Dem 51
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GOP 49
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Saturday Q&A

The Q&A is often all over the place; this one is particularly so. Make sure you make it to the final question; we suspect that one will be of interest to a lot of people.

Current Events

S.O.F. in New York City, NY, asks: I'm wondering if you think the Thomas Edsall piece you cited this week supports David Shor's thesis about Popularism? It seems what is central in the data Edsall cites is how the strategy of some Democrats to win key demographic groups, give up on others, and wait on demographic changes to create an electoral majority isn't going to work. The forward momentum Republicans have among minority groups, despite the Party's flirtation with ethno-nationalism, seems to suggest that they are (if they can stay out of their own way) still outmaneuvering the Democrats on key issues. It's hard to see how the Democratic Party can build a sustainable future if they are merely, as Bill Maher put it, America's designated driver.

V & Z answer: There is a tendency among analysts to apply the same basic strategic model to both political parties, but this is not really the correct thing to do. The Republicans are currently the minority party. They have a smaller, but generally more motivated, base and their job is to get a very sizable chunk of that base to the polls. The Republicans' base is also more homogeneous, and so can be reached with a narrower set of talking points.

The Democrats' base is larger, often less motivated, and is considerably more heterogeneous. The Party and its candidates can only focus on so many issues. If they emphasize things that matter to, say, Black voters then they lose the interest of working-class white voters. If they emphasize things that matter to working-class white voters, they lose the interest of progressives. If they emphasize things that matter to progressives, they lose the interest of centrists. And so forth.

It is very improbable that the Democrats will return, anytime soon, to the kind of dominance they had over Congress in the 1960s and 1970s, because the Republicans have done a good job of locking up the more rural seats (which require many fewer votes to control than the urban ones). Really, that's what the Edsall piece is saying—Democrats shouldn't think they are on the cusp of an era of Democratic dominance at all levels, because they are not.

At the same time, it is absolutely the case that demographics are catching up with Republicans nationally. Since 1992, the GOP has won one presidential election comfortably, and two more by skin of its teeth, aided by the Electoral College (and various shenanigans). As older and evangelical voters shrink as a percentage of the population, the national math is going to get even worse for the Republicans. It has happened. It is happening. It will happen.

As to Shor, we are very leery of simplistic arguments that say that "If Party X would just run on issue Y, that would solve their problems." There are large numbers of very smart and very experienced people running the Democratic Party. They have vast sums of polling data and focus group results at their disposal, not to mention vast amounts of real-world political experience. Undoubtedly, running on kitchen-table issues works in some places, which is why some Democrats build their campaigns around kitchen-table issues. But when someone declares that "this social issues crap isn't working," all they are really revealing is that they are not in the demo who cares about, and votes on, social issues.

D.E. in Lancaster, PA, asks: My multi-pronged question will ask you to separate "the dancer from the dance" (quote courtesy of WB Yeats, the Eagles and Andrew Holleran), if possible. The Republicans are blaming their poor showing in the last election on poor candidate quality, and specifically laying the blame at TFG's feet. Ignoring their abhorrent rhetoric, how many of TFG's candidates were flawed with way too much baggage and/or bad at campaigning, as opposed to being at least adequate campaigners running a "sound campaign" from an objective point of view?

Which leads me to the second and more important part of my question; is it possible to tell if the voters were rejecting the bad-quality candidates or they were rejecting the MAGA philosophies? Again, the GOP is blaming the quality of the candidates, which seems like a scapegoat to me. On the other hand, since candidates who ran on the Big Lie, except in Deep Red territories, were not elected that seems like a rejection of at least some of the MAGA "core beliefs." Is it even possible to suss out this kind of information from the votes? The reason why I'm stressing about this is if it was just a candidate-quality question then the GOP has a somewhat easier road back to power by finding more nut jobs who have nice fleece vests depicting their "respectability," like Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R-VA). But if it was a messaging issue, well then they have a much, much harder row to hoe, if they even can summon up that much self-reflection.

By the way, while Thomas Edsall's essay had an interesting point of view, it is mine that if the 2022 midterms were a football game, every sport pundit would be raving about the Democrats' defense. Defense might not be sexy but sometimes you play and win with what you got. As one legendary football coach put it, "Offense sells tickets, but defense wins Championships." God knows, the Republicans are just overflowing with offense!

V & Z answer: It is not especially possible to separate the three elements here—candidate, campaign they ran, and issues they ran on—because nobody's collecting that data. And even if they were, most voters would not be able to say which of the three it was. That said, J.D. Vance was a terrible candidate who ran a mediocre campaign and still got elected in now-red Ohio. Kari Lake was a pretty strong candidate who ran a solid campaign and still lost in now-purple Arizona. This suggests to us that the key things are: (1) the ideas, and (2) the fundamentals of the state.

In other words, our guess is that if the Republicans find better candidates in 2024, and those candidate run on the same MAGA platform, they'll still only win red states. The secret to Glenn Youngkin's success was that he managed to be a chameleon; MAGA enough for the MAGA crowd, non-MAGA enough for the others. If he runs for office ever again, he's likely to have a much tougher time, since he'll have an actual record and won't be able to wear multiple outfits.

And we are inclined to agree that the story of the midterms will ultimately be how well the Democrats held serve. They may not have reinvented the American electorate, but there are approximately four elections ever where that's happened, and all of those were presidential (1860, 1932, 1964, 1980). We imagine that one day soon, we'll be writing variants of this sentence: "As everyone knows, the party that holds the White House usually does poorly in midterms, excepting cases with some extraordinary externality, such as the looming Clinton impeachment in 1998, the 9/11 attacks in 2002 and Trump on the ballot in 2022."

B.H. in Frankfort, IL, asks: Many people are excited because a reported 27% of 18-29 year olds voted in 2022 midterms. This seems like an appallingly low number. As university professors, you have a much better feel for what's going down with this demographic. Do you think more young people will actually vote in the future? Are there any signs the Democrats (other than Bernie) are actually going to stop wringing their hands and start actually working to get the youngsters to the polls?

V & Z answer: Well, (V) is emeritus and teaches in the Netherlands, so isn't in a position to answer your question. But (Z) isn't, and teaches in the U.S. And he can tell you that students feel very strongly about Donald Trump (most dislike, some like), about abortion, and about student loans. It is generally the case that people start to become reliable voters in their 30s and 40s, but their political allegiances are set in their 20s and 30s. It's true that 27% is not an overwhelming number, but it suggests that the demographic is moving into "reliable voter" territory more quickly than young people usually do. And once Generation Z becomes a major voting bloc, that is not likely to work out well for the Republicans, as currently constituted.

J.W. in Lake Oswego, OR, asks: You wrote that "McCarthy has a math problem" if Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) and five other members of the Freedom Caucus decide they want someone else as Speaker. Isn't it more likely that they would just vote "present" or not show up for the vote, which would have the result that those votes wouldn't be included among "members voting"? Then McCarthy would be elected without their direct consent. This is the same thing that happened with Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) in 2021; according to Wikipedia, three members were absent, two seats were vacant, and three members voted "present" giving her the gavel by getting a majority (216) of the 427 votes cast.

V & Z answer: There are many progressive voters who do not like Pelosi, but who want the government to operate properly and to do things. For someone like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), her voters are basically happy with a "present" vote. That means the objection to Pelosi is noted, but that the government can still keep functioning. Put another way, most progressives are practical enough that if they absolutely have to choose between 30% of what they want and 0%, they will take the 30%.

On the other hand, Gaetz and his ilk have built their brand on big, performative stunts. We doubt that voting "present" is big and bold enough for them, or that it's something that their base would fully understand, since it's ultimately kind of inside baseball. Further, the people who Gaetz, et al., represent see government dysfunction as a feature, not a bug. We could eventually see the MAGA crew voting "present" as a face-saving maneuver, once some sort of compromise has been arranged (if one is). However, we doubt that voting "present" will be satisfactory for them and for their voters at the outset.

G.R. in Eugene, OR, asks: Are there any moderate Republicans that could garner a handful of votes, and with the entire Democratic caucus. could become Speaker of the House?

V & Z answer: This is something that's really only knowable to the 435 members of the House, since only they know which of their colleagues has the necessary support. That said, as we've written several times, we think that moderate Republicans, particularly those who represent "Biden" districts, would be nuts if they aren't quietly exploring some sort of arrangement like this. If a group of 10 moderates can organize themselves and stick together, they can literally set the legislative agenda for 2 whole years. If they can't, and Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) becomes Speaker, those same 10 members will be de facto backbenchers who get to spend their time twiddling their thumbs while McCarthy constantly wrestles with the MAGA members.

The potential candidates who stick out most to us are Rep. Young Kim (R-CA), who represents the second most Biden-y district with a Republican representative, Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA), who is co-chair of the bipartisan Problem Solvers' Caucus, and Rep. David Joyce (R-OH), who chairs the moderate House Republican Governance Group.

P.H. in Davis, CA, asks: With Kevin McCarthy or another Republican becoming Speaker of the House and therefore second in line to assume the U.S. presidency, shouldn't Joe Biden and Kamala Harris never, ever appear in public together for the next 2 years?

Furthermore, what is to stop a suicidal rogue Secret Service agent from taking them both out any time they are together? The thought of either scenario is beyond frightening. Recent information concerning the political neutrality of Secret Service agents has not been reassuring.

The thought of either scenario is beyond frightening. Your thoughts on this would be greatly appreciated.

V & Z answer: Well, they already don't appear together in public very often, in large part because of the risks of some unfriendly, foreign or domestic, trying to achieve regime change with one fell stroke. The President and VP have had only two joint appearances outside of Washington this year, and maybe half a dozen inside of Washington, and security is always ultra-intense on those occasions.

As to a rogue Secret Service agent, this is very unlikely. There may be some bias there, but USSS agents are very carefully screened so as to eliminate candidates who might be prone to political extremism. Further, any USSS agent who tried something like this would have to do so in among a group of fellow USSS agents, all of whom are sworn to protect the president and vice president with their lives. So, a rogue agent might be able to do harm to one of the two, but they would be swarmed (and very possibly dead) before being able to do harm to both.

R.H. in Santa Ana, CA, asks: You wrote today that "As of Jan. 3, House Democrats won't be able to launch such an investigation [a hearing into the Supreme Court], but Senate Democrats certainly can."

Can they? Would that be exempt from the filibuster? If the Senate can hold hearings without overcoming the filibuster, then they could pick up on the work of the House Select Committee on 1/6, no?

V & Z answer: Standing Senate committees (and standing House committees, for that matter) do not need approval from the whole body for their activities. So, the Senate Judiciary Committee could commence an investigation of the Supreme Court as long as the members of the Committee agreed to do so.

On the other hand, a special or select committee has to be established by enabling legislation. Such legislation has to be approved by the whole chamber and, in the Senate, is therefore subject to a filibuster. It is true that a standing committee could theoretically take over the work of the 1/6 Committee, but it's been a big job so far, and the standing committees have other things to do.

Put it this way: What do you think most Democratic voters would prefer? That the Senate Judiciary Committee approve 75 fewer judges, and spend a bunch of time looking at 1/6? Or that the Senate Judiciary Committee focus on approving judges, and let the Department of Justice take over the 1/6 investigation?

D.T. in Parsonsfield, ME, asks: Is there any polling taking place concerning the Georgia runoff for Senate? I see that your electoral map only shows the results of the November 8 election.

I'm going to cheat and ask another question. Many on the left are upset about the appointment of a special counsel to investigate TFG. I'm thinking overall it is a good move, with the benefits outweighing the disadvantages. What do you two think?

V & Z answer: There has been surprisingly little polling in Georgia. Since you wrote in, we've put the one poll that has been conducted into our database, and it's reflected on the map. But that's it so far. There haven't even been crappy polls of the sort that we exclude. Maybe there will be more this week, although time is running out.

As to the special counsel, our immediate response was that it was sacrificing precious time for relatively little benefit. That said, if Jack Smith is able to move fairly quickly, and if he's able to do a top-notch job because this is his whole focus (as opposed to AG Merrick Garland, who has many other things on his plate), we could very well be proven wrong.

M.S. in Manchester, NH, asks: Claiming that COVID deaths were counted wrong is the mantra in parts of my family. from which to make the case that COVID really isn't so bad. However, your "Politics Killed over a Quarter Million Americans" item made me wonder again if there is actually a factual basis for making the assertion. What deaths did they look at to analyze the impact of vaccination, if the counts are wrong? Which deaths were incorrectly counted? What is the corrected number of deaths? I haven't read or found anything about this in a long time, but the miscount assertion has been used in many places to justify many things.

V & Z answer: There are two very different dynamics going on here. At the height of the pandemic, and even today to an extent, folks on the right were claiming that COVID death figures were being inflated. Why would this happen? Well, the answer—which is very conspiratorial—is that Democratic politicians wanted to embarrass Donald Trump and the Republicans, and that hospitals were incentivized to play along because they got more money from a COVID death than a non-COVID death. It may well be true that Democrats wanted Donald Trump, et al., to suffer as much political damage as is possible. However, there is zero evidence that they crafted policies with an eye toward skewing the numbers (especially since the blue team didn't control the levers of power in many cases, like in Florida and Texas), and zero evidence that hospitals were incentivized to cook the books.

On the other hand, at both the height of the pandemic and now, demographers and statisticians have made the case that COVID deaths are and were being undercounted. Quite often, when someone dies, there is no autopsy, as long as there was nothing mysterious about the death. And with no autopsy, there's no testing of the deceased person's blood. So, it is entirely possible for a COVID death to be counted as something else, particularly if the deceased did not have clear COVID symptoms prior to their demise, or if they died alone and nobody knows exactly what their symptoms were.

The way that this undercounting is accounted for, at least crudely, is to look at the overall death tally. Even if someone's cause of death is not investigated, or is mischaracterized, the death itself is recorded. And most causes of mortality tend to be pretty level in terms of the toll they exact. For example, about 700,000 Americans die of heart disease every year and about 600,000 people die of cancer. If there is a pandemic, and the number of deaths overall increase by 800,000 compared to the years prior to the pandemic, it is highly unlikely that the incidence of fatal heart disease or fatal cancer suddenly doubled. It is much more likely that the excess deaths were caused by something that was not present in other years (i.e., COVID). People who do this for a living have a few tricks to double-check and confirm their conclusions, but this is the basic logic.

K.F.K. in CleElum, WA, asks: I can't for the life of me figure out what Allen Weisselberg gains by staying loyal to Trump on the whole tax fraud thing. Does he figure he's going to jail in any case and hopes Trump will be president in 2024 and pardon him? I'm just shaking my head—well, I guess I've been shaking my head for a long time now at a variety of characters but this one really puzzles me. Any thoughts?

V & Z answer: We doubt Weisselberg is foolish enough to be hoping for a pardon, since he's being convicted of state-level crimes that a president cannot pardon.

We have three theories for you, and we'll bet that one or more of these explains what's going on. First, Weisselberg is still collecting a salary from the Trump Organization, one that would presumably go away if he turned traitor. Second, the Trumps may have dirt on him that will see the light of day if he angers them. Third, the Trumps aren't likable to most of us, but Weisselberg worked in close proximity to them for decades. He may feel real fondness for them, and may want to protect them.

D.S. in Lancaster, PA, asks: I read recently about Biden's granddaughter getting married at the White House. One of the articles mentioned that the newlyweds currently lived in the Executive Mansion, which got me thinking: Other than the president, who is allowed to live at the White House? Is there a limit to how many people can live there?

V & Z answer: The White House is a private residence placed at the disposal of the president. And presidents can do whatever they want in terms of occupants, as long as it's not illegal. In view of this, the private, residential portion of the mansion is quite spacious: 16 bedrooms and 35 bathrooms. So, Biden isn't exactly in danger of running up against occupancy limits (which would be established by local fire officials, incidentally, and not the federal government).

R.M.S. in Lebanon, CT, asks: I read your comments about Qatar and the World Cup this week and I agree with you completely. However, it seems strange to me that in 2022 FIFA and many democratic countries choose to participate in an event in a country that criminalizes same-sex relations and transgender identity. Qatar is one of the many countries that practice state-sponsored homophobia. FIFA and participating countries are putting their athletes at risk of arrest or abuse by sending them to a country like that.

I was in college in the early 2000s, and during my junior year, students from my class planned a spring break trip to Jamaica. Although the trip was optional, I felt it was a slap in the face. Most of the students I spoke to at the time did not know Jamaica is one of several United States allies that criminalizes homosexuality, and many others did not care one way or another about their laws since they believed they wouldn't impact them. I told the student organizers I would not go because I did not think it was a good idea to bring students to a country that practices state-sponsored homophobia, and I felt they were willfully ignorant about their choice of destination. My suspicion is that they assumed all of the students going would be straight and never even thought about discrimination against LGBT people. To this day, out of principle, I will not visit a country that criminalizes homosexuality.

My question is, why doesn't the United States use its considerable diplomatic and economic powers to stop sporting events from being held in countries like this? Why haven't we threatened to cut diplomatic ties with these countries? Jamaica and Qatar need us much more than we need them. Some people might argue that it undermines other cultures and pushes "American values" on other cultures but I disagree. Human rights are supposed to be universal. We have the right to speak about and promote human rights whether they are in Utah or Uganda.

V & Z answer: We'd suggest there are three big problems here. The first is philosophical. You propose that imposing "American values" on other countries is not a big deal, essentially because the U.S. is in the right on human rights issues. Maybe so, but this would still be a pretty obvious form of cultural imperialism, one that would trigger much resentment abroad (without leading to any real change), and one that would quickly become a slippery slope. If the U.S., under Joe Biden, threatened to cut off Jamaica because of its anti-LGBT posture, what would stop the next Republican president from cutting off, say, Belgium because abortion is legal there?

The second problem is political. When Jimmy Carter pulled out of the Moscow Olympics in 1980, he took a beating, politically. That includes among anti-war voters who agreed the Soviets should not have invaded Afghanistan. The lesson here is that voters do not like to see athletes used as political pawns, or to see sporting events dragged into the political arena.

The third problem is pragmatic. It wouldn't be a big deal to cut off Qatar, but the U.S. needs a country like Saudi Arabia, whose human rights record is just as bad. How can the country possibly justify cutting off one but not the other? Further, if the U.S. gets out its big stick and starts wielding it, that would encourage counter-responses from other countries. And those countries would have plenty of justification, as the United States is not exactly pure as the driven snow on human rights issues.

N.A. in Asheboro, NC, asks: Just curious; the vote totals you reported for Elon Musk's Trump question on Twitter (51.8% for, 49.2% against) add up to 101%. I couldn't find the vote totals reported anywhere else in the amount of time I wanted to devote to looking into this story so I'm wondering: is this a typo or error on the part of the staff mathematician, or an example of the very type of voter fraud that Florida man has been crowing about for years?

V & Z answer: It was a typo. That should have been 48.2% against. You can see the original poll here:

Reinstate former President Trump

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) November 19, 2022


M.B. in Singapore, asks: If they want to rid themselves of TFG, why would the Republican National Committee not change their primary rules to a system of ranked choice voting? It seems to me that this would prevent TFG from winning state primaries with a meager 30% of the vote and thus prevent him from winning the eventual nomination. In a ranked choice system, TGF would struggle to get to the 50% threshold of support he'd need in most primaries, with perhaps a few exceptions. The only reason he won the nomination in 2016 is that the rest of the field cannibalized one another, which is precisely what ranked choice prevents.

V & Z answer: Well, the Republicans are certainly not going to switch to ranked choice, since most Republican voters now believe RCV is an insidious liberal plot.

Beyond that, however, decisions on how to conduct primaries and caucuses are made at the state level, either by state party organs or by state law. And while the folks at the Republican National Committee might prefer to excise Trump, a lot of the people at the lower levels are still enamored of Trump.

C.S. in Newport, UK, asks: Prior to the 2020 election, numerous Republican state parties canceled their presidential primary and awarded all delegates to Donald Trump. Given that several state parties appear to be controlled by MAGA-activists, is there anything that stops them from doing the same again?

V & Z answer: Nothing stops them from doing this again, although many Republican voters would not be happy. And unhappy voters tend to keep their wallets closed during election season, to stay home on Election Day and to support new party leadership when the time comes. These risks were fairly minimal when the Party was largely unified behind Trump (as in 2020), but they are no longer minimal. So we doubt you'll see it happen again.

A.A. in Kingwood, TX, asks: Maybe someone already brought this up, but if there is something that keeps me awake at night, it's definitely this:

  1. Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) sits on the sidelines, while gathering support from wealthy conservative donors.

  2. Donald Trump is indicted and goes to prison.

  3. DeSantis runs on the promise to pardon Trump if elected.

This would probably rally the MAGA base to vote for him, which may translate to a huge red wave. What are your thoughts on this?

V & Z answer: Very doubtful. Yes, if Trump is indicted, the promise of a pardon might please some of the MAGA faithful. However, a pardon implies guilt, and both he and his base are going to be leery of that.

Further, the majority of Americans have turned against Trumpism. If DeSantis were to run on the promise of a pardon, that would be telling the whole country that he is basically Donald Trump v2.0. Anti-Trump voters would come out in droves to vote against the sort of corruption that DeSantis' pledge would reveal. And so, it would almost certainly be a net negative for the Governor. And that's before DeSantis has to start answering questions like "You think it's OK to steal nuclear secrets?" and "You believe it's OK to encourage one's followers to overturn an election?"

There's also this: Some of the things Trump is in trouble for, most obviously the shenanigans in Georgia, are state-level crimes and beyond a presidential pardon.

D.P. in Oakland, CA, asks: Occasionally we see something about Joe Biden's record-setting number of judges appointed. This week, Political Wire posted the numbers: 85 so far for Biden over 2 years, and 234 for Donald Trump over 4 years. I don't see that Biden is on a record-setting pace. What am I missing?

V & Z answer: Because of the way the process is set up, generally far more judicial appointments are confirmed in years 3 and 4 of a president's term than in years 1 and 2. By the end of his second year in office, Trump had confirmed 2 Supreme Court justices, 30 appeals court judges and 53 district court judges. That's a total of... 85, just like Biden's current total. Although the breakdown for Biden's 85 judges is 1, 25 and 59 (note that specialty courts, like the United States Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces, are generally not included in these totals).

So Biden is neck and neck with Trump. However, the Senate will surely approve more judges before January, so the current president will once again be ahead of his predecessor's pace. At the moment, Biden has 12 appeals court nominations pending, and 46 district court nominations pending. Among the former, 5 have already been approved by the Judiciary Committee while among the latter, 15 have already been approved. So, a pretty good projection for Biden at the midway point is 105 judges. That would be a record.


E.S. in Arlington, MA, asks: You have been generally positive about ranked choice voting, but labeled Georgia's requirement that a Senator get a majority of the vote as a relic of Jim Crow.

However, they seem to me to be very similar. In Georgia, anyone not in the top two is eliminated, and then their supporters have the opportunity to vote for one of the top vote-getters. That is basically what is happening with RCV.

Yes, RCV eliminates candidates one by one instead of in one swoop; and yes Georgia takes longer, but it seems to me that they are accomplishing about the same thing.

So how is one a good thing, and the other a relic of Jim Crow?

V & Z answer: They may produce similar sorts of results, but they spring from very different motivations. The people who created the Southern system did so 150 years ago with an eye toward maintaining white supremacy. Clearly, the system does not have that effect now (at least not always), since it's produced a matchup between two Black candidates at the expense of a white candidate in Georgia. But that fact does not change the truth of the system's origins.

Various forms of ranked choice voting actually predate the Southern approach (and, in fact, predate the United States). However, RCV began to catch on about 100 years ago, and started to get serious attention about 75 years ago. And its purpose was, and has been, to produce the most democratic result possible.

Anyhow, the primary complaint about the Southern approach today is not that it's racist, but that it's considerably more inefficient and costly than ranked choice. If those states insist on a candidate that has attracted 50% support, then why not use a system that will achieve that with one ballot, rather than a system that often requires two separate elections?

R.S. in Bedford, England, UK, asks: With the election of the Speaker likely to be contested come January, who sits in the chair for that process? Is it the Dean of the House or some other personage?

V & Z answer: The Clerk of the House, who is currently Cheryl L. Johnson. Although the occupant of this position is customarily "reelected" at the start of every Congress (along with other functionaries, like the sergeant-at-arms), their term does not automatically expire the way the Speaker's does. So, they are still "in office" when the new House takes its seats.

B.K. in Dallas, TX, asks: Can Mike Pence defy a Department of Justice subpoena? Why do they have to negotiate this? Can't they just arrest him?

V & Z answer: No, unless he wants to go to jail. However, an angry witness is rarely a cooperative witness. So, the DoJ will play ball with him for a short while, on the theory that you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. If he plays around for too long, though, their patience will wear out.

M.A. Montreal, QC, Canada, asks: A Brazilian supreme court judge just fined Jair Bolsonaro's party over 22 million reals (about $4 million U.S.) for "bad faith litigation" after they filed a suit claiming electoral fraud and seeking to invalidate the votes in 279,000 voting machines. The judge had asked them to provide proof of fraud and the party declined.

Are such penalties possible in the U.S.? Could proofless attempts to invalidate votes through the courts be labeled bad faith and fined accordingly? The Brazilian judgment feels surprisingly satisfying and deserved.

V & Z answer: They are indeed possible in the U.S., though sanctions are directed at the lawyers involved. And, as chance would have it, some of Donald Trump's lawyers have been sanctioned thusly. For example, nine Trump lawyers in Michigan were ordered to pay court costs and some fines, and to take continuing legal education classes on pleading standards and election law, for bringing frivolous lawsuits. The judge also referred that nonet to the Bar for potential discipline.


D.B. in San Diego, CA, asks: Building on your recent item about how the "inevitable" candidate often isn't, I'm struggling to think of an inevitable candidate who was elected president. Some manage to become their party's candidate (Hillary Clinton and Al Gore come to mind) but do any become president?

V & Z answer: Well, the circumstances have to be just right. Incumbents are often seen as inevitable, but that doesn't really count for the purposes of your question, does it? Similarly, nobody is really seen as inevitable when they have to face an incumbent, even if they ultimately win. And, of course, candidates often used to avoid becoming a candidate until late in the process, so as to avoid spending a year or two with a giant target on their backs.

Anyhow, limiting ourselves to the last century, Herbert Hoover was seen as inevitable once Calvin Coolidge made clear he wasn't running again. And 4 years later, Franklin D. Roosevelt was seen as inevitable once he declared. The same with Dwight D. Eisenhower once he declared in 1952 (although in both FDR's and Ike's cases, they did not jump in until February of the year of the election).

After that trio, there were a lot of elections that either featured incumbents or candidates that people weren't so sure about (like John F. Kennedy and Jimmy Carter). However, both the Bushes George were both inevitable, we would say.

D.A. in Orangetown, NY, asks: As your slogan contest reminds us, before the Civil War, changes in U.S. party alignments were sometimes accompanied by the demise of once-major parties, such as the Federalist Party and the Whig Party. After the Civil War, It has pretty much been the Democratic Party and Republican Party, with occasional third parties or independent candidates.

What is different that leads to this resilience of the same two parties, even if they change their platforms?

V & Z answer: There are several factors. To start, the first several generations of Americans were suspicious of political parties. So they often weren't willing to do what it took to keep a party disciplined, and they weren't all that bothered when a party went into decline.

Second, even for those who were inclined to maintain partisan organizations, the knowledge of how to do so, and the necessary tools, did not necessarily exist in the early nineteenth century. Yes, Britons managed to do it, but that's a much smaller country. The advent of the telegraph and railroads were pretty important to the building of viable, but flexible, national parties. And those technologies did not become common until the 1850s and 1860s.

Third, the Civil War caused political parties to become an important part of personal identity. The Republicans were the party that saved the Union, the Democrats were the party of the white resistance. Did people still switch parties? Yes, but they were much more reluctant to do so. Consequently, it became almost impossible for there to be a mass exit from a party, as happened with the Whigs in 1856. That, in turn, means that the major parties have time to adapt if they need to do so in order to save themselves.

R.S. in New York, NY, asks: How is it that in a country where capital is so powerful and we can't even get universal health care, we have public libraries as model socialist institutions?

V & Z answer: Because libraries were firmly established before political parties began wielding claims of socialism as a political weapon. Heck, the first public library in the U.S. was established 40 years before Karl Marx was even born.

J.K. in Silverdale, WA, asks: I enjoyed your write-up about presidents who tried to get back in the White House after they were out, but it left me wondering: What do we know about voters who supported these return bids? For instance, are there any instructive similarities between Bull Moose voters and the MAGA faithful?

V & Z answer: There was no such thing as exit polls 100 or 150 years ago, so we don't have fine-grained data. But when it comes to the Bull Moose voters, it can certainly be said that some of them were voting based on policy and some were voting based on the fact that Theodore Roosevelt had created a cult of personality around himself. Undoubtedly, the same could be said of Trump voters.

M.G. in Boulder, CO, asks: You told us how Donald Trump is like Theodore Roosevelt. Today, would you like to tell us how Roosevelt was different from Trump, and what Roosevelt accomplished?

V & Z answer: Well, here are six big differences:

  1. Roosevelt was a voracious reader, prided himself on his educational attainment and broad base of knowledge, and wrote many books and articles without aid of a ghost writer.

  2. A serious amateur boxer, Roosevelt had very large hands.

  3. Roosevelt was very close with his children, and his children loved him very much.

  4. Roosevelt volunteered for and served in one war (Spanish-American) and tried to volunteer for a second one (World War I). He would never have considered trying to find an excuse to avoid service.

  5. Roosevelt was very physically fit, enough so that he explored a previously unexplored South American River—in his mid-fifties.

  6. Roosevelt had a lengthy record of attainment as president, including consumer safety legislation, conservation measures, rooting out corruption in the federal government, and trustbusting. Further, Roosevelt spent much time talking to the Russians, but in his case it was to end the Russo-Japanese War. And for those efforts, TR won an actual Nobel Peace Prize.

S.T. in Glen Rock, NJ, asks: You wrote: "The one problem [for a potential Donald Trump third-party bid] is that, unlike in TR's time, it's not easy to get a third-party on the ballot."

Somewhat more recently, in 1992 Ross Perot was able to get on all 50 state ballots, and this effort did not start until Feb 1992. Assuming the primary schedule in 2024 is similar to that of 2020, Super Tuesday would be the first Tuesday of March, at which time Trump will likely have a sense of his path to the GOP nomination or not as the case may be (if not earlier). If Trump said "get me on the ballot in all 50 states" why is it hard to see that effort not working when it did for Ross Perot?

V & Z answer: Well, note that we were making a comparison to TR, who didn't launch his bid until after the Republican convention in June. So what we were really saying is that June would be far too late for Trump to give it a try.

Trump might be able to put together a viable third-party bid after Super Tuesday, but he wouldn't be able to get on the ballot in all 50 states. Sore loser laws did not exist in TR's time, and they did not affect Ross Perot since he never tried for a major-party nomination. But Trump would be disqualified from the ballots in several states if he had already tried, and failed, to run as a Republican.

J.C.A. in Shepherdsville, KY, asks: How did the Know-Nothing party get its name? And I know word meanings change over time, but I don't understand why people would vote for a person who is a member of something called Know-Nothings (Well, maybe the current maga-republicans would)...

V & Z answer: The proper name of the party was the American Party, and they were the original American conspiracy theorists. The raison d'être of the party was the view that evil foreigners with nefarious agendas were overtaking the United States. And Party members believed that those foreigners would try to infiltrate the Party from within and try to bring it down. And so, when members were asked about their participation in the American Party, they were supposed to say "I know nothing." This was like a secret code, or a secret handshake. However, their opponents (including many native-born Americans) figured it out, and began to mock the party members as "Know Nothings." And the name stuck.


P.R. in Arvada, CO, asks: Ever since my first Thanksgiving, 20 years ago, the Detroit Lions have been on TV for the holiday. At least, it seems as though they are. No one I ask knows why. Do you? Surely it isn't to give everyone the ability to say they are thankful they aren't a Lions fan. If that was the reason, Green Bay would be the team chosen.

V & Z answer: If Green Bay was the NFL's traditional Thanksgiving team, the turkey industry would collapse, as people would be focused on the game, and would not be interested in trivial things like eating.

Anyhow, the "Lions play on Thanksgiving" tradition began in 1934. Other teams had played on Thanksgiving before, and some played on Thanksgiving that year (including the Packers), but Lions owner George A. Richards had two things going for him. He was a marketing whiz, and he was a radio station owner who knew the broadcasting business. So, the 1934 Thanksgiving game wasn't just broadcast locally, it was broadcast across much of the nation by an ad hoc network of about 100 radio stations that Richards put together. And thus was the tradition born, as people quickly became accustomed to mediocre Lions football on Thanksgiving Day.

And the Lions have played on every Thanksgiving since, except the four that took place during World War II, when playing on Thanksgiving was seen as inappropriate.

D.S.R. in Tempe, AZ, asks: You may have answered this before but what news/information/polling site and organizations do you subscribe to or otherwise purchase information from and what is your approximate annual subscription budget?

V & Z answer: It is no longer necessary to subscribe to polls; they are all made available for free these days. So, the only subscriptions we have are to news outlets, like The Washington Post, The New York Times and the Cook Political Report. We maybe spend $30/month.

M.U. in Seattle, WA, asks: Do you guys keep a running total of the different states you get letters come from and are you able to rate them? You seem to get an inordinate amount of feedback from people in [State redacted]. If I had to guess the top five states by number of letters sent in they'd be: [List redacted] Am I correct or anywhere close? Would the readers like to try and guess?

V & Z answer: We're down. Here is a poll where readers can guess which five states we hear from the most. We'll reveal the results, and the correct list, next week. We redacted your guesses, M.U., so as to not influence the results, but we'll reveal those, too.

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