left to make a lot of judgments, many of them related to race/ethnicity, that may be based on very limited information, and may be subject to biases. Quite often, these judgments go unchallenged and unchanged as the process unfolds, assuming there even is a process.

So, is there a way to spin the stats in order to make Bloomberg basically correct? It's certainly true that minority on minority crime is a huge problem (this was Prof. Monkkonen's single-biggest talking point/concern, in fact). And it's even plausibly true that if you only count certain kinds of murders (say, first degree), and you include cases where either the killer or the victim is non-white (Bloomberg's remark is imprecise on this point), and you include only the city itself and not the suburbs, you might get up to (or near) 95%. But there is absolutely no way that you can get to 95% if you also include the age range he mentioned. Further, although there is room for interpretation, he certainly implies that 95% of all murders are 16- to 25-year-old men of color killing other 16- to 25-year-old men of color. There is no way to support that assertion with stats, no matter how hard you spin.

Returning to your question, it's certainly possible to talk about these issues in a frank way without being a racist. Prof. Monkkonen did it for decades. However, when you start twisting your stats, that's a problem, and ventures pretty far into "offensive" territory. A second problem is when your verbiage includes phrases like "take the description, Xerox it and pass it out to all the cops," which is dangerously close to saying something like "you can tell who is a potential murderer just by looking at them." And a third problem is when you are using these less-than-honest stats and this problematic language in support of a program that has far more negative, discriminatory impact than it has positive, remedial impact. To take an extreme example, nearly all perpetrators of mass shootings are single, white males. Would that justify dramatically increased police surveillance/searches of the United States' 50 million or so single men, in hopes of cutting off the 150 or so mass shooters per year at the pass?



Q: You wrote: "We can only imagine what the next nine months of Trump unleashed will bring," and I agree that we're sliding towards an unchecked, authoritarian presidency. However, if Trump does even more brazen and outrageous things, couldn't the House just impeach him again and again, especially because a lengthy investigation would not be necessary each time? In your view, what sorts of actions, if any, could lead to: (1) re-impeachment, or (2) re-impeachment plus removal? I've always been mighty skeptical that Trump could truly shoot someone in the middle of 5th Avenue and get away with it. E.W., Skaneateles, NY

A: Let us begin by making clear that the great likelihood is that there will be no further impeachments. Politicians are generally hyper-cautious, and re-impeachment would become a cudgel to be used by Republicans and right-wing media to paint the Democrats as partisan witch hunters and abusers of the Constitution. Undoubtedly, moderate-district Democrats would be scared witless about losing their jobs.

That said, it's not impossible. The Constitution places no limits on impeachment, so if House Democrats have the votes, they could impeach him every day, if they want. The could re-impeach him on the same things they already impeached him for—there's no double jeopardy here. And imagine if they impeached him for what happened with Roger Stone, for example, and then issued this statement:

Today, we have once again been compelled to impeach President Donald J. Trump. His interference in the prosecution of Roger Stone subverts 220 years of law and precedent, and represents yet another abuse of power, leaving us with no other choice. We recognize that the Republican-controlled Senate is no more likely to stage a proper trial this time than they did last time. However, we have a Constitutionally mandated duty, and we will do it as long as we are in office. In particular, we think it is important that the President understand that having been "acquitted" does not mean that he is no longer impeachable or no longer subject to Congressional oversight. Consequently, we will impeach him as many times as we need to in order to do what we can to protect the rule of law. All of this is very regrettable for the American democracy, but the alternative is even more regrettable.

That would be a pretty effective way of presenting things, we think, and might even be the "right" choice from both a civics and a politics perspective.

Anyhow, if the Democrats start thinking like this, undoubtedly Trump will give them plenty of material to work with, with the Stone situation being Exhibit 1A. On the other hand, we have absolutely no idea what might lead to removal from office. Surely there must be something, but in a world where a great many Republicans looked the other way and in 2017 voted for a child molester who was twice removed from office for ignoring federal law, we cannot imagine what Trump would have to do to turn the base against him. And as long as the base is with him, the Republican senators not named Romney will remain in lockstep.

One interesting possibility that nobody is talking about, as far as we can see, but that seems very possible to us: impeachment of one of Trump's underlings, like AG Bill Barr. That would be another way for the House to say "this administration is not above the law, regardless of what happened in the impeachment trial," would be pretty salable politically, and might actually result in a conviction in the Senate. After all, Barr isn't the one with the Twitter account and the fanatical fanbase.



Q: I find Donald Trump's complete assimilation of The Senate, Justice Department, Department of State, and entire Republican Party terrifying. What was once absurd now seems remotely possible. Is there anyone still in positions of power who might stop Trump from declaring martial law and postponing the general election? What justifications and other executive actions could he use to justify staying in power? M.C., Simsbury, CT

Q: Now that Trump has achieved invulnerability to scandal and rules over the Justice Dept., how long before he seriously comes after unfavorable news and entertainment outlets? Colbert, Kimmel, MSNBC (Maddow, O'Donnell, others), CNN, SNL/Baldwin, Bill Maher, and others? Are we on our way to an assault on the first amendment due to his thin skin? B.H., Westborough, MA

A: We can understand such concerns, but we would say there are three major checks on Trump that make these scenarios an impossibility:

  • The Military: Many things that Trump might try, most obviously declaring martial law, are only viable if the military supports him. Otherwise, he's just a paper tiger. And we refuse to believe that the military, particularly the senior leadership, will play along. There is no strong evidence that Trump has the overwhelming support of America's armed forces. Possibly 60% or even 70%? Maybe. But that's not nearly enough. Further, these folks take their oaths to protect the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic, very seriously. Even many who are Trump supporters would nonetheless be unwilling to participate in a de facto overthrow of the U.S. government.

  • The Other Republicans: Thus far, GOP officeholders have been unwilling to challenge Trump in any sort of meaningful way. However, they must realize that the Trump party cannot last forever. They must also realize that when the party ends, they are exactly the sort of folks to pay the price (losing reelection, prison sentences, etc.). After all, Dick Nixon didn't pay a price for his crimes, but many of his cronies did. Same with Ronald Reagan and Warren Harding. Surely there is a limit somewhere, even if that limit is dictated entirely by self-interest, and not by commitment to any sort of higher ideals.

  • Federalism: Let us not forget one of the dominant themes of the last three-plus years: A large number of small, not-too-populous states have more power than a small number of large, highly populous states. Put another way, a minority is currently ruling over a majority. And what makes that possible is that everyone is still basically agreeing to the terms laid out by the Constitution and by federal law. The moment that Trump sets that aside, however, he and his base are grossly outnumbered. Good luck trying to establish dictatorial control over, for example, the nearly 40 million citizens of California.

In short, when he's having his daily "executive time," Trump may harbor the occasional fantasy along these lines. But as a practical matter, it's just not viable.



Q: Could you comment on why Republicans are against the ERA? D.D., Hollywood, FL

A: There are actually three "eras" of ERA opposition. From the time the amendment was first proposed to Congress (December 1923), through the late 1960s, the primary opponents were actually Democrats. Their main concern was that while the ERA was all well and good for middle-class women, working-class women still needed special, gender-based protections. This became particularly salient in the 1930s, when labor law took a quantum leap forward, including the adoption of extensive protections for female trade unionists. Opposition to the ERA became the default position of most New Dealers, with the outspoken Eleanor Roosevelt taking the lead. They did not want female trade unionists to lose their special protections, and they also did not want unionism in general to be weakened by something that might pit predominantly male unions and mixed-gender unions against each other.

Eventually, trade union opposition (and, for that matter, the New Deal coalition) faded, and the second wave of ERA opposition, in the late 1960s and 1970s, came from archconservative anti-feminists, with Phyllis Schlafly taking the lead. They expressed concerns about the possible side-effects of the ERA, particularly that it would lead to the legalization of abortion, that it could pave the way for the use of women in armed combat, and that it might even be used to justify the legalization of gay marriage. These arguments found much support among religious groups, particularly evangelicals, Catholics, and Mormons, such that the 1980 Republican platform was the first one in 40 years to express reservations about the ERA (though the Party still officially supported the measure). By 1984, the GOP plank supporting the amendment was gone, never to return (as of 2016, at least).

Republican opposition to the ERA since 1990 is a little harder to parse, since the amendment has basically been a dead-letter issue, and there's been no particular need for the Party or for specific politicians to articulate their positions. Obviously, the effects that Schlafly & Co. feared have all come to pass without the ERA being adopted, so that's not quite it. That said, the belief that the ERA legitimizes abortion is still at least part of the equation. Beyond that, it appears to be a case of reflexively sticking with a stance that has been the Party's position for 30 years, and reflexively opposing anything that Democrats support.

That GOP opposition to the ERA is now kind of fuzzy, and doesn't appear to have a particularly strong basis, means it is at least possible that the Party flips positions yet again in an effort to court the women voters they are currently hemorrhaging. So, after close to a century of this, there may just be a day in the near future where both parties are pro-ERA. Or, at least, pro-ERA enough to get the thing passed.

One potential complication is that the text of the ERA bans denying or abridging anyone their rights "on account of sex." Back in 1923, "sex," as intended by the amendment was a question of hardware. Now for many people "sex" is determined by software, not hardware. Does it cover pre- and post-operative transgender people? How do nonbinary people fit in? Are they covered? Or does it only mean that a company can't pay a person whose original birth certificate had the "female" box checked less than a person whose original birth certificate had the box "male" checked? If the ERA were to be rebooted, the wording would have to be changed to avoid endless court cases about bathroom use and much more. Just to end on an inspiring note, in (V)'s department, which is 90% male, there is an ongoing discussion about whether it is appropriate for there to be as many female restrooms as male restrooms and whether designating restrooms by gender is appropriate in the first place.


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