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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Biden Inches Closer to the White House
      •  Saturday Q&A

Note: We are going to assign both Georgia Senate races as ties until we get some post-election one-on-one polling. More on Monday.

Biden Inches Closer to the White House

More votes have been counted, and Joe Biden has held on, or extended his lead, in all of the uncalled states except for Alaska and North Carolina. Is he the president-elect yet? Depends on whom you ask.

Let's start with a quick overview of developments in the six uncalled states, in alphabetical order:

  1. Alaska: What is this doing on the list? Didn't we say it was a done deal? We may have spoken prematurely. There are roughly 100,000 votes outstanding, and there's about a 50,000-vote gap between leading vote-getters Donald Trump and Sen. Dan Sullivan (R) and challengers Joe Biden and Al Gross (I/D). However, all of the remaining ballots are mail-in, and if they break 3-to-1 for the two challengers, then they could pull it out. Given that mail-in ballots in some other red-to-purple states have broken for the Democrats at that rate, it's not impossible. Not likely, mind you, but not impossible.

  2. Arizona: Biden's lead slipped a little bit on Friday, but he's still on pace to hold the state.

  3. Georgia: Georgia has nearly finished counting with Biden holding a small but substantial lead of 7,248 votes. Election officials have already announced they will hold a recount, and also that the Sen. David Perdue (R-GA)/Jon Ossoff race will go to a runoff. It is not clear whether it's actually legal for them to announce a recount before the counting is complete. It's also not clear why they need a second count in the presidential race, but not in the Senate race.

  4. Nevada: Biden continues to extend his lead; he's up 23,000 votes now with 93% reporting.

  5. North Carolina: Barring a huge number of late-arriving Democratic ballots, this one remains in Trump's pocket.

  6. Pennsylvania: Joe Biden is up by nearly 30,000 votes with 96% reporting, and nearly all the remaining ballots are: (1) mail-in, (2) from Philadelphia, or (3) both.

DecisionDeskHQ, which projects election results, has seen enough in Pennsylvania and has called the state for Biden, making him president-elect. No other outlet has been willing to stick their necks out that far, and so when Biden spoke to the country last night, he couldn't declare victory without appearing gauche. As an alternative, he called for unity and asked Americans for patience as the process plays out.

Perhaps the best evidence that Biden has this thing won, however, comes not from the election returns or the decision desks, but from the White House. Reportedly, many White House staffers are distancing themselves from the President, and are inquiring discreetly about future employment opportunities. If this news makes you think of rats deserting a sinking ship, you're not alone. Meanwhile, after spending 48 hours denying that he lost the election, Trump has turned belligerent, raging against his underlings in the White House, and against the world at large on Twitter. In short, the President has reached the second stage of grief, and presumably will move into the negotiating phase sometime soon. Perhaps: "President for a month in exchange for a pardon, Mike?"

Time will tell, but it certainly appears that the conclusion of counting in Pennsylvania is imminent. And if that goes Biden's way, then the party's over for Trump. It's possible that we could have a president elect by the time you're reading letters and anagram answers on Sunday. (Z)

Saturday Q&A

Once again, well over a thousand questions. Did something happen in the world of politics this week?

Q: Is political polling obsolete? The pollsters did an even worse job than they did in 2016, which suggests they are now no more useful than entrail readers and other charlatan prognosticators. If so, has your basic premise, to compile polls so as to tamp down the noise in any given one, now merely an echo chamber of what has become nothing but noise? R.E.M., Brooklyn, NY

A: This question, in various forms, was the question of the week. We must have gotten 100 variants.

Undoubtedly, this is an issue that many outlets—including us—will explore in upcoming weeks and months. That said, we would urge caution before reaching any firm conclusions (and before potentially throwing out the baby with the bathwater). Take a look at our map from Election Day. If current trends hold, then we will have correctly called 48 of the 51 states (including D.C.) we had a call for. Ohio was a toss-up on our map (though our written verbiage that day gave it to Trump, so you might argue we had that one right, too, for a total of 49 out of 51). We had North Carolina as barely Dem, and it looks like it's going to end up barely GOP. And we were way off on Florida. Still, the polls (and our method) did considerably better than if we had used chicken entrails or a Magic 8 Ball or tea leaves or a Ouija Board.

There were some very clear failures. The aforementioned Florida, where it looks like Cuban-American turnout was way underestimated. A lot of the Senate polls were off, particularly in Maine and South Carolina. Some polling houses had a very bad day. Among the Democrat-favoring houses, Quinnipiac did particularly poorly. Among the Republican-favoring houses, Rasmussen, Trafalgar, and Pulse all showed they don't actually have some secret sauce that allows them to project the Midwest better than anyone else.

That said, there were some clear successes. As noted above, in the aggregate, the polls actually appear to have gotten most of the states right. Most of the national polls were correct, within the margin of error. Some polling houses did quite well, most obviously Selzer & Co. in Iowa. And let us not forget that this election was about as sui generis as it gets, given how unusual Donald Trump is, given the pandemic, and given the unprecedented turnout and use of mail-in ballots.

Once all the numbers are in, and once there is time to crunch them, some clear ideas about missteps will emerge. Similarly, we might learn things that exculpate the pollsters even more (like, say, that hundreds of thousands of ballots were "lost" by the USPS or rejected due to nudity). We don't particularly want to guess right now, but if you absolutely insisted, we might speculate that one lesson is that pollsters will need to become "specialists" in their state or regions, like Selzer, and that knowing how to do a good national poll, or a good poll of Michigan does not equate to knowing how to do a good poll of Florida.

Also, the 2018 polls were quite good. It may be that when Donald Trump is on the ballot, strange and unexpected things happen that we can't explain yet.

Q: I remember reading your commentary about the final Ann Selzer poll of Iowa, which showed Donald Trump with a 7-point lead over Joe Biden. At the time of the poll, you felt it might be an outlier due to the volume of polling suggesting otherwise. However, with hindsight being 20/20, seeing Trump clinch an 8-point victory in Iowa, that poll was almost right on the money. Is there anything looking back, with the benefit of exit polling or other data available, which sheds some light on what Selzer got right and everybody else got wrong? Or is there some explanation for how she seemed to nail this result yet again? T.M., Kirkwood, PA

Q: Assuming Ann Selzer got it right both times, then Iowa was tied but shifted to 7 points towards Trump in her last poll of the state. So what can cause such a shift apart from the possible explanation that 1 in 20 polls is an outlier (the earlier poll being the outlier)? In 2016, the James Comey announcement was a clear turning point that affected a lot of votes. I can't imagine the Biden hard drive saga was that important in Iowa...what, in your opinion, can cause such a shift? K.G., Socorro, NM

A: Let us start by noting that we allowed for the possibility that either poll was the outlier. And, as chance would have it, we have a couple of sources in Iowa that keep us clued in on developments there. There is no good explanation for such a rapid shift in one month; no October surprise that particularly affected Iowans, or dramatic economic improvement, or other game-changer. The race in general tightened, so that is part of it, but we're left with the conclusion that most of it is that Selzer's second-to-last poll was the outlier.

Q: Like many if not most of your readers, I was optimistic about the possibility of a decisive Biden win due to prognostications of the polls. However, between remembering 2016, and reading the occasional article about Republicans registering more voters and whether or not "shy Trump voters" really exist, I didn't want to set my hopes too high. More than shy Trump voters or registration numbers, I had a niggling feeling that the polls were missing a higher percentage of Trump voters than Biden voters. What would explain that?

Also, with regards to polling, how much polling is done via live phone interview vs. text? Like many people, I do not answer the phone when I don't recognize the number but I would answer a text poll. I did actually get a text poll from a G1 Research Group which I happily answered. It seemed very legit though I never saw any reports on your site or others mention it. Do you know anything about this poll? And why are more polls not conducted via text?
C.B., Atlanta, GA

A: This is another early theory about what went wrong with the polls this cycle: That non-Trumpy Republicans are more likely to respond to pollsters than Trumpy Republicans, because the Trumpy Republicans have been trained to distrust all media, polls, science, etc. This is a story to keep an eye on.

As to text polls, some pollsters are dipping their toes into that pond. However, there are at least a couple of significant challenges. The first is that it is really hard to get a representative sample, since the subset of Americans who know how to text message skews considerably younger and wealthier than the populace as a whole. The second is that the poll response is useless if you don't get responses to all questions, and may even be useless if you don't get responses quickly enough. What if, between the time a respondent texts their response to questions 5/6/7 and their responses to questions 8/9/10, a major scandal breaks? Or a national crisis, like 9/11 unfolds? Can you still use the earlier answers?

Q: Do you think the reason why the GOP did well in the state and congressional elections is because of the fact that Donald Trump was on the ballot this year, and therefore it drove more of his voters to the polls compared to 2018 when his name wasn't on the ballot? R.H.D., in Webster, NY

A: Well, he clearly drove Republican turnout up, since he got more votes than any Republican presidential candidate in history. Of course, he also drove Democratic turnout up. So, the question is, was he a net positive for the GOP? He probably was, but the answer surely varies state-to-state. There will undoubtedly be analyses of this once all the numbers are known.

Q: Given the explicitly authoritarian platform that Trump ran on ("L'etat, c'est moi"), and a consistent pattern of both behavior and rhetoric that undermine the basic norms of democracy, what does it mean when he still obtains the support of a large minority of the electorate? Is "the World's Greatest Democracy" (sic) even governable if nearly half the country apparently seek a system that is not even recognizably democratic? B.H., Nottingham, UK

A: This will be another question that gets a lot of attention in upcoming months and years. At the moment, however, we would caution you against concluding that 70+ million Americans voted for authoritarianism, per se. Our general impression, from the reading we do for this site and the feedback we get, is that Republican voters are much more inclined toward compartmentalization in their voting. By that we mean, first of all, that they tend to vote based on one or two or three issues, like abortion, or the economy, or tax policy. We also mean, however, that they tend to be more comfortable than Democrats, on the whole, when it comes to deal-breakers. Many of Sen. Bernie Sanders' (I-VT) supporters would have deserted him if he turned out to be a behind-the-scenes racist or pu**y grabber, or even if he committed some lesser sin, like taking a bunch of money from the petroleum industry. Joe Biden would have been in deep trouble if he turned out to have a secret Chinese bank account, or if he was revealed to be a tax cheat. Indeed, Biden was almost done in by allegations of sexual misconduct far less serious than those lodged against Donald Trump. He was largely saved by the fact that Tara Reade turned out to be roughly as credible as, well, Rudy Giuliani.

By contrast, Republicans in general, and Trump supporters in particular, seem to be generally comfortable with the formulation, "I really don't approve of X, but the GOP candidate is right on Y issue, and that's what I really care about." How many times have we heard things like, "I don't like the tweets, but the economy is good," or "Yes, he lies, but he appoints anti-abortion judges"? So, it is probable that a lot of his voters either excused the authoritarian behavior, or are low-information folks who didn't even recognize the general pattern.

We'll point out one other thing: The authoritarian impulse usually doesn't last long, particularly once its central figure is no longer in power. Within a few years of Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, Francisco Franco, and Hideki Tojo, to take four examples, their nations had functional democracies.

Q: We've seen many outlets, like The Guardian, claiming that choosing Joe Biden was the wrong choice and that the Democratic Party doubled down on the centrism that they purport led to the loss in 2016. They also claim that Bernie Sanders or someone of the progressive ilk could perhaps have done much better. It seems to me to be attempting to justify what was clearly a lackluster Democratic performance, but is it truly possible that someone of the "democratic socialist" crowd could have performed better than Biden? K.S., Iselin, NJ

A: It does not seem possible, from where we sit. When Democratic voters weighed in on this question, they gave their votes to Biden by a nearly 2-to-1 margin. So, Sanders does not appear to excite Democratic voters on the whole (and he had particular issues with Black Democrats). He might have gotten a few more lefties out to the polls, but those folks largely live in safe blue states. Meanwhile, the Republicans spent six months tarring the centrist Biden as a fanatical socialist. Can you imagine what would have happened if they had spent six months hurling such invective at an actual socialist? Moderates, older voters, and Florida Latinos would all have run for the hills.

Q: Given the partial results as of now, do you think anyone from the Democratic primary could have done better than Joe Biden in the general election? L.M.S., Harbin, China

A: No. Biden did a heckuva job of rebuilding the Barack Obama coalition. When all is said and done, he looks likely to re-create a reasonable facsimile of Obama's 2008 map, swapping in wins in Georgia and Arizona for Obama's wins in Ohio, North Carolina, and Indiana. So, for someone to have done better, they would have needed to rebuild the Obama map, and to pick up one or more states that Biden could not. We don't see who that might be, since the other Democratic candidates, by definition, failed to gain traction with Democratic voters (much less Republican voters).

If you absolutely insisted that we pick someone who might have given Joe Biden a run for his money, we would probably pick Julián Castro, on the theory that he is pretty moderate and might plausibly have won the Biden states, and also flipped his home state of Texas. But again, Castro clearly did not excite Democrats. And, in particular, he did not excite the Latino voters that were supposed to be his base. So, we wouldn't be all that sanguine about his chances. And in case you're wondering why we didn't pick Texan Beto O'Rourke instead, it's because his outspoken anti-gun stance would have been emphasized ad infinitum and would have scared off a lot of moderate voters.

Q: Putting on my tin foil hat to ask the following question: Given the closeness of the election, did Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) cost Donald Trump reelection when he refused to do a second relief package prior to the election? B.H., Manitowoc, WI

A: Unless we can run the same election multiple times, changing just one variable each time, there's just no way to know. Maybe McConnell did hurt Trump. On the other hand, maybe Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) hurt Joe Biden even more, with voters saying "It's her way or the highway; she won't even compromise!" Similarly, maybe some voters are concerned about the national debt, and were actually pleased by the Republicans' parsimony.

It is very easy, of course, to look at mistakes (or potential mistakes), big and small, and to speculate that those mistakes were "the" deciding factor in the election. Of course, that overlooks the fact that every candidate makes mistakes, including the eventual winner. There are dozens of factors, if not hundreds, that, if they had gone differently, could have improved the President's fortunes.

That said, there is one mistake he made that clearly hurt him badly, and may have been fatal. Trump's habit of attacking his enemies is part of what makes his base love him, but he sometimes chose his targets poorly. There is little downside to attacking Nancy Pelosi or Hillary Clinton or Adam Schiff or Chuck Schumer. However, Trump said some very tasteless things about Georgia representative John Lewis before he died, and then was very disrespectful after. The President was also borderline obsessed with Arizona senator John McCain, mocking and insulting the Senator both before and after his passing. And now, who appears to be set to send Trump to defeat? Black voters in Georgia, and moderate Republicans in Arizona.

Q: Knowing what we know now from the past five years, do you think Donald Trump would have had a chance if he ran against an incumbent Barack Obama in 2012? J.H., Studio City, CA

A: No. Obama was a gifted organizer and campaigner, and appealed to a wide swath of voters. Further, we have suggested, and will continue to suggest, that one of the lessons of 2020 (regardless of the ultimate outcome) is that it is really, really hard to defeat an incumbent president. If Biden holds on, he will be only the fifth person in the last century to do it (following Franklin D. Roosevelt, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, and Bill Clinton). Over that same period, incumbents running for reelection have won 12 times, meaning the challengers have a meager 29.4% winning percentage. That's pretty poor, unless you're the Detroit Lions.

Q: It seems that they were able to count day-of voting pretty fast, yet early votes seem to take quiet a bit longer to count. Why is that? A.D., Fountain Hills, AZ

A: In-person votes generally only involve one sheet of paper, are less likely to have problems that need to be resolved, and if they do have problems, the voter is right there and able to address whatever needs to be addressed. Further, in most precincts, the ballots are tabulated as soon as they are submitted.

Assuming that the early votes were submitted in the same fashion (i.e., in person), then they are just as quick to count, since any issues will have been resolved at the time of submission. Mail-in ballots, however, present a number of time-sucking issues. To start, they have to be removed from one or more envelopes. Then, they have to be verified in one way or another, often by a computer, but sometimes by a human being. Then, if there is an issue with the ballot, it might be necessary for an examination and an adjudication by election workers and/or the voter might need to be contacted and given time to fix what's wrong with the ballot.

States like Florida, which announce results quickly, allow as much of this work as possible to be done on mail-in ballots prior to Election Day. States like Pennsylvania do not allow advance work, which is why we're still waiting for results from the Keystone State.

Also, don't forget that some states allow defective ballots to be "cured," and all states allow extra time for military and overseas ballots to arrive, which also slows the counting process. In addition, provisional ballots are a special case.

Q: CNN's Phil Mattingly said that he thinks provisional ballot splits should follow the overall voting trends. I think he's incorrect. Provisional ballots (at least in Connecticut) are filled out at polling sites. If that is true nationwide, wouldn't that mean that the ballots would follow the in-person voting trends? Meaning that the counts won't really be done until all the provisional ballots are counted (assuming there are more provisional ballots than the difference between the two vote counts)? And that Democrats should be worried because those ballots will more likely trend for Donald Trump? L.L., Shelton, CT

A: Mattingly is probably correct, or nearly so, though we didn't see the segment, so we don't know if he was speaking about all states or just some.

There are two reasons that provisional ballots are issued. The first is when a person shows up to vote, and their name cannot be found on the voter rolls, or they fail the ID check in states that require ID. The sorts of voters who have registration issues (students who have just moved, women who have married and changed their names, twenty-somethings in search of a job or cheaper housing), and those that have voter ID issues, skew Democratic. So while the in-person vote was pretty Republican this year, the in-person-but-ran-into-registration-or-ID-issues vote was probably a bit more balanced.

The second reason a provisional ballot is issued is that the person cast an absentee ballot, and then changed their mind and decided they wanted to re-vote. Only eight states allow this, though your home state of Connecticut is one of them. Among swing states, Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin allow it. Since we know that mail-in votes skewed very Democratic, it suggests that the I-mailed-my-vote-but-changed-my-mind voters would skew Democratic.

In short, it is unlikely there is a hidden surprise lurking for Democrats.

Q: I noticed in the Nevada returns, that there is an option for "None of these candidates," which is polling at just under 1%. Purely a thought experiment, but I have to wonder what would happen if NOTC earned a plurality. Would Nevada not send a delegation to the Electoral College? F.L., Denton, TX

A: By the terms of Nevada law, the candidate with the highest number of votes wins, even if NOTC gets more votes. And this is not entirely academic; NOTC has twice "won" elections in Nevada, in the 1976 GOP primary for the state's congressional district (they only had one back then), and in the 2014 Democratic gubernatorial primary. You won't be surprised to learn that the two candidates who failed to outpoll "None of these candidates" went on to lose the general election.

Q: Hello from one of your few under-30 readers! I live in Oregon (a state that was called for Biden as soon as the "polls closed") and I have a good friend who lives in Georgia (still yet to be called, three days later). Is there a good way of quantifying how much more his vote "meant" than mine in the presidential election? G.K. in Eugene, OR

A: Well, one way to calculate this would be to compare population to EVs. Oregon has 4.2 million people and 7 EVs, or 1 EV for every 600,000 people. Georgia has 10.6 million people and 16 EVs, or 1 EV for every 662,000 people. Looked at this way, your vote is actually 10% more meaningful than your friend's.

That said, as you point out, some states are competitive and some aren't. So, economist and analytics specialist Adam McCann has created a metric called Voter Power Score (VPS) that considers both the competitiveness of a state and its population/EV ratio. He has Georgia at #4 with a 193.24 VPS, and Oregon at #28 with a 12.52 VPS. Looked at this way, your friend's vote is 15.4 times more meaningful than yours.

Q: Your piece on late-arriving ballots featured a casual but jarring mention of e-mail/fax ballots, the existence of which I was completely unaware of. How do they work, and are they at all secure? S.S., San Luis Obispo, CA

A: Some jurisdictions allow overseas voters to e-mail or fax a ballot in, but they typically also require the real ballot later. It is up to the county to decide what to do if the real ballot does not arrive by the (extended) deadline. It is not terribly safe, but it would be hard for an attacker to know where to try to capture ballots on the fly. Also, it would matter only in those places where the actual paper ballot didn't arrive on time and the county was willing to accept the e-ballot as the real one rather than as just a placeholder to alert them to a possibly late-arriving ballot. As an emergency measure to allow overseas voters to vote from countries with a really bad postal service, it is a reasonable tradeoff. Doing this large scale for domestic voters would be a bad idea, though.

Q: What is the biggest shift in number of votes or percentage points ever produced by a statewide recount in a presidential election? And has it ever changed a state's result? A.W., Wirral, UK

A: Recounts were fairly rare before 2000, and so we will confine our answer to the last 20 years. There have been about three dozen recounts in statewide elections of all sorts during that time, and they shifted, on average, .026% of the vote. In terms of presidential elections there have been three statewide recounts since 2000:

  • A recount of Wisconsin in 2016 shifted 131 votes out of 2,976,150 cast; that's .004% of the vote.
  • A recount of Nevada in 2016 shifted 3 votes out of 1,125,385 cast; that's .0003% of the vote.
  • The infamous recount of Florida in 2000 shifted 1,163 votes out of 5,825,043 cast; that's .02% of the vote.

There is no example of a state being flipped in a presidential election by a recount. And, as you can see, unless the margin of victory is tiny, then asking for a recount is a waste of everyone's time.

Q: Assuming the AP or the networks call the race for Biden this weekend, how long will we have to endure court battles and recounts? Are we looking at Y2K Part II? A.K.P. in Huntsville, AL

A: The recounts, if they happen at all (outside Georgia), won't last for long. As to the lawsuits, Team Trump is thus far having little luck, since they are lacking two rather critical things: (1) a compelling legal argument for what they want done, and (2) evidence. The clearer it becomes that the Trump campaign is tilting at windmills, the less likely the lawsuits are to continue and, more importantly, the less likely the lawsuits are to get any serious attention. And so, barring something very unexpected, 2020 isn't going to look like 2000.

Q: Why doesn't the Biden campaign try to litigate the USPS undelivered ballots? J.H. in Denver, CO

A: Because those ballots are unlikely to affect the outcome, and the campaign doesn't want the bad PR of appearing to be grasping at straws/engaging in legal shenanigans. Further, the matter will likely be addressed by the courts even without the campaign's involvement.

If Team Biden was desperate, and in particular if they thought those ballots could be decisive, they would most certainly be in court.

Q: Now that Donald Trump is trailing in Pennsylvania, do you think he will back off on legal challenges to ballots that arrived after November 3, in the (unlikely) event that they break in his favor? A.T. in Arlington, MA

A: The goal of Team Trump is not, by all indications, to win these suits. If so, they'd be doing a much better job of getting their legal ducks in order. It appears that the goal is to (1) cast doubt on the electoral process, and (2) drag things out in hopes of throwing the election to the House. If they do abandon the lawsuits, it will be because these goals (particularly #2) are no longer achievable, and not for the reason you propose.

Q: Who pays the expenses of the transition team after the winner is certified? M.S, Westport, CT

A: By the terms of the Pre-Election Presidential Transition Act of 2010, the General Services Administration (GSA) provides office space, computers, telephones, and funding for a candidate's transition once they are elected. If they wish to get started before that, they have to cover the bills with donations from supporters. In 2008, for example, Barack Obama spent $4 million in donations on transition-related expenses, and then the GSA kicked in another $5 million when his victory became official.

Q: If the Democrats do not prevail in the Georgia runoff elections, I'm intrigued by your notion of Joe Biden having an ace up his sleeve. But would Sens. Pat Toomey (R-PA) and Ron Johnson (R-WI) take Cabinet positions, as opposed to say, a lobbyist position in 2023 (at age 60 and 68)? Is a Cabinet job really that great a bird in the hand? More important, is Joe Biden ready to play hardball to avoid being a "do-nothing" President? K.G., Atlanta, GA

A: Let's start with your final question: If Joe Biden has a chance for the Democrats to gain control of the Senate and to affirm his commitment to bipartisanship at the same time, he will take that deal every day and twice on Sunday. He would not regard it as "hardball," he would regard it as shrewd political horse trading.

As to Toomey and Johnson, only they know what is in their hearts. Toomey is worth $2 million and Johnson $10 million, so they may not feel quite as much of a need to spend their golden years raking in more. And as a members of the Senate, they are 1 in 100, and most certainly not the 1 that has all the power (that would be the gentleman from Kentucky). As the head of a federal bureaucracy, they would potentially have the power to shape policy on numerous key issues. That said, it's a bit hard to find an area where either one of these men is on the same page (or even in the same book) with Biden. He could give them one of the departments that's basically apolitical, like Energy, but it's hard to imagine they are interested in supervising a bunch of nukes. Maybe one of them would take a cabinet-level (but not actually cabinet) job, like Trade Representative or Administrator of the Small Business Administration?

On the other hand, Toomey was a banker before getting into politics. He might accept Treasury. Democrats would howl to the moon, but the Senate is more important than regulating the banks. It's a tradeoff Biden might accept, especially if he thinks Raphael Warnock has a shot at winning the runoff against Sen. Loeffler (R-GA).

Q: In a recent item, you talked about possible cabinet positions in a Biden administration for the Republican senators who have indicated that they will retire in 2022. It seems you were having a little trouble finding cabinet posts that would fit. Why not offer them the opportunity to become ambassadors to the countries of their choice? These would be cushier jobs for these retirees and might be considered fitting caps to their careers. Also, no matter where you put them, they probably could not do as much damage as they might be able to do in the cabinet. What do you think of this idea? F.F., Berkeley, CA

A: If they will accept an ambassadorship, then Biden will take that deal so fast it will make your head spin. There was a time that ambassadors functioned as, in effect, State Departments unto themselves because of the lack of high-speed communication. These days, foreign policy is run from Washington, and the ambassadors perform mostly ceremonial tasks. So if Ron Johnson or Pat Toomey likes sun, then Jamaica is all theirs. If they're into tea and crumpets, then it's off to the Court of St. James with them. If they wish to continue their relationship with Donald Trump, they might consider appointment to the embassy in Moscow. As we said above, only they know what is in their hearts, but we are very skeptical that they're willing to stab their party and their colleagues in the back in exchange for a paid vacation.

Q: What do you think the odds are of a defection of a Susan Collins (R-ME) or a Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) to the Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) side of the ledger? A.S., Silverdale, WA

A: Very low. Collins just ran under the worst circumstances imaginable, and easily won reelection as a Republican. Most of the state's Democrats dislike her, so if she believes her Senate career is no longer viable in 2026, she will retire. Heck, at 73, she may retire anyhow. As to Murkowski, if she was thinking about turning apostate, she wouldn't have voted to confirm Amy Coney Barrett.

Q: If (and I realize it's a big "if") the Democrats manage to eke out a 50-50 tie in the Senate, with a VP Harris as tie-breaker, who is the Senate Majority Leader? B.R.D., Columbus, OH

A: That's easy; assuming the Biden-Harris ticket is elected, then Harris would cast the tiebreaking vote that made Chuck Schumer majority leader.

The hard part is committees, where seniority (including chairs) is dictated by which party is in the majority. Since neither party would have a majority, they would have to work something out. In a more civilized time, when this situation happened back in 2001, the parties agreed to split the committees down the middle, with the Democrats leading half and the Republicans leading half. This year, with things more acrimonious, the Democrats might well use Harris' tiebreaking vote to rewrite the rules for how committees work.

Q: What is the likelihood of a Senate seat becoming vacant in the next two years due to unforeseen circumstances such as scandal, death, etc., not counting promotion to the administration? N.G., Milbury, MA

A: Well, it's pretty good. There are 100 senators, many of them long in the tooth, some of them tired of life in Washington, etc. Here's a list of the seats that came vacant mid-term in the last 10 years, excepting the folks who left their seat to assume a White House job:

  • In 2010, Robert Byrd (D-WV) died
  • In 2012, Daniel Inouye (D-HI) died
  • In 2013, Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) died
  • In 2013, Jim DeMint (R-SC) resigned to become a highly paid lobbyist
  • In 2015, Tom Coburn (R-OK) resigned due to ill health
  • In 2018, Al Franken (DFL-MN) resigned due to charges of inappropriate conduct
  • In 2018, Thad Cochran (R-MS) resigned due to ill health
  • In 2018, John McCain (R-AZ) died
  • In 2019, Johnny Isakson (R-GA) resigned due to ill health

As you can see, it's about one senator per year, more or less.

That said, we suspect you're interested in the possibility that the Democrats might gain a majority in this manner. That is not at all likely. Of these nine senators, only one was replaced by someone from the other party (Lautenberg was replaced by Jeffrey Chiesa, who only served four months before being replaced in a special election by Sen. Cory Booker, D-NJ). This makes sense; there aren't too many states where the governor has the power to appoint new senators and is from a different party than the senator(s). Further, a senator is not likely to voluntarily leave his or her seat, no matter how sick they are or how fat the lobbying salary they are being offered, if it means surrendering it to the other party.

Q: You once suggested that support for Donald Trump might follow the pattern experienced by Richard Nixon. The Republican officials supported him and supported him until they didn't. Then there was no one (much) who was his friend, either officials or the public.

Trump lost support from a number of high profile Republicans, mostly ones he or his supporters could not retaliate against. But there was never a cliff where his support plummeted. Is an exodus likely now that he is on his way to becoming an ex-president?
E.H., Madison, WI

A: This will be a very interesting question to watch over the next couple of years, assuming Joe Biden's lead in the voting holds. The general lack of support Trump's gotten from Republican officeholders as he's tried to salvage the election says a lot. On the other hand, he collected 70 million plus votes, and there are clearly many folks (Mike Pence, Josh Hawley, Ted Cruz, Tucker Carlson, maybe Donald Trump Jr.) jockeying for the "Trump" lane in 2024. They will presumably find ways to project their love for, and their loyalty to, the Donald. In short, there may be a civil war brewing in the GOP that makes Clinton-Sanders 2016 look like a day at the park.

Q: Can Twitter ban Donald Trump for violating their policies once he is no longer president? B.P., Salt Lake City, UT

A: Obviously they can; our guess is that what you really want to know is if they will. On one hand, he and his family drive a lot of traffic to the site. On the other hand, the platform does not particularly want to do anything to encourage government regulation of their content, or to anger some huge percentage of their users. Our guess is that if he gets too unhinged, they shut him down.

Q: Is Donald Trump going to run for President in 2024? A.L., Cambridge, MA

A: Possible, but if you're placing a bet, we would suggest you bet against, for at least five reasons:

  1. He will be four years older, and four more years' more physically and mentally infirm.
  2. He is more likely to be interested in promoting a dynasty (i.e., his kids) than himself.
  3. He might be in prison by then.
  4. The party, or a large swath of it, may have soured on him by then.
  5. He could plausibly be toxic by then. If it turns out, for example, that he owes hundreds of millions of dollars to the Russians, and that is why he's handled them with kid gloves, that would be a bridge too far for many Republicans, we think.

We shall see, but again, we doubt it.

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Nov06 Biden Inches Closer to the White House
Nov06 Saturday Q&A
Nov05 Biden Wins Michigan and Wisconsin
Nov05 The State(s) of the Presidential Race
Nov05 Let the Lawsuits Begin
Nov05 Georgia on My Mind
Nov05 Biden Looks Screwed Even If He Wins
Nov05 Florida Is a Red State Now
Nov05 Bloomberg Is No Kingmaker Anymore
Nov05 Another Megyn Kelly Moment, but without Megyn Kelly This Time
Nov05 Dead Man Wins Election
Nov03 One Last Look: The Election News
Nov03 One Last Look: The Projections
Nov03 One Last Look: The Early Voting Numbers
Nov03 Time to Get Out the Crystal Ball
Nov03 Did the Campaign Matter at All?
Nov03 Breathe In, Breathe Out
Nov03 Political Games
Nov03 Today's Presidential Polls
Nov03 Today's Senate Polls
Nov02 Biden Maintains a Stable Lead in the National Polls
Nov02 Trump Could Still Pull It Off
Nov02 Trump Holds Rallies in Five States, Biden in One
Nov02 Five Factors That Help Joe Biden
Nov02 Early Votes Have Passed Two-Thirds of the 2016 Total
Nov02 Scoop: Trump Will Declare Victory Tomorrow Night
Nov02 COVID-19 Is Surging in the Midwest
Nov02 The Election Could Make or Break State Trifectas
Nov02 The Lawyers Are Gearing Up
Nov02 GOP Loses a Round in the Voter Suppression Wars, but Fights on
Nov02 Tillis Is Everywhere, Cunningham is Nowhere
Nov02 Forget Nikki Haley; Maybe Liz Cheney Is the Future of the Republican Party
Nov02 Today's Presidential Polls
Nov02 Today's Senate Polls
Nov01 Sunday Mailbag
Nov01 Today's Presidential Polls
Nov01 Today's Senate Polls
Oct31 Saturday Q&A
Oct31 Today's Presidential Polls
Oct31 Today's Senate Polls
Oct30 Courts Get Involved Again, This Time in Minnesota
Oct30 Things for the Democrats to Worry About
Oct30 More on "Shy Trump" Voters
Oct30 Right-wing Media Try to Salvage Hunter Biden Story
Oct30 On Your Marks, Get Set, Go!
Oct30 The Delicate Art of Question Dodging
Oct30 Donald Trump, Flight Risk?
Oct30 Today's Presidential Polls
Oct30 Today's Senate Polls
Oct29 Biden Continues to Lead in the National Polls