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      •  Friday's COVID-19 Developments
      •  Saturday Q&A

Friday's COVID-19 Developments

Most of the COVID-19-related news on Thursday was bad, as the stock market tanked, the number of infections rose, there was a wave of high-profile closures and cancellations, and folks across the political spectrum expressed unhappiness with the administration's handling of the pandemic and with Donald Trump's worse-than-mediocre speech. Happily, Friday featured mostly positive developments.

To start, and most importantly, it appears that the federal government is finally pulling itself together. In a rare-these-days display of bipartisanship, House Democrats worked with Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin to hammer out a second COVID-19 relief bill, one that will require that employers grant paid emergency leave to ill employees and that will make free COVID-19 tests available nationwide as soon as is possible. The bill passed the lower chamber 363 to 40 with one abstention; the 40 were all Republicans and the abstention was Rep. Justin Amash (I-MI). It is expected that the Senate will pass the bill next week when it is back in session.

In addition to throwing his support behind the House bill, Trump also bowed to the inevitable, and declared a state of emergency. He really, really did not want to do that, since it runs entirely contrary to his past assertions that COVID-19 is under control. However, he botched his speech so badly (something that even he privately admitted to, once it was over), and so many state governors (including Republicans) have declared states of emergency, that the President had no real choice. The emergency declaration unlocks $50 billion in federal funds set aside for such events, and also empowers FEMA, the CDC, etc. to take more assertive measures. Trump also announced the creation of a website, which is being built by Google, that will allow people to self-screen and figure out if they might be infected. It's not entirely clear when the website will be ready, though, and some public health experts are nervous that a hastily built site might not be nearly as accurate as it should be. Besides, it is surely going to have questions like "Do you feel sick?" and "Have you coughed today," which are not very good at distinguishing among the common cold, COVID-19, and pneumonia.

In short, Trump looked a lot more presidential on Friday than he did on Wednesday. That said, he is preternaturally incapable of fully rising to an occasion, or of saying/doing anything that might so much as imply that he erred. And so, even while he was taking part in some positive steps forward, he made a point of saying "I don't take responsibility at all" when it comes to the mishandling of the pandemic, and of continuing his campaign of pointing fingers at the Democrats, the Obama administration, and foreigners.

The other big political news of the day, meanwhile, came out of Louisiana, which became the first state to postpone its primaries in response to COVID-19. The voters of the Bayou State were supposed to cast their ballots on April 4; now they will do so on June 20 (which is cutting it very close to the conventions). Presumably, other states will follow suit, although all of the states scheduled to vote this Tuesday say they plan to move forward with their elections.

Meanwhile, the stock market—which tends to bounce back after really bad days, anyhow—reacted positively to the news that things are being done, and that something of a plan appears to be coming into focus. The Dow Jones jumped 1,985 points, setting a record for the biggest increase, by points, in history. That said, the market is still down substantially from where it was a couple of weeks ago, and the extreme volatility we're seeing probably does not presage good things, at least in the short- to medium-term.

That, then, is where things stand at the end of the work week. Perhaps the weekend will be reasonably calm, between the federal government's actions, and the stock market being closed for business. (Z)

Saturday Q&A

We may have certain talents, but good timing apparently isn't one of them. We asked for "behind the scenes" questions one week before Super Tuesday and two weeks before COVID-19 became a pandemic. These are arguably two of the five biggest news weeks of the Trump presidency (with the week the Mueller report was released, the week Ukrainegate broke, and the impeachment trial being the others). These last two weeks may even be #1 and #2 on the list. Point is, we're going to have to delay for at least one more week.

Q: If Donald Trump proposes and somehow manages to suspend the Presidential election, does Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) become POTUS #46? D.C., Portland, OR

Q: I am watching MSNBC right now and the topic is COVID-19. The pundits are weighing how this might impact the upcoming election. My son worries that Republicans might seize this opportunity to close polling places and "centralize" them, thus ensuring voter suppression. As an Oregon resident, I am a big fan of vote by mail. It has been so successful here and we get our results very quickly since most people have voted weeks before! What are the chances that in this current environment of fear, that the United States might opt for vote-by-mail in the general election? A.L., Tigard, OR

A: Questions on this basic theme were the most common ones we got this week. Let us begin with the twin caveats that there is no real precedent here, and the Constitution is fairly hazy on much of this. So, any answer is necessarily hypothetical, and rooted in educated guesses. In any case, the obvious concern here is that the President and his party will try to hijack the elections or otherwise use COVID-19 to seize power that is not their due. We will discuss the three scenarios by which they might do this, and the potential problems Republicans might face with each, if they tried to pull them off:

Possibility 1—Postponing the Election: In 2004, mindful of the possibility of a terrorist attack, the members of Congress asked the Congressional Research Service (CRS) to examine whether elections could be postponed, if necessary. The CRS report, which you can read here, was authored by attorney Kenneth R. Thomas. His conclusion was the Congress probably has the authority to postpone elections, and that they could choose to delegate that authority to the president, if they wish to do so.

Problems: To start, postponing the elections would not actually keep Donald Trump in power, in and of itself. Per the terms of the 20th Amendment, his first term will end on January 20, 2021. If he has not been duly reelected, he would have no further legal claim to power. Nor, for that matter, would Mike Pence or Nancy Pelosi. In the absence of elections, their terms will have concluded as well, and their offices will be vacant. In fact, in the event of elections postponed beyond January 20, 2021, there would be one person, and only one person, in the entire line of succession who would still be legally in office. That would be President pro tempore of the United States Senate Chuck Grassley (R-IA), whose current term expires in January 2023. Going by the letter of the law, then, postponed elections would result in President Grassley.

Of course, this is purely hypothetical, as House Democrats would never agree to give Donald Trump the power to postpone elections. He might try it anyhow, of course, but then we'd be dangerously close to coup d'état territory. Plus, it is very likely in that scenario that blue states—refusing to recognize the validity of Trump's order—would proceed to hold elections, anyhow. In that scenario, Pelosi would be legally re-elected, and her claim to the presidency would arguably be stronger than Trump's. The government would grind to a halt, and whatever benefits come from having Trump in power (appointing judges, etc.) would be lost.

Possibility 2—The State Legislatures Step In: Slate's Mark Joseph Stern has an interesting article about this possibility. What he points out is that state legislatures are empowered, by the terms of the Constitution, to allocate the state's electoral votes using any means they see fit, and are not necessarily bound by the results of the statewide popular vote. Readers of this site already knew this, of course, as this is the very thing that makes the National Popular Voter Interstate Compact feasible. Anyhow, there are 28 states with 294 EVs where Republicans control both houses of the legislature. So, if they all got together, they could plausibly cancel their states' elections, and give Trump the EVs directly.

Problems: In his article, Stern points out one significant flaw with this approach: The state legislatures may be able to pick the electors, but they can't necessarily control how they vote. Can 28 state legislatures get on the same page, and find 294 accomplices willing to be a part of something so undemocratic? There isn't a lot of margin for error, and if a couple dozen of those folks go unfaithful, the scheme would backfire.

Truth be told, we think this "problem" isn't that much of a problem, should Republicans decide to take this approach. However, there is a second problem that Stern does not mention. It is much more significant in our view, and it has to do with that pesky 20th Amendment. Under the terms of that Amendment, the responsibility for certifying the Electoral College's results lies with the incoming Congress, which does the task in joint session. But if elections were canceled en masse, there would be no House of Representatives to do the job, since all of those folks' terms would end with no replacements selected. Even if blue states held elections and red states did not, House Democrats could easily make sure there was no quorum, and thus no way to certify the results. Red states could use COVID-19 to justify canceling only the presidential contest and none of the others, but how could they possibly sell that to voters? The extra five seconds it takes to make one additional selection is the key five seconds in which people are likely to contract the disease? Again, we're veering dangerously close to coup d'état territory.

Possibility 3—The Republicans Use COVID-19 to Reduce Polling Hours/Number of Polling Places: We think this is the most likely scheme of the three. States have relatively wide latitude in conducting elections, and red states would probably be on solid legal footing if they tried this sort of thing. Further, if they make the call close enough to the election, there might not be time for court challenges to be worked out.

Problems: While there might not be time for court challenges to be worked out, it is also the case that courts can move very fast if they want to. And our guess is that they would do so here. Further, although this idea sounds doable in practice, it might be hard to execute in practice. Recall that, as a general rule, cities are dominated by Democrats and rural areas by Republicans. Can, say, Louisiana actually get away with keeping polling places in Dubberly and East Hodge open, but closing the ones in New Orleans? Tough, both legally and politically. And there's also the possibility of a backlash. If it's blindingly obvious that Republicans are trying to deprive Democrats of their votes, it could serve to drive up Democratic turnout. Also, changing election rules in a state could either be done by law or by an order of the secretary of state, depending on the details. Republicans don't control the show in all the swing states. In Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Colorado, and North Carolina, for example, the governors and secretaries of state are all Democrats. The governor of Arizona is a Republican but the secretary of state is a Democrat. Florida is the only major swing state that the Republicans control completely.

We all know that Republicans have gotten very good, in the last few decades, at bending the rules to their breaking point and getting away with it. But here, we just don't see a way to do it unless they are willing to completely set aside the Constitution. And, if that comes to pass, all bets are off, both in terms of what the red states do, but also in terms of how the blue states react.

Q: I'm wondering how far Trump has the ability to take emergency powers? I gotta say, I don't trust him to not take advantage of a crisis to seize more power. For example, does he have the ability to take over communications networks (tv, radio, Internet)? It seems like there could be a dangerous trajectory to what could happen in this country if people are already panicking and Trump takes control of all forms of communications. What safeguards are in place for things like that? Z.C., Los Angeles, CA

A: There are two different kinds of emergency powers. The first type are those granted by the National Emergencies Act of 1976. There are a lot of them (they number in the hundreds), but they are also pretty clearly delineated. They include things like shifting money around for military construction projects, recalling retired soldiers back into service, and, yes, taking control of communications networks. The checks on these powers are: (1) Congress; that which they giveth they can theoretically taketh away, and (2) the courts. Thus far, neither of those entities has pushed back much against Trump. That said, to the extent that he can get away with using this authority, he's already been doing so by declaring undocumented immigration to be a "national emergency." Even Trump is only willing to push things so far, and we think COVID-19 is not likely to cause him to use the National Emergencies Act more aggressively than he already has.

The other type of emergency powers are those granted to the president in times of war. Such powers are very broad; this was how Abraham Lincoln justified suspending the writ of habeas corpus and how Franklin D. Roosevelt justified interning the Japanese. However, it will be quite the stretch to argue that the outbreak of COVID-19 means that there exists a state of war.

Q: If there is a substantially lower turnout than expected in the November 2020 elections due to the coronavirus and fears of congregating or going out, etc., what would the likely impacts be on the presidential and congressional elections? D.K., Iowa City, IA

A: There is no data to fall back on here, so we're left to venture our best guess. Generally speaking, since there are fewer Republicans than Democrats, lower turnout favors Republicans. So, the default answer to your question is that reduced COVID-19 turnout would work to the advantage of the President and his party.

That said, we're not so sure the conventional wisdom would apply in this case. Trump is pretty unpopular, and Democrats are pretty motivated to get rid of him. Further, the emotion that he's ridden to power is fear—fear of Muslims, fear of immigrants, fear of global warming, etc. It's also the case that COVID-19 disproportionately affects older people, and Trump's base skews fairly old. So, there is some reason to believe that Trump voters are actually more likely to get nervous and stay home than Biden/Sanders voters. But this is just guesswork. We don't know and neither does anyone else.

Q: How might the virus affect the upcoming primaries? Will more older people stay away from the polling places, thus helping Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) do better than he ordinarily would?

Secondarily, are there any contingency plans for the conventions in the summer if the virus is still an issue by then?
L.K., Sherman Oaks, CA

A: As with the previous question, there's no data available to answer the first part of your question, so we're left to guess. It is probable that Biden voters are more likely to stay home due to COVID-19 than Sanders voters. However, we doubt the effect will be all that noticeable. And it certainly won't be enough to shift the outcome of the primaries.

As to the second part of your question, you can be absolutely certain that both parties have been hard at work on backups and contingency plans. However, there is zero upside for them in sharing those plans, or in even admitting that such plans exist, so they've been mum on the matter. That said, the DNC did move tomorrow's debate from Arizona to Washington D.C., making clear that they are very open to last-minute changes of venue.

Q: As part of his continuing refusal to put partisanship aside, Donald Trump made several claims against Joe Biden and Barack Obama regarding their handling of the H1N1 Swine Flu. How accurate are his claims? I'll be honest, I don't remember a lot about the H1N1 Swine Flu. I'm going out on a limb here, but that lack of memory hints that President Obama must have handled it pretty well, and this is yet another case of Trump blaming the "black man" for Trump's own inadequacies. Am I correct? D.E., Lititz, PA

A: Given Trump's habit of lying and deflecting blame, as well as the fact that H1N1 is not remembered as a grave national crisis, your reasoning is on target, and you're right to be skeptical of his claims.

The first case of H1N1 was detected in the United States on April 15, 2009. Obama declared a national emergency nine days later, on April 26, and the FDA had a test ready to go by April 28, with the first shipments of tests made on May 1. It did take about five months for a vaccine to be available, primarily because April is basically the end of the annual cycle for producing and administering flu vaccines. That proved to be not as problematic as it may seem, as H1N1 was not as virulent as feared, and actually claimed fewer victims that year than the regular flu virus.

By contrast, the first COVID-19 case in the U.S. was announced on Jan. 21 of this year (and likely detected earlier). Trump took seven weeks to declare a national emergency, the FDA has not developed its own reliable test (relying instead on imports from other nations), and there certainly won't be mass shipments of testing supplies on Monday. It is not known when a vaccine will be available, but it could be as much as a year. Obviously, we do not yet know how many deaths it will cause. Not all of this is the fault of the Trump administration, of course, but some of it is. And there is simply no basis for arguing that the Obama administration's response to H1N1 was incompetent, or was somehow inferior to the Trump administration's response to COVID-19.

Q: When did the funding for the CDC and preparedness for an epidemic begin to be cut? I am relatively sure that the GOP and the administration will/is falling back on the excuse that the cuts began during the Obama administration. This wouldn't surprise me if it was true, since the GOP had control Congress for the last 6 years of Obama's term in office, and even with Democrats in control of the House since the 2018 election, the Senate has probably presented a roadblock to any attempts by house Democrats to remedy the situation. R.G.N., Seattle, WA

A: Actually, CDC funding has not been cut. In each budget he's submitted, Donald Trump has tried to cut funding, and in each case, Congress has overruled him. Remarkably, he wants to cut CDC funding in the next budget, too, and has not backed off that position, despite COVID-19.

Anyhow, having failed to cut CDC funding, Trump did take other actions in this area that were within his power. He fired all of the folks on the National Security Council who were responsible for pandemic control, most notably team leader Rear Adm. Timothy Ziemer. He has also neglected to name appointees to a number of key scientific posts within the CDC and without; George W. Bush filled 68 of these 71 posts in his first term; Barack Obama expanded the number to 79 and filled them all; Trump has filled 44 and left 39 open.

Q: You wrote:

The Dow is now at 25,766. If it drops to 23,000 or so, that is a real problem for the President. And if it drops to 20,000, his goose is cooked.

I write this after the close on March 12. The Dow is at 21,200 —in between "real problem" and "goose is cooked." Do you stand by the statement? I assume there's a difference between a one-day dip to 20,000 and a two-month stay. Or does it matter when it hits 20,000, since it could be back at 25,000 on Election Day? J.G., New York, NY

A: Well, when we wrote that, we were thinking "near or at the time of election." That said, a drop of 6,000 or so points, even if we only linger at 20,000 or 21,000 for a single day, implies some sort of serious issue that will be hard for Trump to weather. If you had asked us a month ago, we would have said that the most likely thing to bring down the market was the trade war. As it turns out, it was COVID-19. Either way, significant damage has been done, and will likely continue for the foreseeable future. So yes, we stick by our assessment, even if the market bounces back.

For what it is worth, NeverTrump Republican Peter Wehner had an interesting op-ed on Friday headlined "The Trump Presidency Is Over." His argument is that, stock market or no, the COVID-19 response has revealed to moderates, fence-sitters, and maybe even some of the base that the emperor has no clothes.

Q: My 70-something parents and I have been watching the press conferences on COVID-19, and the administration keeps saying they are going to cut payroll taxes. Isn't that how we pay for Social Security and Medicare? What would happen to those programs? If you please explain it for me and, most especially, for my parents that would be extremely helpful. J.E., Philadelphia, PA

A: That is exactly what payroll taxes are used for. Officially, the reason for doing this is to provide a form of short-term stimulus to both workers and businesses. However, most experts are skeptical that the plan would have much effect, especially since the most vulnerable workers are the ones who work the gig economy or are likely to be laid off/furloughed, and thus won't have any payroll taxes to be refunded.

In theory, once the COVID-19 emergency is over, the payroll taxes would be restored, and only a moderate-sized hole in the Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid budgets would be left. However, there is fair reason to suspect that this is really a backdoor attempt at using COVID-19 to cut entitlement programs, something that Republicans have been trying to do by hook or by crook for generations.

Q: We've had presidential campaigns take place in the middle of economic downturns and wars. But has there ever been one occurring in the middle of a pandemic like we're going through now with COVID-19? R.H.D., Webster, NY

A: There is no clear historical analogue to the current situation. In terms of diseases that emerged quickly, wrought a terrible toll, and then receded, the clearest and most notable example is definitely the Spanish Flu. However, that one took hold in 1918 and receded in 1919, neither of which were presidential election years. There was also a pretty severe outbreak of Asian flu in 1957 but, again, not an election year.

There have also been cases of epidemics that were much milder than Spanish flu, but also longer in duration, and so did unfold over a timeframe that included election years. Most obviously, there were annual outbreaks of cholera across much of the U.S. from the 1830s to the 1860s. However, these things were seen more as one of the challenges of daily life back then, like finding enough food, or having a place to live, and did not really become major political footballs, nor did they affect election turnout (since elections largely did not take place during "disease" season).

Q: I read this, and it worries me:

In his bid for the nomination, Biden has forgotten Barack Obama's name repeatedly, proclaimed he was running for Senate, declared that over 150 million people have been killed by gun violence since 2007, confused his wife with his sister, confused Angela Merkel with Margaret Thatcher, and confused Theresa May twice with Margaret Thatcher. He's issued an endless litany of baffling and embarrassing statements, including, "Tomorrow's Super Thursday," "We choose truth over facts," "Poor kids are just as bright and just as talented as white kids," "Why, why, why, why, why, why, why?" and "We hold these truths to be self-evident: all men and women created by the, go, you know the, you know the thing."

Is it accurate? A.C., Santa Cruz, CA

A: Accurate? Sort of. Misleading? Very.

Let's start with a story. One time, (Z) was teaching class. This is something he always does without notes, which means that whenever he is speaking, he is also thinking of what he is going to say next, and how he is going to say it. On the particular day in question, he was working his way through a list of causes of the Great Depression and, as he wrapped up the first item on the list, was deciding whether to use "second" or "next" as his transition word. Just at the moment that he had to pick a word, a young, female student in the front row raised her hand with a question, and (Z) pointed at her and said "SEX!" (thus blending together "second" and "next"). Point is, when you do a lot of public speaking, these things happen. That's especially true if you are speaking extemporaneously, since it's possible to lose your train of thought just a bit, and mangle things.

Perhaps the most famous example of this involves Barack Obama who, at the end of a long day of campaigning in 2008, was about to tell a crowd that he intended to campaign in all 50 states, but that he still had one to go. Then he realized that he should clarify that while he wanted to campaign in all 50, his staff had told him "no" on Alaska and Hawaii, and so he had actually visited 47 states, and would eventually push the number to 48. As a product of all of this, his sentence got mangled, and it came out as him saying that he'd campaigned in 57 states. Republicans seized upon this as either proof that Obama is a moron who doesn't know how many U.S. states there are, or as proof that he's a secret Muslim who actually slipped up and gave the alleged number of "Muslim" states in the world. If you would like to read about it, and see the original video, click here.

Anyhow, some of the items on the list are pretty obvious cases of Biden losing his train of thought. This tweet, for example, is making mountains out of molehills, as Biden was clearly trying to explain his point and tripped over his tongue:

We are confident he did not "forget" Obama's name.

Now, it is true that this happens to Biden more than it does to other politicians. And it's tempting to attribute that to his age, except that he's been doing it since he was in his thirties. The much better explanation is that he grew up with a bit of a speech disorder (which is not in dispute), and that the underlying condition was never entirely eliminated.

It is also true, incidentally, that Donald Trump misspeaks with a frequency, and a level of egregiousness, that leave Biden in the dust. It is also the case that Trump did not use to have this problem, which means the case for dementia or some other form of mental deterioration is actually much stronger for the President than it is for the former veep.

Q: I was watching the "Hillary" Documentary on Hulu, which I have enjoyed as a longtime Hillary supporter. However, during an interview portion discussing her 2008 primary loss to Barack Obama, Clinton makes the statement "Well, I don't exactly know how I went from being his opponent to being his choice for Secretary of State."

And if that didn't take the cake, the next interview is Obama saying, "My deciding to ask Hillary to become my Secretary of State was a no-brainer for me; I think it surprised some people in my campaign and it certainly surprised some observers because of ... the brutal primary..." He then lists her intelligence, international credibility, capacity to care, etc. as reasons to choose her.

I can't imagine a world where it wasn't all Clinton's idea to trade her endorsement/support for the specific position of Secretary of State. She had her eye on 2016 already, and she needed the foreign policy credibility. Also, all of Clinton's legitimate qualifications aside, I can't imagine anyone was surprised that Obama gave her a cabinet level position after she gave said endorsement. Plus, it was better to have Clinton "inside pissing out, than outside pissing in."

So, here is my question: Do you buy any of what Clinton and Obama are saying (especially Clinton)? I can't tell if I am a cynic or if one of my heroes just lied to me!
V.L., Grand Rapids, MI

A: There are only a small number of people in the world who know the truth, and we are not among them. So, we're left to guess. It's certainly possible that both are telling the truth; the Clinton-Obama primary did get pretty nasty, and it was something of a surprise to most folks that he tapped her. As to her endorsement, she didn't have all that much choice at that point, since she was beaten, and since she wanted to maintain a reputation as a team player, so as to keep the establishment on her side for another presidential run.

That said, our guess is that Clinton and Obama are doing what politicians do, and giving a version of the truth. In Clinton's case, it's entirely plausible that she was given (or even demanded) some sort of promise by Obama, but that she was not 100% sure what form the "payoff" would take, and she really was (at least somewhat) surprised when she was given the State Department. It's also plausible that there was some sort of deal, but that Obama was willing to make the deal because of the selling points he listed. In that case, Obama's answer would be the truth, just not the whole truth.

Q: I'm curious about the first bullet point item in your Q&A section on March 7. It reads:

In 2016, the DNC really did pull a few strings to help Hillary Clinton. Not a lot, but a few. This year, there is no evidence that Tom Perez & Co. have their finger on the scale for any candidate."

I've been researching the whole "rigged" issue since 2016 and haven't seen anything that points to the DNC "pulling strings" for Clinton. You've been one of my go-to websites for political news and analysis since 2004 and this statement smells a little bit like you're trying to mollify Sanders-supporting readers by being "balanced." Can you please provide some clarification? B.J., Washington, D.C.

A: Let us start by observing that the very reason that a political party exists is to win elections. And so, there is nothing inherently unethical about a party doing what it can to help the candidate it thinks is in the best position to win. Americans of the 19th century, and citizens around the world today, would generally find it a bit odd to hear complaints about a party apparatus playing favorites.

Anyhow, perhaps you've heard of the "invisible primary," which is the process of fundraising, lining up endorsements, and hiring staff before the actual primaries. Clinton, as someone who is very much a party insider, and who is married to another person who is very much a party insider, absolutely dominated this process in 2016. She had all the big-wig donors, all the endorsements, and all the good staffers from the beginning. That means that there was no opening for any other Democrat, since they could not hope to compete with her. And besides lining up behind Clinton, the Party did a few other things to make sure there wasn't even a small opening for a Democratic challenger, like flexing its muscles with anyone who signaled interest, and keeping the number of debates very small (only two before people actually cast ballots, as opposed to nine this year).

You might notice that by choking off the possibility of a serious Democratic challenger to Clinton, the party also opened a lane for Bernie Sanders. Since he is not, in fact, a Democrat, he did not have to worry about the party's muscle-flexing. And he decided endorsements weren't important, while (successfully) finding an alternate way to fundraise. He thus became the "not Hillary" candidate, since no Democrat was willing or able to do it.

Not surprisingly, the Democratic establishment did not much care for Sanders. And when a bunch of DNC e-mails leaked, they included a bunch of nasty messages about Sanders. From that, Sanders supporters searched high and low for proof that the Democratic Party was trying to sabotage their candidate. Noting again that, even if the Party was doing that, that is fair game in politics, such evidence was largely not to be found. Yes, there were a few things that might plausibly be noted, like former DNC chair Donna Brazile feeding Clinton a debate question in advance of one of the debates against Sanders. But these specific incidents are pretty minor, and are very few in number, which left Team Sanders railing generally against vague, unspecified corruption, and/or against the superdelegates as a metaphor for that corruption.

So, the DNC did give Clinton an assist or two. But the weight of the evidence is that Sanders was much more a beneficiary of this than a victim.

Q: As we look at how demographic trends will likely transition some red states to blue in the near future, I'm curious what caused some of these changes in the past.

Looking at presidential elections, with the exception of 1964, California was a reliably red state from 1952 to 1988, as was the rest of the West coast (with a couple of years an exception for Washington and Oregon). Since 1992, California has become reliably blue (Oregon and Washington transitioned in 1988). What happened to the West Coast that caused this change?

Along the same lines, Massachusetts was historically a red state in presidential elections until it became a blue state in 1928, and has been blue ever since (the Eisenhower and Reagan years being the only exceptions). What happened in 1928 that caused this change?
M.B., Melrose, MA

A: Interestingly, the answers here are actually quite different.

In the case of Massachusetts, the folks who make up the bulk of the Democratic coalition today (Catholics, white ethnics, union laborers) are largely pretty centrist—economically liberal, socially conservative—and so their votes are potentially available to either party. Before 1930, the state's Republicans were also economically liberal and socially conservative, and were particularly well organized. In particular, the socially conservative, Republican-run New England Watch and Ward Society dominated Boston politics from the late 1870s through the mid-1920s. However, the state's Republican machinery in general, and the Watch and Ward Society in particular, went into significant decline in the late 1920s. At the same time, several very talented Democratic politicians and organizers came along, most obviously Joseph Buell Ely, who served as governor from 1931-35. Ely & Co. managed to convert a bunch of centrist Republicans into centrist Democrats, and unified them with old money liberals and social reformers (the Lowell family, for example, or the Delanos). That means that the Massachusetts Democratic Party now has a long history of staunch liberal activism, but also includes a lot of centrists. This is why it's possible for moderate Republicans like Charlie Baker and Mitt Romney to win statewide elections.

In the case of California and the other Pacific states, all were very Republican before the Great Depression. For example, though it's hard to imagine today, as late as 1930, California Republicans outnumbered California Democrats by a margin of 3 to 1. However, the Great Depression brought vast numbers of poor migrants from Southern and Midwestern States. These folks were overwhelmingly Democrats, albeit conservative Democrats. And so, although California Democrats outnumbered California Republicans by a margin of about 3 to 2 by 1936 (yep, it took just 6 years to basically flip the script), there were a lot of Democratic votes available to the right kind of Republican politician. And when it comes to California and presidential elections, in particular, it did not hurt that in the 10 contests between 1952 and 1988, a Californian was on the ticket for seven of them (only the GOP tickets of 1964, 1976, and 1988 were Californian-free).

Most of those conservative Democrats of the 1930s have shuffled off this mortal coil, of course. And they've been supplanted by their children, their grandchildren, and their great-grandchildren. Further, all three states have seen a huge influx of immigrants, and of highly educated migrants in search of tech or other high-paying jobs. All of these groups skew much more lefty than the Democrats of the WWII and post-WWII years. And so, while the Democrat-to-Republican ratio in the Pacific states hasn't much changed in 90 years, the 60% who are a part of Team Blue are a much deeper blue, on the whole. That means that, in contrast to Massachusetts, it is nearly impossible for a Republican to win statewide election in California, Oregon, or Washington these days. Especially California.

Q: What is reason for/advantage of going late in the presidential primary process? For example, the Iowa caucuses are first, and enormous time and political interest is given to the state for years for little cost. Louisiana goes near the end, gets zero political attention, and its presidential primary is essentially worthless. It seems advantageous to go early in the process. So why don't all the states try to go as early as possible in these primary/caucus races? R.M., Baltimore, MD

A: We will list four reasons that some states go late, listed from least important to most (in our view):

  • Weather: There are certainly some states where holding a primary or a caucus in March or even April does not mesh well with local climate conditions. It's true that New Hampshire is very cold and rainy, and that they go early, but that state is also pretty small and pretty urban. Having hundreds of thousands of Montanans or Mainers on the road in the rain and snow is a much larger concern.

  • Pragmatism: In the end, not everyone can be at the front of the line, especially since the parties have historically punished states who tried to elbow their way in front of Iowa or New Hampshire.

  • Gaming the System: If a state can't go first, or even close to first, there is some amount of game theory that, just maybe, they can play kingmaker by going at just the right time in the process. If the nomination is still unresolved at the end of May, for example, then New Mexico is all of a sudden in the catbird seat.

  • Money: This is, far and away, the most important reason. We are used to people spending a year or more running for president. To a greater or lesser extent, members of Congress are also constantly campaigning. However, this is not the case for most offices, particularly at the state and local level. For those offices, which make up the majority of most ballots, candidates don't really start spending time and energy campaigning until the general election. And unlike presidents and members of Congress, the various members of state assemblies and city councils and the like don't necessarily want to spend half their terms in office running for their next term in office. So, they prefer that the primaries be as late as possible, keeping the general election season as short as possible. It is possible, of course, for a state to have one round of "national" primaries and a second round of "state and local" primaries, but that doubles the costs of running elections, and tends to dramatically reduce voter turnout. This is why California, to take the most obvious example, has yo-yoed between March and June for its primaries, as the state legislature balanced the desires of local politicians versus the desire of state voters to influence the presidential race.

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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