Dem 51
image description
GOP 49
image description

Saturday Q&A

We weren't sure if the question of the week would work out, but we think there are some very interesting answers.

Current Events

J.C. in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, asks: I certainly hope that Issue 1 in Ohio fails and that therefore the abortion initiative passes, but I started wondering if there isn't an issue in my opposition to Issue 1. I think back to all the horribleness of Brexit—a rare initiative for the British people, that needed to only pass with 50%+1 and basically did. It changed the course of British history, for the worse, with many people complaining that they didn't think it would pass and not realizing what would happen and wanting to change their vote.

Not speaking about abortion issues in particular, but in general, isn't it better that some sort of supermajority determine how everyone is affected? I mean, if the state legislature passes a law, the governor can veto it and they need a supermajority to override, so there's checks and balances. But if the people support a law by 50%+1, there is no veto for a check, and we could have a tyranny of the majority. I could see this having a very negative effect in a majority-white Southern state where a law is passed that technically passes state and federal constitutional muster but limits the rights of racial minorities.

(V) & (Z) answer: This is, of course, something the fellows who wrote the Constitution wrestled with. And all we can tell you are two things: (1) If you set up a system where, say, 52% are not allowed to make decisions, then you necessarily set up a system where 48% are; and (2) It may not be possible to veto the results of initiative processes, but the courts, both state and federal, still act as a check on the process. There are many times that a majority, and even a supermajority, of citizens in a state have made a decision, only to be course-corrected by the courts.

J.L. in Los Angeles, CA, asks: Why doesn't Joe Biden just order the Army Corps of Engineers to take down the buoys and barbed wire along the Rio Grande and let Gov. Greg Abbott (R-TX) try to put them back up? See who runs out of money first.

(V) & (Z) answer: First, because that is exactly what Abbott wants. Then he and other Republicans could spin the tale that Biden and the Democrats are so eager to open up the borders that they're willing to use physical force to do it. Second, because the use of physical force, even if it's not violent, is a last-ditch option to be used only when everything else has failed. Perhaps the most famous maneuver of the sort you describe was Dwight D. Eisenhower's deployment of the Arkansas National Guard and the 101st Airborne Division of the U.S. Army to forcibly integrate Little Rock Central High School. And Ike only gave that order once all avenues, including the court system, had been pursued, and it was clear that there was no other way to bring Arkansas into compliance.

S.B. in Hood River, OR, asks: Since Tuesday, I have listened to MSNBC a few times. They seem to have been giving the Hunter Biden plea deal situation a huge amount of airplay, with endless analysts on parade, and with a message that this is a huge issue for the Biden campaign, and a big boon to Republicans. This seems like media hype to me. What is your take?

(V) & (Z) answer: Our take is that the impact of Hunter Biden's failed plea deal is unknowable right now. By all indications, the plea deal was badly handled, and the judge was right to raise questions. If the problems get hammered out, and a revised plea deal passes muster in a month or so, then this will be a relatively small issue for Biden 2024, we think. If, on the other hand, a plea deal proves unworkable, and there is a trial, that would be a bigger problem for Team Biden, politically.

That said, on one side you have a presidential relative who has legal issues. On the other side, the actual presidential candidate (very likely) is the one who has legal issues, and they are rather more serious than the ones faced by Hunter Biden. So, if there are voters who are influenced by these things, it's hard to see how they can convince themselves that a vote for Trump is more OK than a vote for Biden.

R.H.D. in Webster, NY, asks: Where do you put Hunter Biden in comparison to other troublesome presidential relatives of the past. I'm thinking of folks like Billy Carter, Roger Clinton, Neil Bush, etc.?

(V) & (Z) answer: We think he's the most politically damaging relative in U.S. history. To start, he committed actual crimes, as opposed to just being generally embarrassing and/or shady. Second, the other crime-committing relatives (like Clinton, Bush, and Donald Nixon) were siblings, whereas Hunter is a son. People in general, and politicians in particular, are assigned more responsibility for the bad behavior of their own children than they are for other relatives. Third, the media environment in which the other shady presidential relatives pulled their stunts was nowhere near as intense and propagandistic as the current one.

A.G. in Tampa, FL, asks: If Donald Trump's real goal is to get off the hook, wouldn't he be better served by pausing his campaign and anointing a puppet king who will eventually pardon him? He could rally his followers behind someone to combine for a win of some kind. If I'm right about this, then who?

(V) & (Z) answer: We see numerous problems with this scheme. First, Trump likes to be the belle of the ball, and would not be interested in being the power behind the throne, where nobody can see you. Second, Trump has double-crossed enough people that he could never trust someone else not to double-cross him. Third, it looks more and more like Trump's electoral appeal is not transferable. Whether it's wannabe Trumps like Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) or actual Trumps like Donald Jr., none of them poll as well as the genuine article.

That said, if Trump was going to try something like this, then it would have to be Don Jr. He's most likely to follow through on the agreement, and everyone would know that his "political career" was 100% a creation of his father.

J.K. in Haarlem, The Netherlands, asks: You wrote: "There is, of course, no such thing as expunging the Congressional Record, and you can't de-impeach somebody."

What about Andrew Jackson? Is this something completely different than what you mean:

The Senate's censure of President Jackson was approved 26 to 20 on March 28, 1834. For years, Senator Thomas Hart Benton of Missouri, a supporter of President Jackson, tried to expunge the censure motion. By 1837 the Democratic Party controlled the Senate and Senator Benton once again moved to expunge the motion. This time the Democrats had the votes and the measure passed on January 16.

(V) & (Z) answer: We would argue that the word "expunge" is being used incorrectly here. A censure is a statement that Congress believes that [Person X] did [Thing Y] that is problematic, and so deserves to be formally criticized for that. Just as people can change their opinions, so can courts and legislative bodies. So, the Senate took an official position that Jackson did wrong, then the Senate changed its mind and decided that its official position was that he didn't. The original action wasn't expunged, as much as it was superseded.

In the case of the impeachment, the House took an action (passing articles of impeachment), and that led the Senate to take an action (conducting an impeachment trial). The current House can decide that it doesn't like what happened, but it cannot change what actually happened, especially since a chamber not under House Republicans' control was a part of the action. It's like a decree that the U.S. never actually voted to go to war with Japan in 1941. Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) & Co. can pass such a bill, if they want, but that doesn't make it so.

C.M. in Ottawa, ON Canada, asks: You've answered this question previously, but what is your current opinion on whether Donald Trump will ever see the inside of a prison cell? Even if he is found guilty and sentenced to prison on any of the charges he's facing, surely he'll appeal the verdict(s) and sentence(s), dragging out the process indeterminately. If those appeals are denied, then wouldn't his lawyers argue that he'd be too old—likely in his 80s by then—to be imprisoned, and he should spend any sentence under house arrest at Mar-a-Lago?

(V) & (Z) answer: The last clause of your question is really the rub. Trump is just facing so many legal issues, and the Mar-a-Lago case looks even more like a slam dunk, given this week's revelations (the existence of video footage that is a de facto smoking gun). So, the odds are overwhelming he's going to be convicted of something. And the appeals process can, and probably will, go pretty quickly. Further, it's not enough to be old; you have to be able to argue that you are so infirm that going to prison would be inhumane.

All of this said, imprisoning a former president presents so many logistical hurdles that it is very likely that any sentence would be served at Mar-a-Lago or at some sort of facility specially set aside for the purpose (say, an empty barracks at an army base in Florida). If you count one or the other of those things as "inside of a prison cell," then the inside of a prison cell is likely in Trump's future. If you mean "behind iron bars at FCI Tallahassee," then probably not.

R.C. in Des Moines, IA, asks: Is it legal for an office-holder, say a hypothetical governor of Florida, to use state-owned resources, like vehicles, in campaign activities?

(V) & (Z) answer: It's not legal, but the line between what is OK and what is not can be a hard one to draw, and politicians are largely expected to be on the honor system. Further, it is more likely to be a violation of state law than of federal law, and that particular state does not seem to be particularly interested in policing bad behavior by its governor.

R.Y. in Knoxville, TN, asks: You provided this list:

What distinction are you making between "vice chairwoman" and "vice chair"? I thought it might be used to identify the gender of the person in question when the name is ambiguous, but that falls apart quickly. Are these official titles or is something else inferred?

(V) & (Z) answer: We got it from the linked article from The Bulwark. The Bulwark got it from a site in Michigan called The Michigan Advance. The Michigan Advance got it from the legal filing made by Jeff Mandell. And where Jeff Mandell (or, more likely, a paralegal or legal secretary) got it, we do not know. Some of these entities have barely any physical or online presence.

That said, at least some of them appear to have come from organizational webpages, and others appear to have come from LinkedIn profiles. We'll also note that Republicans are sometimes sensitive to these things, but in the opposite direction of Democrats. That is to say, Democrats are almost invariably "politically correct," whereas Republicans sometimes endeavor to be "politically incorrect." For example, the job currently held by Elise Stefanik (R-NY) was officially "Chairman of the House Republican Conference" for several years, even after it was held by a woman (Deborah Pryce).

M.J.B. in Chicago, IL, asks: It occurred to me that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's (R-KY) unlikely-to-be-disclosed medical condition offers an opportunity to resolve a problem each party faces. He and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) can make a backroom deal, have a nice sparkler on their retirement cake, and retire together. It seems like a very obvious win for each of them, their parties and the country. Can you think of reasons this is "impossible," as many other things have been alleged to be?

(V) & (Z) answer: First, it is obvious that both McConnell and Feinstein are not interested in an early retirement. Even if they were; there's no need for a deal. McConnell would be replaced by a Republican because that is required by Kentucky state law, and Feinstein would be replaced by a Democrat because Gov. Gavin Newsom (D-CA) is a Democrat. And the replacements would take their places almost instantaneously; the seats would be vacant for less than a week.

Second, it is not entirely clear to us that Feinstein is capable of undertaking this kind of negotiation anymore.


D.T.R. in Schaumburg, IL, asks: I've appreciated the recent pieces regarding the climate crisis the planet is facing. I have a friend/colleague who is a Chemistry professor, and who insists that while any climate remediation practices (recycling, electric cars, renewable energy, etc) are good, the only thing that can save the planet/humanity is severe population reduction. He argues that more than 500 million humans is not sustainable. While he isn't openly advocating genocide, nor trying to acquire all of the infinity stones, he does argue for severe restrictions on reproduction such as limits on the number of children, mandatory contraceptives, sterilizations and abortions to bring the population down over the next century. While these policies are not going to be implemented any time soon, my question is: Is his basic premise correct, in your opinion? Are there things we can and should be doing to save the planet that will make enough impact? Or are billions of humans doomed to overwhelm the planet no matter what?

(V) & (Z) answer: This is far outside our area of expertise, but we'll say two things. First, people have been claiming that overpopulation will doom the planet for at least 200 years. Second, even if you believe the current population of Earth (7.8 billion) is too much, calling for a reduction of 95% seems a little nutty to us.

K.W. in Tempe, Sydney, Australia, asks: In the past you've often noted that several demographic changes—with groups like the young, the college educated, suburban women, and Black and Latino voters trending Democratic—are working against the Republicans in U.S. politics, and this week you quoted some stats about college towns that further back that up. As things stand now, it's apparent that the GOP is doubling down on both backing their shrinking demographics (white, rural non-college voters), and on fixing the rules to make it harder for less-friendly groups to vote at all.

My question is, do you foresee a point of no return, when GOP electoral shenanigans will cease to be of practical effect, and that the new electorate becomes so large that there is nothing the GOP can do to win national elections?

(V) & (Z) answer: We hate to use this word twice in one day, but this is unknowable. (Z) was once asked by a student: "What do the parties believe?" And (Z)'s answer was: "I know what you are asking, but let me start by noting that the parties themselves don't believe in anything except winning elections. Their job is to embrace whatever political positions that seem most likely to do that. At the moment, the Democrats have decided that means..."

If the Republicans get to the point where they are not at all competitive in national elections, then the Party is likely to change course, and to reinvent itself in some useful way. On the other hand, if they end up in a situation where they control a lot of states, and they occasionally control one chamber of Congress or the other, and they are competitive in presidential elections, then the party's members and leaders are likely to convince themselves they're on the right track, and they just need to stay the course. This is what happened with the Democrats, who were oh-so-close in many presidential elections, and yet only won four of the 18 presidential contests between 1860 and 1928.

The Republicans' hopes for future growth probably lie in two places. First, with Latinos (and maybe Asians), who are largely on board with many Republican ideas, but not the racism or anti-immigration stuff. Second, with winning suburbanites, particularly suburban women, back. Both of these things will require abandoning Trumpism, of course.

J.F. in Fort Worth, TX, asks: (Z) wrote: "Meanwhile, even though the numbers argue very strongly that it's politically unwise, Republicans continue to press for more and more restrictions on abortion access."

I've written to you several times about what I consider is your very mistaken notion that banning abortion isn't "really" something the Republicans want; that this is just a convenient issue to scare the donors out of more money. Having grown up in Texas, I've known for a very long time that the Republicans were absolutely, positively, without a doubt, 100% serious when they said that they wanted to end all abortions in this country, period.

Having now written several long items about the continued push by the Republicans to impose ever-more-draconian abortion bans in the wake of the Dobbs decision, what is your current view of how "serious" Republicans are about this issue and if it's something they "really" want.

(V) & (Z) answer: First, we have no doubt that some Republican officeholders in deep-red states/districts are True Believers, and are putting that belief into effect.

However, it is generally the case that if you are someone who puts "what I want personally" ahead of "what will win elections," then you should not be in politics, because you're setting yourself up for failure. We are sure that some swing-district House Republicans are anti-abortion. But if they are forced to run on that plank, because of their deep-red-district colleagues, they are in big trouble in 2024.

We also continue to believe that, in their heart of hearts, many "conservative" Republican officeholders are pro-choice. For many of them, their religiosity is for show, and they want to have the procedure available should they or their relatives need it. To take the most obvious example, Donald Trump is officially anti-abortion, because he has to be in order to be the GOP nominee. But do you think he really believes in that position?

W.S. in Austin, TX, asks: Why do some GOP politicians want to ban birth control? Is it based on religion or is there some other reason?

(V) & (Z) answer: It is because many of their voters want to ban birth control. And the voters feel that way, largely, because their religious leaders have told them to feel that way. Opposition to all forms of birth control is the official position of the Roman Catholic Church, and is also the position of many flavors of evangelical Protestantism.

P.L. in Denver CO, asks: I don't live in California, but I sure do like Reps. Adam Schiff and Katie Porter (both D-CA). I was dismayed when I saw that they both are running for the U.S. Senate. One of them will lose. Where do you see the losing candidate going after this election... governor... something else?

(V) & (Z) answer: Schiff, if he doesn't win the job, would be 66 at the time of the next California gubernatorial inauguration. Not impossible, but that's getting up there for a job that nearly everyone holds for 8 years. Our guess is that if he's not elected to the Senate, he ends up in some sort of academic position, maybe teaching at his alma mater (Stanford).

Porter, by contrast, would be 52 at the time of the next gubernatorial inauguration. That's still young enough to serve 8 years, and also to have time for another chapter (e.g., a presidential run). Plus, she seems very ambitious, and not likely to voluntarily spend the last three or four decades of her life out of power. So, a run for governor (or maybe some other statewide office, if the polls tell her the big job is beyond her reach) would make a lot of sense.

Both representatives would also be serious candidates for the Cabinet, if a seat is available. Schiff would be an ideal AG, and Porter's experience would work well for HUD or HHS.


D.C. in Brentwood, CA, asks: If I recall correctly, you've discussed the situation where a person is candidate for multiple parties at the same time. That makes me think about how the Electoral College works, and how people aren't voting for the candidate; they're voting for the elector.

So, if No Labels put Joe Biden as their candidate, and 10% of the Joe Biden (D) vote was siphoned off to Joe Biden (No Labels), wouldn't that result in state results where Trump (I'm guessing) comes first with like 47% of the vote, and Biden comes second, with 45%, and Biden also comes in third, with 5% of the vote?

You can't really combine party votes for the same candidate, if they're actually for different electors, so wouldn't this be the best way for the Republicans to ratf**k the Democrats?

What am I misunderstanding?

(V) & (Z) answer: First, in some states, voters are voting for individual electors. In other states, they are voting for slates of electors. The latter is more common than the former.

Second, what you are talking about is fusion voting, and in presidential elections, it's only legal in three states, namely Connecticut, New York and California. Everywhere else, a person can only appear once in the list of candidates for a particular office. And in those three states, the votes are combined, and then the combined total is used to determine which slate of electors has been elected.

This is not merely theoretical. In California, in 2016, Donald Trump was both the Republican candidate and the candidate of the far-far-right American Independent Party. Needless to say, his combined 4,483,810 votes were nowhere near enough to win the state's electoral votes. But if they had been, he would have gotten all 54 of them.

S.K. in Sunnyvale, CA, asks: Of CA-41, you wrote: "Remember that R+2 equates to 'evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans.'" This, IIRC, is due to the adjustment for national popular vote advantage in the past two-ish presidential elections. But if one has to "just know" that "R+2" equates to "evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans", how is the PVI, as formulated, more useful than just reporting the actual local partisan breakdown?

(V) & (Z) answer: The purpose of PVI is to allow the presidential race, which is always heavily polled, to be used to predict the outcomes of House races, which are often poorly polled. If the 2024 Democratic nominee is polling at 46% of the major-party vote, that would be 4 points behind the roughly 50% that Clinton '16 and Biden '20 averaged, and would suggest that any member whose district is less blue than D+5 is potentially in trouble. If the 2024 Republican nominee is polling at 46% of the major-party vote, that would be right on target for Trump '16 (46.1%) and Trump '20 (46.8%), and it would suggest that all current Republican officeholders are reasonably safe.

K.R. in Austin, TX, asks: I often get telephone pills on local election matters. I think many of them are push polls, but I'm not sure.

One I received this week, about a constitutional amendment to help state parks, had a surprising question in the middle. It was something like, "Crest toothpaste claims that their product makes breath fresher, teeth whiter, and protects teeth from cavities. Do you believe this claim from Crest is definitely true, probably true, probably false, or definitely false?" There were no other related questions.

Is this a polling technique? Is it a paid ad to subsidize the cost of the poll? If it's a technique, what is the purpose?

Note: Crest did not pay me to submit this question. It is a real situation I encountered.

(V) & (Z) answer: We know Crest did not pay you. Just like we would never, ever take money from, say, Wheaties. Even if it is the Breakfast of Champions, and is now available in a convenient 20-ounce size.

There are a few pollsters, most notably YouGov, that are known for mixing in non-political questions to help cover the costs of the political polling. That is almost certainly what happened here. If it were a push question, then it would be more likely worded something like this: "Have you heard about the news that the American Dental Association just named Crest its #1 toothpaste for the sixth year in a row?"

We've never heard of examples of this, but it's at least hypothetically possible that it was some sort of calibration question. For example, on the game show Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, they usually include a very obvious pop culture question in the early rounds. The purpose of this is to weed out contestants who are not sufficiently connected to the country in which the show is being aired. If you are on the American version of the show, and you've never heard of, say Friends, you're not likely to make it to the exciting, high-dollar rounds, and those rounds are what viewers tune in for. For the polls, maybe it's the case that if they ask you about Crest, and you say "What's Crest?," they end the interaction because you're not "American" enough.

T.C. in Danby, NY, asks: You wrote: "To make the math simpler, let's assume the House triples in size, to 1,305 members."

How much would it cost to enlarge the House chamber in the Capitol to accommodate 1,305 members? Or even 1,200? Be sure to anticipate the situations that might include 100 Senators, 9 Justices, however many Cabinet offices (today's total minus one), military, a few ambassadors, and, of course, the visitors in the gallery.

And, oh yes, where would the expanded chamber go?

(V) & (Z) answer: We cannot say how much it would cost, since we're not in the construction business. However, we are confident it is within the trillions-of-dollars budget of the federal government.

At the moment, the lower gallery of the House seats about 450 people and the upper gallery seats around 500. One has to assume that if 800 new representatives were added, then 800 more seats would be needed for occasions like the State of the Union. Here's a cross section of what the House's portion of the Capitol looks like:

The House chamber is in
the center, there is a ring of offices and hallways around it, and another ring of offices and hallways around that

We are inclined to think that seating some members on the floor and others above is a nonstarter, so adding an additional level is probably not the solution. On the other hand, you can see there is space around the House chamber; that space is devoted to things like cloakrooms and a library. So, it is likely the walls around the House Chamber would be knocked down, and the space currently occupied by the cloakrooms and library would be incorporated into the Chamber.

B.H. in Frankfort, IL, asks: Would be interested in your take on "His Majesty" Alito's comments to The Wall Street Journal. If there's a prize for arrogance he has to be in contention:

Congress did not create the Supreme Court. I know this is a controversial view, but I'm willing to say it: No provision in the Constitution gives them the authority to regulate the Supreme Court—period.

(V) & (Z) answer: We will start by leaving open the possibility that his words were misrepresented or taken out of context. We don't have a subscription to WSJ because we're not interested in giving money to Rupert Murdoch. So we're limited to the recounting of Alito's words by other outlets (the link above is from Politico). That said, all the other outlets have quoted him in the same way, so it's probably correct.

Assuming he's being quoted correctly, then we thank Alito for making clear that when he references the Constitution in service of his arguments, he's perfectly willing to bend the truth beyond all recognition. He may be right that Congress has no right to regulate the Supreme Court, depending on how you define "regulate," as that is consistent with maintaining a separation of powers. But to say that Congress did not create the Supreme Court is demonstrably incorrect. It did, in the Judiciary Act of 1789, consistent with the authority granted by Article III of the Constitution.


M.C. in Austin, TX, asks: You frequently ask if a political figure is "playing 3D chess" - a quick Google search suggested the phrase has been used on more than 70 times. And almost always, the answer is "no." Can you define what you mean by it, and give some historical examples of successful players?

(V) & (Z) answer: We would define it as engaging in political maneuvering so deft, you manage to get your political opponents to do your bidding without being fully aware of it. Abraham Lincoln was a skilled played of 3-D chess, as shown when he, for example, maneuvered the South into being the aggressor in starting the Civil War. Franklin D. Roosevelt was a 3-D chessman, too, such as when he used threats of court packing to scare SCOTUS straight. Joe Biden is an occasional player, too, as when he maneuvered Republicans in Congress to stand and applaud his political agenda during his first State of the Union address.

F.J. in Brussels, Belgium, asks: You wrote that in Abraham Lincoln's time, the Republicans were the left-wing party and the Democrats were the conservatives, and that previously, the Whigs tried to play both sides. I understand that parties are heterogeneous and evolving, but I did not realize that Democrats and Republicans actually switched places, nor did I know that a major party (i.e., the Whigs) could be that much fractured.

I was wondering if you could broadly summarize throughout U.S. political history which parties or factions of parties had been on the right and which had been on the left?

These terms right-wing and left-wing may be tricky, especially over various periods of time, but let's say the left are those who seek changes towards greater equality and the right those who mostly defends social order as it is.

(V) & (Z) answer: Political historians generally divide U.S. history into five, six, or seven "party systems" defined by various political alignments. We'll use six; those who use seven just divide the final era into two, usually breaking it at the year 1994 (the year of the "Gingrich Revolution").

  1. First Party System (1796-1810s): At the outset of this period, the Federalists were the dominant party and also the conservative party. Eventually, they were overtaken by the Democratic-Republicans, who were the more liberal party. That said, consistent with how long ago this was, this is the period where the current liberal-conservative spectrum works the least well.

  2. Second Party System (1830s-1856): There was only one party from the late 1810s to the late 1820s/early 1830s, namely the Democratic-Republicans. Then the Democratic-Republicans evolved into the Democrats, who were a center to center-right party, and were predominant. The Democrats were opposed by the Whigs, a party that included the center-left Northern Whigs and the right-wing Southern Whigs. You can see why the Whig Party struggled to maintain cohesion.

  3. Third Party System (1860-1896): The Republicans were dominant, and were the more liberal party. The Democrats were in the minority nationwide, though they dominated the South, and were the more conservative party.

  4. Fourth Party System (1896-1932): The Republicans remained dominant, though less so. Both parties had a progressive wing, the Republicans also had a fiscally conservative wing, while the Democrats also had a socially conservative populist wing.

  5. Fifth Party System (1932-1968): The Democrats became the dominant party, and enjoyed control of the federal government to an extent not seen since the Republicans during Reconstruction. The Republicans were the more conservative party, on the whole, although there was a significant liberal-leaning wing centered in the Northeast. And the most conservative faction of all was actually the Southern Democrats.

  6. Sixth Party System (1968-Present): The Southern Democrats largely began leaving for the Republican Party, and Black voters, who had been Republicans for a century, largely finished leaving the Republican Party. Many of the so-called Rockefeller Republicans (the liberal-leaning Republicans) joined the Black members of the Party in departing. The Republicans have been the minority party throughout this period, although that has not stopped them from having a lot of presidential success. They are the more conservative party by a large margin.

C.P. in Silver Spring, MD, asks: After reading your item on Ron DeSantis and the Lost Cause, I got to wondering: are there any good books that cover the day to day living conditions of slaves in the South before and during the Civil War, specifically how they were physically abused?

Relatedly, did the staff historian ever watch Django Unchained? If so, what was his opinion of it?

(V) & (Z) answer: The predominant work, when it comes to daily life under slavery, remains Roll, Jordan, Roll (1976), by Eugene Genovese. Be forewarned, however, that it is quite voluminous (864 pages), and that Genovese makes no effort to hide his then-Marxist beliefs (he later flipped to being a political conservative).

Alternatively, consider a volume with selections from the great slave narratives of the Civil War era (Frederick Douglass, Nat Turner, Harriet Jacobs, Solomon Northrup, etc.). Or, as many readers will know, the WPA hired historians to collect oral histories from those enslaved individuals who survived into the 1930s. You can very easily find the WPA Slave Narratives online, or you can buy an edited collection like this one.

And (Z) has indeed seen Django. It's a very fine movie, particularly the parts that have Christoph Waltz. But it's definitely alternative history, and has little connection to the real thing.

B.J. in Arlington, MA, asks: (Z) wrote: "Roughly 100% of white Southerners would have seen Stephens' ideas as obvious, albeit eloquently stated."

Really, 100%? It is hard to imagine any political question that would have a nearly unanimous opinion among the population. There were no white southern abolitionists? No minority opposition party?

(V) & (Z) answer: Yes, there were a handful of Southern abolitionists, perhaps most notably Hinton Rowan Helper. However, there weren't very many of them, as Southerners took aggressive steps to stifle any anti-slavery dissent. Further, there were two main propositions in the passage from Alexander Stephens that we quoted: (1) that slavery was the foundation of the Southern way of life, and (2) that Africans were inferior to white men. The first of those is not something an abolitionist would dispute; in fact, they might believe it even more than the non-abolitionists. As to the second, it may seem incongruous to us that someone would be an abolitionist and would also believe that Black people are inferior, but that's actually the case with most 19th century abolitionists (the main exceptions were John Brown, William Lloyd Garrison and, of course, the various Black abolitionists). The Wikipedia article we link above begins: "Hinton Rowan Helper (December 27, 1829 - March 9, 1909), from North Carolina, was a writer, abolitionist, and white supremacist." Just because someone thought slavery was wrong, or was ill-advised as an economic system, did not necessarily mean they felt Black people were equal to white people.

S.S. in Koloa, HI, asks: Since slaves were provided with such valuable skills, don't you think the descendants of plantation owners are due tuition payments from the descendants of former slaves?

(V) & (Z) answer: Don't forget transportation costs from Africa. Those trips weren't cheap.


A.G. in Scranton, PA, asks: I am an avowed Luddite, so I wouldn't even know where to begin, but (if there isn't one already) can we set up a GoFundMe for the poor Casiano family, made victims by religious zealots like the rest of my family?

(V) & (Z) answer: There actually is one, right here, that managed to surpass its goal by a large margin. If you click through, note that it includes a very sad, very disturbing picture of baby Halo.

Reader Question of the Week

Here is the question we put before readers last week:

T.J.R. in Metuchen, NJ, asks: If the Democrats nominated their version of Donald Trump, who would that person be, why do you say so, and would they be electable?

And here some of the answers we got in response:

J.B. in Aarhus, Denmark: Huey Long.

The party could probably get away with nominating him, but I don't think he would be electable... since he's been dead for 88 odd years or so.

A.C. in Kingston, MA: If we're going for someone whose name immediately conjures up a certain image, who's got a decades-long media presence, has cozied up to other politicians and celebrities... it's gotta be Oprah Winfrey. Like Trump, she has a history of involvement in dubious endeavors (primarily her elevation of, well, pure snake-oil salespeople like Dr. Oz, Dr. Phil, John of God, Marianne Williamson again, but also the whole fiasco with the Million Little Pieces guy), her lack of any concrete policy positions, and her (for lack of a better phrase) star power.

Could she win? I think she'd have an easier time in the general than in a primary, for the same reasons that "liberal" versions of Fox News and talk radio always struggle. Dialed-in Democrats and voters who might not be registered in a party but lean left, tend to be more nuanced and less persuaded by demagoguery (overall, of course, not at the individual level!). But I know a lot of moderate or apolitical women over 60 who still adore Oprah and would definitely vote for her. And if a situation arose like the one the GOP faced in 2016, where the anti-Trump vote was split among too many other candidates, she just might pull through.

K.R. in Austin, TX: Sam Bankman-Fried if he stays out of jail and turns 35 (He's 31 now.). He's a billionaire, unethical, a self-promoter, and thinks outside the box. He wouldn't win the nomination.

Howard Stern may also be a Democratic Donald Trump for being crude, an expert at getting attention, someone who thinks outside the box, and is beloved by many who aren't fans of polite society. He may have a chance.

D.W. in Oxnard, CA: Meghan Markle Mountbatten-Windsor. She is a U.S. Citizen and over 35 years old and a celebrity with lots of money so she probably has as much chance of winning as Trump did, depending on who she has to run against. And she's Black and a woman. But maybe there aren't as many low-information Democrats who bother to vote as on the other side of the aisle?

H.F. in Pittsburgh, PA: Maybe former Senator Al Franken (D-MN). He's a celebrity who's great at criticizing his opponents and he has a history of misbehavior involving women (also like Trump). Could he get elected? If a candidate with a Muslim name could get elected seven years after 9/11, then in 2025 Franken could become the first Jewish President.

E.R. in Padova, Italy: As an Italian living in Italy, I am unable to name an individual that is eligible to become POTUS. However, I believe that it should be someone with a strong resemblance to the Italian comedian/politician Beppe Grillo, because in my opinion he can actually be considered an Italian left-of-center version of Trump (note that in Italy we also had a right-of-center version of Trump; media mogul and prime minister Silvio Berlusconi), and he achieved the electoral equivalent of two Democratic Party nominations (and a general election win).

Grillo is a comedian who became politically relevant around 1986, when he was banned from all Italian TV networks because of a prime-time joke about the corrupt Socialist Party of then-prime-minister Bettino Craxi (Craxi controlled state-owned RAI because he was PM; and controlled private networks through one of his allies/protegees, Berlusconi). This ban made Grillo an anti-corruption martyr, and he slowly became involved in politics, acting more and more as a populist leader. Since his nemesis Berlusconi had become a right-wing prime minister, Grillo was perceived as a leftist; this was sort-of-confirmed in 2009, when Grillo tried to take part in the "primary election" of the leader Partito Democratico (the main center-left Italian party, roughly equivalent to the U.S. Democratic Party) but party leadership did not allow him to participate because he already had his own political movement (Movimento 5 Stelle, M5S). After that, M5S got 25% of the votes in the 2013 general election (2nd largest party), 32% in the 2018 election (largest party), and 15% in the 2022 election (3rd largest party). In a U.S.-like system, the election results of 2013 and 2018 would definitely translate into two Democratic nominations (with 2018 strongly tilting to a general election victory).

I do not know how much I can generalize this story, but it suggests that the "Democratic Trump" should: (1) be media/entertainment savvy; (2) have some strong credentials about fighting for a hot-button issue (in Grillo's case, it was corruption, which had the advantage of being relatively bipartisan); (3) be perceived as the nemesis of some opposing-party politician (for Grillo, it was Craxi and Berlusconi; in the U.S., the obvious choice is Trump); (4) be perceived as an outsider from the party, both because the leadership hates you, and because some of your (populist) proposals are very different from the party line.

As I note above, I cannot recall a U.S. Democratic-leaning politician checking all these boxes: the best I can do is... Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), who fits perfectly with #2 (though his issue is likely too lefty), does decently with #3 and #4, but doesn't do well with #1. Another person coming to my mind is former representative Liz Cheney, but I guess she's too Republican for becoming the Democratic Trump.

Otherwise, I wonder if some of the prosecutors involved with the Trump legal mess has some kind of entertainer résumé?

L.C. in Boston, MA: The Democrats already had a Donald Trump of sorts(*) as president from March 4, 1829 to March 4, 1837. But that was back way before the racists, religious fundamentalists, and other bigots moved themselves to the Republican Party. Now, it would take extraordinary circumstances to get such a nominee in the Democratic Party, such as something happening to Joe Biden and the other Democratic candidates somehow all imploding, leaving the nomination to Robert F. Kennedy Jr. by default, although that would probably hand the general election to Donald Trump; that would be a clear scenario of "Damned If You Do, Damned If You Don't."

* - With a few notable differences, such as that Andrew Jackson actually served in the military.

R.C. in Andover, MA: This is likely not the most creative or unique response you'll get, but in my eyes, RFK Jr. is a slam dunk for the title of the Democratic Trump. Conspiracy theories, racism, antisemitism, anti-vaxx hallucinations, and certain questionable public behavior, are all hallmarks of this man.

As for the current polls showing him at 15%, let's hope most of it comes from the less-engaged Democratic voters, who will see him for what he is once enough attention is given to him. A lot of people may think he's like he's like his father, but unfortunately, that's far from true. I remember 1968 well (I was 10), and my family fervently supported RFK Sr. If my parents or grandmother were alive to see his son, I think they would be amazed and saddened.

S.H. in Hanoi, Vietnam: T.J.R.'s question is founded on a profound misconception regarding the current state of US politics, namely that the two major parties are more-or-less similar but just split left versus right, so if the Republican party can produce a Trump, then the Democrats must also be capable of having "their version of Trump."

But at present this couldn't be further from the truth. The Democratic Party is a multi-racial coalition of groups whose interests are harmonized but are not necessarily perfectly aligned ideologically; by contrast, the Republican Party represents an overwhelmingly white, Christian, nationalist worldview that has been increasingly hostile to democratic norms over a span of many years. Regular readers of are aware that (Z) and (V) have made this observation dozens of times since the ascension of Donald Trump. Given these structural differences, it's nearly impossible for a Democratic presidential candidate to unify these disparate coalitions in the manner of a Trump or Narendra Modi or Boris Johnson or Jair Bolsonaro. So the first and most important answer to TJR's inquiry is: "this question doesn't make sense."

That being said, IF there were going to be someone who would have a chance at vying for the Democratic presidential nomination and simultaneously mirror some of the qualities of Donald Trump, they would need to: (1) have major name recognition, either from their own fame or from being part of a well-known Democratic political family; (2) engage in conspiratorial thinking; (3) whip up hatred of available scapegoats (national policy experts like Anthony Fauci; ethnic or religious groups like Jews); and (4) threaten to use the apparatus of government to punish perceived enemies, including those mentioned in #3.

In short, this describes Robert F. Kennedy Jr. with a high level of accuracy. Thus, his campaign provides a near-perfect test of the hypothesis that it's impossible for the Democrats to take a shine to a Trump equivalent, for he checks all the boxes. Thus far, he's getting nowhere, which is very different from Trump, who led almost from the moment he started campaigning in 2015.

J.K. in Portland, OR: As a retired RAND Corporation analyst, I maintain the RAND tradition of questioning the question posed. If the Trump is the international unit of catastrophically bad American presidential candidates (that avoids the Godwin's Law problem, among others), the best the Democrats could come up with would be measured in milliTrumps (OK, maybe Huey Long or RFK Jr. might be measured in centiTrumps). Nobody currently active in politics, even on the GOP side, approaches him in the danger he poses to the very survival of the nation (OK, maybe DeSantis is worth a deciTrump). And none of the worst of them are electable, for which we should be grateful.

S.S. in West Hollywood, CA: There is no Democratic version of Trump. Full stop. There are Democrats who might be labeled loud-mouthed rabble rousers and perhaps tactless like Trump—Larry Flynt, Michael Moore and Al Sharpton come to mind. However they, and probably anyone else who's submitted here, still speak from a place of facts and truths. Even if you disagree with their interpretation of those facts. There simply is no Democrat who lies and makes up complete fantasies to justify their incompetence, corruption and power grabs like Trump does. The only Democrat who might come close, obviously, is RFK Jr., as he continues his plunge down the rabbit hole of conspiracies and vaccination denials. Unlike Trump, no mainstream elected Democrat or voter will ever embrace him.

And perhaps Rep. "George Santos" (R-NY) and Trump himself since nothing they say, including being Republican, can be taken as honest. They would happily leave the Republican Party if they thought that would help them with their grifts and/or next election. After all, Trump used to be a Democrat who saw his opportunity by becoming a Republican.

It's telling that there is no shortage of elected Republicans (and friends of Trump) who will completely make up "facts" to further their own careers (and grifts). Starting with the fantasies that Trump was a good president who won reelection and January 6 was... peaceful tourists who are now political prisoners... a government staged false flag operation... Antifa... IDK, whatever, ask the Magic Eight Ball. There is nothing comparable for Democrats.

J.F. in Fort Worth, TX: A Democratic version of Trump? I'd almost have to say, and bear with me here... Donald Trump. Trump used to be, if not an official member of the Democratic Party, then at least on very friendly terms with many of the movers and shakers in that party (e.g., the Clintons). He used to be pro-choice on abortion and if not exactly gay-friendly, at least gay-tolerant. In many ways, this mirrors Ronald Reagan's transformation from fairly liberal Democrat to conservative Republican.

And no, I do not believe for a second (and more to the point, do not WANT to believe) that the people who vote in the Democratic primaries would have done anything but laugh him off the stage.

K.F. in Framingham, MA: The Democrat who is the closest analog to Donald Trump is Joe Biden. Think about it. He beat umpteen other wannabe candidates in his primary. When elected, he was the oldest president to have served. The opposition party in Congress is threatening impeachment. His approval rating seems stuck in the low-to-mid 40s. He isn't exactly best buddies with Mitch McConnell. One of his sons is a highly controversial figure. He's a teetotaler. And he has the audacity to claim that he actually won the 2020 election! Really, the only thing that separates him from Trump is that he is not a pathological liar. Oh, and the fact that he was not on a fake TV show. Or that he doesn't have dozens of failed businesses. Okay, I'll even give you that he isn't facing two major indictments with more pending. But other than those minor differences, yep, Biden is clearly the Democrats' version of Trump!

Here is the question for next week:

J.W. in North Canton, OH, asks: As an Ohioan, the surge in early voting is no shock to me. And I expect the special August election will have huge turnout. Ohioans, both Democratic and Republican, are hopping mad that the legislature is trying to pull a fast one under the radar. It feels like "revenge voting" and I expect Issue 1 to fail and the pro-abortion issue in November to pass. The whole thing will blow up in the Republicans faces.

It got me thinking about revenge voting by voters unhappy with the shenanigans of their legislators. Have there been similar situations in other states, or nationally?

Submit your answers here!

This item appeared on Read it Monday through Friday for political and election news, Saturday for answers to reader's questions, and Sunday for letters from readers.                     State polls                     All Senate candidates