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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Trump Legal News: The Trial (Day 15)
      •  Saturday Q&A
      •  Reader Question of the Week: Donald's Song
      •  Today's Presidential Polls

Trump Legal News: The Trial (Day 15)

It was a somewhat short and somewhat dry day of testimony in the Donald Trump criminal fraud case. Here are the main storylines:

  • Good Witness for Trump: Former White House secretary Madeleine Westerhout, who is clearly sympathetic to her former boss, returned to the stand to finish her testimony. The main thing she established was that, in her experience, Trump cares about his family. This bolsters the argument that he paid Stormy Daniels off to spare Melania Trump's feelings.

  • Good Ruling for Trump: The prosecution wanted to introduce a 1999 interview of Trump by Larry King, in which Trump says he's broadly familiar with campaign finance laws. Judge Juan Merchan said "No," rightly we think, because the campaign finance laws of 1999 and of 2016 are pretty different.

  • No Weisselberg?: There was also some wrangling about whether or not the prosecution would be allowed to bring up the plea deal reached by former Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg. Merchan suggested that the prosecution was trying to do that in order to avoid actually calling Weisselberg, who could end up helping Trump. This question has not yet been resolved, but it's possible Weisselberg will appear in court without a jury, to preview what he might say.

  • Now Batting, Michael Cohen: The prosecution said it will only call two more witnesses, depending on what happens with Weisselberg. The next one up is the star witness, Michael Cohen. That will be watched closely, because he's the linchpin of the whole case. On Friday, Merchan warned Cohen to stop talking about the case on social media.

  • Resting Soon: Depending on how long it takes to finish with Michael Cohen, as well as the other (currently unknown) witness, and to deal with the Weisselberg situation, the prosecution says it might rest as soon as next week. That despite the fact that there will be only three days court is in session (Wednesday will be a day off, as usual, and Trump is getting Friday off to go to his son's graduation).

That's the news. Monday should be very interesting. (Z)

Saturday Q&A

For obvious reasons, there were a lot of what might be called "meta" questions this week—questions about the site. See the gallimaufry section for those.

Also, this week's headline theme proved to be unusually difficult. We kind of expected that. So, here's a second hint: The most famous example of the theme, in our view, was definitely incorporated into yesterday's headlines, and involves Vincent Price.

Current Events

M.N. in Hillsborough, NC, asks: There are credible reports that Ireland and Spain will recognize the Palestinian State within the next few weeks. What are your thoughts on how this influences Biden's position? Now that close allies are moving, will he ease towards recognizing Palestine as well? As one Irish politician said this week: It's hard to say you support a two-state solution if you don't recognize Palestine.

(V) & (Z) answer: We doubt it will influence Biden. Palestine is already an observer-member of the U.N., has been recognized by various U.N.-affiliated umbrella organizations like UNESCO, and also has the recognition of 143 of 193 U.N. member states. Two more countries, even if they are allies, aren't going to change the calculus much.

What might cause matters to reach a tipping point is if Japan, Germany, France, and/or the U.K. bestow recognition upon Palestine (especially the U.K.). Those nations, like the U.S., have not done so because they feel it weakens the Israelis' bargaining position. But if they change their minds...

R.M.S. in Lebanon, CT, asks: From where does President Biden derive the legal authority to delay weapons to Israel that Congress has already allocated? The Constitution gives Congress the authority to pass spending bills, including spending on weapons and foreign assistance. It's the president's responsibility to execute the spending packages Congress passes.

Do you remember in 2019, when Donald Trump's White House delayed an aid package for Ukraine approved by Congress in an attempt to extort Volodymyr Zelenskyy? The GAO determined that was illegal and Trump was impeached for an abuse of power.

(V) & (Z) answer: Here is the fact sheet put out by the Republicans on the House Appropriations Committee after the Israel Security Supplemental Appropriations Act became law. It breaks down the new funding for Israel in this manner:

Reinforces Israeli defense systems by providing:
  • $4 billion to replenish Iron Dome and David's Sling missile defense systems;
  • $1.2 billion for the Iron Beam defense system to counter short-range rockets and mortar threats
  • $3.5 billion for the procurement of advanced weapons systems, defense articles, and defense services through the Foreign Military Financing Program; and
  • $1 billion to enhance production and development of artillery and critical munitions.
Ensures our support for Israel does not compromise U.S. readiness by providing:
  • $4.4 billion to replenish defense articles and defense services provided to Israel; and
  • $3.3 billion for current U.S. military operations in the region in response to the October 7th attack.

Note, first of all, that almost as much money ($7.7 billion) is going to U.S. forces in the region as to the Israelis ($9.7 billion). Note, second of all, that the word "offensive" does not appear, and that references to offensive weapons are oblique, at best. On the other hand, the word "defense" appears seven times. The Biden Administration is only withholding (some) offensive weapons right now, and is still providing defensive weapons. This being the case, the administration is very clearly following the letter of the law and even, we would say, its spirit.

R.W. in Brooklyn, NY, asks: An overwhelming number of Democrats voted to table Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene's (R-GA) motion to remove Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA), thereby effectively killing it, even though only a few Democratic votes were needed. I'm wondering what you make of this? Was it basically a huge F.U. to MTG or something else?

(V) & (Z) answer: We can think of three explanations. First, it could be an F.U. to MTG. Second, it could be the Democrats signaling that they keep their word in negotiations, unlike the Freedom Caucus. Third, the more Democrats who vote in favor, the harder it is for any one of them to have their feet held to the fire. We don't know which it is; could be all of them, could be some, could be something we haven't thought of.

A.S. in Black Mountain, NC, asks: Is it possible Judge Aileen Cannon is intentionally acting in such a manner to get the Trump case moved to a different judge to save face since the case is ironclad? And in so doing, she has put off any trial until after the election hoping he wins. Win Win?

(V) & (Z) answer: Occam's Razor says "no." If she really wants to punt the trial, she could claim that she has to withdraw for health reasons, or because a conflict of interest has emerged, or [INSERT REASON HERE]. To have it removed from her, by order of her superiors, would be very embarrassing and very bad for her career.

S.C. in Geneva, Switzerland, asks: Monday's witnesses in the New York criminal fraud trial described the checks that Donald Trump signed as being on his "personal account." How does paying from his personal funds constitute a fraudulent business expense?

(V) & (Z) answer: First, because all (or nearly all) of his businesses are set up as S-Corps, the distinction between Trump the person and Trump the business is very small. Second, he still (allegedly) framed the expense as a business and legal expense, which it was not.

D.R. in Kensington, MD, asks: Suppose someone in Texas buys tickets to a sporting event in Colorado (Rockies game or University of Colorado basketball game or whatever) for them and their pregnant significant other, and then drives through the roads of Amarillo, TX, on their way to Colorado. Once they are in Colorado, the pregnant woman "decides" to get an abortion. The woman's driver has a pretty good defense—those roads were the closest route from their house to the game, and they have a ticket stub to the event. How could anyone prove otherwise? I just don't see how this law can work in a practical sense.

(V) & (Z) answer: It can't work in a practical sense. It's just performative nonsense, not unlike the stupid tip lines we wrote about yesterday.

B.N. in Salem, OR, asks: I am quite certain that should Trump be found guilty of a felony in his New York criminal fraud case, he will not serve any prison time, as he is a first-time offender (I had a difficult time typing that with a straight face). I know the answer to my question as it relates to the majority of U.S. citizens, but if he is later convicted in any of the other felony cases against him, would having this on his record increase the likelihood of a sentence that includes serious prison time? My guess is it won't matter in the least, but was curious of your thoughts.

(V) & (Z) answer: It may increase the odds a little, but a much more significant dynamic is that the other crimes he's accused of are considerably more serious, and almost always result in prison time.

J.E. in Boone, NC, asks: Judge Juan Merchan was limited to fining Trump $1,000 per violation of the gag order. Is there any limit to the amount of time he could sentence Trump to jail for further violations?

(V) & (Z) answer: Per the terms of New York State law, the maximum is 30 days per violation.

G.W. in Minneapolis, MN, asks: In many communities the high school class of 2020 was deprived of normal graduation ceremonies due to COVID. If colleges cancel or materially cutback on graduation ceremonies this year, the impact will fall primarily on this same group of students. Do you think that this will lead to any short-term or long-term resentment by these students or their parents that could manifest itself in their voting patterns?

(V) & (Z) answer: Very doubtful. First, there are as many students who take 5 (or more) years to graduate as students who take 4 years to graduate. Second, most students who want a graduation will get one, either because their school is unaffected, or because the smaller (department/affinity group/professional group) graduations will go forward. Between these two things, there won't be very many students who suffered a double-loss of graduation ceremonies.

Third, not all students really care about a graduation ceremony (Z, for example, only went to his because his parents wanted to see it). Fourth, it's pretty hard to blame the missing graduations on any one politician or political party.

N.A. in Asheboro, NC, asks: There's a question that's crossed my mind a few times as I've considered the domestic political ramifications of the current Israel-Hamas war, and it's burning at the front of my mind after what you wrote today (Monday). How much, if any, of Benjamin Netanyahu's motivation derives from U.S. politics? Surely he's smart enough to be aware that unrest in the U.S. as a result of this war hurts Biden more than Trump. And helping to re-elect Trump can't hurt as he tries to avoid prison time by staying in power. At the very least I would guess Benjamin Netanyahu sees unrest among younger Americans as a feature, not a bug, and I would imagine him to be quite difficult for the Biden administration to pressure as a result. Am I missing something here?

(V) & (Z) answer: Many politicians are sneaky bastards. Some politicians are Jewish. Therefore, the odds are high that there are some politicians who are Jewish and are sneaky bastards. Please do not write us e-mails in response to this answer proposing that we are buying into ethnic stereotypes or are parroting The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

There have been numerous leaders of Israel who were basically straight shooters. David Ben-Gurion leaps to mind, in particular, but we'd also include Golda Meir, Shimon Peres, and Ehud Olmert in that group. Benny Gantz, too, except he's never actually been PM (only deputy PM). Netanyahu, by contrast, is a sneaky bastard. One of the sneakiest bastards currently on the world stage (though he still trails Vladimir Putin). There is no question that Netanyahu believes the unrest in the U.S. is working to his advantage, and there is no question he has circled U.S. Election Day on his calendar, since if he can hold on until a potential Trump victory, Netanyahu will have much smoother sailing for at least 4 years.


D.E. in Ashburn, VA, asks: In your answer to A.E. in Oakland about the sustainability of the U.S. national debt, you wrote, "the unfunded Social Security and Medicare liabilities are a much greater concern." Why do you think the Biden administration has not proposed lifting the cap on contributions as the best solution to what everyone considers an urgent problem? I know Republicans will oppose it, but it seems to me Biden has taken arguably risky progressive stances on other things (e.g., forgiving student debt). And certainly proposing this solution now would begin widening the Overton Window on this issue. After all, it took a long time to prepare the national psyche for Obamacare.

(V) & (Z) answer: Well, he actually has proposed that, but he's not going to make it a major plank in his campaign. That would be a tax increase, and it is not well to run for reelection on a promise to increase taxes (even if it's only on wealthier people). Republican candidates would have a field day with that.

T.R. in Vancouver, BC, asks: Why isn't the Biden campaign putting the E. Jean Carroll verdict front and center? A jury found that Donald Trump sexually assaulted E. Jean Carroll and inserted his finger into her vagina without her consent. I apologize for the graphic detail, but as someone who follows politics pretty closely I didn't know the specifics of the sexual assault verdict myself until the other day (finding it out prompted this question), so I think it's important for people to know. But the Biden campaign doesn't seem to think so. How come they aren't making sure every voter in America knows this?

(V) & (Z) answer: To start, it's difficult to make political hay out of this without being crass, and potentially offending many women voters. If it does happen, it will have to be via loosely affiliated campaign surrogates who have a reputation for being outspoken. For example, this is something Howard Stern could talk about. Or maybe Charles Barkley. Or Marc Maron.

Second, if the Biden campaign plans to weaponize something, it's best to wait until during (and after) the conventions. Otherwise, people may grow desensitized to the issue.

K.E. in Newport, RI, asks: Following the coverage of the New York vs. Trump criminal trial has made me realize there has been a big shift over the past decade in how sex scandals are being treated by the U.S. public. I remember in the late 1990s, it was a major scandal when it was discovered that Bill Clinton had an inappropriate, but consensual, affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky. There were hours of coverage about it on TV every day for about 2 years. Republicans hammered Clinton constantly for it. Clinton left office with high popularity, but he was still considered damaged goods, and Al Gore did not even campaign with him in the 2000 election.

However, in the 2020s, Donald Trump's sex scandals seem to be generating much less outrage and press coverage. He has been found liable for sex abuse, which never happened to Clinton, but there hasn't been hours of coverage daily on it like there was with Clinton. The Stormy Daniels scandal hasn't really dented Trump's appeal with Republicans, and almost all of them would campaign with him. In fact, even Joe Biden hasn't been vocal about Trump's sexual misdeeds.

Why do you think this is happening?

(V) & (Z) answer: There have been enough sex scandals at this point, on both sides of the aisle, that they don't much move the needle anymore. Plus, with Donald Trump, the vast number of scandalous things he does make it hard to focus on any one of them for long.

S.R.G. in Grecia, Costa Rica, asks: What would Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) need to do to qualify as running mate to TFG? Change residency and resign from the Senate? If he changes residency, must he resign? If he resigns, runs and loses, can he un-resign? Also, would you see Rubio as a net positive to the ticket?

(V) & (Z) answer: First, you have to live in the state you represent in the Senate. So, if Rubio establishes residency elsewhere, he would have to resign his seat, and he could not un-resign it later.

Second, it would be much easier for Donald Trump to re-establish residency in New York, especially since he spends so much time there these days. We doubt Rubio would give up his Senate seat just because of Trump's ego.

Finally we honestly don't see what Rubio brings to the ticket. He is pretty popular with Cubans, but so is Trump. Anyone who thinks Rubio will bring in "Latinos" (e.g., Mexican Americans) is delusional. And while he is on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and so knows more about foreign affairs than Trump, we don't think that kind of qualification is what Trump voters care about.

C.C. in Nashville, TN, asks: You wrote, in your overview of the presidential national preference polls: "There can be no doubt Trump is ahead." Then, in the next paragraph, you state that "There's also the possibility that the polls are overestimating Trump's support..."

I tend to think that's a strong possibility, especially with the number of not great polls out there by right-wing pollsters. I'm old enough to remember the 2022 midterms where if you believed RCP or Frank Luntz, the Republicans were about to have 55 Senators. But my question is, as it goes, how can it be so assuredly stated that Trump is ahead when you do acknowledge that there is a possibility that the polls are overestimating his support? What if the polls showing Biden with a 4 or 5 point lead are in fact representative of the electorate?

(V) & (Z) answer: All we meant was that Trump is winning the numbers battle, because he's ahead in every single major polling average.

And all we were trying to communicate is that you really can't put too much stock in the numbers right now, because there are too many X-factors.

K.H. in Maryville, TN, asks: I know it's impolite to write in all caps but...


I mean, seriously, Joe Biden should be in the lead by 50 points. What is wrong with this country? And I know you probably get asked this question a zillion times a week and it's unanswerable.

There isn't enough antacid to get me through to Election Day.

Thank you for letting me vent.

(V) & (Z) answer: Maybe he isn't (see above). We have an item coming up next week about a batsh** crazy poll that suggests something is very wrong, either with polling or with the American people.

E.K. in New York, NY, asks: Your posts on the topic have suggested that a poorly designed (or possibly partisan) poll from Zogby is better than 2020 election results in predicting 2024.

I want to vehemently disagree with this position. Poll spamming by partisans has been going on for several cycles and was the source of the "Red Wave" nonsense from 2022, in which the junk polls predicted a huge red wave, while the higher quality polls suggested elections for House and Senate that were too close to call a majority. In the end, Republicans gained the House—barely—by a handful of races decided by a few thousand votes or less, and the Senate kept the incumbent party everywhere but Pennsylvania, for a one-seat Democratic gain.

The junk pollsters succeeded in changing the narrative but not the results... this time. If they send out the message that Biden is doomed, they could impact turnout in critical states and/or redirect young voters to third party protest candidates "because it's all over anyway." Overconfidence can hurt, too (See: Clinton, Hillary, 2016).

Please reconsider whether the known partisans (Emerson, Rasmussen, etc.) and the odd junk (Zogby!) and the no-name pollsters with weird results belong in your average, or whether they contribute nothing beyond a fake pink tint.

(V) & (Z) answer: We think carefully about the pollsters we allow through, but we can't just excise the ones whose results don't smell right to us. Zogby's been polling for a very long time, and we have no evidence that John Zogby is in the bag for any politician or political party, or that he's become incompetent.

Once the election gets closer, there will be enough polls that the questionable ones have limited impact on the overall numbers.

P.M. in Port Angeles, WA, asks: How is it that such a profound swing in voter preference is manifested in the Wisconsin polling, from "lean Republican" to "likely Democrat"? A swing of 8 points in just 1 week does not seem possible with anything close to competent polling! What gives?

(V) & (Z) answer: A slightly different model of the electorate, coupled with a slightly different sample, can produce a swing like this. Again, that's why you should wait until the election is closer and the polls are more numerous before taking the numbers seriously.

R.H.D. in Webster, NY, asks: Do you think we will see another "red mirage" in the 2024 election, where the Republicans would be leading on Election Night, but then it dissipates due to more Democratic votes coming in from absentee and mail-in ballots as counting goes along?

(V) & (Z) answer: There is no question, as Democrats are still considerably more likely to vote by mail than Republicans. It may not be as pronounced an effect this time, since Republicans are increasingly warming up to vote-by-mail, but it will happen.

G.S. in New York City, NY, asks: In your item about how Biden gets to 270 electoral votes by using the northern or southern strategy, you wrote if he uses the northern strategy, that he would get to the exact number he needs, 270. My question is, how likely is it for him to get the one electoral vote out of Nebraska or pick up the fourth electoral vote out of Maine since districts have been redrawn? He would need at least one of those to happen to get to 270.

(V) & (Z) answer: The boundaries haven't changed that much, and only twice since 1992 have both NE-02 and ME-02 gone the same way (2008 and 2016). Plus, ME-02 tends to track with the northern states, and NE-02 tends to correlate with the southern states. Odds are, with a "northern" win, Biden takes ME-02.


F.S. in Cologne, Germany, asks: Please give us your assessments of every president from Theodore Roosevelt to Franklin D. Roosevelt.

(V) & (Z) answer: OK, we'll do the rest of the 20th-century-only presidents this week, then we'll do the first 25 presidents over the next three weeks:

  • Theodore Roosevelt: Other than Andrew Jackson, there is likely no U.S. president who was more like Donald Trump than Theodore Roosevelt. He was, of course, an upper-class New Yorker. And an attention hog; TR's own daughter said that he wanted to be the corpse at every funeral, the bride at every wedding and the baby at every christening. Roosevelt also understood that there's a lot of potential to take advantage of gray areas in the presidential powers. Oh, and he looked down on non-white peoples. That said, TR was a patriot who did what he did because he thought it was best for the country. So, he did many positive things, even if the way he got there was not always admirable. His high reputation is well deserved.

  • William Howard Taft: An underrated president, largely because he came after TR. However, he was more effective than people remember, and in particular busted more trusts than Roosevelt did. It is unfortunate that Taft is probably most remembered for getting stuck in the White House bathtub, especially since there's no evidence that actually happened.

  • Woodrow Wilson: He was Richard Nixon's favorite president, which makes some amount of sense because both men had résumés that included a lot of good and a lot of bad. In Wilson's case, the good included a progressive domestic program and winning World War I. The bad included botching the post-WWI negotiations, overt hostility to women's suffrage and, of course, barely concealed racism. Because the bad did not involve overt corruption, Wilson enjoyed a high reputation for a long time. Not as much anymore; he's not down too far, but he's not usually in the top ten either. That seems about right.

  • Warren Harding: One of the two or three least qualified presidents in U.S. history, even Harding himself admitted that he had a "second-rate" mind. He was elected at the end of an era of Republican dominance, and while the country eventually prospered under his leadership, Congress was more responsible for that than Harding was. He also did little to root out the significant corruption in his administration. A handful of accomplishments, mostly in foreign policy, don't make up for the fact that he was basically a nonentity in his 2-1/2 years as president.

  • Calvin Coolidge: A very overrated president because he led the country during the "Roaring Twenties" and because he was pithy. The truth is that he had a good first year, and then he basically checked out, consumed with depression because of the death of his son.

  • Herbert Hoover: A gifted intellect and a talented administrator. However, he was not a great politician, having never served in elective office before the presidency. Further, the unprecedented crisis that was the Great Depression demanded a man of vision, not a talented administrator, and Hoover was not up to the job. He had no chance at being a "great" president, but he might have been a "good" one, if he'd served at a different time.

  • Franklin D. Roosevelt: The polar opposite of Hoover, in that he was an incredibly gifted politician and a man of great vision. He has some black marks against him, most obviously Japanese internment and the refusal to admit the 900 Jewish refugees on the MS Saint Louis. However, his accomplishments with the New Deal and winning World War II are so great that those sins are largely tolerated. He's among the greats, and rightly so, even if he reminds us that there's no such thing as a flawless president.

Eight more next week; Andrew Johnson through William McKinley.

D.R. in Phoenix, AZ, asks: I have noticed many African Americans have last names that sound Irish (Shaquille O'Neal is a famous example, but I could name many others). My understanding was that, over time, enslaved people were forced to take the last names of their enslavers, in many cases. It is also my understanding that during the timeframe when slavery existed in the U.S., most Irish people in the U.S. were not wealthy landowners and/or enslavers. So, why so many Irish surnames among Black Americans? I'm sure intermarriage with people of Irish descent is one reason, but it doesn't seem like that would fully explain it. This is meant to be a question about U.S. history born of pure curiosity, and is in no way intended to signal any support whatsoever for racism, slavery, or any related evils.

(V) & (Z) answer: Just because the great majority of Irish immigrants were not plantation owners, that does not mean that there weren't a lot of Irish plantation owners. Even 0.1% of millions of people is a big number. The most famous fictional plantation owner (Scarlett O'Hara) was Irish, and the historian Martine Brennan has focused on identifying slaveowners of Irish descent; she's identified several hundred of them in South Carolina alone.

So, a lot of the Irish last names do descend from former plantation owners. There was also some amount of intermarriage and co-mingling between Black and Irish Americans, particularly in Mid-Atlantic states.

G.N. in Albuquerque, NM, asks: I recently saw someone suggest that if the French had won the first battle at Puebla that they would have helped the Confederacy and things might have been a lot different. Being skeptical and wanting to verify, I found this on Wikipedia: "Historian Justo Sierra has suggested in his Political Evolution of the Mexican People that, had Mexico not defeated the French in Puebla on May 5, 1862, France would have gone to the aid of the Confederate States of America in the American Civil War and the United States' destiny could have been different." Does the staff historian agree?

(V) & (Z) answer: No. Several years back, there was a pretty big new documentary on the Battle of Gettysburg in which they interviewed (Z)'s friend and colleague, the well-known Civil War historian Gary Gallagher. And the filmmakers spliced things together so as to suggest that: (1) but for the fence along Emmitsburg Road that the men who participated in Pickett's Charge had to contend with, they would have made it to the Union lines and won the battle and then the Civil War, and (2) that Gallagher agreed with that hypothesis. The day after the documentary aired, (Z) sent him a message that said, "You know, I think the Confederacy loses the war, with or without the fence on Emmitsburg Road." Gallagher agreed and expressed annoyance that his words had been used in the manner they had.

The point is: "This thing I am writing about/making a documentary about could have changed the course of the Civil War" is a cottage industry unto itself. The French thought very carefully about whether or not to get involved in the war, and their decision did not come down to just one battle, unless that battle is Antietam. There is only one event that can, with some degree of certainty, be regarded as "but for this, the war would have turned out differently" and that event is the fall of Atlanta on September 3, 1864. However, the Confederates would have had to hold out for at least 2 more months, and while they tried mightily to do it, they simply couldn't.

K.B. in Manhattan, NY, asks: I just read several accounts of an 1875 speech given by Nathan Bedford Forrest to the Order of Pole Bearers (an early Black civil rights organization in Memphis) in which he encouraged Black citizens to vote, find work in any capacity and generally offered to "welcome [them] to the white people."

The same accounts noted he employed many former slaves in his postwar business and encouraged the federal administration in Tennessee to hire them as well. Is it truly possible that the leader of the Ft. Pillow massacre of surrendered Black troops and the first KKK grand wizard reformed before he died?

(V) & (Z) answer: Forrest knew he was not long for the world (he died about 18 months later), and he was clearly mindful of his historical legacy. Maybe he turned over a new leaf, to some extent, but he certainly didn't come to grips with, or take ownership of, his past misdeeds. In the speech, for example, he says: "I have been in the heat of battle when colored men, asked me to protect them. I have placed myself between them and the bullets of my men, and told them they should be kept unharmed." That's an... interesting rewriting of the historical record, to say the least.

Given the magnitude of his misdeeds, and the near-total lack of regret, it's hard to take his sorta contrite words and actions too seriously.

J.F. in Ft. Worth, TX, asks: Thank you for pointing us to (Z)'s first day of writing for the site! I noticed in (V)'s introduction that (Z) has written about Grover Cleveland, which prompts me to ask: Are there any similarities between the Cleveland-Harrison-Cleveland do-si-do and the current presidential rematch? I know nothing about the political issues of the 1880s. Were these transitions like a pendulum swinging back and forth like they are today or were both men kind of the same?

(V) & (Z) answer: Cleveland and Harrison were pretty similar, in that the space between political parties back then was somewhat less than at any time in American history, and Cleveland was from the fiscally conservative wing of the Democratic Party. However, Harrison only won the election of 1888 because of... the Electoral College. And even then, he barely pulled it out. So, if you want to draw parallels, it's really Trump-Harrison and Biden-Cleveland. But beyond Harrison's political party and generally weak electoral position, he and Trump don't have too much in common, just as Biden and Cleveland don't have too much in common.


D.T. in Columbus, OH, asks: Like most of your readers, I really appreciate all of the effort you put into this site. I hope you find a way to tune out the angry critics, who vent frustration in your direction.

You probably don't publish very much of the feedback you receive, either positive or negative. But in the past, anytime you have shared criticism from readers, I have generally disagreed with most of their complaints, or found them to not be actionable.

I am curious if you would be willing to share any examples of reader feedback that actually ended up changing your mind? Feedback that was not necessarily glowing praise, but was still something you found helpful.

It could be minor stuff like "Stop using this phrase. Say this instead." Or an issue where a reader convinced you to reverse your opinion.

(V) & (Z) answer: It's usually not that dramatic. We accept factual corrections, of course, and we also defer to people who are more expert than we are on things like local politics, law, the conservative position on abortion, etc. Beyond that, feedback often leads us to refine our point of view, as opposed to completely changing it. For example, this week, several readers persuaded us that we'd spoken a little too confidently about our belief that Trump's Washington trial would go forward before the election, and we really needed to qualify that a bit more.

Sometimes, readers persuade us to change or delete some verbiage; in yesterday's post, for example, we felt (and still feel) we had a valid point about Sen. Lindsey Graham's (R-SC) thinking when it comes to U.S. interference with wars the U.S. is paying for; he's OK with it when it's brown people, not so OK with it when it's with others. However, although we wrestled with the wording a bit, what we came up with was not great, and so we ended up striking that sentence after getting some e-mails about it. (On the other hand, keep reading...)

We also regard the Sunday mailbag as an opportunity for readers to offer alternative viewpoints, refinements to our arguments, additional insights we did not have, etc.

G.L. in Chicago, IL, asks: I hope this isn't too awful after the abuse you revealed this week you've been receiving. In short, my question is: To what extent is this kind of abuse part of a broader political strategy?

I've spent most of my career in or adjacent to libraries, which have been the site of major culture war battles in the past couple years, as right-wingers enjoy calling librarians groomers and sex fiends and such because some books include gay people. These have resulted in efforts by communities to fire librarians who don't toe the line or defunding libraries entirely, as well as no small number of bomb and death threats that aren't provably linked to Moms for Liberty/Libs of TikTok types but also that never happened before those and similar groups turned their attention to the library world.

More generally: I've heard that teachers are in a similar boat. Are there other pro-social institutions that are facing these kinds of destabilizing culture war attacks? (And I'm including, a website that provides intelligent and well-reasoned analysis and which is only partisan because it has to be to not lie, as a pro-social institution.)

(V) & (Z) answer: It probably isn't part of a broader political strategy, in most cases (outside of something like Moms for Liberty). We think it is mostly that there are some very angry people out there who want to lash out, and who are good at finding targets where there are no real consequences for the attack. A civil servant or teacher, except in extraordinary cases, can't push back against abuse; they just have to take it. People on the Internet, whether it's us, or the creators of other websites, or commenters on various websites, are much the same. No matter how nasty the e-mails or website postings are, there are really no consequences for the person responsible. At most, the e-mail/posting just gets deleted.

J.K. in Seoul, South Korea, asks: I'm very sorry to hear about the wave of hate mail you had to endure and would like to add to the (hopefully much larger) stack of encouraging messages. Do keep up the good work and don't let the idiots draw you down!

You mentioned letters containing "propaganda and outright lies" that were flagged by readers. Are you planning to mark these letters accordingly (or have you already done so)? I think it would be useful in a conflict generating so much disinformation (and possibly correct information that would have been dismissed as disinformation a few years ago).

(V) & (Z) answer: We are considering our options. The problem with outright deleting them is that there are other letters referring back to the original letters. So, do we delete those, too? Probably we'll go back and add a note to the problematic ones. It was one reader, in particular, so they won't be hard for us to find.

F.M. in Hershey, PA, asks: How do haters exist on this site? You produce too much intelligence for them to thrive. I don't get it.

(V) & (Z) answer: If you read our e-mail for more than a few days, you learn two things. First, there are some people who hate-read the site. We don't understand the psychology, but there it is. There's one person, in particular, who sends in a message every few months or so lambasting (Z) and using copious numbers of antisemitic slurs to underscore the point. Very strange, since (Z) isn't Jewish, and has never given the slightest reason for anyone to think he is. Clearly, that person is meshuga.

Second, there are plenty of people who are generally reasonable, but who have one "third-rail" issue that really grinds their gears. Israel is one of those, abortion is another. The letter we ran last week, for example—the one saying we have become unreadable and accusing us of being antisemites—came from someone who previously had sent in several complimentary messages.

F.H. in St. Paul, MN, asks: The end of the school year is crazy busy for academics everywhere, and with (V) and (Z) creating content for this blog only contributes to the responsibilities.

I say: Give it a rest. Every year at this time, you both should take a week or two off to tend to your professional responsibilities and to your personal health. I propose that trusted contributors can post something each day that you're off. Each contributor can write about the local political climate from their own countries, their cities or even small towns. And on the days when nothing is posted, we'll survive. I'm certain that 99% of your readers trust your insight and respect your dedication to your students and to this blog. The other 1% are Canadians.

This article is about the political situation in Canada. It's pretty interesting and I would like to hear more about it from a Canadian.

(V) & (Z) answer: Utilizing guest contributors might allow us to time-shift (say, preparing a Thursday post on a Monday), but it doesn't actually save much work. It takes time to coordinate that material, and then to edit it to be clear and to adhere to our style guide.

That said, we may do some of this in order to give ourselves a short vacation around July 4.

M.L. in Norman, OK, asks: Thank you for linking your "The War in Israel, Part X: Genocide in Gaza?, Part I" item from last November in last week's mailbag, it was a good refresher. I was intrigued at the end of that item when you wrote: "[W]e believe there is something more going on here, something that is not 100% evident at first glance. We think that something more should be examined, and that it presents serious problems for both Biden and Israel."

You said you would discuss that in Part II that Friday, but after digging around it doesn't appear you produced a Part II segment. Have you addressed your thoughts on that in a different item? If not, what do you think that missing piece is that explains the visceral reaction of the Palestinian supporters?

(V) & (Z) answer: We never wrote that follow-up because that piece produced roughly the same level of vitriol that the Israel pieces did in the last week or so. And it's not just that it sucks to be crapped upon, it's that we're educators, and if we believe people aren't listening, then what's the point? Maybe we will finally write it sometime this summer, when we at least have time to go through multiple drafts before posting it.

J.M. in Arvada, CO, asks: I've been wondering about the creep towards fascism and specifically its possible impact on If Trump is re-elected and we see serious crackdowns on the opposition, have you considered the impact on the two of you and this site? (V) is overseas but has (Z) ever considered an exit plan or anything like that? I don't know who hosts but if it's based in the U.S., have you considered a plan to move the hosting to another country?

(V) & (Z) answer: The site is indeed hosted in the U.S., but it wouldn't be too hard to move it, if needed.

That said, there are so many enemies, and we are a relatively small fish in the pond. At such point that Rachel Maddow gets arrested, then maybe (Z) will start thinking about this. Although he might actually like to be labeled an enemy of the state by the Trump administration.

L.S. in Black Mountain NC, asks: I'm wondering why the two of you use the initials (V) and (Z) to identify yourselves as the authors of particular pieces of writing? Your identities and credentials are spelled out on your FAQ page, so it's not like you are trying to remain anonymous. Solely from the viewpoint of typing facility, keying V or Z is easy, but putting them in parentheses is more awkward. Wouldn't it be easier to sign your work as just plain old Andrew and Christopher (if we're being academic) or even Andy and Chris, among friends?

No matter how you answer, I'm grateful for my daily dose of (V) and (Z)... thanks for all the words.

(V) & (Z) answer: The custom/habit began when (V) was writing the site alone, and actually was obscuring his identity. And once a custom/habit is established, it tends to keep going. Plus, the pseudonyms may help some readers remember which of us is the number-cruncher, and which of us is the historian.

O.Z.H. in Dubai, UAE, asks: I've asked you about the L.A. Clippers before, but I've gotta ask again, since (Z) is a big LA sports fan and in light of the Clips most recent flameout: What is Ballmer thinking? I've been a Lakers fans since the early Showtime days, which featured Jamaal "Silk" Wilkes and Norm Nixon. But I've never lived in L.A., so I don't understand the regional sports climate. Nonetheless I just don't get why Ballmer chooses to stay in L.A. I thought without a doubt he would move that troubled franchise to Seattle where they would have their own city owned by a native son. Why does he stay in L.A.? Is he hoping that eventually, 20 years from now, they will carve out a meaningful L.A. fan following? He must be a smart guy. Does he think that's going to happen after 40 years of being in LA, even if they finally win a couple of championships?

I just don't get it. Surely they'd make at least as much money being team #1 in Seattle (which is hardly a backwater) compared to being a very distant #2 in LA. What do you think?

(V) & (Z) answer: The Los Angeles metro area has a population of over 12 million, the Seattle metro area has a population of about 4 million. Sometimes it's better to be the smaller fish in a pond that is more than three times as large. And the Clippers DO have a fanbase, even if it's on the smaller side.

Further, a lot of Angelenos are transplants from elsewhere. So, when the Clippers play, say, the Cavaliers, then the team sells a lot of tickets to fans who moved to L.A. from Cleveland.

In any case, the Clippers have a brand-new arena opening either next season or the season after that, and it cost $2 billion. So, they are not going anywhere anytime soon.

Reader Question of the Week: Donald's Song

Here is the question we put before readers on April 20:

D.C. in Portland, OR, asks: Your mention of the Donald Trump aide with the wireless printer made me think of Brave Sir Robin of Holy Grail infamy whose daring—and not so daring—exploits are sung to him real-time by a page, as they gallop-hop their way through the forest.

So: If Trump had a theme song or tune that followed him around, what would it be?

And here some of the answers we got in response, starting with the single most popular answer:

J.G. in Linden, NJ: "Yakety Sax" (Benny Hill theme)

F.H. in Ithaca, NY: No question. Three Dog Night's "Liar."

D.E. in Lancaster, PA: The most obvious song jumped right out at me seconds after reading the question: "Mean Mr. Mustard" by the Beatles. This short song written by John Lennon has plenty of things that scream "Trump." Trump is certainly "mean" and there can be no denying that his skin color is similar to mustard that has been left out in the sun for over two weeks. In the lyrics, Mean Mr. Mustard is described as a skinflint, "Shaves in the dark, trying to save paper," which would be a scary practice if one shaves with a straight razor. Likewise, Trump is a notorious penny-pincher who often puts himself in danger and spends more money just to save a penny or two. Again to the lyrics, "Keeps a ten-bob note up his nose," mirrors how obsessed with money Trump is, as well as a being a possible dig at Trump's recreational habit. Well, at least at Junior's. But the true kicker for this being Trump's Theme Song is the line, "Always shouts out something obscene/Such a dirty old man." That bit of poetry could be engraved on Trump's tombstone. Do they engrave epithets on paupers' tombstones lying just outside the prison walls?

S.H. in Broken Arrow, OK: The answer just has to be "For The Love of Money" by The O'Jays. Yes, it's actually about how money is the root of all evil, but as it was the theme to the show that invaded our homes and/or made him a household name for its entire run; it leaves me to believe he either is ignorant of the meaning or doesn't care. Either way, it's tied to him and his brand.

J.S. in the Hague, Netherlands: "Commander in Chief." AI-generated, with the prompt "If Trump had a theme song or tune that followed him around, what would it be?"

T.L. in West Orange, NJ: My best option is the Eagles' "King of Hollywood." A wannabe-Hollywood power player who in the end "just [wasn't] big enough." Carly Simon's "You're So Vain" is certainly a valid contender as well, but I like "King of Hollywood" a bit more here.

D.S. in San Diego, CA: Obviously The Donald's theme song is "Money for Nothing" by Dire Straits.

J.C. in Glens Falls, NY: Beck's "Loser." The obvious choice.

K.H. in Corning, NY: I could not think beyond this one song for the question. I stopped even trying. Here it is: "Sad Sad Alpha Man."

T.K. in Warsaw, IN: Without question, the answer is "Der Fuhrer's Face" by Spike Jones and the City Slickers.

D.V. in Columbus, OH: Easy choice for me, the song that Stewie Griffin plays while at his job that involves walking behind fat guys and playing the tuba.

M.S. in Sherman, TX: Village People, "Macho Macho Man."

M.F. in Burlington, ON, Canada: Denis Leary's "Asshole."

E.W. in Edmonton, AB, Canada: Is Donald Trump even capable of truly appreciating and loving music, or anything of beauty? I'll never know, but some music seems tailor-made for his brand of malice and chaos:

  1. "Entrance of the Gladiators" op. 68 by Julius Fučík
  2. "Frolic," (a.k.a. the theme from Curb Your Enthusiasm) by Luciano Michelini

My choices here reflect not the original intent of the pieces, of course, nor am I imagining these choices as what Trump himself might choose as his theme music. Rather, This is the music I feel people hear at the meta level when they hear about another idiotic or evil thing he's done. There's also a nice element of comeuppance and tomfoolery to these pieces.

When the inevitable Trump biopic comes out, I hope the scene depicting his inevitable fall (please let there be an inevitable fall) uses "Frolic." Preferably over the closing credits.

S.T. in Worcestershire, UK, England: Talking Heads, "The Democratic Circus." Fits a Trump rally perfectly.

J.L. in Lords Valley, PA: "Mr. Big Stuff (Who Do You Think You Are?)"

J.K. in Bremen, Germany: This song fits quite well, but the images are also quite fitting: "If I Were a Rich Man" (Donald Trump / Fiddler on the Roof song parody)

N.P. in Miami, FL: I believe the "Imperial March" from the Star Wars films comes to mind when thinking of Trump and is a fairly fitting theme song.

A.A. in South Orange, NJ: "Fortunate Son," by Creedence Clearwater Revival. The classic rock anthem about draft-dodgers, tax-dodgers, and false patriotism. Plus, the "rummage sale" part reminds me of the boxes of stolen documents scattered around Mar-a-Lago.

D.E. in San Diego, CA: The Dead Milkmen's "Moron."

E.W. in Skaneateles, NY: Napoleon XIV, "They're Coming To Take Me Away Ha-Haaa!"

Here is the question for next week:

M.M.M. in Oakland, CA, asks: My kids (18 and 17) are voting in California for the first time this year. It's really difficult to get them to sit down and engage, my 17-year-old basically is not interested at all.

I have explained that for much of history, the people were led by self-appointed leaders. America flipped that around to allow the people to decide the leaders. And in order for that to work, we have to decide again every few years. Voting is the people's power to decide who leads them.

I also suggested to skip an item if they have no knowledge of the item, and that returning an empty ballot is better than not turning one in at all.

What else would you tell my kids to understand the importance of voting to help compel them to vote?

Submit your answers to, preferably with subject line "Poll Position"!

Today's Presidential Polls

Louisiana is the only state that is at least 25% Catholic AND at least 25% evangelical. You can't win there if you are pro-choice. Sorry, Joe. (Z)

State Joe Biden Donald Trump Start End Pollster
Louisiana 33% 48% Apr 22 Apr 26 Faucheux Strategies

Click on a state name for a graph of its polling history.

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
May10 Trump Legal News: The Trial (Day 14)
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May08 Trump Legal News, Part I: Stormy Weather (aka The Trial, Day 13)
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May04 Trump Legal News: The Trial (Day 11)
May04 I Am Not a Crook?, Part I: Trump's Accountants
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May04 Saturday Q&A
May03 Trump Legal News: The Trial (Day 10)
May03 Trump 2024: The Catch-22 Shuffle
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