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Saturday Q&A

You wouldn't believe how many questions we got about Donald Trump's legal situation. We take that as prima facie evidence that our rather extensive commentary on that subject remains of interest.

Current Events

J.H. in El Segundo, CA, asks: I am concerned that Donald Trump's "joke" about flying to Russia isn't a joke. We have all seen many instances where Trump actually means what he says when he tells "jokes." He can't be feeling too confident that he will be acquitted on all of the charges he is facing.

How would an escape attempt play out with the Secret Service? I assume he had to surrender his passport? If he didn't, could he get away with claiming Vladimir Putin invited him to Russia to discuss improving U.S.-Russia relations, or a boat trip to Cuba along the same lines?

(V) & (Z) answer: We got many dozen variants of this question this week, so we decided to lead with it.

To start, it's not well known, but there is some sort of secret passageway under the White House. Details are sketchy, for obvious reasons, but it's known that it involves steam tunnels, and the exit is somewhere outside the grounds of the Executive Mansion. At least a couple of presidents, namely Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard Nixon, are known to have used it to evade the Secret Service, so they could go for a late-night stroll, unaccompanied, as a "civilian."

We note this because it's not impossible that Trump could evade his U.S.S.S. detail as part of an escape attempt. However, outside of a bad B-movie script, we also think it is incredibly unlikely. We doubt there are secret tunnels underneath Bedminster or Mar-a-Lago. Even if there were, the U.S.S.S. has established a perimeter around whatever location Trump is staying at, and it would be hard for him to escape the grounds. Maybe in the trunk of a car or something like that, but they probably search all vehicles they don't recognize. Should he overcome that, he'd still have to find a way to leave the country. He hasn't surrendered his passport, but he's also not going to be able to just fly off into the night if he shows up at whatever airport his plane is parked at. A boat seems equally unlikely. And keep in mind that even if he slips his security detail, they are going to figure out he's gone pretty quickly. At most, he'd probably have something like 4 hours before he became the subject of a manhunt.

So, the more probable option, such as it is, would be for Trump to take a "legitimate" trip to some foreign destination ("I have to negotiate a lease for Trump Tower Riyadh") and then, on arrival, to advise the U.S.S.S. that he's not leaving. He'd be guilty of a crime, at that point, and so the U.S.S.S. would be required to arrest him. That means, in turn, that his escape would likely have to be backed by armed force from the country he was fleeing to. For example, Saudi soldiers might board the plane and advise the U.S.S.S. that their choice is to leave peacefully or to get the Jamal Khashoggi treatment.

If Trump was to try this, he would need to be very certain that his new home country was actually going to welcome him, because he would be stuck there, and would be entirely dependent on their beneficence. A fleeing-from-justice former president would be a very valuable bargaining chip if the new home country wanted to extract concessions from the United States. Similarly, parading a former president naked down the main street of, say, Tehran, and then executing him would make a very strong PR statement. And finally, there may well be leaders out there who talk nice to Trump, but who fear that he has worrisome information, and that it might be better if he had an "accident." Vladimir Putin leaps to mind as a possible entrant in this category.

M.R. in Atlanta, GA, asks: What is the Secret Service's responsibility if someone under their protection shows clear intent to do something illegal? Suppose, say, some random former president said, "Hey fellas, let's go break into the Bidens' Delaware house and find dirt on Hunter"? Or, "Hey, let's go bring some high-grade molly to my favorite lady-of-the-night"? Or, "Hey, let's get on this plane and leave the country so I can escape the very rude Fani Willis"?

Put another way, to whom does the Secret Service owe its ultimate loyalty—the people under their protection, or the rule of law?

(V) & (Z) answer: It is helpful to recall that the Secret Service began as an anti-counterfeiting unit. They only picked up responsibility for presidential security roughly 35 years after being established.

In other words, the U.S.S.S. is a law enforcement organization, just like the F.B.I., just like the U.S. Marshals. Per 18 U.S. Code 3056, in addition to their protective and anti-counterfeiting (which is now more like anti-fraud-of-all-types) duties, their prerogatives include the right/responsibility to:

(A) execute warrants issued under the laws of the United States;

(B) carry firearms;

(C) make arrests without warrant for any offense against the United States committed in their presence, or for any felony cognizable under the laws of the United States if they have reasonable grounds to believe that the person to be arrested has committed or is committing such felony;

(D) offer and pay rewards for services and information leading to the apprehension of persons involved in the violation or potential violation of those provisions of law which the Secret Service is authorized to enforce;

(E) pay expenses for unforeseen emergencies of a confidential nature under the direction of the Secretary of Homeland Security and accounted for solely on the Secretary's certificate; and

(F) perform such other functions and duties as are authorized by law.

So, they don't just watch the president (and other protectees) to keep them safe; they also watch to make sure the president (and other protectees) keep their noses clean.

C.W. in Carlsbad, CA, asks: After watching the long-winded motorcades for the Former Guy (P01135809) to travel to the various courthouses, I'm beginning to wonder: Do you think he'll do that every day once the trials start? It's starting to look a little dumb on TV, not to mention—again—wasteful of taxpayer dollars. Is this how he travels everywhere, or is it just for show?

(V) & (Z) answer: The motorcade is staged at the discretion of the Secret Service. Trump can't say "You know, I'd really like 12 SUVs today; make that happen."

Naturally, the details that underlie U.S.S.S. decision-making are kept on the down-low. That said, it's not too hard to figure out most of what's going on. Trump is an extremely controversial, and widely unpopular, person. He's being escorted moderate-length distances, over roads that can only be partially secured, and at a time when everyone knows he's coming. Having lots of cars, at least some of which are meant as decoys, allows the U.S.S.S. to mitigate the risks of a crazy person trying to take a shot (or 10) at the former president.

The motorcade is less substantial in other contexts, particularly when his movements are not announced in advance. In addition, when and if he goes on trial, we suspect that the Secret Service will find ways to make the operation a bit more efficient.

R.S. in Ticonderoga, NY, asks: While watching Donald Trump's motorcade, both in New Jersey on the way to the Newark Airport, and again from Hartsfield Airport to the Fulton County Jail, I noticed that an ambulance was part of both motorcades. Is this a regular part of motorcades for Trump and/or for current and past presidents in general?

(V) & (Z) answer: It is a regular part of presidential motorcades, but is not usually a part of ex-presidential motorcades. However, in Trump's case, not only is he a former president, he's also the de facto presumptive nominee of the Republican Party. Customarily, presumptive nominees get presidential-level details.

M.B. in Noble, OK, asks: What is the difference between appearing to be "booked" and the upcoming arraignment date for all the Fulton County 19? I guess I always thought they were the same.

(V) & (Z) answer: The two things often happen at the same time, particularly for petty offenses, but they don't always, particularly if there are a lot of defendants (as is obviously the case here).

The booking, at which the defendant must be present, is when the basic nuts and bolts of their prosecution are hammered out—fingerprints and mugshots taken, paperwork completed, bail set, etc. Often the judge who handles this part of the proceedings is a magistrate judge who cranks through defendants all day long.

The arraignment, by contrast, is when the charges are read to the defendant (or their counsel), so it is clear that they understand what exactly they are being tried for. A defendant can waive the right to be present at arraignment, but if they do, it doesn't give them an excuse later ("I didn't know I was being prosecuted for racketeering because I didn't hear the charges read!") It is at the arraignment that the actual trial judge generally presides for the first time.

J.S. in Durham, NC, asks: I have noticed that there are an increasing number of defendants in the Mar-A-Lago and the Georgia case about overturning the election who are being represented by public defenders. Surely these people can afford to hire an attorney themselves. Why are we, as taxpayers, paying for their attorneys, when they probably earn more than 95% of the US population?

Please help me understand our "fair and just" legal system.

(V) & (Z) answer: We are obviously not privy to the bankbooks of the various defendants and unindicted co-conspirators. However, we'll point out three things. First, if someone cares about their own necks, they are far better off finding their own attorneys, rather than having one assigned to then. Accepting a public defender would be a very foolish thing to do just to save money.

Second, the cost these co-defendants face, assuming they don't plead out, is going to be in the six figures, and may approach or even cross into seven figures. That's rather different than the $5,000 or $10,000 your local legal eagle will charge for a DUI defense.

Third, don't assume that even white-collar people have hundreds of thousands of dollars laying around. For example, Yuscil Taveras, the Mar-a-Lago IT director who just accepted a public defender, probably pulls down $70,000 a year or so. That is not a salary that generally lays the groundwork for a half-million-dollar nest egg. And even if someone does have the salary to support a big nest egg, well, people who make big money often find ways to pi** it all away. Maybe it's on luxury goods, maybe it's on gambling, maybe it's on fancy vacations, maybe it's on three different alimony payments. We have no doubt that Rudy Giuliani, for example, has pulled down eight figures, and maybe even nine figures, in his lifetime, and yet he's apparently near-broke.

R.P. in Northfield, IL, asks: You wrote: "Bail is a function of the seriousness of the charges, the person's ability to pay, and the chances the person might make a run for it." I get that, but what the heck is $200,000 to TFG? I mean, really. It's pocket change. Based on flight risk and ability to pay alone, why isn't his bail in the millions?

(V) & (Z) answer: We don't like to branch off the main narrative thread, both for readability and for deadline reasons, which is why we didn't say more in that item. But the bottom line is that "bail" is mostly for show, and largely doesn't work how it's supposed to.

There are actually significant problems at either end of the scale. For poor defendants, even a relatively modest amount of bail is often too much, and they can't scrape it together (or convince a bail bondsman to get involved). So, people end up staying in jail over smallish amounts of money (a few thousand dollars), which can and often does lead to loss of employment, eviction and other consequences. You will be stunned to learn, we are sure, that these sorts of adverse consequences are most likely to be felt by minority defendants.

At the other end of the scale, it's tough to set a bail that really and truly throws a scare into wealthy defendants. And even if a judge tries it, they may find themselves on the wrong side of an interlocutory appeal in which the wealthy defendant alleges unequal treatment ("How come I have to come up with $5 million when this other guy only has to come up with $100,000?").

For these reasons, some jurisdictions have abandoned cash bail entirely. The problem there is that politicians (usually, but not always, right-wingers) cry and whine and moan about how [JURISDICTION] is "soft on crime," and the people responsible for getting rid of bail are at risk of getting booted out of office. And so, the current approach is generally to retain bail as a concept, and to set the numbers at levels that "look" fair and reasonable, even if they are neither of those things.

And note that one could argue this answer veers into advocacy, which we try to avoid. However, the evidence on cash bail is so substantial at this point that saying "the cash bail system doesn't work" isn't much different from saying "climate change is a big problem."

J.M. in New York, NY, asks: Trump's lawyers have requested that the start date for his DC court case be April 20th, 2026.

April 20th is Adolf Hitler's birthdate. Coincidence or a wink wink to his hyper-right followers?

(V) & (Z) answer: We are hardly experts in the best techniques for connecting with white supremacist followers. However, we are inclined to think it's a coincidence. In general, the two numbers that are (not-so-subtle) dog whistles for white supremacists are 14 and 88. The 14 is because there are 14 words in the white supremacist creed: "We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children." And the 88 is because H is the eighth letter of the alphabet, and "Heil Hitler" starts with two H's.

So, if the filing had asked for a start date of April 14, because it's going to take a team of 88 lawyers that long to review all the documents, then we'd believe it was a white supremacist wink-wink situation.

A.C. in Santa Cruz, CA, asks: You wrote: "Will any trial be completed before the 2024 election?"

And I was, like, "What, what, what?!!!"

Are the Democrats really going to take this kind of risk with the country, with our democracy, with the entire future? Sorry, I don't tend to get hysterical, but are you serious that with 4 trials, not one can take place within the next 14 months? If this was some other criminal, it could, and what, it's been 2½ years since a violent insurrection and coup attempt? Is this some kind of calculated electoral strategy of the Biden team to drag this out through election season, or is AG Merrick Garland just an absolutely incompetent lawyer?

(V) & (Z) answer: First of all, it would be both inappropriate, and politically very risky, for Joe Biden or any other Democratic officeholder (outside of elected district attorneys), to have any input whatsoever into the timing of the trials. Richard Nixon mucked around in the affairs of the DoJ, as did George W. Bush (or his subordinates, at least), as did Donald Trump. Other than those three, we believe that all post-World War II presidents, Democratic and Republican, have abided by the expectation that the DoJ is supposed to be independent. That includes the current president.

Second, Merrick Garland is one of two Biden Cabinet members (along with Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin) whose political affiliation is unknown. The odds are good they're both registered Democrats, but they could be independents, or Republicans, or not registered at all. In any event, it is clear that Garland takes seriously the expectation that the DoJ is supposed to be apolitical. To the extent that he worries about what's going on in the political world, it's not about advancing one party's prospects or hurting another's, it's about how political events might adversely affect his prosecutions, or about how his prosecutions might adversely affect political events. For example, he would not allow a federal case against Trump to commence after August 1 of next year. That is not to help elect Trump, or to help elect Joe Biden, but because it would be both inappropriate and a violation of DoJ guidelines to undertake a trial that close to an en election.

Finally, if defendants' rights are not properly observed, then that is not only offensive to justice, it also lays the groundwork for appeals. If you hurriedly convict someone, but then they get the conviction expunged 3 months later because the process was sloppy, then what have you accomplished? Better to proceed at a pace that allows all t's to be crossed and all i's to be dotted.

D.R. in Tetovo, North Macedonia, asks: In your item about Donald Trump's trial schedule, you noted several reasons why Trump wants to delay until after the general election. Among them are that "sitting in a courtroom takes time away from campaigning" and that "sitting in court all day will put him in a foul mood, which is never good for any candidate."

This raises a question that I haven't seen addressed yet: Is Trump under any obligation to sit in court? When E. Jean Carroll sued him for defamation, he didn't appear in court; he let his lawyers handle it. Of course, criminal trials are different, but could he simply choose not to attend his criminal trials?

Also, if he does have that option, do you think it would be wise politically for Trump to not attend?

(V) & (Z) answer: Assuming the prosecutor concurs, a defendant may waive their right to be present for a criminal trial. And even if the prosecutor doesn't concur, a judge nonetheless might grant the defendant's request to absent themselves. There are legitimate reasons for doing so; the one that is of most concern to the justice system is that a defendant's physical appearance might well prejudice a jury (say, if they are being tried in a drive-by shooting case, and have a bunch of gang tattoos). In that case, having the person be absent ultimately produces the fairest trial possible.

Politically, we don't know what the best option for Trump is. On one hand, being in court all day would curtail his campaigning. On the other hand, it would give him all sorts of fodder for his martyr shtick ("I wanted to hold a rally in Durham today for all my beautiful supporters, but I had to be in court because the deep state is persecuting me."). All in all, it's probably a wash.

In terms of his defense, however, we think it would be unwise for Trump to absent himself. First, juries and judges tend to look askance at a defendant that cannot be bothered to show up for their trial. Second, if Trump is going to testify, he needs to know what was said, so he doesn't get caught saying something already proven to be a falsehood. The only way that skipping out makes sense is if Team Trump concludes his control of his facial expressions and his body language is so poor, he's doing harm to himself by being there, and sending inadvertent nonverbal messages to the jurors.

J.L. in Mount Vista, WA, asks: Was the phony electors scheme really a credible threat to democracy?

Everyone who was involved in the handling of the official documents knew which states Biden had won. Any "alternative" slate of electors would have resulted in two submissions by one state, signalling an obvious error. Wouldn't they have simply tossed out the fake slate, and called in the FBI to investigate it? It seems to me that their scheme had an exactly 100.00% chance of failure.

In fact, I'm starting to wonder if the whole scheme was so laughably stupid that it might even be hard to secure a conviction for it. If a scheme is stupid enough, I can imagine a reasonable juror wondering if it was just an idiotic prank, and not a serious attempt to commit a crime.

For example, let's say that I had taken a crayon and scribbled "Donald Trump won the Georgia election, signed Gov. Brian Kemp" on a piece of paper and mailed it to Congress. Would my letter have been taken seriously enough to get me charged with felony forgery? Or would they have just laughed and thrown my letter in the garbage? And doesn't that pretty much describe what those random yahoos did when they submitted fake letters in the phony electors scheme? (Except they probably used a nice Times Roman font instead of scribbling in crayon.) Would my letter have been a credible threat to democracy? Was theirs? What's the difference?

(V) & (Z) answer: If you tried to send the crayon letter, you potentially would be guilty of a crime. To give a rough parallel, if you sent a package to Congress that had "bomb" written on the side, and it turns out it was just full of confetti, the fact that it was a joke would not keep you out of trouble. The government might not prosecute you, but they could.

As to the phony electors scheme, it was not likely to work, especially not without Mike Pence's buy-in, but it was certainly close enough to working to be WAY beyond the crayon letter. One possibility, and this would have been the home run as far as Trump and his co-defendants were concerned, would have been to get the House to accept the phony electors and to declare Trump re-elected. The more likely possibility, and one that was still a pretty good outcome as far as the co-conspirators were concerned, would have been to introduce doubt as to who actually won the election, and to keep either candidate from being declared the winner. Then, the House might have voted, state by state, to give the win to Trump. Or, when January 20 rolled around, Trump would have said: "Well, there's no new president, so I guess I'll just stay in office."

R.M.S. in Stamford, CT, asks: Donald Trump's former Chief of Staff, Mark Meadows, is attempting to have his Georgia case moved to federal court. He claims his actions were undertaken as a White House employee, thus should fall under federal jurisdiction.

However, I don't understand how pressuring Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensberger to add to Trump's vote total is a federal employee duty.

Do you think he or anyone else has any chance of moving their case to federal court? How could state charges be subject to trial in federal court when every state has the prerogative to enforce its own laws?

(V) & (Z) answer: It's a longshot argument. If Trump had called Raffensperger and said "We have credible evidence that there was machine tampering in Georgia, and we'd like you to launch an investigation," that would be OK, and Meadows, et al. would be within bounds as members of the administration to provide relevant information to Raffensperger, to follow up with him to see if anything's being done, etc. But once Trump instructed Raffensperger to find votes, all legitimate arguments for "I was just doing my job" went out the window. And that's before we talk about things like fake elector schemes and trying to interfere with the counting of the electoral votes.

D.S. in Cleveland Heights, OH, asks: You wrote: [T]hey [Mark Meadows and Jeffrey Clark] assert they should therefore be tried in federal court and that they should not have to surrender in Georgia at all... Meadows and Clark are not likely to get their trials moved to federal court, since it is as plain as day that they're just doing that to get a more favorable judge and more friendly jury pool.

Where would the federal court be? If in D.C., how would that make it a more favorable judge and jury pool?

(V) & (Z) answer: No, it would likely be the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia. The jury pool there would be a little more Trumpy, and they would have a roughly 25% chance of getting a Trump-appointed judge.

S.S. in Athens, OH, asks: In your response to S.K. in Sunnyvale, CA, you said that Ken Chesebro's name is pronounced "Chess-bro." However, for some reason I've been hearing his name in the news a lot lately, and the reporters always say "Cheese-bro." In fact, at one point Nicole Wallace said "Chess-bro" and then immediately corrected herself.

Is it possible that the staff onomastician has been associating a little too closely with the staff mathematician?

(V) & (Z) answer: Ideally, we would find footage of Chesebro saying his name himself. But we cannot find any such footage. In fact, it's hard to find any footage of him talking at all.

In any event, we based that answer on footage of other people, people who should know (former White House counsel Eric Herschmann, for example), referring to Chesebro by name. However, we agree that most folks in the TV media don't have a clear idea of how to pronounce it, and so tend to sneak in both. For example, here is a clip in which MSNBC's Joy Reid AND former DoJ lawyer Andrew Weissman both say "Cheese-bro... or Chezz-bro," making clear they don't know which it is.

What this means is that either Chesebro uses both, or that he hasn't bothered to make clear which he prefers. So, if you want to call him Cheese-bro, it is entirely correct to do so, until such time that he issues a clarification to the contrary.

P.F. in Fairbanks, AK, asks: If Judge Scott McAfee is not retained and Trump's trial goes beyond the end of his term, what happens? Will he finish the trial? Will it go to someone else?

(V) & (Z) answer: It is improbable this will be an issue. His election is in May of next year, and even if he loses, he would keep his seat until December 31. Since his availability, or lack thereof, would be clear, it's unlikely the trial would start with him behind the bench if he was a short timer (say, on Dec. 1 of next year).

That said, judges die, retire, get sick, etc., all the time. So it's not like it's impossible to switch judges mid-trial. At the same time, there is some leeway built in, such that McAfee could be allowed to finish the trial after his term ended, if it was so far along that switching judges could arguably trigger a mistrial.

M.M. in Jamaica Plain, MA, asks: You mentioned the possibility of the Georgia judge imposing fines if Donald Trump does not refrain from intimidating witnesses and others on his boutique social media platform and from committing other crimes out in public. Would a million-dollar fine, or a 10-million-dollar fine, or even a 100-million-dollar fine be enough to stop this supposed billionaire from his ongoing criminal activity? How much higher can he crank up the grift? Can the Judge impose other non-monetary sanctions, like stripping him of the ability to use a cell phone or computer?

(V) & (Z) answer: Trump loves money a lot and, by all indications, he's somewhat cash poor. George Washington famously had to borrow money to get to his presidential inauguration (because all his wealth was tied up in land and enslaved people), and Trump's money appears to be tied up in his real estate ventures. So, there's certainly a number, and a relatively small number as compared to his overall (alleged) wealth, that would get him to sit up and take notice.

And judges can indeed impose other restrictions, including the ones you lay out. For example, before the bail of crypto scammer Sam Bankman-Fried was revoked, he was forbidden to use the Internet. Similar conditions were imposed on recently deceased hacker Kevin Mitnick, both before and after his trials.

All of this said, if Trump pushes his luck too far, a judge—particularly in Georgia, where the law is very clear—is likely to just revoke bail and order the former president to report to prison. We suspect that just a night or two in the clink would be enough to scare Trump straight.

F.S. in Cologne, Germany, asks: Would Donald Trump have to be released from prison in Georgia if he is convicted in Georgia, but wins the next presidential election? I mean a president can't govern while he is in prison, can he?

(V) & (Z) answer: Did you know that in Arizona, it is illegal to allow a donkey to sleep in your bathtub after 7:00 p.m.? No, you surely didn't know that. That law may seem absurd, but it was passed because a century ago, a guy was using his bathtub to house his donkey each night, and there was a flood, and the bathtub was washed into the valley below the house, and the effort to rescue the donkey expended a lot of money and manpower. So, a law was passed to prevent that from happening again.

The point here is that if a law is on the books, no matter how odd it may seem, there is invariably some reason it was passed. The converse is also true; there generally aren't laws on the books to address issues that have never come up. Since nobody has ever been elected president while sitting in jail, there's never been a need for Congress or anyone else to adopt a law governing what happens in that situation.

Consequently, if prisoner P01135809 were to be elected from his cell, he would not automatically be released. As a practical matter, Georgia would surely let him go, but that would be as a courtesy to the federal government, and not because they are legally required to do so.

M.W. in St. Paul, MN, asks: On several occasions, you've mentioned TFG making a plea deal which includes, in part, disqualification from holding public office. How would such an agreement be enforced? Especially as it applies to the office of POTUS, wouldn't that ultimately be an extraconstitutional test and, thus, invalid? What happens if he cops the plea and just continues with his campaign anyway?

(V) & (Z) answer: As with the previous question, there's nothing on the books about how this situation would be handled. In Trump's case, however, he would likely be required to sign a document conceding that he had incited insurrection against the United States government, and that he accepts that he is barred from future officeholding by the terms of the Fourteenth Amendment. If he then tried to backtrack, and run for office again, he would have to go to court and convince a judge to throw that document out, which would not be an easy legal hurdle to overcome.

J.C. in Lockport, IL, asks: Suppose Donald Trump is convicted in Georgia, a non-Trump Republican is elected president, and in their first day in office states "I hereby pardon Donald Trump of all crimes, federal and state." What happens from there? Nothing? Will courts have to intervene? What if the trial is still ongoing at that point?

(V) & (Z) answer: "Nothing" is the correct answer. A president is free to claim powers they don't have, but making the claim doesn't make it so. A presidential "pardon" for crimes committed in Georgia would have no more validity than a presidential declaration that [PERSON X] was now a Catholic saint, or that [PERSON Y] is the winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics, or that [PERSON Z] is now the owner of 100% of all outstanding shares of Microsoft stock. The president just doesn't have the authority to make these decisions.

D.T.F. in St. Louis, MO, asks: Since you are confident that none of the people at the Republican debate have a real chance of ever becoming president of the United States, can you try a thought experiment in which you imagine the scenarios by which Nikki Haley ends up as the Republican nominee?

I can't help worrying that something happens to eliminate TFG, Haley becomes the nominee, Republicans vote for her because she's who they have and the Democrats end up in real trouble, especially if, God preserve us, something happens to prevent President Biden from being the Democratic candidate.

(V) & (Z) answer: Haley is still pretty unelectable. As we will write in an upcoming item, the GOP is more and more a "men's" party, which means it will be hard for a woman to get elected president as a Republican. On top of that, while she was less extreme than the other folks up on stage this week, she still said some pretty looney tunes things. For example, even if you oppose trans equality, it's whackadoodle to say that girls playing high school sports is "the most pressing women's issue of our time." Things like that, not to mention Haley's efforts to be on both sides of the abortion issue, wouldn't play well with a general electorate.

Nonetheless, if we want to imagine the (incredibly unlikely) scenario in which Haley becomes the GOP nominee, it goes like this. First, Donald Trump dies, making him unavailable, and rendering any votes for him invalid. Then, two or three Trump clones split the Trumpy vote, while Haley wins the lion's share the non-Trumpy vote. In some states, this might be aided by crossover Democrats, who have nothing much to vote for on their side of the primary, and who might prefer the sanest Republican possible. This basic dynamic would have to continue for at least a couple of weeks beyond Super Tuesday, allowing Haley to build up a substantial delegate lead before the Trumpy vote consolidated behind one candidate. Thereafter, she'd just have to win the states where the majority of the Republicans are moderates (say, Maine) in order to get the nomination.

B.C. in Walpole, ME, asks: I'm looking at the eight GOP candidates who participated in this week's "debate." It occurs to me that five of them have political careers that are already over; they just don't know it yet. Am I being too harsh?

(V) & (Z) answer: We will start with the note that nearly all politicians follow the same general approach as the military: up or out. That is to say, few politicians have the self-confidence of a John Quincy Adams, who was willing to accept that he could still do good work even after being "demoted" from president to representative. In other words, most of these folks could probably be elected to the House or to the mayoralty of their hometowns, but we don't think they would ever consider it.

And with that said, here's our assessment of the eight:

  1. Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL): DeSantis is still in office, of course, and could plausibly run for the U.S. Senate in the future, or mount a more successful campaign for the White House in 2028 or 2032. Verdict: Not done.

  2. Vivek Ramaswamy: He's young, and he has a fair bit in common with his fellow Ohioan Sen. J.D. Vance (R). We remain steadfast that Ramaswamy can't be elected president, but he could win a statewide election in Ohio, say for governor or lieutenant governor. Verdict: Not done.

  3. Mike Pence: He's penceona non grata in Indiana, and he's not a serious candidate for the White House, now or in the future. Verdict: Done.

  4. Nikki Haley: Barring a miracle, she won't be president. But she could run successfully for the U.S. Senate when Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) finally steps down. Verdict: Not done.

  5. Chris Christie: He's radioactive in New Jersey, thanks to Bridgegate, and Republican voters nationwide have no interest in whatever it is he's peddling. Verdict: Done

  6. Tim Scott: He's a sitting U.S. Senator, and can keep that job for as long as he wants it. Verdict: Not done.

  7. Gov. Doug Burgum (R-ND): He's still in his sixties, and is popular, and could at least possibly try to pick off one of the state's two U.S. Senate seats. Plus, while future governors will be subject to the state's new term limits law, he's grandfathered in, and could run for reelection to the office he currently holds. Verdict: Not done.

  8. Asa Hutchinson: He no longer fits what Arkansas voters, who made Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders (R) their leader, want, and he's not going to be elected president or VP. Verdict: Done

So, by our count, at least five of these people could still have a future in politics. That said, if you made us bet which ones will actually be in office in, say, 5 years, we'd choose only Tim Scott.

E.W-H. in New London, CT, asks: While you watched the debate and did not read or listen to any other opinions/analyses before commenting, Nate Silver did not watch the debate yet says there is an 85% likelihood of a Ramaswamy bump. Any comments on the contrast between your approach and his?

(V) & (Z) answer: We did not see where Silver said that. However, it is an easy enough prediction to make, since Ramaswamy was already rising in the polls, and since the debate was clearly his national coming out party (no, not THAT kind of coming out party, even if we did mention Lindsey Graham in the previous answer).

We would be surprised if Silver really didn't watch the debate. You can learn a fair bit from reading post-debate commentaries, transcripts, etc., but you can't really fully grasp the whole story if you don't put in the work and watch it. Maybe while playing a little bingo.

R.S. in Boston, MA, asks: You wrote: "...a pollster (Harvard/Harris) that has had a clear right-wing skew in the last several years." I'm not challenging that statement, but could you expand on your view of them—any speculation about how and why that bias would come about?

The "Harvard" connection is CAPS (Center For American Political Studies At Harvard University), whose advisory board is purportedly "non-partisan and cross-ideological," and of course Harvard as a whole is generally thought to be a center-left institution.

(V) & (Z) answer: The proof is in the pudding; pretty much everything Harvard/Harris puts out these days produces results more Trumpy/more Republican than anything this side of Rasmussen.

This doesn't mean they are cooking the books, necessarily. They could just have a different model of what the electorate looks like and, in particular, how many Trumpy voters are being missed by standard polling methods and so need to be corrected for. That said, one should not necessarily assume that just because the board is nonpartisan, and just because Harvard is slightly lefty, the poll is fair and balanced. Whoever is designing the polls could be introducing bias, either deliberately or inadvertently due to their basic worldview.

For example, for many years at UCLA, the preeminent political scientist on staff was James Q. Wilson, whom (Z) knew a little. Wilson was brilliant, and distinguished, and knew the issues inside and out. He was also a staunch conservative. UCLA doesn't have a polling operation, but if it did during Wilson's career (he's deceased), he would surely have been the one to run it. And at least a little right-wingedness would have crept in there (though Wilson would also be horrified at the current state of the Republican Party).


T.W. in Norfolk, England, UK, asks: I have been in a spirited conversation with a conservative 'anti-woke' surprisingly (!) good friend (because we don't actually tear strips off each other) and I posed her a question in the context of the current culture wars that she has yet to answer: To the extent that society may, perhaps, eventually move almost completely away from a gendered set of roles anyway, perhaps the "trans thing" is, well... transient. Maybe what we're seeing now is the death throes of a sexist society kicking back against those changes, because trans people are making it obvious and uncomfortable for those who wish to cling onto the older more sexist ways of thinking?

I wondered whether that's a good estimation of the situation?

(V) & (Z) answer: When the ERA was a political hot potato, there were many people who opposed it because they liked tradition and opposed change. And there were also some people who opposed it because they feared its impacts would be more harmful than helpful (for example, making it harder for women to get maternity leave).

We would say the same dynamic applies to anti-trans folks. Many of them fear change, or ambiguity about "how the world is." Some of them, however, believe—rightly or wrongly—that normalizing trans people (and, in particular, normalizing gender fluidity among young people) is actively harmful.

On top of that, as the Republican Party has searched for wedge issues, its leaders have gotten very good at making [ISSUE X] an avatar for [ISSUE Y] and [ISSUE Z] as well. So, for example, trans equality is also connected to "those lib'ruls trying to mess around with our schools" and to abortion access. The latter doesn't even make sense, but that doesn't mean the connection isn't being made (as it was, for example, during the Issue 1 fight in Ohio).

And as to your overarching question, it is crystal clear that younger Americans are vastly less invested in traditional gender roles and definitions than older Americans are, and that those younger Americans are largely very comfortable with gender fluidity as a concept. So, the odds are good that a very different conception of gender will eventually become dominant; it's only a question of how long that takes.

S.N. in Santa Clara, CA, asks: The Republican party has been "all in" on fossil fuels for decades. I can understand this for Republican politicians in states like Texas and Oklahoma. But why do Republican politicians in non-fossil-fuel-producing states fall all over themselves supporting these industries?

(V) & (Z) answer: First, the list of red/purple states where fossil fuels are a key part of the economy is actually pretty long. To Texas and Oklahoma, you can also add the red states of Ohio, Alaska, Wyoming, North and South Dakota, West Virginia, Kentucky, North Carolina and Louisiana (as well as the blue states of Colorado and New Mexico).

Second, as with trans equality (see above), Republicans have done a pretty good job of making fossil fuels an economic issue, but also a cultural issue and a states' rights issue. So, in a red state like South Carolina, residents might well be pro-fossil fuel because that "owns the libs," even if fossil fuels aren't a key part of the state economy.

Note, incidentally, that Democrats also turn economics issues into social issues into cultural issues, too. However, it's usually less aggressive, and it's usually not completely without justification. There's no Democratic politician we know of that's running around saying, for example, "If you don't switch to an electric vehicle, then abortion rights in this country are done for."

B.B. in Fort Collins, CO, asks: In this Politico article, Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) is quoted as saying that Social Security is going insolvent in 8-9 years, resulting in a 24% cut in benefits. I know that politicians would never lie or stretch the truth, but I am disinclined to believe this. Do you or the staff mathematician have any data or comments on this?

(V) & (Z) answer: You really want the staff mathematician to weigh in on a Friday night? Really?

Anyhow, Cassidy's statement is more true than false we would say, but it's also both misleading and inaccurate. To begin, the word insolvency implies "out of money." What will actually happen, barring a change, is that the trust fund will be exhausted, and then benefits would be paid solely out of incoming funds. That would indeed lead to a 24% cut (roughly), Still, for the program to be out of extra money is not the same as it being out of money.

In addition, it's 2035 when this will happen, which means 12 years, not 8-9.

P.D. in Leamington, ON, Canada, asks: Having read several articles lately regarding Sen. Joe Manchin's (D?-WV) future, I have a few questions. How likely do you think it is that Manchin will run for president, as an independent, as a Democrat or on a bipartisan ticket with No Labels? If he were to run at all, would it take votes away from Joe Biden and give the election to Donald Trump? I have seen GOP comments that would indicate they think a Manchin run would hand the election over to them. Would it really be that simple? I can't image enough voters would choose the Dark Side Joe...

(V) & (Z) answer: We just can't imagine Manchin launching a hopeless presidential bid. Whatever he might be, he's not stupid, nor does he have a history of making meaningless gestures. Also, he may be conservative by Democratic standards, but he's clearly not a Trumper, and not interested in helping Trump win reelection.

That said, if there WAS a Manchin entry into the race, we think it wouldn't actually affect things all that much. Those Republicans who grudgingly voted for Biden, so as to block Trump, have clearly gotten to a place where they can hold their noses and, in their view, put country over party. Why would those people suddenly start wasting their votes in large numbers 4 years later? If all they wanted was to cast a protest vote, they could have voted Libertarian in 2020. And they didn't do so.

S.P. in Harrisburg, PA, asks: The Daily Caller reports that New York Gov. Kathy Hochul (D-NY) is begging President Joe Biden for help as her state suffers from a migrant crisis, she said Thursday. New York City Mayor Eric Adams (D) has said that his city is full, and that they cannot accept any more migrants. What will it take for Democrats to realize that illegal entries into the United States is a problem, and crack down to stop it?

(V) & (Z) answer: Note that state-level politicians always think their state is the one that is most important, and their state is the one that is getting fewer resources than it should be getting. New York politicians are particularly guilty of this type of thinking.

Second, the problem is not that Joe Biden and other Democrats are unaware there's a problem. It's that Congress has allocated enough resources to effectively deal with something like 20% of the immigrants that are arriving. There's only so much that can be done when resources are spread so thin.

As a general rule, when someone says "don't the politicians realize [X]?", that's a pretty good giveaway that they are just blowing hot air. If, by contrast, they say "The administration should really be pursuing [SUBSTANTIVE APPROACH X] and [SUBSTANTIVE APPROACH Y]," then you can at least start to take that person seriously.


R.L. in Alameda, CA, asks: I've wondered about this for a long time and your response D.E. in Lancaster about the 30,000 year sentence is prompting me. Why are people sentenced to ridiculously long sentences that are clearly beyond the reach of a human lifetime? What's the point? Is this just in case humans develop the longevity of Vulcans?

(V) & (Z) answer: Obviously, there is no substantive difference between a sentence of, say, 50 years and a sentence of, say, 1,000 years. When longer-even-than-Spock-or-Yoda-could-serve sentences are handed down, then, it's because the jury wanted to send a message. For example, the rapist who got the 30,000-year sentence committed his crimes against a 3-year-old. You will often see the same dynamic with juries who award punitive damages far beyond the ability of the defendant to pay (although, in that case, it also gives the plaintiff leverage to negotiate a settlement so as to avoid an appeal by the defendant).

M.A. in Knoxville, TN, asks: If Donald Trump should be disqualified to be on the ballot in one or more states due to the Fourteenth Amendment, could his supporters still write in his name and vote for him that way? (Assuming the state allows write-in votes.) Or would any write-in votes be ignored due to the disqualification?

(V) & (Z) answer: There are nine states (Arkansas, Hawaii, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Carolina and South Dakota) that do not allow presidential write-in votes at all. There are another 33 states, along with Washington D.C., where a write-in candidate has to register and where that paperwork will not be accepted from ineligible people.

That leaves us with only eight states (Alabama, Delaware, Iowa, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Oregon, Vermont, and Wyoming) where a person could theoretically write in the name of a disqualified Donald Trump. And if they do it, their votes will be tossed out, just as if they had voted for Mickey Mouse or Ringo Starr, or as if they'd never voted for president at all.

S.B. in Winslow, ME, asks: After reading "More Women Than Men Have College Degrees Now," I was left wondering ...why? I feel that in today's economic society, a Bachelor's Degree is nearly a necessity for a decent job, much in the same way a High School Diploma was in the past So much so, that many smaller institutions have, shall we say... less rigorous requirements to earn an undergrad degree. I believe men still make up the majority of the workforce by something of a 55% to 45% margin, so it seems odd that women would be outpacing men in their education.

(V) & (Z) answer: There are many theories. Here are the four that are supported with evidence and that we think have some merit:

  1. Males tend to develop, emotionally and intellectually, more slowly than females, and also are much more likely to have behavioral issues. These things being the case, females' transcripts tend to be "better," which puts them in a superior competitive position when it comes to getting into colleges (particularly desirable colleges).

  2. Males are more likely to be Republican, Republicans are more likely to be anti-college/anti-education, and so by transitive property, males are more likely to be anti-college/anti-education.

  3. Most of the jobs left that can be had without a college degree, and that pay a middle-class wage, are based around physical labor (construction, plumbing, garbage collection, etc.) and so are dominated by males. Put another way, a male who does not go to college has a much better chance at a good quality of life than a female.

  4. Males remain disproportionately the beneficiaries of generational wealth, in part because there are still plenty of males living off of wealth they inherited 30, 40, 50 years ago (think Donald Trump for one extreme example). Females who wish to "catch up" have little choice but to go to college.

There are other theories, like "It's due to the feminist movement," but these are hard to prove in any substantive way. The one thing that's for certain is this is not just a U.S. phenomenon, it's happening in all Western industrialized nations.


J.M. in Nashville, TN, asks: I've been interested in trying to use metrics to compare Presidents Biden and Trump to help convince my friends why TFG should not get their votes. It then got me thinking about what metrics our two favorite writers, their various staff members, and the doggies would use to most effectively make that case from a historical perspective. I would want to include Biden knowing only 2 years is not a full term, but I think a full historical rating of all of our president would still help me make the original argument I was trying to make.

(V) & (Z) answer: Well, there are entities that have put in considerably more time and effort than we could ever expend into thinking about this exact question. First, you might want to take a look at the 2017 C-SPAN Presidential Historians Survey. That one was conducted before Donald Trump or Joe Biden could be rated, but it uses a fairly extensive rubric that you might find instructive, rating presidents on the basis of crisis leadership, international relations, administrative skills, relations with Congress, etc.

Then, you might want to take a look at the Siena College Research Institute, Presidential Expert Poll of 2022. That one was built on an even more extensive rubric (19 different areas, each appearing in the group "Abilities," "Attributes" or "Accomplishments"), and it includes both Trump and Biden. For those who don't care to click on the link, Biden was rated the 19th best president, putting him squarely between #18 Ronald Reagan and #20 George Bush the elder, while Trump was rated the 43rd best president, putting him squarely between #42 Warren Harding and #44 James Buchanan.

J.L. in Paterson, NJ, asks: I was surprised to read your comment that Joe McCarthy's "lies about alleged communist ties ... helped trigger the Korean War.... " I thought the war started because Kim Il Sung wanted to rule the whole peninsula, he had the support of Russia and China, and he thought that the United States would not intervene. In 1950, when Kim launched his invasion, McCarthy was already attacking the Truman administration over alleged Communist influence. Wouldn't such partisan attacks make Truman MORE likely to defend South Korea (to show his toughness), a prospect that might have deterred Kim? Not to exonerate McCarthy for his many other acts, but why do you think he might bear any blame for the Korean War?

(V) & (Z) answer: But that's exactly it. Because McCarthy (and other Republicans) accused Truman and the Democrats of being "soft on Communism," it was politically necessary for the Democratic presidents to be more aggressive with communism than Republican presidents had to be.

If, by Korean War, we mean "the Korean Civil War," then that would have happened regardless of McCarthy did or did not say. But in a U.S. context, "Korean War" means "the police action undertaken by the United States on the Korean Peninsula between 1950 and 1953." If not for the rhetoric of McCarthy and other hardliners, it's possible that the Korean conflict could have remained diplomatic (for the U.S.) instead of military.


R.C. in Denver, CO, asks: How do you determine if a media outlet is right-leaning or left-leaning? Is it your own impressions or do you consider any of the various media bias rankings websites? Of those various rankings sites, which, if any, do you consider to be reliable?

(V) & (Z) answer: We presume you are asking because of the table included in this item. The general answer to your question is that we're familiar with the most notable media bias charts, and we think the one from AllSides is probably the best, but we're mostly guided by our own sense of things. We also adjust for the specifics of the item we're linking to. For example, we almost included an item in the table from The Los Angeles Times, which is left-leaning, but the item itself was written by the definitely right-wing Scott Jennings. We ultimately excluded it, to avoid getting a bunch of "The L.A. Times is right-wing?" e-mails, but if we HAD included it, we would have put it with the right-wing sources.

K.K. in St. Louis, MO, asks: I hardly ever read any discussion about the ongoing writer's strike that has stopped new production of comedy shows on most every network, such as HBO, CBS, NBC, and Comedy Central.

How can democracy survive if we have to continue into an election year without Bill Maher, John Oliver, Stephen Colbert, Seth Meyers, and the group of substitute Daily Show hosts?

Isn't it time for the president to call it a national emergency and get all those comedy writers and comedians back to work?

(V) & (Z) answer: We hope the strikes (writers and actors) are resolved soon, for the good of the talented people who make the entertainment business work. But also because the longer this goes, the less high-quality political commentary and satire we get, and the more low-rent reality TV shows. Do we really need yet another reboot of The Jersey Shore? How much Snooki can people take?

B.C. in Walpole, ME, asks: Did (Z) make it through Hurricane Hilary okay? Other California readers?

(V) & (Z) answer: We can't speak for other California readers, but the hurricane was just a basic rain storm for (Z), albeit with an odd, very heavy, sort of smoky odor. He knows that inland San Diego, Palm Springs, and a few valley areas were hit pretty hard, but for him the biggest problem was that the staff dachshunds don't like to potty in the rain, so he had to watch very carefully for breaks in the storm.

K.H. in Maryville, TN, asks: Just how many boats does B.C. in Walpole, ME, have?

(V) & (Z) answer: B.C. is a retired teacher. Given the fat salaries that we pay our nation's educators, we assume that fielding a New Spanish Armada would be no problem, should the need arise.

Reader Question of the Week

Here is the question we put before readers last week:

T.B. in Detroit, MI, asks: Okay, I'll bite. What was the most interesting presidential election ever? And why?

And here some of the answers we got in response:

M.B. in San Antonio, TX: The most interesting presidential election (in U.S. history—other countries have had immensely interesting elections) was undoubtedly the first one. It determined the fate of the new nation in a way that even the Constitution could not. The newly formed country was fortunate that George Washington was around to calmly shepherd the U.S. through its growing pains. It could have all gone horribly wrong, as violent and deadly divisions often envelop new independence movements—see the Terror that ensued from the French Revolution a decade later, the horrific violence in Mexico in the 1810s and again in the 1910s, the endless civil wars of South American countries in the 19th century, the Irish Civil War in the 1920s, and countless others. Washington saved the U.S. from all that (or at least postponed it for more than half a century). By the time the second most interesting presidential election occurred in 1800, the divisions in the country had become more clear, but the precedent of peaceful transition of power had been set.

J.M. in Stamford, CT: I suggest the 1824 election as the most interesting one, for its combination of three major political dramas. There was: (1) the national vote for four, rather than two or even three, major candidates—all nominally from the same political party, but representing different regions and interests; (2) a contingent election being fought out in the House due to the lack of an Electoral College victor; (3) the thrilling outcome of Jackson being denied his popular and electoral vote plurality because of the supposed "corrupt bargain," wherein Henry Clay allegedly threw his support in the House to John Quincy Adams in return for his posting as Secretary of State—then regarded as the stepping stone to the following presidency.

Andrew Jackson then rode the popular outrage about the corrupt bargain and his loss in 1825 to win a resounding victory in the following election, spelling the demise of Adams' National Republican wing of the solely dominant Democratic-Republican Party of that time. In short, the 1824 election was the end of the quasi-non-partisan "Era of Good Feeling" and the beginning of the modern two-party system. One of the parties is still in operation today, the Democrats.

J.M. in Silver Spring, MD: Well, interpreting the meaning of "interesting" in the sense of the apocryphal Chinese curse, I think the clear choice is 1876. This was a delightful situation where both parties were accused of fraud in several states and the clear winner of the popular vote and likely winner of the Electoral College, Samuel J. Tilden, was denied his victory by an 8-7 party-line vote of a committee chosen to figure out the murky election. The election of the would-be neutral arbiter on that committee (Justice David Davis) to the Senate by Democrats trying to influence his vote backfired spectacularly, resulting in the aforementioned 8-7 breakdown.

I.T. in La Plata, MD: 1912 gets my vote. While many elections feature minor-party candidates who might play the role of nuisance or even spoiler, 1912 was a four-way brawl.

Following William McKinley's assassination in 1901, Vice President Theodore Roosevelt pledged that while he would run in 1904, he would not run again in 1908. He served 7½ years as a very popular President, handpicking William Howard Taft as his Republican successor. Taft's term caused the headstrong Teddy to reconsider his political retirement, and in 1912 he challenged the conservative Taft for the Republican nomination. When the seated president narrowly prevailed, Roosevelt declared that the nomination was stolen, and he promptly formed the Progressive ("Bull Moose") Party and took his allies in the GOP with him. Meanwhile, the Democratic convention required 46 ballots before settling on their nominee. After numerous deadlocks, New York's Tammany Hall political machine threw its support behind the frontrunner, Speaker of the House Champ Clark, hoping to push him over the top. The move backfired, as it caused former candidate and party hero William Jennings Bryan to switch his support to the underdog, New Jersey governor Woodrow Wilson.

The Socialist Party nominated Eugene Debs, as it had the previous two election cycles. Debs couldn't have expected to win, but the Socialists were growing and they hoped to elect a handful of candidates to lower offices. Debs ran a small but fiery campaign, attacking all three major candidates and probably doing the most damage to Wilson and Roosevelt.

Three weeks before the election, Roosevelt was shot by a deranged man just prior to a scheduled speech in Milwaukee. Deciding for himself that the wound wasn't serious, the ever-macho Roosevelt spoke to a crowd for an hour and a half with an increasingly bloody shirt before finishing and letting the doctors see him.

One week before the election, Taft's VP died of natural causes. The Republicans quickly nominated a replacement, but it made little difference. Roosevelt's popular vote of over 27% embarrassed Taft's 23%, but together they secured only 96 electoral votes (88 for TR, 8 for Taft). With the Republicans split between conservatives and Progressive defectors, Wilson won a blowout 435 electoral votes and 40 of 48 states, even though he received less than 42% of the popular vote. Debs received 6%, a Socialist record, but no EVs.

Aftermath: President Wilson won re-election in 1916. Roosevelt's departure from the GOP left conservatives in control of the party leadership, and the ideologies between the parties continued to switch through the 20th Century. He never held office again, but his criticism of Wilson helped Republicans recapture Congress in 1918, and the new Republican Senate rejected U.S. entry into the League of Nations. Debs was arrested in 1918 for advocating resistance to World War I conscription, and he ran his 1920 campaign from a jail cell. Taft served as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court from 1921 to 1930, a job he felt better suited him than being president.

M.M. in San Diego, CA: 1940, because Franklin D. Roosevelt broke new ground running for a third term. I've not read anything about the pundits' and public's reaction. No doubt there was high dudgeon from some quarters, and he did not win by the same high margins as in the previous elections, so there must have been some voter trepidation about breaking with tradition. Certainly glad he did make that leap—the western democracies lucked out having both Churchill and Roosevelt steering their respective ships of state.

A.H. in Newberg, OR: Probably not the correct answer, but for me personally the most consequential: 1968, Richard Milhous Nixon vs. Hubert H. Humphrey vs. George Wallace.

Middle of my senior year at Oregon State University. Recently married, expectant father. Already had my draft notice and enlisted early in the Air Force. Humphrey was an anticipated continuation of the Kennedy-Johnson administration. George Wallace was anathema to me. Nixon had a "secret plan" to get us out of Vietnam. First time voting and the LAST TIME I voted for a Republicant for President of these United States.

J.M. in Houston, TX: I'm going to interpret the question as: Which was the most interesting election "in real time" for those living through it. And I feel you can only evaluate this if you were, well, actually around. Obviously, from an academic standpoint, 1800, 1824, 1860, and 1876 are all good choices. The first two had intrigue, the second two clearly and immediately changed the course of American history.

But as for elections I was actually around for? I would have to say the 2000 election, pitting then-governor George W. Bush (R-TX) vs VP Al Gore (D...*checks notes*- TN? Really?). The tight margins, the Electoral College/popular vote split (which seems expected now, but hadn't happened in 112 years), the fact that we didn't know who won for over 30 days! In addition, it featured two candidates who were easy caricatures for comedians, and the soap opera-like twist that the brother of one of the candidates (the inscrutable Jeb!) was governor of the deciding state. And the supporting cast of characters, including low-key MVP Florida state SoS Katherine Harris, Chief Justice William Rehnquist, Green Party candidate Ralph Nader, Constitution Party candidate Pat Buchanan, and a young fake-news anchor named Jon Stewart all added to the melodrama.


Al Gore invented the Internet!


And the absolutely unverifiable but almost certainly true fact that a U.S. presidential election was flipped because a few thousand old people in West Palm Beach got confused by the ballot and voted for the wrong person. Just incredible stuff. That election is what caused a young J.M. to get interested in civics and politics in the first place (I had just celebrated my 12th birthday). It was a few years later that I first found this wonderful website, looking for a basic, unbiased round-up of polling and articles leading up to the 2004 election.

What the Bush presidency eventually devolved into is a non-sequitur. As has been pointed out, 2000 Bush was a very different politician than 2008 Bush. Living through it, I can't imagine ever topping this one in terms of interest. Terror? Anxiety? Import? We very well might have plenty more that fit that bill. But interesting? I'm not so sure.

J.S. in Columbia, MO: 2008 Presidential election. Some of us held our breath as we wondered, will voters elect a candidate: (1) who does not have a bland 'Joe Smith' name? (2) whose father is an African? (3) with little political experience and is nationally unknown? (4) who is Black? What makes the election "interesting" is the ordinariness of it, the non-event: After the election, there was no mass exodus of white Americans to European countries; the country did not fall apart; there were no violent protests. Rather, there was high participation—especially with excited young voters and skeptical minorities who were voting for the first time. Interest by the global community about this election was more intense than usual, and, to the relief of well-meaning Black elders who had experienced the assassination of Black political leaders, the election was free and fair.

R.L.D. in Sundance, WY: If we mean "interesting" in the "Chinese curse" sense, it has to be 2020 and the immediate aftermath. Hands down.

J.C. in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia: I think the most interesting presidential election ever was Corazon Aquino vs. Ferdinand Marcos in '86. No one will ever know for sure because of irregularities, but it sure looks like Aquino defeated Marcos in the vote. But the real vote was the People Power Revolution, where the people voted with their feet to end the vile dictatorship. It was a seminal movement in world history where there was a peaceful revolution, where the people en masse declared, "No more"—without the use of violence. Would that we saw this happening more often in world history.

Here is the question for next week:

B.S. in Huntington Beach, CA, asks: I have been watching and listening to Ron DeSantis's campaign ineptitude for virtually the entirety of this campaign season, and I am at a loss as to how completely incompetent his candidacy seems to be. He is a Harvard graduate, so one assumes some modicum of intelligence. Further, he should be able to attract some of the brightest and best advisors the Republican Party has to offer, and given his political background, he should be a seasoned pol. Yet on an almost daily basis, he or his surrogates commit freshman-level errors related to his campaign. It has been one step forward and two steps backward for his the whole campaign season.

Considering only non-crackpot candidates, has there ever been, in your opinion, a campaign for major political party nomination which started off with such promise and has been subsequently as mismanaged and incompetently executed as that which we are seeing in support of Governor DeSantis? If so, which?

Submit your answers here!

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