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      •  Saturday Q&A

Saturday Q&A

We have room for a few more "behind the scenes" questions this week. We'll probably do a few more in the next couple of weeks, and then be done. If you have one that hasn't been answered yet, please send it in. Sometimes, good questions get buried.

Q: With Ruth Bader Ginsburg's latest health scare, it puts the question back in people's minds as to what will happen if she passes away while Donald Trump is still in power. Merrick Garland was nominated on March 16th in an election year and we are nearly 2 months further into the cycle at this point. Despite that, I believe there is a 0% chance that the "McConnell Rule," which isn't even a rule, will be applied. How quickly would it be possible to ram a nominee to SCOTUS through? Is there anything Democrats could do to slow the process enough to give the nomination to Biden? A.G., Santa Clarita, CA

A: We will start this answer with the name of a different Supreme Court justice, namely William Howard Taft. The former president was nominated for the chief justiceship on June 30, 1921, and was confirmed...later that afternoon by a vote of 61 to 4. It is true that since he was a former president, he had been vetted six ways to Sunday. However, it is also true that he was being appointed to the most important position on the Court, and one of the half-dozen most important positions in the country, and it took only about three hours to get it done. This was not uncommon back then, either. Justices would often be nominated and receive their commissions on the same day.

All of this is to say that there are no legal impediments to ramming a SCOTUS nominee through very quickly. The reason that it takes considerably longer than three hours these days is because a whole procedure has been developed that involves interviews with senators, and Senate Judiciary Committee hearings, and floor debate, and yada, yada, yada. However, all of this is basically just for show, as the number of justices that have actually been rejected by the Senate in the last half century (Robert Bork). There were two other nominees who withdrew (Harriet Miers and Douglas Ginsburg), and a third who received no action (Merrick Garland).

The fact that the Senate jumps through a bunch of hoops before (almost invariably) rubber-stamping a nominee tells us that there are at least some popular political pressures in play here, and that majority-party Senators from purple states (like, say, Susan Collins, R-ME) need some cover for their votes. That is the single-biggest insurance policy against Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) conspiring to seat a "midnight judge" on the Supreme Court in, say, late December. He needs 51 votes to change Senate rules, to have a quorum, and/or to invoke the "nuclear option" and override any parliamentary challenges that may arise. That said, it's not much of an insurance policy. Given that the careers of vulnerable senators will either be over or will have been given a six-year extension by December of this year, it shouldn't be too hard for him to get those 51 votes. The thought of ramming though a justice would really have to sit wrong with potentially vulnerable 2022 GOP senators (Marco Rubio, R-FL, Roy Blunt, R-MO, Pat Toomey, R-PA, Ron Johnson, R-WI, and possibly Martha McSally, if she survives 2020).

Anyhow, given the lack of constitutional and parliamentary obstacles, and the likely lack of political obstacles, we would say that RBG would need to hold on to January 1, 2021. Since the Senate would be in recess at that time, it is unlikely McConnell could get 51 people back to Washington to hold a vote before the new Senate term commences on January 3. On the other hand, if RBG is on life support, and her demise is imminent, McConnell could have everyone in Washington and on standby. In that case, she might need to hold on until late in the evening of January 2.

Where it gets really hairy is suppose Ginsburg has medical orders on file to keep her alive no matter what, even in a coma, until one of her children gives the order to pull the plug. Imagine that in September she is in a hospital unconscious, but technically alive due to a whole bunch of machines (think: Terri Schiavo). Trump nominates a replacement. Would Mitch McConnell dare confirm him while Ginsburg is technically alive, or is that a bridge too far, even for him?

Q: Supposing Joe Biden is elected president in November and the GOP hangs on to a Senate majority. Might Mitch McConnell refuse to bring up for a vote confirmation of any Supreme Court nominee? Can you foresee a scenario in which no judge is ever confirmed again when the presidency and a Senate majority are held by different parties? C.L., Durham, UK

A: Possible, but not likely. First, while McConnell was able to keep his caucus on board with denying Merrick Garland, and later with ramming through Brett Kavanaugh, it's not probable he could get them to agree to a four-year roadblock on all judicial picks, especially since that would make the midterms all about the judiciary, and not in the Republicans' favor. The Majority Leader, if he retains his job, would also likely be working with a smaller margin of error. For the GOP to keep its 53 seats this year would take a near-miracle.

Even if McConnell and his caucus try it, the Biden administration would file suit, and would make an argument along the lines of "The framers of the Constitution clearly intended for nominees to be considered in a timely manner." This would eventually go to the Supreme Court, where John Roberts would have to make the call. He's not enthusiastic about getting involved in political squabbles, but he's probably even less enthusiastic about gutting another prerogative of the executive branch while at the same time further politicizing (and debasing) the judiciary.

Q: What would be the effect if George W. Bush endorsed Joe Biden for president? Do you think there is any possibility this might happen? M.S., Knoxville, TN

A: Bush is not generally the type to challenge the throne in this way. Even the recent "spat" with Donald Trump was one-sided; #43 made a general statement in favor of unity, and #45 took it personally.

That said, if Bush was to pen an anti-Trump/pro-Biden op-ed in The Washington Post, it would get tongues wagging, and would trigger some angry tweets, but we would guess it wouldn't have much impact. On the other hand, if someone puts together a commercial in which all of the living former presidents stand unified against Trump, and that commercial is in heavy rotation in September and October, it might just move the needle.

Q: In 2016, I thought there is no way this buffoon would be elected despite the fact that lots of people didn't like Hillary Clinton. Like most of the country, I was calmed by the polling data and—despite the statistical margin of error—was confident Clinton would win. Now I find myself thrilled by the EV numbers on your site and the potential for the Democrats to take back the Senate, but also worried that it could be 2016 all over again. I realize you have covered this in various posts, but can you summarize the key reasons of why it is different this time and we can have more confidence in the numbers? M.W., Northbrook, IL

A: Well, here are a couple of reasons to think the pollsters might do better this time: (1) they've had four years to learn from 2016 and to improve their models and their techniques, and (2) people are less likely to hide their support for Trump this time around, and to spoil the results.

With that said, your question is partly rooted in a false premise. The polls weren't especially wrong in 2016. As we pointed out in this recent post, everyone (including us) missed that a bunch of "solid Hillary Clinton states" became "soft Hillary Clinton states" in the week or two before the election, thanks substantially to James Comey's October e-mail surprise. This oversight was facilitated, in part, by under-polling of the upper Midwest, since everyone thought those states were in the bag. These mistakes, which aren't with the polls themselves, but are more meta, won't be repeated in 2020, you can be sure of that.

Q: Do you have any possible explanation for the behavior of George Conway in his constant denunciation of Trump given his wife's position? Do you think Kellyanne actually genuinely supports Trump and George genuinely despises him? The whole thing just seems fishy to me. K.P., Brooklyn, NY

A: We don't doubt that George Conway's publicly expressed feelings are real, and are mostly a product of the fact that he is the sort of Republican who has been tossed aside due to the rise of Trumpism. This may also be slightly personal, since Conway was apparently turned down for an appointment in the Trump White House.

As to Kellyanne, she strikes us as being in the same position as Kayleigh McEnany (who, as CNN reminded us this week, was once highly critical of Trump). That position is: If you want power, you have to travel the path that is available, not the one you'd like to travel. If the two women were speaking frankly, and off the record, both Conway and McEnany would likely admit they don't much care for Trump. But those who do not climb on board the DJT Express get to spend 4-8 years on the sidelines, much like George Conway is doing right now. Further, both Conway and McEnany are so hacky and amateurish, it's hard to imagine that they could get a job in a more mainstream GOP administration. In that way, they are both Quislings, of a sort.

Q: I'm Belgian, but have a lot of interest in American politics. Suppose I want to support Joe Biden for president (or, for that matter, Donald Trump). Are there things that I can do legally for them, to help them? W.L., Mol, Belgium

A: Let us start by pointing out that, as a foreign national, it is illegal for you to donate directly to candidates, their campaigns, or to political super PACs. All of these entities are required to collect information about donors and to share it with the FEC. So, even if you try to donate, they will figure out your non-citizenship and will reject your contribution.

This leaves you with two options. The first is to find a U.S.-citizen friend/associate, and give money to them to donate in their name. That's still illegal, mind you, so we're not advising it, just pointing out that it's a workaround that some people use. The second is to find what is known as a social welfare organization, and to donate to them. These are activist groups whose spending is supposed to be at least 50% non-political. Some of these groups, like the ACLU or Amnesty International or the Family Research Council, do a pretty good job of adhering to both the letter and the spirit of the law, with political advocacy being only one of their functions. Others, most obviously Crossroads GPS, adhere only to the letter of the law and not its spirit, and are basically just fronts for laundering political donations. If you give money to Crossroads, and then they turn around and give money to Trump 2020, then Trump 2020 need only disclose Crossroads on its donor list. Political campaigns (and super PACs) are not required to identify their donors' donors.

Again, most of what we are describing here is not strictly legal, or is in a gray area of the law. The only option that is 100% on the right side of the law is to find a social welfare organization with an international footprint and to support them.

Q: Could Donald Trump spend his last 3 months in office at the shredder? Deleting all the documents that expose his corruption and venality? Could he order the IRS to delete all his tax returns, order the DoJ to delete the Mueller report, order the State Department to delete all transcripts? J.H., Boston, MA

A: Very doubtful. First of all, Trump does not do such tasks himself, and he may struggle to find the necessary army of underlings willing to do it for him. Second, Trump thinks only one move ahead, and so is very careless about leaving evidence lying around to be found—there's surely too much stuff already out there for this scheme to work. Third, in the digital world, things are rarely ever gone. Even if Trump had been planning this all along, in a world with distributed data, and backups, and the like, it would be nearly impossible for him to cause all of his tax returns to disappear forever, much less all the other stuff.

Q: With the southern district of New York breathing down his neck, is it at all likely, or even possible, for Donald Trump to leave the country and request political asylum from some more friendly regime some time between a loss in the general election and the end of his term? If that happens, what could or would the government do about it? L.C., Amherst, MA

A: This is certainly more likely than the "shred everything" scheme from the previous question. Donald Trump has spent his life pushing the boundaries of the law and getting away with it. We doubt that he can be convinced, at the age of 73 or 74, that the walls are about to close in, and that he better get out of town. But it's not impossible. And if he decides to flee, well, there are countries out there that were willing to harbor ex-Nazis. So, Trump would surely not be beyond the pale.

The obvious place for him to go, should it come to that, is the United Arab Emirates. It's the only country that has a Trump property (two of them, actually) and no extradition treaty with the U.S. He could live there in luxury for the rest of his days. The runner-up would be Saudi Arabia, which also has no extradition treaty. Trump has no properties there, but he does have financial ties to the Saudi government, plus they may just owe him a favor or two. Besides, the Saudis probably wouldn't be averse to a 125-story gold-plated Trump Tower Riyadh, especially if the top floor was a giant penthouse given to MBS as a present.

Q: A follow-up to the reader's question about what sort of mischief Trump might cause in his remaining 2 1/2 months if he loses the election. What happens if he simply pulls a James Buchanan and checks out? It would be totally in character for him just to give a big F.U. to the nation and refuse to do anything other than indulge some petty grievances. But what sort of problems might arise if he simply washes his hands of the country's business and possibly forbids his officials to take actions? How much can the Ship of State carry on by sheer momentum alone? K.H., Ypsilanti, MI

A: The Ship of State can carry on just fine with minimal presidential involvement. Perhaps you haven't noticed it, but Trump already doesn't do all that much of substance. Nearly all of his initiatives were substantially put together by someone else, and then given to the President for his signature. In any event, the U.S. has had more than its share of presidents who checked out at the end, for one reason or another (quite often poor mental or physical health). That list includes, in addition to Buchanan, Franklin Pierce, Andrew Johnson, Grover Cleveland, Woodrow Wilson, Herbert Hoover, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Lyndon B. Johnson, and Ronald Reagan. Things will be fine even if Trump shifts to "executive time" 24 hours a day.

Q: If Donald Trump is not re-elected and is out of power on Jan 21, it is hard to imagine him receding into a quiet retirement. What would it be like to have him on the outside and presumably gunning for another run in 2024? A.K., Los Angeles, CA

A: We're not so sure that another term in 2024 is a possibility, given that in that scenario, Trump will have been repudiated, and that he will also be pushing 80, and likely in poor physical and mental health.

As to a post-presidential Trump, assuming he does lose to Joe Biden, we don't think he will actually be all that consequential. We agree that he is unlikely to settle into a relatively quiet life of making Netflix documentaries (Obama), or painting (Bush), or public service (Clinton and Carter). But, if we may be very blunt, he is currently the president of the United States, and his dog and pony show has already grown tiresome. It used to be that every wild and crazy tweet got coverage. Now, most media outlets ignore his Twitter feed, unless he fires off a freakishly high number of nutty tweets, or he says something really outrageous, like he's thinking of starting a war with Iran. His COVID-19 briefings have gotten the same treatment; how much attention do they even get anymore?

Once Trump no longer has the bully pulpit, undoubtedly he will still have the attention of OANN and Fox News and Breitbart and their fans, but that makes him not especially different than other windbags like Rush Limbaugh or Glenn Beck. He could also create his own channel or podcast network or whatever, but then he'd just be speaking to the exact same people from a different platform.

Q: You wrote: "If people like the incumbent, he or she will probably win, even if they like the challenger more."

This got me to wondering: When was the last time a popular incumbent President was challenged by another well-liked candidate? Has it ever happened in modern history? Or is it just that smart challengers with promising careers are savvy enough to avoid challenging a popular incumbent?
D.T., San Jose, CA

A: That is tough to answer, given the squishiness of subjective words like "well-liked" and "popular." We think we are on solid ground, however, when we say that a truly popular incumbent (or even a moderately popular incumbent) has too much of a built-in advantage in the primary/caucus era to draw a serious challenger. To the extent that sitting presidents have drawn a high-profile challenger since 1950 or so, it was either because the president was not actually popular (Harry S. Truman in 1952, Lyndon B. Johnson in 1968), or the "challenger" had no actual expectation of victory and was just looking for attention for themselves/their agenda (George Wallace in 1964, Pat Buchanan in 1992, etc.).

Anyhow, that leaves us looking for a pre-1950 answer. And the most recent election that fits the bill, we would say, is 1940. In that year, you had the unusual circumstance of a popular president in Franklin D. Roosevelt who was approaching the customary two-term limit. So, some promising Democratic politicians were willing to throw their hats into the ring, even though FDR never formally committed to retirement (and, of course, did not retire). John Nance Garner ("Cactus Jack"), the sitting VP, and James Farley, the sitting Postmaster General, were serious challengers who might well have landed the nomination if FDR had declined. But he didn't and they faded into obscurity.

Prior to 1940, the best 20th century examples are probably the election of 1924 (when Calvin Coolidge got a fairly serious challenge from Robert M. La Follette) and the election of 1912 (when, of course, William Howard Taft was nearly knocked off by Theodore Roosevelt).

Q: We just finished watching the brilliant HBO miniseries based on Philip Roth's novel The Plot Against America. While I was blown away by its prescience regarding Trumpism, I was surprised that in the alternate history Roth presented, the Jewish people of the time were very much in FDR's camp. I don't remember all the details, but I was under the impression that FDR was not particularly sympathetic to the Jewish plight in Europe. Any insights on that? On one hand, Jews have generally sided with liberals and championed workers' rights and unions, as FDR did. On the other, turning a blind eye to the atrocities of the Holocaust would seem to be a dealbreaker. J.K., Boston, MA

A: We will begin by noting that this is a very fraught question, and that if you want a proper assessment, you really should pick up a copy of FDR and the Jews, by Richard Breitman and Allan J. Lichtman, which is (currently) the definitive treatment of the subject.

In any case, the United States in the 1930s and 1940s was a deeply anti-Semitic country. It is instructive, for example, that Henry Ford—the nation's most prominent industrialist—spent much time and money trafficking in vicious anti-Jewish propaganda, publishing an anti-Semitic newspaper (The Dearborn Independent) whose articles were eventually compiled in book form (The International Jew). Both the newspaper and the book gained wide circulation because they were given away for free in Ford dealerships. Similarly, the country's most popular radio personality for a number of years was Father Charles Coughlin, whose weekly audience numbered about 30 million. He frequently engaged in anti-Semitic rhetoric.

Coughlin and Ford, aided by a great many lesser accomplices, managed to popularize a pair of ideas that were widely accepted by Americans by the start of World War II: (1) that Jews were not "real" Americans, as their loyalty was to their religion and not their country, and (2) that Jews were invading/overwhelming certain professions and institutions, and needed to be limited. The latter concern caused the Ivy League universities, to take but one example, to strictly limit the number of Jewish admits for a number of years. The policy of Yale's medical school, quite famously, was "Never admit more than five Jews, take only two Italian Catholics, and take no blacks at all" (for about 200 slots).

And now we get to FDR. Though he was tolerant by the standards of his era, he was certainly anti-Semitic by the standards of ours, and said many unpleasant things, like referring to a Jewish newspaper editor's tax-avoidance scheme as "a dirty Jewish trick" and alluding to "the understandable complaints which the Germans bore towards the Jews in Germany." More important than Roosevelt's own biases, however, was that he was a pragmatic politician who knew that he was leading a country that was both very anti-Semitic and very skittish. That said, and at the same time, he really was a humanitarian who tried to do as best he could by his fellow man. Further, his ear was constantly being bent on many issues, including the "Jewish question," by his very liberal wife Eleanor.

Anyhow, FDR's policies were a product of these competing imperatives. Generally speaking, he resisted large-scale, high-profile admissions of Jewish refugees, fearing the political and social consequences. This is why, for example, the MS St. Louis was turned away when it reached the United States, dooming most of the 900+ folks on board. On the other hand, he was quite willing to let Jewish refugees into the country in small numbers, with the result that the U.S. took in 132,000 German Jews, far more than any other country. He also took steps to make sure rumors of the ongoing Holocaust were not suppressed by the State Department, though even he did not know the extent of the atrocities being committed until fairly late in the war.

As to Jewish support for FDR, it wasn't universal, of course, though it was substantial. And the reason is pretty simple: He was in power, and was willing to do something. That was much better than the alternative, as the Republican Party of that era was not in power, and was also unwilling to do anything when it came to saving Jewish lives.

Q: I really enjoyed the discussion of why Indiana is more conservative than its neighboring states. I have the inverse question for Minnesota: Why is it so much more reliably blue than its neighbors Wisconsin, Iowa, and the Dakotas? S.C., Washington, DC

A: We say again that we have no direct experience, as neither of us has ever lived in or near Minnesota. Again, hopefully some readers who do have that experience will write in and help round out our answer.

Anyhow, the cities of the Midwest, and particularly the upper Midwest, were settled substantially by white, immigrant Catholic laborers (Irish, Polish, Italian, etc.), with a fair number of Jewish immigrants and black migrants mixed in. The rural areas of the upper Midwest were settled substantially by folks who fled oppressive regimes in central Europe, particularly Germans. All of these demographics have skewed left-wing, historically. And thanks to the actions of local mining/logging/railroad/manufacturing concerns in the Midwest, as well as the behavior of industrialists in faraway cities like New York and Philadelphia, there was an overwhelming sense among the populations of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, etc. that they were being screwed by the capitalists. Consequently, the Midwest, and particularly the Upper Midwest was something of a hotbed of blue-collar, left-wing activism for generations, with significant expressions of Populism, Progressivism, and even Socialism. This concurrently helps us to understand the general blue-ness of those states over time, but also the appeal of the populist Donald Trump.

What makes Minnesota different, we would say, is the presence of a sizable population of Scandinavian immigrants, many of them practicing Lutherans. With 1,603,124 citizens who claim Scandinavian descent, the Gopher State has far and away the largest such population (California, with 1,224,541, is the only other state to have more than a million Scandinavian Americans). Although Scandinavians/Lutherans certainly value self-sufficiency and pulling yourself up by your bootstraps, they have also historically had a high regard for effective government leadership, community action, and charitable "good works." Consequently, they have skewed pretty lefty, up to and including a sizable number of left-leaning governors of Minnesota of Scandinavian descent (among them John Lind, Floyd B. Olson, Hjalmar Petersen, Elmer A. Benson, Karl F. Rolvaag, and current governor Tim Walz, who is both Lutheran and part-Swedish).

Q: Long ago, when my three political leaders were Barack Obama, Harry Reid, and Nancy Pelosi, I told many people that Nancy was my favorite of the three. My opinion has not changed much since then. She is really, really good at her job. But is she the best ever? I like to think so, but what do I know? D.S.R., Phoenix, AZ

A: Pelosi is certainly very skillful, much more so than her immediate predecessors, we would say. Exactly where she will rank when all is said and done is a question that will take a long time to answer, and will depend on events that have not happened yet. However, it will be very difficult for her to crack the top three, which we have like this:

  1. Joseph Gurney Cannon (R), 1903-11: Cannon was undoubtedly an inspiration to Mitch McConnell, as he exerted near-total control over the House and its agenda during his Speakership, so much so that he was known as "Czar Cannon." Consequently, gaining his support for legislation was tantamount to getting House approval; most obviously he bears substantial responsibility for the adoption of the Sixteenth Amendment (income taxes). Eventually—and those who dislike McConnell may be glad to hear this—Cannon became so heavy-handed that much of his own caucus rebelled against him, and he ceded much of his authority (followed, not long thereafter, by his seat in Congress). Still, his significance was so great that the first office building constructed for House members bears his name. He was also pictured on the cover of the first-ever issue of Time magazine (March 3, 1923).

  2. Sam Rayburn (D), 1940-47, 1949-53, 1955-61: Rayburn was the anti-Cannon, preferring to conduct his business through "soft" tactics (persuasion, assistance with fundraising, social bonding). This may explain why he was the longest-serving Speaker in history, at 17 years, more than twice Cannon's term. Rayburn played a key role in the passage of some very important legislation, most notably the GI Bill, the National Interstate and Defense Highways Act, the National Aeronautics and Space Act, and the Civil Rights Acts of 1957 and 1960. He was also a mentor to several of the movers and shakers of the next generation of politicians, most notably Lyndon B. Johnson. Rayburn died with his boots on, as it were, as he was the sitting Speaker when he succumbed to cancer in 1961. Like Cannon, one of the House office buildings was named for him. Unlike Cannon, Rayburn's colleagues felt so warmly about him that 192 of them (140 Democrats, 52 Republicans) chipped in $25 each to buy him a fancy new car (a 1947 Cadillac Fleetwood Series 62).

  3. Henry Clay (W), 1811-14, 1815-20, 1823-25: There can never be another George Washington, and there can never be another Henry Clay. The reason that the Speaker of the House is not required to be a sitting member of Congress is that the men who wrote the Constitution saw the role as mostly ceremonial and perfunctory, like the Sergeant-at-Arms. Their model, of course, was the British House of Commons, which has this statement on its website: "Speakers must be politically impartial. Therefore, on election the new Speaker must resign from their political party and remain separate from political issues even in retirement." Clay was elected to the job on his very first day in the House, and changed the job of Speaker into the important position it is today, asserting influence over the lower chamber's legislative agenda and committee appointments. Having crafted a locus of power for himself, Clay managed to rally support for a declaration of war against Britain in 1812, secured passage of the Missouri Compromise in 1820 and, of course, swung the presidential election of 1824 to John Quincy Adams.

At the moment, we would put Pelosi in the next tier of Speakers, along with Tip O'Neill (D), Nicholas Longworth (R), Champ Clark (D), and Thomas Brackett Reed (R). Even if she doesn't make the top three, that's still pretty elite company.

Q: Ever since I learned that the person who wrote the politics blog that I love so much was the same man who had the pitch-perfect response to Ken Brown, I have wondered what kernel runs your site servers. My curiosity was piqued even more after you announced that the recent hours-long site outage was caused by a cable cut. That suggested (mildly) that the site is hosted at a traditional data center rather than a cloud provider (which would have more redundancy and self-healing). There aren't many good reasons to avoid cloud hosting in my opinion, but one (barely) plausible reason is that cloud providers generally do not let you bring your own kernel. I hope you will forgive my curiosity; it is grounded in admiration. C.C., Hancock, NH

A: The site runs at a large commercial data center outside of Albany, NY. It is not that different from a cloud, really. It's a giant room full of servers. Some of them run virtual machines, some don't—the customer can choose. If the optical fiber running into a cloud data center is cut by a backhoe miles away, the cloud goes down, which is the same problem we had. With a cloud, it is somewhat easier to run a hot standby in a second data center far away, but that gets to be expensive. And the choices our provider offers are Linux and Windows. That's an easy choice: Linux. On a virtual machine, we could run anything we want, but then we are completely on our own for maintenance. By running Linux CentOS 7 (their preference), they provide 24/7 support. We have called them at 4 a.m. their time and gotten an instant response and action.

Q: What inspired (V) to create in the first place? S.C., Mountain View, CA

A: (V) wanted to find a way to register overseas voters in 2004. Going door-to-door worldwide was not an option, so he thought about making a website that might get some attention and then putting a banner "ad" on it that linked to (it wasn't really an ad since they didn't pay anything for it). By the end of October, the site was getting 600,000 visits a day, more than CNN or the New York Times. Needless to say, he was not expecting this.

Q: The origin of "Votemaster" is obvious, but where did the moniker "Zenger" come from? M.H., Swarthmore, PA

A: When (Z) joined the site, we spent much more time than you might think looking at possible noms de plume. "Zenger" is a reference to John Peter Zenger, the newspaper editor whose case established that criticism of political leaders in print is legal, if the criticism is true.

Q: Are all of the questions real, or do you make up some of them? N.C., Chicago, IL

A: The Q&A feature was inspired by Roger Ebert's old "Movie Answer Man" column. (Z) was not only a big fan of that column, he actually got a question answered one time (Q: "If you're going to see the movie anyhow, should you read reviews before or after you see it?" A: "After, I think, so you can form your own impressions first, and also to avoid spoilers.") Anyhow, Ebert acknowledged that sometimes a question needed to be asked, but nobody asked it, and he would occasionally address such questions in his column. The clue that was happening was that the "asker" would be a character from the movie "Beyond the Valley of the Dolls," since Ebert co-wrote the screenplay.

If inventing questions was good enough for Ebert, then it's good enough for us. So we reserve the right to do this, should we feel the circumstances call for it. We've never actually done it, since we get more than enough good questions to easily fill the space. But we could. If so, since neither of us ever wrote a schlocky 1970s sexploitation film, the question would be signed by a 19th century president. That means that if ever A.L. from Springfield, IL, or U.S.G. from Galena, IL, or G.C. from Buffalo, NY "asks" a question, you know what's going on.

If you wish to contact us, please use one of these addresses. For the first two, please include your initials and city.
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---The Votemaster and Zenger
May08 In Like Flynn
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May08 Lincoln Project Getting Plenty of Oxygen
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May07 Private Payrolls Dropped 20 Million People in April
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May07 Walker Sails Through Confirmation Hearing
May07 Supreme Court Will Hear Arguments about Trump's Tax Returns Next Week
May07 The Streisand Effect, Part II
May07 Today's Presidential Polls
May06 White House Coronavirus Task Force to Shut Down
May06 Republicans Go to Court to Fight COVID-19 Restrictions
May06 Lucy Flores Says She Believes Tara Reade
May06 More Health Issues for Ginsburg
May06 New York Primary Is On, After All
May06 Bernie Just Mild About Liz
May06 For Republicans, Things Are Getting Rocky in the Rockies...
May06 ...and Things Are Getting Ugly in Maine
May06 Today's Presidential Polls
May05 Death Toll Will Shoot up as States Reopen
May05 Honest Abe vs. Not-so-honest Don
May05 New Poll Shows Overwhelming Support for Vote-by-Mail
May05 Democrats Working on Torrent of Voting-rights Lawsuits
May05 Biden Calls for Any Reade Paperwork to Be Released
May05 Does Biden Have a "Latino Problem"?
May05 Bolton Book Pushed Back Again
May05 Today's Presidential Polls
May04 Biden Crushes Sanders in Kansas Primary
May04 David Axelrod: We Vetted Biden in 2008 and Didn't Find Anything
May04 Why Did Trump Scream at Parscale?
May04 Bush Slams Trump?
May04 Why McConnell Wants the Senate to Meet Despite the Danger
May04 Scott Gottlieb: We Will Have 1,000 Deaths a Day All Summer
May04 Five Ways the Coronavirus Could Change Politics
May04 Will We Ever Go Back to Normal?
May04 Model Shows Democrats with a Slight Edge in Taking over the Senate
May04 Democrats Have Given Up on Doug Jones
May04 What Happens If a Senator Is Appointed to the Cabinet?
May03 Sunday Mailbag
May03 Today's Presidential Polls
May02 Biden Says He Didn't Do It