Monday, February 29, 2016

Trump to Political Science: Drop Dead, Part VII (Checking Our Pulse)

As I wrap up Phase I of the "Trump to Political Science: Drop Dead" series, it is time to check the pulse of the discipline.

Let's be blunt.  There isn't really a prominent model of nomination politics, nor electoral politics generally, that would have predicted a Trump victory, but tomorrow is Super Tuesday, and it isn't clear how anyone stops Trump at this point, which is why the prediction markets put his chances of victory at around 80%.  Could he still lose?  Sure, but we all clearly underestimated him.

Everybody makes mistakes once in a while.  There are two questions here:  were we mistaken because our models led us astray, and how do we respond to our mistakes?  Parts II through VI of the Drop Dead series addressed the former, but the real test is the latter.  So, what are political scientists saying about Trump's surprising success?  Is anybody questioning their own models because their predictions were wrong?

Here's what I'm looking for:  a political scientist who says, "I didn't think Trump had a chance because X.  Trump is winning anyway.  I am now less certain of X, and looking for a better model."

Well, let's head on over to The Monkey Cage.  I see a bunch of pieces on race, ethnicity and the Republican Party.  There's this fascinating piece on how primary voters weigh ideology and electability.  Lots of cool stuff.  Not much about the models that steered us wrong.

OK, let's head on over to Mischiefs of Faction, also known as the Politburo for The Party Decides.  Remember those people who think party elites control the nomination process?  Nope, not much introspection there.  Dig through the archives and you'll find a few pieces like this and this recognizing that the failure of the Republican Party to "decide" on a non-Trump candidate is at least disconcerting, but not much in the way of questioning the underlying model itself.  Masket even explicitly rejects the claim that Trump's victory undercuts the model.

Let's head on over to Jonathan Bernstein's place, and see what the high priest of The Party Decides has to say.  Any admissions of being wrong there?  Nope.

Huh.  It's almost as if my colleagues in political science don't want to admit that we all had it wrong, and we need to figure out why.

Next, I'll begin a series on what political science has to say that explains Trump.  The answer:  Nelson W. Polsby had it right in 1983 with Consequences of Party Reform.

Truth in advertising:  Nelson was my grad school mentor.  I miss him.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Will Trump sink the Republican Party? Let's check the markets...

As the political world adjusts to the new reality that Donald Trump will probably be the Republican nominee, we might start to ask what that means for the general election.  Will Trump sink the GOP?  He has been endorsed by former KKK leader David Duke, and this morning, he couldn't bring himself to disavow Duke.  This is the kind of thing that might make the GOP nervous.

So, I headed over to the prediction markets, and asked a simple question.  Is there a clear relationship between estimates of the Democrats' chances to retain the White House and the probability of Trump getting the Republican nomination? Head on over to PredictWise yourself and check it out.

Trump was given around a 25% chance of getting the nomination around January 1.  Today, it is up near 80%.  Now, look at estimates of the Democrats' chances of holding the White House.  During that same period, the Democrats' chances have held steady at just north of 60%.  That's interesting.  As Trump's probability of winning has gone from an estimated 25% chance to an 80% chance, the probability of the Democrats retaining the White House hasn't budged.  Maybe Trump isn't toxic for the general election.  Or, maybe the markets just haven't clued in yet.  For now, it's just interesting to note.

Clinton, Sanders and the Democratic Party

I just discovered this, but did you know that there is another nomination contest going on right now, and Trump isn't in it?  Weird.

For all of the attention I have been paying to the Republican contest right now, one might think that the Democratic contest was over long ago.  And that's because it was.  Hillary had this thing locked up long ago, and Sanders never stood a chance.  Her victory in South Carolina yesterday just clarified it to members of the press and commentariat who have professional incentives to pretend that there is a story worth writing.

So, there's this book I've been bashing:  The Party Decides.  Basically, it says that party muckety-mucks control the nomination process by endorsing their chosen candidate, and signaling the proper party choice to the voters.  Party Decides apparatchiks might even think that I am being too hard on that blessed book, because the Democratic contest looks very much like party elites rallied around Hillary by giving her an overwhelming lead in endorsements, and got their way, just as prophesied.  And in fact, it is worth taking some historical perspective.

In 2000, Republican muckety-mucks decided that a relative of a former president, who won two state-wide elections in safe party territory, was their choice.  They rallied around him, endorsed him, etc.  However, not everyone in the party was quite ready to get on that train.  An aging Senator who presented himself as a "maverick," even if he didn't go so far as to identify as an "Independent," challenged the muckety-mucks' anointed one.  He built a platform on campaign finance reform, won New Hampshire, and got crushed in South Carolina, leaving the anointed one the last candidate standing.  Sound familiar?  And wasn't this one of the motivating cases for The Party Decides?

Yup, but this time, the Democratic muckety-mucks had an even lower hurdle to overcome.  It is worth comparing Hillary's position going into this race to Dubya's from 2000.  She doesn't just have a familiar name-- she has been a central figure in the Democratic Party since 1992.  She ran a nearly-successful presidential campaign in 2008, and while many Hillary-supporters resented Obama's victory (remember the PUMAs?), the resentment didn't run as much the other direction.  Obama made her Secretary of State, keeping her in the national spotlight for several more years, during much of which she was a figure of bipartisan popularity.  And, of course, the Clintons have historically had strong connections to the African-American community, which is a critical demographic among Democratic Party primary voters.

Compare that to Sanders, who isn't even a Democrat.  He has been elected to the House and Senate by Vermont as an "Independent," but merely caucuses with the Democrats.  He self-identifies as a "socialist," and runs a campaign on the issue that overwhelming majorities of voters always consider the absolute least-important-- campaign finance reform.

Now, show me a model that predicts Sanders as the winner.  I'm waiting...

What?  You can't?  That's because such a model doesn't exist.  Take away all of Hillary's endorsements, have the muckety-mucks stay completely neutral, and I'll still predict Hillary crushing Sanders.

So, is Hillary's victory what The Party Decides would have predicted?  Yup.  But, it is also what we would predict with a neutral party establishment.  You don't get points for predicting that the sun will rise in the east tomorrow using a ground-breaking new model.  You get points for predicting something that other models don't predict.

Yes, Hillary crushed Sanders.  Yes, that's what The Party Decides would predict.  But, it is what any model would predict.  Enough of this Party Decides nonsense.


Saturday, February 27, 2016

Trump to Politcal Science: Drop Dead, Part VI (Money, Still In The Pocket)

Current betting odds on PredictWise put Trump's chances of winning the Republican nomination just shy of 80%.  I have been distinguishing between Types A and B Trump Denialism as follows:  Type A denialism is denying that Trump can win the nomination, and Type B denialism is denying that Trump's success indicates a problem in political science models of nomination contests.  Type A denialism seems to be on its last breath.  Just a few dead-enders, right?  (As usual, google it if you don't get the reference).

Type B denialism, though, is alive and well, and this post is the fifth detailing how our models have led us astray in political science.  This time, let's talk about money, but not in the way one might think.  Let's talk about self-funded candidates.

In my opinion, one of the most important lines of research on campaign finance has been that of Jennifer Steen.  Her book, Self-financed Candidates in Congressional Elections, demonstrates one of the more important points for understanding the real role of money in elections.  Self-financed candidates lose.  Why?  Because money doesn't do what people think it does.

Everyone needs a villain to explain why their side loses elections.  For conservatives, that villain is voter fraud.  Oh, no, voter fraud!  There's so much voter fraud!  Except that nobody can find any evidence of it on a scale large enough to affect election outcomes.  But that's not the point of whining about voter fraud.  The point is that we feel better when we tell ourselves that everyone really agrees with us.  However, if that's true, how can we explain when we lose an election?  We need a boogeyman.  Enter voter fraud.  The prominent explanation among Republicans about why they lost 2008 and 2012 was rampant voter fraud.  Remember ACORN?  No?  Look it up.  If some nefarious organization fixed the election, then all we have to do is clean up the electoral process and our side will always win!  It's a convenient but bullshit rationalization.

For liberals, it's all about the money.  Oh, no!  Money!  Money is eeeeeevil!  We have to get all that icky, icky money out of politics!  You see, everyone really agrees with me, so if the other side wins an election, it must be because those nasty, evil rich people bought the election with their filthy, filthy money!  Notice the similarity?  Of course, the empirical literature on campaign spending in political science shows that money has nowhere near the effect that whiny goo-goos* assert, and the best demonstration is Steen's work on the topic.

If money bought elections, then it wouldn't matter whose money is at play.  A dollar is a dollar.  So, why do self-funded candidates lose?  Because if they were strong enough candidates to get contributions, they wouldn't need to spend their own money!  If they are spending their own money, it is because they suck as candidates.  Michael Bloomberg won the New York mayor's office, but he's the anomaly.  Don't believe me?  Read Steen's book.

I have no patience for goo-gooism.

What does this mean for Trump?  Well, Trump announced his intention to self-fund at the beginning of the race!  Self-funded candidates lose.  So, Trump was toast, right?  Obviously not.  However, what happened doesn't hurt Steen's argument.  She's still right, unlike The Party Decides (die, dead horse, die!).  Trump hasn't actually spent any of his own money.  He hasn't needed to.  All he has to do is say something outrageous and he gets more free media attention than the money could possibly have bought.

I wrote off Trump partially because he announced his intention to self-fund.  He hasn't needed to spend anything, though.  In the end, this winds up demonstrating the weakness of money.  Jeb! was the beneficiary of the most superPAC money by far.  It bought him exactly bupkis.  Trump?  He's kept his money right where it belongs.

*Derogatory term for advocates of "good government" reforms.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Why did Chris Christie endorse Trump?

I was in the middle of a talk on the 2016 campaign when somebody broke the news that Chris Christie endorsed Trump.  What does this mean?  It could be that Christie just endorsed the guy with the most similar personality to his own.  It could be a regional thing.  It could be another way to stick it to Rubio.  Then Paul LePage of Maine did the same thing.  What's going on here?

In Part II of my "Trump to Political Science: Drop Dead" series, I explained why I never liked The Party Decides.  The book argued that party elites control the presidential nomination process by endorsing their chosen candidates, and having voters just take cues.  I never though it explained things very well, and I used 2004 as an exemplar of the problem.  2004 may be replaying itself here.

In 2004, before the Democrats held their first contests, Howard Dean was leading in the polls.  Party elites didn't trust him, and thought he would be a weak general election candidate.  However, his lead in the polls looked insurmountable, so many rushed to endorse him out of fear of getting on the wrong side of the inevitable winner.  It wasn't until after Dean collapsed in Iowa and New Hampshire that Kerry's endorsements started racking up.  Endorsements followed success rather than creating it.

That may be replaying itself.  It is getting very hard to deny that Trump is on the victory path.  And, Trump isn't the kind of person who can take criticism.  He holds grudges.  One of the first things he did in a presidential debate was take a swipe at has-been celebrity, Rosie O'Donnell.  Did I mention he did this in a presidential debate?  If Trump is on the path to victory, Republican establishment types will need to start making nice with him very soon.  The Party Decides argued that endorsements lead to success in the primaries.  If endorsements follow success, then the model is backwards.

Now, let's talk about those Party Decides apparatchiks.  Suppose Republican officials rush to endorse Trump, fearing his wrath if he gets the nomination and they fail to genuflect.  I'll bet you that the PD-apparatchiks will say, "Ha!  We win!  Trump got the most endorsements, and Trump won!  The Party Decided!  Yay us!"

Can we all agree now that this would be some ridiculously contorted bullshit?  Do endorsements cause victory, or does inevitable victory yield endorsements?  Those aren't even close to the same things, and The Party Decides claims the former, not the latter.  If the latter happens, the book failed.

Trump is winning.  The Party Decides is nonsense, and always was.

If you don't love jazz, you hate America

OK, so I'm supposed to keep doing this Friday music thing.  In honor of the current state of the Republican Party establishment...

The right way to attack Trump

Last night's debate saw Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz try to attack Trump for not being a true conservative.  There are two models that suggest this might be an effective tactic, the spatial model, and Grossman & Hopkins' asymmetry model.  In my last two posts in the "Trump to Political Science: Drop Dead" series, I elaborated on the failures of these models.  The spatial model suggests that voters look for ideologically proximate candidates.  If Republican primary voters were conservatives looking for a conservative candidate, they wouldn't support Trump.  Grossman & Hopkins suggest that Republican voters seek ideological purity, but Trump is about as impure as candidates get.  So, Trump's continued success undercuts both models.  Why is he winning anyway?  Because he's the winning-est winner who ever won at winning, of course.

If attacking Trump for being a fake conservative is the wrong way to go, what's the right way?  If there isn't one, then Trump is unbeatable, and that would be a stretch.  So, a few ideas on what might have been more effective:

1)  He's a "celebrity."  Remember the charge in 2008 that Obama was just a celebrity with no depth?  Turn that around on him.

2)  He's a lousy businessman.  Trump presents himself as an Ayn Rand hero-- a self-made billionaire who achieved through his own greatness.  In fact, he inherited gobs of money, and would be even richer if he had just invested his inheritance in a passive S&P index fund.  Trump isn't a business prodigy-- he just plays one on tv.

3)  Remember the phone call between Trump and Bill Clinton before Trump announced his candidacy?  Go full conspiracy theory on this.

Would any of this have worked?  I have no idea.  Would calling him a RINO (Republican In Name Only) have worked if his opponents had done it more forcefully, earlier in the campaign?  I don't know, but it may be too late.  If he doesn't stumble next week in some Super Tuesday contests, the odds of anyone beating him drop even lower.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Trump to Political Science: Drop Dead, Part V (Purity of Essence)

Political observers, including my fellow political scientists, seem to be finally accepting that Trump is winning.  What they still don't want to accept is that we were wrong because our models were wrong, and denying that is what I have been calling Type B Trump denialism.  This is the fourth part in a series on the models that have steered us wrong (and the fifth in the denialism series).   I have already ranted about The Party Decides, The Gamble, and basic spatial models.  This time, a twist, and a newer model.

One of the more vexing problems for political scientists right now is explaining why the Republicans have moved further from the center than Democrats.  Analysis of roll call votes in Congress, by Poole & Rosenthal, shows quite clearly that Republicans are more ideologically extreme than Democrats right now.  Why?  One of the more interesting explanations floating around comes from Matt Grossman and David Hopkins.  In new line of research, Grossman & Hopkins argue that the parties are basically responding to their voters' wishes.  Democrats, according to this argument, are basically a coalition of groups seeking policy, engaged in a big log-roll.  Unions, low-wage workers, minorities, etc. have different but compatible goals, so they band together in a party to achieve policy.  Since they are outcome-oriented, they are more pragmatic and accept compromise.  Republicans, on the other hand, are ideologically motivated.  They prefer purity to compromise, and seek out policies out of a desire for some abstract idea of conservatism.

We can see this at work all over the place, and some commentators, like Jonathan Chait, have fully embraced Grossman & Hopkins' argument.  Consider, for example, the expiration of the Bush tax cuts.  In 2001, then-President George W. Bush pushed for a set of tax cuts.  He didn't have enough support in the Senate to overcome a filibuster, though.  So, the Republicans used "one weird trick" to break a filibuster.  They used a procedure called "budget reconciliation."  When a bill is brought to the floor of the Senate under reconciliation rules, it can't be filibustered.  So, Republicans only needed 51 votes, not 60.  The catch is that you can't use reconciliation to increase the deficit for more than 10 years.  This is part of "the Byrd rule," named after long-time Senator and former KKK member Robert Byrd (D-WV).  So, the Republicans gave the tax cuts an expiration date-- ten years.  In 2011, they were extended for two more years, but in 2013, everyone stopped kicking the can on that one.  A deal between President Obama and House Republicans extended the tax cuts permanently for everyone under a $450,000 per year threshold, and let everyone above that return to the top marginal rate from the Clinton administration.

This put purity-seeking Republicans in a bind.  If they vote "yes," they are effectively giving lots of people a tax cut.  But, they are also conceding to tax increases for the top bracket.  If your goal is policy, you vote yes.  If your goal is purity, you vote no.  Many of the most conservative Republicans in Congress voted no.  In so doing, they positioned themselves as pure conservatives, appealing to voters looking for that sort of thing.  This is the Ted Cruz way.  That sounds like Grossman & Hopkins, right?  It certainly does to me.  Democrats want policy, Republicans want purity, right?

Problem:  what does this suggest about 2016?  Grossman & Hopkins weren't really writing about nomination politics, but we can apply the concepts.  If Republican primary voters really want ideological purity, whom would they have supported?  Trump?  Hell, no.  There is nobody in the field more ideologically impure than Trump.  He used to advocate single-payer healthcare, higher taxes, and legal abortion.  He has stated positions that are now conservative, but anyone applying any scrutiny at all would have to see through this act.  Would Trump govern as a conservative?  We have no idea.  That's why the National Review and so many others are terrified of Trump.  He is anything but ideologically pure, and if the party wants purity, he should be toast.

Of course, then there's Mitt Romney.  The architect of Obamacare and former moderate Massachusetts Governor won the 2012 nomination even though he had to do similar contortions.  Perhaps, then, Republican voters don't really care about sincerity.  They just want candidates to say the right things.

On Babylon 5, the eventual Centauri Emperor, Londo Mollari was controlled by the evil Drakh, who placed a "keeper" on him.  The keeper made sure that Londo said and did what the Drakh wanted.  But, as Londo observed while intoxicated, the keeper didn't care about what Londo thought.  He just had to perform the actions, which allowed him to trick the keeper.  Perhaps the electorate here is basically just a Drakh keeper.  Trump, like Romney, isn't sincere in his embrace of conservatism, but as long as he says the right things, it doesn't matter.  The thought isn't what counts (there's another Babylon 5 reference for you).

Then again, we have a long line of research in public opinion that should call this into question.  Our basic understanding of ideology comes from a 1964 article by Phillip Converse called "The Nature of Belief Systems in Mass Publics."  Converse describes ideology as "constraint."  To be liberal is to be constrained to take liberal positions on a wide range of issues, and to be conservative is to be constrained to take conservative positions on a wide range of issues.  However, not all constraints are logical.  Ideology also includes psychological associations and social pressures.

Relevance?  Consider how self-identified conservatives describe conservatism.  They describe it as a preference for small government and individual liberty.  But, that's not conservatism.  That's libertarianism, which is a logically-constrained belief system.  Conservatism combines a preference for lack of economic regulation with a high degree of regulation in the social realm, prohibiting abortion, gay marriage, narcotics, etc.  The ideological principle that conservatives claim to believe is not, in fact, what they believe.  If it were, they'd be libertarians, not conservatives.

What does it mean to strive for some sort of ideological purity, then, in an ideology that is not logically constrained?  I have no idea.  And neither does Trump.  And neither do Republican primary voters.  The basic problem is that if Republican voters wanted some sort of ideological purity, they wouldn't be voting for Trump.  But Trump is winning anyway.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Coming soon: why everyone should read Nelson W. Polsby's Consequences of Party Reform

I will do a more extended post on this later, but for now, everyone interested in the state of the Republican Party, its relationship with Donald Trump, and the future of the party should read a classic called Consequences of Party Reform, by Nelson W. Polsby.  Truth in advertising, he was one of my grad school advisors.

Basically, what happens when a party loses control of its nomination process because the voters want someone the party elite doesn't?  You get the picture.

More to come later.

Even I won't say it's over yet, but...

So, I put up a post about why I was looking at polls rather than prediction markets the other day.  And now, the prediction markets seem to be overreacting. PredictWise currently puts Trump's chances at 68%.  Before Nevada, they put it at around 53%.  That doesn't make mathematical sense.  They put Trump's chances of winning Nevada at roughly 90%.  So, once that is out of the way, Trump's chances should go up to .53/.9=.59, or 59%.  For the math geeks, that is called "Bayesian updating."

Trump is clearly the favorite, and the ranks of Type A Trump denialists are shrinking, but we always need to leave room for weird shit to happen.  Either 68% is an overestimate, 53% was an underestimate, or a 90% chance of winning Nevada was an underestimate.  I think there was a little of each going on, but people are finally coming around to acknowledging that Trump is winning.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

A new and fascinating strand of Type B Trump denialism

I have already expressed my puzzlement at why people ever thought so highly of The Party Decides.  The model basically says that party establishment types control the nomination process through endorsements and contributions as signals to voters, but the model hasn't had an unblemished success since 2000.  So, the fact that party establishment types hate Trump shouldn't really have mattered.  I take some schadenfreude in Trump's ability to outperform their model so remarkably that nobody can really rationalize his success with the underlying argument.

But that doesn't mean they won't try!  Here is a fascinating new take from Dan Drezner.  The gist of it is that so many people were convinced that the party establishment types always won that nobody put in the effort to make it happen.  In my earlier post, I suggested that we should be on the lookout for the Bart Simpson defense.  Really, the Republican muckety-mucks could have stopped Trump by rallying around an establishment choice, endorsing him, donating to him, and collectively tearing down the opposition, but they just didn't want to put in the effort because they didn't think it was necessary.  The model's failure is really the model's success, see?  Yes, and Bart Simpson could have contorted himself into that pose.  He just didn't wanna.

The Party Decides isn't wrong.  It can't be wrong.  It is gospel truth.

I still can't wrap my brain around how many disciples that book has.

Trump to Political Science: Drop Dead, Episode IV: A New Hope

It is a period of civil war.  Rebel candidates, striking from a not-so-hidden base (seriously, the guy writes his name in 'yuge' letters, even on the buildings he didn't build), have won their first two victories against the evil party establishment...

I promise, I'm going somewhere with this.

This is part four in a series in which I describe the many ways that Donald Trump is embarrassing the discipline of political science.  I have defined Type B Trump denialism as a refusal to admit that Trump's unexpected strength as a candidate shows underlying weaknesses in political science models of nomination politics.  Today, the "spatial model."  See?  Space!  It connects!

Fine.  Have my lunch money.

Back to business now.  The idea of the spatial model is pretty simple and intuitive.  In political science, we have been using it heavily since Anthony Downs published An Economic Theory of Democracy in 1957.  Put every voter on a line, representing the liberal-conservative spectrum.  The median voter along that line is the one who has 50% of the electorate to the left, and the other 50% to the right.  Represent candidates' platforms with points along that line.  Whoever is closer to the median wins, so candidates should converge towards the median.  So, if the median is 0, the Democrat is at -1, and the Republican is at +2, the Democrat should win.

Of course, we aren't there yet.  This is a primary.  That means two things.  First, the important median isn't the country's median, and second, we've got more than two candidates.  Yes, and both are important.

Since we are in the Republican primary phase, the median should be more conservative than the overall electorate, and that creates pressure on candidates to move, not to some centrist platform, but to some conservative platform based on the electoral Willie Sutton principle.  The most conservative candidate should win, so move to the right, right?

Problem:  where does Trump fit on that spectrum?  Nowhere.  Trump isn't a conservative.  He isn't a moderate.  He isn't a liberal.  He is ideologically incoherent.  Since mounting his rebel attack on the Republican Empire, he has performed the rituals of conversion, such that his current platform includes tax cuts, opposition to abortion, etc., but in the past, he has advocated single-payer healthcare, tax increases specifically on the wealthy, abortion rights, etc.  What would he do if elected?  Aside, obviously, from making America great again?  He has positioned himself most vocally on immigration.  That is an issue that cuts strangely across ideological lines.  Self-identified conservatives are split on the issue, with Chamber of Commerce types advocating more open borders for economic reasons, with social conservatives treating it as a law-and-order issue.  Among the groups who help to define liberalism (I am conceptually influenced by Hans Noel here) are unions, with many union members preferring restrictive policies to keep supply from pressing down wages on low-skill jobs.  The fact that immigration cuts strangely along ideological lines was what deluded some people into thinking that immigration reform might happen, even with divided government.  Hah!

Rather than going for the straight-up conservative vote, then, Trump seems to be looking for what E.E. Schattschneider would have called a cross-cutting issue, changing the dimensions along which the rebellion is fought.  Basically, then, the policy "space" is malleable.  The proper reference is Star Trek, then, not Star Wars because in the former, they use warp drive for propulsion so...  I promise I'll stop.  Please don't give me a wedgie.

Basically, though, if this all came down to a left-right thing, Trump would have a problem because he is so clearly not a real conservative.

Then again, there's the number of candidates issue.  Think about the weird dynamics of a three-way race.  Just to bug Rick Santorum.  Let's say the median is 2.  If two candidates are at exactly 2, and a third is just to the left of 2, the candidates at 2 will get around 25% of the vote each, and the candidate just off-center wins with 50%.  Adding more candidates to this kind of model makes things blow up like the Death Star...

I promised I'd stop.  Anyway, weird stuff happens with more than two candidates, and Trump got into this thing with enough competitors to give Rick Santorum a seizure.  Once it is down to two, then, the more conservative candidate should win, then, right?  Well, PredictWise has the betting odds pretty much down to Trump and Rubio, but as long as Cruz stays in the race, the best salvation for the spatial model is that Trump is winning because Rubio and Cruz are splitting the conservative vote, both being actual conservatives.  This may turn out to be the real test, then.  If it comes down to Trump and a real conservative, does the real conservative consolidate the vote and defeat The Donald?  One could easily imagine Cruz dropping out, and his voters going to Trump rather than Rubio as an antiestablishment vote.  If that's what happens, then the basic spatial model will really be failing us, unless the Republican primary vote isn't as conservative as some would have us believe (stay tuned for the next installment).

So, as the contest moves today into a hive of scum and villainy more wretched than Mos Eisley, remember that if the spatial model were right, then someone who is so obviously not a conservative should have real problems in a Republican contest.

Sorry.  Hey, if I had gone the Star Trek route, I could have worked in William Riker!

Never mind.  I'll go back to jazz.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Polls vs. Prediction Markets and Trump Denialism

I am still stuck on the fact that prediction markets still put Trump's chances at or below 50%.  Normally, I am a big supporter of prediction markets as an assessment tool.  In particular, during the early part of a campaign, prediction markets are far more informative than polls.  If you ask people their vote intentions before they start paying attention to the campaign, their answers just won't mean much.  When someone like Ben Carson has a surge that we really should discount, prediction markets do so.  But we aren't in the early part of the campaign anymore.  Trump has won two out of three contests so far.  His lead in the national polls has held up throughout the campaign.  He is highly likely to win Nevada next.  His numbers look pretty good going into the March 1 states. Rubio's endorsement lead has picked up, with 107 points right now since Jeb! dropped out, but that's still nothing compared to Clinton's commanding lead on the other side.

Rubio, on the other hand, never really comes in past third in the national polls, hasn't won a contest yet, has an endorsement lead that pales in comparison to Clinton's, stumbled badly in a debate, and his party has been highly reluctant to rally around him in any significant way.  They should be in panic mode right now, doing everything possible to destroy Trump, and that means throwing the full weight of the party behind Rubio.  Why, it's almost as if the party can't decide...

So, why is it that the prediction markets put it at basically a coin toss between Trump and Rubio?  Now is the time when the polls are informative.  The campaign is in full swing.  There has been national attention for a while.  Ads are running.  News coverage.  This is real.  What, precisely, is the rationale for ignoring the polls and putting it at a coin toss between Trump and Rubio?

In the early part of the campaign, I have a very good reason to discount polls in favor of prediction markets-- you can't ask people how they will vote and get a meaningful answer before they start paying attention.  I'm at a loss for why we should discount the polls now.

Rubio could still turn this around, but the clock is ticking...

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Trump to Political Science: Drop Dead, Part III (Knowing When To Fold 'Em)

This is the third in a series of posts on what has gone wrong in Political Science this year.  The first defined "Type A Trump denialism" as the persistent belief that, despite all evidence to the country, Trump could never win.  No, it's not over, but we all clearly underestimated The Donald.  In the second post, I began describing Type B denialism, which is refusing to admit that the models that led us to underestimate Trump were the problem.  I began with The Party Decides, which I never believed.  Now it is time to address a model that I did believe, coming from Sides & Vavreck's The Gamble.  That one, I assign.

Sides & Vavreck performed a detailed and careful analysis of what happened in 2012, both the primary and general elections.  Obviously, I will focus on the Republican nomination contest, which was, at the time, the most entertaining ever.  Obviously, it has now been upstaged.

Their basic argument about the 2012 Republican nomination contest was that the field consisted of Mitt Romney, and a group of people whom few could imagine as president, like my personal favorite, Michele Bachman, Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich, Rick don't-Google-me Santorum, and others.  Each of the non-Romneys had a boomlet in the polls, driven by media attention.  However, once the media turned to scrutiny, each of their campaigns collapsed due to the intrinsic weaknesses of the candidates, leaving Romney the eventual winner almost by default.  It fit the data, made substantive sense, and fit within my expectations that year.  Once Tim Pawlenty ran out of money and Rick Perry did his Rick Perry thing on the debate state, there were no other credible candidates, and I discounted each of the non-Romney boomlets as ephemeral.  The Gamble confirmed my expectations, so it must have been right, right?

Fast forward to 2015.  Donald Trump enters the race, looking very much like the kind of candidate who would get a boomlet from media attention, whither under media scrutiny, and then whine.  Trump takes an early lead in the polls, and it looks very much like the start of the discovery-scrutiny-decline model from 2012.  John Sides begins writing the obvious things at The Monkey Cage.  See, for example, here, here, and here.

The problem, of course, is that media attention shifted to scrutiny time and again.  There were Trump's comments about Mexican rapists, his attacks on John McCain for having been held captive in Vietnam, his comments about Megyn Kelly's menstrual cycles...  His numbers never went down.  How many times has Trump's candidacy been declared dead? It has happened so many times that it is a joke at The Onion.

I freely admit here that I wrote off Trump's early lead based on The Gamble.  I expected his campaign to collapse based on The Gamble.  Several times.  There must come a point, though, at which we acknowledge that Trump's campaign has withstood more scrutiny than any of the 2012 candidates subject to the discovery-scrutiny-decline model.

What do we learn?  Not precisely that the cycle is wrong.  After all, it explained Ben Carson this year.  Rather, Trump can withstand scrutiny like an established, serious politician.  Trump's polling lead was never simply about disinterested survey respondents casually stating support for the candidate whose name they heard most frequently.  Instead, Trump's support was more substantive, and hence less susceptible to scrutiny.  What, precisely, keeps Trump's supporters in his camp?  A topic for another post.  What distinguished Trump from Herman Cain, though, is that everyone already knew who Trump is, and had formed opinions about him.  For Herman Cain, not so much.  Thus, when media attention turned negative for Cain, he crumbled since his support was basically illusory.  Trump has a base of support among Republican primary voters.

Where we went wrong, then, was in thinking that Trump was Herman Cain.  He isn't.  He is The Donald.  To whom can we compare his candidacy?  Umm...  We can't.  We are outside the bounds of our data set.  The fact that we can go so far from historical precedent, though, is exactly my point about why we need to reassess our models.  Maybe Trump is just the black swan that cannot be explained, and years from now, he will be remembered as an anomaly.  Right now, though, we need to acknowledge that none of our models are holding up very well.

Once again, the standard disclaimer.  The race isn't over yet, and while the betting odds keep holding Trump at or below 50% at PredictWise, the fact that he is still standing, and still leading means we need to reassess the models that predicted his doom so many times.  Even if he loses, he outperformed by so much that our models require scrutiny.

I'll still probably assign The Gamble, but this is a problem...

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Trump wins South Carolina, still not winning according to everyone

Well, The Donald just won South Carolina.  He has won New Hampshire and South Carolina-- two out of three states that have voted so far, he has maintained a nationwide polling lead throughout his entire candidacy, has unlimited money, and endorsements haven't seriously lined up behind any of his opponents.  Yes, Rubio is in the lead, but compare his lead to Clinton's, and you'll see what a real endorsement lead looks like.  And yet, PredictWise still has his betting odds below 50%.  Remind me again why Trump isn't favored to win?  Oh, right.  He's Trump, and the rules don't apply to him.  Like Desmond, on Lost.  Well, if the rules don't apply, then maybe we should look at current empirical evidence rather than models that are being debunked as I type.

Trump may still lose, but anyone putting his chances below 50% right now is guilty of Type A Trump denialism.

The South Carolina primary

Lest anyone think the race is over, only two states have voted so far. South Carolina votes today. Funny thing, but it looks like the betting odds have narrowed on PredictWise. Trump's chances still seem asymptotically bounded by 50%, and Rubio seems to have gained, possibly in the wake of Nikki Haley's endorsement.  Yet, the investors are still giving Trump an 86% chance of winning South Carolina, and he still leads in every poll. RealClearPolitics shows one outlier poll with Trump holding only a 3 percentage point lead over Rubio, but we should always look at polling averages, as the investors seem to be doing. So, if Trump wins South Carolina, maintains his lead in Nevada and wins there, remind me again why Trump has less than a 50% chance of winning the nomination?  Oh, right. Trump denialism.  This ain't over yet.  If Rubio pulls off an upset, Trump will start sinking again.  If Trump wins, though, we might finally see Trump's betting odds stay north of 50% for more than a quick stretch.

What if it is just really close?  Then, all those Republican muckety-mucks who haven't endorsed yet might chalk Rubio's gain up to Haley and rush to endorse.  Now, that would be interesting to watch.

Friday, February 19, 2016

If you don't love jazz, you hate America

Everybody else seems to do a music type thing.  So, let's do something educational.  If you don't love jazz, you hate America.  Besides, that allows something completely unrelated to Trump.

Trump, The Pope and Catholicism

As we all know now, Donald Trump's current feud is with The Pope.  Rather than comment on the substance (because what fun would that be?), I thought I might throw in a little bit of data.  Will Trump's current feud hurt him in his quest for the Republican nomination?  That depends on the relationship between the Republican Party and Catholicism.  As some may remember, catholics used to be a prominent part of the "New Deal Coalition."  In fact, they still lean slightly Democratic.  But, it's more complicated than that.  Here are some interesting findings from the 2012 American National Election Studies survey.  Two questions:  what proportion of each party identifies as catholic, and how does each party feel about catholics?  For the former, I'm simply looking at religious self-identification.  For the latter, I'm relying on the "feeling thermometer," in which respondents rate their feelings toward a group on a 0-100 scale, with higher scores meaning more positive feelings.  I'm using sample weights.  What do we see?

                                                 Percent Catholic       Average Feeling Thermometer towards Catholics
Strong Democrats                           25.4%                                  60.10
Weak Democrats                            23.8%                                   57.93
Independent Democrats                  19.5%                                  54.47
Independents                                   23.0%                                  54.11
Independent Republicans                24.5%                                 64.18
Weak Republicans                          22.4%                                  61.14
Strong Republicans                         21.2%                                  67.72

What do we learn?  Well, the New Deal Coalition ain't what it used to be.  Strong and weak Democrats are slightly more likely than similarly strong Republicans to be Catholic, but Republicans express more positive attitudes towards catholics.  Does that mean Trump's comments will hurt him because Republicans love catholics so much?  Nothing here directly addresses that.  In principle, it could hurt him, but someone within the Republican Party would have to side with The Pope against Trump on immigration to make that happen.  Otherwise, Trump wins again.

He could still lose, but can we stop pretending that Trump will necessarily get crushed any day now?  How many times has he survived a "this-will-end-his-campaign" moment?

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Trump to Political Science: Drop Dead, Part II (The Party, Not Deciding)

Yup, Donald Trump is still leading the Republican race.  That NBC poll showing Cruz ahead is what we call an "outlier."  And, the betting odds on PredictWise still look asymptotically bounded by 50% for reasons that I find inexplicable.  And political science is still in a state of denial about it.  In a previous post, I described “Type A Trump denialism,” as the persistent denial that Trump has a strong chance of winning the Republican presidential nomination.  This post will begin an examination of Type B Trump denialism— the failure to accept that existing political science models have deep problems, revealed by Trump beating expectations so thoroughly.  Each post in this series will examine a different model, and why it failed.

Let’s start with the big one.  The Party Decides.  If you get your news from sources like Vox or read prominent political science bloggers like Jonathan Bernstein, you have encountered the argument from The Party Decides.  It goes something like this:  party elites use endorsements and other tactics to signal to voters who the correct choice is, and voters respond by nominating whoever the elites want.  If you get your news from Party Decides apparatchiks, you will be confused by Trump’s persistent lead because Republican establishment types hate him and his one weird trick to make America great again.

And yet, the model never worked all that well.

So, some history.  In 1968, the Democratic convention blew up.  Eugene McCarthy performed best in the primaries, but it didn’t matter.  Most of the delegates to the convention were party muckety-mucks (technical term), and they wanted Hubert Humphrey.  So, they nominated him.  McCarthy supporters rioted.  Humphrey lost.  The party decided that change was in order.  (See what I did there?).  They formed the McGovern-Fraser Commission to propose new rules for the nomination process.  Under the new rules, delegates were to be selected by primaries and caucuses.  In 1976, the unwashed masses nominated Jimmy Carter, who won, but had a rough presidency and lost to Reagan in 1980.  The parties spent years afterwards looking for ways to reassert control to prevent future Carters.  He was, after all, history’s greatest monster.

By 2000, it looked like the muckety-mucks were back in control.  In 1996, the crowded Republican field had a clear institutional favorite— Bob Dole.  Phil Gramm had gobs of money, Steve Forbes had that vaguely libertarian appeal that pundits keep saying is so important, Pat Buchanan had the conservative populist schtick (he even won New Hampshire!), and Bob Dole had the establishment.  He won.  Then, in 2000, George W. Bush fended off an insurgent candidacy from John McCain (who won New Hampshire!), and Al Gore defeated an insurgent challenge from Bill Bradley (who did not win New Hampshire).

This was the backdrop in which a group of scholars at UCLA began putting together what became The Party Decides.  It looked like the muckety-mucks were back in control.  They endorsed and donated to their choices, and voters followed suit.  The book wasn’t published until 2008, but even before then, it started running into trouble.  For 2004, Democrats had an institutional choice by around 2002— John Kerry.  He won, right?  The party decided, right?  Not so fast.  There was also a legendary screamer named Howard Dean.  Dean appealed to liberal activists, but worried the muckety-mucks because they thought he would be less electable than Kerry.  Dean dominated the polls for much of the contest.  Then the endorsements came in.  Nervous about getting on the wrong side of a contest they couldn’t control, Democratic muckety-mucks started to endorse Dean.  Then came the Iowa caucus.  Dean had a rough battle with Dick Gephardt.  And here’s the thing about a multi-candidate race.  When two candidates beat each other up, the uninvolved candidates benefit.  As Dean and Gephardt tore each other down, Kerry and Edwards rose in the polls, coming in first and second respectively.  Dean continued his slide into oblivion, Kerry locked up the nomination, and eventually the endorsements came in for him.

See the problem?  Authors of The Party Decides thought that endorsements would shift the voters to party-preferred candidates.  In 2004, it happened the other way around.  Muckety-mucks started endorsing the insurgent because they didn’t think they could beat him, and only shifted to endorsing the establishment choice after the insurgent started collapsing, who collapsed as two leading Iowa candidates just beat each other up, leaving the others to benefit.

And it only got worse in 2008.  Democratic muckety-mucks lined up quickly behind Hillary Clinton.  Obama won anyway.  Republicans nominated McCain, who was widely disliked by his party establishment.  Remember how he was the defeated insurgent in 2000?  Much of that had to do with campaign finance reform, but he had also attacked the 2001 tax cuts, and regularly looked for ways to poke his own leaders in the eye to brandish his credentials as a “maverick.”  Incidentally, McCain was a lousy pilot.  Regardless, he was the guy the party didn’t want in 2000.  If he won in 2008, that’s kind of a problem for those who would claim that the muckety-mucks run the show.  Party Decides apparatchiks might claim that the party just didn’t have anyone better in 2008.  The party can make its choice, but it is limited by the field.  Now, in 2012 they managed to find the right person to rally around— a staunch conservative, trusted by all.  An experienced Governor with the right positions on social, economic and foreign policy issues.  That man was… Mitt Romney.  Why did the Republican muckety-mucks get stuck with McCain in 2008?  Because they didn’t have anyone better.  You know, like Romney.

Oh, wait.  If Romney was the right guy in 2012, then we cannot assert that the Republicans were stuck with McCain in 2008 due to a lack of any better alternative, because Romney was in that field too.

The Party Decides has a… mixed record of success at best since its inception.  Should we really be surprised that it isn’t doing well in 2016?

Donald Trump is dominating the Republican field  He has no allies among Republican muckety-mucks.  No, Sarah Palin doesn’t count.  The National Review put out an entire issue devoted to tearing him down.  He has few important endorsements, enemies galore, a policy record that no serious conservative should trust, no political experience, high unfavorables among the general electorate, and represents everything the “establishment” of the Republican Party opposes.  If they can’t defeat him, then the establishment is impotent.

Can the apparatchiks salvage their model?  Perhaps the party has been beset by a coordination problem.  The field originally included not just Rubio, Kasich and Bush, but Walker, Christie, Jindal and more.  With so many choices, perhaps the establishment just couldn’t agree on one, leaving the establishment-friendly voters without a clear cue, and Trump winning by default. So really, the party could have stopped Trump, except for that darned coordination problem.  Just like Bart Simpson.  People are disparaging Rubio now because of his debate glitch, but for a long time now, he has been the obvious establishment choice.  With Walker gone and Bush floundering, the muckety-mucks should have rallied around Rubio and crushed Trump.  They didn’t.  South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley just endorsed Rubio, but he is way behind in the polls there, making it likely too little, too late.  Why haven’t the muckety-mucks rallied around Rubio?

My best guess— they were terrified of Trump’s reprisal, and weren’t sufficiently confident that they could beat him.  This was Dean 2.0.  Just as Democratic muckety-mucks rushed to endorse Dean when he looked unstoppable in 2004, Republicans didn’t want to get on Trump’s bad side by endorsing Rubio if they couldn’t shift the race.  And even if they could push Trump out, then they run the risk of him running as an independent, giving Hillary a lock on the White House.

Of course, Trump could still lose!  Betting odds still put him right around 50%.  But if The Party Decides model worked here, he wouldn’t have made it this far.  Republican muckety-mucks should have crushed him long ago.  They still could.  Suppose they get together, coordinate to back either Rubio, Bush or Kasich, quickly endorse their choice, signal that choice to voters, and sway the race to a non-Trump.  That would be a spectacular victory for The Party Decides.  I will readily concede the wisdom of the book if that happens.  If Trump wins, though, what will Party Decides apparatchiks say?

The gray area is this:  what if Trump and Cruz tear each other down, leaving Rubio by default?  Then we’re back to 2004.  And let’s not forget that there’s another candidate the “establishment” despises, but who has a real chance— Ted Cruz.  Suppose, for a moment, that the muckety-mucks decide they hate/fear Trump more than they hate/fear Cruz, rally behind the latter, and get their way.  Will the party have decided?  If the only way they can find to defeat their least favorite candidate is to back their second least favorite, then how strong are they, really?

2016 is looking like a disaster for The Party Decides.  Even if Trump loses at this point, he shouldn’t have made it this far.  Then again, the model’s track record was never that strong.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Trump denialism and investment strategies

As I continue thinking through the phenomenon of Trump denialism, something jumps out about the current betting odds. If you look at PredictWise right now, Trump's chances seem to be asymptotically approaching 50%, but the probability doesn't seem to want to creep back up over that line.  His chances, according to the betting sites, only briefly crossed the 50% threshold, before his Iowa loss.  This is starting to look a little like the regular stock market, when investors freak out about either the Dow or the S&P crossing thresholds evenly divisible by 10.

This is not a long-term pattern.  Maybe it is a fluke.  Maybe Trump will finally see his polling lead collapse completely, and his betting odds will tank.  Maybe his lead won't, and his numbers will slowly drift north of 50%, with this being only a brief and statistically insignificant pause.  This is a minor and possibly illusory observation, but if the psychology of 50% prevents investors from accurately gauging Trump's chances, that's Trump denialism at work.

Then again, 50-50 is a coin toss.  If the prediction markets are right, Trump isn't favored to win.  He just has a higher chance than any other one candidate.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Trump to Political Science: Drop Dead, Part I

OK, enough about the Supreme Court, the death of a historically important Justice, and the future of advice and consent.  Scalia’s death, like everything else, is really about Donald Trump.  As Roll Call’s Melinda Hennenberger suggests, maybe this will be the thing that finally does in Trump’s campaign.  This would be more compelling if we hadn’t heard the same thing a dozen times by now.

And it isn’t just pundits.  Worse, perhaps, is the denial among political scientists.  Political science is in a crisis now, brought on by The Donald.  Trump is winning.  He still might lose.  In fact, PredictWise currently puts his chances just under 50%, but if you had asked any political scientist about Trump’s chances last summer, answers would have ranged from zero to “stop wasting my time with stupid questions.”  With a New Hampshire victory under his belt, a still solid polling lead, leads heading into the South Carolina and Nevada contests, and a demoralized Republican “establishment,” try asking a political scientist right now how sure they are that Trump will lose.  If they say they are as sure as they were last summer, ask them how much money they have riding on it.  You can buy “shares” of Trump losing for around $.55 on PredictIt, and that pays out at $1 when it happens.  Of course, if Trump really does lose, it will have to be soon, and you’ll be able to sell at around $.95 within a couple of months.  That’s nearly doubling your money in a matter of months.  Anyone not buying those shares is either irrational or less sure of Trump’s loss than we all were last summer.  Let’s face it.  Political science underestimated Trump.  And most still don’t want to admit how close he is to pants-ing the discipline of political science.

Political science, then, is in a state of denial about Trump.  Let’s call it “Trump denialism.”  Trump denialism takes two forms.  Type A denialism is the continued refusal to acknowledge that Trump actually has a chance of winning.  In its weaker form, Type A denialism is the slowness and grudgingness with which many observers have come to accept that he might win.  We all denied that last summer.  Anyone still denying it has a problem.  Type B denialism is the refusal to acknowledge that Trump’s unexpected strength as a candidate indicates a problem in conventional political science understandings of nomination politics.

We’ll start with Type A Trump denialism.  Let’s just be blunt here.  Trump could still lose, but he is in a pretty strong position, and none of us saw it coming.  Here are the basic facts.  Trump has maintained a persistent lead in the polls since entering the race.  There was a very brief period when he was essentially tied with Ben Carson, but that didn’t last.  For all practical purposes, Trump has led in the polls since he entered.  He just won New Hampshire.  That’s not a lock on the nomination.  Past winners of the New Hampshire primary include Hillary in 2008, John McCain in 2000, Pat Buchanan in 1996, Paul Tsongas in 1992…  You get the point.  But, that list also includes Mitt Romney in 2012, John McCain in 2008, John Kerry in 2004, Al Gore in 2000…  Winning New Hampshire doesn’t seal the deal, but combined with long-running dominance in the polls, it means you can’t write Trump off anymore.

What else should we look at?  Money?  Jeb Bush has been flooded with campaign cash and it hasn’t done him any good, but Trump has essentially unlimited money if he ever needed it.  Endorsements?  Rubio is ahead in endorsements, but very few Senators, Representatives or Governors on the Republican side have endorsed anyone.  Compare Rubio’s lead to Clinton’s on the Democratic side.  So, it is hard to see that working against him.  Party Decides apparatchiks keep expecting a flood of endorsements to an establishment-friendly candidate, and it keeps not happening.

So, Trump is way ahead in the polls, won New Hampshire, is leading in South Carolina, has unlimited money, and nobody has a significant endorsement lead on him.  Trump could still lose, but anyone saying right now that he has no chance is just in denial.  In fact, the prediction markets look like they might be underestimating his chances.  PredictWise currently gives him a 48% chance of winning.  But, they also give him an 86% chance of winning South Carolina and a 69% chance of winning Nevada.  And those aren’t independent events.  Given that, why do people put his odds below 50%?  It is hard to see a logical basis.  Essentially, it boils down to, “really?!  Trump?!”  In other words, a gut-level assessment that all of our empirical observations misled us.  Who are you going to believe?  Your gut, or those lying data?

Trump is winning, and nobody wants to admit it.  Least of all, political scientists.  He could still lose, but even if he does, we clearly underestimated him, and those still dismissing his chances are guilty of Type A Trump denialism.

What, then, can explain the persistence of Type A Trump denialism?  First, there is simple ego defense.  We all wrote Trump off as an impossibility.  Most of us thought he wouldn’t even formally declare.  We get locked into our certainty.  The longer we postpone dealing with Trump beating expectations, the longer we postpone critical self-analysis.  Just like the longer we postpone going to the dentist for that toothache, the longer we postpone that terrifying drill.  But, just like avoiding the dentist, the longer we wait, the worse it gets when we face facts.

Of course, that brings us to the second motivation behind Type A denialism.  He could still lose!  In fact, if the betting odds are correct now, he is still more likely to lose than win!  Thus, if we remain in denial, there is a high likelihood that we never have to face the fact that we underestimated him.  Instead, we get to say, “I knew it all along!”  And that’s the rub.  Trump denialism is a manifestation of wishful thinking among people who hope they will eventually get to brag about never losing faith.

Faith, though.  As in, not science.  Here is where everyone needs to read Philip Tetlock’s Expert Political Judgment.  The key issue is how we respond when a prediction comes true, and how we respond when it doesn’t come true.  When we make a wrong prediction, we look for ways to say, “I was almost right,” and that except for some small, unforeseeable factor that makes it a weird case, I would have been right.  Obviously, I’ll stick with my method and be right next time.  When our predictions turn out right, though, we never perform this kind of self-diagnosis.  Were we almost wrong?  Was there some flaw in our reasoning, but we got lucky?  Nobody wants to face that, and it is the key to understanding Type A Trump denialism.  Denialists are hoping that The Donald loses so that they can avoid ever having to perform the rigorous self-analysis showing all of the flaws in their reasoning that made them almost wrong.  They can go back to saying Trump never had a chance.  Let’s just call bullshit on that right now.

We, as a discipline, put Trump’s odds at zero.  That assessment was wrong.  Even if he loses, we clearly underestimated him.  And we need to come to grips with that, and what it means for our understanding of the electoral process.

What went wrong?  Overconfidence in crappy models, and that’s where Type B Trump denialism comes in.  There are plenty of models that would predict a Trump loss.  The 800-pound gorilla in the room is The Party Decides, which basically says that party muckety-mucks control the process by endorsing their chosen candidates, and voters do as they’re told.  Party Decides apparatchiks had obvious reasons to discount Trump.  Then, there’s the “discovery, scrutiny and decline” model from The Gamble.  Basically, that model said that a candidate like Trump might get a bubble, but it would inevitably deflate when media attention turns to criticism.  Given what happened to candidates like Herman Cain in 2012, that made sense.  Not so, this time.  There’s the basic spatial model, suggesting that primary voters are more ideological than the general electorate, and Trump’s lack of ideological coherence should hurt him with the primary.  Yeah, that didn’t happen.  The new variant on this, associated with Grossman & Hopkins, is that Republicans in particular are prone to a desire for ideological purity.  Trump wouldn’t have a chance, then.  Self-funded candidates tend to lose, and Trump promised to self-fund.  He hasn’t even needed to spend money!  That’s at least five prominent models, all suggesting that Trump was toast.  Maybe there’s something wrong with these models.  Denying that is Type B Trump denialism.

Coming soon, then, is a series of posts on how and why each of our models have failed us.  Do I have a better one?  Nope.  Not yet.  Maybe one will come out of this.  For now, though, Trump told Political Science to drop dead.  Let’s not oblige.  That means coming to grips with our errors, and looking for a way to not make them in the future.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Mitch McConnell's endgame on the Supreme Court-- abolish advice & consent?

The big news, obviously, is the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, and Senate Republicans’ refusal to allow President Obama to appoint a replacement.  Plenty of others have commented on how we got here, and what this means.  I’ll ask the strategic question:  what happens next?

Mitch McConnell fights political battles with every tool he has.  But he isn’t stupid.  What, then, is his endgame here?  Obviously, he hopes a Republican will win the White House in November.  Preferably, a real Republican, unlike Trump, who might nominate either Gary Busey or Meatloaf to the Supreme Court.  But McConnell can’t count on a Republican victory in November.  He needs to plan for what happens if Hillary wins, and takes office with a year-old Supreme Court vacancy.

Obviously, if Hillary wins with a Democratic Senate majority, Hillary nominates somebody to fill Scalia’s seat, probably the same person Obama nominated just to stick it to Republicans, and Republicans filibuster.  When Democrats changed the rules in 2013, they prohibited filibusters for judicial nominations below the Supreme Court only.  If Republicans filibuster a Supreme Court nomination, Democrats just finish the job and get rid of the filibuster entirely.  Republicans won’t like who gets the seat, but from a strategic point of view, the bigger problem is if Hillary wins, and Republicans retain the Senate.

McConnell might say something like the following:  the Court has gone a year with eight members.  It didn’t always have nine anyway.  So, we should just keep an eight-member Court.  Tied votes will simply go to the lower court ruling.  No appointments for Hillary.  If she tries, Republicans will accuse her of court-packing.

Then, of course, the moment a Republican gets into the Oval Office, we’re back to nine.  The problem is that this would be pretty shameless.  Senate majority leaders have lost their seats over less.  In 2004, the only incumbent Senator to lose his seat was then-Minority Leader Tom Daschle, and the major issue was a Democratic filibuster of some of George W. Bush’s judicial nominees.  McConnell needs another plan.

The key may come from 2011.  In the summer of 2011, Congress had to raise the “debt ceiling.”  The debt ceiling is the limit on the total value of outstanding bonds that the Treasury can issue.  Since Congress instructs the Treasury to disburse more than it takes in (spending levels are set higher than tax revenues), the only way the Treasury can disburse all the money it is told to pay out is to sell bonds to raise money.  If they can’t issue more bonds, they have no legal recourse.  They can either break the law and issue more bonds than they are allowed to issue, or fail to pay out the money they are told to pay out.  Without a debt ceiling increase, well, uh, messiness ensues.

The problem in 2011 for McConnell was that he knew the debt ceiling needed to be raised, but he also knew that his own party was scared to vote for it.  Voting for a “debt ceiling increase,” just sounds bad, and none of the congressional Republicans wanted to be seen voting for a bill that Obama would eventually sign.  McConnell’s solution:  hand authority over to the executive.  McConnell thought the best way out for everyone was to change the law on the debt ceiling.  Under McConnell’s proposal, the President could unilaterally raise the debt ceiling.  Congress, if it wanted, could vote to block the increase.  Then, the President could veto it, and the debt ceiling increase would only be blocked if Congress managed to over-ride the veto.  That would let Republicans oppose a debt ceiling increase without actually stopping it from happening.  McConnell was forced to back down from the proposal because, well, it was transparent cowardice.

But it sets the template for a way out.  Abolish advice and consent, at least in its current form.  A reform might look something like this:  for judicial and executive branch nominations, the president can make appointments unilaterally.  The Senate can block an appointment, but only with a 2/3 supermajority.  That would allow a Democratic president to make appointments without forcing any Republican Senators to get their fingerprints on it.  Yes, this would take a constitutional amendment.  Yes, that is incredibly difficult, time-consuming, and such efforts usually fail.  Does anyone have a better idea?

Of course, this only works if the process starts before the election.  If Hillary wins, Republicans couldn’t get on board with handing so much power over to her.  On the other hand, if it begins now, Republicans can tell themselves they might win in November, and their own president would have vast, new powers.

This also fits McConnell’s general approach to things.  In 2013, Mitch McConnell announced that the Senate Republicans— the minority at the time— would use the filibuster to block President Obama from filling any vacancies on the second-most important court in the country.  Obviously, the President and his party’s Senate majority could not abide that.  It gave the Democrats no alternative but to use the “nuclear option,” and declare, by majority vote, that judicial nominations (below the Supreme Court) could not be filibustered.  It was a bold move since actually changing the rules requires a 2/3 vote, but at the time, the Democrats had no other choice because to do otherwise would cede control of the courts entirely to Republicans.  They simply couldn’t accept an arrangement in which only Republican presidents get to fill judicial vacancies.

The best interpretation I could offer at the time was that McConnell wanted to get rid of the filibuster.  Why?  Two possibilities.  First, perhaps he expected to become Majority Leader (which he did), and wanted the filibuster out of the way.  He just didn’t want to press the button himself.  Second, perhaps he just wanted to spare Republicans from having to vote for any of Obama’s nominees.  He knew the Senate needed to confirm at least some nominations, and with the filibuster intact, that only happened if some Republicans voted for cloture.  With the filibuster gone, no Republican would have to vote for one of Obama’s nominations.

And that’s where we are now.  McConnell has to know that Democrats can’t cede the right to make court appointments.  He also knows that no Republican wants to vote for a Democratic nominee for anything, least of all the Supreme Court.  With a Republican majority in the Senate, something has to give.  Either Republicans have to be willing to vote for Democratic nominees, or they have to pass the buck.

If McConnell is looking for a way out, then, he will propose a constitutional amendment along the lines of the idea above.  Is this practical?  Hell no.  Is it defensible on first principles?  Of course not.  It’s a horrible idea, and a completely impractical one given how difficult it is to push through a constitutional amendment.  But, it might be McConnell’s only way out.  It could even be pitched as part of a deal.  Obama yields on filling the Supreme Court vacancy, and Republicans agree to help abolish advice and consent.

Perhaps this isn’t the plan.  Remember how the cylons supposedly had a plan?  Maybe McConnell’s plan is about as well thought-out.  Maybe McConnell is just hoping the Republicans get control of everything in 2016, and that gives him a way out.  Sticking your head in the sand, though, isn’t a plan.

One way or another, this aggression will not stand, man.


Get it?  No?  Never mind.

Blah, blah, blah, self-indulgent introductory nonsense.  I'm a political scientist.  This is a blog.  Obviously, it will be about golf.