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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Trump Gets His Man
      •  Saturday Q&A
      •  Reader Question of the Week: Dodged That Bullet

Trump Gets His Man

Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) officially joined the world's oldest profession yesterday, traveling to Mar-a-Lago to yield himself up to Donald Trump (who is, of course, a longtime supporter of that profession). It is not known if Johnson's actions on Friday caused the alarm on his son's Covenant Eyes app to go off.

During their joint press conference, Johnson wore a sh**-eating grin as he nodded and agreed with Trump that there are lots and lots of undocumented immigrants out there who are planning to cast ballots in this November's elections. The Speaker put the number at "hundreds of thousands," and described it as a "serious problem." Trump, for his part, suggested the total is actually in the "millions and millions." Does he say that because he always has to one-up everyone else? Or because you would have to subtract millions and millions of votes from the totals of Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden in order for Trump to have won the popular vote? Probably both. For his part, Johnson must be wondering where it all went wrong, and how he got hooked into this. In any event, the two men's lies really aren't all that interesting, but if you want more details and a debunking from CNNs fact-checkers, click here.

There are up to three immediate implications of this intercourse. The first is that Trump let his footsoldiers in the House know that they didn't have to keep opposing the FISA renewal. And so, the FISA Section 702 bill passed yesterday, on a strongly bipartisan 273-147 vote. If the Senate approves, then the FISA powers will only be renewed for 2 years, rather than the usual 5. Also, the other part of FISA, Title 1, is still pending.

Second, Trump specifically took time to congratulate Johnson on his work, strumpeting... er, trumpeting: "He's doing about as good as you're going to do." This is a pretty clear message to Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) and her would-be allies when it comes to vacating the chair. Greene has stuck her neck out a bit here, but it's also the case that the only thing that could plausibly lead to her losing an election would be if Trump turned against her. So, we would guess the threat to vacate is going to quietly go away.

Third, and finally, Trump shared some thoughts with Johnson on aid for Ukraine. It would appear that the former president recognizes that some money is going to the Ukrainians whether he likes it or not, and he does not want to be on the losing side of that. So, he's pushing for the money to be a loan rather than direct aid. That is somewhat meaningless, because such "loans" are rarely paid back by the country that receives them. Still, if Johnson carefully walks both sides of the street, he may be able to convince some members that it's really a loan and some members that it's really not a loan, and maybe get a majority that way. Yes indeed, Johnson is going to have to be a very skillful streetwalker from here on out. (Z)

Saturday Q&A

We're going to keep this a little shorter than last week; readers do have other things to do.

As to this week's headline theme, at least a few readers noticed that it's a pretty big giveaway that the category is Arts & Entertainment, and yet the word we tried to use and couldn't was "Gettysburg."

Current Events

T.J.R. in Metuchen, NJ, asks: What is the moderate position on abortion? It seems the radical-left position is abortion-on-demand up to fetal viability. The radical right position is no abortion, period. I understand some want exceptions (rape, incest, life of the mother, 15 weeks, etc.) but can any of these be described accurately as moderate? They are a moderation of the extremes, so technically yes, but politically, isn't this the mushy middle? There is no in-between. You can't be (pardon the expression) "a little bit pregnant."

(V) & (Z) answer: Actually, there is no radical-left position, which is why anti-choice advocates had to invent one.

Broadly speaking, there are two reasons for an abortion. The first is as a form of birth control. A pregnancy is not wanted, or is not supportable for whatever reason, and is terminated before fetal viability. The second is as a medical procedure, in the event of significant health problems for the fetus, the mother, or both. Later-term abortions are almost invariably in the second category (so are some earlier-term abortions).

Meanwhile, opponents of abortion would, on the whole, prefer that the procedure be severely limited or banned altogether. However, a ban on all abortions is not politically viable. And so, many anti-abortion advocates have adjusted their position to allow for exceptions to a total ban. The most common of those exceptions is, as you note, for cases of rape/incest/threats to the mother's health.

It has also been politically necessary for anti-abortion forces, in most places and in most cases, to accept the legality of all abortions up to some point in the gestational timeline. Right now, 15 weeks is the most common "compromise" cutoff. Many anti-choice activists and politicians prefer a cutoff at 6 to 8 weeks. The latter is, in effect, a trick, since it's basically not enough time for a woman to know she is pregnant, make a decision, and have the procedure. So, a 6-week ban, in particular, is a de facto abortion ban that is being made to look more reasonable for political purposes.

This sort of trickery hints at the real game being played by anti-abortion activists. They have to tolerate available-to-all abortion up to some cutoff, but the plan is to slowly whittle that down a bit more and a bit more until one day, no abortions anymore.

What this means is that, at the outset, the anti-choice forces' focus has to be on later-term abortions. But the problem here is that later-term abortions, as we note above, are almost invariably for medical reasons, and not for birth control reasons. It's hard to rally people around that "problem." And so, anti-abortion activists have spread the falsehood that women and abortion doctors are murdering viable fetuses/infants, sometimes even after the infant has been delivered. That, then, makes a ban on later-term abortions "necessary," and sets the stage for slowly whittling down the cutoff.

But this claim—which, by the way, Donald Trump made this week—simply isn't true, and it doesn't even make sense. Why would a woman carry a fetus for 30-40 weeks and THEN decide she isn't interested? Anyone who says that, or who thinks that is plausible, has clearly never carried a pregnancy to term, and so has not dealt with the considerable physical and emotional challenges therein. And that's for a non-eventful pregnancy, never mind the ones with complications (like severe morning sickness). Anyhow, this is the supposed radical-left position.

The actual left-wing position, which is pretty consistent across the spectrum, is that this is a private medical decision between a woman, her doctor, and possibly her child's father. This position is rooted in the understanding that nearly all women who have an abortion for birth-control purposes undergo the procedure before fetal viability, while nearly all women who have an abortion after fetal viability wanted the child, but it became medically ill-advised/impossible to carry the pregnancy to term.

And you are right that there's really no middle ground between "the fetus is alive from conception" and "the fetus is alive from the point of viability." The left-wing position is, in effect, that abortion should be allowed for all non-viable fetuses, whether because the fetus has not developed enough, or because there have been medical complications that render the fetus no-longer-viable. The far-right position is no abortions, nowhere, no how. That's consistent with the notion that life begins at conception. The hardest position to justify, actually, is the middle-right compromise position, which allows for some abortions and not all. If you really and truly believe that life begins at conception, then the offspring of rapes and incest are also human lives, as are 14-week-old fetuses.

C.H. in Sacramento, CA, asks: Do you think the Arizona abortion ban of 1864 had anything to do with the upcoming statehood and the hopes of establishing slavery, therefore wanting every 3/5 person they could attain to count in a census?

(V) & (Z) answer: No. The possibility of slavery in Arizona was a longshot by 1864. Further, enslaved people did not get abortions from doctors; if they wanted one, they used abortifacient plants or other techniques that would have been beyond the reach of the law.

The reason for the timing of the ban is that 1864 is when Arizona became its own territory, having been split off from New Mexico. And the ban was motivated by the fact that the voters of the Arizona territory were predominantly Catholic.

D.B. in San Diego, CA, asks: Last week it was Florida that was ground zero of the abortion issue and therefore central to the November election. This week it's Arizona that's ground zero. Two questions on this: (1) Is Arizona really more important than Florida now, and if so, is that because it's more of a swing state, and (2) Are there any other swingy states (Nevada, Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Georgia) that are likely to pull the same trick and become the new ground zero thanks to abortion?

(V) & (Z) answer: It is indeed because Arizona is a swingier state. Joe Biden can win the election without Florida. But without Arizona, his goose is probably cooked. And this sequence of events is not going to be replicated in any other state, because they don't have this kind of law on the books, or else they don't have a Republican-dominated Supreme Court that would uphold such a law.

R.M. in Pensacola, FL, asks: As you have frequently said over the years, ticket splitting has basically gone the way of the dodo.

With the right to abortion being on the ballot this November in many states, including Arizona and Florida, if those initiatives pass (it needs 60 percent to pass in Florida, and recent polling has it getting around 60 percent of the vote), do you see a situation where the right to have an abortion in a state such a Florida passes with say 61 percent of the vote, and Donald Trump obtaining 51 percent of the vote? Or will Joe Biden get somewhere around 60 percent of the vote in Florida if this scenario comes to pass?

(V) & (Z) answer: Ticket-splitting applies mostly to candidates for office, who have that all-important (R) or (D) after their name. In general, votes on initiatives and propositions do not break down nearly as cleanly along partisan lines.

The reason that the ballot initiatives put Florida in play, and push Arizona in a Democratic direction, is not that everyone who votes a pro-choice ticket will vote Democratic. Many people will vote pro-choice and will vote for Republican candidates. No, it is because it will motivate turnout among people who do not always get to the polls and who skew Democratic, most obviously younger people.

Put another way, there is no way on this Earth that Biden gets 60% of the vote in Florida. He might eke out 51% or 52%, but that's his ceiling.

R.S. in Tonawanda, NY, asks: With her recent squirrely ruling, (that the Presidential Records Act provides no basis to dismiss the indictment—for now), Judge Aileen Cannon seems to have the Special Counsel in check, because it's not an appealable order. But could the Special Counsel not avoid checkmate by filing a motion in limine, asking that evidence pertaining to the PRA be excluded as irrelevant? She'd have to rule on it (some day... maybe) and Special Counsel could then appeal an adverse ruling. Am I missing something?

(V) & (Z) answer: You're not missing anything, as far as we can see. A motion in limine seems very likely, probably sooner rather than later. The only reasons that we can think of for Jack Smith to hold off are: (1) He thinks it will further alienate the judge, and make her even more hostile to his case, or (2) He thinks she'll slow-walk an in limine ruling, even further drawing out the timeline. But from where we sit, she's already plenty hostile and plenty slow, so making those problems a bit worse is not that big a downside.

B.C. in Walpole, ME, asks: You wrote: "You'll know if James actually moves forward; just watch Truth for a bunch of angry, racist postings from @realDonaldTrump." Can we assume that does have a Truth Social account and does monitor @realDonaldTrump?

(V) & (Z) answer: Not a chance in Hades. We already watch both conventions, all the debates, and one of us has Fox "News" on while election returns are coming in. That is the absolute maximum amount of torture to which we are willing to subject ourselves.

There are eX-Twitter accounts that mirror his Truth Social postings, but we don't much care to give added traffic to that site, either, if we don't have to. So, we rely on other outlets who DO monitor Trump, and who write it up whenever he says anything truly wacky. Mediaite is good for this; so is Fark.

R.T. in Arlington, TX, asks: These questions are for (V). Congress' solution to Chinese spying via TikTok is to force its sale to a U.S. owner. My gut says this is naive. It seems to me that the data-scraping we are concerned about is likely encoded in thousands of lines of code, hidden among millions of lines of code. Would a U.S. owner go to the effort of examining the code and scrubbing the diversion out? Or, as I fear, would a U.S. owner simply turn the privacy intrusion to their own purposes? Would they have to rewrite the code from scratch? Who would make sure the user data isn't misused?

(V) & (Z) answer: There are several aspects to this, some of them easier than others. Undoubtedly, the Chinese Communist Party has a list of U.S. Cabinet officers, subcabinet officers, subsubcabinet officers, members of Congress, agency heads, and many more top officials, not to mention the leaders of big companies and much more. They probably check to see if any of them use TikTok and what kinds of videos they watch. Maybe they find a couple who watch, say, gay-themed videos. Jackpot! Blackmail! Microsoft or Oracle would never, ever do this. If they got caught, it would make the $148 million Rudy Giuliani was hit with look like small potatoes. Also, ByteDance probably shares all the data with other Chinese entities. If TikTok were owned by a U.S. company and the data were stored on servers within the U.S., the owner would probably not sell sensitive information.

If TikTok does collect other data, it might do it the easy way, using the API. That's much simpler than hacking the operating system, especially iOS, which is relatively secure. An American company could easily look for all the API calls in the code (think: grep -f api_list *.c | sort | uniq -c). If there are calls there to use the GPS, camera, microphone, etc. the company might be curious as to why and look closer.

If the data collection is done by exploiting bugs in the operating system and was embedded deeply in the code, the code would still have to transmit it somewhere. That would be easy to find. Just check the places where there is upstream transmission and see what it is sending back to China.

But the bottom line is that China would want information about users for blackmail purposes. An American company might want to use it for better advertising but it is very unlikely that Microsoft or Oracle would want to blackmail anyone. An assistant secretary of defense might have access to military secrets China wants but isn't going to have anything a U.S. company would be interested it. It's a whole different ball game. There is a big difference between being blackmailed and seeing targeted ads.


E.S. in Arlington, MA, asks: You have started using the f word (fascist) to describe Donald Trump. Do you think there are any circumstances under which mainstream media outlets would do the same?

(V) & (Z) answer: Herein lies the problem, and it's something that we have to deal with, too. Certain very loaded words have become weapons in the hands of partisans. "Fascist" is one, "communist" is another and "genocide" is a third. Any respectable commenter wants to make clear they are coming from a place of reasoned analysis, and not from partisan activism. So, it is necessary to qualify or justify use of the term.

Within that constraint, many mainstream outlets are already associating Trump with fascism. Here is a piece from The New York Times a few months back, which includes this passage (among other similar passages:

Scholars, Democrats and anti-Trump Republicans are asking anew how much Mr. Trump resembles current strongmen abroad and how he compares to authoritarian leaders of the past. Perhaps most urgently, they are wondering whether his rhetorical turn into more fascist-sounding territory is just his latest public provocation of the left, an evolution in his beliefs or the dropping of a veil.

"There are echoes of fascist rhetoric, and they're very precise," said Ruth Ben-Ghiat, a professor at New York University who studies fascism. "The overall strategy is an obvious one of dehumanizing people so that the public will not have as much of an outcry at the things that you want to do."

They are quite clearly calling him a fascist, or at least a proto-fascist. They're just couching that in "Here's the reason we are saying this."

S.S. in West Hollywood, CA, asks: There's been recent news that CEOs and the extremely wealthy, many of whom at one time wouldn't go near Trump, are now supporting him. They are single-issue supporters who expect Trump to not only protect their low taxes, but get them even lower. If Trump wins and our worst fears about the end of democracy are realized, historically, how do corporations and the extremely wealthy do when a country goes from democracy to authoritarianism? Is it more likely they will become a protected ruling class or come to regret their support because of the unforeseen consequences of living under a dictatorship?

(V) & (Z) answer: The modern example that is instructive, because it was paralleled in Nazi Germany, Mussolini's Italy, Amin's Uganda, etc., is the Russian oligarchs. The most bloodthirsty among them have realized wealth of a sort that they previously could not have dreamed of. That said, their power is very limited, because they must always kowtow to Vladimir Putin, for fear of "accidentally" falling out of a window. Meanwhile, the less bloodthirsty were crushed like bugs.

Neither side of that seems particularly appealing to us.

D.T. in Columbus, OH, asks: If you were Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), which Senate composition would you prefer to work with (assuming a Democratic president and vice president): (1) The Democrats control the Senate 51-49, including Joe Manchin (D?-WV) and Krysten Sinema (I-AZ)—in other words, the current situation; or (2) The Democrats control the Senate 50-50, with only "real" Democrats (Manchin retires, Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-AZ, replaces Sinema).

(V) & (Z) answer: Option #2, and it isn't even close, for two reasons.

First, Schumer gets it that his members have to play ball sometimes, and that, say, Mark Kelly (D-AZ) answers to a very different constituency than, say, Jeff Merkley (D-OR). Schumer can work with that. However, Manchin and Sinema largely won't/wouldn't play ball. To extend the sports metaphor, Sinema tended to take her ball and go home, whereas Manchin tended to constantly move the goalposts (not even the right damn sport, Joe!). It's difficult to impossible to negotiate with people like that.

Second, with two holdouts, the pressure on either one of them was never TOO intense, because they could always point at the other one. But if 49 members of the Democratic caucus agree on something, and #50 is all alone in holding out, the pressure from both colleagues and constituents will be intense. There's a big difference between "We can't do anything about the Supreme Court because of Manchin AND Sinema" and "We can't do anything about the Supreme Court because of Gallego."

C.W. in Carlsbad, CA, asks: I'm familiar with the idea of one party using various tools to prevent the other from enacting legislation they don't want, but this idea of deep-sixing bipartisan legislation to prevent the other party from "getting a win" seems new. Is this post-TFG behavior or does it have any historical legs?

(V) & (Z) answer: Both parties have historically been a little leery of giving big wins to the other party's president, particularly close to an election. But really nothing like today, for two reasons.

First, in most eras, the two major parties had a more liberal wing and a more conservative wing. So, there were cross-cutting cleavages, where, say, a more liberal president like Theodore Roosevelt could rally support among much of his own Republican Party, but also the liberal wing of the Democratic Party. When legislation is legitimately bipartisan, it's a little harder to "award" a big win to just one party.

Second, it used to be the case that if a bill passed, those who supported it could run on it, regardless of party. "The Rural Electrification Act? Yes, I helped pass that," said many Republicans of the Franklin D. Roosevelt-backed 1936 law. But these days, the media—particularly, but not exclusively, the right-wing media—holds politicians' feet to the fire if they deviate from party orthodoxy for even one vote. That makes it much harder to cross the aisle, and therefore gives a much more "our party won, their party lost" dynamic to any bill that does happen to pass.

R.C. in Des Moines, IA, asks: Does the DNC issue talking points the same way the RNC issues talking points (as you noted in your item about the GOP beginning to mobilize against RFK Jr)?

(V) & (Z) answer: Not really, no. And for the third answer in a row, there are really two reasons.

First, the Democrats are the current "Big Tent" party. They are much more heterogeneous than the Republicans are. So, it's much less practical for members of the Party to all have the same talking points, because someone like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) needs to be saying very different things from someone like Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-MI). The DNC does put out general statements of principles on occasion, but nothing along the lines of "Here's what we're going to be talking about this week."

Second, what makes the talking points shtick really work is that friendly right-wing media members get that list, and effectively know what their show (or their column) will be about this week. The non-right-wing media just will not take marching orders from a political party in that way. (Z) worked at two different newspapers, and knows plenty of professional non-right-wing-media journalists as a result, and they would be deeply offended at the mere presumption that they should abide by the DNC's talking points.

O.Z.H. in Dubai, UAE, asks: Do you see a legit change in the polls? On your map, Trump's EVs have dropped from 300+ to barely winning. Is this an actual move or just "noise"? Also, why do you say the Survey USA Minnesota poll is an outlier? Is Donald Trump leading in other Minnesota polls?

(V) & (Z) answer: For the next several months, our map will serve as a reminder of three things: (1) that even small changes in the vote can mean big changes in a candidate's prospects, by virtue of the Electoral College; (2) polls are particularly volatile when we get into the mushy period where some pollsters are using registered voters and others are using likely voters; (3) the existence of many fewer polls means that one poll can really affect the numbers a lot.

So, truth be told, until the summer, or maybe even the fall, you shouldn't be watching our map to try to figure out who would win if the election were held today. Really, what it tells you is which candidate, if either, has momentum. And we do believe that, thanks to the State of the Union, some Democrats have calmed down about Biden and his age, and that there is something substantive to the move in his direction. This is not happening across one poll or one polling house, it's happening across dozens of polls.

As to the Survey USA poll, we actually wrote that it's an outlier because we think it underestimates Biden's strength there. The other polls of Minnesota this year put his lead at 4-6 points, not 2. Further, Minnesota correlates pretty well with Michigan and Wisconsin, except that the Gopher State tends to lean a few more points Democratic. If Minnesota was really a toss-up, then polls of the other two states should have them as light red, but the polls do not.

If you want to see (or download) all the polls, click on the link "Downloadable polling data" in the blue bar above the map. This allows you to view or download all the polling data in multiple formats. In addition, if you click on any state on the map, you get a graph of all the polls for that state. If you click on "Graphs of all polls" on the menu to the left of the map, you get a page showing graphs of all the polls in all states. We are great believers in open data here.

A.M. in Lunenburg, MA, asks: I've been a loyal reader since the Bush-Kerry race, and while I find more in common with your ideology than not (though I'm probably quite a bit further to the left), I am finding it increasingly difficult to have confidence in what should be your bread and butter: information about actual polling.

The most recent example, one which literally made me spit out my coffee, is your item on April 8 showing Joe Biden leading Donald Trump based on a poll by an entity known as Bullfinch. You wrote, "We have never heard anything about the Bullfinch group before, but we can't find any reason to believe they are cheating in any way, so we have included their recent poll of Michigan."

I sincerely hope this was some combination of being overly glib and being at the end of your word count, because if not, it comes across as not only cherry-picking a poll to support your narrative, but accepting as fact something that you give no evidence for not being made up from whole cloth. Are you trying to appeal to the OAN/Newsmax audience who accept a statement like that as "proof"? Has the science of polling become so suspect that anyone can claim a pollster and have just as much credibility as any other?

(V) & (Z) answer: Everything we write exists in the context of something on the order of 50 million words we've published over the span of close to two decades. If we have not persuaded you that we don't just make stuff up, or cherry-pick information that suits our "narrative," then perhaps we have not done our jobs as writers. We also struggle to understand, even if we ARE narrative-driven, what the point in misleading people about the presidential race would be, 6 months before the election.

In any event, there are a lot of pollsters out there. And every cycle, there are new pollsters who open up shop, and pollsters who change their name, and pollsters who forge partnerships with other pollsters. We wish that every pollster had a clear-cut claim to legitimacy, either by virtue of their track record, or by being associated with a well-regarded academic or other institution, but it just isn't so. And so, we sometimes have to use our judgment. If we did not, then we'd have to omit a lot of polls that might have useful information, particularly this early in the cycle, when there isn't all that much state-level polling.

We have a few ways of evaluating a pollster that we don't know (and that does not appear in FiveThirtyEight's "pollster grades" database). First, we try to find their website and see who the pollster's clients are. If it's a bunch of people/organizations from one party only, we omit that pollster. But if their clients are from both parties, or are primarily non-partisan, then the pollster passes that test. We also search the Internet to see if we can find anything concerning about the pollster. If we can't, then the pollster passes that test. Finally, we look at the polling data itself to see if it passes the smell test, based on whatever other polls of the state have been conducted and/or based on historical trends. The Bullfinch result here is not at all out of line with other polls of Michigan, or with Michigan's political lean, so it did not fail this test. If they had Biden up by 15, or Trump up by 15, by contrast, we would have dumped them.

Finally, despite the fact that Bullfinch cleared all the hurdles, we were still cautious, so we took the extra step of warning readers "We have never heard anything about the Bullfinch group before, but we can't find any reason to believe they are cheating in any way, so we have included their recent poll of Michigan." From where we sit, that's called "full disclosure," and is an indication of integrity, even if you saw it otherwise.

We've said this before but it bears repeating from time to time. The vast majority of pollsters are highly partisan. Their business model is electing either Democrats or Republicans, depending on the owner's preference. Very few do both. "We have helped elect 24 Republicans" is a great selling point if you are trying to attract Republican candidates to hire your firm. Their actual polls are fine. What they do is poll some city or state. Then the candidate unleashes an ad barrage in that area. Then they poll again. The candidate wants the honest truth about whether the ads work. He or she does not want comforting lies. However, the numbers they release to the public may not be the true numbers. They may be made up numbers either to show it is a close race or it is not a close race, depending on what helps the candidate most. It is these partisan pollsters we try to screen out. This business model works fine. There are lots of candidates running for some office from dogcatcher up to president and most of them do polling. The alternative model, just polling for the pure truth is a harder sell. Who will pay for it? They need to find a media outlet who will pay. There are few commercial companies that live like this, such as SurveyUSA and Morning Consult, but this is why a surprising number of polls are from small colleges (Marist, Siena, Emerson, etc.) just looking for some publicity. If they do a good job for a year or two, maybe some media outlet will hire them next time around.

B.J. in Arlington, MA, asks: In Arlington, the Town Meeting is the legislative branch of town government; it votes on whether to adopt town bylaws. There are some issues in my town involving local land development that affect me and my neighbors directly. Although I've never had any interest in town government or elective office before, I got talked into running for Town Meeting and, much to my surprise, ended up winning a seat.

I just learned that one of the articles we'll be voting on in May is a ceasefire resolution in the Hamas/Israel war. I have strong opinions on this topic and have to decide how involved to get in this issue beyond just voting for or against it. My question is: How much do local government resolutions on topics way beyond the jurisdiction of the town, in this case relating to U.S. foreign policy and the policy of non-US governments, actually matter? Is this just "shouting into the wind," or do higher-level elected officials, such as the town's federal Congressional representatives, take such actions into account?

Now that I ask the question, I realize the answer pretty much has to depend on the specific elected representatives involved; they will react or not based on their own criteria. I'm still interested to know if there is any data or other persuasive evidence about the impact of such resolutions.

(V) & (Z) answer: We don't know of any data, but we don't think any is needed. The primary reasons these kinds of resolutions are passed are: (1) so political leaders can feel like they're doing something about a problem, (2) so political leaders can send a message to their constituents.

Such resolutions are sort of like a poll, and so local politicians (say, the local member of the U.S. House, or the local members of the state legislature) might take notice, particularly if there are a bunch of resolutions and they all point in the same direction. But beyond that, there just isn't much impact.

K.R. in Austin, TX, asks: The question from D.O. in South Park about being suspicious of a Democrat funded by a Republican donor in the primary reminded me of a race we just had in Austin.

A friend of mine ran against the far-left district attorney in Travis County. The incumbent is a member of Democratic Socialists of America and proudly advertises that he's "the most progressive DA in the country." My friend is a longtime Democrat who worked in the DAs office in the past. He's much more centrist than the incumbent.

Several people who have a history of supporting moderate Republicans have donated a lot of money to his campaign. This fact was used against him in the primary. If I didn't know him personally for a decade, I would have been suspicious as well. However, I am sure that these people were contributing because they know the Democrat is nearly guaranteed to win in Travis County, and they prefer a no-nonsense moderate Democrat to a Democratic Socialist, most progressive in the country, DA.

Is there a way for big Republican donors to successfully financially help a moderate Democrat in a primary without hurting the candidate by making them seem like a secret Republican?

(V) & (Z) answer: Well, if Jeff Yass (net worth: $27.6 billion) has not been able to hide his donations, then it suggests nobody really can.

A Republican could re-register, and THEN donate, we suppose. Or they could give to the local party organ, and ask/hope the money goes from them to the donor's candidate of choice. But the first of those is a hassle and the second is a gamble, so neither is optimal. If there's a PAC, then a person could donate to that, but PACs come with their own downsides, like not being able to coordinate with the candidate, while not entirely hiding the identities of the donors.


P.H. in Davis, CA, asks: When Donald Trump realizes that he is going to lose (right before or right after Election Day), he very likely is going start screaming fraud and calling for his MAGA supporters to violently rise up and attack polling places, counting centers, and state capitols. He is probably not going to wait until the more Democratic votes are counted in the late "wave" we saw in 2020. He certainly will not be waiting until January 6, 2025, to start this.

My question is: Do you think that the Biden administration and state authorities in swing states are doing anything to plan for this? Who is going to guard and ensure safety at the polls? Is there a way to stop (muzzle) Trump when he starts calling for his supporters to engage in violent activities? Can they arrest him for 'inciting violence" and seize his phone and/or jam communications coming from Moron Lagoon? It is obviously not "free speech," as shouting "fire" in a crowded theater is not either.

(V) & (Z) answer: It is true there are limits to free speech, but it is also true that Donald Trump has a keen sense of where those limits are, and how to approach them without crossing the line. For example, and as we've actually noted several times recently, threats of violence have to be imminent to be illegal. For example, "I want my followers to go and attack the Capitol immediately" is illegal, but "I hope my followers don't allow their country to be stolen from them by communist fascist Democrats, and do something to save it" is not.

There is also a cost-benefit analysis here. If the government wants to prevent violence, arresting and imprisoning Donald Trump would be counterproductive, even if it's legally justified. And, to be clear, it probably would not be legally justified.

We are certain the government is preparing for potential violence, particularly in known problem areas, like polling places in Black neighborhoods (which one would expect to be voter-intimidation central) and the Capitol on the day the electoral votes are counted. However, the government is not sharing those plans with the general public, for obvious reasons.

J.E. in San Jose, CA, asks: Could a third party that has Ohio ballot access nominate Joe Biden and Kamala Harris as their party's ticket, thus circumventing the ballot access deadline set up by the state? Also curious but unrelated: When Biden appears on the Minnesota ballot, does he appear as the Democratic-Farmer-Labor candidate?

(V) & (Z) answer: Yes, that would be legal.

If a person appears as the candidate of two different parties in the same state, that is known as fusion voting. It used to be common everywhere, but now is legal in only eight states, and is only normal operating procedure in New York State.

But what you are talking about is not actually a fusion ticket, since Biden-Harris would only appear once, and there would be no Democratic candidate. And, just like your Democratic-Farmer-Labor example, it doesn't actually matter what the party name is, or if it's different in different states. If, say, the Peace and Freedom candidates Joe Biden and Kamala Harris win Ohio, then the Peace and Freedom electors (chosen by the campaign, mind you) get to cast the state's electoral votes for Biden-Harris.

And yes, Biden, like any Democratic candidate, appears as Democrat-Farmer-Labor in Minnesota. Here's a 2020 ballot from one of Minnesota's counties:

The second line says: 'Joseph R. Biden
and Kamala Harris; Democrat-Farmer-Labor

J.R.A. in St Petersburg, FL, asks: Your item on the possible departure of HHS secretary Xavier Becerra to run for governor of California leads me to a question: Do you have any feeling for what the ranking is of executive posts in the United States?

Clearly the president is number one. Even as big as California is—in both square miles and voters—it sort of feels to me like the second position is mayor of New York City, and the governor of California comes in third. What say you? Are there any obvious fourth- and fifth-place positions?

(V) & (Z) answer: First, we think you significantly overrate the power of the Mayor of New York City. With a bit over 8 million people, the city would only be the 13th most populous state, if it were indeed a state. The mayor has to share a lot of power with the city council, is not in a position to make big demands of corporations (e.g., make your packaging recyclable, or you can't sell your products here), and has to have most major actions approved by the state legislature. Also, for more than a century, the mayoralty of New York has been a terminal position; the last office held by those who attained it. None of them go on to bigger things—sorry, Rudy and Mike.

We think there is really no question that the most powerful non-federal executive in the country is Gov. Gavin Newsom (D-CA). By virtue of California's enormous population, and its economic might, the California governor not only has influence over the lives of nearly 40 million people, but is often in a position to set national policy. For example, Newsom and other California governors have been able to compel automakers to adopt more rigorous anti-pollution standards than the federal ones, simply because the automakers can't afford to lose the California market to their competitors. Also, California governors can and do move on to higher office (see: Reagan, Ronald).

After California's governor, the rest of the top five is also going to be made up of state governors. Illinois is a big, rich state, and grants its governors more power than pretty much any other state in the country. So, Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D-IL) is probably #2. Gov. Kathy Hochul (D-NY) is #3, we'd say, since the governorship of New York is also way up there in terms of delegated powers, and New York is also rich and populous. Oh, and numerous New York governors have gone on to be president or VP, including both of the Roosevelts.

Gov. Greg Abbott (R-TX) is #4, in part because of Texas' size and wealth, and in part because it's also a launching pad for other offices (see Bush, George W., etc.). The Texans actually give their governor a fairly short list of powers, but Abbott has shown that is not much of a restriction in the right (wrong?) hands. And finally, #5 is Florida, which is also big and rich, and which also has a semi-weak governorship that is nonetheless powerful in the right (wrong?) hands, as Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) has shown. The Florida governor's mansion has also been a stepping stone to seats in Congress, and maybe one day it will produce a president, even if Jeb! and Ron! and Rick! all came up short.

R.H.D. in Webster, NY, asks: Sorry, this question is morbid, but it's one that's been on my mind, along with others.

Jimmy Carter is less than a half-year away from turning 100. However, I dread he won't make it to his birthday on Oct. 1.

In anticipation of his state funeral, one thing that comes to mind is all the living former presidents, and the current one, being in attendance. From what I've seen with recent past presidential funerals, the arrangement is for them to be seated chronologically. That means TFG would be in between the Bidens and the Obamas. I cringe at that thought alone, and I'm not the only one.

Given the awkwardness of that situation, my question is: Who has the final say as to who is seated at a state funeral like this? Would it be the Carter family or the government? Also, if TFG is not invited, could they simply have his wife Melania sit in his place as she is less controversial, or skip the Trumps entirely?

(V) & (Z) answer: In the end, it will be Jimmy Carter's funeral, and his wishes will be respected. But he's too classy a fellow to play games, so he has undoubtedly instructed his family and the government to observe the usual protocol, out of respect for the office of the presidency.

Trump, as a fellow who is 77-going-on-7, might not show up. But he'll be invited, and if he does attend, the other presidents and first ladies are big boys and girls, and will deal with it without any issue. Trump is hardly the only unpleasant person to exist in the world of politics, and if a person has locked horns with Kim Jong-Un or Mohammed bin Salman or Vladimir Putin, then tolerating Trump for a couple of hours is child's play.


F.S. in Cologne, Germany, asks: In which U.S. presidential elections since 1856 was the Democratic candidate more conservative than the Republican candidate? And in which U.S. presidential elections since 1856 was the Democratic candidate about as conservative as the Republican candidate?

(V) & (Z) answer: That is not a question that can be answered with any sort of precision, because there are economic issues, and there are social issues, and often a candidate may be at one place on the spectrum for one of those and a very different place on the spectrum for another. For example, William Jennings Bryan was an evangelical Christian and anti-abortion/anti-Darwin zealot, but was also a hardcore pacifist and was borderline socialist in his economic policy. So, was he a liberal, a moderate or a conservative?

That said, we'll try to answer, as best we can:

  • 1856: James Buchanan was much more conservative than John C. Fremont
  • 1860: Both Stephen Douglas and John C. Breckinridge were more conservative than Abraham Lincoln
  • 1864: George McClellan was also more conservative than Lincoln
  • 1868: Horatio Seymour was much more conservative than Ulysses S. Grant
  • 1876: Samuel Tilden was about as conservative as Rutherford B. Hayes
  • 1880: Winfield Scott Hancock was about as conservative as James Garfield
  • 1884: Grover Cleveland was more conservative than James G. Blaine
  • 1888 and 1892: Grover Cleveland was more conservative than Benjamin Harrison
  • 1904: Alton B. Parker was more conservative than Theodore Roosevelt
  • 1916: Woodrow Wilson was about as conservative as Charles Evans Hughes
  • 1952 and 1956: Adlai Stevenson was about as conservative as Dwight D. Eisenhower
  • 1960: John F. Kennedy was about as conservative as Richard Nixon
  • 1976: Jimmy Carter was about as conservative as Gerald R. Ford
  • 1992: Bill Clinton was about as conservative as George H.W. Bush

Those last three are arguable, but note that we are judging them based on where they stood during the campaign. All three of those Democrats tacked left some once they were in office.

D.K. in Iowa City, IA, asks: Were the Southerners incredibly stupid to think they could win the Civil War and maintain slavery at the same time? Didn't it occur to them that many if not most of the slaves would leave their plantations and help the Union Army one way or another during the war? Former slaves were a major force in winning the war for the North and their leaving the Southern plantations helped to ruin the Southern economy.

(V) & (Z) answer: At the start of the war, Southerners did think they could maintain the status quo antebellum. By the end of the war, they were pondering the possibility of arming the slaves and trying to use them to fight off defeat. That means that they had accepted that to try to salvage the war effort, slavery would likely have to go.

D.L. in Florence, MA, asks: You wrote that Franklin D. Roosevelt helped "keep Winston Churchill from indulging his most unwise strategic impulses."

Can you give some examples of these impulses?

(V) & (Z) answer: A lot of Churchill's biggest mistakes came during World War I, when he was not PM, but he WAS First Lord of the Admiralty. And often, his ideas were basically sound, but he tended to muck around in logistics and things like that, making execution of his ideas problematic. The Gallipoli campaign is an example of this.

During World War II, with Britain and the Commonwealth nations already at something like full strength, and the U.S. still hustling to catch up, Churchill muscled through a plan to invade the beaches of France in 1942. The plan wasn't the D-Day invasion (which happened in 1944), but it did also start with a D. During the Dieppe Raid, roughly 6,500 allied troops put ashore in Dieppe, France, which was a fair bit north of where the 1944 landings too place. The raid was a disaster; within 10 hours, roughly 60% of the invading force had been killed, wounded, or captured. And the Nazis did this with a force one-quarter the size, while suffering one-tenth the casualties.

The most important notion that FDR managed to put the kibosh on was Churchill's desire to invade Europe via the Balkans. The PM famously described that as "the soft underbelly of Europe," and he was persuaded it would allow the allies to really kick the Nazis in the teeth. FDR correctly saw three problems: (1) this was too much a threat to Russia, who was an ally, but a leery one; (2) if U.S./U.K. troops were not occupying France and other Western European territories at the end of the war, Russia would be in position to grab them, and (3) the Balkans are made up of a lot of islands and mountains, and those things are hard to traverse. So, the President managed to keep the PM from indulging this unwise strategic plan, even though Churchill dearly wanted to do so.

S.C. in Caracas, Venezuela, asks: I think it was in the 2008 two-part documentary about George Bush Sr. by PBS where I saw the former president has been asked about what he thought about Ross Perot. He flatly said [paraphrasing]: "Because of him I lost the reelection and I don't want to talk about it," and that was the end of the subject.

Excuse me if you have elaborated on this subject in the past, but I'd like to know your opinion on this particular assertion, because I've read that some experts consider it to be not true, and that Bush would have lost regardless of Perot's candidacy.

(V) & (Z) answer: There are two ways to look at this. The first is to consider what would have happened to the Perot votes if Perot was not in the race. Study after study has shown that Perot took votes out of Bush's and Bill Clinton's hides in roughly equal measure. Since Bush lost the election pretty badly, he would have needed something like two-thirds of the Perot votes, and that wasn't going to happen. So, Bush definitely did not lose the election because of Perot voters.

However, Perot did have an impact on the conduct of the election, in two important ways. First, as an economic populist, he made the focus of the campaign the economy, which was a weak spot for Bush. Second, as the frontrunner for some meaningful period of time, Perot forced Bush to engage, and for a while the two exchanged withering fire while Clinton was unscathed. So, in those ways, Perot might have cost Bush the election.


L.V.A. in Idaho Falls, ID, asks: I noted the individualized (V) and (Z) attributions (in contrast to the generic "(V) & (Z) answer") in your recent response regarding advanced education in a recent Q&A. I have been following since 2004 and have developed a nose for who writes what (personal attribution during the week has played a BIG role). Since (Z) joined the band, many of (V)'s articles seem to be earmarked by the (at times) liberal use of hyperbole occasionally accompanied by open contempt while (Z)'s articles are often earmarked by the (often subtle) use of snark occasionally used as cover for thinly veiled contempt.

Don't get me wrong. The numerous positive attributes of all the articles are far too numerous to list here, and keep me coming back. In the past you guys stated that while (V) or (Z) author an article you run it by the other and add "(V) & (Z)" attribution if the other's contribution is significant. Now to my question: Is that the process you use for Q&A (only without individualized attribution)? I get the sense that (Z) does nearly all of the Q&A and runs it by (V), particularly if it's in (V)'s wheelhouse.

(V) & (Z) answer: It is indeed the case that (Z) writes most of the Q&A answers, and then (V) reads them over and adds/adjusts as needed. The exception is with questions that are clearly addressed to (V) or are in his areas of expertise; then, the normal order is reversed. This happens most commonly with computer/tech questions, but also sometimes with polling methodology questions, and occasionally with questions about what it's like to go to the second-best UC.

Nearly every word we write is reviewed, edited, added to, etc. by the one of us who is the non-author. We've even had a few readers correctly guess when a single sentence (usually a joke) on a (V) day (Mondays and Thursdays) or on a (Z) day (Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays) was written by the person who is not the credited author of the piece.

The only times, incidentally, when something is published without having been seen by both of us is when one of us is sick, or one of us has personal/professional commitments that cannot be postponed. That only happens with something like 3-5% of the total words we publish.

R.C. In Eagleville, PA, asks: Have you ever encountered correspondents with the same initials and town? If so how did you resolve the dubiety?

(V) & (Z) answer: It happens, but usually not in the same week. Since the main purpose of the initials is to allow commenters to identify which letter/question they are referring to, then it's usually not a problem.

L.G. in San Jose, CA, asks: Greetings, is there a way for me to receive every morning without signing on to the site?

(V) & (Z) answer: Well, we have an RSS feed (see the icon right below "Strongly GOP," top-ish right). Beyond that, no. We've considered possibilities along those lines, but that's a lot of tech overhead for a small operation. And, truth be told, if we did set up something, it would more likely just be an alert e-mail that says "today's posting is live; here is a list of headlines."

Note that we do post the headlines on eX-Twitter at the moment we go live. Click on the blue "t" to the right of smartphone icon below the legend.

Reader Question of the Week: Dodged That Bullet

Here is the question we put before readers two weeks ago:

A.P. in Kitchener, ON, Canada, asks: I enjoyed reading about the best presidents America never had. But who was the worst president America managed to avoid, and why do you say so?

And here some of the answers we got in response:

R.M.S. in Lebanon, CT: I would say the worst presidential candidate the U.S. avoided electing was Lyndon LaRouche. He began his career as an avowed communist, and later embraced far-right conspiracy theories. He ran for president several times. He was also a convicted fraudster. Despite his criminality, he was able to raise a lot of money as a candidate. His followers were very aggressive, and harassed people critical of his campaigns. They never tried to attack the U.S. Capitol, however...

B.N. in Canton, MU: The worst president we never had was Huey Long. If he hadn't been assassinated, we could essentially have had Donald Trump 80 years early, when facing a worldwide depression as well as German horrors and attempts at world domination.

G.W. in Oxnard, CA: I nominate Pat Paulsen for the worst potential president. For those who don't know who he was, good far you. He was a comedian who "ran for president" repeatedly. He was remarkably prophetic and far ahead of his time. Still, he laid the groundwork for taking the presidency with such lack of seriousness that it may have helped to justify voting for a total buffoon for president. Of course, that buffoon Millard Fillmore became president long before Paulsen ran, so maybe there is precedent.

J.B. in Hutto, TX: Without question, the worst president we managed to avoid was George B. McClellan. Had he defeated Lincoln in the 1864 election, it is entirely possible that he would have implemented a ceasefire with the Confederacy. That was the official policy of the Democratic Party at the time, and he would have owed his election to Copperhead figures like Manton Marble and Clement Vallandigham. As Lincoln himself pointed out, had such a ceasefire been implemented, the political will to resume fighting would not have been there. Democrats would not have supported a resumption of the war, and Republicans would have seen further fighting as being not worth it if the government abandoned the abolition of slavery as a war aim, which McClellan certainly would have done. Consequently, it is not going too far to say that McClellan winning the 1864 election would have resulted in Confederate independence and the indefinite perpetuation of slavery.

Moreover, notwithstanding his obvious talent for organization and administration, McClellan had the worst sort of personality for a public figure: a weak-willed coward who somehow also had a messiah complex. He couldn't tolerate the slightest criticism. He always blamed others for his own failings. Whenever his army was fighting a battle, McClellan would head as far to the rear as possible, even to the point of boarding a gunboat and sailing 10 miles away (as he did during the Battle of Malvern Hill). As he proved at the Battle of Antietam, when he could have won the war, he lacked the decisive mindset that is necessary for any person to accomplish great things. Moral cowardice is, in my view, an obvious disqualification for the presidency.

M.M. in Leonardtown, MD: George Wallace, 1968. An overt racist with 4, possibly 5 Supreme Court nominations. His worst impulses would probably have been stymied by the Senate, but no executive enforcement of VRA/CRA combined with mounting antipathy toward the war in Vietnam likely would have led to sustained domestic unrest/riots. Outreach to China was unlikely, tensions with USSR would probably have increased. And Secret Service protection would mean he probably doesn't get shot and have change of heart.

A.G. in Scranton, PA: Thomas Dewey in 1944 and 1948. Who can trust a man that looks like a porn star version of Burt Reynolds?

Seriously, a mustache? In a way, I take comfort in the fact that Americans' choices and reasons for determining their voting preferences have always trended towards the obscenely stupid. It means that, yet again, we've been here before.

D.M. in Medical Lake, WA: One of the would-have-been-worst presidents was Aaron Burr. He was an extreme authoritarian and possibly a traitor. He tried, after being defeated for the presidency, to help Spain to take western lands from the U.S. In return, Spain was supposed to make him something like a viceroy.

Another would have been William Jennings Bryan. Though he was very popular with some voters, he would have been a terrible president. If his monetary policies had been adopted the economy would have gone to pot. Further, he was a theocrat who would have pushed for making Christianity a national religion.

Perhaps worst of all potential presidents was Charles Lindbergh. He would have kept us out of World War II, and possibly would have favored the European fascist regimes.

K.H. in Scotch Plains, NJ: I'd have to say that even though he didn't wind up becoming the Republican presidential nominee in 1988 when he ran, Pat Robertson was a big bullet dodged. The evangelical, holier-than-thou, supporting-Christian-theocracy-on-the-down-low, generally loathsome man probably would've had a hard time working with a Congress that was nowhere near as right-wing as it is now, and I have difficulty believing he could've gotten re-elected in 1992. Nevertheless, he would've been even further right than Ronald Reagan and generally disastrous all around. I can't think of any benefits his being in the White House would've brought (and I am somewhat skeptical of "America would've hated him so much they would've elected a super left-wing Democrat in a landslide in 1992" as a potential counterpoint argument). So I'm really glad he never made it to the Oval Office.

K.B. in New York City, NY: James G. Blaine (election of 1880); corruption at its finest.

K.B. in El Dorado, AR: Barry Goldwater, 1960. Goldwater ran for the GOP nomination in 1960 against Richard Nixon and lost. Though Goldwater's reputation has moderated somewhat over the years as his positions now seem saner than so many other Republicans, he was mercurial and ideologically rigid. He would have appointed much more hawkish men to defense and intelligence positions. During the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, he would not have paused like John F. Kennedy. He would have been much more likely to follow the advice of the generals to take a more aggressive posture. Goldwater would have charged in, invaded Cuba, and sparked a nuclear war with the Soviets. So there probably wouldn't have been a U.S. left by 1964.

E.S. in Maine, NY: This one is easy. Donny. We know how bad his first term was, and we know how bad his second would be because he has told us. The jury is still out on if we dodge the bullet again in 2024.

Here is the question for next week:

E.W. in Skaneateles, NY, asks: I still don't understand why supposed evangelical "Christians" like Marjorie Taylor Greene, who harp on things like the solar eclipse, Jewish space lasers, and culture wars nonsense, can vote for huge tax cuts for the rich and oppose government help to the poor with a straight face. There are so many instances in the New Testament that they claim to hold dear where Jesus rebukes people for clinging to money (Matthew 19:24, Mark 10:25, Luke 18:25), is all about paying taxes (Matthew 22:21, Mark 12:17, Luke 20:25), and sounds like an outright socialist (Matthew 25:15). Note these examples are not at all difficult to find; we're talking the first three Gospels, not 2 Corinthians here...

So, why do so many evangelical politicians still vote for large tax cuts for rich people and against social services? Couldn't they advocate for both culture wars and wealth redistribution?

Submit your answers to, preferably with subject line "Poor Jesus"!

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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