Needed 1215
Haley 18
Trump 62
Other 12
Remaining 2337
Political Wire logo Rashida Tlaib Urges Vote Against Biden
George Santos Sues Jimmy Kimmel
Mike Johnson Has Failed to Deliver On Any of His Priorities
Lawmakers May Rename Road ‘Alexei Navalny Way’
U.S. Fears Russia Might Put a Nuclear Weapon in Space
Ukrainian City’s Fall Shows the Cost of U.S. Aid Delays
TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Trump Legal News: Sixteen Tons
      •  Manchin Will Go Gentle into That Good Night
      •  Navalny Is Dead
      •  Saturday Q&A

Trump Legal News: Sixteen Tons

"You load 16 tons, what do you get? Another day older and deeper in debt." And so it is that Tennessee Ernie Ford makes yet another appearance on this site this week. Donald Trump has a newfound understanding of that old coal miner's lament, thanks to the ruling issued by Judge Arthur Engoron yesterday. That said, it is improbable that any coal miner ever found themselves in the sort of half-billion-dollar hole that Trump now finds himself in.

Where does that half-billion-dollar figure come from? Well, to start, Engoron hit Trump for $355 million in penalties. This is the figure that appears in just about every headline today. However, that overlooks the fact that the former president was also ordered to pay interest on his ill-gotten gains. That is expected to push the actual figure up to something like $450 million. And then, on top of that, he's got $88.8 million in E. Jean Carroll verdicts against him. So, he's looking at a total hit of $530 million or so. Oh, and per Engoron's order, Trump also cannot do business in New York for the next 3 years.

And The Donald wasn't the only one to get popped yesterday. His two elder sons, Don Jr. and Eric, each have to pay $4 million and are barred from doing business in New York for 2 years. And former Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg has to pay $1 million. So, it was a bad day for Team Trump—just about as bad as it could have been, as AG Letitia James was asking for $370 million plus interest. That means, thanks in no small part to the Trumps' ill-advised approach to the trial, the prosecution got more than 95% of what it wanted. If there are any questions as to whether or not Engoron was influenced by the former president's behavior, well, in his ruling, the Judge described Trump as having a "complete lack of contrition and remorse: that "borders on pathological." So yeah, he was influenced by Trump's behavior.

Trump has vowed, of course, to appeal all three of the judgments against him. However, in order to do that, he has to put the money he currently owes in an escrow account. Does he have half a billion in cash laying around? That seems improbable. He's likely going to have to sell some assets. Whether or not he is going to be required to sell New York assets, like Trump Tower, to honor the "no business in New York for 3 years" part of the ruling, we do not know.

Of course, Trump could get a loan to cover his liabilities, but he's not going to be able to find a bank to do business with him. He's burned all those bridges, and besides, what bank would give money to a guy so he can pay the judgments levied against him for defrauding banks? He might be able to find a billionaire supporter who is unconcerned about putting their money at risk, and is willing to help out for political reasons. For what it is worth, Elon Musk flew into West Palm Beach yesterday. Make of that what you will.

Will this have an impact on Trump politically? We doubt it will have a direct impact, in that it's hard to believe there were people who were ready to vote for him Thursday, but are off the bandwagon now. A criminal conviction might have that effect, but we just don't see a civil judgment doing it.

However, there probably will be an indirect impact, in that there's only so much money in the Trump pot, and he's got a LOT of expenses right now. There are the judgments, of course, and millions in legal fees every month. And there's also the costs of running a presidential campaign. He just isn't going to have enough to go around, and something will have to suffer. Presumably, that will be the presidential campaign. There's also an excellent chance that his donations will take a downward turn, if the base believes that their money is just going to be spent on things other than getting him re-elected. We will certainly be looking forward to the Q2 fundraising reports with enormous interest. Which is appropriate, because enormous interest is exactly what Trump will be paying. (Z)

Manchin Will Go Gentle into That Good Night

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) announced his retirement from the U.S. Senate a couple of months ago. He clearly did not actually want to retire, but his odds of getting reelected were very long, so he threw in the towel. Since then, he's flirted with a third-party run on the No Labels ticket. But, presumably realizing that such a run would be even more futile than trying to hold his Senate seat, Manchin announced yesterday that he will not be mounting a bid.

It is nearly impossible to know, even with the assistance of polling data, exactly what impact these candidates would have on the presidential race if they held on until the bitter end. Something of a consensus has emerged, correct or not, that Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is more likely to take votes from Donald Trump, and that Manchin was more likely to take votes from Joe Biden. So, it's probable that some Democratic operatives are breathing a little easier in response to Manchin's announcement.

Meanwhile, No Labels is having No Luck at recruiting a rockstar candidate. Manchin is out. Larry Hogan is running for the Senate. Charlie Baker is running the NCAA. They're going to be reduced to running the Associate Dogcatcher of East Cupcake, at this rate. Or, failing that, Gary Johnson, who seems to be open to running on any ticket that will have him. (Z)

Navalny Is Dead

For the last decade or so, there has been no greater thorn in the side of Vladimir Putin than journalist and activist Alexey Navalny. He worked tirelessly to bring light to the (substantial) dark side of Putin's reign (which is just weeks away from being extended to a fifth term in office). For one example of Navalny's work, see this piece, entitled Putin's Palace: The History of the World's Largest Bribe, which documents, in detail, a staggering $1.3 billion in grift executed in one fell swoop.

If there's ever a follow-up to Profiles in Courage, Navalny better get a chapter. In fact, he really ought to get his own volume. Just challenging Putin, even from abroad, is an excellent way to "accidentally" fall out of a window, or to end up with a cup of polonium tea. But Navalny's spine was steely enough that, even after he knew he was public enemy #1 in Russia, and even after he had been subject to poisoning, and even after he knew arrest was inevitable, he returned to Russia. That was in 2021; he completed and posted the above video just days before surrendering himself.

Since then, Navalny has been in a Russian prison. There's no such thing as a "good" Russian prison, or even a "tolerable" one, but he was in one of the worst, in cold, cold Siberia. In theory, he was there to serve a 5-year sentence. In reality, it was almost certain to be a life sentence, and Navalny knew it. Yesterday, it became so, as the Russian government announced his death at the age of 47. The cause is unknown, but in a video appearance on Thursday, Navalny looked perfectly healthy. So, it's probably not "natural causes."

That said, there is some reason to believe that Putin did not order the (probable) execution, and that someone down the chain of command took matters into their own hands. This is not great PR for the Russian leader, given that he's trying very hard right now to project an image of "he's not so bad" in the United States right now (hence, for example, the interview with Tucker Carlson).

The worst case scenario for Putin is that this becomes an international scandal, along the lines of what happened with Jamal Khashoggi, rallying anti-Russian sentiment in the U.S., and breaking the logjam on Ukraine funding. We do not know if that is what will happen; we only know that it could happen. At very least, one hopes that this incident will serve to convince anyone and everyone that Carlson is something that begins with "t" and ends with "raitor." (Z)

Saturday Q&A

Some weeks, as was the case last week, the mailbox is dominated by one or two issues. Other weeks, as is the case this week, it's much more mixed. Note, incidentally, that we will be answering several questions we've answered previously because we get these questions just about every week.

And a second hint for this week's headline theme: We did not intentionally choose a theme that is particularly easy for Russians to notice; it just happened by chance.

Current Events

J.H. in Boston, MA, asks: Now that the special counsel investigation into Biden's classified documents case is out, are we also expecting one on Pence? Is Hur also in charge of that case? It will be instructive to see the partisan differences.

(V) & (Z) answer: There was no special counsel assigned to Pence, whose documents case was closed without any action taken back in June of last year.

R.M.S. in Lebanon, CT, asks: In court, Donald Trump's lawyers argued that he could not be prosecuted for any official acts he undertakes while president unless he is impeached and removed from office. They said this is true even if he shot a political rival. If he can get away with shooting one person, why would he stop there? Would he be able to shoot 1,000 people? One million people? How many shootings would cross the line? Isn't this a legal attempt to create a Joseph Stalin presidency in the U.S.? He was responsible for ordering millions of killings in the USSR and was never held accountable by anyone.

(V) & (Z) answer: The "slippery slope" argument is the single most obvious one against Trump's theory of presidential power, and has been brought up every time the matter was argued in court, and nearly every time anyone has written an op-ed about how wrongheaded Trump's thinking is.

M.A. in Knoxville, TN, asks: I have no doubt that Donald Trump really does plan to raid the RNC's coffers to pay his mounting legal fees, but is that legal? I can see it being framed as paying for campaign expenses, but there are limits to what any person or organization can donate to a campaign. For that matter, how is it legal that his super PAC has been paying his legal fees? That sure seems like a direct campaign contribution as well, if not the spending is completely unrelated to a political campaign.

(V) & (Z) answer: This situation reveals two things about the nature of campaign finance. First, there are a LOT of very large gray areas. Trump's legal cases are linked closely enough to his public career to be "politics," but not closely enough to be "campaigning." So, he can spend in the manner he does without obviously violating the rules.

Still, many campaign finance experts believe he is, in fact, breaking the rules. But that brings us to our second point about the nature of campaign finance: The Federal Elections Commission is pretty toothless, and is rarely able to do anything about candidates who break the rules, particularly when those candidates are operating in one of those many large gray areas.

L.S. in Greensboro, NC, asks: I'm really having trouble understanding the whole Fani Willis imbroglio, and am hoping you can help. Three questions:

  1. Although I've searched and searched, I haven't been able to discover: How much does Willis earn and how much was the dollar value of the supposed gifts she received? Obviously, a $5,000 gift to someone earning $50,000 a year is a lot different than a $5,000 gift to someone earring $200,000 a year.

  2. I keep hearing about "exotic trips," which made me think of Monaco, Ibiza, and Dubai, but all that were mentioned in the hearing were trips to Aruba, Belize and Napa Valley. I have friends who work as admin assistants who have traveled to all three. So where are these "exotic trips" (keeping in mind the income levels and lifestyles of the parties involved)?

  3. I understand that "conflicts of interest" arise when someone has beneficial ties to both sides of a dispute. So, if she was receiving money from someone in the Trump camp or if she were dating one of Trump's attorneys, I certainly can see a conflict of interest arising. But in this case both she and her boyfriend were working on the same side. So where is the conflict of interest?

(V) & (Z) answer: As to your first question, Willis' salary in 2023 was $133,806.34. The cost of the trips, etc. was into the five figures, and five figures is a lot of money to most people, including those who earn $133,806.34 per annum.

As to your second question, we're not sure how to answer. You can travel to Monaco, in particular, fairly cheaply if that is what you want to do. You can spend a lot of money in Napa. Just a dinner at the French Laundry alone runs about $750, and that's without wine. Willis and Nathan Wade have not submitted receipts, so we can't know exactly how "exotic" their vacations were. Belize (the only English-speaking country in Latin America) is certainly way more exotic than Wally World. But exotic doesn't mean expensive. Prices in Developing countries are actually quite low.

And for your third question, it's helpful to try to come up with worst-case hypothetical examples. So, imagine that Willis discovered evidence that Wade had behaved in an unethical manner, potentially justifying termination from the case(s). However, she would also know that if she fired Wade, it could harm their romantic relationship, and it could mean there would be no money for further trips/dinners/whatever. So, there would be a conflict of interests there. We are not saying that this did happen, merely that it's possible.

T.H.W. in Marlboro, VT, asks: In your item "Trump Legal News: Desperado," you wrote that "When Willis took the stand, she was certainly... passionate about defending herself. To many observers, however, she came off as more than a little unhinged." In these perilous times in our political world, I think we need to be very cautious and skeptical about these "people are saying" formulations. Who exactly thinks "she came off as more than a little unhinged" and why? When you report that Nikki Haley called Trump unhinged, I know who she is and why she might be calling him unhinged. I know enough about Trump's behavior to be able to make some assessment of the usefulness and relevance of the diagnosis.

None of that is the case in your comment. Did you think she came across as unhinged? That would tell me something. I did not watch her testimony, but I watched several clips of it (presumably selected for their drama, not for coolness under fire), and I thought she came across as indignant at the invasion of her privacy and the betrayal of her friendship. I thought she was "more than a little" outraged at the attack on her professional life through her private life. Her indignation and her outrage may seem a little self-righteous in the circumstance, but hardly "unhinged." Who says so? Why?

(V) & (Z) answer: We did not see any of her testimony, and we do not have an opinion on how she comported herself. In fact, our opinion is completely irrelevant to the item we wrote.

Our point, which we laid out in that piece, is that the potential is there for Judge Scott McAfee to say "nothing to see here" and the potential is there for him to say "she's gotta go." If other people who watched her testify thought she was unhinged, then it's possible that McAfee thought so, too.

And pretty much anytime we write anything, we read more articles than it is plausible to link. Often, a considerably greater number. And before we wrote that piece, we read several pieces that commented on how Wade was considerably more controlled on the stand than Willis was. This is one of those pieces; it has the headline "Fani Willis' Strange, Furious Testimony May Have Blown Up Her Case Against Trump."

J.G. in Eugene, OR, asks: Based upon everything you know now, what is your current sense of the likelihood that Trump's legal cases will prevent him from running or winning the presidency? Do you think he will successfully delay all of his cases long enough? Will he ultimately evade justice, or will he end up behind bars?

(V) & (Z) answer: He certainly had some good fortune in Georgia this week, although we will presumably learn next week exactly how good that fortune really was. In any event, the odds are still against him dodging every single one of the bullets he needs to dodge. In particular, the Washington case is likely to go to trial before the election, and to produce an adverse result for him both personally and politically.

As to his ending up behind bars, that's still pretty far in the future, given how slowly the wheels of justice turn. However, we think that is also more likely than not, even if it's a mostly symbolic 6-month stint in a low-security prison.

J.J. Johnstown, PA, asks: Donald Trump's former national security advisor, John Bolton, suggested that Trump very much wants out of NATO. The Constitution requires two-thirds of the Senate to ratify a treaty, which they did for NATO in 1949. Does it also take two-thirds of the Senate to withdraw from a treaty? If that's the case, is it even possible for Trump to unilaterally withdraw from NATO? I really can't imagine that if Poland gets invaded by Russia and invokes Article 5, that the U.S. military stationed there (and in neighboring Germany) aren't going to defend themselves (although after typing that, I see Trump's motive from wanting to withdraw troops there too). It seems like this is just posturing from the Trumpers and fearmongering from the Never Trumpers.

(V) & (Z) answer: The Constitution is specific about what is required to ratify a treaty. On the question of what exactly is needed to cancel a treaty, however, it is silent.

There is some jurisprudence on this point, and that jurisprudence gives Trump some pretty good cover for withdrawal, if that is what he wants to do. In particular, in Charlton v. Kelly, the Supreme Court ruled that a president can withdraw from a treaty if the other party or parties are in breach. So, Trump would likely argue that the various nations that are not spending 2% of GDP on national defense (even though that figure is voluntary, and even though two-thirds of member nations are going to clear the bar this year) have breached the NATO treaty, allowing him to withdraw.

S.O.F. in New York City, NY, asks: Can the Senate, Congress more broadly, and president Biden do or pass anything in advance to prevent Trump from unilaterally pulling out of NATO?

(V) & (Z) answer: Congress does not have the authority to tie the hands of future Congresses and presidents. So, if the 118th Congress (the current one) passes a bill that, say, allocates $100 million per year for 10 years to fight opioid addiction, the members have to hope that the 119th, 120th, 121st Congresses, etc. allow the program to remain intact. There's nothing the 118th can do to prohibit the future Congresses from ending the program early if that is what those Congresses choose to do.

And so, the current Congress cannot forbid future Congresses or presidents from withdrawing from NATO. The current Congress DID put language in the Defense Authorization Act that specifies that withdrawal from the NATO treaty requires a two-thirds vote of the Senate. This is not prohibiting the next Congress or the next president from withdrawing, exactly, it's merely setting out (near-impossible) terms under which withdrawal can take place. The current leadership of the Senate is hoping that this maneuver will pass muster if challenged in court. Likely it would not, however, since it's still a pretty obvious attempt to tie the hands of future officeholders.

J.J.P. in Rochester Hills, MI, asks: Doesn't Wisconsin have that unique line-item veto that Gov. Tony Evers (D-WI) could use? Couldn't he just strike out the language about when it is introduced, sign it, and then tell the Secretary of State (or whomever is responsible for the elections) to prepare based on the new maps as soon as possible for this year's elections?

(V) & (Z) answer: Yes, Wisconsin does have that option. That said, we erred in that item. We read four different articles trying to ascertain whether or not the new maps would be in place for 2024, or if they would wait until 2026. We thought we had achieved clarity that they would not take effect until after this cycle, but we were wrong. In fact, the November elections would be governed by the new maps. And so, the only thing that the Republican-controlled legislature would gain from their maneuvering is that the current maps would remain in place for any special elections that take place between now and November. In the interest of collegiality, kumbaya, and the like, Evers might just let them have that bone.


M.B. in Montreal, QC, Canada, asks: What do you think of the following? Since Joe Biden has been Comeyed by Robert Hur, I think it likely that Trump will win this fall. Come 2028, he will not want to leave the presidency, Twenty-Third Amendment be damned. The Supreme Court seems likely to rule that states cannot deny ballot access, just because some old piece of paper says so. After all, Congress has passed no bill enabling that amendment. Given all the voter suppression that will likely have been implemented in the meantime, Trump will likely win election again and declare himself president-for-life.

(V) & (Z) answer: You asked what we think, and so we are going to tell you: We don't think very much of this assessment.

First—and sometimes we feel like we're shouting into the void, given how often we write this—it is way, way, WAY too early to reach conclusions about who is going to win the election this year. More specifically, how many stories have you seen about the Hur report in the last, say, 5 days? (Our answer, as people who read a LOT of politics news: Zero.)

Second—and sometimes we feel like we're shouting into the void, given how often we write this—there is no reason to think Trump can pull off a coup like this. We'll keep our list of reasons simple this time. First, he's shown no willingness to set aside the Constitution. Abuse the Constitution, yes, but he doesn't have the stones to go beyond that. Second, he is generally incompetent, and he tends to surround himself with people who are generally incompetent. Third, people are watching him carefully, as they have the cautionary tale of Hitler/Mussolini/Stalin, etc., not to mention the cautionary tale of Trump v1.0. It's not so easy to pull off a coup when you're being watched like a hawk. Fourth, and finally, people who predict a Trump coup never seem to be able to answer this question: What, exactly, makes you believe that the population will roll over and accept his power grab? He is already the candidate of the minority. And that minority will become considerably smaller if he declares himself dictator. California, Oregon and Washington alone will give him more resistance than he can handle. And then there are New York, Illinois, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, etc.

B.B. in Pasadena, CA, asks: There are many who say had Jon Stewart not left The Daily Show in the run up to the 2016 election, it might have resulted in a Clinton win. What is your opinion about that? Meanwhile, on the journey of his return, godspeed Jon Stewart.

(V) & (Z) answer: We are skeptical. Stewart's audience is such that he's basically preaching to the choir.

D.H. in Boulder, CO, asks: This morning I received a text from a group calling itself "AV2024" asking me to participate in a "brief survey on presidential candidates." I am not against registering my opinion in a legitimate poll, and understand that electronic polling is becoming more common for reasons you have discussed many times. But being skeptical of clicking on any link from an unknown source, I did an incognito web search and located the site (rather than AV2024 as the text identified itself) as being a part of Robert F. Kennedy Jr.'s campaign.

My first question is whether any poll that comes from a campaign, as this appears to, would be legitimate? The second is whether there is general information you would offer on how a legitimate pollster would actually reach out, so as to help your readers know how to respond appropriately?

(V) & (Z) answer: Pollsters are exploring all options these days, and contacting people by text message is one of those options. So, it's entirely plausible that you could get a text from a legitimate pollster. That said, we would do our research, as you did, before considering the possibility of responding.

And polls conducted by campaigns generally are legitimate, unless they are push polls (and, truth be told, we'd be much more worried about a push poll from RFK Jr. than one from Joe Biden or even Donald Trump). The most common type of dishonesty, when it comes to polls run by political campaigns, is not that they cook the books. It's that they only release the results that are favorable to them.

O.R. in Milan, Italy, asks: In a post about Bob Kennedy Jr. on 12 Feb. you en passant mentioned that both parties will probably have wide-open primaries in 2028. Why would you expect that?

(V) & (Z) answer: If Joe Biden is reelected this year, then there will be a Democratic free-for-all as various candidates (including Kamala Harris and multiple governors) fight to be his successor. If Biden is not reelected this year, then there will be a Democratic free-for-all as various candidates claim they can stop the bleeding.

If Donald Trump is elected this year, he will reach the term limits for a president, and there will be a Republican free-for-all as various candidates fight to be his sucessor. If Donald Trump is not elected this year, then there will be a Republican free-for-all as various candidates claim they can lead the GOP over the hump. Trump probably wouldn't run, and even if he did, he would be weakened to the point that he would not scare off many challengers. After all, he drew close to a dozen non-trivial challengers this year.

If this question is a backdoor way of saying that Trump will be elected, will sweep democracy aside, and there will be no election and no primaries in 2028, you can see above for our views on that.

G.W. in Oxnard, CA, asks: I have already voted in the California primary election, so this question has no relevance, it's just for curiosity's sake. There is an ad on TV by Fairshake attacking Rep. Katie Porter (D-CA). An Internet search told me that Fairshake is a consumer advocacy group. What is their beef with Porter? I thought Porter was the most active consumer advocate of the major candidates; Am I wrong?

(V) & (Z) answer: Fairshake might claim to be a consumer advocacy group, but what they really are is a pro-cryptocurrency lobbying group. Porter is, like most progressives, outspokenly anti-crypto.

E.W. in New Orleans, LA, asks: Mardi Gras is over and my whole city is wearing sunglasses and asking everyone to not speak so loudly. Collective hangovers are rough. Can you address the bizarre retirements by GOP House members? Why isn't it the Biden 17? Every day it seems more likely the Democrats take back the House, but it's all Republicans in R+10 districts and committee chairs heading for the door? Maybe they are sick of Trump, as you say, but it seems a possibility that next year will be a dynamic one in the GOP as they attempt to move beyond their hostage situation by a convicted felon. Just curious if you have any other theories rolling around.

(V) & (Z) answer: It must surely be miserable to be a Republican member right now, since you have virtually no freedom to vote or legislate as you want, as doing so risks being excoriated by your colleagues and by the right-wing media, not to mention potentially putting yourself and your family in danger. GOP members in deep-red districts generally have enough tenure to have had their fill of Congress under Trumpism, and perhaps to have decided they don't want to try to hang on until the post-Trump era. Meanwhile, GOP members in swing districts generally have much shorter tenures, and so may not be ready to give up, quite yet.

D.S. in Querétaro, Mexico, asks: I read the item from S.T. in Worcestershire, where he talks about one of the British seats that changed hands in the by-election and mentions "a massive 28.5% swing from the Conservatives to Labour." I feel like I see these kinds of wild swings fairly frequently in Britain, but we never see them in the U.S. and we always act like it's inconceivable that it would happen here. Why are things so different in the US and Britain?

(V) & (Z) answer: To start, the average constituency in the U.K. has about 100,000 people. The average House district has about 750,000. The fewer the number of votes cast, the greater the potential for unexpected and/or extreme numbers.

Second, since Britons don't actually vote for the prime minister, voting for a candidate from the non-governing party is the best way that voters in the U.K. have to send a message to their national leaders.

Third, since the U.K. has somewhat viable third parties, people can vote against the party they might normally support without necessarily voting for the main opposition party.

D.R. in Hillsboro, VA, asks: We've been talking about replacing Andy Jackson on the $20 with Harriet Tubman for over 10 years now, yet it seems to have dropped off the radar, at least for everyone except Sen Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH). I see that last year she submitted a bill to put this effort in motion again, but it has a due date of December 2030. Why must this take so long? It strikes me that this would be a real "feel good" issue for certain constituencies vital to Team Blue. Will we hear more about this in this campaign cycle?

(V) & (Z) answer: The number of stakeholders that have to sign off on a currency change is enormous, and so the process is very onerous and drawn out. And if it's stopped, like it was under Donald Trump, then we return to square one and start all over. Getting 80% of the way during the Obama years, then, did nothing to help get there during the Biden years.

We are very doubtful that you'll hear about this during the campaign, as it would give the Republicans a culture wars issue to wield against the Democrats, while giving the Democrats little tangible benefit. They are already doing fine with Black women, thank you very much. This feels very much like something that would happen once the election is over, assuming that the Democrats hold the White House.

E.B. in Hannover, Germany, asks: You wrote: "Germany doesn't have them [nuclear weapons], but is considering developing them."

This is, as far as I can remember, the second time you have alluded to Germany considering developing nuclear weapons. I live in Germany and would like to think that I'm politically pretty well-informed but I've never heard anything about that in German media. (And I'm pretty sure that with the non-proliferation treaty in force there would be quite an uproar in Germany.)

(V) & (Z) answer: For Germany to become a nuclear power would not be as great a change as it might seem. Germany already stores American nukes at Büchel air base, and German pilots train on how to deliver them, just in case. Germany also sits as part of NATO's nuclear planning group. Meanwhile, when asked about the possibility of developing nukes, Chancellor Olaf Scholz almost invariably demurs. That is far removed from the Full Sherman.

That said, just because Scholz might like to have some nukes of his own, or at least might like to have the conversation, doesn't mean Germany is anywhere close to actually moving forward with its own nuclear program.


R.C. in Des Moines, IA, asks: "Do I even need a vice president?" Donald Trump recently asked an associate while venting about Mike Pence, according to GOP strategist Ryan Girdusky. "They don't do anything." Is there a formal requirement, either by party rule or a law, that the presidential candidate must choose a running mate? If Trump decided not to name a running mate, how would the GOP choose a vice-presidential candidate? I assume they would want to run an opponent to Vice President Kamala Harris even if that meant angering Trump.

(V) & (Z) answer: First of all, there is no way Trump would decline to choose a VP. Whenever he announces, that is an instant, giant burst of free publicity. He loves publicity almost as much as he loves money and Big Macs. It's also an opportunity to pander to one or more elements of the base.

That said, if Trump refused to choose a VP, the Republican Party would choose one for him at the Republican National Convention. If the Republican Party refused to choose (also inconceivable), then Trump could legally run all by his lonesome, and if he was elected, the VP would be chosen by the Electoral College. If the Electoral College was unable to choose a VP (presumably due to dividing the vote between multiple candidates), then the U.S. Senate would choose.

Z.K. in Albany, NY, asks: R.J. in Pasco writes: "A Harris-Newsom ticket might be the thing!"

I can see the Democratic base getting behind this if Joe Biden doesn't recover. Are there any restrictions on them being from the same state? If so, why was that restriction enacted?

(V) & (Z) answer: It is legal for two candidates from the same state to share a ticket. However, the electors from their state (in this case, California) cannot vote for both of them. This restriction was imposed to keep any one state from having too much control over the executive branch.

Normally, the workaround is for the VP candidate to "move" to another state, the way that, say, Dick Cheney "moved" from Texas to Wyoming during the 2000 campaign. In the case of Newsom-Harris, however, that option probably isn't available. It would be hard for Newsom to argue that he, as governor, is not a resident of California. As to Harris, she could try to claim residence in Washington, D.C., but it's not clear if that is legal or not.

D.G in Fitchburg, WI, asks: As a thought exercise, could the GOP nominee choose a vice president who is currently incarcerated? I'm thinking about Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes. There are certain functions the VP is responsible for but clearly couldn't perform from jail. Are there constitutional limitations for this kind of choice?

(V) & (Z) answer: Just as there are fairly few limits on presidential candidates, there are fairly few limits on vice-presidential candidates. Carceral status is not among the factors in play, and so being in prison would not prohibit Holmes from running for the vice presidency. Somewhat serious candidates have run for the presidency from prison, most notably Eugene Debs in 1920 and Lyndon LaRouche in 1992.

R.H. in Santa Ana, CA, asks: You and everyone else keep saying that it takes 20 years to achieve real power in the Senate. How did Lyndon B. Johnson become Senate Majority Whip two years after his 1948 election, and Minority Leader two years later?

(V) & (Z) answer: There are three paths to power in the Senate. First, a person can work their way up the ranks until they gain the chair of a key committee. This is the "it takes 20 years" path.

Second, a person can work their way up through leadership. This can happen in much less than 20 years, if a person is a brilliant political operator, as LBJ was, or gets lucky, as current speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) did over in the House. However, the current leadership of the Senate has been in place for a fairly long while, and has held on to their jobs with an iron grip, meaning this path has not been available in recent years.

Third, a person can become the face of a movement, as Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT). This generally takes both brilliance AND a political moment that makes such a move possible. These things do not come together very often; is there any other member of the Senate right now who can reasonably be considered the face of a movement? Or, for that matter, any other member of the Senate in the last 20 years?

S.B. in Hadley, MA, asks: Can you explain how it is that the Republican Party put up a registered Democrat as their nominee? And if she won, what would she be in the House—a Democrat or a Republican?

(V) & (Z) answer: In contrast to many European nations, party registration in the United States means very little (and some states don't even bother with it). The main significance is that it dictates which ballots you are given when it's time to vote in the primaries.

And so, being registered as a member of [party X] does not prohibit running for office as a member of [party Y]. And if a person is elected to Congress, they are allowed to join any caucus or conference that will have them. That is why Sens. Bernie Sanders, Angus King (I-ME) and Kyrsten Sinema (I-AZ) are able to caucus with the Democrats despite the fact that none of them is registered as a member of the Party.

H.R.Z. in Port Washington, NY, asks: Does someone like Rep.-elect Tom Suozzi (D-NY), who was in Congress for a number of years before leaving and now coming back, retain any seniority upon coming back to Congress, or does it reset to zero?

(V) & (Z) answer: When it comes to calculating seniority, a member gets credit for however many terms they've served, minus one term for any gap in their service (whether that gap is 1 day or 25 years). So, as someone who served three terms and then left, Suozzi will be treated as someone with two terms' worth of service.

If there is a need for a tiebreaker, then consecutive terms take precedence over nonconsecutive terms. And if there is still a tie after that factor has been weighed, the final tiebreaker is alphabetical order, by last name.


F.L. in Allen, TX, asks: Although I live in Texas (for all my sins), I consider myself an RCA (registered coonass).

In doing a bit of reading about the CSA, I noticed that, although a large majority of Louisianans supported secession and/or slavery, it was not unanimous. In 1861, the Secession Convention in Louisiana voted 113 to 17 to adopt the Ordinance of Secession—brave folks, those 17.

As the Confederacy had conscription, I have to believe that some of those who were drafted (or otherwise coerced) were unwilling participants. What a terrible spot to be in.

My question: Did I miss something?

(V) & (Z) answer: To start, do not assume those 17 in the minority were antislavery. There were plenty of Southerners who broadly supported the goals of the Confederacy, but who felt there was still room for diplomacy before resorting to war.

Beyond that, however, the Civil War draft did not function in the same way as the drafts more familiar to people today, namely those during World War II, Korea and Vietnam. The Civil War draft was not really designed to enroll conscripts, it was designed to persuade men to volunteer (honorable!) so that they didn't have to be drafted (dishonorable!). It was also easy to escape the draft, using either legal means (paying a commutation fee) or illegal means (draft dodging). We don't have great statistics for the Confederacy, because a lot of the records were lost. However, in the Union, only 8% of draftees actually ended up serving, and they made up only 1% of the overall force.

So, while there were surely a few Confederate draftees who were not on board with the cause, there weren't many of them.

J.B. in Bend, OR, asks: You wrote: "[t]he Union barely won [the Civil War], even with its significant advantage in political leadership and industrial might..."

I was surprised by that observation. Can you elaborate on how the Union "barely won" a war in which it totally crushed the other side despite, as Shelby Foote observed, fighting with one hand tied behind its back?

(V) & (Z) answer: This is one of the main things you have to be wary of when it comes to Shelby Foote; he had a tendency to say pithy things that sound good but have no real basis in fact. Like, for example, his nonsensical observation that Abraham Lincoln and Nathan Bedford Forrest were the two great geniuses of the Civil War.

The notion that Lincoln, who desperately wanted victory, and as rapidly as possible, left significant resources (or any resources) untapped simply does not make sense. It is true that the North had more population, but it is also true that the population was far less unified than the Southern population was. The people who avoided serving in the War, in various ways, could not easily have been converted into soldiers (much less highly-trained, veteran soldiers willing to plunge themselves into battle).

And the only way the Union COULD win was the crush the Confederacy, and to stamp out all rebellious elements (by contrast, the Confederacy only had to survive). That's a tough job, in and of itself, but it also had to be done on a tight timeline. There was a presidential election on Nov. 8, 1864, and if Lincoln was defeated, then he knew well he would be replaced by someone (like, say, George McClellan) willing to recognize the Confederacy (or, at least, willing to keep slavery intact). As late as August of 1864, Lincoln thought this was how the war would end, and it was only on Sept. 3, 1864, that the fall of Atlanta turned the tide and guaranteed the reelection of the President and the triumph of the Union. There are many ways that the Confederates might have hung on for those extra 8 weeks or so.

J.M. in Kalamazoo, MI, asks: I am not a historian, but I do perform work related to just war theory. I am interested in your assessment of Gar Alperovitz, in particular his claims that the U.S. primarily dropped the atomic bombs on Japan in order to intimidate the USSR. I have always assumed that the intimidation of the USSR was just a positive side effect of the primary aim, ending the war quickly. Gar takes the opposite view and I have some graduate students that take his assessment as a foundational truth. What is your take?

(V) & (Z) answer: Gar Alperovitz is an anti-war and, in particular, an anti-nuclear activist. His modern-day political argument is thus served by the argument that the nuclear weapons served no real military or strategic purpose. And so, one must take his work with several grains of salt.

In the end, Harry S. Truman had three options. The first was the invasion of Japan. The second was to continue the ongoing campaign of conventional bombing, and forcing Japan's surrender that way. The third was to use the nuclear bombs.

Truman chose the nuclear bombs for numerous reasons. Among them:

  1. An invasion would have been so costly as to be politically unacceptable in the United States
  2. Continuing the conventional bombing campaign would have killed as many Japanese people, and probably more Japanese people, than tne nukes did, while also putting additional strain on the U.S.
  3. To bring the war to a rapid end.
  4. To allow for a real-world test of the new weapon.
  5. To scare the U.S.S.R.

So, scaring the U.S.S.R. was certainly a part of the equation, but to say it's the main part is not supported by the evidence. Further, in a world where the nuclear bombs are not dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, they (or their more powerful successors) would eventually have been used somewhere, probably with more devastating effect. As much as Alperovitz might like to believe otherwise, humanity certainly needed to see what had been wrought, so as to be scared out of using the weapons in the future.

G.W. in Oxnard, CA, asks: You invited this question: If, in the early 1900s, "ejaculate" meant something like "exclaim," then how would a person in the early 1900s have said "producing sperm"? Enquiring minds want to know!

(V) & (Z) answer: The Victorians were masters of coming up with euphemisms for things like this. And so, among the phrases that would have been used: "agony of bliss," "balsamic injection," "expressing your marital impulse," "fetching mettle," "spreading your seed," "sting of pleasure," "sweet death" and "warm gush."

C.D. in Sherman Oaks, CA, asks: During the Vietnam war, Donald Trump, was eligible for the draft but had a deferment for bone spurs, has anybody done a deep dive on this to verify one way or the other?

(V) & (Z) answer: It's impossible to prove it was a lie, but reporters have shown that the diagnosis was made by a well-compensated doctor after several other draft dodges failed, and also that the "injury" somehow did not stop Trump from playing varsity baseball after he got his deferment.

M.S. in Chicago, IL, asks: Taylor Swift has conquered America. She is everywhere. Even the most unplugged recognize her image and songs, and almost everyone has an opinion about her. Even Donald Trump fears her. Many of my millennial peers refer to her by first name only without a hint of irony. Taylor reigns supreme.

My question is this: How does the current mania (Taylor's version) compare to Beatlemania from yesteryear?

(V) & (Z) answer: One of us was not in the U.S. for Beatlemania, by virtue of not yet being alive, while the other of us is not in the U.S. for Taylor Swiftamania, by virtue of residing in the Netherlands. So, neither of us is in a position to make a comparison based on direct experience.

That said, while it's probably correct to say that there hasn't been a phenomenon like this since the Beatles (though Thriller-era Michael Jackson comes close), Beatlemania was almost certainly more ubiquitous. There are many people who know about Swift, but who haven't heard one of her songs. By contrast, it was nearly impossible to avoid "She Loves You" or "I Want to Hold Your Hand" in 1964. Similarly, millions of people have seen Swift on TV, primarily as she watches NFL games. But tens of millions tuned in to actually see the Beatles perform, most obviously on The Ed Sullivan Show. And while Swift comes out with a new album roughly every 2 years, the Beatles were cranking out three per year for several years, after which they slowed to "just" two per year.

Reader Question of the Week

Here is the question we put before readers last week:

E.W. in Skaneateles, NY, asks: If you got to ask the questions at a Trump pre-Super Bowl presidential interview, and he was compelled to answer the very first one honestly and fully (i.e., he took "truth serum"), what question would you ask?

And here some of the answers we got in response:

B.H. in Southborough, MA: This looks like a great premise, except that Trump's various narcissistic disorders cause him to actually create the reality that he espouses when he ejaculates (in a reference back to Sherlock Holmes, et al.). So a question like, "Aren't you really an insurrectionist?" would yield a disappointing result since he really thinks he isn't.

So, we have to ask him something he can brag about, but is also embarrassing. For example, "Who are the top ten pieces of tail you've gotten in your lifetime, and where would you rank Stormy Daniels?" Or, "What was the wildest thing you did in Russia when you visited there?"

J.S. in Columbia, MO: What do you really think of evangelicals?

J.C. in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia: What do you think of Jesus?

K.H. in Ypsilanti, MI: Why are you doing all this?

The truthful answer as to just why he's engaged in this long-running circus would be the most damming words that could ever come out of his mouth.

A.G. in Plano, TX: My question would very simply be, "What the HELL is WRONG with you?", possibly in conjunction with a smack upside the head.

R.C. in Newport News, VA: How many abortions have you paid for?

B.C. in Phoenix, AZ: What is your true golf handicap?

When he answers with the correct number, the truthful part of his lizard brain will kick in, open the spigot, and we will begin hearing a steady stream of admissions to every lie he has ever told. This will continue until: (1) he has recounted them all (almost an impossible result), or (2) he perishes because it will mean days when he cannot pause to eat, drink or sleep.

C.E. in Murrysville, PA: Why are you such a narcissistic jackass? (To piss him off, not to elicit an answer.)

D.S. in Albuquerque, NM: I think it would take an exceptionally potent truth serum to work on this delusional old man who has lied about everything all his life, both to the public and to himself. As an example of both types of lies, consider those horribly kitschy NFTs Trump sold to his gullible minions, describing these ridiculous, stomach-turning fantasies as the "highlights" of his career.

But if he were somehow compelled to respond honestly, my first question would be, "How many women have you sexually assaulted?"

K.P. in San Jose, CA: What dirt does Vladmir Putin have on you?

M.M. in San Diego, CA: Have you ever told the truth about anything?

L.E. in Suffolk, VA: Who is current, legitimate President of the United States?

K.H. in Corning, NY: I find myself thinking that, honestly, I have no interest in his "truth," and I can't think of any topic where him giving an answer, even if it's compelled to be accurate, betters my world in any way. This surprised me a bit, because I started off expecting to come up with something that would be interesting or revealing that I'd get out of the truth serum. But I realized that there was nothing in his head that I wanted to interact with. Verily, nothing at all. He is a shallow man with shallow impulses, yielding nothing interesting.

M.C. in Newton, MA: What would it take to get you to leave politics immediately and permanently?

K.B. in Manhattan, NY: Only 90 seconds?

Here is the question for next week:

K.C. in West Islip, NY, asks: With the Hur Report coming out far ahead of Election Day, I'm supremely confident it'll be off the minds of anyone who was persuaded by it come November. That said, we can always count on some kind of October surprise one way or the other. I'm personally (and I suppose morbidly) leaning toward President Carter dying and President Biden giving such a moving eulogy that it tilts the election in his favor.

What are some of the leading possibilities for an October surprise this time around?

Submit your answers to with subject line "October Surprise"!

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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