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The Slow-Moving Coup, Part III: Six Crises, Vol. II

We continue our careful look at the possibility that a Republican coup is brewing right under our very noses. Thus far, we've had two entries:

We intended, yesterday, to look at all six of the presidential elections whose results were seriously disputed. However, the capsules ended up pretty long, so we only got to 1800, 1824, and 1860. Today, we'll finish the set:

The Election of 1876: These days, it's pretty rare for the same party to control the White House for three consecutive terms. And by 1876, the Republicans had controlled the White House for four consecutive terms and were gunning for a fifth. And they did so with a candidate, Rep. Rutherford B. Hayes of Ohio, who was a wee bit boring and uninspiring. In other words, he was the Al Gore of the 19th century. Hayes was up against Gov. Samuel J. Tilden of New York, who was considerably more dynamic.

In short, although polling did not exist back then, everyone knew the election was going to be close. There were three factors that conspired to turn it into an absolute train wreck, however. The first, and most important, of those was that Southern Democrats were desperate to win and perhaps even more desperate to stop Black people (who were 100% Republican back then) from voting. And so, there was much violence and much chicanery. The worst state was South Carolina, which had about 180,000 eligible voters, and yet somehow reported 182,683 votes. Louisiana and Florida were nearly as bad.

The second issue, which is chicanery-adjacent, is that many Americans back then were illiterate. And to accommodate that, and also to encourage straight-ticket voting, the parties would print ballots with all the "correct" candidates selected. Very much like today's sample ballots, except that back then, a voter could simply turn the party-printed ballot in, and it counted as their vote. And in order to accommodate voters who could not read, it was customary to print a symbol at the top of the ballot that identified the party. The Republicans of that era generally used a picture of Abraham Lincoln, while the Democrats used the symbol of their party, which in 1876 was a cock (it would be another decade until they shifted from a cock to an ass).

Well, the Democrats were trying to steal votes by any means possible. And so, Southern Democratic leaders hit on the idea of printing Democratic ballots, but with the Republican symbol (that is, Lincoln's picture) at the top. Former slaves were far and away the group most likely to be illiterate, and thus the group most likely to fall for the trick. Note that the scheme was used primarily in states that were still occupied by the Union Army, where stopping Black voters through outright violence was thus somewhat impractical. Anyhow, when Republican voters found out they had been tricked into voting Democratic, they howled; this became known as the "rooster ballot" controversy, and a bunch of Democratic ballots were tossed by Republican-dominated electoral commissions.

The third issue, which is smaller in scale, and yet just as important, was in Oregon. That state had three electors committed to casting their ballots for Hayes. However, one of the three was a low-level employee of the U.S. Post Office, and so was ineligible to be an elector. He resigned, and the Democratic governor of Oregon chose a Democratic replacement while the two remaining Republican electors chose a Republican replacement.

The net result of all of this was that Tilden had clear claim to 184 EVs, Hayes had claim to 165, and there were 20 EVs in dispute (8 from Louisiana, 7 from South Carolina, 4 from Florida, and 1 from Oregon). In other words, for the Republican to win, he needed a clean sweep of the disputed EVs. Hayes was definitely entitled to the Oregon EV; for the rest, it's more ambiguous. Certainly, Tilden won the national popular vote, though Hayes won all three of the disputed Southern states. On the other hand, the Republican electoral commissioners may have used the rooster ballot controversy to disqualify Democratic votes with excessive enthusiasm. So, maybe Tilden would have won if all the legitimate ballots were counted. On the other hand, if the Democrats didn't engage in trickery and in violence, maybe Hayes wins those states going away, and perhaps other states as well. Not helping things was that different officials in each of the three disputed Southern states signed election certificates, such that there was a Republican certificate and a Democratic certificate for each of the three.

Per the Constitution, the House was left to sort out the mess. They tried to resolve the matter by themselves, but made little progress. So, a compromise was worked out—the disposition of the disputed ballots was to be determined by a 15-person commission made up of five members of the House, five members of the Senate, and five justices of the Supreme Court. Though great pains were taken to make the commission fair, it ended up as one of those situations where a single independent member was the linchpin. As originally constituted, the committee's linchpin member—Associate Justice David Davis—was legitimately independent. The 7 Republicans on the commission (3 Republican senators, 2 Republican representatives, 2 Republican justices) and the 7 Democrats on the commission (3 Democratic representatives, 2 Democratic senators, 2 Democratic justices) had no idea what Davis would do. Davis himself probably didn't know.

Before Davis could decide, however, he was elected to the U.S. Senate from Illinois, a position he accepted. That made him ineligible to continue on the commission, since that would have made it 5 Representatives/4 justices/6 Senators instead of 5/5/5. This possibility might just have occurred to the Republican-dominated Illinois state legislature that elected Davis (remember, direct election of senators was 40 years in the future). In any event, he had to be replaced by one of the four associate justices not already on the commission and, as luck would have it, all four were Republicans. The least partisan of the four, Joseph P. Bradley, was chosen, but he was "less partisan" in the way that John Roberts is "less partisan" than Clarence Thomas. And once the Commission was 8-7 for the Republicans, it promptly voted to give all 20 of the disputed EVs to Hayes. Democrats across the nation screamed bloody murder, and there was talk of assassinations, or possibly even another civil war. However, the Republicans mollified the Democrats by agreeing to withdraw all remaining troops from the South, thus formally ending Reconstruction. Hayes was inaugurated, right on schedule, and went on to a boring presidency best remembered for the First Lady's habit of serving lemonade rather than liquor in the White House.

The Election of 2000: We give a fairly lengthy narrative of the four disputed elections of the 19th century, since none of the readers of the site were alive when they happened. At least, we assume so. By contrast, most or all of the readers can remember the 2000 election. As in 1876, the party in control of the White House was trying to extend its hold on power by running an Al Gore-like candidate—in this case, Al Gore. As in 1876, it was sure to be a close election. And as in 1876, the returns from Florida were screwy, in significant part because of ballots named after a member of the animal kingdom.

In the absence of the "butterfly ballots" used in West Palm Beach, Gore would surely have won Florida and the election, as opposed to coming up 500 or so votes short in the Sunshine State. Even then, he still had hope, but he played his hand poorly. To start, he asked for a recount in the three most Democratic counties in Florida, which made him look partisan and opportunistic. He should have asked for a recount of the entire state (which, as it turns out, would have given him the victory by multiple thousands of votes). Further, once the recount efforts went south, Gore basically gave up. That might have been the gentlemanly thing to do, and it may have been the patriotic thing to do, but it might not have been the right thing to do, since he clearly won the election. Certainly, it's a choice that he and millions of Democrats nationwide came to lament once they saw what the George W. Bush presidency would look like.

At the same time that Gore and the Democrats were playing their hand poorly, Bush and the Republicans were playing theirs with Machiavelli-like ruthlessness and efficiency. On election night, they recognized that if one network called Florida for Bush, others would likely follow suit. So, the GOP engineered a call of the state by Fox (and, indeed, other networks soon followed). Thereafter, the Bush campaign sent the very best lawyers to argue before the Republican-controlled Supreme Court. And, as in 1876, a Republican-controlled SCOTUS handed Florida's disputed EVs to the Republican candidate (in this case, by ending all recounts).

The Election of 2020: There is even less for us to say here, since surely everyone reading this knows exactly what happened last year. We included 2020 primarily because we wanted the list to be complete. That said, we pointed out yesterday that this election, and the Election of 1860, are the two outliers on the list. And that is because in 1800, 1824, 1876, and 2000, the balloting legitimately returned an unclear result (albeit for different reasons in each case). On the other hand, the results in 1860 and 2020 were crystal clear. The only "disputes" came from hard-core partisans who were angry about losing and who were willing to say (and, quite often, do) anything to push back against reality.

We plan to make some observations about how this history might compare to 2024. But again, this entry is already pretty long and we don't want to overdo it. So, we'll do that analysis tomorrow. And thus, a series that was originally conceived as a four-parter will be expanding to six parts. (Z)

Michigan Has Its Maps

Just about everyone in the world of politics is on vacation this week—except, apparently, the people responsible for implementing new district maps. Yesterday, the independent districting commission that Michiganders created a couple of years ago adopted the new map for the state. Here's the old map (left) and the new map, per FiveThirtyEight:

The old map was mostly red,
with a lot of blue around Detroit in the east, and a fairly narrow gray 'swing' area that includes Flint and extends
north of Detroit to Lake Michigan. The new map is also mostly red, but the blue area around Detroit remains, and the
gray area is now a triangle that includes both Flint to the north of Detroit and Lansing to the west. There is also a
new gray area on the western edge of the state that includes Grand Rapids.

The Democrats are seeing a lot of "this is pretty good for us" maps this year, and this one will join the list. Michigan is losing a district, and the disappearing district is a strong Republican district. Further, a second strong Republican district will become a swing district. And so, Michigan will be left with three safe Democratic districts, one Democratic-leaning district, three swing districts, two Republican-leaning districts, and four safe Republican districts.

That may seem a strange breakdown for a state that's about as purple as it gets, but a disproportionate number of Democrats live in Detroit, such that the two blue districts that cover that city are going to be D+44 and D+46. They will become the two most Democratic, and the two most imbalanced, districts in the country (an honor held, until Wednesday, by the D+41 PA-03). Those two districts are represented by Rashida Tlaib (D) and Brenda Lawrence (D); when you hear those women saying outspokenly progressive things, it is due (at least in part) to the fact that the only threat to their continuance in office is a challenge from the left.

The new map looks like it will precipitate one, and perhaps two, incumbent vs. incumbent races. The district currently represented by Rep. Andy Levin (D-MI), namely MI-10, just went from D+8 to R+6. It took the Representative just minutes, after the new map was released, to do the map and decide that shift didn't sound too good for his future political hopes. So, he announced that he would run next door, to MI-11, which is as blue as Lake Michigan (D+15). The problem is that it's already occupied by Rep. Haley Stevens (D-MI). So, they will do battle in the primary, and then the winner will cruise in the general election.

The other potential incumbent vs. incumbent battle is in MI-04, which is now R+8, and includes the residences of both Bill Huizenga and Fred Upton (R-MI). It's possible the 68-year-old Upton could retire, or one of them could take his chances in MI-03, the swingy district to the north that is centered on Grand Rapids. The problem is that MI-03 is also occupied by a Republican, namely Peter Meijer. So, a northward move would mean trading a competitive primary for a competitive primary and a competitive general election. That's probably not a wise tactical choice. Anyhow, in contrast to Levin and Stevens, Huizenga and Upton haven't confirmed that they will face off, but it seems more likely than not.

In addition to the four representatives who might have to face off against a different representative from their own party, there are the three whose districts will be swingy. The aforementioned Meijer went from a pretty safe R+9 district to a much less safe D+3. Daniel Kildee (D) also got bad news, though less bad; his district went from D+1 to R+1. Better for your district to shift 2 points in the wrong direction rather than 12. And Elissa Slotkin (D) will continue to face tough reelection battles every year, albeit a little less tough. Her district goes from R+6 to R+4.

Perhaps the most hotly contested district in 2022, however, will be the aforementioned MI-10, which is now open due to Levin having fled west. The Democrats don't yet have a candidate, while the Republicans—who apparently foresaw what was going to happen—are already actively recruiting two-time U.S. Senate candidate John James. He lost both of those elections, but he's a veteran, he's Black, he's telegenic, he's a good fundraiser, and he's battle tested. So, getting him would be a real coup for National Republican Congressional Committee chair Tom Emmer (R-MN).

The MI-10 seat will probably be the key to 2022. If the Democrats can somehow capture that district, then they'll likely end up with seven seats to the Republicans' six, which would be a net of -1 for the GOP (the Michigan delegation is currently split 7-7). If the Democrats can't pull that off, then the shoe will be on the other foot, and it will probably end up 7R, 6D or 8R, 5D. The former would be a net of -1 for the Democrats and the latter would be a net of -2 for them. (Z)

Winfrey Damns Oz with Faint Praise

In 1797, Constantin, comte de Volney paid a visit to the United States. Volney was pretty radical by the standards of his day; for example, he was one of the first intellectuals to argue that Jesus never actually existed. One of the comte's first stops on his American tour was Mount Vernon, where he asked George Washington, who had just concluded his term as president, for a letter of introduction and recommendation. Washington did not wish to insult France in general, or Volney in particular, as the comte had been an outspoken supporter of the American Revolution. On the other hand, Volney was not really the former president's cup of tea, and Washington did not wish to court controversy, given the Frenchman's unorthodox ideas. Ever the diplomat, Washington eventually presented Volney with this succinct letter: "C. Volney needs no recommendation from Geo. Washington."

That story came to mind this week, when Oprah Winfrey finally shared her views on the U.S. Senate campaign of Dr. Mehmet Oz. On one hand, Oz first came to fame thanks to his appearances on her show. So, he's a friend and something of a protégé of Winfrey's. On the other hand, she's a Democrat and he's (apparently) a Republican. Further, while he occasionally peddled snake oil during his appearances on her show, his inner charlatan did not fully reveal itself until he got his own show.

Anyhow, Winfrey could not avoid commenting on Oz's candidacy forever, and she seized upon the deadest part of the news year to issue a statement. It read: "M. Oz needs no recommendation from Op. Winfrey." No wait, that wasn't it. Actually, the statement was: "One of the great things about our democracy is that every citizen can decide to run for public office. Mehmet Oz has made that decision. And now it's up to the residents of Pennsylvania to decide who will represent them."

You can see how Winfrey's tepid non-endorsement brought to mind Washington's tepid non-endorsement. In any event, her statement isn't going to be making it into any Oz campaign commercials. And clearly, one of his aces in the hole—an enthusiastic endorsement from Winfrey might have gotten him some crossover votes—just went counterfeit. Oh well, maybe the endorsement of Dr. Phil, another Winfrey protégé, is still available. (Z)

Looking Backward: How Did We Do?

For the next few weeks, we're looking backward at 2021 predictions on Tuesdays and Thursdays and looking ahead with 2022 predictions on Wednesdays and Fridays. Here are the first two entries:

And now, we are going to "score" our predictions for 2021. We will strive to be fair and impartial, the way that, say, Russian Olympic judges are. We had some questions about our scoring system, so we'll spell it out a bit more fully before proceeding. The first score, of up to five points, is for accuracy; how close the prediction came to hitting the mark. The second score, of up to five additional points, is for boldness; how bold the accurate portion of the prediction was. Someone who sticks their neck out deserves some extra credit... but only if they are right. This means that a total of 10 points are potentially available.


And, without further ado, our predictions for 2021:

Prediction 1: America's five biggest adversaries, among the leaders of the world, are probably Vladimir Putin, Kim Jong-Un, Ali Khamenei, Xi Jinping, and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Two of these five men will be out of power by the time the year is out.

Our Comments: Well, it certainly was bold, but none of it came true. We award ourselves no points, and may God have mercy on our souls. A: 0/5, B: 0/5, T: 0/10

Prediction 2: So will Benjamin Netanyahu.

Our Comments: We were right about this one, though! It wasn't entirely bold, since Netanyahu had failed three times to win an election with a working majority at that point. On the other hand, it was somewhat bold, since his opponents had also failed three times. A: 5/5, B: 3/5, T: 8/10

Prediction 3: The two most significant bills that Congress will pass this year are another COVID relief bill and an infrastructure bill.

Our Comments: Another winner. And given that, for most of the year, something on voting rights and/or a second infrastructure bill seemed to be real possibilities, we think this one was actually pretty bold. A: 5/5, B: 4/5, T: 9/10

Prediction 4: Barack Obama will win a Pulitzer Prize for his book A Promised Land.

Our Comments: It wasn't even nominated. Tunes out it's harder to win a Pulitzer than a Nobel. A: 0/5, B: 0/5, T: 0/10

Prediction 5: Obama will also be the recipient of the first Presidential Medal of Freedom awarded by Joe Biden.

Our Comments: Technically, this could still come to pass, since Biden hasn't awarded the medal to anyone yet. But these are 2021 predictions, and even if we're proven right, it won't happen in 2021. A: 0/5, B: 0/5, T: 0/10

Prediction 6: Biden will throw out the first pitch at the 2021 World Series, in order to send the message that the COVID-19 pandemic is in the rear-view mirror.

Our Comments: The first pitch was actually thrown out by Houston Astros Hall of Famer Craig Biggio. Since "Biggio" and "Biden" both start with "Bi," we're going to award ourselves... nah, can't do it. A: 0/5, B: 0/5, T: 0/10

Prediction 7: The U.S. Senate will no longer be 50-50 by the time the calendar turns to 2022.

Our Comments: Unless you want to argue that Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) are secretly Republicans, we missed the mark. A: 0/5, B: 0/5, T: 0/10

Prediction 8: Donald Trump will not attempt a self-pardon, and will roll the dice that he can avoid prosecution another way, either with his army of lawyers, or by the incoming administration deciding it's not worth it, or by fleeing the country.

Our Comments: Another bullseye. And we're going to deem this pretty bold since even some readers of this site wrote in and told us we were nuts when we wrote this. A: 5/5, B: 4/5, T: 9/10

Prediction 9: Trump will make a serious attempt to re-launch "The Apprentice."

Our Comments: That did not happen, and we're all better off for it. A: 0/5, B: 0/5, T: 0/10

Prediction 10: This site's first "Trump free" news day (M-F) will happen in February. Our first "Trump free" news week (again, M-F) will happen in April.

Our Comments: Oops. We simply did not anticipate that while Trump would stop making news on a daily basis, "Trumper," "Trumpette," "Trump's base," "Trumpublican," "The Trump wing of the Republican Party," etc. would remain essential to political analysis. A: 0/5, B: 0/5, T: 0/10

We only got 26 points out of a possible 100, for a batting average of .260, which is barely enough to keep your job as a baseball player (unless you're a shortstop). It's also far short of the .341 the pundits put up. Starting next week, we'll see if the readers did better.

Remember also that we are still compiling 2022 predictions from readers, should you be inspired to send yours in. (Z)

Got to Admit, It's Getting Better, Part III

As you know, unless this is your first day joining us this week, we are also running reader responses to the question from C.S. in Linville, asking for advice and optimism in advance of their upcoming parenthood. Here are the responses that have run so far:

And now, the penultimate entry:

From S.C. in Mountain View, CA: Congratulations! Your lives (yours and your partner's) will never be the same! Here is some advice (maybe not the advice you were looking for, but advice nevertheless): Write back as they grow older!

From A.D. in San Jose, CA: My husband and I had a son at 39 and 36 respectively—so, not too far off from the two of you. That was two years ago, and we're now expecting a baby girl this coming March.

Given the state of the world, he and I were more than a little hesitant to bring a new life into being, and we had lots of conversations on the matter. It scares me to think what our kids are going to face in the future, and there are still times when I question if we were crazy to give this whole reproducing thing a go—not just once, but twice. (Suffice it to say, however, that dirigible has now ascended.)

For us, it came down to this: Our goal is to raise resilient individuals who'll leave an imprint for the better in some way, shape, or form. More than anything, that's what society's going to need. In the meantime, I love our little boy to bits, and raising him gives my life greater meaning and purpose than anything else I've experienced. I'll admit it was a tough adjustment at first, but parenting has a way of reorienting one's priorities. It's all about him these days, and I can't wait to give him the best childhood, the most amazing memories, and the most solid foundation that it's within our power to gift him (and, in time, our daughter as well). I hope we made the right decision.

From B.C. in Huntsville, AL: I was 36 when my wife became pregnant with our first child and 38 with our second child. A couple of years later we divorced and I got custody of the children (both girls). It was tough raising two young girls, working full time, and finding and paying for adequate day care but I managed it. Both girls are in their forties now and doing well and I look back on the time as the best time of my life. I wouldn't trade that time for anything.

From G.K. in Blue Island, IL: Congratulations! No one gets to affect the world for future generations more than the parents of the future generations. Think about that carefully, then act accordingly. Knowing you'll do that fills me with optimism.

From A.R. in Los Angeles, CA: I'm not a parent so I don't have any advice, per se, for C.S. But I can certainly relate to the feelings of pessimism about humanity's chances given the current state of affairs. As it happens, I was recently vacationing in Lake Tahoe and was driving back to Los Angeles on Route 395, which takes you along the Eastern Sierra Nevada mountains, past Mono Lake and the gateway to Yosemite. The scenery is absolutely breathtaking. The fact that these vast open spaces still exist, thanks largely to their protected status as national forests, reminds me that humans sometimes get things right and gives me hope that our better angels may still prevail and we may yet save the planet and ourselves in the process.

It's devastating to think how much destruction one man can do. But there are so many more of us doing small things everyday that can add up to big, critical improvements. The city where I work just instituted an organic waste composting program. In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis (R)—yes, him—recently signed legislation protecting wildlife corridors to help endangered species like the Florida panther. Unfortunately, those things don't often make the headlines, but they're happening all across the country. And I also think that, as dark a period as we are experiencing for our democracy, many people are finally realizing how fragile this experiment is and are getting involved for the first time. I'm still mystified as to how anyone can justify voting for a candidate with an (R) after their name knowing that Trump is still calling all the shots, but at the same time I'm inspired by the public officials who stay in the fight and work hard to make things better. There's value in the effort, even if the results can often seem inadequate.

Congratulations and good luck!

We will bring it on home tomorrow. (Z)

A December to Rhymember (Parts 38-39-40-41)

December is almost over. Here are the previous entries in this series:

Today, a quadruple presidential turn (which sounds like a figure skating jump):

Taking the point is A.W. in Morrison, CO:

There once was a lawyer named Rudy
Who was dumber than old Howdy Doody
When he met his friend Trump
Trump presented his rump
And said, "Pucker up and start doing your duty."

And then there's this from M.F in Oregon City, OR:

The White House harbored an orange traitor
Benedict Donald, the science-hater
He never met a fact
He didn't try to whack
This prick puts the 'dick' in Dictator!

Something on the longer side from E.W. in Skaneateles, NY:

In the 2020 campaign of Joe Biden,
Some said he, in his basement, was hidin'.
In the end, it was Trump
Who got thrown out on his rump
And plenty of folks are still smilin'!

Trump couldn't take the results of the election.
So he egged on a big insurrection.
Though Trumpers try to steal
In the end they will squeal
When the voters change their affection.

Now Biden's approval is sagging.
His domestic agenda is lagging.
But it's supporters of Trump
Who are down in the dumps
So on Biden they all keep on ragging.

Though many folks still are a-coughing
Sometime soon, our masks we'll be tossing.
This virus will fade
And democracy saved.
Better times remain in the offing.

And finally, B.M. in Birmingham, AL, writing from the other side of the aisle:

We have a President named Biden
Campaigned while in his basement hidin'
He promised the plague would end
But has delivered only inflation and spend
With a disapproval that continues to widen

We shall see what we come up with for the grand finale tomorrow. (Z)

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