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      •  Sunday Mailbag

We have adjusted the map above to reflect the various dates in March where states will vote. We'll likely do the same in April, once that month rolls around.

Sunday Mailbag

When Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) was the frontrunner, messages about him dominated the comments inbox. Now that he's lost his frontrunner status...messages about him are still dominating the inbox. We're going to start with two fairly lengthy letters that take basically opposite (but thoughtful) viewpoints on the Vermont Senator. Normally, we would edit such lengthy pieces down a bit, but we felt that it was important to fully showcase both perspectives in this case. This is not going to be the new normal, so while we encourage "letters to the editor" pieces supporting or opposing any viewpoint, party, or candidate, please make them much shorter than these.

Viva La Revolución?

D.E. from Lititz, PA, writes: I have been reading this week with a great deal of non-guilty schadenfreude about the state of affairs in the Sanders campaign. First was the Rachel Maddow interview with Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), where the Senator spent a great deal of time taking Sanders and his online supporters to task for their viciousness. Then today, I read a CNN article about how the Sanders campaign is hoping that Warren endorses Sanders, but that they acknowledge it's not likely. Plus I also read a Washington Post article about one "Bernie Bro" who is now somewhat regretting his forceful defense of Sanders, now fearing that he may have done more harm than good. To quote Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury, "You think?"

Since I think Sanders' campaign is deader than Jacob Marley, this is a good time to give my autopsy of why his campaign failed that has nothing to do with Sanders being a socialist or with his policies. His higher-level campaign staff admitted that they were running a base campaign, thinking they could win the nomination with 30% of the Democratic vote—in other words, they were making a play out of the Trump handbook. His online supporters, when I would ask why Sanders was alienating possible Democratic supporters and not growing his vote, would always reply: "That's how Trump did it in 2016." My first reaction is to scream "Good God, why would anyone want to emulate anything that the Mango Mussolini has done unless they were a Republican trying to ride his coattails?" The more rational part of me would argue that even the Republicans who have tried to emulate Trump have not met with a lot of electoral success. Plus, if you're a voter who admires Trump's nasty, ill-informed, take-no-prisoners approach, why would you want to change up?

Part of the reason Trump's "Just the Base" approach worked is that the GOP's nominating rules made it possible with the winner-takes-all primaries. The way the DNC sets up the Democratic primaries all but requires candidates to grow their support by attracting the backers of candidates that have dropped out of the race. And whether it's the rules or other things, the most mystifying thing about Sanders is that he has a profound misunderstanding of the differences between Republicans and Democrats. For example, in the 2016 election, Trump called his opponents demeaning nicknames, he insulted their family members, and he made nasty insinuations about those who didn't support him. But after the Alpha Male marked his territory by winning the nomination, Sens. Rubio, Cruz and Graham all lowered their heads and hiked up their hind quarters in submission. Even four years later, those hindquarters are still hiked high. When I read the CNN article today the subtext from the Sanders campaign officials seemed to be an incredulity that Warren has not yet fallen in line. (V) and (Z), I know you like the Will Rogers quote about the Democrats not being an organized party. I also like the quote (Obama? Pelosi? Reid? All three?) that says getting the Democrats to act is like herding cats. Try to get a cat to bow in submission like Trump demands of the GOP, and you better be sure to have some Band-Aids for the deep scratch marks!

I can somewhat, but not entirely, forgive the Bernie Bros for their stupidity based on the ignorance of youth. But how does one account for the fundamental lack of understanding of what characterizes the Democratic Party that Sanders displayed even after 30 years of political experience? In my opinion, what Sanders should have done after his heart attack was to withdraw from the race and throw his support behind Warren, who had a better shot of getting his policies implemented. But then, Sanders' campaign was never about policies but rather about his overwhelming ego.

E.M. from Portland, OR, writes: I am a 28-year-old Democrat. I have lived and breathed politics since infancy, and have been a daily reader of your website since 2004. I've also made great use of the informational links available here, and I really appreciate the work that you do. I supported Hillary in 2016 as a partisan, establishment Democrat, although my politics best align with those of Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. Clinton was, in my estimation in 2016, the better candidate win that year. This year, out of the two remaining contenders for the Democratic nomination, I believe Senator Sanders is more likely to prevail in a race that I think will plainly be overly-taxing on the former vice president, just based on a side-by-side comparison of their monthly travel engagements, campaign activity, and responses to questions in interviews. Of course, reasonable minds can disagree.

I don't object to your regular skepticism towards Sanders, as I'm for the skeptical approach to politicians in general. There's plenty about him and his supporters to critique. But there was one part of your writing that I did object to recently, and quite strongly. As far as I can recall, (V) has always been quick to point out the hypocrisy and tone deaf posturing of politicians on the right and left. And yet, when CBS and the Democratic field dredged up some positive comments about the Castro Regime to mount a GOP-style "red scare" attack on Sanders, while also claiming the sky would fall, Florida would be irrevocably lost, and God knows what else, you appeared to join this stampede rather uncritically. Doubtless, Joe Biden is hoping, rather desperately I might add, that when the average person looks at Sanders, they will now begin to see spooky hammers and sickles, flapping red banners, and perhaps a scary looking tank facing down a flagman. And yet, do Democrats necessarily flee the polls whenever the ghost of Communism is disinterred and used as a bogeyman against them?

President Obama, if anyone would care to remember, attended a summit with the actual Fidel Castro in Panama, and appeared in public with the man. They issued a joint statement saying many positive things about each other's respective countries and the potential for better relations going forward. Obama made very clear that the policy of the Democratic party was to seek the end of the blockade, normalization of relations, and ultimately rapprochement with the Cuban regime in the hopes of perhaps fostering positive change on the Island. While I certainly recall Republicans calling Obama a socialist as well as a bad person for supporting a corrupt, murderous, brutal regime, I don't ever recall Democrats doing this. When Obama acknowledged the ideals that inspired the Cuban Revolution, the Democrats seemed secure in the belief that this does not equate to condoning human rights violations subsequently committed by its government. Obama, at least as far as I recall, also won Florida twice, showing that Cuban Americans who cast their vote based on Fidel Castro had already been solidly in the Republican column and thus had limited ability to sway the election. One wonders if Obama pursued a policy of rapprochement out of some three-dimensional-chess-inspired belief that it was a smart political move, or if it was simply the right and sensible thing to do, despite its unpopularity. Perhaps the move was a little of both—or in other words, "leadership."

Even more curiously, the Red Scare-style assault went forward despite Sanders' comments being clearly about the goal of achieving literacy itself. When Trump held his summits and photo-ops and grand meetings with North Korean Communist Dictator Kim Jong-Un, as I recall, he said that Kim was "a wonderful person." He didn't praise the goals of the Korean revolution, which I'm sure had originally been to provide a better life for its people, he praised the character of a man who, and please correct me if I'm wrong on this, assassinated his own half-brother and uncle in the space of two years in an effort to keep his grip on power. Say what you will about Fidel Castro, but at least he had the decency to install his brother in a position in government, rather than killing him. Why is it that the Democratic Party can hammer Sanders over praising Fidel Castro almost 40 years ago, while they seem unable to say one word about Trump cuddling with Kim Jong-Un, and pointedly looking the other way from his friend Mohammed Bin Salman as he orders the torture and dismemberment of legal permanent residents of the U.S., such as Jamal Khashoggi?

Believe me, I can certainly understand the temptation and the inclination to reach for the most potent weapons to win an election. Thus, I take it in stride whenever Biden or Warren or a news anchor shreds Sanders' legislative plans for their ambition, lack of specificity, and potential divisiveness. However the "Castro and Communism" vis-a-vis Sanders' vague positive comments on communist countries is breathtaking and shockingly hypocritical from the Democrats. They are kicking the political dialogue a couple decades back, into Cold War ideology. Must we maintain that the North Vietnamese had no legitimate cause to fight for unified independence from France and then the USA? Were the governments of Fulgencio Batista and Chiang Kai-shek in Cuba and Nationalist China providing adequate healthcare and economic opportunities for their people? Must we insist that the miserable conditions in Tsarist Russia and militancy of that regime were no just cause for revolution? And what about the American revolution for that matter? Now, if you are a true moral purist, all of this can be dismissed as "whataboutism." An evil government is evil, no ifs, ands, or buts. If one truly believes that, it's a fair opinion. But isn't it at least possible that by mounting a Democratic Party based attack on Sanders over "Socialism" and "Communism," the Democrats are not only fatally weakening him versus Trump in the general election if he were the nominee, but also fatally exposing Democrats as a whole before Republicans by showing that THEY believe in the legitimacy of these attacks? Is the Democratic party telling us that Obama was wrong? That you cannot reach out to an enemy until they have proactively released all political prisoners, dissolved authoritarian parties, liberalized their currency markets, broken up state-owned entities, reined in their military spending, and renounced all territorial claims against other sovereign entities? That would seem to preclude the current U.S. relationship with the People's Republic of China, to name just one. It seems that in recognition of this basic fact, Henry Kissinger and the Nixon administration recognized the People's Republic of China and sat down for a few friendly games of ping pong, even though the lot of the imprisoned dissidents in that country hadn't improved a whit.

This kind of heel turn, paired with the sheer desperation of the Democratic party to nuke Senator Sanders' presidential campaign "before it's too late," as if he represents a Leninist takeover of the government, is the kind of stuff that makes a Sanders supporter (even a lifelong supporter and campaigner for the Democratic party) ready to lose her mind. Although I am not an intemperate person, I can certainly understand why someone with a proper sense of history and context would be tempted to, say, make a crude JPEG of Biden or Warren with some snakes or what have you coming out of their mouths. It's really no different from what they're doing to Sanders on national TV. I was a little miffed that you didn't seem to take that perspective into account either.

I.K. from New York, NY, writes: Your reader C.J. commented on their impression that "once you're off Bernie's team, you're dead to him." I have been on Bernie Sanders' mailing list since at least 2012, and have long appreciated his voice and his principles. This election season, I have been receiving e-mails from his campaign pretty much daily, often multiple e-mails a day. Then, at the beginning of January, I made a small contribution to Elizabeth Warren. I have not received a single e-mail from Sanders since. I was surprised at this, and it evoked in me the same impression captured by C.J.'s comment.

J.R. from New York, NY, writes: There has been a lot of comparison of Bernie Sanders to George McGovern, but I wonder if a better comparison would be Joe Biden to Bob Dole, John McCain and Hillary Clinton. That is, the political establishment of the party doubles down and chooses a "safe" and "establishment" and overall uninspiring candidate. All three of these Senators lost to candidates who were different and had an active and excitable base. No one seems to be remarking about that, though.

If Sanders were the nominee and the Democratic establishment went full in to support him (just like the GOP did with Trump) it seems that this would make Sanders a candidate more likely to beat Trump compared to Biden.

D.B. from Somerset, NJ, writes: I am probably as right-wing as any of your regulars. I am hoping that Bernie Sanders is the nominee—not for the pathological reason that I think he would be easier for Trump to defeat (I think Trump is a clown and did not vote for him in 2016). I think that the leftists in the Democratic party are actually correct that the party has for 48 years tended not to give a fair hearing for real progressive views. With Sanders, there is at least some chance that we will have an open discussion about some of them—and yes; even for a right winger like me, some of them have logical appeal.

Second, those put off by the acerbic attacks of the so-called "Bernie Bros" are not limited to moderates or swing voters. At least one friend of mine who campaigned and knocked on doors for Bernie was so affected by the nastiness that he switched to Warren. These guys are doing real damage, I think, and they need to understand that.

Third (and finally), I wonder if the real reason that Sanders is having a hard time "controlling" the trolls is that he is basically a vessel into which they have poured years (decades?) of anger against Wall Street, rich people, the Bilderbergers, the Stonecutters, who knows? He is almost like a reverse scapegoat, if such a thing could exist. Bernie likes to say "Not me. Us." And in this case, he has succeeded beyond his wildest dreams. I fear that instead of an idol, he will become his own Wicker Man if this continues.

S.E. from Okemos, MI, writes: Missing from your Super Tuesday debrief was the fact that Bernie Sanders only garnered 50.7% of the vote in his home state of Vermont. In 2016, he beat Hillary Clinton in the Vermont primary by a margin of roughly 86% to 14%. Sure, there were a few more choices on the ballot this year, but it seems to indicate something that over 49% of primary voters in his home state just voted against him.

D.W. from Melbourne, FL, writes:

Bernie says he wants a revolution
Well you know, We all want to change the world
He can't wait for the evolution
Well you know, We all want to change the world
Then he talks about policy destruction
Don't you know you can count me out
Don't you know it's gonna be alright? Alright? Alright?
Bernie say's he got a real solution
Well you know, We'd love to afford the plan
He asks me for a contribution
Well you know, We're doing what we can
But when he want's money for people with minds that hate
All I can tell you is brother you have to wait
Don't you know it's gonna be alright? Alright? Alright?
Bernie says he'll change the constitution
Well you know, we all want to change his head
He tells me it's the institution
Well you know, we better free our minds instead
when he cheers for Ortega and Fidel Castro, wow!
He ain't going to make it with anyone anyhow
Don't you know, know it's gonna be alright? Alright? Alright? Alright!

Other Thoughts on the Horse Race

R.M. from Farmington, NM, writes: You stated that misogyny might be to blame for Elizabeth Warren's not getting the nomination. Let me see. The vast majority of voting precincts have more female voters than male voters, particularly in the Democratic primaries. If women want a female candidate, they already have the power to simply outvote men. So the misogyny is also among women. Even in 2016, the vast majority of states that Trump won had a majority female vote. When people claim it's misogyny, they imply that men control the process. They simply do not.

A.M. from Los Angeles, CA, writes: You did a great job of pointing out how similar a candidate Joe Biden is to Hillary Clinton. Does this not concern you? After all, Clinton lost the White House to Trump. It's also the case that since 2000, moderate Democratic candidates for President have lost more times than they have won.

My view of why this is the case is that the political center has moved so far to the right that moderate Democrats look like Republican-lite candidates. Is it really surprising that, if given a choice between a real Republican and a Republican-lite, more people will vote for the real Republican?

I may be wrong, but the Democratic establishment seems to be rushing towards making the same mistake, with a risk of dooming us to four more years of Trump.

T.B. from Santa Clara, CA, writes: Great breakdown/comparison of Clinton vs. Biden. I would add one more strike against Clinton. Some people do not like dynasties and didn't vote for her because her husband was already there for eight years. Perhaps they felt like he would be too involved. I know we had two Bushes in this era, but a spouse seems even more dynastic than a child, fair or not.

R.W.P. from Washington, DC, writes: I wonder if there's not another dimension or two to the Joe = Hillary comparison, namely that Biden is likely to under-perform in some states but over-perform in others.

For instance, Clinton called New York her home state, so surely Biden's prospects there (relative to Clinton's) can be downgraded. Likewise, Biden having more support from certain demographic groups, like black voters, upgrades his chances in other states.

Finally, the demographics of many states continue to evolve; if I'm not mistaken, Latinos continue to comprise a greater share of the population over time in every state, and Sun Belt states are growing while northern states are shrinking, in terms of overall population. I imagine this migration pattern also affects the median age within the concerned states.

A.M. from Miami Beach, FL, writes: You wrote "[Elizabeth Warren's] former supporters are likely to break pretty evenly between Sanders and Biden, and may actually even favor Biden slightly."

But I, and a number of others, specifically asked Warren supporters (on Twitter) if they were going to support Biden or Sanders. The overwhelming responses were pro-Biden. It would be generous to say even 1% of the responses were for Sanders. In fact, many of the respondents specifically called out how poorly Sanders and his supporters treated non-Sanders supporters. To suggest Sanders could pick up a significant percentage of Warren's supporters does not seem to be realistic.

J.S. from Seattle, WA, writes: You have hit the nail on the head when it comes to Warren supporters. I live in Washington State, was supporting Warren, consider myself a progressive Democrat and demographically fit your description (although at three months older than Senator Warren, I may be a bit older than many of her supporters). I waited to fill out my ballot for next week's primary until after Super Tuesday, and I decided to vote for Joe Biden. While he has his drawbacks, he is at least a (lifelong) Democrat, and right now it is more important to me to defeat Donald Trump than to vote for someone whose ideas I agree with, but whose path to actually getting them accomplished is next to impossible at best.

A.R. from Los Angeles, CA, writes: Regarding your item on Elizabeth Warren ending her campaign, I think the Trump effect can't be overstated. Democratic voters want Trump out of office as their top priority, so anyone who didn't fit the mold of those who have been elected before never really stood a chance. And I'm not sure they're wrong. It seems obvious now that it was going to come down to Sanders and Biden—Sanders has a strong base of fanatical true believers that were always going to push hard for him, and Biden has been deemed the "safe" choice from the beginning. I will vote blue no matter who, but in this unique (hopefully) election, the safe choice seems like the right choice to appeal to the largest number of voters who, like a lot of us, are terrified of another 4 years of Trump. This isn't like Kerry vs. Bush—Bush had the Republicans unified and lined up behind him. Here, however, the never-Trump and other disenchanted Republicans want a Democrat they can vote for and that's Biden. Even if I would prefer a more progressive candidate, job one is getting this monster out of the White House.

J.L. from Tallahassee, FL, writes: In your piece "Where do we go from Here? Sanders Game Changers Part IV" I thought you left out the most plausible game changer of all. As you have pointed out many times, Biden is a "little past his expiration date," and his speech patterns, to me at least, seem to have taken a real nose dive in the last few years. There is thus the possibility that, during the next debate, he will not only make some gaffes, but also come off as cognitively impaired. If Sanders is on his game and Biden is not, there's even the potential for it to be painfully embarrassing. It wouldn't have to be a complete breakdown, but rather a pattern of little things that make him look a little like a forgetful grandpa. That sort of behavior is readily apparent to most voters, and it wouldn't take too much before some doubts will creep in—especially as it applies to the general election. Everyone is keenly aware that the insulter-in-chief who occupies the White House will pounce on any appearance of fragility as a cat on a bird.

P.M. from Grahamstown, South Africa, writes: What's with the Beto snark: "O'Rourke, the first leading Democrat to bow out this cycle, emerged from whatever cave he's been hiding in..."? While his presidential campaign tanked, he did exceptionally well in his Texas senate race against an established incumbent with a national profile.

V & Z respond: Truth be told, we wanted to make the "Groundhog Day" joke, and the joke only works if O'Rourke was coming out of a cave.

P.C. from Cleveland, OH, writes: If Democrats nominate Joe Biden they will be making a big mistake. He will lose to Trump. The reason he will lose is the same reason Hillary Clinton lost in 2016. She lost because Democrats didn't turn out in sufficient numbers, and the reason they didn't turn out is that they lacked enthusiasm for her candidacy. It is hard to envision Joe generating the kind of enthusiasm needed to defeat Trump with his ardent supporters. Joe's success on Super Tuesday was not a "we love Joe" vote. It was a "we don't think Bernie can win" vote. This attempt by large numbers of Democratic voters to play pundit and predict how other people will vote in November is a fool's errand. They think Bernie will be hurt by the "socialist" label, but they fail to realize that Joe also carries a lot of baggage that Trump will hit him with mercilessly. If they think that Joe will do better because he's a "moderate," they are deluding themselves. 90% of Republicans support Trump and nothing Joe or anyone else says is going to make them change their minds. If Joe is able to peel off half of the remaining 10% (which is unlikely), that will not make up for the loss of Democratic voters' enthusiasm and turnout. Meanwhile, if Bernie is nominated, he (and others) will have ample time to clarify in the minds of voters what exactly his "democratic socialism" will mean in real terms that will affect their lives. The sting of the label can be neutralized. If Joe does get nominated and somehow wins in November, he can look forward to endless Republican-led inquiries into Burisma and who knows what other garbage.

S.G. from Newark, NJ, writes: Regarding your "admittedly crude" analysis of how the demographic divide between Sanders and Biden voters bodes for the Democrats in swing states: I would suggest that Arizona is a stretch for the Democrats in 2020 and Texas is still a bridge too far. So the only state on your swingy list where Latinos preponderate is the mother of all swing states, Florida. And as you have pointed out many times, the "Latino" label encompasses people of a bunch of different backgrounds, not all of whom, in Florida especially, may favor Sanders as much as the "average" Latino.

On the other hand, for the Democrats, Pennsylvania and Michigan are must-haves that used to be part of the "blue wall." North Carolina seems increasingly in play, and 200,000 more people voted in the 2020 North Carolina Democratic primary than in the 2016 version. Georgia still seems like too much of a stretch, especially as voter suppression will be alive and well there again in 2020.

So, if we guesstimate that Sanders would be the stronger nominee in states with relatively high Latino populations, and that Biden would be the stronger nominee in states with relatively high black populations, the electoral math would seem to suggest that Biden, overall, has somewhat better chances against Trump.

I say this as someone who would be very happy to see President Sanders inaugurated. Then again, President Biden sounds pretty good, too.

E.C.R. from Helsinki, Finland, writes: First off, as someone of Mexican-American heritage, thank you for calling us "Latinos" rather than "Hispanics." Unfortunately your analysis on Wednesday last implicitly assumed that all or the overwhelming majority of Latinos can be assumed to be inclined towards Sanders. You looked at the presumed swing states and concluded that based on African American and Latino proportions of the electorate in three states (AZ, FL, TX) Sanders would be favored while in four states (GA, MI, NC, PA) Biden would be favored.

Latinos are not a monolithic bloc, particularly in Florida, where Cubans, Puerto Ricans and those from the Dominican Republic and South America form distinct portions of the Latino electorate. While the Cubans tend to vote Republican and are thus less of a factor in the Democratic primary, the other two groups have divergent interests. For both groups, Trump's wall is a distant issue and since the Puerto Ricans are citizens, the entire immigration issue is of much less importance to them, statements by AOC notwithstanding.

It is possible that Sanders will get the votes of a disproportionate share of Florida Latino Democrats, but if so it will be for reasons that have comparatively little to do with Nevada. One might as well argue that Amy Klobuchar had an inside track on the Democratic vote in eastern Pennsylvania since the Pennsylvania Dutch are first cousins to Minnesota's Swedes.

F.L. from Denton, TX, writes: I was thinking that it might be sorta fun to name some of the other "Tuesdays" (and one Saturday). Why should Super Tuesday have all the fun? Here are my suggestions, but it might be a hoot to have others chime in:

  • March 10: ID, MI, MS, MO, ND and WA (352 delegates): Mediocre Tuesday
  • March 17: AZ, FL, IL and OH (577 delegates): Swing Tuesday
  • April 4: AK, HI, LA and WY (107 delegates): Tiny Saturday
  • April 28 CT, DE, MD, NY, PA and RI (663 delegates): Amtrak Tuesday
  • May 12: NE and WV (57 delegates): Microscopic Tuesday
  • May 19: KY and OR (115 delegates): ORKY Tuesday
  • June 2: DC, MT, NJ, NM and SD (215 delegates): Irrelevant Tuesday

R.K.P. from Chicago, IL, writes: In my lifetime, I have witnessed events I never conceived of happening: the fall of the Berlin Wall, the election of a black man to the United States presidency, and marriage equality. As a gay male, I almost cringed when Mayor Pete announced his candidacy. Disdain came from all corners, including this site, being young, gay, and the mayor of a small city. Surprisingly, somehow, the mainstream media treated him like everyone else. There were interviews and debates where the topic of being gay didn't even come up. And though Mayor Pete wasn't the candidate of my choice (I want more experience) and his candidacy has obviously ended, I was absolutely amazed to see senior citizens in Iowa and New Hampshire drawn to his candidacy—amazed and proud of him, and them!

Though this election is going to be low and bad, I already take something good away from it: that hate doesn't always triumph. There are good, fair, and open-minded Americans out there.

Thanks, Iowa and New Hampshire.

The Worst System Ever Tried, Except for All the Others

S.C. from Mountain View, CA, writes: This is in response to the hypothetical scenario (Z) describes as to what might happen if the United States were to elect Congress using a proportional representation (PR) system.

I have given dozens of talks on PR over the years, both before I became President of Californians for Electoral Reform, and then as CfER's President. In these talks I use a map showing the more than 70 countries (including almost every Western industrialized nation) that use PR to elect at least one house of their national legislature, and sample ballots from South Africa (closed-Party-List PR), Denmark (open-Party-List PR), New Zealand (Mixe-Member-Proportional PR), and Cambridge, Massachusetts (Single-Transferable-Vote PR) to illustrate the various forms of PR.

Often, someone in the audience will ask about Israel, as it is one of the two countries that people use to claim PR results in governance problems (the other is Italy). I respond that the Israelis love their system and have shown no signs of wanting to replace it with ours, but they do have an extreme form of PR. The natural threshold to elect someone when 120 seats are going to be filled using PR is 0.83%, so at its founding Israel imposed an artificial threshold of 1%. They have slowly raised it over the past 70 years, from 1% to 1.5% to 2% to the current 3.25%, but that is still lower than the 5% threshold that most other countries use when the natural threshold would be smaller. (The larger the threshold, the less likely that small fringe parties will gain seats and be able to demand concessions to form a governing majority.)

No one that I know in the electoral reform movement is suggesting that the United States use such an extreme form of PR. The smallest natural threshold used to elect the House of Representatives if HR 4000 were to become law would be 16.7%. While the Green and Libertarian parties might be able to elect a few members from some states despite such a high threshold, the likelihood of electing enough to prevent either of the two major parties from having a majority is small.

As for the difficulties that might occur if third parties were able to gain enough seats in Congress so that no single party had an absolute majority, you may not be aware that this has happened at least seven times in US history. In the 31st Congress, the House suspended the rule that the Speaker had to be elected by a majority and elected one by plurality. In the 65th Congress, the second-largest party received enough support from minor party members to organize the House. The remaining times that no party had a majority, the largest party received enough support from minor party members to organize the House.

I don't know what concessions those minor party members demanded, nor if any of the major events that occurred during those times, such as the beginning of secession or the U.S. entry into World War I, could be blamed on the fact of a coalition Congress. That there were coalition Congresses and the concessions made to create them weren't mentioned when I took American History in high school, presumably because it wasn't that important. (I don't know if they are mentioned in a college-level American history class.)

In any event, should HR 4000 or something similar pass, and the scenario (Z) describes occur, with neither major party having a majority and the minor parties demanding unacceptable concessions, the House could just suspend that majority rule again. But it is more likely that acceptable concessions would be requested and made.

C.L. from Boulder, CO, writes: A better indicator of support than a plurality or even instant-runoff voting (which can hide support for a broadly acceptable candidate) would be an approval voting poll, where voters can show support for more than one candidate. You showed an approval voting poll back in July 2019, where three candidates were supported by 50% or more of those polled. Bernie Sanders topped out at 40%. Unlike other lower-polling candidates, he did not suffer from lack of name recognition at the time.

Both plurality and instant-runoff voting (a.k.a. single-winner, Ranked Choice Voting) are vote-for-one systems that limit the electorate's expressiveness. I would argue that we are still too early in the nomination process to be limiting voters to choosing a single candidate. With a big field, the Democratic Party should be looking for the candidate who has the most support, even if that candidate is not a particular voter's first choice. Forcing Democrats into different camps, as the current vote-for-one system does, is not the best way to beat an incumbent Republican president.

Many people already engage in a form of approval voting when they give money to more than one candidate. Unlike campaign donations, voting in a primary is free or very low-cost. Voting in a caucus requires more time and resources. The most small-d democratic way to choose a party nominee is in closed or semi-open primary elections that allow the voters to vote for all the candidates they support.

J.E. from New York, NY, writes: I note that in your item about multiparty systems, you mention Israel and the problems of forming a majority government. While it is true that such an outcome is possible in such a system, it's by no means inevitable or even all that common. I can think of half a dozen countries where multiparty systems routinely form majorities. Germany, France, the Netherlands, Belgium, the United Kingdom, Austria—they'd all be surprised to hear that forming a government is so troublesome, I expect.

Even the perennial example given—Italy—has had relatively stable governing coalitions the past twenty or so years.

Yes, parliamentary systems can have unstable or hard-to-form coalitions. But that's a feature as much as a bug, and such a situation is something of an outlier. It's also notable that most democracies in the developed world—and even the developing world—have opted for something like it. The presidential system like that in the U.S., on the other hand, is not copied all that often and that's a mark of failure, not success.

Whither COVID?

S.R. from Wyomissing, PA, writes: Two weeks ago you published my letter predicting that the coronavirus might become a big deal and that if it did the president's supporters would just blame the Democrats and the Chinese. I got pretty close, but my imagination wasn't dark enough to foresee a reality where they just deny the existence of the virus completely. It might be funny if it wasn't so tragic and dangerous.

G.W. from Oxnard, CA, writes: I've never been on a cruise, but now that I know that if you go on a cruise you will leave with every transmissible disease that every passenger brings on board, not only for the passengers on your cruise, but also for every other cruise on the ship for at least 2 weeks. I never will go on a cruise.

A.G. from Santa Clarita, CA, writes: I think it's a little concerning that everyone is dismissing the idea that the coronavirus might stop spreading once it warms up. Many respiratory viruses function like that (flu, cold, etc.) and it looks like the major outbreaks of COVID-19 are happening in colder regions. Colder places like Iran, Italy, and the EU are struggling, but there are no current outbreaks in the southern hemisphere. Even in places with significant infections like Singapore and Malaysia, it seems to be rapidly falling under control and might soon have no cases.

Might this be a case of media panic? I dislike Donald Trump with every cell in my body, but even I have to admit he might be right and that the virus will "miraculously" die off in a month or so.

G.C. from Alexandria, VA, writes: R.M.S. of Lebanon, CT 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%."

Just using the middle number of 2% would mean that the U.S. population of 333 million people would result in approximately 6.7 million deaths from COVID-19. 6.7 million dead? Not really a number I'm comfortable with.

T.B. from Tallahassee, FL, writes: Drawing from some statistics I've read about COVID-19, and applying them to this coming November electorate: 20-25% [I'll use 20%] of the population will get infected with COVID-19, and somewhere between 1 and 7% of the people who get infected will die (with much higher rates associated with older people and in countries with an overwhelmed health care system; the current global rate is about 3.4%, by some calculations). The U.S., with non-universal health care and "civil rights," is poorly prepared to handle a pandemic (but many who get care will get great care), so I'll project a death rate of 4% for infected people over 65.

Some statistics from the Internet: "[A]ccording to estimates by the Pew Research Center, 23% of voters will be over 65, the highest proportion of the electorate of that age since 1970," and "In 2016, voters over 65 voted 52% for Mr. Trump," and "Around 138 million Americans voted in the 2016 presidential election."

Therefore, R elderly losses: 138M x.23x.52x.2x.04 ≈ 132,000 and D elderly losses: 138M x.23x.48x.2x.04 ≈ 122,000. I calculate the Republican vote will be reduced by 10,000 more than the Democratic vote due to COVID-19. Will that be significant?

I've also read that if the epidemic is intense in early November, lots of people will refrain from voting in person. If the epidemic gets intense and poorly managed (as is the current state of affairs) any time this summer or fall, lots of people will blame the current administration and will vote accordingly. (Will it then be time for universal healthcare?) And what if a candidate dies from COVID-19? Maybe, even, the current administration will attempt to cancel the election: what an excuse to create a dictatorship!

M.R. from Hoquiam, WA, writes: With respect, y'all don't get it yet regarding the seriousness of the novel coronavirus. It's not the fatality rate of 2.3% that has the potential to be catastrophic for the U.S. economy, it's the hospitalization rate of 20%.

In The Atlantic, Marc Lipsitch, a leading epidemiologist at Harvard, reported that "that within the coming year, some 40 to 70 percent of people around the world will be infected with the virus that causes COVID-19." This was last week [as of 2/29] and while ridiculed at the time, his assumptions are now the generally accepted position among epidemiologists."

Taking the low end above, 40% of the US population times 20% would be 26 million people needing hospital beds in 2020. There are under 1 million hospital beds in the US as of 2017, with that number declining over time. Also note that said hospital beds are 80-100% utilized in normal times, for all the other reasons that people need hospitals.

If COVID-19 is ultimately to become endemic like common cold viruses, it would really be preferable if the world population naive to this virus could stagger its 20% hospitalization requirement over several decades, so that societies have time to build more hospitals and train more medical providers to accommodate them. However, the more likely scenario is that exponential growth continues and there is a massive glut of infectious people in respiratory distress who cannot get medical care, while also crowding out people with injuries, strokes, other illnesses, etc. In the early stages of that, hospitals and governments will begin pleading with everyone to stay home.

U.S. Healthcare System Makes People Sick

J.W. from Indianapolis, IN, writes: In response to P.M. of Viken, Norway's question about the odd resistance of Americans to universal health coverage, you mentioned resistance to change, suspicion of government, and the influence of money in politics. I agree that all three are important factors, but I would argue that you overlooked another big pair—racism and classism. There is a long history in American politics of painting any program that would benefit the poor as a "handout," of which they will just take advantage. The racial element enters the picture partially because people of color really are, and historically have been, disproportionately likely to be economically disadvantaged (a condition that in and of itself is the result of racism), and partially because White America generally becomes pretty receptive to the "it's a handout" argument when they imagine large numbers of black and brown people benefiting from these programs.

Reagan's "welfare queen" myth is probably the best-known example of this, but it's far from the only time it has happened.

D.H. from Woodside, CA, writes: You are not wrong when you write that the U.S. government "is particularly susceptible to being gamed by persons and entities with an interest in maintaining the status quo. In this case, that would be insurance companies..." But you're also leaving out the extremely powerful "don't make me pay for another person to be alive" anti-tax lobby.

The ACA subsidies are primarily paid for by the "Net Investment Income Tax," which adds a 3.8% tax on investment income exceeding $250K (for those married, filing jointly). Additionally, the ACA added the 0.9% Medicare surtax on earned income above $250K. Rupert Murdoch might not have bothered organizing the Tea Party, were it not for these taxes.

P.S. from Franklin, TN, writes: You left out that I'd lose my house if we paid Norway's tax rate. Millions of other middle class Americans would as well. We're not stupid and know when a politician promises this that there will be winners and losers. I pay around $7,000 a year through my employer and if our tax rates were similar to Norway I'd have to sell my house to pay for someone else's insurance.

R.H. from Santa Ana, CA, writes: Much of the U.S. South was populated by Scots-Irish, who have centuries of very good reasons to resent and mistrust government.

Ironically, Republicans have exploited this ancestral mistrust to turn my fellow Scots-Irish against some of the only government programs that were created to benefit us, like the New Deal, and especially the Great Society.

G.T.M. from Vancouver, BC, Canada, writes: What puzzles me is why such a significant number of Americans would buy into a position that roughly amounts to:

It doesn't matter that 90+% of the industrialized world has managed to make a universal healthcare insurance system (of some sort) work (at least to some degree) in their country, and it doesn't matter that every one of the 25+ countries that is rated as having a better healthcare system (a rating that takes into account both accessibility and affordability) than the US does has a universal healthcare insurance system, and it doesn't matter that Americans pay as much (per capita) as triple what the people in other countries pay for healthcare, it is simply impossible for the U.S. to have a universal healthcare insurance system, and there is absolutely no way that a universal healthcare insurance system could possibly work.

It seems to me that, in order for a person to believe that, they would also have to believe that Americans are such losers that their incompetence and ignorance make it completely impossible for them to do what just about everyone else has managed (with some degree of success) to do and to do it better (or at least just as well).

I most certainly do not believe that, and I am 100% confident that 99+% of all Americans would not admit to believing that, but I am forced to conclude that many Americans (secretly) do believe that.

Man Overboard?

S.F. from Atlanta, GA, writes: A couple of weeks ago, I ended up alone on an elevator with Johnny Isakson (just retired senator from Georgia). He has frequent business in my office building. He was on the phone with a bit of connection difficulty. So, he repeated himself several times. What he was saying was some variation of "She wants either Secretary of State or to replace Pence as vice president on the ticket." I presumed he was talking about Nikki Haley. If so, it is definitely being discussed by people high up in the GOP.

P.S. from Bellevue, WA, writes: Paul Begala is hardly an unbiased individual, and such partisan pundits have lots of perverse incentives to make outrageous predictions for attention or ratings or just to undermine support for candidates of the other party. Or, he may just be too gullible to not get played by someone feeding him disinformation. Asserting allegedly reliable sources that can't be verified does not make the prediction reliable.

More unbiased and serious-minded observers, like academic political scientists, have noted that it is a predictable pattern for rumors to start about a sitting president dropping his VP from the ticket when running for the next term. See, for example: The Predictable Return of Unlikely Vice Presidential Selection Scenarios. or Dumping the Vice President: An Historical Overview and Analysis.

Removing a VP from a ticket may be harder than you think. The four examples of removal or serious attempts at removal we have in the modern era are:

  • John Nance Garner: Too many examples of blatant disloyalty, including opposing plans to pack the Supreme Court, criticizing FDR for running for a third term, and even running against FDR for president himself in 1940.
  • Henry Wallace: Did not carry a convention vote to renominate him, partly due to maneuvering by party officials who did not want such an obvious leftist and alleged Soviet dupe becoming president due to FDR's almost certain death in his fourth term.
  • Richard Nixon: Ike tried to encourage him to switch to a cabinet post, but Nixon preferred to stay as VP as a better path to a future presidency, partly considering Ike's bad cardiac health. Ike decided not to press the matter.
  • Nelson Rockefeller: Ford's VP was appointed, not elected, after Ford himself was elevated to the presidency after Nixon's resignation. Ford convinced him to voluntarily withdraw from the ticket based on the belief that conservatives in the party would not support such a liberal VP for another term.

There is little incentive for an incumbent president with no realistic primary opposition and a glide-path to a renomination at a no-drama convention to unnecessarily stir the pot. The "Trump is unpredictable" argument falls flat in some cases, especially when it's a larger decision among Trump, party officials, and convention delegates. Even an incumbent president must submit his VP choice to an unbound delegate vote at the convention. Polls on the topic of replacing Pence with Haley are about evenly split (34% vs. 37%). So, you could realistically see a convention fight for Pence, particularly among conservatives and evangelicals. There are good arguments from history that there would be negligible political gain, and much potential loss, from trying to switch VP's. And this isn't even considering if Haley wants the job.

This Week's Recommended Reading

J.E. from Bellevue, WA, writes: Those interested in the "what if" scenario of the death of a president-elect may want to read Jeff Greenfield's novel The People's Choice: A Cautionary Tale.

It was written a quarter-century ago, so it may seem quaint by the measure of today's politics. But it does entertainingly tackle the questions of what is (and isn't) covered by the Constitution on this subject.

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Mar07 "Mick the Knife" Gets Cut
Mar07 Saturday Q&A
Mar06 A Million Selfies, All for Nothing
Mar06 Where Do Things Go From Here?, Part I: Biden vs. Clinton in Words
Mar06 Where Do Things Go From Here?, Part II: Biden vs. Clinton in Numbers
Mar06 Where Do Things Go From Here?, Part III: The Polls
Mar06 Where Do We Go From Here?, Part IV: Sanders Game Changers
Mar06 Trump Gives Democrats a Late Christmas Gift
Mar05 Biden Has More Delegates Now
Mar05 Bloomberg Calls It Quits
Mar05 What Happens Next?
Mar05 Takeaways from Super Tuesday
Mar05 Who Voted for Whom?
Mar05 What Happens to Delegates When Candidates Drop Out?
Mar05 Other Key Races
Mar05 Bullock May Run for the Senate after All
Mar05 New York State Cancels Republican Primary
Mar04 A Whole New Ballgame
Mar04 In New National Poll, Biden Leads
Mar04 Fed Slashes Interest Rates, Markets Tank
Mar04 Some Election Websites Are Running Unprotected, Obsolete Software
Mar04 Los Angeles County Used an Insecure Voting System
Mar03 Klobucharge Runs Out of Electricity
Mar03 Everybody Is Endorsing Biden
Mar03 What to Watch for on Super Tuesday
Mar03 Supreme Court Will Hear Obamacare Case
Mar03 Dow Rallies
Mar03 Will Trump Drop the Mike?
Mar03 Another Israeli Election, Another Hazy Result
Mar02 Buttigieg Bows Out
Mar02 Sanders Raises an Incredible $46.5 Million in February
Mar02 Why Do the Kids Love Bernie?
Mar02 Would a Large Turnout Help Sanders?
Mar02 Super Tuesday is Tomorrow
Mar02 Could COVID-19 Impact the Election?
Mar02 McGahn Skates
Mar02 House Judiciary Committee Wants to Interview the Stone Prosecutors
Mar02 Trump Nominates Ratcliffe as DNI
Mar02 Americans Are Worried about Election Integrity
Mar01 Biden's South Carolina Firewall Holds—and Then Some
Mar01 Sunday Mailbag
Feb29 Saturday Q&A
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