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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Saturday Q&A
      •  Today's Senate Polls

Saturday Q&A

Today we start with Donald Trump, and we end with the worst Americans of all time.

Q: Voters seem to have surprisingly short memories. If Trump begins acting rationally and demonstrating compassion—even if it's too little, too late, and just an act—how might this impact voter preferences? Might Trump be persuaded by his campaign that taking his ego down a notch for the next 100 days would be less painful than losing in November? S.H., Phoenix, AZ

Q: Assume COVID-19 actually does go away for one reason or another before November—say it mutates into a less lethal illness like the common cold, or a vaccine becomes available, or a therapeutic treatment like the interferon-beta inhaler is found to prevent death in nearly all cases—how soft is the support for Biden under these circumstances? T.W., Norfolk, UK

A: There is no good way to poll this question, as people are notoriously poor at predicting what they might do in a hypothetical future situation. So, we can only guess at an answer. But our guess is that Biden's support is not all that soft, and that a change of course on COVID-19 by Trump isn't going to help him all that much.

We are commonly reminded that Donald Trump's base tends to hold firm, and flat out refuses to abandon him. This is true, and it explains why his approval rating has such a high floor. However, it is also the case that his approval rating has a very low ceiling. For three-plus years, 55% of Americans, give or take a few points, have been unhappy with the job he is doing. As long as the Democrats put forward a candidate who is acceptable—note, not necessarily amazing or mind-blowing, just acceptable—then most of that 55% is available to the blue team. Joe Biden is, quite clearly, broadly acceptable in a way that Hillary Clinton was not.

Put another way, we would guess that for most Americans, COVID-19 was yet another item on the "reasons not to vote for Trump" checklist, not the decisive item. Now, there may be some percentage of the voting public for whom COVID-19 was the dealbreaker. And maybe Trump could win some of those folks back by pivoting. However, it appears that it's largely the weakest portions of his base who are wavering, such that even if he wins them back, he's not making gains, he's merely reducing losses. Further, no matter how well things go on the COVID-19 front going forward, there are still going to be many Americans dead, many more suffering long-term damage, an economy in disarray, and a president who pooh-poohed it all for multiple months. It is improbable that all will be forgotten and forgiven, regardless of what Trump does (or claims credit for) in the next three months.

Also, new issues come up. For example, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez' (D-NY) response to Rep. Ted Yoho (R-FL) calling her a "f**king b**ch" and Trump tweeting about "suburban housewives" could become a major issue driving the gender gap.

Q: While much of the blame for the 2016 election seems to go to James Comey and his last second memos on Hillary's emails, I think it goes under the radar that Trump really toned things down for the last 2 weeks of the 2016 election. I seem to recall an article that y'all wrote about Trump's tweets coming from an iPhone or a Samsung. There was speculation that Trump's advisors had taken his phone from him to limit his tweeting late in the 2016 Campaign. All of this was clearly an attempt to make Trump seem presidential to Republicans who questioned his competency and mental fitness for the job.

Say what you want, but the strategy couldn't have hurt. I know my father was one of the Republicans who was struggling over the decision based on those reservations and who decided to vote for Trump late. While I'd imagine that this would be too little, too late after 3.5 years of this nonsense, this new strategy has worked in the past. Don't you think the "New Teleprompter Trump" is an attempt to get those Republicans back on board now? Do you think Trump has the attention span to tone it down for 3.5 months? Could it work?
P.S., Memphis, TN

A: We do not think Trump has the ability to play "statesman Trump" for the next 100 days. He's never been able to do it for more than a week or two. Nor do we think it will change many minds, even if he does. When he was candidate Trump, there were still many questions about how President Trump might behave. And when he won, there was a plethora of articles predicting that, now that he would be taking over the Oval Office, of course he would grow up and act presidential. That did not happen, as you well know.

Now, there is no mystery. We know exactly how a President Trump will behave. If he keeps his nose a little cleaner for the rest of his term, and that causes someone to decide that three months of normal behavior is more instructive than three years of outlandish behavior, then we think that person was likely to vote for Trump's re-election all along, and that they merely would be using his "pivot" as an excuse to justify that choice.

Q: The new daily briefings from Donald Trump are basically useless, even more so than the previous ones. Since, at most of them, we're not hearing from any health experts (in fact, mostly they're not even in the room), there is no point in listening to him. So why are the networks covering them? I'm not talking about Fox and OANN, but the others. Couldn't they just boycott? H.M., Berlin, Germany

A: There are three reasons that all the networks cover the briefings:

  1. "President acts like buffoon" is still news.
  2. They can't know in advance if someone with something useful to say will show up.
  3. If they completely ignore the briefings, some viewers/readers will perceive bias.

That said, many outlets—including Fox—sometimes cut away partway through. Only OANN covers them start to finish every time.

Q: I cannot understand why Donald Trump has sent federal law enforcement into Portland, of all places. Protests in Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and many other cities seem to have involved more violent confrontations with police than Portland did. So, why Portland? M.S., Vista, CA

A: First of all, let us be clear that Trump did not choose the target. That decision was made by someone much more savvy, probably Acting DHS secretary Chad Wolf, or maybe AG Bill Barr.

Anyhow, as we noted yesterday, the people who run law enforcement in Portland are quite simpatico with Team Trump. Further, it's a very blue state, which means libs are being owned. And finally, the city is fairly compact and the protests are fairly small, which reduces the chances of things spiraling completely out of control and the White House getting the blame.

By contrast, Los Angeles, as you note, had a bit more ugliness than Portland did. Not a lot, but a bit. However, even as Trump has threatened to broaden these efforts, and has mentioned Chicago, and Albuquerque, and Philadelphia, he still hasn't said a word about L.A. It's true that California is a blue state, and so federal officers would have plenty of libs' heads to thump, if they chose to target the City of the Angels. However, it is also the case that the modern LAPD, having been buffeted by the scandals of the 1980s and 1990s, is pretty progressive as far as law enforcement agencies go. And that starts at the top, where current chief Michel R. Moore's official biography states that he "strives to promote a community policing style of leadership that stresses intelligent, partnership-oriented strategies involving community stakeholders, as well as various members of the criminal justice system." In short, Team Trump knows they aren't going to get any cooperation if they hit Los Angeles. Further, just about everyone has heard about the Los Angeles Riots of 1992, and the Watts Riots of 1965, so the administration knows what can happen if the city, which is highly decentralized and decidedly not compact, is pushed too far.

Q: Why can't the governors of Oregon, Illinois, New Mexico, etc. use the state police (or national guard) to defend their citizens from outside (federal/unmarked) attacks? B.K., Dallas, TX

A: Well, that would certainly escalate the situation, which would likely anger voters in those states. Further, the governors know full well that would play right into Donald Trump's narrative that the cities are a law unto themselves, who care nothing for the Constitution or for democratic government. And finally, Trump can nationalize the National Guard (and probably state police) anytime he wants, thus nullifying the response. This is exactly what happened, for example, when Dwight D. Eisenhower ordered the forcible integration of Little Rock Central High School in 1957—one of the very first things Ike did was nationalize the Arkansas National Guard.

Q: I would never wear a MAGA hat and I have had a low opinion of Donald Trump since his earlier days as an Atlantic City con man. However, I think that I am welcoming his unorthodox response to events in Portland. Downtown businesses are boarded up out of fear, and the federal building is an obscene mess of graffiti. People throw rocks, ice, and fireworks at law enforcement officers. Many media outlets report marginally on these problems, and yet minimize the significance of the destruction, and insist that readers should focus on the daytime peaceful protesters. The Portland leadership has kneecapped the police in their ability to respond appropriately to the nightly rioting. My questions are: (1) Do you think that the federal authorities are only detaining people who have not done anything wrong?, and (2) Do you have a concept of a better way to tactically address the Portland riots? D.P., Arcata, CA

A: First of all, we have yet to see an explanation from the administration for how things in Portland are so much worse than anywhere else that the use of such force is justified. We cannot agree with you that graffiti, and some preemptively boarded up windows, constitute anything approaching a crisis.

Beyond that, it is a rare fire that is extinguished by pouring more fuel upon it. We do not presume to be experts in calming urban unrest. However, we observe that when dealing with an actual fire, the professionals create a perimeter around the fire and allow it to burn itself out. Similarly, during something like the Watts Riots, the National Guard created a perimeter around the city, and allowed the unrest to dissipate without spreading any further. So, if Team Trump is truly interested in restoring the peace—as opposed to performing political theater—we would imagine that their response should look something like that.

Oh, and since a sizable number of people have been detained and questioned without being charged, then yes, we do think that they are targeting people who have not done anything wrong. If the person did something illegal, or potentially illegal, it should not be difficult to find something to charge them with and to properly present them with a writ of habeas corpus.

Q: What do you suppose would be the largest possible deficit in the popular vote that would still allow Donald Trump to eke out an Electoral College victory? R.C., Des Moines, IA

A: We are going to limit our answer to the presidential contest as it currently stands (i.e., no major third-party candidates like Ross Perot or Theodore Roosevelt), and to the real world (i.e., no scenarios where Alabama casts exactly 1 vote, and it's for Trump, and California casts 30 million votes, all for Biden). Anyhow, Trump lagged Hillary Clinton by 2.1% of the vote in 2016, and won the election by the razor-thin margin of 77,744 votes combined in three Rust Belt states.

It is possible that Joe Biden could improve on Hillary Clinton's popular vote percentage, but not her Electoral College performance, if he does better than she did solely in blue states. However, there doesn't seem to be all that much room for that. For example, Clinton won California by 30 points (62% to 32%). If you follow California politics at all, you know she pretty much got every vote that's plausibly available to a Democrat. By way of comparison, the Republicans ran a mediocre gubernatorial candidate in 2018, and even he managed to get 38% of the vote.

Anyhow, in view of the demographic changes of the last four years, not to mention how close it was in 2016, we would say that a realistic upper bound for Trump to lose the popular vote and win re-election is 2%. If we want to imagine a world where absolutely everything goes his way, and he somehow wins 10 blue states (instead of 3) by fewer than 80,000 votes combined, then you can maybe push that to 3.5%.

Q: We've all heard of how a lame-duck president can lose power over Congress as they simply wait out the clock. But what about a lame duck bureaucracy? One possible outcome of a decisive blue victory is that Donald Trump indulges his tendencies to lash out at those who have wronged him. What if, in December, he attempts to fire everyone at the Centers for Disease Control, shutters the Justice Department, severs relations with NATO, or bombs Iran. What can Federal agencies, or the military, do to prevent him? T.J.C., St. Louis, MO

A: He would be constrained by two things, in particular. The first is that there are rules in place designed to stop these sorts of impulsive moves from a reckless leader. It is not possible to withdraw from NATO overnight; that requires a year-long process, and probably also congressional assent. Similarly, the majority of federal employees are career civil servants, and are legally protected from arbitrary termination. It is true that Trump could fire the people he appointed, but they would be on their way out anyhow, and their functions would be subsumed by the careerists on an interim basis.

Meanwhile, if Trump tries to nuke Iran, or start a war with Mexico, or assassinate Justin Trudeau, and he did not have a strong justification and/or congressional assent, then it would be an immoral order and, under the terms of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, would be refused.

Q: The Twelfth Amendment states (regarding sealed electoral votes that have been transmitted to the federal government): "...The President of the Senate shall, in the presence of the Senate and House of Representatives, open all the certificates and the votes shall then be counted..."

What happens if, in a manner similar to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and the Merrick Garland SCOTUS nomination, Mike Pence simply refuses to perform this part of his job, leaving the electoral vote uncounted?
S.A., Downey, CA

A: There is longstanding Senate precedent that if the VP is not in the room, the President Pro Tempore of the Senate takes on the role of President of the Senate. And so, if Mike Pence locked himself in at Number One Observatory Circle, and refused to preside over the vote-counting, then Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) would take over.

Keep in mind that the electoral votes have been counted without a Veep in the room plenty of times. In the years before the Constitution was modified to allow for the selection of replacement VPs (1967), the office was vacant for the counting of the electoral votes on 17 occasions—eight due to the VP having been elevated to the presidency, seven due to the death of the VP, one due to the resignation of the VP, and one because there was no VP yet (1788). Since there have been 58 presidential elections, that means the electoral votes were counted without a VP about 29% of the time.

Q: Until you pointed out that Michelle Lujan Grisham is Catholic, I hadn't thought about the religion aspect. There haven't been all that many Catholics on major-party tickets, and there's never been a ticket with two of them. Do you think this would be a factor? Might some Protestants be uneasy about voting for a ticket with none of their co-religionists? J.L., Paterson, NJ

A: It is true that anti-Catholic sentiment was once a powerful force in American politics, a phenomenon that continued to play a role in national elections at least at late as 1960. However, anti-Catholicism was fading rapidly even then, and we are skeptical that it remains a salient political force 60 years later. Anyone who demands a ticket with at least one Protestant is surely voting Republican regardless of who the Democrats run.

Q: I am curious: Why do you suppose Mayor Lori Lightfoot's (D-Chicago) name hasn't appeared on any potential VP lists. She is Black, female, a good public speaker, and even charismatic (at least, based on the various interviews that I have seen). J.S., Bennington, NH

A: Well, it could be that a Black lesbian is seen as a bridge too far, though if that is the case, nobody on Team Biden would publicly admit it. That said, we think the real problem is the concern that Biden's running mate, by virtue of his age, has to be ready to take over should he become unavailable. Her experience in elective office is limited to a little more than one year as the mayor of Chicago. That's pretty thin, especially when there are other candidates who have the same selling points that Lightfoot does along with more extensive résumés.

Q: Can Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) be beat? J.G., Highland Park, IL

A: Certainly. About 30% of the population of South Carolina is Black. If they turn out in huge numbers, and break heavily for Jaime Harrison (which would be expected), that would be a huge start. Then, if Graham is too Trumpy for some meaningful segment of the white voters (Democrats, moderate Republicans, suburban housewives and non-housewives), who then cast their ballots for Harrison, and he's not Trumpy enough for some additional segment (Trump's base), who then cast their ballots for a third party or stay home on Election Day, he could certainly lose. Not that it's likely, but it is possible.

Q: Is there a congressional district where the race is close enough and the number and demographics of people likely to die from COVID-19 by November is large enough that the outcome could plausibly change because of voters who are no longer alive? B.J., Boston, MA

A: With 435 Congressional districts, you can certainly find a few that match almost any scenario. For COVID-19 to be a difference maker, you'd need a district that is pretty swingy and has inadequate healthcare, or else a lot of highly vulnerable voters (like senior citizens). For example, South Texas is disproportionately older, and its healthcare system is stretched so thin that some hospitals are preparing to send people home to die, since there aren't enough beds for them at the hospital. The fifth-closest House race of 2018 was in TX-23, which includes much of South Texas, and will now be an open seat due to the retirement of Rep. Will Hurd (R). So, that's a congressional race that could plausibly be flipped by COVID-19 deaths.

That said, the number of districts that meet the right conditions is surely very small. The loss of voters to COVID-19 isn't going to swing more than a handful of them, at most.

Q: Florida gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum is in the news again, opening up on his battle with alcohol addiction. Could this be him setting the stage for a political comeback? I am familiar enough with political convention around situations like this (i.e., his being found in a hotel room overdosing) to know that it is a significant obstacle to overcome. Still, some politicians seem to be made of pure teflon and not others. Also, might we have entered a cultural moment where the voting public has become more accepting of flawed public servants who have demonstrated that their hearts are in the right place? Given the sorry state of Florida (and the nation) right now, he sure does seem like a breath of fresh air. I, for one, am willing to give him a second chance. J.R., Miami, FL

A: It's certainly possible. Americans tend to love a comeback, and have historically been more forgiving of some misdeeds (substance abuse, adultery) than others (sexual assault, influence peddling). Gillum could certainly rise from the ashes. Recall that Marion Barry actually went to prison for smoking crack, and yet still won election as mayor of Washington, D.C. when he got out of the slammer.

Q: Given the recent spike in COVID-19 cases in California, do you think this will affect Gov. Gavin Newsom's (D) re-election chances in 2022, and possibly his potential presidential prospects in 2024? R.H.D., Webster, NY

A: We do not think it will affect his reelection hopes. He has not taken too much damage from COVID-19, as yet. Further, the last time a California governor failed in a bid for a second term was 1942. It takes a lot to lose a reelection bid in the Golden State, especially for a Democrat these days.

As to a hypothetical presidential bid, there is too much time and there are too many unknowns to make much of a guess. That said, if he runs and does not get the nod, it's almost certainly because there were stronger candidates than he, and not because he was specifically being punished for COVID-19.

Q: When handicapping the 2024 presidential race, you often talk about the various "lanes" different Republicans could plausibly occupy. What do you think about Mitt Romney (R-UT) running for president? Romney has been a thorn in Trump's side since assuming office. He was also, of course, the only GOP senator who voted to impeach the president. If Trump is trounced in 2020, could Romney run as a "return to normalcy" candidate for the GOP? J.O., Freehold, NJ

A: That is clearly what Romney is thinking; there aren't too many other good reasons for him to start a Senate career at the age of 72. That said, it is likely that the "normalcy" lane will be crowded in 2024, whether or not Trump is trounced. In addition to Romney, we could see Jeff Flake, John Kasich, Paul Ryan, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Jeb!, Gov. Charlie Baker (R-MA), Gov. Chris Sununu (R-NH), Gov. Larry Hogan (R-MD), Gov. Phil Scott (R-VT), or maybe even someone like George Conway or Charlie Sykes.

Q: In the past few months, I have seen more governors speaking than ever before. In just about every one of the governors' addresses and Q & As, they have a sign-language translator. Most other countries seem to have sign translators, yet I have never seen a presidential sign translator. Any idea for the reason behind this? R.M., Baltimore, MD

A: Well, politicians have only recently grown sensitive to the fact that the hearing-impaired should be accommodated. Donald Trump is not known for his thoughtfulness in general or his respect for the disabled in particular, so it's no surprise he hasn't embraced the practice.

Beyond being self-involved, we can think of three reasons that a president, Trump or otherwise, might be reluctant to adopt the practice. The first is that a signer could be a bit of a distraction, and could take away from the drama of a particularly forceful speech. The second is that the signer generally has to be in close proximity to the president, which is the sort of security issue that makes the Secret Service cranky. The third is that if you choose the wrong person, you could end up being embarrassed. Remember what happened when Barack Obama spoke at Nelson Mandela's funeral?

That said, these concerns are largely manageable, particularly if the White House hires a staff signer, as opposed to using freelancers. We would expect that president #46, whoever they may be, will make this change.

Q: If RBG were put on life support with no expectation of recovery, what specifically would prevent the president from nominating her replacement and the Senate from confirming her replacement? What would happen when the newly confirmed justice showed up at the Court? R.H., Macungie, PA

A: The Justices would refuse to seat their new "colleague." If the Trump administration sued, the Court would rule against the administration 8-0.

The Constitution allows a seat to become vacant for exactly three reasons: a justice dies, a justice voluntarily retires/resigns, and a justice is impeached, convicted, and removed. That is it. For a president and 51 Senators to declare a seat vacant by fiat would clearly be illegal, regardless of how incapacitated a justice might be. And the justices are clever enough to know that once you add "the president and 51 Senators think you can't do the job anymore" to the list above, it's a short trip from "the Justice was on life support and death was imminent, so we removed her due to incapacity" to "Justice Thomas seems like he's not mentally sharp anymore, so we removed him due to incapacity" or "Justice Roberts has had several seizures and falls over sometimes, so we removed him due to incapacity."

Q: What are some legitimate arguments for increasing the number of U.S. Supreme Court justices? D.M., Granite Bay, CA

A: The easiest way to think about your question is to imagine some enormous number of judges, far more than would actually happen in reality, just to get a good sense of how having more justices would affect the Court. So, let us imagine that the number of justices is expanded to 100. In that eventuality, we would see at least five things:

  1. Any individual seat would be less consequential, and so we would see less of the chicanery and maneuvering that has become commonplace in the last decade or two.

  2. There would be fewer decisions decided by a margin of one vote. One-vote decisions, while still binding, don't have quite the moral and political force of decisions made by a larger margin.

  3. The liberal-conservative cleavage would matter less, since we would expect a larger number of "defections" to the other side of the political aisle, based on the idiosyncrasies in each justice's philosophy.

  4. The impact of one far-outside-the-mainstream justice would be reduced.

  5. The Court would be able to hear more cases, since they would be able to produce far more opinions.

Even if only two or four seats are added, all of these effects would still happen, just to a lesser extent.

With that said, expanding the Court, even to 100 justices, would not be a panacea, and would not solve all problems. After all, the Senate has 100 people (which is why we chose that number), and it's still beset by partisanship and chicanery and the bad behavior of a couple of far-outside-the-mainstream members (ahem, Sen. Rand Paul, R-KY). Still, can you imagine how much worse the Senate would be if it only had nine members?

Q: When the Department of Homeland Security first formed a little more than a year after 9/11, I thought its name and mission sounded rather ominous. Nothing has happened since to change my mind. Now that it seems we have two men leading DHS in apparent violation of the Constitution and they are using their position as acting leaders to deploy goon squads against protesters, I would like to better understand how they can legally continue in their roles. G.S., Raleigh, NC

A: The continued service of Secretary Chad Wolf and Senior Official Performing the Duties of the United States Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security Ken Cuccinelli is almost certainly illegal. The Federal Vacancies Reform Act allows an acting official to serve for 210 days once a position that requires Senate approval becomes vacant. That can be extended a bit if the president nominates a replacement, and the replacement is rejected, but even then there are limits. The Homeland Security Act slightly complicates things for this particular department, but only slightly.

The last Senate-confirmed person to occupy the secretaryship was Kirstjen Nielsen, who left the job 463 days ago. She was replaced by Kevin McAleenan, who served for the maximum 210 days, and then by Wolf, who has served 253 days. Trump has yet to nominate a permanent replacement for Nielsen, which means there are actually three distinct arguments for Wolf's service being illegal: (1) Wolf rose up the ranks because McAleenan reorganized the line of succession, but as a non-approved secretary himself, McAleenan did not have that power; (2) when Wolf assumed the job, it had been vacant for 210 days, making the promotion of anyone to that job illegal; and (3) Wolf has been on the job himself for far longer than 210 days. (Cuccinelli, for his part, would fall afoul of condition #3; he's been on the job 412 days.) If you want to read more about the legality of the situation, the Washington Post had a good nuts-and-bolts breakdown this week; if you want to read a general critique of the DHS, Slate had this interesting piece this week.

The reason that Trump gets away with it, of course, is that there's nobody to call him on it. The Dept. of Justice is in his hip pocket, and the Senate is interested only in confirming judges and not in holding him accountable. The Democrats have screamed bloody murder, but there's not much they can do by themselves, and they have the time, resources, and political capital for only so many battles with this administration.

Q: Aren't elected officials, such as senators and representatives, also considered federal employees? When it comes to the spat over Goya products, why would the ethics of Ivanka Trump be (rightfully) challenged but not Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) for what amounts to a negative endorsement? B.M., Birmingham, AL

Q: Why is a president not beholden to ethics laws on endorsing products? Is it something so beyond the pale no one thought it needed to be explicitly stated, or is there some other rationale? T.E.J., Hector, NY

A: The law that governs this particular issue also establishes sanctions for those who violate the rules. If it did not, there would be little point to having the law on the books. Among those sanctions is termination of employment.

There are certain employees, however, who can only be sanctioned and/or removed by Congress. The president and vice-president are the two most obvious, but it's true of federal judges as well—in all of these cases, the rules set out by the Constitution trump any law Congress might pass, so Congress did not try to extend the law to cover these offices. Meanwhile, it's not quite as explicitly enshrined in the Constitution, but discipline and/or removal of members of Congress is, by law and custom, the province of the chamber to which the member in question belongs.

This means that Ocasio-Cortez is not subject to federal laws about the endorsement of products, only to Congressional policy, which is much less strict. Further, she is savvy enough that her anti-Goya tweet was implicit rather than explicit, so even if she were a federal employee, she'd have plausible deniability.

Q: In your item titled "Three Coronavirus Scenarios of What Happens Next," you list a full shutdown, with people needing written permission to leave their homes, as one of the options for combating COVID-19. Even if President Trump or any other president were willing to take that step, would it pass constitutional muster? Would it even be constitutional for state governments to require law-abiding citizens to show written permission to move about? J.B., Philadelphia, PA

A: Probably so. The government has pretty broad latitude when it comes to dictating the rules of behavior in public space. Don't forget that you already have to have written permission to operate a motor vehicle on public thoroughfares (i.e., a driver's license); requiring written permission to travel about on foot is not all that far removed. Similarly, the Supreme Court has generally given its approval to curfews, as long as they don't discriminate. A curfew is also not that far removed from a full shutdown. Think of it as a 24-hour curfew.

There's also the practical issue: It takes a long time for cases to make their way through the Court system. Even if the ACLU, etc., sued and won, that victory would likely not come until after the lockdown was lifted anyhow.

Q: If the current census is botched, would a new Biden administration be able to fix it? The Constitution doesn't appear to preclude a re-do. Would a Biden administration just conduct a new census in 2021-22, even if it wasn't usable for the 2022 election? R.H., Macungie, PA

A: Yes. The census results, by law, must be presented to, and accepted by, the House of Representatives. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) could reject them, and then the president, whoever they might be, would likely have to order a re-do. In theory, the White House and the House of Representatives could fight it out in court, which is what would happen if Donald Trump remained in the Oval Office. That's not going to happen if Joe Biden is in the White House, though.

Q: Given that a new Congress will be seated on January 3, 2021, if the Democrats retain control of the house and win control of the Senate, could the Congress re-impeach, convict, and remove Donald Trump from office even before the inauguration on the 20th? I know that may sound like a pointless exercise, but it would certainly make a point about the actions of the president. M.N., San Jose, CA

A: They could re-impeach him, but they would still struggle to convict him, unless a very large number of Republicans decided the time had come to turn against him. The 67 votes needed for conviction are required by the Constitution, and so are not subject to change through parliamentary trickery like getting rid of the filibuster.

Q: You wrote: "However, if [John] Lewis' casket is not allowed to lie in state in the Capitol Rotunda, then they may as well do away with the practice."

That made me wonder who decides who gets to lie in state in the Rotunda? Can the rite be denied? For example, if a corrupt president wanted his favorite hate-radio host to lie in state, could anyone prevent it?
J.L., Baltimore, MD

Q: Why would they decide not to let Congressman Lewis lie in state in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda? C.T.P., Lancaster, PA

A: The honor of lying in state (or lying in repose, if you are not a functionary of the government) is extended either by a congressional resolution, or by an agreement among the leaders of the two chambers. The president is free to suggest that the honor be granted, but has no actual power to impose his or her wishes. So, Donald Trump will not be able to insist that someone—say...oh...maybe Rush Limbaugh?—be so-honored.

Already, it has been decided that Lewis will be given this honor. The only reason it would not have happened is if his family declined the opportunity, or asked that it not be extended. Sometimes, the deceased leaves instructions to keep things simple and low-key. Alternatively, it is conceivable that the family of an observant Jew might turn down the honor, given the religious preference for quick burials and the prohibition on embalming. Lewis is in neither of these categories.

Q: I just received an e-mail to contribute to a PAC supporting one candidate whom I already have supported. The thing here is that they are offering a 1:4 challenge so that if you were to give $50, the PAC gets $200. All good. But is it better to give that same $50 to the actual candidate than to a PAC who's supporting the same candidate? G.C., South Pasadena, CA

A: Generally speaking, it is better to give money directly to a candidate, since they get better rates on things like TV commercials than PACs do, and they have a better sense of the best way to spend the money. However, there are also limits on donations to candidates, and not on those to PACs. Further, if your donation is being quadrupled, that's a pretty good argument for the PAC, too.

Q: As a Biden supporter, I look at your site and others like Nate Silver's and feel very good. Then I look at the Trafalgar group's polls, and see they have a very tight race with Trump in the lead or tied in swing states like Wisconsin and Florida. What is the deal with this group, and why are they so different from other polls? C.M., Coral Spring, FL

A: Trafalgar does not share their client list, but they are either a Republican house, or dangerously close to being one. And their lead (and possibly only) pollster, Robert Cahaly, believes not only that there is a "shy Trump voter" effect, but that the effect will be greater in 2020 than it was in 2016. He has not explained what his basis for these conclusions is, nor how he is measuring the extent of this alleged effect, but his numbers are always 5-10 points more Trumpy than pretty much anyone else's. Cahaly did better at predicting Michigan than anyone else in 2016, and has ridden that for all it's worth, branding himself as that election's "most accurate pollster." However, the general reason that most pollsters' final Michigan number was off was that they stopped polling the state and missed the full impact of the Comey surprise.

On a related note, Rasmussen Polls parted ways with Scott Rasmussen, and has now branded themselves as Pulse. Their numbers aren't great, but they are now up to a C+ in FiveThirtyEight's pollster ratings, so we include them for consistency's sake (our cutoff is usually C or higher). Trafalgar, by contrast, has a C-, so we don't include them.

Q: Is it possible that the polls in Michigan are wrong? Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-MI) seems to think so. J.F., Ann Arbor, MI

A: Anything is possible, but we (and, in particular, Z) are not overly impressed by these swing state members who insist the polls are wrong, and that they know it in their gut because they talk to a lot of voters. Remember that the plural of "anecdote" is not data. Recall also that "The Democratic Party should be more centrist because otherwise they're going to lose districts like mine" is more persuasive than "The Democratic Party should be more centrist because that agrees more with my personal political philosophy and/or my personal political goals." Put another way, when Debbie Dingell or Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-MI) offer up assessments like these, they are not dispassionate, unbiased analysts.

We will also point out this: The average of all Michigan polls, in 2016, had Clinton up by 3.6 points, which was off by 3.9 points. The average of all Michigan polls this cycle have Joe Biden up by 8.2 points. So, they would have to be vastly more inaccurate this cycle to be wrong about Biden winning the state.

Q: In looking at some of the recent swing state polls in places like Pennsylvania, Arizona, etc., it seems that Joe Biden is still in the lead but the race may be tightening. Looking at your "Strongly" vs. "Likely" vs. "Barely Dem" seems to also tell a similar story. That is, while Biden still has plenty of EVs as of now to win, he no longer has nearly enough in the "Strongly Dem" bucket, where in the past he was approaching 270 there alone. Do you there's actually a tightening of the race? M.J., Philadelphia, PA

A: No. We think that the polls are moving around within the margin of error, and when you've got a couple of very big states that are on the border between two categories (Texas, Georgia, Ohio, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, etc.), you're going to see some movement back and forth. The evidence supports the assertion that Joe Biden is currently in a strong position, and is the favorite to win the election. There are not enough polls each day, at least not at this point in the process, to put a finer point on who has momentum. Could be Trump, could be Biden, could be neither. Remember, if, say, North Carolina moves from a Biden lead of 4.4 points (which we round as 4) to 4.5 points (which we round as 5), the state moves from "barely Democratic" to "likely Democratic." Sudden shifts like this happen all over the map when a percentage moves from just below a cutoff to just above, or vice versa.

Q: I love the thought of Trump being swept out of office in a landslide, and am encouraged by your projections. But I feel I also need to look at how other sites and pundits are projecting the state of the race, since often they paint a less rosy picture than your site does. For example, the current projections from RealClearPolitics show Joe Biden with fewer electoral votes than you project. My concern is that much of the media is behaving as though Biden has this wrapped up, when in reality we cannot take anything for granted with this president. When it comes down to it, Trump's support among Republicans is still rock solid, and this may well be a tight race where every vote is needed. What are your thoughts on why your projections usually look more favorable to Biden than other sites? S.G., Alameda, CA

A: RealClearPolitics does not slice things as finely as we do, but they have 222 EVs solid for Biden and 115 EVs solid for Trump. We have it at 252 and 87; we are giving Biden Florida right now and RCP is not, RCP is giving Trump Utah/Arkansas/Tennessee/Montana and we are not. That's actually not all that big a difference.

Anyhow, the reason our projections (currently) look more favorable to Biden is that we weight recent polls very heavily, and places like RCP and FiveThirtyEight prefer a rolling average that relies a fair bit on older polls. They are less subject to flukes caused by one wonky poll, but are also more likely to miss movement in the race. We are more subject to fluky polls, particularly if the fluky poll is the only one conducted in a particular state. However, this issue becomes less pronounced as the election draws nearer and the number of polls each day increases.

Q: Regarding your items on the urban-rural divide, exploiting that particular tension for political purposes is nothing new in history. One famous case is the French Revolution, which was initiated by well-off intellectuals in Paris and sparked, among other things, counter-revolutionary tendencies among poor, God-fearing peasants in the provinces. But I've mostly seen American history analyzed along racial and geographical (North-South, heartland-coastal) lines. Could you comment about the specific relevance of the urban-rural divide to American history and politics? S.G., Jerusalem, Israel

A: There is a vast body of literature on this topic, so much so that trying to give any sort of an answer in a paragraph or two is kind of laughable. So, you should really consider a book-length work. If you want to read one of the classics on the subject, consider Sean Wilentz's Chants Democratic: New York City and the Rise of the American Working Class, 1788-1850. If you want something that is more recent, probably a little more accessible, and takes more of a macro view, then maybe Jonathan A. Rodden's Why Cities Lose: The Deep Roots of the Urban-Rural Political Divide.

That said, we will offer up two thoughts for your consideration. The first is that the urban-rural divide was often a substantial dimension of some of the other divides you name. Most obviously, the conflict between North and South in the antebellum era was very much a conflict between urban and rural interests. Similarly, it was a substantial part of the tensions that emerged during the Great Depression, as rural folk in the heartland blamed city folk on the coasts for ruining everything. There is a reason that "American Gothic," a painting that celebrates farming and "simpler times," and was painted by an Iowan in 1930, became a near-overnight sensation among rural Midwesterners (who, ironically, had to travel to the city of Chicago to see it).

The second thing we note is that the urban-rural divide is a feature particularly associated with populism. Recall one of the key passages from William Jennings Bryan's 1896 "Cross of Gold" speech:

You come to us and tell us that the great cities are in favor of the gold standard. I tell you that the great cities rest upon these broad and fertile prairies. Burn down your cities and leave our farms, and your cities will spring up again as if by magic. But destroy our farms and the grass will grow in the streets of every city in the country.

It is hardly surprising that Trump, a 21st-century populist if ever there was one, has gone back to the same well.

Q: In your answer to the question about one-party domination of certain Senate seats, you produced a list of such seats that were listed as either Class 1, 2 or 3. Could you explain the differences in classifications and how they historically emerged? D.F., Norcross, GA

A: Article I, Sec. 3 of the Constitution reads:

Immediately after [the Senators] shall be assembled in Consequence of the first Election, they shall be divided as equally as may be into three Classes. The Seats of the Senators of the first Class shall be vacated at the Expiration of the second Year, of the second Class at the Expiration of the fourth Year, and of the third Class at the Expiration of the sixth Year, so that one third may be chosen every second Year; and if Vacancies happen by Resignation, or otherwise, during the Recess of the Legislature of any State, the Executive thereof may make temporary Appointments until the next Meeting of the Legislature, which shall then fill such Vacancies.

And so, a couple of weeks after the first Congress convened, the senators did as commanded. With 20 senators present (because three states were still in the midst of the ratification process), they drew lots and assigned six senators to Class 1, seven to Class 2, and seven to Class 3. A few days later, they drew lots to determine the expiration date for each class's terms. They also agreed that senators from the same state should not be in the same class, and took steps to prevent that from happening.

Since that time, new states' senators have been assigned to a class by a coin flip, with the winner getting the longer term.

Q: Last Saturday, you listed the top 4 people in U.S. history. But who are the 4 worst people in U.S. history? I would call that the "Reverse Mount Rushmore." F.S., Cologne, Germany

A: That is much tougher than picking a "top four" Americans. Keeping in mind that the idea is to represent different dimensions of the past, we are going to try to avoid too much overlap in terms of time period, job description, etc. Also, we will generally exclude people who: (1) Were not Americans, and merely crossed paths with U.S. history, like Adolf Hitler or Joseph Stalin, (2) Did things that are wrong in our time but were broadly acceptable in theirs, like John C. Calhoun or Phil Sheridan (3) committed great acts of evil but were clearly mentally ill, like Charles Manson or Adam Lanza. Anyhow, with that said, here are our four:

  • Joseph McCarthy: Knowing full well he was making things up out of thin air, he destroyed countless lives, made millions of Americans more fearful, and helped lay the groundwork for at least one war (Korea) and possibly two (Vietnam) that claimed more than 120,000 American lives. All of this in search of political power and public adulation.

  • Nathan Bedford Forrest: By the terms outlined above, we cannot hold slaveholding against him, as that was acceptable in the time and place where he lived. However, we can hold the smuggling of slaves against him, as it was illegal and broadly frowned upon. We can hold the massacre of black troops at Fort Pillow against him; murder is murder and he knew it. We can hold the founding of the KKK and the use of extralegal violence against him; the Klansmen did not wear hoods and conceal their identities because everything they were doing was on the up-and-up.

  • Albert Anastasia: Maybe he was just as mentally ill as Manson or Lanza, but we doubt it. The founder of Murder, Inc. was too calculated in his commission of crimes to be excused as not knowing any better. He killed with great joy, and delighted in his nickname "Lord High Executioner." He also assaulted, raped, and forced dozens of women into prostitution. It would be hard to find a criminal more loathsome than he.

  • Father Charles Coughlin: Many Americans have used religion for evil purposes. Many Americans have used the mass media for evil purposes. Coughlin did both, setting Americans against one another, pandering to their baser instincts and, in particular, fanning the flames of anti-Semitism.

We omitted a few obvious options, in part because we only had four spots, and in part because we thought these four would be more illuminating. As with last week, if readers care to submit their own lists, we will run some of them tomorrow.

Today's Senate Polls

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has to be thrilled with the polls these days. Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI) appears safe, and Sen. Doug Jones (D-AL) is no longer hopeless, given the opponent he drew. Meanwhile, pretty much everything is coming up roses in North Carolina, Maine, Arizona, and Colorado, while the Democrats also have an excellent shot at flipping the seats in Montana and Iowa, and outside shots at half a dozen other seats. (Z)

State Democrat D % Republican R % Start End Pollster
Arizona Mark Kelly 51% Martha McSally* 42% Jul 21 Jul 22 PPP
Maine Sara Gideon 47% Susan Collins* 42% Jul 22 Jul 23 PPP
North Carolina Cal Cunningham 48% Thom Tillis* 40% Jul 22 Jul 23 PPP

* Denotes incumbent

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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