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      •  Saturday Q&A

Saturday Q&A

We never know exactly where the Q&A will go until it gets there.

Q: You wrote that it may take some time, possibly years, for Florida to draw up a new Congressional district map. How will that work when the state is supposed to gain a seat in the House? If the new map is not agreed by next year's midterms, does that mean the Florida delegation would be short one member until a new map is agreed? Similarly, if a state that's losing seats fails to draw up a new map reflecting that before the midterms, is one of their delegation simply not seated? How would that be decided? R.S., Sleepy Hollow, NY

A: Sorry, we should have been more precise there. Legally speaking, it is necessary for a state to have a map with the proper number of districts. If a state cannot produce a "permanent" map (i.e., a map for the next decade) consistent with whatever that state's laws call for, then a federal judge will impose a temporary map that the judge deems to be fair. That would be better for the Democrats than a map that Florida Republicans deem to be fair.

Q: New York lost one House seat for want of 89 people. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-NY) says he will ask for a recount to restore the current number of 27 seats for the state. Would he be able to do this, and do you think he would be successful? Has this been done in the past? R.H.D., Webster, NY

A: It has been done in the past. Perhaps the most notoriously bad census was the one conducted in 1870. It would have been hard enough to deal with the changes wrought by the Civil War, including mass movements of population, increases in immigration, and citizenship for the freedmen and women. But on top of that, most big cities were run, by that time, by urban bosses for whom higher population meant more patronage, more federal money, and bragging rights (for example, St. Louis was delighted to be deemed slightly more populous than Chicago). These bosses had no qualms about putting their (grubby) fingers on the scale, as it were, to get their numbers up.

At the same time, there were also Republican appointees in Washington who had no qualms about undercounting Democratic-controlled cities by sending too few census-takers and giving them too little time to do their jobs. We know, it's hard to imagine Republicans in Washington conspiring to deliberately undercount urban, Democratic voters, but it happened! Anyhow, there was eventually enough of a stink that the Ulysses S. Grant administration was persuaded to order recounts of New York City, Philadelphia, and Indianapolis. The recounts did not change any state's representation in Congress, however.

The point is that it is within the power of the president (or of Congress) to order a complete new census, or to order a partial new census (one city, one county, one state, etc.). If that census was to change the apportionment calculations, then it would be up to Congress to decide what to do with that information. They could say "sorry, too late!" They could adopt a new reapportionment, and take a seat away from some other state (Minnesota, in this case). Or they could expand the House to 436 people until 2032.

Q: Hypothetical: The Yellowstone Caldera erupts in a limited, not-extinction-level event that makes Wyoming (and, we would presume, much of Idaho and Montana) nearly unlivable, to the point where their population drops 90%. Is a state with 60,000 citizens still a state that gets two senators and a representative? W.J., Van Nuys, CA

A: Once statehood is conferred, there is no mechanism for revoking it, and there is certainly no population minimum below which statehood is forfeit.

That means that even a state with one citizen would retain its congressional entitlement, though there would not be enough legally qualified residents of the state to actually fill all three posts. Indeed, even a state with zero citizens would still retain its entitlement, though in that case the problem of not having enough qualified residents would be joined by the problems of having nobody to vote for candidates, nor anyone to certify their victory. So, the entitlement would remain, but the seats themselves would be vacant.

Q: Let's have some fun and run a hypothetical. Say Democrats in the House suffered a handful more of unfortunate deaths, and the Republicans came out on top with a one-seat majority. How do you think things would play out? Would Republicans demand to be made chairs of all committees? Would Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) strike some kind of deal knowing that the seats would just (most likely) end up back in the Democrats' hands? Could Republicans vote to force out Pelosi and usher in their own Speaker? M.U., Seattle, WA

A: This circumstance has arisen a few times in the past, but only in the Senate. And the usual custom, both in the name of collegiality and so as to avoid a game of tit-for-tat, has been to allow the once (and presumed future) majority party to continue its leadership uninterrupted.

That said, we doubt that the current crop of House Republicans care one whit for custom or collegiality. They would absolutely demand everything they were entitled to by their numbers, including the speakership (which can indeed be re-voted mid-term), even if their stay in power was likely to be brief. And while they had control of the committees, even for a few weeks or a month, they would undoubtedly launch all sorts of investigations meant to fire up the base and embarrass the Democrats.

Q: Why is Elise Stefanik (R-NY) the choice to take over the House Republican Conference? If the Party is looking for a Congresswoman, why is she preferred over the more experienced Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), the former Chair who preceded Liz Cheney (R-WY)? Rodgers is plenty Trumpy: She was one of the 126 GOP House members who supported the failed lawsuit to challenge the 2020 election results in Pennsylvania. H.F., Pittsburgh PA

A: We don't know what conversations Kevin McCarthy had with his colleagues, but when he was recruiting Stefanik, he thought he was picking someone who might be in leadership for years. So, he was looking for a rising star, which Stefanik is (or was), and Rodgers isn't.

Also, McCarthy wanted things to be as smooth and non-divisive as possible, so he wanted someone with some moderate bona fides, and some Trumpy bona fides. That describes Stefanik much more than Rodgers.

Finally, Republican pooh-bahs do seem to think pretty carefully about how their high-profile women members will look on TV (think: Sarah Palin). That may be particularly true today, given that the Party is run by a man who judges women almost entirely based on their appearance. So, we suspect that Stefanik's youth and attractiveness were selling points.

Q: Can the results of the voice vote, at least in principle, be leaked? For example, if someone with a "good memory" (and an ax to grind) wrote it down afterwards and leaked it to the press? Obviously, there's no way to guarantee the source (unless they were even more surreptitious and secretly recorded the voice vote), but could it happen? Has it ever happened? P.M., Somerville, MA

A: A voice vote is not taken in sequence, it's taken en masse. So, everyone who votes "yes" says "aye," all at the same time, and then everyone who votes "no" says "nay," all at the same time. A person might plausibly be able to identify how the two or three people closest to them voted, but that's it.

Q: Would it be possible or workable in any way, for Sens. Mitt Romney (R-UT) and/or Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), and any other Republican Senators who have an interest in actually legislating, to caucus with the Democrats as Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) does? What if they declared: "I'm now a Democratic-Republican?"

I realize this is problematic for them politically, but assuming they can hold their seats, they could always return to a more moderate Republican party, should such a party appear, couldn't they? In the past, various legislators have actually switched parties. Is there any current Senator, of either party, who might consider making a switch?
R.C., Lenexa, KS

A: Certainly it's possible to switch, or to semi-switch by becoming (in effect) an independent like Sen. Angus King (I-ME). Nearly everyone who has ever switched mid-session has done so for one (or both) of two reasons (1) They think the switch will make them more electable in future elections, and/or (2) They were offered the moon in exchange for flipping parties.

Murkowski, Romney, Susan Collins (R-ME), Pat Toomey (R-PA), and any other GOP senator who might plausibly switch are well aware that the moon could be theirs for the asking; presumably they are not interested or they would have asked and received already. And the only one who makes sense in terms of electability, maybe, is Lisa Murkowski. She is not wildly popular with Trumpy Republicans in her home state, and the advent of ranked-choice voting means that if she ran as an independent, she could plausibly put together a coalition of centrists, Democrats, non-Trumpy Republicans, etc. Heck, she won as an independent once before. However, her stated position thus far is that she has no intention of leaving the GOP.

Q: I've had several discussions with people who insist that a business has no right to refuse to serve customers who aren't vaccinated, especially if the person isn't vaccinated due to a medical condition. My understanding is that while a business (like a retail store) can refuse to allow an unvaccinated person into the building, they could accommodate them by bringing the items the person wants out to the parking lot. It would be no different than serving a person without a shirt and shoes who isn't allowed inside for that reason.

My question is, can an employer legally fire an employee who refuses vaccination? On one hand, I would assume that the Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits discrimination against people for valid medical reasons, but an employer isn't obligated to accommodate an employee if that would risk the health of other employees and customers. If a truck driver loses his eyesight, his employer doesn't have to let him drive trucks anymore. Would a vaccination requirement work the same way? If someone refuses the vaccine for political reasons, would that make a difference?
L.B., Savannah, GA

A: First, federal law only prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, familial status, and disability. Some states extend the list to other classes, most commonly LGBTQ+ and/or veterans. Beyond those specifically protected groups, anything else is fair game. A business can refuse service, and an employer can refuse employment (or terminate you) because they don't like your preferred political party, or because they don't approve of what kind of car you drive, or because they don't like the cut of your jib. Vaccination status is not a protected class, so discrimination on that basis is perfectly legal (in either direction), unless your vaccination status derives from some other protected status (for example, you have a verifiable medical reason, which would be considered a disability, or you have a verifiable religious reason). If you skip vaccination for political reasons, that has no legal significance, because political belief is not on the protected list.

In addition, a business or employer is required only to make reasonable accommodations when it comes to protected groups. For example, if you are an orthodox Jew, you cannot be fired on that basis, nor can you be barred from bringing kosher food to work, or wearing a kippah, or observing religious holidays. On the other hand, if the employer (or the store) has a cafeteria, they are not legally required to also maintain a kosher cafeteria for Jewish employees, and a halal cafeteria for Muslim employees, and a beef-free cafeteria for Hindu employees, etc.

Finally, discriminatory behavior is permissible if it has a legitimate basis. For example, if a movie studio is making a biopic about Jackie Robinson, they are allowed to consider only Black, male actors for the lead. If a private Catholic school wants to hire only Catholic teachers, they can do that. Even if "non-vaccinated" was a protected status, an employer or business still would be allowed to discriminate, on the basis that such persons constitute a danger to other employees/customers.

In short, those who forego the COVID-19 vaccine, and suffer consequences at the hands of employers/businesses, have no legal leg to stand on when it comes to alleged "discrimination" unless their vaccination status stems from some other, protected status. And even then, there are limits to how much accommodation they can demand.

Q: You've written about the politicization of public health measures during the pandemic (such as social distancing, wearing masks, getting vaccinated, wearing masks, etc.). It's clear that some Trumpy public officials (including Trump himself) and right-wing media people have privately chosen to get vaccinated even as they continue to question vaccinations in public. What do you think about a series of television commercials, internet ads, public-service announcements (etc.) listing well-known right-wingers who have gotten vaccinated? Might that help more resistant elements of the public to consider the vaccination? Or would these be brushed off as leftist propaganda? E.D., Minneapolis, MN

A: It's possible, but we foresee several problems. The first is paying for the ads. It would be politically problematic for the government to fund a campaign like this, and a private entity might not be interested in footing the bill.

The second issue is that it will be difficult to reach the people being targeted. Ideally, you would want the ads to air on Fox, OANN, and Newsmax, but they are not going to accept such ads for airing. Can you imagine Fox, for example, allowing a commercial during Tucker Carlson's show that calls Carlson a liar and a hypocrite because he's been vaccinated while promoting anti-vaxx conspiracy theories?

Finally, you pretty much cannot underestimate the ninja-level cognitive-dissonance-resolution skills of many anti-vaxxers and many Republican voters. Allow us to share a brief anecdote. (Z) sometimes goes onto various media platforms under an assumed name to argue with folks, just to see how far they are willing to take their views (or, on occasion, to confirm how little many "Christians" actually know about the Bible). He had this exchange with a Trump supporter in Louisiana this week:

Trump Supporter: There is no need for a ban on assault weapons, because the issue is people, not guns. In the right hands, even a spoon is an assault weapon.

(Z): C'mon. What percentage of people can kill someone with a spoon? And how does that compare to the percentage of people who can kill someone with a gun? That is clearly a false equivalency.

Trump Supporter: The percentage of people capable of using a spoon to kill is likely much higher than the percentage of people who can actually handle a gun and use it to kill someone.

(Z): So spoons are actually more dangerous than guns, then?

There's been no reply to that last observation yet. But a person who can convince themselves that spoons are the real danger—think of the children!—can surely convince themselves that claims Donald Trump, or Sean Hannity, or Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) were vaccinated are just liberal lies.

Q: Perhaps I am not very good at interpreting nuance, but I am struggling to reconcile your series of "Whither the Republicans" pieces with your piece about GOP unity that was published on your site the day after Liz Cheney was ousted from House Republican leadership.

I assume the fault is mine, and I am simply failing to see the common threads, but I would very much appreciate some clarification that would help me understand the bigger picture.
B.C., Forest Park, IL

A: If you fail to understand what we have written, in any way, then it is a very safe assumption that the fault is yours.

Just kidding, of course. There are two answers to your question; one minor and one major. The minor answer is that the "whither" pieces were written by (Z), and the piece you are referring to was written by (V). While we tend to see eye to eye on most things, there are occasional areas of disagreement. In this case, (Z) thinks that fissures in the Party are closer to the surface than (V) does.

The major answer, however, is that the "whither" pieces were not about internal strife within the Party, they were about externalities that will make it difficult for the Republicans to win national elections if they continue on their current path. The Party might currently be unified (in large part due to the departure or purging of anti-Trump elements), but its size and its power are shrinking as some of their demographic groups shrink (e.g., evangelicals), as their allies in corporate America pull back, as folks like Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) and Matt Gaetz (R-FL) disgust and alienate moderates/independents/suburbanites, and as an increasingly powerful and increasingly unhinged right-wing media adopts messaging that is a turnoff to all but the base.

If you would like a metaphor, the Party's leadership is spinning an awfully large number of plates right now. It's working for them, but it's never easy to keep something like that going.

Q: You've done a pretty comprehensive analysis of the threats posed to the Republican Party and their uncertain future. I'm wondering, however, if they are growing a new base of blue-collar voters. Can you see a point, for example, where a state like Michigan becomes reliably red? E.H., Dublin, Ireland

A: They do appear to be attracting blue-collar voters or, more precisely, non-college-educated white voters. The problem is that this is a group that is shrinking rapidly relative to the overall population. In 2016, they made up 45% of eligible voters. In 2020, they made up just 41%. So, even if the GOP continues to expand their reach with this demographic (and it's not clear there are that many left who are open to being won over), they will be standing pat at best, and more likely will lose ground to the Democrats overall.

For this reason, it's improbable that Michigan will become a truly red state anytime soon.

Q: The erosion of the Republican Party begins to frighten me. I wonder about the origin of this destructive force. Is it only Donald Trump? No, this myopic liar cannot be the mover behind such a deeply-rooted paradigm shift. The whole movement looks so well organized (in hindsight, not in foresight).

Who is the mind behind the "conservative" reality-bending? You have hinted at Ayn Rand, but she is too dead by now to pull the triggers. Can you name a think tank, well-financed, equipped with "learnt skolars?" That would fit my prejudices. Please enlighten me.
J.K., Bremen, Germany

A: You're right that it's been a team effort that unfolded over many years, and it is most certainly not solely due to Donald Trump (or even mostly to him).

You know the old bit about a frog in water? That is, that if you put a frog in boiling water, it will jump out. But if you put the frog in room temperature water, and then slowly bring the water to boiling, the frog will boil to death without ever noticing.

We don't actually think that is true, and we certainly have not and would not put it to the test, but we think it's a a pretty good way to think about someone like Ronald Reagan. If you got out your DeLorean and grabbed Ronnie out of the year 1985 and dropped him in the year 2021, he would have a tough time understanding the modern GOP. He might even be repulsed. However, if he had been alive this whole time, and had been along for the ride, shifting rightward by degrees, it is plausible that he'd be right there with Trump.

Anyhow, because this has been a decades-long process, and because many cooks have contributed to this particular broth, narrowing it down to one is a bit reductionist. However, if you insisted, we would pick...Rush Limbaugh. He was one of the few constants from 1980 to his passing this year, and his appetite for propaganda, for hateful rhetoric, for conspiratorial thinking, and for putting performance ahead of governance was present the whole time. The silver medal, meanwhile, goes to Roger Ailes, and the bronze to Newt Gingrich.

Q: Michelle Goldberg writes in The New York Times that, in essence, the Republican Party is aligning all the necessary cards to be able to steal the next presidential election through various means, including the exclusion of conservative Republicans who happened to work to uphold last year's election results. The case is convincing and the comments are almost universally pessimistic. Do you think the danger to our democracy is that imminent? E.F., Brussels, Belgium

A: There have already been a number of pieces like this, and there will be hundreds (thousands?) more between now and 2024. We're not sure that it is responsible journalism to promote what is, in effect, a conspiracy theory, but for some reason the staff of the Times does not consult us on coverage decisions. So, we have written about this before, and we will write about it now, and we will undoubtedly write about it many more times in the future, since it is and will be a subject of interest for readers.

The election that everyone thinks about, as they worry about 2024, is 2000. That was pretty obviously a stolen election, or at least it was an election where it's hard to argue that the key disputes were fairly and impartially adjudicated. But the key is that it was close enough, and was murky enough, that most people were willing to tolerate the result, because (1) they were Republicans, or (2) they were ok with either candidate, or (3) they did not fully grasp what happened, or (4) they figured that in an election so close, someone is going to end up winning in controversial fashion.

If Republicans can somehow create that same murkiness in 2024, such that the winner is unclear on Election Day, and the Party can eventually tip the scales in its favor with a little chicanery, that might work again. This is consistent with our stated position throughout the 2020 cycle, that when it comes to stealing an election, the "opportunities" all involve things that take place on or before Election Day (limiting who can vote, or how easy it is for them to vote, mucking around with the USPS, etc.).

Once the ballots are cast, stealing an election gets a lot harder. If it's close, and it comes down to one hotly contested state or two, and a corrupt official in those states risks prison and disappears 10,000 ballots from Atlanta or Austin or Milwaukee, then maybe. That's the kind of situation we describe above—fuzzy enough to exploit. Beyond that, however, there are exit polls and there will be media outlets making projections, and the like. It's actually not easy to mess around with voting numbers without leaving telltale signs. And anything beyond a fairly small margin is very likely to be detected.

When and if a winner is declared, either at the state level or nationwide, stealing that "victory" is nearly impossible, and the Republicans would be foolish to try. That doesn't mean they won't try, but it won't work out well for them if they do. Recall that, relative to 2000, the United States is now much more polarized. Recall also that the Republican Party has cultivated a national reputation for bending, breaking, and/or rewriting the rules to their own advantage. Finally, recall that Donald Trump (and most of all of the plausible alternative candidates) are loathed by a huge portion of the country. If the Republicans openly and obviously override the will of the voting public, either by having a state legislature step in and "award" electoral votes, or by House Republicans engaging in shenanigans, that will be a coup. And you can bet your bottom dollar that blue states like California and New York will not sit idly by.

There are two other insurance policies here against a coup. The first, which we have pointed out before, is that Joe Biden will remain in office for at least two weeks after the certification date. If there are overt, illegal acts, he isn't going to stand by and let them happen. He will not tolerate the theft of the presidency from himself, or from any other Democrat. The second is the courts. It's true the Republicans have stacked the federal bench with a lot of judges who don't seem to pay much attention to the law (Neomi Rao, Trevor McFadden, etc.), but the great majority of federal judges (and state judges, for that matter) have integrity. Witness how badly Trump 2020 fared in its various post-election lawsuits. The campaign lost before Bush judges, and Clinton judges, and Obama judges, and Trump judges. If both sides have a valid argument, then a Republican judge might be pulled in the Republican direction by their personal political sympathies. But if Kevin McCarthy or Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) or Donald Trump Jr. or anyone else tries to pull something that is obviously illegal and/or unconstitutional, they are going to get sued, and then they are going to get hauled before a federal judge, and then they are going to get smacked down.

Q: Obviously Republicans have been making a lot of allegations about the 2020 election, almost all of which are easily refuted. However, I've not been able to find one source that goes through all their allegations and the evidence against them. I can find individual items, like suitcases full of votes, but not the whole panoply. Also, since I don't frequent right wing propaganda, I'm not even aware of all the crazy things they are putting out there. Are you aware of a site or other source that has a nice summary of all the Republican talking points along with the evidence that shows them to be nonsense? If so, I think this would be a valuable resource for those of us who like to rely on facts rather than conspiracy theories. L.S., Greensboro, NC

A: We are not sure it is possible to put together a totally comprehensive resource. However, The New York Times has put together a nice little section of their website titled "Tracking Viral Misinformation." And is always a good resource. They have a weekly e-mail you can sign up for that runs down the latest potentially dubious stuff, and tells you how truthful it is.

Q: In your answer to R.H.D. from Webster, you mentioned jus sanguinis citizenship, such that a baby born to an American mother on a flight over the middle of the Pacific Ocean would still be a "natural born" U.S. citizen and eligible for the presidency. If that is the case, what was the putative legitimate basis for birtherism directed against Barack Obama? No one disputes (I think) that Ann Dunham was an American citizen when she gave birth to Barack. Suppose she had gotten on a flight to Kenya when she was nine months pregnant and delivered in Nairobi? Under jus sanguinis, Obama still would have been eligible to be president. So why did birthers even bother to claim Obama was born in Kenya, and second, why didn't Democrats (or sane, non-racist people generally) never respond not just with, "You're lying," but also with, "Anyway, so what?" R.E.M., Brooklyn, NY

A: Obama's father was not a citizen and, under the laws that were in effect when he was born, his mother had not been an adult resident of the U.S. for long enough to confer citizenship upon him (not because she had lived elsewhere, but because she was very young when she had him). That means that his claim to citizenship was jus soli, and if he really had been born in Kenya, he would not have been eligible to the presidency.

Beyond that, see our point above about ninja-level cognitive-dissonance-resolution skills. For many birthers, it did not matter what the Democrats said, or what evidence was produced, they were going to continue believing that any Black, that Barack Obama was not a legitimate president.

Q: Like many other Americans, I am in a mixed-politics relationship, and I am writing for advice from you and/or other readers in similar situations. Is it best to avoid politics altogether, and if not, what are the best ways to address issues on which you may have disagreements? I feel like I do understand my partner's perspective as a conservative, but it seems that the media tries to keep inventing new wedge issues to sow division, and my fear is that discussing political topics at all will bring unnecessary negativity into our relationship. I was curious how you and your readers have found ways to successfully overcome political divides while maintaining positivity as much as possible. Looking forward to hearing any responses! G.L., New York City, NY

A: We are not going to answer here, so as to leave the slate blank. Tomorrow, we are running letters about talking to hard-core Trumpers. Answers to your question would make a nice sequel to that, to run in a week. So, the mailbox is open for those who would care to share their thoughts.

Q: Sometimes I am particularly passionate about a political issue and want my elected officials at state or national levels to know what I think. My motivation, of course, is to try to get them to vote on bills the way I want them to. Over the last few years I have written personal e-mails to these officials, and if I'm lucky to get an email in response, it comes months later and explains how the senator/representative boldly represented the interests of their district by voting against the bill that I liked. Clearly, they didn't seem to hear me. Or maybe they did. Is it worth my time contacting political leaders who hold opinions opposite of mine? Likewise, is it worth contacting political leaders who hold opinions that are consistent with mine? I admit to only writing emails to Pat Toomey, since I assume Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) will vote the way I want. J.K., Greensburg, PA

A: It is worthwhile. Every member of Congress has staffers responsible for reading constituent feedback and preparing an executive summary for the boss to read. Any one individual communication may not have that much influence, but the weight of a bunch from many different constituents certainly can.

Also, the more investment involved, the more impact your communication will have. That is to say, an e-mail is less meaningful than a phone call, which in turn is less meaningful than a postal letter. Best of all, if it's possible, is to visit the member's constituent office hours, if they have them. Senators often don't, but representatives sometimes do, held in their district office when they are not in Washington. (Z), for example, once went to the office hours of former representative Lois Capps.

Q: My wife has Parkinsons and Type-1 diabetes and she has decided to apply for disability. Under normal circumstances, the process is difficult and can take up to three years to complete. But, these are not normal times. A few months ago, I seem to remember one of you mentioning the there's a Trump appointee embedded in the Social Security Administration that is purposely gumming up the works as it relates to disability claims. Am I remembering correctly?

My wife also receives some of her medications though the mail, which means that they are not guaranteed to arrive on time. What is the status of Postmaster General Louis DeJoy? Is it possible for him to be fired or at least, reassigned?
F.H., St. Paul, MN

A: As to Social Security, you're remembering semi-correctly. It's not a person; at the last minute before leaving office, Trump tried to make it harder to get disability benefits, primarily by reducing eligibility and subjecting recipients to more frequent and more onerous reviews. Dumping those new rules was one of the first tasks that Joe Biden took care of upon assuming office (it took him about a week).

As to the USPS, DeJoy answers to a board of governors that includes nine governors, the Deputy Postmaster General, and DeJoy himself. Thanks to confirmations made by the Senate just this past week, the membership of the board sits at five Republicans, four Democrats, and one independent (though the independent is a Biden appointee). Very likely this week, the final seat will be filled by Anton Hajjar, another Democrat and another Biden appointee. At that point, it will be possible for DeJoy to be dismissed, as long as all of the Democrats and the independent agree. They may wait a while for appearances' sake, but if we were DeJoy, we wouldn't sign a long-term D.C. apartment lease.

Q: You just wrote about a presidential candidate who is running for Mayor of New York City (Andrew Yang), and you referenced three consecutive mayors of New York City who became unsuccessful Presidential candidates. That made me curious: What other unsuccessful presidential candidates have gone on to run for an office that they've never held before, and how successful were they? I'm especially curious about those who, like Yang, never held any office before running for President. S.C., Mountain View, CA

A: It can be hard to identify exactly who was, and who was not, a "presidential candidate," particularly if you extend the window back before the primary/caucus era. So, we're going to limit our answer solely to candidates who got at least one electoral vote, who had never held elective office prior to that, and who ran for office after their unsuccessful presidential run. There are as many as three people who qualify, though one of them is...arguable.

To start, the slam-dunk answer is George McClellan. He parlayed his fame as a general into the 1864 Democratic presidential nomination. That was his first attempt at political office of any sort, elective or appointed, and he was crushed by Abraham Lincoln. More than a decade later, McClellan ran for, and won, the governorship of New Jersey.

A second answer is David Davis. He was a well respected Supreme Court justice, and he got one faithless electoral vote in 1872, as he had been discussed as a possible presidential candidate by Republicans. Five years later, the Illinois legislature elected him as a U.S. senator.

And finally, the arguable answer is John Jay, who got an electoral vote in 1792. It would not be correct to call that a faithless vote, however, since there were no formal political parties back then, and electors were supposed to vote for the candidates they liked best. Prior to that, Jay served in many appointed offices, including as a delegate to the Continental Congress. And while serving in that position, his fellow delegates "elected" him president. However, that was more like being chosen foreman of a jury, and was not an election in the sense we usually mean the term. After the U.S. achieved independence, and after Jay got that one EV, he ran for and was elected governor of New York.

In short, a failed presidential run would seem to presage electoral success once the candidate aims a little lower. That said, a sample size of three is rather small to draw any serious conclusions.

Q: Is there anyone who was more famous prior to becoming President than Ronald Reagan? I thought maybe Donald Trump? J.M., Nova Scotia, Canada

A: We will begin by observing that once a person becomes a major-party presidential nominee, it is inevitable they will become nationally famous. So, we will consider a person's level of fame prior to their candidacy, rather than prior to their presidency.

And while you are right that Reagan and Trump were quite famous, there are plenty of people who don't go to movies (or, at least, not the kind of movies Reagan starred in) or who don't watch TV (or, at least, not the kind of TV Trump starred in). There is simply no question that the most famous presidents, prior to the commencement of their candidacy, were Ulysses S. Grant and Dwight D. Eisenhower, who served as supreme commanders of their respective armies during an all-encompassing war. It would have been close to impossible to be a voting-age American in 1868 and to not know Grant, or to be an American in 1952 and to not know Eisenhower.

You might say that George Washington should also be on the list, and he's certainly way up there. However, there wasn't a mass media in that day. There were also sizable communities of Americans who had little connection to mainstream society, either due to insularity (say, the Pennsylvania Dutch) or distance (frontier settlers in Tennessee or Ohio). So, if you could somehow poll America circa 1788, we would guess that Washington's name recognition comes in just a tick below Grant's and Eisenhower's.

Oh, and if you want to cross generals off the list, then Theodore Roosevelt would certainly give Reagan and Trump a run for their money. Not only was he governor of the nation's biggest state (at that time) before becoming president, he was a well-known author and editorialist and reformer, and he was a national hero thanks to San Juan Hill.

Q: Only six states (Maine, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Ohio, West Virginia, and Montana) have Senate representation from more than one party. That's 12%. Is this some kind of record? S.J., Brooklyn, NY

A: For the era of 100 senators, it is. However, the 17th Congress (1821-23) had just two split delegations (New York and Delaware) out of 24 states. That's 8.3%.

Q: I'm old enough to have grandparents born in the late 1800s and early 1900s. It was clear that they had no respect whatsoever for the concept of royalty, particularly when it related to the British monarchy, which was overthrown in America a little more than a century before their birth. Watching the funeral for Prince Philip and other recent coverage of the British monarchs, it seems that Americans have softened significantly toward the royal family, to the point that the royals are now considered both sympathetic and, in many ways, inspirational. Royalty is inherently and systematically based on race, and is also completely reliant upon elitism and classism, yet it's somehow grown in popularity in a United States that is purportedly antithetical to all of these things. Could you please provide some historical perspective on this? Wasn't the American position on monarchy much harsher until very recently? Also, is it a coincidence that the softening towards monarchy has coincided with America vesting more power in the office of the Presidency? W.F., Orlando, FL

A: This would be difficult to prove with hard evidence, but we suspect three trends serve to explain this change:

  1. Power Shifts: Your final sentence supposes that as the presidency has grown more powerful, Americans have grown more tolerant of other powerful heads of state. Maybe so, but we would guess that the real dynamic is that the British monarch has gone from a powerful figure to a figurehead.

  2. Memory: Similarly, you note the memory of the American Revolution, but our guess is that a different memory was more important. Specifically, Irish immigrants to the U.S. from 1840-1940 (or so) tended to be staunchly anti-monarchist, for obvious reasons. We suspect that their attitudes were more likely to have influenced your grandparents than the attitudes of the Founding Parents' generation.

  3. Rise of Mass Media: Starting with mass-market newspapers, gossip and reporting on celebrities became a popular source of entertainment. The royals, especially since Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson, are the world's greatest real-life soap opera.

Q: You have written about how Barry Goldwater was on the far-right fringe of the GOP in the 1960s but by 1996 Goldwater observed he was one of the new liberals in the party. What was it that put Goldwater on the far right in the 1960s and what made him one of the liberals in 1996? C.L., Durham, UK

A: Goldwater was a hawk in foreign affairs and a libertarian in domestic affairs. When he was running for president in 1964, this meant that he was (1) strongly pro-Vietnam War and pro-Cold War, (2) strongly anti-tax, and (3) strongly against civil rights legislation (because he favored states' rights). Consequently, he aligned very neatly with the conservative wing of the Republican Party.

By the 1980s, Goldwater concluded that he had erred on civil rights, and maybe on Vietnam, too. Meanwhile, the Republican Party had already begun to emphasize social conservatism and "culture wars" stuff, like anti-abortion and anti-gay stances. Consistent with his libertarianism, Goldwater believed that abortion was not the government's business, nor was a person's sexual orientation. On the issue of LGBT soldiers, he observed, "Everyone knows you don't have to be straight to shoot straight, and that gay soldiers have served honorably since at least the time of Julius Caesar."

In short, AuH2O changed a bit, and the Party changed a lot.

Q: You wrote about the Colonial Pipeline hackers, addressing this to them: "Now, if you were to take down a very well protected, high-value target with lots and lots of money to pay the ransom such as, that would be impressive."

Did you assess this as to whether it would be incitement? I feel like I remember you criticizing Donald Trump for telling the e-mail hackers that they should release more e-mails. It looks like you've tried to word it carefully, and it's clearly satire, but I'm just wondering about your thought process.
D.C., Brentwood, CA

A: As to Trump, there were two issues. The first is that it is very poor form for a major-party presidential candidate to encourage foreign actors to do harm against his opponent. The second, legalistic, issue is not that he was guilty of incitement. It is that his remarks, as well as his seeming prescience about when e-mail dumps were coming from Wikileaks, strengthened the case that his campaign was conspiring with Russia.

Our remark was not close to being incitement. First, it was clearly tongue-in-cheek, as you clearly observe. Second, in the United States, one has to be guilty of encouraging imminent lawless action. In other words, we would not only have to be serious, we would have to say something like, "We'd be impressed if you managed to knock offline by this time tomorrow."

Q: You wrote: "You can also set your browser to block that element (the Trump image)."

I've searched but I can't find a way to turn off one image (as opposed to turning off all images).
F.B, Harrisonburg, VA

A: The answer varies a bit by browser and operating system, but generally you right-click on the image, choose "block element" and then confirm in the dialog that pops up. Here is what it looks like in Google Chrome:

Q: What was Kamala Harris' high-profile defeat that you referred to? J.G., Beverly Hills, CA

A: She ran for President of the United States, crashed and burned, and within six months had risen from the ashes to become Vice President-Elect of the United States.

Q: What do you mean that all Canadian neighbours are commies? P.J.C., San Francisco, CA

A: Um, did you think it was just a coincidence that the maple leaf on the flag is red? That "Moscow" and "Montreal" both start with "M"? That William Lyon Mackenzie King, Fidel Castro, and Nikita Khrushchev all smoked cigars? That "Justin" ends with "-in," just like "Lenin" and "Stalin"? That you cannot spell "Chairman Mao Zedong" without O-C-A-N-A-D-A?

Ok, it was actually about 20% a part of our ongoing "coverage" of the Canadian plot against the United States, and 80% a snarky comment on the tendency of Republicans to deem anyone left of the John Birch Society to be a socialist, communist, anarchist, Antifa Jesus-hater.

We did allow your subversive spelling of "neighbours" to stand, though, comrade.

Q: Is low testosterone hurting your libido? B.V., Dallas, TX

Of course not. Are you not aware that writing political analysis is considered to be the world's most potent aphrodisiac? Why do you think Karl Marx had a reputation as a red-hot lover into his sixties?

Truth be told, though, you're lucky we saw your message. We have reason to suspect that spammers have been sending messages to the questions mailbox, but we're waiting for a report from our staff cybersecurity analyst.

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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