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      •  One Becomes a Dozen
      •  Sunday Mailbag

One Becomes a Dozen

Jesus had 12 disciples. Now, Donald Trump has 12 U.S. senators., Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) was the first member of the upper chamber to announce that he would join with Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL) and other representatives to challenge the presidential election results. On Saturday, 11 more of Hawley's current and future colleagues joined the "cause": Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX), Ron Johnson (R-WI), James Lankford (R-OK), Steve Daines (R-MT), John Kennedy (R-LA), Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), and Mike Braun (R-IN), along with Sens.-elect Cynthia Lummis (R-WY), Roger Marshall (R-KS), Bill Hagerty (R-TN), and Tommy Tuberville (R-AL).

Yesterday, in answer to a question about these sorts of shenanigans, we wrote:

The primary reason that representatives from deep red districts engage in these sorts of stunts is not because they have nothing to fear from Democratic challengers, but because they have everything to fear from Republican primary challengers who are even more right-wing. There are relatively few states where a far-right Senate candidate can hope to claim the Republican nomination, much less win the election, and so GOP Senators are largely immune to this concern. Josh Hawley, who comes from a purplish-red state, is something of an exception because his focus is not on the next U.S. Senate primary, but on his future presidential aspirations. He doesn't want to be out-Trumped by anyone not named Trump in the 2024 (or maybe 2028) GOP primaries, and this is his way of laying claim to the Trump lane.

This could have been a little bit more nuanced. It is definitely the case that far-right primary challengers, if they advance to the general election, struggle to win, even in red states. Think Todd Akin, Richard Mourdock, etc. It is also true that it's not easy for far-right challengers to make it through the primaries. Think Roy Moore, Kris Kobach, Matt Innis, etc. However, those two facts do not stop far-right candidates from launching campaigns anyhow. And those campaigns can do damage to an incumbent, even if they are not successful, by forcing them to veer rightward and to spend lots of time and money securing the nomination. So, for some of these folks, jumping on board with Hawley is about protecting their right flank, even if they are sure to be renominated.

That said, this cannot plausibly explain all 12. It's particularly hard to believe that for folks who don't face voters again for six years (Tuberville, etc.) or those who have already announced their retirements (Johnson). So, what are some of the other potential motivations here? We can think of a few:

  • Some of them are, like Hawley, positioning themselves for a future presidential run in the Trump lane (Cruz, in particular, would appear to be in this category).

  • Trump is currently collecting money hand over fist for his PAC, money he'll be free to dole out largely as he sees fit. Perhaps some of these folks want to be on his good side so he'll favor them with a donation, or some other form of support.

  • Trump has convinced millions of followers that he was robbed, despite being unable to provide any evidence of that, or to explain why only the presidential race was affected. We tend to assume that someone capable of being elected U.S. senator is too bright to buy into such an obvious falsehood, but maybe we shouldn't reach our conclusions too quickly. In particular, Tuberville has demonstrated that he does not have so much as a high-school understanding of World War II. He (and some of the other senators on the list) could be true believers who accept the Trump version of events hook, line, and sinker, and who think they are really and truly fighting an injustice here.

  • Some of them (and perhaps many) may be performing, not for the benefit of Trump per se, but to send a message to followers about how corrupt American elections are, and how important it is to adopt even more draconian voter ID laws (and other limits on voting).

Don't sleep on the last one; that dynamic may be the key here. In any event, clearly Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is not going to be able to preemptively shut this down, and the objectors will have their day in court (well, their two hours in the House/Senate chamber, but you get the point). It will be very interesting to see if this comes back to haunt any of them. (Z)

Sunday Mailbag

We expected to bring an end to the P.M. dialogue last week, but we got quite a number of additional letters, so we're going to keep it going (in limited form) for one last week. To avoid breaking our word, we're organizing that section as a response to D.E. and the other correspondents, as opposed to a response to P.M. That's called a loophole, kids.

D.E. Knows Their ABCs

J.K. and A.K. in Toronto, Canada, write: We found last week's mailbag really interesting. The first letter, the one from D.E. in Lancaster, is the most thoughtful, insightful, and eloquently written comments on the current American situation we have seen—just outstanding.

I do not know if any recognition or acknowledgment of D.E.'s letter is planned, but if it is, we would like to add our support and our vote of appreciation for their thoughts and comments.

S.H. in Sutherlin, OR, writes: I am yet another of your female readers, seasoned with age (77), and a loyal reader for about 10 years. I have to comment on the post on Sunday by D.E. of Lancaster. This was the most definitive and all-encompassing critique of the P.M. comments that I have read on your site. It was insightful, factual and critical without being condescending. Hooray for D.E., I say!

T.B. of Tallahassee, FL, writes: D.E. in Lancaster sure pushed my buttons last week! I have never been a Donald Trump fan (even when he was a Democrat), and am flabbergasted by how he behaves and that he almost won re-election (by 45,000 votes in selected states). "How can so many Americans be so blind?," I rant. My problem with what D.E. wrote is that they stopped trying to understand those we do not understand, as personified by P.M., and presented an "ever so logical" return rant. How many times has my wife said "You're right!" to both end an argument and express her disdain for my not really listening. Understanding "how people can genuinely appreciate Trump" requires a different headspace from "let's expose the President's every crime."

I believe in law abiding and I went 3 miles over the speed limit the last time I was out. If D.E. is aware of no glaring inconsistencies in their life, then they are not looking very hard, or at all. So even as P.M. is "inconsistent," we must take off the "all things Trump is awful" hat and put on the "P.M. is trying to communicate across cultures" hat. What we learn might not be exactly what P.M. is trying to say, and may require a question or two, but it will lead to an "Aha!" or two, and not "let me be more logical than thou."

We're not dealing with "black and white" issues. It's more Greek/Roman, or Aztec/Aleut. One group's framework has details that don't have equivalents in the other group.

R.T. in Arlington, TX, writes: I have followed the skirmish over the hearts and minds of Luzerne County avidly. As I live alongside a like-minded tribe, I commend P.M. for their accurate representation of the attitudes of the tribe, even if it created consternation among many. Be discomfited all you want, but P.M. told it straight and deserves some appreciation for making the effort.

Since we are in a slow news phase with the holidays, I would like to pose a question for the salon to consider and respond to: "What do you want members of Trumpish tribes to do?" There have been many comments here about how they should think, but I haven't seen anything about what they should do. Are we asking all Americans to act against self-interest, or only those from the other tribes? Candidly, I am tired of all the collective hand-wringing over climate change, racial justice, LGBTQ+ inclusion, and other discussions that boil down to "I don't like what you think. Think like me." It is time to translate angst into action. What do you propose we do to solve these issues in actionable terms? Isn't that what our politics should be about?

V & Z respond: We think that is a productive enough new direction to take that we will print responses to the question R.T. raises, if we get them.

S.K. in Chappaqua, NY, writes: The question that is relevant in this context is "does P.M. expect anything Trump has done to adversely affect them or their loved ones for as long as they are likely to live?"

Most of us who read daily and avidly may believe that dishonest, larcenous, and incompetent leaders who antagonize this country's allies and befriend its enemies, who fail to protect the nation's water and air, and care nothing about the planet's weather harm all Americans, not only those who live in urban or suburban areas. But we should not expect readers of the blog who have not learned of the connections between leaders' acts and the nation's general welfare to dislike Trump.

Nothing will compel such people to read, much less agree, with us, but Democrats will never get such individuals' votes until someone each person loves contracts COVID-19 and dies from it, or we can distill those connections in a 60-second ad that those people cannot avoid seeing.

Don't hold your breath.

K.M. in Moore, OK, writes: I read, with great interest, the responses to P.M. in Currituck. I live in Moore now, and was born in Norman, OK, so I know many people whom I trust and like that are just like P.M. I'm an elder female, Democrat, liberal and small business owner since 1992. I am also a card carrying Native American. I'm a high school graduate and have some college credits but left college because it bored me. I've traveled much in this country and internationally and made a point of learning at least a few phrases of the languages of the places in which I was a guest. Yes, this was necessary in the United States, as well as Europe and Asia.

As the owner of a hair and nail salon, my clients tell me all sorts of interesting things. I recently learned that a large minority of my clients honestly believe that Bill Gates put vast sums of money in to injecting them with nanobots when they get the COVID-19 vaccine. That brought me to a screeching halt. I asked why, and they really couldn't tell me.

I hope I'm doing my part to help people disengage from the ridiculous. I'm gentle but blunt. I take Judith Martin as my example. I wish further enlightenment to all of us.

G.W. in Dayton, OH, writes: N.F. in Arvada wrote: "[It] does not matter what you say or how compelling you try to make your arguments. There is a part of our population that resists change and simply will not accept new ideas."

N.F. may not realize how universally and historically correct they are. Resistance to change is baked into humanity's DNA. A striking example is the British Isles' refusal to adopt the Gregorian Calendar when Pope Gregory XIII issued it in 1582. A major problem with the calendar previously in use—the Julian Calendar—was that its incorrect calculation of how long it takes Earth to make a complete revolution around the sun meant that as time went on the seasons arrived increasingly earlier. England (and later Great Britain) dug in its heels and rejected this science for 170 years, choosing what was familiar over what was clearly correct. Great Britain and its colonies finally adopted the Gregorian Calendar in 1752, dropping 11 days and moving straight from September 2 to September 14. Because of a popular (not Biblical) superstition that God preordained each person's death date, riots broke out across Britain. People believed that the government had stolen 11 days of their lives. New ideas have always been a hard sell to humanity, particularly its portion steeped in and clinging tenaciously to ignorance.

V & Z respond: While you are not wrong, we do feel compelled to add that part of the resistance in 1582 was that Queen Elizabeth I, who was dealing with a serious divide between English Protestants and Catholics, and who was the titular head of the Anglican Church, was hardly likely to take an action that so clearly acknowledged papal authority. Also in the mix here is that employers refused to pay workers for the 11 days they didn't work, but bankers and landlords insisted on a full month's interest on loans and rent, respectively. That didn't put anyone in a good mood.

TrumpWatch 2021

E.K. in Brignoles, France, writes: I'm going to be blunt, but I just can't understand why and how, for purely cynical, political reasons, so many representatives and senators are willing to sell their mothers in order to appease a ridiculous, completely dumb wannabe dictator and its cult. This guy is a laughingstock, but they're ready to burn everything down to the ground just because he tells them to do so. I have little faith in the humankind, but this is beyond my comprehension.

We have their names, and I just hope that, 50 years from now, they will be remembered just the way we think of Pierre Laval in my country. They're just his modern avatars. This is an absolute shame.

V & Z respond: We understand why you went with Laval, but to American readers, the name of Philippe Petain may be more familiar.

J.T. in Marietta, GA, writes: I thought you might be interested to know that on I-75 North, from Atlanta into Cobb County, there are at least two prominent billboards proclaiming, "Perdue and Loeffler didn't fight for Trump. Don't fight for them." Democrats can just sit back when Republicans decide to ratf*ck themselves.

A.M. in Ithaca, NY, writes: Yesterday, L.K. in Los Angeles asked: "Given that his "reign" should (hopefully) soon be over, and putting on your objective historian and technical caps, is there anything positive to be said about Donald Trump's term in office?"

You answered "no", but I somewhat disagree. While I believe Trump to be the worst president in history, unlike other Presidents (e.g. both Bushes), he did not start a war costing thousands of lives. I give him credit for that, making his overall grade an F+ from my perspective. (He still should have been impeached...and minimally go to jail for his crimes.)

H.B in Portland, OR, writes: As a Gen-X veteran and current reservist whose generation has been fighting a war for 20 continuous years: He's getting us out of Afghanistan. And frankly, I don't care what his reasons are, or if he's going about it ham-fistedly. It's the right decision that no other leader of either party was willing to make.

R.M. in Lincoln City, OR, writes: How about this for something positive that can be said about Donald Trump's term? He inspired a record number of people to vote in the 2020 election. I don't know where the 2020 turnout percentage stands historically, but I suspect it was near the top. I was aghast in 2016 that so many young people chose not to vote. Could it be that our young voters were taught an important lesson by the Trump experience? Will they stay more engaged in the future?

L.J.K. in Victoria, BC, Canada, writes: I'll pass on an idea my mother (J.T. in Flagstaff, AZ) wrote to me a couple of days earlier which is, "The good part of the Trump era is that it devalued the legitimacy of the presidency. Here Comes The Chief tra-la," which I take to mean that the longstanding upward trajectory of the presidency as royalty (instead of as an everyday mortal executive) has hit its apogee and might now come back down to earth.

J.H. in Canton, GA, writes: In response to the question from L.K. in Los Angeles, I think President Trump deserves some credit for the First Step Act. Unlike the tax cuts, I'm not so certain that any Republican would have signed that bill, nor am I confident that it would have gotten through the Republican-led Congress without his efforts.

J.R. in Portland, OR, writes: S.B. of New Castle wonders what eponym might be assigned to the Trump era. I suggest "a confederacy of dunces," with apologies to John Kennedy Toole.

J.B.C. in St. Louis, MO, writes: In response to S.B. from New Castle, starting as early as the 1960's, speculative fiction author Robert Heinlein started referring to the then-future 1990's and 2000's as "The Crazy Years." I've been fond of that name and think it fits quite well with the current age.

P.J.T. in Raton, NM, writes: Responding to S.B. from New Castle, who wondered if Donald Trump might be remembered eponymously, along the lines of the genocidal "Old Hickory," Andrew Jackson, may I recommend "Trumplethinskin"? It fully captures his propensity for temper tantrums, alludes to his fear of the truth, and is revealing of the "man's" nature, the thin skin behind his demanding of loyalty pledges and NDA's, his having other people "fire" officials in his cabinet who've stood up to his particular insanities, and his willingness to threaten members of his own party who do not goose-step singing his praises. Full disclosure: origin unknown, found it on Facebook a few years back. Sure wish I'd thought of it myself, though!

Biden's Challenges

J.T. in Greensboro, NC, writes: The question from J.B. in Pinckney about the difficulty for Joe Biden on assuming office made me think of the Siena College presidential rankings, which include a column for "Luck." This isn't exactly a measure of the situation on entering office, but is the closest rating to it. William Harrison (44th) and other presidents who died in office have bad "Luck" ratings for obvious reasons. Among those who managed to survive their presidency, Hoover scores the worst (43).

If we think about the things that potentially will make life difficult for Biden (pandemic, economic crisis, a [potentially] hostile Senate, challenges to legitimacy of the office, a cripplingly polarized nation, and a notoriously corrupt predecessor administration) we could look for comparisons. Rutherford Hayes seems to tick quite a few of the same boxes and he ranks 21. Perhaps also John Quincy Adams as well, who ranks 28. The aforementioned Hoover perhaps had a bit in common with Biden in terms of the situation on assuming office. Then again, Woodrow Wilson had a pandemic to deal with and the historians have rated him 14th on Luck.

A better-read person could probably draw better connections to situate Biden, but it certainly seems that among presidents, he's got to be among the more "unlucky" presidents-elect in terms of the difficulty ahead of him.

J.K. in Short Hills, NJ, writes: As I am sure local, state, and Federal government and medical officials would claim, the distribution of the vaccine to at least 200 million Americans is hardly a "lay-up," as you contend. The logistical challenges of the two presently approved drugs, which include storage and transportation complexities, make it one of the greatest coordinated undertakings in our nation's history. Although the Trump Administration's goal of inoculating 20 million people by December 31 was never realistic, the White House should not shoulder all of the blame for the shortfall. According to Bloomberg, which used the CDC and various state dashboards to collect the data, the Dakotas and West Virginia had rates of inoculations triple of those from Maryland, Oregon, and Ohio through December 28. And while one can reasonably argue that the President, as well as other notable politicians, botched the early response to the virus and contributed to the outlying number of deaths in this country, his leadership of Operation Warp Speed should not be underestimated. The program was run more like a business than something organized by the government. Nothing was unquestionably more important for mitigating the impact of the pandemic than the development of the vaccine.

V & Z respond: You're right, vaccinating 200 million people is not a lay-up. However, setting a realistic goal for the first month of vaccinations, and then meeting (or nearly meeting) that goal, thus getting things off to a good start? That is very much a lay-up in our view, particularly given how much vaccine has been produced and how much demand there is for it.

Sanders and the Progressives

C.M.W. in Myrtle Beach, SC, writes: You wrote: "[The debate over Neera Tanden] suggests that anyone who passes muster with the progressives can't get past Senate Republicans...while anyone who passes muster with Senate Republicans will not be acceptable to the progressives."

This is the problem with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) in general. He doesn't think about the reality of politics. He likes to think the world is the way it should be and not the way it is, and it's why if he ever got elected President his following would soon abandon him, because he can't just make free college and Medicare for All by waving his hand.

He is a terrible politician and just does not think about the big picture. As you said, the right thing to do would have been to keep his mouth shut publicly and talk to Biden privately, but he likes the ego boost of being a rabble rouser and "sticking to his guns" even though he has no clue how to get things done.

It's just a matter of idealism vs. the art of the possible, and Bernie just does not get the art of the possible.

J.P. in Kansas City, KS, writes: I have to take issue with Bernie Sanders. I'm a rather liberal individual. I agree with the Senator on most of the issues. But I don't agree with his lack of any compromise at all. I also think that he's become as much about his celebrity as he is about the issues, but I digress.

There's no way that the Democrats are 40% liberal, or even the 35% that he claims to be the low end. The Party would have more respect for their liberal wing if that were the case. I don't know what the actual number is, but I'd guess that it's more like 20 to 30%. And probably a lot closer to the middle of that range. His poor grasp on reality is more than likely what leads to his unwillingness to give any to get any.

C.O. in East Lansing, MI, writes: You expressed surprise that Bernie Sanders would publicly call out Joe Biden on failing to put enough progressives into his cabinet and then pointed out that Biden may just be waiting to fill the final cabinet positions until after the Georgia runoff elections to know if such candidates would have a chance of being confirmed.

Of course, if Biden is following that plan, perhaps he asked Sanders to call him out on it. This re-emphasizes Biden's moderate credentials leading up to the Georgia election, while not forcing him to make any commitments one way or another. Sanders' language might make progressives more annoyed with Biden in the short term, but that annoyance will be repaired once Biden hands the final cabinet positions to them and Sanders once again tells everyone how supportive they should be of Biden.

D.M. in Holden, Massachusetts, writes: I am not clear why you are so dug in on defining "Neera Tanden" as a progressive. Your readers are trying to tell you that Tanden is viewed by many as an establishment Clinton Democrat. You keep trying to parse definitions, like the definition of "progressive." You are missing the greater point. Tanden is an objectionable choice to many people who vote Democratic. She is an objectionable choice to supporters of Bernie Sanders. She is objectionable to many people who identify as "liberals." Take a step back, stop trying to defend your word choice, and notice that there is a group of voters on the left who are telling you they don't want her to be sworn in as OMB Director.

J.L.J. in San Francisco, CA, writes: The self-anointed so-called "progressives" and their war against actual progressives have found their way into the comments. Again.

One of the great ironies of Trump claiming election fraud is seeing all the "progressives" in my social media world trashing him and his lunacy. It is irony because these are the same clowns I argued with in 2016, who tried to convince anyone who would listen the DNC rigged the primary against Bernie Sanders. The same folks who took me to the mat arguing that the feckless DNC got Arizona election officials to rig the state-run primary for Hillary Clinton now laugh at Donald Trump for claiming, well, pretty much the same damn thing they were absolutely certain was a real thing in 2016. Little wonder Trump was happy to assert Sanders got cheated.

What I feel has happened over the past decade or so is that all the radicals decided to start calling themselves "progressive" so as to find a more willing ear. But progressive they are not. To give the most infamous example, unless you support a very specific policy proposal from Bernie Sanders, you are not a progressive, no matter what you believe. Yet, of all the nations that have achieved universal healthcare, only a few have anything close to Medicare for All. Most nations found other ways to achieve universal converge. I support universal healthcare coverage, and could care less how we get there. The Belgian model? The Australian model? Bernie's plan? Does it pass congress? Great, I'll take it. Hooray, we have universal healthcare! But because I'm not willing to forgo all avenues of getting there, in favor of that One Infallible Sanders Plan, I cannot be a progressive. I find such notions insulting, absurd, and definitely nothing close to progressive.

Another dead horse is the minimum wage, where the entire debate clearly occurs on the Left side of the ledger. Few Republicans support the idea that there should even be a minimum wage. Yet Democrats agree we should have one, and within there lies the debate. Should it be raised? Sure. By how much? If you agree with Sanders, congratulations, you're a progressive! If you agree we should have one, and agree it should be raised, but come in with a number lower than Sanders', you're a neoliberal tool who must be destroyed. Again, absurd.

With all the Radicals now calling themselves "progressive" (akin to all the Reactionaries now calling themselves "conservative"), and related to the point about "progressives" thinking state-run elections are so easily rigged, I'll note I haven't seen these folks show much support for liberal democracy (at least until Trump started his bit about election rigging). I am often left thinking those I debate would be happy with minority rule or even dictatorship, just so long as their minority or their dictator is in charge. Hardly different, it seems, than the Reactionaries. While some Radical socialists and populists have a history of supporting such things, progressives don't. Yet I cannot call myself a progressive without getting laughed out of the room—much like Neera Tanden. I have instead changed my self-identification to "I have a liberal political philosophy with progressive ideals." It's a mouthful, and not a winner, but it seems socialist and populist Radicals have succeeded in wresting the "progressive" label from the erstwhile progressives.

Gender and Politics

N.T. in Dallas, TX, writes: You wrote: "First, if anyone voted against Clinton based partly or wholly on her gender, then sexism played a role in the campaign. Full stop. If other folks voted for her because of her gender, it does not change that."

You are consistently missing the point, and since you are both smart and educated in basic logic, it must be somehow on purpose. The original poster was making the point that sexism is a two way street. and therefore "If other folks voted for her because of her gender, it does not change that." Of course it does not "change that." Since it is sexism, too.

V & Z respond: You are using a definition of sexism that is not the actual definition. Would you propose that all of the Black folks who voted for Barack Obama so that the country might have its first Black president were racists?

D.B. in Winston-Salem, NC, writes: In your answer, you said: "Third, Clinton is not just any woman candidate, she was a much loathed candidate for the highest office in the land (and possibly in the world), facing off against an opponent who had zero boundaries."

Whenever I see statements like this, I wonder why the concentrated smear campaign against Clinton is not mentioned.

She was not a "much loathed candidate" to the same degree until she came under Republican scrutiny during her husband's presidency. She quit using the name "Hillary Rodham" and acquiesced to being "Hillary (Rodham) Clinton". She worked on substantive things (rather than ripping out the gardens) and was criticized for not being a decorative wifey. Every step she took was criticized and railed at. The criticism built on itself, as I see it, until one can summarize by saying she was a "much loathed candidate".

This perception was manufactured. That should be noted.

V & Z respond: That answer was clumsily written, but this is what we were trying to get at, namely that Clinton was likely subjected to far more sexism than the average female candidate because of who she is (and who her husband is). Thanks for clearing that up.

A.B. in Wendell, NC, writes: I had to comment here, seeing as I actually ran for the NC State Senate in 2020—as this state's first openly-trans woman candidate. There was also, in another district, the first openly-trans man in state history, also running for NC Senate.

Seeing as how I got a late start in my campaign, as a result of gerrymandering shenanigans (I did not know until 2 months before filing what district I would even be in), and seeing as how I was up against a better-funded candidate who had run before (while I was a first-run), I did far better in my primary than most people expected. So, as a trans candidate, I would say I see no actual evidence of "gender penalty" against a trans least not in my district!

I should note that my district has a fairly even urban/rural split; it's the one state Senate district that includes part of Wake County and that was not already blue (you could say I ran to represent the red part of Wake County). The district also covers all of Franklin County to the north, which is more rural and conservative than Wake. Many trans candidates run in districts far bluer than my own (for example, Grey Ellis in District 20), although not always (for example, my friend Misty Snow ran in Utah). There were more trans candidates on the ballot in more places in America in 2020 than in any year previous, and Sarah McBride managed to cross the finish line in Delaware. More notably, Stephanie Byers did so in Kansas!

Honestly, while I can point to many areas of injustice we transgender people face (especially seeing as I live in the land of HB-2), I can say I saw no injustice or bias of any kind against me in my candidacy. And when it was over and done, I nursed my grief for about a week, as about any losing candidate will do, and then I rolled up my sleeves to work for my former primary opponent—who, I am happy to report, won in November. Congrats, Sarah!

If there is any "gender penalty" assigned to trans candidates (and I saw none in my race), I think it is something that, if it does exist now, is already on its way out. The days when Danica Roem made history are gone, and we are getting closer to my own comments about Danica's win when I was interviewed about it. At the time, I said, "When someone like Danica...or myself...or even Wendy (who was on the interview with me) can win an election and it's no big deal will be the day we have truly arrived. If we are not yet there, then we are close."

Dead Senators Society

W.W.W. in Jacksonville, FL, writes: You answered the question from J.W.C. in Honolulu about representatives-elect and senators-elect who passed away before they were sworn in, and wrote: "As to senators-elect, we can find only one example of one who died before assuming office. The good people of Wyoming chose then-Rep. Edwin Keith Thomson (R) to be their senator on Nov. 8, 1960, but then he suffered a fatal heart attack on Dec. 9, 1960."

You missed Napoleon Bonaparte Broward, who ran for the U.S. Senate while he was still Governor of Florida in 1908. He lost the race. Soon after his term as governor ended, he ran for the Senate again and defeated incumbent senator James Taliaferro. On June 22, 1910, Broward became Florida's U.S. senator-elect.

During and after the strenuous campaign, Broward had complained about gallstones, but nothing was ever done about them. In September he had an acute gallstone attack, and he died on October 1, 1910, in Jacksonville, six months before his scheduled inauguration on March 4, 1911.

I.H. in Washington, DC, writes: In your response to JWC's question yesterday about members of Congress who died before they could be sworn into office you named only one senator-elect who met an untimely demise.

As you probably know, but maybe did not mention because he died before the Senate election was contested on Oct. 16, 2000, Missouri governor Mel Carnahan was flying in a plane piloted by his son when it crashed, killing all three people aboard. Too late to remove Carnahan's name from the Democratic line on the ballot, newly sworn in governor Roger Wilson promised to appoint Jean Carnahan, the deceased Governor's wife, to fill Missouri's U.S. Senate vacancy should Mel Carnahan win posthumously.

And that's exactly what happened. With the help of the campaign slogan "I'm Still with Mel," the deceased candidate defeated John Ashcroft (whose consolation prize was a gig as Attorney General of the United States during George W. Bush's first term).

Other Historical Matters

F.L. in Denton, TX, writes: In response to K.P. in Brooklyn, NY, as to why Hollywood stars sometimes fade, another possibility is that—deservedly or not—they get caught up in scandals. Perhaps the most egregious example was what happened to Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle. I would propose a verb that to be 'arbuckled' is to be convicted in the court of public opinion before being tried in a court of law. I'm certain this has happened to several politicians.

O.Z.H. in Dubai, UAE, writes: I am a bit confused about the trajectory your Q&A is taking. Your site is a political site focused on elections and the results thereof. Why, then, are you responding to questions about the longevity of Hollywood stars (past vs present) or answering questions about historical facts that have nothing to do with politics, per se?

While I appreciate that (Z) is a historian, is his opinion on the number of duels actually fought by Andrew Jackson any better than what you would find from a Google search (which, incidentally, leads you to comprehensive responses at and The Washington Post to that very question)? I know it's your site and you can choose to answer any questions you like, but it would be sad if your Q & A became a once-a-week substitute for people who are too lazy to use a search engine.

V & Z respond: We are both teachers, and when you are a teacher you learn that there is value in letting the students (or readers) explore the angles that are of particular interest to them. Maybe that will not always result in valuable insight, but sometimes it does, in the same way that not all scientific studies generate significant results, but some do. Further, we try to end as many posts as is possible (particularly the Saturday and Sunday posts) with "dessert"—something that may not be critically important, but that is enjoyable and serves as a reward for those who made it to the end.

Also: It's true the Internet has a lot of information. It also has a lot of bad information, particularly when it comes to medicine, history, and politics. It is often useful to hear from an expert who can separate the good stuff from the garbage.

J.N. in Las Vegas, NV, writes: In discussing Donald Trump's visits to the golf course, you recently invoked the story of Nero playing fiddle while Rome burned, while suggesting there was some controversy as to the truth of that story. This is categorically false. Nero did not play the fiddle at all, and could not have, because the fiddle/violin would not be invented for well over a thousand years after his death. The legend of Nero fiddling while Rome burned is a relatively modern retelling of contemporary accusations that Nero was on stage, in costume, singing "The Sack of Ilium" during the fire. While Nero was an accomplished lute player and performer, these particular stories came from his political enemies in what was essentially the Fox News of the era, and are not widely credited by modern historians.

What we do know is that Nero organized fire-fighting efforts and paid for relief efforts out of his own pocket. He opened his private gardens to those whose homes were destroyed in the fire, and fed them from his private stores. Comparing Trump to Nero is a compliment that Trump has not earned and does not deserve.

V & Z respond: In sidebar clauses like that, we can only briefly summarize the subject, without much nuance. That said, we have previously pointed out the non-existence of fiddles in Nero's time.

P.A. in Redwood City, CA, writes: Anyone who is interested in Andrew Jackson and who enjoys political snark (and if you don't, why are you reading this site?) should check out the musical "Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson," which re-imagines the president as a petulant rock star. There is a very funny song about the Corrupt Bargain with lyrics like, "John Quincy Adams says, 'If my dad was president I should get to be president too,'" reflecting the Bush era when the show was written. The introduction, "Populism, Yea, Yea," is scarily prescient with lyrics like:

Take a stand against the elite,
They don't care anything for us,
And we will eat sweet democracy
And let them eat our dust.


We'll take the land back from the Indians,
We'll take the land back from the French and Spanish...
I'm pretty sure it's our land anyway.

T.W. in Englewood, CO, writes: In regards to Herbert Hoover, 110 years ago, my mother's parents immigrated to Colorado from Belgium, along with others from the small city of Wavelgem. Other relatives stayed and over time contact between the new world emigres and the old world Belgians was lost. Through the wonders of genealogy databases and the Internet, however the separated family was once again in touch by the turn of the millennium. When I visited my cousin, then a graduate student at the Katholic University in Leuven, he made a point of taking me to the library. There is prominently displayed a huge bust of Herbert Hoover that refers to him to as "The Savior of Belgium." He is admired and revered for his work during and after World War I with the Commission for the Relief of Belgium, providing food to seven million starving victims of German occupation. A main plaza in Leuven is named Herbert Hooverplein!

I was astonished. I am a typical American of my generation and my opinion of Herbert Hoover was along the lines of most of the observations in this forum; that he was uncharismatic, largely ineffective and within the bottom 10% of all U.S. Presidents. I know that his Belgian work occurred before he was president, but it gave me some historical perspective that tempered my harsh judgment as to his performance.

While he still ranks in the bottom 10% on my list, at least he had a sense of decency that the current incumbent lacks absolutely.

V & Z respond: We actually answered a question, back in June, on the subject of presidents who are popular in other countries. We didn't mention Hoover, but we did have James Monroe, John F. Kennedy, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush, among others.


A.H. in Newberg, OR, writes: Your Grumpy isn't the only one:

Several mugs and hats featuring
Grumpy from Snow White are lined up in front of a computer screen with loaded.

J.B. in Springfield, MO, writes: As a former IT guy, I can confirm the grumpiness...

An xkcd cartoon shows
terrorists being cowed by a computer support guy who has fixed the wires they cut

Also, January is my birthday month. I put out an open call to the universe this morning. I've never asked for anything before, but if somehow Trump could be perp walked out of the White House, I'll never ask for anything again! Here's to 2021!

V & Z respond: Happy Birthday! May all your birthday wishes come true.

B.H. in Kalamazoo, MI, writes: I am also one of your undercounted women readers. I am white, cisgendered, 69 years old, a grandmother, mother (obviously), friend, RN and Democrat. A few years ago, when I was newly single, I dated several engineers. Not at the same time; I don't want you to get the wrong impression. I thought they were all on the spectrum! I complained about this to a surgeon friend and he said: "Do you know the difference between a surgeon and an engineer? When a surgeon talks to you he looks at your shoes instead of his own!"

D.S. in Palo Alto, CA, writes: I, an engineer type, think Elon Musk is a charismatic engineer. Non-engineer types would almost certainly not think so.

M.K. in Toronto, Canada, writes: You wrote: "Santa wears a red suit, Rudolph has a red nose, Frosty the Snowman wears a red cap, and Scrooge hates paying taxes. Clearly, they are all Republicans."

When I started reading that list, I thought you were going to imply that they are communists. After all, the color red has been associated with communism more consistently, and longer, than with the GOP. So let's take a closer look at these icons' political views.

Scrooge is undoubtedly a capitalist, and would fit in very well with the Republican Party. Frosty is less plausible, given his extreme vulnerability to global warming. He certainly shouldn't be Republican, although I may be assuming a rationality and awareness of reality that I shouldn't. Rudolph is a kid who was bullied incessantly by his peers—the kind that the conservative punditry like to deride as a snowflake. So I doubt he's a Republican. That leaves Santa, who is somewhat harder to pin down, because his embrace of surveillance technology ("He sees you when you're sleeping / He knows when you're awake") would make him quite at home among both Republicans and Communists.

V & Z respond: You forget that Frosty's eyes are made out of coal, which means that if the coal economy goes away, he'll be blind. We all know which party is trying to keep coal alive. As to Rudolph, we can only point out that Rudolph Giuliani, Rudolph Boschwitz, and Gerald Rudolph Ford were all members of the same party, and it wasn't the Democrats. And what exactly was it that turned his nose bright red? Is it possible that he shares a "hobby" with Donald Trump Jr.?

S.M.G. in Chicago, IL, writes: Regarding red Santas and reindeer noses:

A Santa with a blue suit,
holding a Biden/Harris coffee cup, with a caption that says 'I'm getting my Christmas wish on Jan. 20'

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Jan02 Missed It By That Much
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Jan01 Over 100 Republicans Are Planning on Challenging Biden's Victory
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Jan01 The Stock Market Did Great in 2020
Jan01 Could Georgia Be a Split Decision?
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Jan01 Trump's Legacy: A Divide on Trusting the Media
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Dec29 Biden: Department of Defense Is Dragging Its Feet
Dec29 What the President-elect Can Do To Improve Elections
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Dec29 They Were Trump Before Trump, Part II: Andrew Jackson
Dec28 Trump Signs on the Dotted Line
Dec28 House Will Vote on Upping the Checks to $2,000 Today
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Dec27 Sunday Mailbag
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Dec25 Trump Creating Chaos in Washington...
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Dec25 Holiday Quiz: The Sequel
Dec25 Fox News Is Now in the Christmas Movie Business
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Dec24 Trump Vetoes the Defense Bill
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