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Political Wire logo Dramatic Realignment Swings Poor Districts to GOP
Leaker of Secret Documents Worked on Military Base
Dianne Feinstein Asks to Step Away from Judiciary
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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Biden Is Definitely Running, but Is Definitely Not Announcing It Yet
      •  Sweet Home Chicago
      •  DeSantis Is Failing
      •  Bragg Sues Jordan
      •  Reader Comments on The People v. Donald J. Trump
      •  Bob Casey Is In
      •  Greatest Blunders: Parapraxery, Round 1, Part I

Biden Is Definitely Running, but Is Definitely Not Announcing It Yet

Joe Biden is privately telling officials that he will run for reelection, and he also let Al Roker in on the secret, but he is in no hurry to make a formal announcement, which would trigger various campaign finance laws.

Biden also hasn't decided on a campaign manager or where his campaign headquarters will be, although he has narrowed the choices to Philadelphia or Wilmington, DE. He is well known for taking his time making major decisions, talking to many people about them, and weighing all his options, so this delay is not out of character. After all, unlike, say, Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL), Biden has pretty high name recognition all over the country and doesn't need to jump in quickly so people can learn who he is. One Democratic adviser close to Biden said about his lack of haste jumping in: "What's the upside?" Multiple sources now say the announcement is likely to be in summer rather than spring.

One advantage of waiting is watching how the Republican invisible primary plays out. Donald Trump has already been indicted in New York and is likely to be indicted in Georgia soon. DeSantis no longer appears to be the great white hope that some Republicans were expecting (more below). By June, it might be clearer who the Republican nominee will be and if so, Biden can tune his announcement appropriately. For example, if he thinks Trump will be his opponent, he could talk about all the legislation he signed and Trump's failure to actually achieve anything. If he thinks DeSantis will be his opponent, he could emphasize that he is a centrist and DeSantis and the Republicans are extreme right wingers. He has also told insiders: "Why not just let the Republicans try to out-crazy each other?"

For the most part, Democrats are reconciled that Biden will be their nominee next year, even if some of them would prefer someone else. With the Democratic Party largely united behind him, Biden doesn't feel like there is a need to hurry an announcement. Biden also knows that Barack Obama did not launch his reelection campaign until April 2011. George W. Bush didn't announce until May 2003, and didn't begin campaigning until much latter. Biden figures he has plenty of time.

As a practical matter, three decisions are probably more important than when a formal announcement will be. First, of course, is who his campaign manager will be. There are probably a dozen possibles, many of whom have run high-profile successful Senate or gubernatorial campaigns recently. For example, the people who managed campaigns for Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D-MI), Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-GA), and Sen. Mark Kelly (D-AZ) are on the list.

Second, again, is where the campaign headquarters be. Biden personally prefers Wilmington, but others on his staff are pitching Philadelphia, both because it is a much bigger city and because Pennsylvania is a must-win swing state. Operating out of Philadelphia would be both a sign to Pennsylvanians that "Scranton Joe" hasn't forgotten where he came from and would make the logistics easier, since there are flights from just about everywhere to Philly and far fewer to Wilmington.

Third, where will the convention be? The process of figuring that out began well over a year ago. In the summer of 2021, DNC Chairman Jaime Harrison sent out letters to 20 cities inviting them to submit bids. Some did and some didn't. The process of winnowing has gone on since then. It is technically Harrison's call, but he wouldn't make a decision without input from Biden. And yesterday, the blue team made its pick. Keep reading. (V)

Sweet Home Chicago

When and if Joe Biden claims the 2024 Democratic nomination, he'll make it official in Chicago. Yesterday, the Democratic Party announced that the Windy City has been chosen as the site of its 2024 convention, beating out the other two finalists, New York City and Atlanta.

The Democrats have a fondness for that city when it comes to conventions. In fact, 2024 will make it an even dozen. Here's the full list (candidates who went on to win are in bold):

Year Nominee
1864 George McClellan
1884 Grover Cleveland
1892 Grover Cleveland
1896 William Jennings Bryan
1932 Franklin Delano Roosevelt
1940 Franklin Delano Roosevelt
1944 Franklin Delano Roosevelt
1952 Adlai Stevenson
1956 Adlai Stevenson
1968 Humbert Humphrey
1996 Bill Clinton
2024 Joe Biden?

As you can see, the blue team is 6-5 thus far with Chicago launches.

While a dozen conventions is quite a large number, however, the Democrats' affinity is actually outdistanced by the Republicans' love for Chicago conventions:

Year Nominee
1860 Abraham Lincoln
1868 Ulysses S. Grant
1880 James A. Garfield
1884 James G. Blaine
1888 Benjamin Harrison
1904 Theodore Roosevelt
1908 William Howard Taft
1912 William Howard Taft
1916 Charles Evans Hughes
1920 Warren G. Harding
1932 Herbert Hoover
1944 Thomas E. Dewey
1952 Dwight D. Eisenhower
1960 Richard Nixon

That's 14 Chicago conventions for the GOP in total, thanks in large part to a remarkable five in a row in the early 20th century. The red team, as you can see, is 8-6 when launching from the city, though they haven't been there in more than 60 years. Overall, Chicago will have hosted 26 conventions in the 190 or so years that parties have been holding conventions. That means the city averages one convention roughly every other presidential cycle.

The lesson from this exercise is this: It's all good and well to hold conventions in a swing state (or a swing city), but the benefits are negligible at best. It's much more important to hold them in a city well suited to hosting a successful convention. Chicago has two major airports, plenty of hotel rooms, and plenty of the other amenities needed to accommodate 100,000 or so politicians, delegates, alternate delegates, reporters, alternate reporters, lobbyists, alternate lobbyists, activists, alternate activists, bloggers, alternate bloggers, vendors, alternate vendors, prostitutes, and alternate prostitutes. On top of that, it's pretty much in the center of the country, travel-wise. Delegates from, say, Los Angeles are going to be much more chipper if they don't have to get up at 3:00 a.m. and then endure a 6-hour flight on the first day of the convention.

The Republicans, having reached a similar conclusion, will hold their 2024 convention in Milwaukee. That's nominally a more swingy location than Illinois, but not really. First, it sure looks like Wisconsin is lost to the GOP (a.k.a. the anti-abortion party) for a while. Second, to the extent that conventions have an effect on voting patterns, it's local. And Milwaukee hasn't elected a Republican mayor since before the World War. And by that, we mean... the First World War. A hat tip to Gerhard A. Bading, who was actually a Republican-Democratic fusion candidate (to beat the Socialist Party), serving from 1912-16. (Z)

DeSantis Is Failing

Since he's never made it official, we do not know exactly when Ron DeSantis became a presumptive candidate for the White House. Maybe it was a year ago, maybe it was a month ago. What we do know is that he's been under a harsh microscope for a number of months now (albeit one less harsh than those trained on bona fide presidential candidates). And it is not going well for him.

The Governor hasn't exactly kept it a secret that he's focused on the Republican nomination right now, and he'll worry about a potential general election run later. So, he's been using the fact that the Florida legislature is wrapped around his finger to do a lot of pandering to the far-right elements in the Republican Party. Recently, he signed a bill that allows Florida residents to carry concealed weapons without a permit, and another bill that makes it harder to sue insurance companies. He's working on bills that would allow lawsuits against newspapers that use anonymous sources, and also a bill that would make transporting undocumented immigrants, for any reason, a felony. And all of this is just a beginning.

And the result of all this, from a polling perspective, has been... disastrous. The harder right DeSantis veers, the worse he does against Donald Trump in polls. This week has been particularly poor for the Governor; the latest from Morning Consult has Trump up 33 points (56% to 23%), while the latest from Reuters has Trump up an incredible 37 (58% to 21%). Those are just two polls, of course, but consider the trendlines. There have been a little over 150 Trump vs. DeSantis polls so far this year; here are the averages by month:

Month # of Polls Trump Avg. DeSantis Avg. Avg. Margin
April 13 55% 26% Trump +29
March 52 51% 31% Trump +20
February 51 49% 32% Trump +17
January 39 48% 34% Trump +14

There's no other way to spin this: DeSantis is losing ground quickly. It's true that there have been some wonky polls of this race this year, but this isn't one or two or three polls, it's dozens. Earlier this year, the Governor would sometimes come out on top, but he has trailed in 50 straight polls, and has only led three times in the previous 100 (by 8, 2, and 2 points). Trump's numbers are probably being goosed by his arrest and indictment, but DeSantis was falling way behind well before that.

It's true that there's a long way to go until next November, but it's getting harder and harder to see exactly what DeSantis' path is at this point. Sure, Trump could be convicted, and possibly even imprisoned, but will that really cause his support to falter? Seems that the deeper the hole gets, the more the base loves him. Meanwhile, nothing DeSantis does seems to move the needle back in the other direction.

And let's imagine that somehow the Republican decks are cleared of Trump (likely the only way that happens is if Trump dies). Is it really plausible that DeSantis could tack back to the center and persuade moderates that he's not a fascist-in-waiting? He's got a long, long record now, and he's not going to be able to magick it away. Add in the fact that he's roughly as telegenic as a pile of rocks, and that he doesn't whip the base into a frenzy, and we are struggling to see how this can plausibly end with DeSantis taking the oath of office on Jan. 20, 2025.

We aren't the only ones who have noticed that things are not going well in RonWorld. There have been a number of columns this week like this one headlined "Don't count DeSantis out yet; the GOP's 2024 race is far from over." It's by Patrick J. Brown, who is one of CNN's token conservatives, and it advances an... interesting argument. Brown writes that right now, Republican voters want a candidate like Trump. But, if Republican voters decide they would like a candidate like DeSantis, well, the Governor is going to be sitting pretty. Can't argue with that!

Someone else is clearly keeping a close eye on what's going on, and that's Gov. Gavin Newsom (D-CA), who spends much of his time these days needling his Florida counterpart. Since Newsom isn't running in 2024, there's no particular need for him to take 2024 Republican candidates down a peg. On the other hand, Newsom is almost certainly running in 2028, and it would be very useful for him to start undermining his potential opposition. What it sure looks like to us, in other words, is that Newsom has assessed the situation, and is guessing that DeSantis takes a pass on 2024 and uses his "chance" in 2028. That makes a lot of sense to us, too. The risk of not running now is that DeSantis is yesterday's news by 2028 (see Giuliani, Rudy, circa 2008). But if the Governor is going to get trounced in 2024 anyhow, better to hold off and to hope he can use his office to keep himself in the headlines, as the Republican-nominee-in-waiting. (Z)

Bragg Sues Jordan

Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) has been working double-time to show his fealty to Donald Trump and demonstrate his ability to "own the libs." The Representative has been running his reactionary anti-1/6 committee, albeit with less-than-stellar results. He's taking the show on the road next week and is holding hearings in New York City. And he's subpoenaed Mark Pomerantz, a former lieutenant of Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg, so that Jordan can go on a fishing expedition, grilling Pomerantz like a hot dog on Labor Day. And yes, that sentence had two food metaphors for the price of one.

Yesterday, Bragg struck back, filing suit against Jordan in federal court. In the 50-page complaint, the DA accuses the Representative of "an unprecedently brazen and unconstitutional attack by members of Congress on an ongoing New York State criminal prosecution and investigation." Jordan has until April 17 to respond, and then there will be a preliminary hearing on April 19.

At the moment, the only thing Bragg is specifically asking is that the subpoena of Pomerantz be quashed. However, there is plenty of other verbiage in there that, when we read between the lines, says: "You're getting dangerously close to obstructing justice Mr. Jordan (and Mr. Trump). Do you really want to keep going?" Jordan has never struck us as particularly stupid or particularly brave, so he might just back off here, and start playing things a little less aggressively. Trump, on the other hand, is quite stupid, so we don't imagine that Bragg's filing will have any impact on his behavior at all. (Z)

Reader Comments on The People v. Donald J. Trump

The case Alvin Bragg filed against Donald Trump generated many good comments from readers, including numerous lawyers. Given the previous item, this seems a good time to share. We've selected several of them, beginning with one that we specifically reached out and requested:

R.E.M. in Brooklyn, NY, writes: I agree with your take on the Trump indictment, but I should note that I don't practice criminal law and defer to anyone who actually does in New York State. The charge of Falsifying Business Records in the First Degree (N.Y. Penal Law sec. 175.10) requires proof that the defendant's intent to defraud include "the intent to commit another crime or to aid or conceal the commission thereof." The Trump Indictment does not spell out what the other crime(s) were, but the accompanying Statement of Facts mentions violations of the election laws and that the reimbursement to Michael Cohen was doubled so that he would report it as income and pay taxes on it (a reimbursement of expenses is not income, of course).

We know that the business records were falsified to conceal the two counts of federal campaign finance violations to which Cohen pleaded guilty. But it appears to be a question of first impression as to whether concealment of a federal crime is sufficient for section 175.10 to apply. On the one hand, the statute simply says, "another crime," and federal crimes are crimes, of course. On the other hand, if a criminal statute is ambiguous the "rule of lenity" requires it to be applied narrowly, as it has to be clear to a potential defendant what is or is not a crime.

There are also New York State campaign finance crimes and generally New York Election Law applies to federal races. But whether the payoffs Trump engineered violate New York campaign finance limits is too far down in the weeds even for me. That said, I assume Alvin Bragg knows whatever the answer is. There is also a misdemeanor for conspiracy to promote the election of a candidate by unlawful means. But there are virtually no cases reported under that provision.

Finally, there could be a tax crime even if the plan involved Michael Cohen overpaying his taxes. If he reported the reimbursement money as income, that could be a materially false statement to New York State and thus a "tax fraud act." If he didn't underpay his taxes as a result, it's a Class A misdemeanor. The federal version of this is what the government got Pete Rose on. He didn't report his gambling winnings, but there wasn't an underpayment because his gambling losses, which he could have deducted, were greater than his winnings.

Thus, there are multiple avenues by which Trump could be convicted. Note that Bragg does not have to prove Trump committed or concealed any other crimes, only that he intended to do so. If I make a fraudulent statement on a New York gun license application intending to use the gun to rob a bank, I'm still likely guilty of violating section 175.10 even if I don't rob the bank or even if I don't get the gun.

As for sentencing, immediately dismiss anyone who tells you Trump is facing 136 years in prison (the maximum sentence of 4 years for a Class E Felony times the 34 counts). First, even if he is convicted on all counts, the sentences are almost certainly going to run concurrently. Defendants convicted of E Felonies can have an "indeterminate" sentence imposed on them of up to 4 years and come up for parole after serving the minimum amount (at least 1 year and at most one-third the maximum; here 16 months). But judges also can sentence defendants to a "determinate" period of less than a year. This is how Allen Weisselberg could be sentenced to 5 months at Rikers. The judge also may impose probation without incarceration. Completely aside from the risk of contempt, Trump should think twice about maligning a judge who has wide discretion as to whether he does over a year in prison or only has to meet with his probation officer from time to time.

A few final points. First, we still don't know what cards Bragg is intending to play or how strong his hand is. Bragg is very smart—he was endorsed for DA by no less than Preet Bharara, and on that basis alone, I would have voted for him if I lived in Manhattan. Thus, I believe he thinks this case is strong, and I'd trust that judgment for now. Second, contrary to Mark Pomerantz's book, Cy Vance said that the tax/insurance fraud case was not ready to prosecute when he left office. If Pomerantz lied to Bragg about that, and in his book, he's really disgracing himself even more than by revealing the inner deliberations and workings of the investigation. Third, the tax/insurance case is still being investigated. If Weisselberg ever flips ("Hey, Allen, how would you like a return trip to Rikers if you don't start talking about the hush money payments?"), you can imagine a superseding indictment charging Trump with a lot more than an E Felony.

P.D. in Charlottesville, VA, writes: I'm rather disappointed with the poor quality of much of the legal commentary and "analysis" (generous use of the word) of the Manhattan DA's indictment and accompanying Statement of Facts. Their concern trolling notwithstanding, the case appears solid at this stage and many of their concerns would have been addressed by a modicum of research (and actual analysis).

First, it appears many expected the indictment to spell out all the evidence in the case in lurid detail. That's not how indictments work. Legal commentators should know that. Perhaps the issue is that few, if any, have experience in criminal prosecution. A cursory review of each of their bios indicated many law degrees and experience in other fields (civil litigation, election law, etc.) but not a lot of prosecutorial experience. That said, criminal law and procedure are bar exam topics in most (all?) jurisdictions, so they should be aware that a charging instrument (such as an indictment) must include or be accompanied by a short statement of facts to support each element of the charge(s), but that testimony, exhibits and other evidence are not required at this early stage of the process. All that will come later.

Second, many of the commentators must not have read the Statement of Facts, because it quite clearly recites the facts necessary to support the charges. It (along with the indictment tself) identifies the records falsified, who did so, when, and in what venue—all the normal bells and whistles to support an indictment. And yes, it previews (by implication) that the case relies on the testimony of Michael Cohen, but it also alludes to numerous other witnesses, as well as records of transactions, e-mails, texts and an audio recording of Cohen and the defendant planning the scheme. Why that last part hasn't been more widely reported is a mystery to me, because when the DA has the receipts and tapes, he typically has a strong case.

Third, as to Michael Cohen, it's baffling that so many "legal analysts" have opined that a jury would find his testimony non-credible on account of his prior convictions. Any lawyer knows that co-conspirator testimony is frequently used to obtain convictions. Indeed, it's how many organized criminal enterprises are brought down. Sure, the defense can raise the prior convictions to impeach his testimony but doing so will allow the prosecution on redirect to remind the jury that Cohen's convictions were for crimes committed on behalf of the defendant and involved the same matters on trial here.

Fourth, I was perturbed by the number of legal analysts who opined the case was weak based on vague references to the statute of limitations, with no further explanation. Yes, New York law imposes a 5-year statute of limitations on these felonies. However, it also provides, "In calculating the time limitation applicable to commencement of a criminal action, the following periods shall not be included... Any period following the commission of the offense during which ... the defendant was continuously outside this state[.]"

In addition, the governor of New York issued a series of executive orders during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 that tolled statutes of limitations for 228 days, in accordance with New York Executive Law 29-a(1). Tolling extends the statute of limitations (it doesn't merely suspend it during the designated period), so the orders extended the 5-year statute of limitations by an additional 228 days. Those orders and the foregoing interpretation have already been upheld on appeal in Brash v. Richards. Given the defendant's continuous time out of state and the additional extension, the charges appear timely.

Fifth, why the skepticism about the underlying crime(s) used for felony enhancement of the falsification charges? Many teeth were gnashed over the "novel" prospect of using federal crimes to enhance state charges. However, the statement of facts (in the first two paragraphs, no less) states that the purpose of the payoff(s) was to influence the 2016 election and that the payments were mischaracterized for tax purposes and there are New York state laws on point for both:

  • Sec. 17-152 of New York's election law makes it a crime to "conspire to promote or prevent the election of any person to a public office by unlawful means..."

  • Secs. 1801-1806 of New York's tax code prohibit "tax fraud acts," which include filing tax returns that contain "materially false or fraudulent information" (such as falsely deducting hush money as "legal expenses").

Sixth, and finally, I don't understand the "analysts" who parrot, without examination, the talking point that the defense can just say the payoff(s) were intended to protect his marriage/family and not to improve his electoral prospects. That's an issue of fact for the jury to decide and the statement of facts undercuts that defense. Intent can be ascertained through direct and circumstantial evidence and the statement of facts alludes to quite a bit of both, including witness testimony by several parties that is corroborated by a recorded conversation and the timing of the payments. Additionally, there are also the aforesaid tax fraud acts that may be the basis for felony enhancement.

I do not practice in New York (my license is in another jurisdiction) and I won't pretend to know with certainty the outcome of any pending litigation. If I could do that, my hourly rate would be much higher! However, I'm quite disappointed at the weakness of much of the "legal analysis" at this stage of the case. There's very little research or analysis of the facts and issues. It's as if lawyers forget how to research and think critically when they become "legal analysts." Perhaps their brains melt under the hot studio lights. Or perhaps it's just easier to churn out 1,000 words of parroted talking points since they're no longer billing by the hour. Regardless, they can do better.

A.T. in Hong Kong writes: I am a lawyer and although I do not work in criminal law, I wanted to add my thoughts. You wrote:

The Trump Organization engaged in financial transactions with Michael Cohen, and then produced a paper trail that fraudulently misrepresented the nature of those transactions...Bragg believes that the goal of these misrepresentations was to cover up some other crime (likely election fraud), and in that case, the misdemeanors become felonies... There are numerous potential problems with his plans, at least in the abstract, most obviously that if he cannot prove the underlying crime, the whole case collapses.

I would argue that the "other crime" is probably illegal campaign contributions. If we look at the statement of facts filed by the prosecution, we find this: "The [hush money] payment was illegal, and [Michael Cohen] has since pleaded guilty to making an illegal campaign contribution and served time in prison... The Defendant caused his entities' business records to be falsified to disguise his and others' criminal conduct."

Michael Cohen was convicted of (among other things) federal campaign finance violations. The hush money payment to Stormy Daniels was meant to influence the 2016 election and was therefore an illegal campaign contribution. There is no doubt that the law was broken—Cohen pleaded guilty. His crime was not to influence the election (lots of things influence elections); it was making a payment in excess of legal limits.

Cohen's was a federal crime, unlike the crime Trump stands accused of (i.e. falsifying business records, first degree), which is a NY state felony. This must include "an intent to commit another crime or to aid or conceal the commission thereof."

Note the statute does not say that the other crime has to be a New York state crime, or that the other crime has to be committed by the same person. The falsification does seem to have "aided" and/or "concealed" the commission of the illegal campaign payment by Cohen. I suspect, therefore, that the "other crime" is Cohen's illegal payment to Stormy Daniels.

There are a lot of open questions and there are reasons to be skeptical about the indictment, but if the above is right, then Bragg does not need to prove any underlying crime, as Cohen has already been convicted of it.

T.O. in Portland, OR, writes: I held my fire on this, waiting to see the unsealed indictment before sharing my thoughts, and having now seen it I am thoroughly unimpressed.

I'm a native New Yorker, who spent 35 plus years of my life in the state, and I've seen the New York State criminal justice system from three different vantage points. I've served on a New York Grand Jury. I've been the victim of a violent felony. I was once accused of a felony (Computer Trespass) in the same class (E, the lowest under New York law) as Trump is now accused of.

The lawyers who will surely write to you can analyze the legalities here better than I can. I will try not to tread on their expertise. What I will say is I find it very difficult to believe that any District Attorney in the state— including this one—would bring these charges against any other defendant given the same set of circumstances.

New York is generally a "pro-defendant" State, in the letter and spirit of the law, and in the way that district attorneys choose to enforce it. This is a good thing! Take it from someone accused of a crime he did not commit that I am very happy it happened in New York. My case was resolved early in the process. The DA who prosecuted it shook my hand and apologized to me at the conclusion of the matter. I simply cannot see that happening in a so-called "Tough on Crime" state.

Furthermore, had Trump remained a resident of New York instead of switching to Florida, these charges would now be outside the statute of limitations. There's an entry for your weekly schadenfreude collection! Generally, for most felonies in New York, it's 5 years, but they get around that in this case because he was out of the state and that stops the clock from running. It is, technically, legal to do this, but the age of the alleged offenses are one of the main reasons why I simply cannot see this matter being pursued against a less infamous defendant.

I am no fan of Donald Trump's. I earnestly hope to see him behind bars, but this case is not the vehicle to get him there. He is being treated differently than others would be treated by New York State and that is not something that we should condone no matter how much we despise him. Justice is supposed to be blind.

B.E. in Long Island, NY, writes: Not only did they sneak the 45th-47th President bit into Trump's fake mugshot, but they put Trump's height at 6'5".

We can't believe we overlooked that detail in the fake mug shot; many, many readers wrote in to point it out. In any event, we hope that these reader submissions advance folks' understanding of the New York case. On Friday, we'll have a similar item on the mifepristone cases from this weekend. (Z)

Bob Casey Is In

This news does not exactly come as a surprise, since he's been making all the usual moves, but Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) made it official yesterday, announcing that he will run for a fourth term in 2024.

This is, of course, good news for the Democrats. Pennsylvania is a swing state, and incumbents have a big edge, especially these days (recall that last year, zero incumbent senators went down to defeat). Republicans saw this as a pickup opportunity, but maybe they should be rethinking that. Casey once lost a gubernatorial primary (to Ed Rendell), but is 6-0 in statewide elections (three times as senator, twice as auditor general of Pennsylvania, once as treasurer of Pennsylvania). He's also pretty popular, and has won his three Senate elections by 16, 9 and 7 points. And 2024 is an election year, and those tend to favor Democratic candidates.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the aisle the Pennsylvania GOP is in disarray right now, and looks to be headed for another ugly battle between an establishment candidate and a loony candidate. In fact, as soon as God weighs in, the Republicans will probably be recycling one of the looniest candidates of 2022, namely Doug Mastriano. It's also an expensive state to contest, since it's got several large media markets, most obviously Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. Recall that the Sen. John Fetterman (D-PA)-Mehmet Oz tilt burned up more than $300 million, making it the most expensive Senate race in history.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is no fool and knows all of this. So, he will likely focus his resources on cheaper and/or more competitive states, like Montana and Arizona. His problem is that it's hard to steer voters away from unelectable Trumpists, and so he could be in for another cycle of candidates who make him pull his hair out. (Z)

Greatest Blunders: Parapraxery, Round 1, Part I

Onward and upward to the third quadrant of the bracket. As a reminder, the Parapraxery entrants all involve political figures who said unwise things in the heat of the moment. In theory their errors were inadvertent, but they may have revealed deeper truths. It's like a Freudian slip, except not necessarily sexual.

Readers will note that this quadrant skews toward the present day more than any other. That's not a coincidence. It was much, much harder to get caught in something like this before sound and video recording became commonplace. And even then, for many decades of the radio and TV era, there was something of a gentleman's agreement between politicians and the press that if a politician misspoke, they were given the opportunity to "clean up" their words.


Donald Trump tweets "#Covfefe" (64%) defeats Joe Biden tries to call the deceased Jackie Walorski up to the stage (36%)

Some reader comments on this matchup:

  • J.L. in Glastonbury, CT: I went with Jackie Walorski because it was kind of appalling to forget she died... Biden's cheese may still be on the cracker, but no surprise his opponents think otherwise. Covfefe was just a late night typo in a torrent of intentionally divisive lies. If Trump could have been credibly accused of intoxication, I might have thought more of it.

  • A.T. in Quincy, IL: I'm actually a little ashamed that I didn't remember about Walorski. I must admit, I really didn't know anything about her before the incident, nor have I troubled myself to enlighten myself since. I could argue there've been plenty of other issues to think about, both personal and political, but I really don't mean to excuse myself. It's a little beside the point. What IS the point is the incident doesn't seem to have hurt Biden all that much. I certainly don't recall much said about it since, and I would suggest one big reason is that Biden himself does not seem to have dwelt on it, but moved on to other matters. Picked himself up, dusted himself off, got going again... you'd almost think he'd some practice at this. Covfefe, on the other hand... really, need I say more?

  • M.K. in Long Branch, NJ: Walorski wins the matchup because presidential remarks are prepared by a huge communications staff while tweets are, in my opinion, trivial.

  • D.L. in Uslar, Germany: Covfefe was an easy pick. People still know what it refers to, while the Jackie Walorski comment was quickly forgotten (in fact, I briefly confused it with Biden's unattributed use of Neil Kinnock's words). Covfefe probably has no chance in the bracket, especially since it was more a case of Trump being incapable of admitting he'd made a mistake, but it clearly beats Biden's gaffe.

  • W.D. in Houston, TX: I think something can only be called a blunder if there are negative political implications for the blunderer. Covfefe did not harm Trump politically at all.


A news story about Allen's comments; a protester holds a sign that sayd 'Covfefe is unpresidented'

#1 Texas gubernatorial candidate Clayton Williams on rape: "If it's inevitable, just relax and enjoy it." (March 26, 1990): Clayton Williams had several things going for him during his 1990 gubernatorial bid. He was wealthy and able to self-fund. He was a Republican at a time when southern Democrats (i.e., closet Republicans) were being supplanted by actual Republicans. He was folksy. And so, as late as August 1990, he led by double digits in polls.

However, over the course of the campaign, chinks started to appear in his political armor. There were rumors that he enjoyed the company of ladies of the evening. He was overtly sexist, and made clear that his opponent, Ann Richards (D), was unworthy of his consideration. And he was not the sharpest knife in the drawer. Texans apparently have a thing for dumb governors, because he's not the only one to be something less than a Rhodes Scholar. Heck, he's not even the only one in this portion of the bracket.

Williams' liabilities all came together on a summer day marked by unusually bad weather. When reporters asked the candidate about the forecast, he made what was apparently supposed to be a joke, observing that bad weather is like rape, "If it's inevitable, just relax and enjoy it." It's hard to think of a soundbite that would more thoroughly embody both misogyny and stupidity. Williams collapsed in the polls and ended up losing the election by 3 points. Richards remains, to date, the last Democrat to lead the Lone Star State.

#16 Donald Trump tweets "#Covfefe" (May 31, 2017): From the comments above, it is clear that readers are not especially impressed by this error. All we can add is that there are few things Trump hates more than to be made the butt of the joke, and it's hard to think of any single thing he did that triggered more jokes at his expense than this.

Dean screaming; A headline that says 'Marcobot Malfunctions'

#8 The Dean scream (January 19, 2004): It's too bad that's the name by which this incident is more widely known, because the other name that's sometimes used is much funnier: "I Have a Scream."

The basic story of the scream is likely familiar to readers. Dean was Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) before Bernie Sanders. That is to say, he was a progressive (from Vermont, no less) who was beloved by the kiddies. He held a consistent and solid lead in polls, at least until people started voting. The Iowa caucuses did not go well for the Governor, and he lost to John Kerry (who will be making his own appearance in this quadrant, incidentally). It is exceedingly unlikely that Dean could have won Iowa; he's a little lefty for the tastes of the Hawkeye State, even allowing for the fact that caucuses favor candidates with fervent support over candidates with broad support.

Trying to stave off his supporters' disappointment, Dean addressed a crowd from the stage of the Val-Air Ballroom in West Des Moines. And during that address, he listed future states he expected to win, following each with a "Yeah!" His voice was already worn out and scratchy and his microphone was directional, such that it didn't pick up the significant crowd noise in the room. The result was video footage that made it look like Dean was screaming into the void, over and over, like a madman. And the clip was played on national television (cable and broadcast) more than 600 times in the next 4 days.

There's an excellent chance that Dean's campaign would have faltered even without the Dean scream. His campaign was not well organized and he wasn't a great fit for most of the states that come early in the nominating process (like South Carolina). Oh, and his polling numbers were sagging for several weeks before Iowans voted. Still, even if Dean was doomed anyhow, the scream hastened the process and left him in an unrecoverable position. He suspended his campaign on February 18, just a month after his moment of ignominy.

#9 Marco Rubio repeats the same attack line four times in 2 minutes (February 6, 2016): As the 2016 primary season got underway, there were plenty of Republicans who did not want Donald Trump as their standard bearer, but who also couldn't settle on an alternative candidate. In theory, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) was in the lead in the not-Trump lane, but Cruz is a deeply unpopular man, even with Republicans. So, it wasn't going to be him.

Heading into New Hampshire, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) was starting to generate some excitement as the non-Trump standard bearer. After all, he was young (44), and he comes from a swing state, and he's a Latino who could potentially have brought some of those votes into the fold (never mind that the experience of Cubans and the experience of the Latinos in the Southwest, most of them Mexicans, is completely different).

But while Rubio is more likable than Cruz and Trump, perhaps, he has some liabilities. He comes off as phony and robotic. He's an intellectual lightweight. He's got a reputation for being lazy. But his biggest liability, at least on the night of Feb. 6, 2016, was New Jersey governor Chris Christie. The Governor very much wanted to be the leading alternative to Trump and Cruz, and he couldn't be that person with Rubio in his way. As a New Jerseyite, Christie has no problem with dirty pool, of course.

So, during the final debate before New Hampshirites cast their votes, on the Saturday before the primary, Christie laid a trap for Rubio, observing that the Senator was an empty suit capable only of delivering a "memorized 25-second speech." Rubio was very much thrown off his game, and proceeded to provide a stellar object lesson in what Christie was talking about, repeating the same soundbite four times in just under 2 minutes ("And let's dispel once and for all with this fiction that Barack Obama doesn't know what he's doing. He knows exactly what he's doing.") Rubio performed poorly in New Hampshire and on Super Tuesday, and his campaign ended on March 15.

Perry looking confused at a debate; Tuberville tossing a football

#4 Rick Perry can't remember which agencies he wants to defund (November 9, 2011): Note what we said above about dumb governors of Texas. According to more than one Perry insider, the reputation was especially well-deserved in his case (by contrast, George W. Bush was bad on camera, but is actually quite sharp).

Being an airhead did not stop Perry from twice running for president. And during his first campaign, the primaries arrived early, which meant that the candidates' debates arrived early. So it is that nearly a year before Election Day, the candidate found himself on a debate stage in Rochester, MI, with Mitt Romney, Michele Bachmann and several other upwardly mobile Republicans, answering questions from moderator John Harwood.

Like any good Reagan Republican, Perry built his career on the notion that government is bad and needs to be cut to the bone wherever possible. And the central talking point of his presidential campaign was his plan to eliminate three different federal agencies. When it came time to present his plan on the debate stage, however, he sputtered: "It's three agencies of government when I get there that are gone—Commerce, Education and the um, what's the third one there? Let's see. Oh five—Commerce, Education and the um, um..."

The other candidates on stage tried to help out, with Romney suggesting that maybe Perry was thinking of the EPA. That wasn't it, though, and finally the Texan had to concede: "The third agency of government I would do away with—the education, the uh, the commerce and let's see. I can't the third one. I can't. Sorry. Oops."

It is not great for a would-be president to be unable to name the executive departments. It is rather worse for a would-be president to be unable to enunciate the key plank of his campaign platform. Needless to say, the incident certainly did not help dispel Perry's reputation for being a numbnut, and his 2012 presidential campaign collapsed soon thereafter. He tried again in 2016, with no greater success, but he did land an appointment in the Cabinet of Donald Trump. Perry led the Department of Energy, which was, ironically, the agency whose name he could not remember on that debate stage.

#13 Tommy Tuberville misidentifies the three branches of government (November 12, 2020): When building the brackets, we did not endeavor to match up similar sorts of entries. It is just a coincidence that this matchup involves two Republicans demonstrating their third-grade grasp of civics.

As far as U.S. senators go, Tommy Tuberville (R-AL) is a pretty good football coach. Still, Southerners love football, and they love Republicans, and so that was résumé enough for him to get elected to the seat then held by Sen. Doug Jones (D-AL). Just days after the election, Tuberville gave an interview Alabama Daily News in which he showed off some of the deficiencies in the education he got at Southern Arkansas University (class of '76).

In that interview, Tuberville observed that he was looking forward to being able to raise money from his Senate office (that is, of course, illegal). He also said the U.S. fought the Nazis in order to rid Europe of socialism (obviously unaware that the National Socialist Workers Party was no more "Socialist" than the Democratic People's Republic of Korea is "Democratic" or a "Republic"). And worst of all, he described the three branches of the U.S. government as "the House, the Senate, and the executive."

Of course, this isn't the only time Tuberville has brought shame upon himself. His actions on 1/6 were also deeply problematic. Still, none of this is going to stop him from being reelected.

A bunch of title cards showing the racist things Allen said and did; A cartoon of Trump grabbing the Statue of Liberty

#5 George Allen calls his opponent's tracker a "macaca" (August 11, 2006): Virginia Republican George Allen was the favorite to keep his U.S. Senate seat heading into the election of 2006. After all, he was an incumbent, and he'd also been governor of the state. And Virginia's shift from red to blue was still underway, meaning that Republicans were not at the sort of disadvantage they'd face today.

Allen was doing well in polls, and seemed likely to defeat his opponent, former Secretary of the Navy Jim Webb (D). However, at an event in Breaks, VA, Allen took offense to the fact that a Webb campaign staffer named S.R. Sidarth, a dark-complexioned man of Indian descent, was filming the proceedings. And so, the Senator popped off with this: "This fellow here over here with the yellow shirt, Macaca, or whatever his name is. He's with my opponent... Let's give a welcome to Macaca, here. Welcome to America and the real world of Virginia." Sidarth, incidentally, was born in Virginia.

Macaca means "monkey" in Portuguese, and has often been used as a slur against dark-skinned people. Especially by French-speaking people—such as his mother, who was born in Tunisia and was a Francophone. Allen claimed he was unaware of the meaning, and that there was no racist intent. That's nonsense. He undoubtedly heard the term from his mother at least once. In any event, many voters perceived racist intent, especially given that "macaca" was paired with that "Welcome to America" bit. Allen lost the election by just 9,329 votes, or 0.3% of the total cast.

#12 Donald Trump brags that he likes to "Grab 'em by the pussy" (2005): The actual video of Donald Trump chatting with Billy Bush was actually filmed more than a decade before it caused a scandal. But once Trump became a viable presidential candidate, someone shared it with the media, and it spread like wildfire.

The entire exchange is exceedingly vulgar; you can read it here, if you wish. However, the part that was repeated ad infinitum, and that we run unredacted because it was broadcast on network TV multiple times, was this brag from Trump: "You know, I'm automatically attracted to beautiful—I just start kissing them. It's like a magnet. Just kiss. I don't even wait. And when you're a star, they let you do it. You can do anything... Grab 'em by the pussy. You can do anything."

Bush lost his job when the tape went public. As to Trump, well, it was obviously not a fatal blow. However, this was far and away the closest his 2016 campaign came to going off the rails. And it's certainly the only time he's publicly apologized for any of his (many) misdeeds. It's also fair to imagine that some of the voters who were turned off in 2016 remained so in 2020, and that contributed to his defeat at the hands of Joe Biden.

The ballot for this round is here. If you have comments on any or all of these matchups, and why you voted as you did, please send them here. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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