Good morning. I'm Paul Thornton, The Times' letters editor, and it is Saturday, Feb. 27. Here's a look back at the "yuge," amazing, terrific (*see below) week in Opinion.
Michael Bloomberg's name repeatedly gets mentioned as a possible third-way savior of American politics, most often by Michael Bloomberg. The 30-times-over billionaire is floating the idea of an independent presidential bid in the event of a Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders nomination, evidently reasoning that his positions on issues comes across as enlightened and nonpartisan because they're his.
A Bloomberg candidacy might even upstage a Trump nomination by creating an unlikely alliance between the gun lobby, the teachers unions and the food industry, all of which Bloomberg antagonized during his tenure as New York mayor and his post-office political activism. It might also have another, far more disastrous effect, warns Bruce Ackerman in a Times op-ed article: pushing the country to the constitutional brink.
The problem is the 12th Amendment. Enacted in 1804, it establishes the rules for presidential selection if no candidate secures a majority of 270 electoral votes — a distinct possibility should Bloomberg enter the race. The sphere of competition will then move from the states to the House of Representatives, where Bloomberg will confront formidable challenges. He will have to persuade Republican and Democratic lawmakers to betray the tens of millions of loyalists who voted for their party's nominee. But he'll have to do more than gain a majority of House members. Under the amendment's special rules, each state delegation casts a single vote, and the winning candidate must convince 26 delegations to support him. Even if Bloomberg carries a few key states in November, his fate will be determined by representatives from regions that rejected his candidacy. In addition, there are 11 states with only one or two House members — and their idiosyncratic views will have a disproportionate say in the final choice.
Worse yet, if a state's delegation is equally divided, it can't vote at all. This means that the process will degenerate into a free-for-all as rival candidates engage in desperate efforts to nudge one or another fence-sitter in their direction.
At this point, a final factor will make for more melodrama. If the House can't pick a chief executive by Jan. 20, the amendment provides an interim remedy. It says that the new vice president will become acting president while the political bargaining continues.
The three vice presidential nominees will be in the same position as their running mates — none will have gained a majority of the electoral college. Anticipating this eventuality, the authors of the 12th Amendment designed another system for resolving the vice presidential contest.
Under this secondary scheme, it's the Senate, not the House, that does the deciding, and a simple majority of senators suffices to make the choice. But the Senate can choose only between the top two, not the top three, candidates. As a consequence, Bloomberg's running mate might be barred from the competition from the start.
In any event, the major party in control of the Senate will almost certainly install its own candidate, not Bloomberg's. Suppose, for example, that the Democrats regain control of the Senate and put Sanders' running mate, Elizabeth Warren, into office. This might shock the previously paralyzed House into action: Perhaps the Republicans would abandon Trump and support Bloomberg in a desperate effort to save the country from Warren?
The emergence of a Bloomberg-Warren pairing illustrates a larger point. Given the arcane constitutional rules, the only way for Bloomberg to win is by manipulating procedures that will be utterly mysterious to the overwhelming majority of ordinary citizens. If the multibillionaire does succeed in backroom deals that procure him the presidency, his ascent will serve only as a dramatic display of the power of Wall Street to lord it over the American people.
Speaking of national disasters, columnist Doyle McManus checks in on the Trump campaign. His take: Trump's been a lot more disciplined than appearances suggest, training his sights first on Jeb Bush (with devastating results), now Ted Cruz and next, surely, Marco Rubio. He grabs attention by taking a position at odds with Republican orthodoxy, then walks it back. He has contributors (despite his assurances that his campaign is self-financed). "In short, Trump's campaign isn't all that chaotic," McManus writes. "It's a well-designed amalgam of old and new that makes good use of the candidate's reality-TV strengths." L.A. Times
The Republican establishment is coming to terms with a Trump nomination; so are Times readers. He still receives mostly sharp criticism from our letter writers, but to them a Trump presidency is no longer beyond the realm of possibility. Writes Times reader Selby Jessup in a letter to the editor published Thursday: "For months, the GOP establishment has been looking for ways to beat Trump. It's time for the party to embrace what he brings to the election: a surge of angry voters who will vote against the Democratic machine. Past elections have been decided by a handful of swing states. Angry voters could change those outcome in states like Ohio, Florida, Virginia and beyond. And that would make all the difference." L.A. Times
The situation in the world around you might look grim; it's also pretty bad inside you. There's a mass extinction taking place inside our bodies, with devastating consequences. The diets, medical practices and other lifestyle habits of the Western world wreak havoc on gut bacteria, known as our microbiota. And we're getting sicker — with Crohn's, diabetes, asthma and other previously less common conditions. "Something serious is going on, and our microbes may be at the center of it," write Erica and Justin Sonnenburg. L.A. Times
White people are as blind as ever to their own racism, even those who proudly share the latest anti-bigotry memes or congratulate themselves for spotting hatred in others, writes author Jim Grimsley. The problem is so pervasive that, Grimsley says, he's blind to some of his own racist assumptions and practices. L.A. Times
UC Berkeley has a budget-induced identity crisis, and in reevaluating the university's operations in light of unreliable financial support from the state, Chancellor Nicholas B. Dirks must put everything on the table — even his hallowed yet money-losing athletic programs. The editorial board writes: "Go ahead, Chancellor Dirks, redesign the most admired public university in the world. No pressure. But the world of higher education is watching." L.A. Times
*Learn to live with a President Trump by learning to talk like a President Trump. Back in September 2015, when Trump becoming the standard bearer of the Republican Party seemed like an amusing impossibility, former TV comedy writer Gary Jacobs offered a sneak preview of The Donald's first State of the Union address: "So we're here tonight to talk about all the amazing things the Trump administration has accomplished in only one year in office. I mean, when you think about what we've done in so short a time, it makes your head spin. The historians are already saying I'm the greatest president of all time." L.A. Times
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