• Sunday Mailbag
V & Z: We have changed the pop-up boxes for the states that have already voted to reflect the 2020 delegate totals. For the states yet to vote, we have the 2016 totals.
Despite running for president four times, with varying degrees of seriousness, Joe Biden had never won a primary or a caucus before last night. He ended that streak of futility in style, with a smashing victory that, at very least, takes his campaign off the "endangered species" list and that, at most, transforms the Democratic presidential race. Here are the numbers, with 100% reporting. The number of delegates Sanders won is not yet clear, with some sources reporting 11 and others reporting 12.
Biden's victory could not have been much more complete. He outperformed every single one of the 37 polls taken of the race, and beat his average polling figure (39.7%) by nearly 10 points. He won every single one of South Carolina's 46 counties. Excepting "Ages 17 to 29" and "Never attend religious services," the former Veep won every single demographic group that exit pollsters asked about, including college grads, non-college grads, women, men, the military, late deciders, independents, centrists, people who identify as liberal, and people who identify as very liberal. He was particularly strong among senior citizens (winning that demo by a staggering 52 points), black voters (44 points), and people who dislike Medicare for All (43 points).
How did Biden overperform his polls so significantly? Turnout was way up in South Carolina, compared to previous years, and compared to the first three primaries/caucuses this year, suggesting that Democratic voters will get themselves to the polls once they feel an important choice needs to be made. It wasn't black voters who particularly drove the increase, however; they make up about 60% of South Carolina Democrats, and were about 57% of the electorate yesterday. Instead, the big surge was among older voters; those 45-64 made up 42% of the turnout, while those 65 and older made up another 29%. By contrast, the voters 17-29, who are Sen. Bernie Sanders' (I-VT) bread and butter, made up only 11% of the electorate.
This could be Sanders' Achilles heel. He is constantly saying that his path to victory is getting young people who normally don't vote to the polls. Now we have had four contests and we have not seen a surge of young voters in any of them.
There is a very good chance that this could turn Biden's campaign around. He was running short on funds, but on Saturday, the Democratic fundraising website ActBlue received half a million donations, a record for a single day. Presumably, the majority went to the former Veep, and his cash problems will be behind him, at least for a while. Further, he now has the clearest case as "the" moderate candidate, and voters who are nervous about Sanders may flock to his banner.
On the other hand, Biden's return to frontrunner, or near-frontrunner, status isn't a done deal quite yet. This is only one state, and a state whose demographics play particularly to Biden's strengths. His ability to capitalize on this win on Super Tuesday, just a couple of days away, could well be limited by a number of factors. First, he's had virtually no ground game and no advertising in the Super Tuesday states, due to the aforementioned lack of funds. Second, a lot of ballots have already been cast in the Super Tuesday states (for example, over 3 million ballots have already been mailed in California). Third, while Biden is strong with black voters, Sanders appears to be stronger with Latino voters, and the two biggest prizes on Tuesday, California and Texas, are much heavier on the Latinos than the black folks.
All of these silver linings, from Sanders' perspective, save the night from being a disaster for him. So too does the fact that he claimed 12 delegates, keeping South Carolina from being a shutout. That said, Saturday's results give further credence to the notion that Sanders does not connect with black voters, and that he is struggling to expand his appeal beyond his base. He's also got to be disappointed that he missed a chance to deal a knockout blow to Biden.
As to the other candidates on the ballot, Saturday was an unmitigated disaster. Tom Steyer dropped $22 million on ads in South Carolina, and spent weeks and weeks campaigning, only to underperform his polling numbers and tally an anemic 11% of the vote. There's no path forward for him, not that there ever really was, and so he withdrew from the race on Saturday night. Why not hang on for a couple more days, just in case of a Super Tuesday miracle? There are two schools of thought on that. The first is that he has $6 million in ads reserved in the next two days, and withdrawing allows him to avoid burning that cash needlessly. The second is that he may be pondering a run for office in California, including possibly a primary challenge to Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), and he doesn't want a big Golden State defeat on his résumé.
For Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Amy Klobuchar (DFL-MN), and for Pete Buttigieg, the end is nigh. They're all running low on funds, and a sub-10% result in South Carolina isn't going to help on that front. Plus, if they are going to extract any concessions in exchange for dropping out and/or giving their endorsements, this is when they have maximum leverage. All three will probably stay in the race until Wednesday; the two senators with the blessing of Team Biden and the DNC, because of the expectation that Klobuchar will block Sanders in Minnesota and Warren will block him in Massachusetts. However, if any of these three is still in the race a week from now, it would be something of a surprise. On the other hand, Warren has explicitly said that she is going all the way to the convention. However, if the funding dries up, she may have no choice but to drop out./p>
Meanwhile, it looks like Mike Bloomberg peaked too early. Certainly, qualifying for the last two Democratic debates didn't do him any favors. And now, if people just want a septuagenarian with a long track record, and who has a chance of blocking Sanders and/or beating Donald Trump, they will presumably gravitate to Biden. It's interesting that Bloomberg seems to have worse versions of Biden's biggest weaknesses: ties to corporate money, shaky debate skills, a history of saying impolitic things about race, and lingering concerns related to sexual harassment. On the other hand, Bloomberg's biggest strengths—money and organization—are the two things Biden needs most. If the former NYC mayor really cares about beating Donald Trump above all else, it is probably time for him to join forces with Team Biden, and to give the campaign what it is so sorely lacking.
As to Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), she's barely registering in either polls or balloting, hasn't qualified for a debate in months, and whatever it is she's doing, it's not running a viable campaign for president. Clearly, she sees some value in being "presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard" as opposed to "retiring congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard," but we wonder how much longer it's necessary for the rest of the world to play along. Since Steyer has now dropped out, we have enough room for her at the top of the page, but her 0 there is not going to change. (Z)
Lots of responses to the Bernie Sanders pieces from this week, as you might have guessed. We picked a bunch of them and tried, as best we could, to select a mix that reflected the many different subjects and perspectives that were in those messages.
Also, we've had some comments about keeping it clear whose words are whose in the mailbag, so we adjusted the layout a little bit.
Berning Down the House?
A reader wrote:
I've been a regular reader of your site since its very early years, and I read every single post. As an academic myself, I find your analysis of political issues to be the perfect blend of intellect, insight, and snark. My own personal political views are most closely aligned with Bernie Sanders. And yet, I strongly disagree with the apparent cadre of your readers, e-mails from whom you've both printed and alluded to, who feel that you have an axe to grind against Sanders. If anything, there have been times when I sense you've put on the kid gloves a bit with him, relative to some of the other candidates (intentionally or otherwise).
In any case, although my politics are very close to Bernie's, and I will certainly vote for him if he ends up as the nominee, he's not necessarily my favorite pick for president among the Democrat contenders. Why? Because I believe that Donald Trump is only the second greatest threat to our democracy. The greatest threat is the extent to which the politics in our country have become polarized. To me, Barack Obama represented the perfect president, not because my political views aligned perfectly with his (mine are further left), but because he recognized the importance of balancing the political views of his own party with those of the other half of the country. (Of course, the Republicans took a completely different approach, but don't get me started on that...) The point is, when I cast my vote for president, I certainly want someone who shares my values, but I also want someone who understands that he or she must serve the entire country, from the brightest of red to the deepest of blue. I am not a centrist in my political views, but I also recognize that we aspire to be these United States of America, and that if we continue to stand so deeply divided, we will surely fall.
R.P., Honolulu, HI
A reader wrote:
This part you included in Friday's item on Bernie Sanders stood out to me:Similarly, Americans have been subjected to anti-socialist/anti-Communist propaganda and hatred for, well, considerably more than 30 years...there is probably no other identifier that a presidential candidate might actually adopt that is more toxic than "socialist."
This might be true for older Americans, but speaking as someone on the older end of the millennial generation, it's as far from the truth as it gets for the younger generations. While I was certainly alive for the end of the Cold War, I was too young to be aware of it. The fall of the USSR was something I was just vaguely aware of, as it didn't mean much to people my age. We've spent our lives hearing constant worship of free market capitalism, and seeing protection after protection peeled away in search of a free market. As a result, we've seen wages stagnate as everything gets more expensive. We saw the Great Recession driven by greedy banks pushing too hard for more profit.
In one of the worst examples, we've seen EpiPens rise from $100 to $600 because free market capitalism dictates that lots of people dying is acceptable if it means you make more money from the people that don't die. We're seeing the same thing happen with insulin. We've seen attempts to make it happen with AIDS drugs. I'm sure there are plenty more examples. These are just the ones that got the most headlines. Free market capitalism has made it clear that we don't want to make any effort to help as many people as we can, but only the ones with the most money.
While all of this is going on, any proposal to improve things gets immediately rejected by Republicans. They rarely consider the idea, or even reject it on its merits. They usually respond instantly with "We can't do that, that's socialism!" It doesn't matter if the idea actually is socialism or not. They'll use the label to reject anything that might make things better.
For those of us in the millennial generation and younger, we haven't seen anything bad from socialism. Republicans have made it look like a great thing—it's the "insult" they throw at any idea to improve the world. Each time they shout "socialist," it makes socialism sound better. We're used to seeing the worst of capitalism. While all of this is going on, we're very much aware of how Bernie's ideas work just fine all over Europe. It's gotten to the point that it feels like you have to be a complete idiot to not want socialism.
E.D., Saddle Brook, NJ
A reader wrote:
I would like to offer one distinction that might help in understanding the difference between the United States and countries that are Social Democracies. In the United States, people are raised to respect their rights. In Canada, we are raised to respect our responsibilities.
S.S., Toronto, Canada
A reader wrote:
Your piece "A Candidate Like No Other, Part II: Bernie Sanders, Socialist" doesn't mention the relationship between the scary-sounding "Democratic Socialist" label and the (to many voters) less scary-sounding "Social Democrat" label. There is a distinction, says Wikipedia, but there is also a big overlap. Isn't Bernie in the intersection between these two categories? If he is, he could reply to attacks on him being a socialist with something like: "I like to call myself a 'Democratic Socialist' but most people would use the name 'Social Democrat' for my political beliefs. For much of the last 100 years, the Social Democrats have governed [choose one of Germany, Sweden, Denmark, ...], which is rated above the U.S. in practically all measures of prosperity. For example, [comparison of infant mortality etc.]. What's so bad about that?"
D.S., Edinburgh, Scotland
A reader wrote:
It is my fondest hope that one day you write as passionately about the systematic suppression of the black vote by the modern GOP as you wrote about your dislike for Bernie Sanders. It's the most underreported/ignored topic of the "news" organizations of the last 20 years. How long do we have to go till we have equality? When even this site doesn't give a damn, what chance do we have?
S.M., Louisville, KY
V & Z: Hard to believe we have never written about that. Very hard, indeed.
A reader wrote:
I appreciate your analysis, for example the recent polls from Wisconsin and Michigan. That is, and will be, such an important data point this year. Still you seem to embrace that notable Democratic bias as to who may be a good presidential candidate.
I have had the good fortune of getting most of Bernie Sanders' Facebook content from 2015 to date. In addition I have lived in a rural community since 2010. So I can take a few hours each week outside the liberal bubble. Joe Biden is no JFK.
As it becomes clear that Sanders will go to the convention with a big delegate count, the choice will be to nominate him or try to elect a president without his young followers. In a contested convention, the only alternative to nominating Sanders, without losing his supporters, might be if Sanders himself decides things are looking too grim. He might be able to stand up there and support Warren as the best option and have his people listen. Biden and Bloomberg will not get the Berniecrat vote this year. They already feel cheated from last time. Not 10% but 50% feel this way.
K.P., Mount Pleasant, MI
A reader wrote:
In the bizarro world of neoliberal capitalism, money is speech. The less you have, the less voice you get, the less newspapers like the New York Times and Washington Post care if you read them because you aren't in their target demo for advertisers. The median Fox News or MSNBC viewer, age-wise, would have been dead 40 years ago. I read between 60-80 news articles a day and not once in my life have I ever felt like my political views were fairly represented in anything mainstream. Matt Taibbi and Glenn Greenwald get close sometimes, and as a result are treated like pariahs.
I feel like punching every scumbag Democrat whose response to free college/forgiving all student debt is "I don't want to pay for Donald Trump's kids." Like Trump's kids would ever take out student loans, and while we're at it let's put an income cap on K-12 so that the rich never have to meet a smelly prole ever in their entire life. In the real world, people have mountains of student debt because they can't ever get rid of it in bankruptcy thanks to Joe Biden. And because Obama's idea of fixing the recession was not just refusing to prosecute anyone on Wall Street, but also subsidizing them on the order of $29 trillion while intentionally evicting poor people.
Basically, we aren't represented in the media, so no one in media understands why we think the way we do, and since they aren't honest brokers and have lots to lose if Sanders wins, they don't even bother to try and understand. They just say anything to stop him.
P.U., Minneapolis, MN
A reader wrote:
Concerning the discussion of the aggressive "Bernie Bros," I believe a more recent example in American politics to be the Green Party Ralph Nader supporters ("Nader Nutters"?). During the 2000 campaign, I attended an Al Gore rally where several Green Party members became disruptive and began to yell "Gore lies! Gore lies!" When George W. Bush came to town, not a peep from them.
Fast forward to the 2004 campaign. My wife and I had been very active in progressive politics in Albuquerque, NM, at the time and got invited to a house party for activists where a visiting congressman was to meet us and give encouragement to our causes. It was a nice event, and the congressman was very friendly and approachable. At one point in the evening, however, a Green Party member began aggressively to give the congressman flak for some perceived lack of purity on some issue or another. The congressman's name? Bernie Sanders.
E.G., Laufen, Germany
A reader wrote:
I've been reading your site every day for many years, and I really appreciate the work you do. I'm tempted to write a really long response to your really long article on Sanders today, but I'm going to resist the urge, in favor of a quick note: with all due respect, I do think your analysis and writing about his campaign is biased—overweighted toward hand-wringing about real or potential weaknesses, while underweighting real or potential strengths, and applying standards and expectations that are not applied to others.
The bit about Hillary Clinton and Jill Stein voters was highly frustrating, and just poor analysis. If Clinton was such a great candidate, why was her margin that thin? Among all the factors that may have influenced the outcome, those few Jill Stein votes represent at most a tiny effect size compared to mistakes that the Hillary campaign made and flaws in her as a candidate—which I don't think you dissected with the same fervor that you've trained on Sanders. The Obama-Trump voters and those who stayed home, account for more lost votes than those Jill Stein folks. Why not emphasize and analyze that rather than the red herring of Stein voters? And on a related note: The hype that Hillary was a foregone conclusion, destined to win, probably accounted for many of those folks staying home or voting for protest candidates, since they assumed she would win anyway—I never see that discussed in "analyses" that blame Stein voters for the hellish outcome. I suspect that many of those Stein voters would indeed have voted for Clinton if they had thought she was in serious danger of losing.
M.C., Portland, OR
V & Z: Our purpose was not to point fingers, only to point out that a small number of voters can be decisive.
A reader wrote:
I am a Sanders supporter and I have to say: even in your bunker, WE KNOW WHERE YOU ARE!
And that is on the best site for political analysis I've been reading for the last 20 years!
Seriously, most of us (Bernie supporters) are in it for the policy and not this nonsense. I attended every rally in southern New Hampshire and I never met anyone who acted in the least bit aggressive or hostile to those who don't think the way we do. This is not to say we were saintly or better than others, but largely like all the other door-knockers who came to my door to see if I would vote for Amy Klobuchar, join the Yang Gang, or board the Warren Express. Our group has wide diversity, all age groups (I just turned 50), a good distribution among demographic groups and, whenever I counted, roughly 50 percent from each gender. Presumably, we also have our fair share of jerks and a-holes, just like any group of Americans.
Right now we are being painted with a brush that only dips paint from the online color on the palette. As we have seen for the last decade or so, the anonymity of the web breeds a confidence and unearned sense of snotty superiority that leads people to devalue the thoughts and feelings of others. But out in the open it's not like that at all. We are earnest in our beliefs and think they will really help all Americans thrive. And some of us are major fans of your site and visit every day, proud to be a fan of you two and your insight even when our viewpoints are not in sync.
D.W., Manchester, NH
V & Z: As we said, we hear from a great many reasonable Bernie Sanders supporters, who share their views in a thoughtful and respectful fashion, even when they disagree. Quite a few of those letters are included here today.
A reader wrote:
Despite being a Bernie Sanders supporter since mid-2015, I have rarely directly witnessed the kind of abusive behavior among people that I know or interact with in online communities, or in my union or my workplace. I have seen it scattered in large feeds of comments on Sanders events, however, from...parties unknown. In any case I totally trust V&Z's report on their own mail intake. So, I believe it's there, but I've had little direct observation.
Anyway, here is why I think this phenomenon exists:
- The Kids: When I was young, my cohort and I were often aggressive, disrespectful, arrogant, and intolerant. We could have been excused because for us, maybe, the issues seemed to be what they nowadays call "existential": We faced being drafted and killed in Vietnam, we faced global ICBM-delivered nuclear destruction, etc. Well, the issues "the kids" today face have far more inevitability and similar destructiveness. No wonder some of the kids (and I reckon the worst actors are male, so call 'em "Bernie Bros" if you like) are not quite house-broken. But I ask you: What's peeing on the floor compared to burning the house down, which is the current course that the world's governments is on? I do wish they'd act better, and your advice and concern is spot on, but in the end, I'm with the kids.
- Ratf**king: I have no doubt that there's plenty of that going around, partly from Leningrad, partly from 1600 Pennsylvania. How much of that accounts for what is visible to the public I can't say, but it sure does heat up the narrative.
- The bad actors DO have some truth on their side: From the outset, there really has been significant, blatant media bias against Sanders, going back to an infamous moment on PBS News Hour where Amy Walters characterized the Sanders campaign as "a joke" (in Jan. 2016, just weeks before he nearly won Iowa and won in New Hampshire, and when his rallies were "huuuge"). A joke. It wasn't the first unwarranted slight and certainly wasn't the last. I'm not going to go over the list. Even you guys, whom I love, have done this. At one point last fall I grabbed your various daily blogs and did shell scripted greps (-c) of each of the candidates' names. Sanders was typically down on the bottom, overshadowed by such hot prospects as Harris, Booker, Biden, Warren, etc. He was typically with Inslee. (Who?) I don't blame you. Part of it is your own bias, which is human, part of it is that you also follow and interpret media coverage, and so unwittingly exacerbate the problem. Veteran left-activists like myself are used to this and much worse. But going back to the kids, well, they're just learning that this stuff happens (they probably think they invented sex, I know we boomers thought we did in the 1960s) and so they're all shocked, shocked...into misbehaving.
D.A., Brooklyn, NY
A reader wrote:
I think the stridency of some of Bernie Sanders' supporters comes from two different strains. One is that the far wings of both parties tend to be the loudest and most activist—the ones taking to the streets to protest or the rallies to Trumpicate (a new word I've coined). Of course, not all Sanders supporters are leftist revolutionaries, but all or nearly all leftist revolutionaries are Sanders supporters (and I make the same point about fascists and Trump). They're loud because they're trying to pull the debate to the left (I forget the term for moving the mainstream debate to the left or right, but that's what I'm thinking of).
The second group is the "deplorables" of the left. They are the ones who flocked to Sanders in 2016, driven largely by misogyny, which is from where much of the anti-Hillary Clinton rhetoric derives. This is the cross-over with a portion of the Trump base that leads commentators to think that Sanders can peel away some of the 2016 Trump voters, and indeed, given how close 2016 was, it's easy to imagine a more normalized distribution of the misogynist vote would have elected Sanders over Trump that year.
The issue for 2020 is whether the stridency of both groups alienates potential pro-Sanders or anti-Trump voters more than it energizes the leftists and redistributes the misogyny vote. I deeply fear the former is more likely, and I say that as someone who supports many of Sanders' policy positions, including Medicare for All. I'll have to see who's left standing in two months when New York votes, but as I care most about electablity and ending the threats to our nation of Trumpism, right now I'm leaning toward nearly anyone but Bernie.
R.M., Brooklyn, NY
V & Z: The term you are probably thinking of is the Overton window.
A reader wrote:
I'm a Sanders supporter who will be voting in advance this week in California. I read your item about Sanders where you shared comments from Sanders supporters bashing your coverage of him. I'm shocked anyone could read your coverage and come away from it with such ridiculous and biased conclusions. I've often said many conservatives have persecution complexes, but this takes the cake. Your coverage was fair and appropriate, both in the previous piece and in today's piece. Actually, much of what you write about Bernie supporters turning off other voters has been my biggest concern in supporting him. You don't get anyone to come to your side by telling them how terrible they are.
M.C., Fresno, CA
A reader wrote:
Thank you for tackling the Bernie's base issue. As a fervent supporter of Bernie (but also a long-time fan of Elizabeth Warren who is not happy with how her campaign for President has gone), I do think the mainstream view of him is not always fair. I am not a Bernie Bro (Bernie Aunt? I'm a 55-year-old female Californian so probably very far left compared to the rest of the country), but I am concerned about how the other candidates and the media run with the "Bernie Bro" stereotype. There are certainly Bernie Bros who attack others unfairly, but I see this as a symptom of our social media environment, in that online discourse is very nasty and uncivil. We are figuring out how to deal with online discourse, as well as Russian trolls who take advantage of our confusion and this magnifies the problem.
I am bracing myself for a brokered convention, since the country is not ready for real change (from how the media is covering this, and talking to others outside my far left Bernie bubble), as well as the Democratic Party establishment, which will be decimated if real democracy in the nomination process is allowed (if Bernie does get the nomination, it will be like how Donald Trump has decimated the moderate Republican power base). If there is indeed a brokered convention, I like the idea of ranked choice voting to chose the nominee.
N.G., San Jose, CA
A reader wrote:
In your item about the toxic fervor of the Bernievangelicals, you wrote:[T]hough The New York Times is a mainstream outlet, the piece linked above was written by right-winger Bret Stephens, who likely has an ax or two to grind.
Does this mean that you are calling BS on BS for his take on BS? You guys really are playing three-dimensional chess.
B.R.J., San Diego, CA
Donald, the Dear Leader
A reader wrote:
You wrote:There's also the problem of open rebellion on the part of 20 or 30 million citizens (or more). The number of active duty troops in the armed forces is about 1.2 million. Assuming that all of those folks could be recalled to the United States and that all of them were willing to participate in such an overt power grab, it's not so easy to assert control over a group of people ten times as large, spread out over thousands of miles.
You are leaving something out: if there was an open rebellion of 20 or 30 million citizens opposed to President Trump's move, there would also be a corresponding counter-rebellion of 20 or 30 million citizens supporting it. And those 20 or 30 million are much better armed.
M.B., Cleveland, OH
V & Z: We thought of that, though 10 million armed Alabamians and Mississippians and Tennesseeans are hardly going to be able to do anything about 10 million armed and angry Californians. Maybe bleeding Kansas, the sequel?
A reader wrote:
I was a little surprised how quickly you dismissed the idea of Donald Trump using COVID-19 as an excuse to claim broad emergency powers and cancel the election. True, it's unlikely he would outright try and cancel the election, but "Dictator 101" is pretty clear about what his next move is. Here's my take, from my understanding of history, about how a dictator rises to power in a democracy:
- Win an election while scapegoating a minority community for all the problems of society. Check.
- Paint your rivals as corrupt and deserving of prison. Check.
- Decry journalism and the media as enemies of the people who can't be trusted. Check.
- Create your own propaganda machine as the only trustworthy news source. Check.
- Completely take over your political party through fear and intimidation. Check.
- Appoint your own judges and law enforcement authority to protect you and target your enemies. Check.
- Carefully remove all opposition at every level of government. Still in process, but check.
- Wait for or create a national crisis to flame nationalism while also using it as an excuse to take emergency powers and impose martial law. Impose curfews and other restrictions for the general population. Empower your own police to enforce your laws and whatever else is necessary. (You know, what ICE has already been doing with little oversight.) Anyone who opposes is quickly put down as unpatriotic. TBD.
I've been terrified watching Trump work his way through this check list since long before we heard of COVID-19. I assumed Trump would use a terrorist attack as the trigger for martial law. Perhaps one set up by his buddy Vladimir Putin. After all, Putin rose to power fanning nationalism on the back of terrorist attacks that were quickly proven to be the work of KGB agents. The same KGB Lieutenant Colonel Putin worked at for 16 years. And while riding that wave of nationalism, also his excuse to start a war with Ukraine who he blamed the terrorist attacks on with faked evidence.
While answering the question about what a Trump second term would look like, you pretty much argued all the reasons Item 8 is more likely to happen, not less.
Praying I'm wrong, but if he get's that second term history shows there's a pretty good chance I'm not.
S.S., West Hollywood, CA
A reader wrote:
I know you and some of the readers have speculated about the economic and abstract political consequences of COVID-19; but has anyone considered the practical political effects that might take place? What started me off on this trail was the news that there is serious discussion about canceling the Tokyo Olympics this summer if the outbreak is not contained soon. As everyone knows, the modern day Olympics are much more than sporting events. That made me think of two other events that will happen this summer involving people traveling from all over the country, plus a fair amount of international travel to meet in a confined space over several days before heading home: the Democratic and Republican National Conventions! One would assume that neither party would want to be seen as the incubator and transmitter of COVID-19 to the entire country, and that if there was a perceived risk like the Olympics, both conventions could be canceled. But what would happen to the nominating process if both conventions were canceled? While the outcome of the Republican Convention is more clear cut, the results on the Democratic side are more murky. So what would happen if no candidate gets the 1,990 votes to clinch the nomination? Would the pick of the nominee fall back to a decision by the Power Players? Do any of the parties even have contingency plans in place for catastrophic events? Surely the election would have to go on.
Or would it? Again going off the news that the Japanese are considering canceling school in order to combat the virus. If things become that bad in the U.S. (and I personally think we are not anywhere near that right now) how would that effect the elections? Even in this modern age, so much of campaigning and how our media reports on the campaigns relies on rallies and speeches. Could Donald Trump adapt to such a situation when it seems that his rallies feed some inner fix for adulation for him? Could the lack of that adulation fix cause him to act out in more unstable ways?
To an even more dark point, Trump has many times expressed a desire not to leave the White House even if he wins and serves two terms. Trump and his team have shown many times a willingness to find the darkest solution to a given problem. With that in mind, if the U.S. gets to the point of canceling school and other public gatherings, how might that effect the turnout for the election? Would elections be viable if people are too frightened to go vote? Given that the most reliable voting bloc, the elderly is also the most vulnerable to illness, how might that effect the election? To go further, if Trump started feeling that he might lose the election, or if one of his Dark Svengalis convinces him he might lose the election, could Trump cancel the election citing health concerns? Would he have to declare martial law to do so? Clearly the Republican Senate would go along with that plan and the military has shown that as long as there is a rational cover story, they probably would as well. Every epidemic runs it's course eventually, so are there mechanisms to undo martial law once it is invoked in the U.S.? I am hard pressed to think of an example of an election in another country being canceled and it returning at a later date in a meaningful way. I know this little exercise has traveled far down the "What If" trail and I certainly don't think the virus is at that point yet, but it could be.
D.E., Lititz, PA
Other Thoughts on COVID-19
A reader wrote:
With the appointment of VP Mike Pence as COVID-19 Grand Protector and Poobah, the stage is set for Donald Trump to throw him under the bus and choose Nikki Haley as his new running mate. If things go well, Trump is a genius. If they go poorly, he is able to get rid of Pence and improve his position with non-base voters.
G.M., Salt Lake City, UT
A reader wrote:
I agree that the Trump administration has acted with a lack of urgency about COVID-19, but it pays to put the illness in perspective. There is currently a lot of unwarranted hysteria about the illness. I agree that it is dangerous, but the current fatality rate is about 1-3%.
There are other diseases out there which are far more lethal, but that people frequently do not take any precautions to prevent. HIV is an example of one. It has been well-known since the 1980s, yet millions of people have unprotected sex everyday, which puts themselves and others at increased risk.
R.M.S., Lebanon, CT
V & Z: We do not claim to be public health experts. However, we will note that the thing that makes COVID-19 particularly dangerous when it comes to a potential epidemic or pandemic is that it is not always obvious that someone is sick, and even when they are, they don't feel all that poorly. So, they are more likely to go about their daily schedule, and thus to spread the disease to others.
A reader wrote:
I suspect that Trump may be facing his own "Katrina" with regard to his handling so far of the COVID-19 virus that has been wreaking havoc on global stock markets this past week.
I own a business where I manufacture products in China. As I type this, all eight of the suppliers that I work with on a regular basis have their manufacturing facilities shut down. The office staff that I work with on a regular basis are all working from home, attempting to secure orders for when they are able to reopen which, at this point, is some unknown point in the future.
At this time, it has yet to impact my business, as I have enough inventory. But within a few weeks, I will need to obtain more inventory for one of my products and I don't know if I will. If things stretch more beyond a month, I will end up running completely out of inventory and will likely go out of business.
While I am attempting to find new suppliers, it takes a significant amount of time to not only source new suppliers, but ensure that they are capable enough and can provide the quality I need at a price that works. Most of the products I manufacture cannot be made here in the United States, so that is not an option.
I am just one of tens of thousands of small business owners that are being affected by this. Just about every industry relies on manufacturing in China and with a lot of the country being affected by this, the disruption to business will be far worse than anyone can imagine with each day that passes. Add to this the impact of the tariffs that Trump implemented, and there are a lot of small businesses that are just barely getting by.
Maybe something will happen within the next few weeks that will clear this up. But I suspect that far more people have been sick and far more people have died than is being reported.
R.M., Pensacola, FL
V & Z: We always appreciate "on the front lines" reports, and we hope you are able to get your supply chain up and running again.
A reader wrote:
You probably noticed that your prediction about the Dow Jones came to pass, in the form of a huge drop that broke the previous record set in 2018. However, it came almost half a year sooner than you predicted. Perhaps the effect of COVID-19 is a so-called "black swan" event, the unknown unknown?
L.M.S., Harbin, China
A reader wrote:
On Friday, you wrote about Corey Brettschneider's argument that the President doesn't actually have the authority to pardon Roger Stone. While I'm neither an expert on Constitutional law nor even a lawyer, I have read both the Constitution and Articles of Confederation multiple times over the years. As a software engineer and computer scientist (like (V)) my day job involves drafting and reviewing exacting technical specifications and implementing the same in languages far less forgiving of ambiguity than English or Finnish. Thus I feel some expertise in this area.
Dr. Brettschneider's arguments completely ignore prior pardons (the analog to case law here), most notably President Ford's pardon of President Nixon. Recall that the House Judiciary Committee had already adopted three articles of Impeachment when President Nixon resigned. This has to top any list to date of pardons "involving impeachment." Given that the Supreme Court under Warren Burger tacitly allowed this pardon, a precedent of sorts exists. Given further that President Ford was untouched by scandal and his reelection campaign was fatally impacted by the pardon, one can easily foresee any future Supreme Court declining to intervene and deferring judgment to others.
So much for prior art in this area. A more fatal flaw is the lack of support in the text of the Constitution, which leaves both pardons and impeachment incompletely specified and completely ignores important corner cases such as who presides over the Senate trial in the case of impeachment of a vice president. As such, there are a spectrum of valid interpretations and Dr. Brettschneider's arguments, being near one extreme, are far from a slam dunk. While I find it unlikely in the extreme that the current Supreme Court would adopt this interpretation, I am skeptical that either the Rehnquist or Burger courts, could they be conjured into existence, would either.
Furthermore, leaving aside as an inapplicable rathole Marbury vs. Madison, it's completely unclear to me where in the Constitution the courts are given the power to review a pardon. One thing that is completely clear to me is that the House can impeach and the Senate remove from office a President who grants an inappropriate pardon. One can make a good case that it is precisely for this reason that many modern Presidents have reserved their most controversial pardons, such as Bill Clinton's of Marc Rich and Ronald Reagan's of George Steinbrenner, for their last days in office.
E.C.R., Helsinki, Finland
At Least the Stage Will Be Less Crowded Next Time
A reader wrote:
Comparing the recent presidential debates with some of the early ones, it certainly appears that the recent ones have been much less civilized, e.g., compared to the Nixon-Kennedy debates. The recent ones more closely resemble junior-high school food fights than reasoned civilized discussion. For this reason I propose several changes in the debate protocol.
First, the camera should be trained onto only the candidate speaking. Next, only the candidate speaking should be able to use a microphone - the others' being temporarily turned off. When it's the turn of each of the other candidates to speak, the camera could be shifted to him/her, and he/she would have the microphone turned on. This would greatly reduce the constant interruption and disruption that the audience is currently subjected to. My last suggestion is that previously agreed on time limits should be enforced, possibly with each speaker having a warning light that his/her microphone and camera with be turned off after a previously agreed on time limit..
K.H.R., Berkeley, California
A reader wrote:
Reading your review of the South Carolina debate, you must have seen a different debate than I have. It was 7 gunslingers in Charleston, not the OK Corral. A free-for-all, no holds barred, rude and disrespectful, in a desperate attempt to make a point, kill their opponents in order to raise their chances at another percentage point in the election. Ignore civility, ignore the truth and facts, a fight to the death.
The moderators were absolutely terrible, totally lost control, were unable to maintain even basic order, leading to a shouting match of 7 people screaming over each other. Their questions were designed to foment discord among the candidates, rather than actually achieve an understanding of the candidate's positions. (More discord, better ratings?) And since they could not control the candidates' brawl, they resorted to sheer rudeness to try and establish some order, and ended up in an extremely unfair time allocation whereby the most reasonable orator got less than 1/2 the speaking time than the screaming shouting carnival barker.
The format, copied from previous debates was a flop and did not permit the development of a topic.
In short, a total waste of time.
D.G., Santa Monica, CA
V & Z: We were annoyed by all the hand-raising and "ooh! ooh! oohs!," too. However (and we almost wrote about this), our view is that the manner in which these debates are conducted has evolved over time, such that the moderaters of the eighth, ninth, and tenth debates have been stuck with a standard of behavior that they did not establish and that they cannot really change. That's why our review did not penalize Gayle King & Co. for that.
A reader wrote:
I thought you were pretty far off base with your interpretation of the last Democratic debate in South Carolina. I think it was clear to most who watched it that Biden did better than you suggested, and Sanders did worse.
Biden was consistently getting uproarious cheers and applause from the crowd, while Bernie received more than a few instances of overt booing. But worse than that, during one of the exchanges with the audience, they booed him and he appeared to lose his temper and yell back at them. Observers might disagree with what constitutes actual "yelling", but the fact is, as a political candidate for the highest office, Sanders appeared to be genuinely upset not at his opponents, but at his audience.
As a viewer, the message that came through like a siren was that once you're off Bernie's team, you're dead to him. And considering the nightmarish way Donald Trump does the same thing, that was a very, very big red flag.
Perhaps the response might be that it wasn't really as big a deal as I seem to think, but I would sincerely ask, have you ever seen any of the other candidates become defensive about a debate question and then direct that defensiveness to the debate audience? Even when other candidates have been accused of being "too aggressive" or angry, it's always toward the other candidates, never the audience. The fact you either didn't understand that difference or chose to downplay it to avoid further angering Bernie supporters is very disappointing.
C.J., New York. NY
V & Z: As we turned the debate over in our head, we almost had Joe Biden in the "helped themselves the most" spot, but decided that he had just a few too many rough patches. And we almost had Bernie Sanders in the "helped themselves the least" spot, but decided that he hadn't stumbled enough to actually do any serious damage to his campaign. Given the results in South Carolina, perhaps we were in error about one or both of those assessments.
A reader wrote:
Why does the DNC believe that the current debate format is a positive for the party or the candidates? It's time to get rid of the live audience, since they are no longer civil during debates—they disrupt candidate answers and they tend to push candidates into making one-liner sound bites. Second, get rid of the carousel of moderators. The debates should be about the candidates, not about giving second-tier talking heads a chance to raise their profile. If they had one or two moderators through the whole series of debates, then the moderators would ask more issue-focused questions instead of trying to catch the candidate in a trap question or sensationalizing an unflattering quote a candidate made 20 years ago. Making these changes to the debates would take the World Wrestling Entertainment vibe away from these events and give us a more respectful vehicle for obtaining insight into the candidate's positions on the issues, which is what voters should be evaluating right now to narrow the field. Wouldn't a positive debate format leave the audience feeling better about the Democratic party and the candidates as we move into the general election?.
D.C., Hartford, CT
V & Z: We agree with all of this, particularly the five-headed moderators.
A reader wrote:
You published a letter in which reader G.T.M. of Vancouver, Canada, essentially mocked you—and indeed, our entire country—for engaging in the practice of inserting obfuscatory characters when printing coarse words. As a counterweight to this argument, I would like to submit the following observation: Since abstract thought is clearly impossible without the use of language (try it if you don't believe me), it necessarily follows that the quality of our language controls the quality of our thought. It therefore seems to me that the use of crude language leads inevitably and unavoidably to crudeness of thought.
To my way of thinking we already have plenty of crude thought in our society, and to increase it is not a goal to be sought by any decent person of good moral character. Indeed, to print such words as "ratfu**ing" or "p**sy grabbing" without the obscuring characters, and to expect them to be seen as anything but deliberately offensive is, it seems to me, as insensitive as it would be for any white person to publicly use the notorious "N" word for any purpose other than necessary historical education. I hope reader G.T.M. of Canada is not so callous as to encourage that sort of behavior.
(Now, I can anticipate that someone might make the argument that the "N" word is a "hate" word, while the other examples are "merely" conventionally regarded as "dirty" words. However, I strongly reject this argument, and would counter-argue that, in fact, all uses of so-called "dirty" words—and we all know what those are, of course, and don't pretend they do not exist—are in effect expressions of hatred, or at least contempt, for the audience receiving them. I can certainly attest that such is how I perceive them, and I assure you I am far—perhaps farther than I ought to be—from being a prude.)
And the use of obscuring characters when printing crudities (a practice which, I believe, has a long and honorable history under the name "mincing an oath or curse") is, on the other hand, an expression of respect for your audience, particularly in a context such as your website, where you cannot with any certainty know just who your audience really is. I furthermore regard it as a demonstration of that old-fashioned and today far-too-seldom-practiced virtue, common courtesy (or dare I use the currently even more denigrated word, "politeness?"). For this you are to be commended and congratulated, not mocked or reviled.
J.M.R., Fort Worth, TX
And to Conclude, Some Broccoli
A reader wrote:
My hat goes off to Suresh Khanna for fantastically trolling Donald Trump during his visit to India. Serving an all vegetarian menu to a Philistine who eats overcooked shoe-leather steaks is only the first level. Topping that off with the second-level troll of a fried food, samosas—Indian fast food, but filled with broccoli, George H. W. Bush's most hated vegetable—while risking and enduring the wrath of Indian traditionalists is utterly brilliant!
K.W., Providence, RI
V & Z: QE2 is a champion-level troller, too. Maybe she'll serve vegetarian shepherd's pie at Trump's next state visit.
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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Feb28 Coronavirus Gives Trump Administration a Headache
Feb28 Prepare for Another Trump 2020 Photo-op
Feb28 A Candidate Like No Other, Part II: Bernie Sanders, Socialist
Feb28 Polls Have South Carolina Results All Over the Map
Feb28 Today's Ratfu**ing News
Feb28 Buttigieg Is Still Your Winner in Iowa
Feb28 Trump May Not Be Able to Pardon Stone
Feb27 Takeaways from the South Carolina Debate
Feb27 Clyburn Endorses Biden
Feb27 Poll: Biden Has a Huge Lead over Sanders in South Carolina
Feb27 Schumer and Pelosi Would Be Comfortable with Sanders as Nominee
Feb27 Five Thirty Eight's Super Tuesday Predictions
Feb27 He Hasn't Been Here
Feb27 Are Primaries Being Done Wrong?
Feb27 Schumer Meets with Bullock
Feb27 Trump Asks for the Wrong Recusals
Feb27 Court Rules that Trump Can Withhold Money from "Sanctuary Cities"
Feb27 Trump Campaign Sues the New York Times
Feb26 Democrats Do the Charleston
Feb26 A Candidate Like No Other, Part I: Bernie Sanders' Base
Feb25 Trump Administration Fears Coronavirus
Feb25 Nevada Results Are Final...
Feb25 ...And Now It's South Carolina's Turn
Feb25 But First, a Debate
Feb25 Sanders Gives Florida Democrats Conniptions
Feb25 The Hill Closes the Henhouse After the Fox Already Had His Way
Feb24 Takeaways from the Nevada Caucuses
Feb24 How Did Sanders Do It?
Feb24 Never-Trump Republicans Are in Full-Blown Panic Mode
Feb24 New National Poll Has Sanders on Top
Feb24 Downballot Democrats Move to Distance Themselves from Sanders
Feb24 How Democrats Can Manage a Brokered Convention
Feb24 Caucus States Aren't the Only Ones with Complicated Rules
Feb24 National Security Adviser: Russians Aren't Trying to Help Trump
Feb24 Steyer Will Be on Stage Tomorrow
Feb23 Nevada Has Spoken
Feb23 Sunday Mailbag
Feb22 It's the Silver State's Time to Shine
Feb22 Russians Are Trying to Help Sanders, Too
Feb22 Saturday Q&A
Feb21 Russians Are Back for Another Go-Round
Feb21 Takeaways from the Debate
Feb21 Bloomberg Isn't the Anti-Trump Juggernaut He Seems to Be
Feb21 Warren Raises Almost $3 Million on Debate Night
Feb21 Wisconsin May Be the Democrats' Toughest Hill to Climb
Feb21 What about Arizona and North Carolina?
Feb21 Unicorn Sighted Far in the Distance
Feb21 Stone Wins
Feb21 Republicans Will Spend Millions to Fight Democrats' Lawsuits about Voting