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      •  Saturday Q&A

Saturday Q&A

We continue to get an interesting mix of questions (in our opinion).

Current Events

I.O. in Norman, OK, asks: I'm still curious about how red states can consider legally blocking persons from traveling to another state to purchase a service/product that is not available/illegal in their state. It seems this would be akin to a state passing a law saying its residents "can't gamble in Las Vegas," or "can't smoke pot in Colorado."

V & Z answer: We are not the first people to make this observation, but the anti-abortion folks are not unlike the dog who actually managed to sink his teeth into a car's tire. Now that he's finally succeeded, he doesn't know what to do next.

Similarly, the modern anti-abortion movement emerged when traveling across state lines for an abortion was unusual, and when abortifacient pills didn't exist. So, the movement never really developed a strategy for dealing with those "outs." And as long as those outs exist, outlawing abortion isn't actually going to prevent all that many abortions.

The red states will try to criminalize out-of-state travel and abortifacients-via-mail, but the legal and logistical challenges are enormous. Anyone who says they know how this will play out, given how many judges these days treat interpreting the law as an exercise in creative writing, is full of hot air.

M.R. in Acton, MA, asks: You have written that the filibuster doesn't apply to "reconciliation" bills—bills that involve taxes, spending, budgets. Got it.

So why can't the Democrats pass a law declaring a right to abortion, allocate money to provide that right to all women, and tax anyone hampering that right?

V & Z answer: Three words: Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV). He's anti-abortion, and without his vote, no reconciliation bill will be passed.

But if the Democrats could somehow get his vote, or they could persuade Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) to cross the aisle, then they could indeed do a lot via reconciliation. Reconciliation bills cannot extend beyond the 10-year mark, so it would not be possible to permanently protect access to abortion. However, stripping the Hyde Amendment out of the budget and then allocating money for abortion providers and/or taxing those who interfere with abortions is plausible.

It's not impossible that Murkowksi's vote is available for something like this. Alaska, while red, is very libertarian, and a pretty high percentage of the voters there (about two-thirds) support abortion access. Given the new ranked-choice runoff system the state is using, and the fact that she's being challenged from the right, she might see value in making nice with moderates and Democrats.

On the other hand, it's also possible that there are additional Democratic senators who are keeping quiet right now, but who would not be willing to support abortion access with their votes. Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) is who we are thinking of in particular here.

T.J.R. in Metuchen, NJ, asks: Say Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin announces a new plan: a one week enlistment with the Coast Guard, with training centers in New York, California, and Illinois (to keep those pesky Canadians from Lake Michigan). The emphasis would be on women recruits to, um, balance out gender inequity among recruits. New recruits would receive free transportation to and from their homes and housing (enticements to get new recruits, y'know). Quite coincidentally, each base would be very close to a center focusing on, er, women's health issues. No discrimination, of course, if a potential recruit happened to be pregnant, of course. That would be so wrong.

Is this plausible at all? Or, while well-intentioned, entirely crackpot?

V & Z answer: This would cost a fair bit of money. And if the Democrats had the votes to allocate the necessary funds, then they would have the votes to attack the problem more directly.

We are assuming, however, that you mean for this to be implemented without changes to the budget. If so, then this would be virtually identical to Donald Trump's decision to reroute military funds to build his border wall. What happened with him, of course, is that the matter was tied up in court for the remainder of his term until he was out of office. At that point, Joe Biden canceled the project. So, if Austin/Biden tried what you propose, the red-state AGs would all file lawsuits. That would certainly keep things in limbo for multiple years. And even if Biden (or some other Democrat) managed to remain in the White House for that entire time, well, if everyone in the country was aware of the real purpose for this Coast Guard "training," it would be hard for any judge to rule in the administration's favor.

J.W.F. in Helsinki, Finland, asks: If/when a woman dies a preventable death because abortion has been made illegal, could her family sue the five Supreme Court justices that voted to overturn Roe for wrongful death? I know that presidents are frequently sued (I seem to recall Barack Obama, in particular, having a ton of lawsuits from Republicans over some of his executive orders). But could the same be done to Associate Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch, Amy Coney Barrett, and Brett Kavanaugh?

V & Z answer: It is permissible to sue an officeholder when there are disputes about the meaning or the implementation of federal law. For example, if Congress requests records from a president, and the president says "no," then by suing the president the Congress is just asking the courts to decide who is right about the rules and who is wrong.

What you are talking about, however, is a tort. And by the terms of the Federal Tort Claims Act and the Federal Employees Liability Reform and Tort Compensation Act of 1988, a government employee cannot be the target of a tort as the result of actions undertaken in their official capacity. So, there is no way to sue the justices.

That said, it is possible to sue the federal government in place of the justices. That, in fact, is what the laws we link above say: The government becomes the plaintiff in actions against one (or more) of its employees. However, the government has to allow the lawsuit to be filed. And even if that happens, it would require some very novel interpretations of liability law to make the justices (and thus, their employer) guilty of homicide.

B.B. in Portland, ME, asks: Ten Republican members of House of Representatives attended a December 21 White House meeting focused on efforts to pressure former Vice President Mike Pence to help overturn the 2020 election, according to the Jan. 6 committee. The revelation underscores how deep the involvement of some lawmakers were in former President Trump's schemes to overturn the election even after the Electoral College met to affirm President Biden's victory.

Could/would these members be a target of Department of Justice investigation(s)?

Can the House of Representatives have these individual expelled and prevented from running for a House seat in the future? How about running for the Senate?

V & Z answer: These members certainly could be a target of DoJ investigations and, if we had to bet, probably will be. However, proving criminal malfeasance will be a tough slog. What if they say they didn't realize what was going to be discussed at the meeting until they were there, and that they were in no position to leave given Donald Trump's tendency to attack those he deems disloyal?

If Congress decides to take action, then the House certainly has power to expel the members. Further, it could also pass a declaration finding that the members "engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the [United States], or [gave] aid or comfort to the enemies thereof," and that they are therefore disqualified from office by the terms of the Fourteenth Amendment. That maneuver would lead to lawsuits, however. Who knows what the courts would decide?

It is also possible that the Senate could convene an impeachment trial and convict one or more of the members. Members of Congress cannot be removed via impeachment (only members of the executive and judicial branches can be), but it might be possible to disqualify a member of Congress from future officeholding. It's never been tried, so nobody knows for sure.

The options we lay out here are pretty much it, however. Neither the House nor the Senate has the power to disqualify expelled members, beyond these two (theoretical) possibilities. After Jim Traficant was expelled from the House (and sent to prison), for example, he twice ran to regain his seat (including once from his prison cell).

D.P. in Oakland, CA, asks: If Donald Trump offered not to run again in return for no jail time, would AG Merrick Garland take it?

Alternatively, let's say Trump wins a future court case against him, even with damning evidence. If enough senators were swayed, could another impeachment take place, to prevent him from running again?

V & Z answer: Garland wouldn't make that deal. First of all, it would almost certainly be unenforceable if Trump decided to violate the agreement. Second, it would send the message that a president can do whatever he wants, and the worst that will happen is that he can't run for office again. If Trump is really guilty of serious crimes, he needs to suffer a harsher penalty than that.

As to impeachment, it's never been tried, of course, but it is theoretically possible Trump could be put on trial by the Senate for a third time, convicted, and disqualified from future officeholding. This would be on sounder legal footing than trying to do the same to members of the House, since there's no question that members of the executive branch can be impeached.

D.E. in Lancaster, PA, asks: These are some "technical in the weeds" type questions about the procedures of the House Select Committee Investigating the Attack on the Capitol on January 6 that, for some reason or other, have been making me scratch my head.

I freely admit to being totally baffled by parliamentarian rules and procedures, but why does Committee Chair Bennie Thompson (D-MS) begin each hearing invoking the right to call the committee into recess at any time? I'm fairly certain that this is a pro forma statement, but for the life of me I can't figure why the power to call the Committee into recess should be so vital to it's proceedings. Could you please explain the purpose here?

My second question is less about parliamentarian proceedings and probably falls more under tradition, but why does the video for each of these hearings have just silence and a title card for several minutes before the meeting begins? Clearly the committee understands the benefits of judicious editing, so why do they tack on so many minutes at the front? I assume the title card being shown during the ten minute break is the equivalent of a theater intermission, but the long silence at the beginning seems pointless—it's not like they show trailers for upcoming committees or ads for snacks being sold in the Rotunda! Incidentally, if they tack on more silent minutes at the end, I am not aware of it since the second the gavel hits, I'm out of there. I've also noticed that this tacking on filler minutes is something C-SPAN often does as well, so maybe there is a parliamentarian reasoning after all!

V & Z answer: As to Thompson's early-meeting boilerplate, calling for a recess is a motion like any other. Which means that it can be objected to, and can be tied up in parliamentary wrangling. Imagine, for example, that Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) had been allowed to join the Committee, and that he decided to do some grandstanding. If Thompson were to wait until that moment to call for a recess, then other Republicans on the committee might object, and the sh**show could linger for a fairly long time.

So, Thompson's invoking the right to call a recess is, in effect, making the necessary motion at the outset. And as long as nobody objects, then he can invoke the motion at any time later in the hearing and the recess will commence instantly without the possibility of objections (and, thus, added grandstanding). There is little risk that Thompson will need to flex his muscles in this way, since there are no Republican grandstanders on the Committee, but as you note, it's a pro forma statement for most or all committee chairs.

As to the title card, people who are getting connected and loading up their web browser or their cell phone or whatever need to know they are in the right place and that everything is working correctly. If you look, you'll notice that there is a timestamp in the lower left corner, so viewers are entirely clear that the beginning of the hearing is imminent and that the stream isn't broken or stuck. And once the streaming has commenced, and people are connected, it can't be rerouted. That is to say, if 200,000 people are connected to the "title card" feed, they can't be automatically switched over to the "hearing" feed, because both are the same feed.

The Committee could plausibly go back and edit out the title cards after the hearing is over, but that's a lot of trouble for relatively little benefit.


E.W. in Bangkok, Thailand, asks: Thinking of Joe Manchin, I wonder what he will do when the Democratic Party unexpectedly reaches 52 senate seats in November and his vote, like that of Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), no longer matters for a "simple" majority. I would venture to predict that they will then switch to their GOP friends in order to regain their positions of power.

Or am I being too cynical, or am I insufficiently familiar with U.S. politics?

V & Z answer: We must note at the outset that we are absolutely mystified, at this point, by both Manchin and Sinema. There is no clear political or personal purpose that is being served by their actions.

What we can tell you is that the duo's leverage is never going to be greater than it is right now. If they want to extract vast heaps of pork from the Democrats, then they need only say the word. If they want to play turncoat, then they will never get a sweeter deal from the Republicans than the one they'd get right now.

This is not to say that your prediction won't come to pass since, again, we don't get what is going on with them. But if they are thinking about playing Benedict Arnold, then now is really the logical time to do it.

E.H. in Donegal, Ireland, asks: Any chance the Democrats could swap Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) for Joe Manchin, with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) negotiating with her for Build Back Better and her standing as a Democrat at her next election?

V & Z answer: First, although Collins pretends to be a moderate Republican, we really don't think she is. And, in any event, she's never going to get elected to any office as a Democrat thanks to her vote on Brett Kavanaugh.

If there's any Republican senator who might be poached like this, it's Lisa Murkowski. She could plausibly become an independent, caucus with the Democrats, and work with them on abortion and on infrastructure (including lots of pork for Alaska). However, this scenario runs into the same problem as the previous answer: If Murkowski was up for this, then the time to make a move is now. Her leverage will never be greater.

L.T.G. in Bexley, OH, asks: A few months ago, Sam Bankman-Fried, a crypto-currency multi-billionaire (well, at least he was at that time) pledged to spend somewhere between $100,000,000 and $1,000,000,000 (a "soft limit") on the coming election cycles to combat Trumpism. Suppose Mr. Bankman-Fried engaged you to figure out how best to use one billion dollars. Apart from endowing, how should he use this money to greatest effect?

V & Z answer: If ethics are not a concern, then he should spend his money to build a top-rate Democratic troll farm, which would then commence a vast propaganda operation, with guidance from the nation's foremost experts in behavioral psychology.

If ethics are a concern, then he should spend his money on voter registration and get-out-the-vote operations in red and purple states. In particular, he could make some sort of arrangement with Uber and Lyft to provide free rides to polling places while they are open. He could also set up an operation to hire people to go door to door handing out campaign buttons to wear, literature, and more during the campaign season.

K.B. in Madison, WI, asks: Back in the early part of 2020, I decided I would vote for Joe Biden in the Wisconsin primary, as I felt he was the Democrat most likely to defeat Trump come November. Thankfully, that worked out well!

My disdain for Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) is just as high as it is for Donald Trump. In turn, I want to vote for the person most likely to defeat him come November. This time, however, I'm having a far more difficult time deciding on who the best Dem candidate is to run against him in the general election.

I've reviewed the latest polling data from Marquette Law School data, and even reached out to fellow anti-Johnson commentator Charlie Sykes via Twitter for his opinion (to which he replied, "Not Mandela"). Nevertheless, I'm still not totally sure (although I'm leaning toward Lasry after receiving Sykes' reply).

What say you? Do you feel one of Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes/Alex Lasry/State Treasurer Sarah Godlewski/Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson stand out as the best candidate to defeat Johnson? Are there any additional data/polls/commentators you'd recommend to help with this decision?

V & Z answer: Let us be clear, first of all, that when we answer questions like this one, we are not engaging in advocacy, and are merely taking what might be called a "political game theory" approach.

With that out of the way, the Marquette poll you allude to is far and away the best poll we have in terms of general election matchups. And what it shows, as you surely know, is that Lasry is the only candidate who trails Johnson head-to-head. It's only a small gap (45% to 42%), but it comports with our general sense that he's the weakest candidate. So, we would cross him off the list.

Of the three remaining candidates, Nelson is the only one who has not won statewide in Wisconsin, so we'd cross him off the list.

That leaves us with Barnes and Godlewski. Beyond Charlie Sykes' opinion, there's also this: Thanks to the Dobbs decision, we suspect that women candidates will be at an advantage this cycle, particularly if they are matched up against someone like Ron Johnson. So, we would guess that Godlewski is the candidate most likely to defeat the Senator.

P.S. in Arlington, TN, asks: A few months ago, a reader asked you about voting for anti-Trump Republicans in GOP Primaries, knowing they'd lose. Your recommendation was to vote for them and then vote for Democrats in the general after their candidate loses in the primary. This made pretty good sense as a way for me to voice my displeasure.

I reside in TN-08 and my current primary options are the incumbent David Kustoff who voted to overturn the election, two challengers who brag about being at the insurrection, and a third election denier who's running to the right of Kustoff. Obviously, it's my vote but how do I voice my opinion in the primaries? There are Democrats running who will obviously lose in the general.

V & Z answer: Your options here are... poor. A vote for any of these candidates is a vote for Trumpist anti-democratic tendencies. Tennessee doesn't allow write-in votes for undeclared candidates, so you can't just write in a non-Trumpist Republican, like Bob Corker. That would seem to leave only two options: vote for one of the Democrats in the primary (which is allowed in most Tennessee counties), or else leave that line on the ballot blank.

D.M. in Burnsville, MN, asks: I've been politically aware since the early sixties (Barry Goldwater, R-AZ, was my first Presidential vote), but never quite as concerned for the future of our country as I became following the election of Ronald Reagan (R-CA) in 1980. During the past 40 or so years I've seen election maps coalesce into only red and blue (rarely uncolored). I'm realizing that even in cherry-red states there are pockets of progressives, and in cobalt-blue states there are true conservatives. I'd like greater resolution, though, so that it might be possible to reach such folks with greater fidelity. Can you point me to political maps that show any indication of political preference on a county-by-county basis? Precinct-by-precinct? Individual-by-individual?

V & Z answer: Individual-by-individual is not possible, since ballots are anonymous. The most detailed map we know (and the most detailed map possible, we think), is the one put together by The New York Times.

J.F. in Indianapolis, IN, asks: Your map shows Mehmet Oz (R) leading John Fetterman (D). Every poll I can find shows Fetterman with a slight lead. How did you come to the conclusion that Oz is ahead?

V & Z answer: We haven't reached that conclusion, because we're not compiling polls yet. That will begin when we know (almost) all the Senate candidates, probably in early September, but for now the numbers in the map reflect the results of the most recent election for the seat in question. And the last time that seat was up, in 2016, Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) defeated Katie McGinty (D), 49% to 47%.


J.F. in Fort Worth, TX, asks: In the wake of the Supreme Court's horrific decisions in this last term, I've seen a lot of discussion (ok, griping) about the 1803 Marbury v. Madison case that established the concept of judicial review. Some have even called it "the biggest power grab in U.S. history." But I don't see how judicial review could not be a part of the judicial branch's function. It seems to me that without the Court's power to strike down a law as unconstitutional, Congress could simply pass a "Quartering of Soldiers in Private Homes in Peacetime" act or a "Minimum Voting Age of 65" act. This would effectively render the Constitution meaningless. What am I missing here? If the judicial branch didn't have this power, then what exactly would their check on the legislative branch be?

V & Z answer: The argument you are making is the exact argument that John Marshall made in the Marbury decision. And the argument is on a pretty sound footing.

That said, we'll tell you two things that were in the minds of (some of) the founders. The first is that they did not initially intend the Supreme Court to be a truly equal branch of government, or to be a check on Congress. The Court's job was primarily to choose between competing, valid interpretations of existing law, particularly in disputes between two states, or between a state and the federal government. The mandate was narrow enough that it took nearly 4 years for the Court to issue its first decision, and it only ruled in a couple of dozen cases before 1800.

The second is that the United States was previously part of Great Britain, which has no constitution, per se, and where governance and law are based on common law traditions. So, it wasn't necessarily clear that the U.S. Constitution would be an ironclad legal document, as opposed to a broad statement of general philosophical principles. Thomas Jefferson, for example, was no fan of judicial review. And if you'd asked him about a "Minimum Voting Age of 65" act, he would say that such a thing would surely be too politically unpopular to pass, but if it did, well, then it's an example of the law evolving.

As an aside, with a few exceptions (e.g., Germany) in most countries the highest court cannot just chuck out laws it doesn't like. That is seen as undemocratic, since the people chose the parliament and why should a bunch of unelected judges be able to overrule it?

G.T. in Cincinnati, OH, asks: We all get a large number of missives asking us to donate to X, or Y, or even Z. They are always out of money and need more. Where can we go to find out the funding status of candidates? For example, how much they took in during the last month.

V & Z answer: You don't need to do any research if you're thinking about sending money to (Z). Just send along whatever you've got, and know you're doing the Lord's work.

As to (X) and (Y), candidates are only required to provide this information quarterly (though, in some circumstances, it switches to monthly as an election draws nearer). So, you can't necessarily get information that is ultra-current. However, the information that IS available is always posted to the FEC's website. The only problem is that the FEC's site, and its reports, are not all that user-friendly. So there's also Open Secrets, which takes the FEC's information and presents it in a more digestible form.

E.W. in Skaneateles, NY, asks: You wrote: "[T]here are so many steps in the process of enforcing a House subpoena (the House has to vote, then the DoJ has to decide to get involved, then the federal courts have their say, etc.) that maybe it makes sense, in some cases, to roll the dice and extend the middle finger."

Why are there so many steps, in particular needing to get the DoJ to "decide" to be involved? Shouldn't that just be automatic (e.g., defy a subpoena from a duly appointed Congressional committee and we'll definitely immediately throw the book at you)? Do you think that this could be streamlined in the future to prevent future subpoenas from being dragged out like this? Relatedly, would the 1/6 Committee have been better served by subpoenaing many 1/6 conspirators en masse rather than fighting each battle separately?

V & Z answer: Keep in mind that the practice of defying congressional subpoenas, left and right, is fairly new. So, it's an evolving area of law and procedure.

That said, if the Department of Justice was required to pursue all subpoenas issued by Congress, imagine what might happen when the Republicans regain control of the House. They might subpoena Hillary Clinton on a daily basis. Or Hunter Biden. Or they might subpoena all Democratic members of the House. Or all the reporters working for The New York Times. There has to be some prosecutorial discretion here.

As to streamlining the process, we would suggest the way to do that would be to remove the Department of Justice from the process entirely. In any other situation, it's up to a judge to decide. We don't know why the Congress can't just go directly to a judge, say on the D.C. Circuit, and ask for approval for a subpoena.

As to subpoenaing en masse, that would be a bad call. Whoever the decider is—the DoJ or a judge—has to believe that the subpoena was justified and was the product of due diligence. Hard to argue for due diligence when issuing 40 subpoenas at once.


B.D. in Bainbridge Island, WA, asks: There are many countries that have existed for thousands of years (China, Egypt, etc.) but what was the longest-lived government? Is there a common thread throughout history relating to the end of governments? America seems to be at a crossroads, where a significant portion of the citizenry and government officials are leaning away from traditional democracy towards authoritarianism and/or theocracy and it seems that the end of traditional American government is approaching.

V & Z answer: There is no hard and fast answer to this, first because governments evolve, and second because they sometimes go through brief interruptions. For example, the lineage of the current government of the United Kingdom can be traced right back to the year 1066. But one can hardly argue that the government of William the Conqueror and that of Elizabeth II are identical, or even especially similar. Further, there's the small matter of Oliver Cromwell, who interrupted the reign of the English monarchy for 5 years. So, is the British government nearly 1,000 years old (from William to the present)? Or is it 350 years old (from Cromwell to the present)? Or is it 300 years old (from first PM Robert Walpole to the present)? Or is it 100 years old (from the total neutering of the monarch to the present)?

And that leads us to the common thread: governments that endeavor to rule over large, diverse populations are going to evolve and are going to face serious (and even existential) challenges over time. And the strongest governments manage to weather these crises, right up until the last one. Of course, nobody really knows which crisis will be the final one, until it is. Further, there are plenty of cases where the final crisis came, and it wasn't actually clear until generations or even centuries later. For example, most Romans alive in 476 would have had no awareness that their empire had "fallen."

As to your opening question, what we have said thus far suggests that the answer will involve a relatively small, homogeneous body politic. And indeed, a common answer is the Most Serene Republic of Venice, which had pretty much the same government, uninterrupted, for close to 1,100 years (726 to 1797). However, Iceland's parliament, the Althing, was founded in 930 and is still going strong. That's 22 years more than Venice.

F.S. in Cologne, Germany, asks: Prior to the American Civil War, cotton was "king" in the Southern states. But what happened to the cotton industry in the South after the Civil War? What were the economic consequences of the Civil War for the states of the Confederacy and for the Northern states?

V & Z answer: The South's primary business partners were manufacturers in the North, in France, and in Great Britain. When the supply of cotton was cut off in 1861, these manufacturers went looking for alternative sources of raw materials, and they primarily settled on... Egypt. As a consequence, the market for Southern cotton had cratered by the time the Civil War ended in 1865. When the former Confederate states reentered the global market, the prices they were able to command for cotton were a fraction of pre-war prices. In fact, the average price for a bale of cotton in 1861 was not reached again until... the 1970s. And that is NOT correcting for inflation.

On top of the crash of cotton prices and the loss of its labor force, the Civil War also destroyed the South's railroad network, wrecked its banking system, ruined much of its land, and just generally set the region back 50-75 years. Meanwhile, the Northern manufacturing and agricultural economies, which were already ascendant before the war, really took off. This made the North rich and left the South as an economic backwater for generations. The region only began to catch up 50 or so years ago, thanks to lax protections for labor and for the environment, and also thanks to the emergence of air conditioning, which made the South much more livable for non-natives.

T.G. in College Place, WA, asks: Most of our presidential elections seem to be an incumbent against a challenger. Or the variant where the VP carries the torch of the incumbent. Watching the headlines of late, there's been polling that says that a majority of Democrats would prefer Biden be a one-termer, while a majority of Republicans would vote someone other than Trump in a primary. I also don't get the impression that Kamala Harris is turning out to be any sort of Teddy Roosevelt (super popular Veep that people want to keep around). Who knows what will happen, but it seems the ingredients are there for an actual presidential contest where it's all-new candidates all around. Other than the obvious first election (the one Washington won) where everybody was a first-time candidate, has such a setup happened any other time in our history? What were the results like?

V & Z answer: To start, nearly everyone who runs for president dips their toes into the water in a previous cycle, to various degrees. So, there's no clear line between "first-time candidate" and "not a first-time candidate." You could argue that, say, being on the ballot for the Iowa caucus makes a person an official candidate, but that doesn't help us much for the pre-caucus/primary era (1787 to the mid-20th century). So, we're just going to give you a list of elections, besides Washington's first election, where neither of the two major-party candidates had ever served as president or vice president:

  • 2016: Donald Trump (R) defeats Hillary Clinton (D)
  • 2008: Barack Obama (D) defeats John McCain (R)
  • 1952: Dwight D. Eisenhower (R) defeats Adlai Stevenson (D)
  • 1928: Herbert Hoover (R) defeats Al Smith (D)
  • 1920: Warren G. Harding (R) defeats James M. Cox (D)
  • 1908: William Howard Taft (R) defeats William Jennings Bryan (D)
  • 1896: William McKinley (R) defeats William Jennings Bryan (D)
  • 1884: Grover Cleveland (D) defeats James G. Blaine (R)
  • 1880: James A. Garfield (R) defeats Winfield Scott Hancock (D)
  • 1876: Rutherford B. Hayes (R) defeats Samuel J. Tilden (D)
  • 1868: Ulysses S. Grant (R) defeats Horatio Seymour (D)
  • 1860: Abraham Lincoln (R) defeats John C. Breckinridge (D)
  • 1856: James Buchanan (D) defeats John C. Frémont (R)
  • 1852: Franklin Pierce (D) defeats Winfield Scott (W)
  • 1848: Zachary Taylor (W) defeats Lewis Cass (D)
  • 1844: James K. Polk (D) defeats Henry Clay (W)
  • 1824: John Quincy Adams (NR) defeats Andrew Jackson (D)
  • 1816: James Monroe (DR) defeats Rufus King (F)
  • 1808: James Madison (DR) defeats Charles Cotesworth Pinckney (F)

As you can see, this was very common for about 100 years, then it happened once in 80 years, and now it's happened twice in 15 years. We don't think any real conclusions can be drawn; sometimes the party in power manages to hold on even without a president/VP on the ticket, sometimes it doesn't.

J.T. in Greensboro, NC, asks: I'm getting ready to go teach in France as part of a study abroad program for students at my university and I would like to incorporate the history of U.S.-France cultural/political relations into my courses. While I'm fairly strong on things post-1945, I was wondering if you might recommend any texts on this subject the cover any of the period ranging from 1770-1939?

V & Z answer: Broad narrative history and diplomatic history are both out of favor in the academy right now, so there isn't a lot of new work on this front. That leaves you with the preeminent expert of a past generation, namely Rutgers' Henry Blumenthal. His books France and the United States: Their Diplomatic Relations, 1789-1914 and Illusion and Reality in Franco-American Diplomacy, 1914-1945 might be to your liking. Alternatively, there was a three-volume encyclopedia that came out in 2005 entitled France and the Americas: Culture, Politics, and History. Because that work's publication "lifespan" is over, you can acquire a copy for less than $10. And you could just read whatever articles hold your interest, or fit whatever subject you're addressing.

J.P. in Horsham, PA, asks: I'm curious about the comment you made about the threats received by Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA). Specifically, you wrote that Rep. James Hinds and Sens. Huey Long and Robert Kennedy are the only three legislators to be assassinated in U.S. history.

Doesn't Rep. Leo Ryan (D-CA), who was killed while investigating the Jonestown cult in Guyana (on behalf of his constituents), also count as an assassination of a sitting legislator? Am I missing something here?

V & Z answer: The line between "assassination" and "just a homicide" is a blurry one. Generally, an assassination is considered to be a killing motivated by political goals. We considered listing Ryan, but don't think that the Jonestown folks were trying to achieve something politically as much as they were just garden-variety bonkers.

That said, here is a list of sitting members of Congress who died by someone else's hand while in office:

  • Duel: Del. Henry Wharton Conway, Rep. Spencer Darwin Pettis, Rep. Jonathan Cilley, Sen. David Colbreth Broderick

  • Killed in a War: Sen. Edward Dickinson Baker

  • Murder: Rep. Cornelius S. Hamilton, Rep. Thomas Haughey

  • Mass shooting: Rep. John M. Pinckney, Rep. Leo Ryan

  • Assassination: Rep. James M. Hinds, Sen. Huey Long, Sen. Robert F. Kennedy

  • Plane shot down: Rep. Larry McDonald

You can certainly argue for moving some of these into the "assassination" category. For example, McDonald's (civilian) plane was shot down by the Soviets during the Cold War. That said, there's no evidence the Russkies knew he was on board.


J.L. in Los Angeles, CA, asks: Lately, it seems a day doesn't go by when I don't see or hear the phrase "TrumpWorld." I understand that there is a long and noble tradition of "worlds" out there: Westworld, Waterworld, Disney World, Bizarro World, etc. And indeed, "TrumpWorld" has aspects of each of the aforementioned in it. But my question(s) today is/are: Where did this term come from? Who first coined the phrase and when? And what exactly does it mean in these five seconds of political history? And for extra credit: Why not Trumpverse? After all, Twitterverse, Metaverse, Multiverse... why limit Trump to just one world? You know he hates thinking small—especially when it comes to his, er, hands.

V & Z answer: Linguistic evolution in progress. Just as there is a need to refer to people who follow the general Trump template (Trumpers), there is a need to refer to the people in his orbit who are subject to his influence. TrumpWorld is an efficient and reasonably clear way to do that, and it's not surprising that the term achieved circulation very quickly.

When it comes to the first usage of the term, that's something the Oxford English Dictionary specializes in figuring out, but they don't have an entry for TrumpWorld yet. The truth is, it probably emerged spontaneously in several places, and then spread from there.

As to TrumpVerse, it doesn't quite flow as well as TrumpWorld does. Plus, it kind of makes it seem like he's a Marvel Comics hero.

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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