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Buttigieg 23
Sanders 21
Warren 8
Klobuchar 7
Biden 6
Bloomberg 0
Steyer 0
Remaining 3914
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      •  Sunday Mailbag

Sunday Mailbag

Candidates, caucuses, and...the metric system.

The State of the Race

V & Z: You wrote about the 2020 list of swing states, a list very different from what it was back in 2000 and even from 2012.

I think Virginia, Colorado, Nevada and New Hampshire are now safely in the blue column, at least for this cycle. And I also think that North Carolina, Georgia (thanks to all the kinds of voter suppression), and even Florida (yes, the former "mother of all swing states"), with its ever-growing Villages, its Ron DeSantis and its team of "really, really great" senators, is in the bag for Trump, along with Ohio.

So my nightmares (literally) are focused on five states: Wisconsin (yes, Wisconsinites, you keep me awake at night), Minnesota (where I think Trump really has a chance), Michigan, Pennsylvania and, to that Midwesterner bloc, I would add one single state which I think is flippable: Arizona. That's all. The dream of flipping Texas and/or Georgia and/or North Carolina is the equivalent of seeing a unicorn replacing Vladimir Putin tomorrow at the head of the Russian Federation.

In particular, I envision a really nightmarish scenario. Imagine Wisconsin and Arizona voting again for Trump, this time by 1 or 2 points, and Pennsylvania and Michigan (assuming Minnesota doesn't flip) returning in the Democratic column. If, like in 2016, the three districts of Nebraska go to Trump, it would make a grand total of two states flipping. And the result would be a 270-268 majority for Trump in the Electoral College... A "divided country," you said?

So my point is the following. From a French friend of the United States and to the good people of Wisconsin and Arizona reading this great blog: please, please, I really think the future of the U.S. and the whole world comes down to you on Nov. 3. I'm counting on you to stop this nightmare. Seriously. Don't look only at your wallet. Listen to your heart and to the soul of what really makes this nation great, because you are indeed great, without being demagogic. E.K., Brignoles, France

V & Z: I have brought this up before, but would like to address it again. Today, in your item on the electoral map, you said that New Mexico is not a swing state anymore. I think that line of thinking is folly for the Democrats. Gary Johnson was a major factor there in 2016, as he should have been. Absent his influence, it's very likely in play again. The Democrats simply cannot afford to take it for granted, or it could be the Wisconsin of 2020. D.F., Birmingham, AL

Note: Maybe so, but New Mexico has gone Democratic in six of the last seven cycles, and all statewide officeholders and members of their congressional delegation are Democratic.

V & Z: On 2/10, the eve of the New Hampshire Primary, just 6 short/long days ago, you wrote: "...the small number of swing voters are not people who watch Chuck Todd. They are largely low-information voters who don't follow politics and vote based on factors like what someone looks like or what their voice sounds like." That morning, I was prepared to argue that LOTS of voters make their choice based on these factors: ever since the advent of television and the Kennedy-Nixon debates, people have been able to perceive a lot more about their candidates than just their platform and history. Who is this person talking to me? As in Malcolm Gladwell's book Blink, these perceptions can be quickly made and decisive, and count for a great deal. Joe Biden: familiar, experienced, avuncular, well-meaning, but bad haircut, old, shaky; Pete Buttigieg: undeniably bright and well-spoken, maybe too pat and sure of himself given his relative lack of experience; Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT): committed and tireless, but in Chris Matthews' words, "always indicting"; Sen Elizabeth Warren (D-MA): obviously committed and hard-working, but a bit strident in overall affect. It's in these quick perceptions that perhaps Sen. Amy Klobuchar (DFL-MN) has an advantage: smoothly attractive, witty, tough, accomplished, willing to work with others, and willing to tout her own ability to beat Donald Trump.

And Trump: well, he is so cock-sure (sorry!) and egotistical, that he exudes supreme confidence and complete comfort in his own skin, orange though it may be, as long as the hair spray holds.

And now, all of these "soft" considerations seem antiquated, as much things of the past as the burnished wooden ballot boxes that have been used for decades in Dixville Notch and Harts Location, New Hampshire. Trump, feeling totally unconstrained, vindicated, wronged, and ready for revenge, with enabling accomplices in the GOP Senate, and a lot more money than any of the currently official Democratic candidates could individually amass, has created a media juggernaut, social and otherwise, with the savvy of Brad Parscale. Perhaps, in order to survive in this Brave New World, the Dems must institute their own juggernaut in the person and money of Michael Bloomberg. Unless a candidate can command a media presence 24-7 in 15 states on Super Tuesday and have unlimited resources to convince voters that, despite a past of terrible racial discrimination, he will do whatever it takes, spend whatever it takes, to rid us of the Trump menace to our democracy, how can we win? However, will enough progressive and idealistic Democratic voters swallow their mistrust and loathing of yet another hyper-wealthy businessman who has in the past established policies that destroyed the lives of many persons of color? Will the fear of yet another disastrous 4 years of Trump be enough to get them to the polls in record numbers, because that is what it will take, nothing less.

Best would be if the Bloomberg money and expertise were used in the service of a more unifying candidate. M.B., Pittsboro, NC

V & Z: Among Democrats, I've noticed a generational divide that comes into stark relief when discussing candidates running on the left.

The touchstone for left-wing candidates among older Democrats is George McGovern (or, occasionally, Walter Mondale). They were both regarded as liberal lions who got the party's nomination and were then trounced by the incumbent Republican in the White House. Even among older Democrats who favor left-wing policies, those past elections put the fear of God into them about supporting left-wing candidates in the primaries.

Millennials, meanwhile, have noticed a blindspot caused by this fear: It's not 1972 anymore, and the Democratic Party hasn't done well with their centrist nominees in our adult lifetimes.

I came of age in 2002, and have watched the Democratic party nominate John Kerry over John Edwards and Howard Dean, Barack Obama over Hillary Clinton, and then Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders. Acknowledging that this is a very small sample of events with lots of confounding factors, it is still undeniable that the two centerist nominees lost their general elections, while Barack Obama (who ran to the left of Clinton in 2008, even if he ultimately governed from the center) managed two terms in the White House.

As millennials continue to grow from the age demographic that can vote into an age demographic that does vote and the Baby Boomer generation continues to shrink, I suspect that we will see more left-leaning and left-wing nominees to the Democratic ticket. Given the balkanized nature of presidential politics (e.g., more elections centered around getting the base to the polls rather than appealing to undecided/independent/crossover voters), this may very well continue to lead to more electoral successes, contrary to the fears that Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders may be the next McGovern or Mondale. E.J.A., Knoxville, TN

V & Z: Your anti-Biden (moderate) comments are getting bad. Progressives will lose the general, thank God. I personally know a group of Democrats who won't vote progressive regardless of who it is, and I'm gonna hold them to that. Our party is broken. I want progressives to leave the Democratic Party. They can form a new party, and we all can get used to Republican Presidents. G.M., Waterford, CT

Some Thoughts on Elizabeth Warren...

V & Z: I was introduced to and have been a fan of Elizabeth Warren since she started appearing on Jon Stewart's "Daily Show," which was before she was even in politics. Politically speaking. I am a non-affiliated democratic socialist. I have been very disappointed in Warren's slip in the polls. I think there are many reasons, but I feel a big one is that she is no longer answering hard questions, and is in fact downright ignoring them and going straight to her stump speech. This makes her seem worse than inauthentic, and actually untrustworthy. I know candidates need to repeat themselves, but usually they at least give a cursory answer to the actual question and then "pivot." I think Pete Buttigieg and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (DFL-MN) do a pretty good job of this.

In longer interviews and the debates, Warren may still be getting real at times, but most people hear her in short radio and tv interviews, or the Internet equivalent thereof. I heard her on NPR a few days ago and the first question was along the lines of "why aren't you polling better in New Hampshire?" She completely ignored the question and started talking about how much her campaign has done (and how much fun they've had) in New Hampshire. She then told us why she is in this fight. I mean, this is NPR. Chances are most of the people listening already know this stuff. I can hardly bear to listen to her myself these days and I'm a huge fan! But don't worry, I've written to the campaign so I'm sure they'll correct this soon. R.J.C., Salem, OR

V & Z: I am a Warren supporter. You suggested that her drop began when she had her feud with Bernie Sanders about Sanders' alleged assertion that a woman could not win.

I actually think it started much earlier. It began in the late summer debate, where she was unable to give a great answer about the costs of "Medicare for All" plan. Later, her campaign released those figures, also criticized. Her downward momentum increased after the feud, but started much earlier. D.T., Knoxville, TN

V & Z: I am a voter who is firmly in the Warren camp. I would certainly be OK with Bernie Sanders, but she is my candidate. As much as I dread Mike Bloomberg's money and influence in this race, I feel it opens up a window for her. He is attackable on many of the same fronts as Donald Trump. She can attack him without fear of the Bernie coalition reacting negatively, and can test-run messaging that can be used in the general. If she has any fight left, I feel it may be her last chance. N.M., West Chester, PA

...And Many Thoughts on Bernie Sanders...

V & Z: In the Votemaster's item "Wall Street Doesn't Fear Sanders as Much as It Did," he writes that "Sanders hasn't explained how Medicare for All will be financed." This is not true.

Sanders has stated many times on the campaign trail that he plans to impose a tax on Wall Street speculation. In addition, the campaign has released a detailed plan that includes several other options for financing the program.

This manufactured narrative of "how could we possibly pay for universal healthcare?" is nothing more than pearl-clutching, paranoid nonsense. The lie in this logic is laid bare by the fact that every other wealthy, industrialized society on Earth—except for the USA—already provides universal healthcare. It's time to stop undermining major policy initiatives our nation needs and to begin embracing them. S.B., Portland, OR

V & Z: As a union member, I want to point out it's dishonest for the Culinary Union of Nevada to say that Bernie Sanders would cause people to lose their insurance. When you switch plans, it is never spoken of as "losing" your insurance. Last year, when we switched plans, we referred to it as "switching plans." On paper, our insurance might be considered "excellent," but I believe Medicare For All is a much better plan and would love to switch plans to that. I would much rather negotiate for better working conditions for my coworkers and my students than to spend all of our time negotiating for "excellent" healthcare, which never turns out to be that great. T.S., Davenport, IA

V & Z: I feel it's shortsighted not to call Bernie Sanders the frontrunner, for two reasons. The first is that he's leading in primary victories, the aggregate national polls, and in fundraising (excepting self-funded campaigns). The second is that the electorate have not consolidated around a moderate alternative. The Democrats could be in the same situation as the Republicans were in 2016, with an outlier candidate in front, while the rest of the party is split between three or four people. This situation is potentially worse for the moderate Democrats, with so many votes being cast on Super Tuesday this year. Even if a new frontrunner emerges from that day, they will have far less of the board remaining in order to secure the nomination. J.M., Boston, MA

V & Z: Writing about Bernie Sanders, you observed: "We know that 25-30% of the Democrats will walk over broken glass barefoot to shake his hand, but if he can't expand his base beyond young people and some blue-collar men, he's unlikely to get the nod."

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I seem to recall similar prognostications about the current president, at about this point in the 2016 GOP Primary. That his ceiling was around 30%. That he wouldn't be able to bring in the various parts of his party under his tent. That other candidates were better fits for the electorate writ large, etc. And we saw how that went.

You mentioned earlier in the same post that the path that ends up playing out will seem obvious in 6 months. I'd argue that it's plausibly obvious now, since we've seen the same progression, even down to the prognostication, as recently as 2016. C.B., California, MD

V & Z: In regards to Bernie Sanders and his ability to challenge Donald Trump, I'm reminded that about 4 years ago, many of my friends and I were elated that the Republicans were going to nominate a racist, sexist, reality TV star, believing he was too extreme and, quite frankly, too dumb, and there was no way he could win.

I think the moderate Republicans who think Sanders has no chance are just as out of touch with voter preference of liberals as many of us on the left were out of touch with "conservatives." J.V., Las Vegas, NV

V & Z: As a Sanders admirer, I was very amused to read about South Carolina Republican operative Nate Leupp attempting to ratf**k Bernie Sanders by inviting Republicans to vote for him in South Carolina. From this side of the Atlantic, the idea a political party would allow avowed supporters of the rival party to just wander in and vote in their primary makes my brain ache.

However, I think Nate Leupp is really going far out on a limb here. If Sanders gets the nomination and beats Donald Trump, Leupp will find his bright idea of turning out Trump Republicans to vote for Sanders an excruciating bit of history for him to try to rewrite. What's the ratf**king equivalent of a dog chasing its own tail? P.S., Dublin, Ireland

V & Z: First, I do not support Bernie Sanders, I am a centrist, but I would prefer Elizabeth Warren for the progressive representative of the Democrats. That said, I find M.F.'s table comparing Sanders to Donald Trump to be rather absurd. Yes, they are both old, white males that do not truly represent their respective parties. Beyond those points, the table is mostly a set of false equivalences. Does anyone believe that Sanders is anywhere near as misogynist as is Trump, or anywhere near as racist, or anywhere near as unwilling to take blame or responsibility, or as disorganized, or as vindictive? There may be valid arguments regarding spewing populist rhetoric, or having an angry hateful base, but the overall comparison is one big false equivalence.

Sure, there are plenty of reasons to dislike Sanders, but how could any centrist or leftist find any reason to prefer Trump over Sanders, or even consider not voting because they are presumably so much alike? How could any rightist even put together such a table as a meaningful guide for themselves? Perhaps the author is a libertarian extremist who thinks in black and white (not all libertarians are such!) and has no expectation of supporting either a Republican or Democrat? That would certainly explain the "equivalencies" displayed in the table. A.N., Tempe, AZ

Note: We can confirm that the author of that letter is not a libertarian extremist.

V & Z: I was pondering the political theories of Dr. Rachel Bitecofer, which you recently wrote about, when something else occurred to me: Perhaps the rise of Bernie Sanders is tied very closely with how Donald Trump won the Republican nomination. I keep thinking about how, in reality, Trump rarely got support from more than 35-40% of his fellow Republicans in the primaries. But thanks to the ways the primary is structured, that was all it took to get the nomination, and then the really interesting part was watching all the hand-wringing as never-Trumpers who thought he could never win came up with different excuses why they were voting for him.

I realized a long time ago that most people, especially ones that are less self aware, do whatever feels right and come up with the rationalization later. Maybe in a less polarized climate this wouldn't work, but with partisan feelings being very high, even extreme circumstances only caused relatively minor demographic shifts. The other lesson is how quickly Trump's policy ideas officially became the GOP's platform. I mean, I am still shocked watching business-oriented Republicans defend a trade war.

To my point about Sanders, it seems that a lot concern about his electability is evaporating, at least among the 35-40% of party members it would take to get him the likely nomination. And they are going all in on the 78-year-old because they are banking on Democrats supporting him fully if he the nominee, after watching Republicans do the same thing. J.M.B., Smithfield, NC

...And a Few Thoughts on Tulsi Gabbard

V & Z: I noticed that Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), one of the candidates running for president in the Democratic primary election, is missing from the delegate counter on the front page of your website. Looking at the row on the top of the current site version's front page, where the candidates are listed, there should be just enough room to add another candidate, which would accommodate "Gabbard" in the listing. Please reinstate her into the candidate listing. J.L., Brookeville, MD

V & Z: There is room in the header for "Gabbard 0." I point this out because leaving her off looks like another bit of "liberal bias;" and because I think it's quite possible she'll get at least one delegate in Hawaii, and surely you can't omit any candidate with actual delegates. B.L., Mountain View, CA

Note: If she gets a delegate then yes, we will probably have to reinstate her. However, our current assessment is that she's not only not viable, she's not even trying to win. Do you know where she spent much of this weekend? Maine, a state that will not vote until Mar. 3, and that has only 24 delegates. If she were serious about getting the nomination, she would have been in Nevada or South Carolina. As a practical matter, with Gabbard's name on top, the "Remaining" field doesn't quite fit. It's a few pixels short. We didn't want to increase the page width by a few pixels, with all the complications and testing on different devices that would entail just to include someone we are convinced won't hit 15% anywhere and thus won't have any delegates until Hawaii votes on April 4. If she is in the race then and wins delegates, she goes back in, one way or another.

V & Z: Last week, my wife and I drove through South Carolina on I-95 and saw multiple billboards advertising Tulsi Gabbard with the tag line "a soldier's heart." As you probably know, South Carolina is a favorite military family post-military settlement area. Although it's probably delusional, she probably has her hopes pinned on that state, and won't drop out until after it votes, at the earliest. D.A., Brooklyn, NY

The Decline and Fall of the American Empire?

V & Z: I have to admit to being in a horribly cynical, pessimistic and depressed mood for the past couple of weeks; yet even accounting for that I can still hardly believe that I'm wondering about this question: How will we, the general populace, know when we have slid from a democracy into an authoritarian and/or totalitarian state? Is it a single demarcation event or is it rather akin to watching the light fade at twilight, only to suddenly realize that you are standing in darkness?

When I read about the fall of the Roman Republic and the rule of the first emperors, I am struck by how long the Roman people believed that they were still living in a functioning Republic. Even among some of the elites who should have known better, there were those who deluded themselves into believing that the Republic could be saved or restored. Are we Americans, the ones who are not MAGA Hatters, just like those poor deluded Romans who believed that they could save or restore their freedoms? This week, watching Donald Trump make a full frontal assault on our already fragile independent judiciary while Chief Justice John Roberts and Majority Leader "Moscow Mitch" McConnell (R-KY) stand by knitting. When I look at the opposition race and see that the two candidates most vocally opposed by Trump, Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren, have been virtually knocked from the race, while Trump's preferred candidate, Bernie Sanders, sits atop. When I hear Republicans voice the proposal that convicted Trump cronies be given a redo trial, of course, after Hillary Clinton is tried and convicted of...something, most likely for being the scary monster under the bed that doesn't really exist. When I see that the military is cowering like sheep by moving monies that are meant for the actual defense of our nation to Twitler's vanity project in the desert, but instead of a massive beautiful pyramid we'll have an ugly tacky wall that falls down in a stiff breeze. I see these things along with so many more and I have to conclude that the last light of twilight has vanished and we are alone in the dark. So will we know or do we have to wait for what's left of the free world to declare the United States a lost cause? D.E., Lilitz, PA

V & Z: I think that it's time the American people recognize that the Founders' failure to see the emergence of political parties in this country has rendered the U.S. Constitution a failed governmental system.

The situation is as follows:

  1. There are two teams. Separation of powers is a joke. All vote along party lines. And it's clear that one party is corrupt to the core and not interested in fair play, but only play for power. There is nothing besides the ballot box to stop them, and even that is suspect because of Senate seat allocation, gerrymandering, and voter suppression (both explicit and implicit).

  2. The idea that the president has control over the legal system enables him to act in an entirely illegal manner and be completely without oversight. We have a despot, so long as that person can control his party. Who is watching the watcher? We've had a real-time demonstration that a criminal in the White House can effectively refuse to provide anything to Congress and to deny them any oversight. Impeachment by 2/3 of the Senate is an impossibility with the modern political landscape.

  3. The idea of majority rule is perverted by the bicameral system, an unbalanced Senate allocation of power, and an Electoral College that has repeatedly thwarted the will of millions of voters. All of these need to be extinguished, and a new system designed to be more accountable to the people.

  4. The capacity for election fraud, especially its effective enforcement by the executive branch and the judicial branch (appointed by the executive), creates a system that encourages corruption rather than a fair vote. Other countries have made strides to address this issue in a variety of ways. We should take note.

  5. The fourth estate, which is not explicitly included in the body of the Constitution, has also failed. Two words embody the rot: "Fox News." This network can pose as a news organization while publishing out-right lies and propaganda to a brainwashed viewership. Other news sources have done so in the past, but none so brazenly and with such a wide reach as Fox. At some point, this type of organization needs to be considered by those that eventually will need to create the new constitution. While this is a conservative network, it doesn't really matter. Whether this network is liberal or conservative is irrelevant. It's a danger to the nation. There needs to be some way to stop disinformation. People can't tell reality from fiction when they distrust all sources of information because they say exactly opposite things and both claim the other side is lying.

Basically, we've crossed the Rubicon in this country and no one is willing to say so. The system of government we've been experimenting with has shown enormous holes in the effective use and control of political power and the concept of separation of powers to control corruption of any one branch. All branches currently are failing in this regard. Unfortunately it took a criminal being elected and collaboration with a truly power-abusing party of enablers to expose these failings, but they are real nonetheless.

We need to admit the system has failed and make some serious revisions, unfortunately, until the replacement team shows themselves to be as ruthless and corrupt as those currently abusing the system, there will never be a 2/3 majority to affect change. Dark days lie ahead.

So, when do we just admit the experiment has failed? Who will be the first to say so? How long will we continue to pretend that the tires aren't flat and we're driving on the rims? M.B., Centennial, CO

V & Z: With the exoneration of Donald Trump having been completed, our country is no longer a democracy. We are officially a totalitarian state, no better than Cuba, China, or Russia. Maybe even North Korea. The Republican Party affirmed that Trump is a king by virtue of the argument that the President is above the law. The only way to defeat the tyrant is to support Michael Bloomberg, who has unlimited money and who will use it to brainwash and re-educate hopefully anyone who will listen to take back our country. If anyone has not read 1984 by George Orwell or The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood, I urge you to do so immediately. No mistake that Barr has changed the U.S. Attorney for D.C. so that Michael Flynn doesn't have to go to jail.

Our democracy has been shattered so badly that it might take years of overwhelmingly Democratic control to undo the damage. Split government will not save us. We are ranked 25th among the world's democracies, and the rankers are considering putting us in the totalitarian category. Do not say this can't happen in America, for it has. If Trump wins in November, we might just become an authoritarian theocracy like Gilead in The Handmaid's Tale. As global warming nears, our country will be woefully unprepared, and so it just might be as the recent poll says in New Hampshire, whether you would prefer to see 4 more years of Trump or have a meteor crash down and destroy us, nearly two-thirds of the Democrats surveyed chose the meteor. J.B., Levittown, NY

V & Z:

Poster in the style of a
politcal bumper sticker that says 'Giant Meteor 2020: Just end it already.

F.D., Portland, OR

Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics

V & Z: In this week's Q&A, you note that we might be able to learn about impeachment's effect on Senate elections if a pollster were to ask a question like, "Is your choice influenced by the impeachment and trial?"

This question type is not trustworthy. A lot of people will respond by claiming that impeachment affirmed their baseline attitude. I have a paper on this, co-authored with Alex Coppock, if it is of interest. M.G., New Haven, CT

Note: Thanks for bringing your work to our attention!

Chomping at the Bitcoin

V & Z: I disagree that a move back to the gold standard would be beneficial to the rich. It would definitely take power away from the government and Fed. But the argument that we can tax the rich by printing more money and taking the value away isn't right. It's not because regular and poor people also have that money that is being inflated and they are more likely to hold it. Rich people have their money in things that don't suffer much from inflation like stocks, real estate, and gold. Rich people also have the resources to invest in whatever is in their best interest. Inflation takes the value of people's savings and lowers the amount of money they make every year (assuming they don't get a proper raise).

I'm not saying we should move back to gold; what I think is important is how Bitcoin solves this issue. Average people can accumulate wealth, hold and spend it. It's deflationary because there will never be more than 21 Million Bitcoins, no one can make more. Gold suffers from not being able to be transferred or stored easily. A currency with limited supply is the only real money that can be trusted, especially since it takes control away from the government. Inflationary money is the reason the world wars were able to get so big: countries figured out how to have unlimited money (until there wasn't) to support the wars. Governments aren't going to like Bitcoin, but at this point it's too late to do much to stop it. K.R., Oconomowoc, WI

About the NPVIC

V & Z: I do not agree with your answer to the question about why the NPVIC only kicks in when it includes states totaling at least 270 electoral votes. Perhaps the optics of running up the margin in an election whose result is not changed figure in somehow. However, the real reason would seem to be the risk of an election where it did change the result, against the state's interests. A state plausibly has two distinct interests. The first is having the candidate supported by its voters elected president. That is best accomplished by the current system—giving its electoral votes to the candidate who wins the state. The second is having the candidate who wins the national popular vote elected president—the point of the NPVIC. The NPVIC only makes a difference if at least one state ends up giving its electoral votes to a candidate who lost that state's popular vote. While one can perhaps see why a state would agree to do that in service of making sure the national popular vote winner wins the Electoral College, why would it do that without that assurance?

As an example, suppose the politics were flipped and NPVIC states were mostly red. With fewer than 270 electoral votes committed, they would not have locked in a Trump victory if he won the national popular vote, but they could have flipped the election to Clinton. Why would a state commit to casting its electoral votes against its own popular vote without even getting the assurance that the compact would elect the national popular vote winner? If the compact makes sense at all (and I would argue it does not), it only makes sense once it is sure to achieve its goal of electing the national popular vote winner. J.L., Chicago, IL

V & Z: I have a different answer for R.S. of San Mateo, CA, who asked why the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact (NPVIC) laws are designed to be triggered only once the compact includes 270 electors. The framing of that question appears to not recognize a perfectly reasonable (and ethically justifiable) case against what would effectively be a unilateral disarmament.

R.S. writes that if the NPVIC states "are implementing it to help one party, then they should want to guarantee that party 209 (if things go as expected) electoral votes immediately." The key, of course, is that things cannot be guaranteed to go "as expected." Although a state might reasonably think that the NPVIC is likely to help one party (or, more broadly, further the will of their own state's majority), it would nevertheless be irrational for a state to risk disadvantaging its citizens by agreeing to use its electoral votes for a candidate its citizens do not support without first securing reciprocal agreements by other states to do the same.

R.S. also posits that "If the states are implementing it on philosophical grounds, then they should want it in effect immediately." That is not necessarily true. A state may reasonably and honestly value the "fairness" of a national popular vote, but may not value it so highly as to risk unilaterally pledging its electoral votes against the will of its own citizens. They may make that choice either because they selfishly do not wish to disadvantage themselves, or because they believe that such a pledge without reciprocity would, in and of itself, also be philosophically "unfair." Neither of those reasons undermines the philosophical argument in favor of the NPVIC.

A sports analogy might be helpful. Goaltending in basketball (basically, blocking a shot on its way down) was banned by the NCAA in 1944. Presumably, any team could have favored the ban either on philosophical grounds (the ban simply made basketball a better game) or for competitive advantage (the ban would preferentially hurt other teams with taller players). Yet in either of these cases, it would be illogical for a team to unilaterally refrain from goaltending while its opponents continued to goaltend. That decision against unilateral action does not impugn the sincerity of the team's motives in either case. M.T., Richmond, VA

Note: Thanks to both of you for answers that definitely improve on ours.

And So It Begins?

V & Z: FYI, I recently received a letter from the "Elections Administrator" of Dallas County. In it, it claims that "This office has received information indicating that your current residence is different from the residence on your registration record."

This is a blatant lie, I moved to Texas in 2008, and have lived at the same address ever since. (That, incidentally, is the address they sent the letter to and, since I own the place, is also on public record they have access to. Their colleagues at the Property Tax office have no problem with sending me the bill.) (and if there was any doubt about it being my residence, they would certainly go after my homestead exemption) What has changed is that I became U.S. citizen since 2008. And note that the very first question asked is: "Are you a U.S. citizen." N.T., Dallas, TX

Note: We checked into this, and that's a real position, so this could be legitimate (unlike, say, those Ted Cruz "Election Violation" mailers). That said, we think you're right to be wary of something fishy here. Given that Texas is a big state, could have a close presidential and/or Senate race this year, and is run almost entirely by the GOP, it's a top suspect for 2020 voter suppression efforts.

One Pill Makes You Larger, and One Pill Makes You Small

V & Z: While your rewording of the deeply misinformed question on Saturday from K.J., Roanoke, VA, "...Why do you so strongly dislike President Trump?" was fun, it's unfair to the Side of Good. The cited "accomplishments" of Trump and the GOP are fatuous. The replaced accomplishments of Pelosi and the Democrats are completely true. But K.J.'s questions are instructive. It demonstrates how deeply his side misunderstands facts, forming opinions only partway that can be made to imagine useful things have happened when the reality is actually the opposite.

In that letter, the example that stood out among so many was, "stifling government regulations." To start with, all regulations are issued by governments, whether local or federal. So, "government" is superfluous. Next, regulations are rules and that's pretty much the point of having a government, yes? No need to point out, "regulations". That leaves us with "stifling," a concept that K.J. has picked up from the GOP, after one or more of those pesky government regulations controverted something they wanted to do. After all, it wouldn't be called "stifling" if it was used to support something they want to do.

And that's the way President Turnip has captured the non-critical thinkers. Digestible bits that speak to their imagined alienation without seeing the why of a "stifling government regulation" and how it actually helps society and this planet of limited resources. M.I., Narbeth, PA

V & Z: Thanks for that response to K.J. in Roanoke. The only thing I wish you would have added is an explanation about how those are extreme views. People like K.J. see those views as mainstream and logical. Using reverse logic doesn't help them understand. B.B., Panama City Beach, FL

You Can't Spell "Abhorrent" Without "B-A-R-R"

V & Z: In your item "DOJ is 100% in the Pocket of DJT," I am very surprised you did not mention the recent memo that AG Bill Barr released to the DOJ. According to the New York Times, the memo states that "any Department of Justice investigations, including preliminary ones, into a presidential or vice presidential candidate, their campaigns, or staff, cannot be opened without the written approval of the attorney general." This also extends to investigations into illegal contributions, donations or expenditures by foreign nationals to a presidential or congressional campaign, although with approval required at a lower level.

This gives Barr the power to single-handedly protect Trump (and potentially his donors) from being investigated, assumedly for campaign law violations. And with Barr's recent history of protecting Trump through his personal warped view of the Unitary Executive theory, this memo establishes a very dangerous precedent. M.B., Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic

V & Z: You wrote: "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."

I was surprised at this because I know I had seen people talk about it on Twitter. In fact, when I searched for "Impeach Barr", Twitter suggested "Impeach Barr Immediately." This shows several people, including Elizabeth Warren (not a nobody), calling for his impeachment. M.A.H., Akron, PA

V & Z: It seems Bill Barr's actions in the Roger Stone situation don't quite make sense given the heat he would get by recommending new sentencing guidelines. The difference between "7-9 years" and "something less than 7-9 years" is not that significant, yet Barr exposed himself ethically to do so. I find it more likely that this charade is laying the groundwork to claim later that Judge Amy Berman Jackson's sentence was too harsh and can only be remedied by a pardon. The constitutional remedy for harsh sentences is a presidential pardon and Trump could claim that his association with Roger Stone was not part of the calculus for issuing the pardon. S.M., Pepperell, MA

V & Z: You wrote: "The wheels of justice aren't just turning slowly these days; they appear to have fallen off the carriage." This is the end of the wonderful Department of Justice. Lawless is lawless. That's all I say. C.D., Albuquerque, NM

Socking it to Nixon

V & Z: You wrote: "After all, Dick Nixon didn't pay a price for his crimes, but many of his cronies did. Same with Ronald Reagan, or Warren Harding."

The implication is that Reagan and Harding committed crimes. Reagan might have, or perhaps he was already too dotty by 1986 to have any criminal responsibility. Harding certainly did not although, like poor U.S. Grant, he did exhibit bad judgment in some of his appointments.

This is very unfair to Harding, who certainly is deserving of a bit of historical rehabilitation. He himself was not corrupt, he ended the crazed witch hunts started by A.G. Palmer, and he pardoned old Eugene Debs for having exercised his right to free speech. He was much less racist than his predecessor, the very over-rated Woodrow Wilson.

To put him in the same league (or anywhere near) with Nixon, who even today remains the worst, most murderous, evil president we ever had, is just shameful. D.A., Brooklyn, NY

Note: You're right, that passage was not as artful as we would have liked.

Cockamamie Caucuses

V & Z: I very much appreciated the comments from E.C.R. of Helsinki, Finland regarding the experience of attending the 2016 Washington State caucus in a Seattle suburb. I also attended the first two rounds of the caucus (though across the sound from Seattle), and I had a very different experience.

First, I should state that I am not a diehard "Bernie Bro." I supported Sanders over Clinton in 2016 for many reasons, knowing full well that by the time Washington State voters had their say, Clinton would be the inevitable nominee. Part of my thinking was a hope that support for Sanders would help the Clinton campaign to recognize an enthusiasm gap and address parts of her record that troubled the left wing of the party, such as her hawkish foreign policy votes in the Senate. I do not intend to vote for Sanders in the primary this year, as I do not see him as the best candidate for this political moment.

I attended the first round of the caucus with my partner and kids and found it highly enjoyable with a spirited but civil discussion of the candidates. My group chose 4 delegates for the county caucus, 3 for Sanders and 1 for Clinton, based on the 75%/25% split of our group. My partner was selected as a Sanders delegate, and I volunteered to be a Sanders alternate.

The county caucus was a completely different 12-hour ordeal. I again attended with my family, thinking that I would not be needed as an alternate and would be able to leave with my kids after they got a sense of the experience. Unfortunately, the overcrowded high school was so chaotic, it took several hours to determine that I would indeed be needed as an alternate. The whole process was confused by multiple rounds of voting by voice vote on issues that delegates were not expecting, such as amendments to the party platform. At one point, a count was announced of the number of delegates each candidate should receive based on the earlier caucus. Hours later, another count was announced of the actual delegates being awarded, with a significant decrease in the number for Sanders, despite the fact that there were still alternates available. Though an organizer for Sanders was down on the floor waving his arms in protest, the exhausted crowd had been primed by a series of "yes" votes on party platform issues and accepted the count without recognizing the mistake. A complaint was lodged and ignored. Then we were all told that we could not leave until state delegates had been selected, despite the fact that their insufficient supply of cookies had run out and no food was available. Delegate ballots were promptly printed out for the Hillary supporters, but the Bernie crowd had to wait several more hours because the organizers ran out of paper. It was after 10 o'clock by the time we left, and my highly aggravated partner responded by casting a third party vote in the general election.

There was one bright spot in the whole ordeal. At one point I went outside to check on my unsupervised kids. My 9-year-old had teamed up with the daughter of a Hillary supporter, and the two of them were leading a group of kids in a civil discussion of the candidates. Perhaps there is hope for a better future. J.K., Silverdale, Washington

V & Z: As one of the volunteer site organizers for the 2016 Democratic precinct caucuses in the Washington state, I sympathize with the plight of E.C.R. from Helsinki. The simple math is that we didn't have as many volunteers as precincts, forcing ordinary (and, obviously, untrained) citizens to step in as caucus chairs. The 2016 precinct caucuses were actually less chaotic than eight years earlier (Obama vs. Clinton). From 2008, we had learned to reserve separate spaces for each of the precinct-level breakout caucuses in case of historically large crowds. (By the way, E.C.R., your seemingly "arbitrary" "caucuslet" was actually a meeting of voters from your individual precinct—your nearest neighbors.)

Even worse were the second-level legislative district caucuses in 2016, where I volunteered on the credentials committee for my district. The state party had communicated last-minute rule changes for the seating of alternates, and no guidance on how to implement them. So we improvised, while hundreds of delegates waited for us to sort it all out. It was an unpleasant experience for everyone, not at all helped by the unseasonably hot weather.

E.C.R. (and others) will be relieved to learn that the Washington state Democrats have scrapped the old system. Delegate allocations will be based on the results of a primary on March 10. The actual individuals filling the delegate positions will be elected by caucuses and conventions later in the spring, but the turnout at those events will not affect the allocations decided by the primary. J.E., Bellevue, WA

V & Z: Is there any reason why Nevada or Iowa needs to have a phone line which could be jammed to record results?

Why can't precinct leaders send a text message, or even use Whatsapp etc? It wouldn't overload the phone lines, as the messages would simply arrive and be processed as required. The number to be contacted could be kept secret to prevent the likes of 4chan or other organizations Ratfu**ing, and released via a mass text to registered phones of precinct leaders 30 minutes before the results are due. Only texts and messages from registered phones would be counted and it would only be a pre-indication, with paperwork to be filed within 24 hours.

I realize you aren't responsible for the actions of the Democrats but I consider your news site to be written by grown ups and read by those who are informed, so within that community someone might be able to shoot down my idea with information I am not aware of. D.A., Edinburgh, Scotland

Note: Our only guess is that some folks are low-tech enough that even a simple app is beyond them. Certainly, (Z) knows folks in their 60s and 70s who have been making phone calls their whole lives, but who struggle with simple cell phone functions like turning silent mode on and off. Whatsapp is owned by Facebook. Do the Democrats really want to turn the choice of their nominee over to Facebook? Any technological solution is subject to hacking as well as well the problems they had in Iowa. Caution is advised.

V & Z: You wrote: "Exactly how a 'tool' and an 'app' differ is not clear. Let me help:

App: noun. Short for "application." Examples: Acrobat Reader, Microsoft Word. See also: computer program.

Tool: noun. Something that is used by someone to help accomplish a task. Examples: the Senate Republican caucus. See also: useful idiot.

Not quite relevant to the Nevada caucuses, but it was too good a setup to pass up! S.K., Sunnyvale, CA

There's a Ton of Interest in Units of Measurement

V & Z: I have to disagree slightly with your statement that Americans still use inches and feet because we are resistant to change, because that's not the whole story. While Jimmy Carter was enthusiastic about switching to the metric system, Ronald Reagan (with his atavistic slogan "Bringing America Back"), prodded by arch-reactionary advisor Lyn Nofziger, closed down the United States Metric Board, thus ending the process. The irony being that metrification actually got started in earnest under Republican Gerald Ford. Remind you of any other president who seeks to reverse his predecessor's policies purely on the basis of spite rather than rational thinking?

We're now in a sort of limbo between the two systems, and the resulting confusion culminated most spectacularly with the crash of the Mars Climate Orbiter two decades ago, partly because two teams of arrogant scientists and engineers couldn't let their foolish pride down long enough to work out which units to use. Then NASA dropped the ball by not checking their work. So, NASA learned its lesson the hard way, at the cost of over $100 million plus a few ruined careers, and now insists that all specs and calculations be in SI. Nonetheless, part of me is still glad I will be long dead before the metric system takes over completely in this country. D.S., Albuquerque, NM

V & Z: Your comment today overlooks the fact that Smoots are taken out only to the tenths places (i.e., 0.1 Smoot). Distances smaller than one-tenth of a Smoot (i.e., 6.7 inches) are measured in Ears. R.M., Brooklyn, N.Y.

Note: We shudder to think of how many NASA missions have been ruined by improper Smoot conversion.

V & Z: OK, now I have to weigh in. One area where the U.S. has capitulated to the SI system is in vehicle components and the hardware that bolts them together. Mechanics have become adept at estimating whether a bolt head is a "10" or a "13," etc. As for me, I prefer to measure my speed in furlongs per fortnight and my gas mileage in inverse acres. D.S., Palo Alto, CA

V & Z: The U.K. is insane today with its muddled measurements:

  • We buy petrol (gasoline) in litres but cars state capacity in gallons (UK gallons, not American gallons, which are not the same!)
  • It is typical for someone to say "place-X is Y-kilometers away" and then give directions in miles.
  • Fresh food is always listed (by law) in grams, but many conversations about food are in pounds.

That said, ask any American how many ounces are in their 2 liters of Coke. Or how many square feet there are in their 5.0 liter Mustang engine. The U.S. is not immune. S.D., Old York, UK

V & Z: Another likely reason the U.S. hasn't adopted the metric system is that our Public Land Survey System (Township and Range) is based on miles. So, construction uses miles, feet, inches. A large portion of the economy (construction) is unlikely to voluntarily convert to a different system of measurement given all the investment they have in the existing system. J.T.M., Phoenix, AZ

V & Z: Now, wait one minute, your own selves. While it's true that liquids can be and are often dual-measured in the US, and certain ones like food and liquor are mandated to be measured in metric terms, that is all largely because food and liquor trade associations in the early 1970's determined that it was in everyone's best interest to do so.

The real problem is that for technicians, scientists, and others who work with any kinds of measurements in the public space is that we are burdened by having to carry around (in our heads) all kinds of ultimately useless conversion factors, such as 2.54 cm/in, 0.6 mi/km, etc. That is a specific burden that I think is quite costly to teach, train and administer.

The burden of these conversions is not only one of economics, but also of public safety. As a pharmacy student in the early sixties (Wow! Remember rock n' roll?), I had to pay for, show up for, and do the homework for "Calculations 301." This course taught us all to convert any dry or liquid measure between Metric/Traditional/Apothecary systems. Do you think that was fraught with danger? I did, and still do, even though I aced the 1-credit course necessary for a diploma.

And while I am whatabouting, how about our homes and public buildings? All require certain standards, such as "8 foot ceilings" (not 2.5 meters), which not only measures, but prescribes the structure of our homes, offices, schools, etc. And that, in turn, perpetuates the same system, as you can see when you visit any Home Depot. The measurement system actually creates not only our environment, but also that of our descendants. D.M., Burnsville, MN

He Got Off Easy

V & Z: You wrote that every serious presidential candidate has been subject to skeleton fact-finding missions, save George Washington. Since he sort of started the French & Indian War, and therefore the Seven Years War, and therefore laid the basis for the increased taxes that led to the American Rebellion of 1776. Perhaps someone should have done a bit more digging for Washington's skeletons earlier on. J.C., Taguig City, Philippines

Note: What did George know about that cherry tree, and when did he know it?

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Feb15 Saturday Q&A
Feb14 Barr Lashes Out?
Feb14 Donald Trump, Man of Steel
Feb14 Senate Pushes Back
Feb14 It's Crunch Time for Bloomberg
Feb14 Nevada Unveils New Caucus Procedures
Feb14 Nevada Polling Update
Feb14 Doug Jones Is in Deep Trouble
Feb14 Virginia Assembly Approves NPVIC
Feb13 Who Supported Whom in New Hampshire?
Feb13 Where to From Here?
Feb13 Wall Street Doesn't Fear Sanders as Much as It Did
Feb13 Culinary Union Trashes Sanders
Feb13 The Accidental Rivals Face Off
Feb13 Patrick Throws in the Towel
Feb13 Stone's Case May Affect Giuliani's Fate
Feb13 Georgia Senate Race Turns Nasty
Feb12 New Hampshirites Head to the Polls
Feb12 New Hampshire Claims Two Victims
Feb12 DOJ is 100% in the Pocket of DJT
Feb12 Bloomberg's Achilles Heel Shows Itself
Feb12 Powell Issues Warning to Congress
Feb12 CIA Scheme Finally Sees the Light of Day
Feb12 AOC Has a Primary Challenger
Feb11 Things Are Getting Interesting in New Hampshire
Feb11 Today's Ratfu**ing News
Feb11 Bloomberg Ascending?
Feb11 Iowa Results Are Finalized...Maybe
Feb11 Smear Campaign Against Romney Commences
Feb11 Update on All the President's Crooks
Feb11 RBG: No ERA
Feb10 Sanders Leads in New Hampshire
Feb10 Democrats Are Worried that the Nevada Caucuses Will Also Be a Disaster
Feb10 Steyer Surges in South Carolina
Feb10 Klobuchar Raised $2 Million Since Friday
Feb10 Giuliani Is Still Digging for Dirt on the Bidens
Feb10 Trump Blew Up the Electoral Map
Feb10 Which Political Theory Is Right?
Feb10 Trump Abandons Promise on the Deficit
Feb09 Sunday Mailbag
Feb08 The Reaping Has Begun
Feb08 Friday Night Lights
Feb08 Life Hasn't Been Good for Walsh
Feb08 Saturday Q&A
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