Thursday, March 31, 2016

Stopping Trump at the convention

Right now, some bad polling in Wisconsin for Trump seems to be revitalizing the Stop Trump movement, such as it is.  You can see for yourself here.  It is worth noting that Wisconsin was never a Trump stronghold.  Governor Scott Walker unsurprisingly led there until he dropped out.  There were a couple of polls with Carson ahead during his little boomlet, but no long-term, stable lead.  The interesting thing is that Cruz has tended to beat Trump in the rural, sparsely populated states, like Iowa and Kansas, and lost in the urban states.  Wisconsin has some big urban clumps, which would have augured well for Trump.  Will he lose Wisconsin?  The odds now are yes.

Remember, though, defeating Trump requires not only holding him under 50% in the delegate count, but convincing the delegates to give the nomination to someone with fewer votes and fewer delegates than Trump since it is essentially impossible for anyone to pass him in the delegate count.  New York, California... Cruz will have a very difficult time beating Trump in the largest remaining states.  Trump will be the delegate leader at the convention, and he is only denied the nomination if the party decides to blow itself to smithereens to avoid a Trump nomination.  That's a tall order...

... unless his numbers tank at the national level.  That could happen.  If the Republican electorate in states that have already voted (as shown in the national polls) turn heavily against Trump, that could help the Stop Trump movement pull off the coup with minimum bloodshed.

Point being, if you want to know whether or not the conventioneers can stop Trump, watch the national polls.  A shift there is the only thing that could give the party cover if they try to steal the nomination at the convention.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Trump to Political Science: Drop Dead (Unity, Schmunity)

Time for another episode of Trump to Political Science: Drop Dead.

Every time one party has a divisive primary, the commentariat wonders whether or not the party can unify around the eventual nominee.  In 2008, Barack Obama won more delegates from primaries and caucuses than Hillary Clinton.  He beat her.  And it wasn't a three-way contest where democracy is a mathematical impossibility (see my comments on that here).  Obama just won.  However, the Democrats give Members of Congress, Governors and other muckety-mucks the right to vote for whomever they want at the convention.  These "superdelegates" constitute around 20% of the voting delegates at the Democratic convention.  After all of the primaries and caucuses in 2008 had concluded, Hillary had lost, but she tried to convince the superdelegates to give her the nomination over Obama.  She tried REALLY hard.  There were brutal, televised events, even in the summer of 2008 in which Hillary tried to convince the superdelegates to override the voters' decisions.  'Cuz, ya' know, it worked out great when they did it in 1968.  President Humphrey, right?

During those brutal meetings in the summer of 2008, a group who called themselves PUMAs emerged.  PUMA:  "Party Unity, My Ass."  Yes, really.  The point was to reject the notion that the party should unify around the eventual nominee.  Some Hillary supporters insisted that they would never, ever support Obama.  Thus, Obama would lose to McCain, and the party needed to nominate Hillary.

See how that worked out?

Ted Cruz and John Kasich are essentially in the race now to convince the RNC to screw Trump out of the nomination at the convention.  Trump is now essentially promising to run as an independent and oppose the nominee if that happens.  We shouldn't be shocked because, well, this is Trump.  But, it is worth pointing out that it is different this time.  Normally, such threats would be empty.  With Trump?  As far as Trump is concerned, the worst sin a person can commit isn't genocide, child slavery, or any conventional evil.  No, to Trump, the worst evil you can commit is to spurn Donald Trump.

Would Trump run as an independent now?  Yes.  Absolutely.  Even if he knows he can't win, he'll do it just to screw the party to which he never had any loyalty anyway.  And the party knows it.  Any move to block Trump from the nomination at this point hands the White House to Hillary.

This is weird.  The party normally has no difficulty unifying, even in the face of PUMAs.  Why is it different this time?

Trump is just... disharmonious.  Unmutual.  I'm right, of course.  Quite right.

Are you really reading this blog without getting the reference?

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Trump to Political Science: Drop Dead? Trust and Distrust

In the revamped "Trump to Political Science" series, I am continuing to tackle the many ways Trump might surprise us in the general election and do better than either scholars or pundits would predict.  Today's topic?  Trust.

So, I've got this bridge to sell you...

Wait, you think I'm conning you?  Maybe that's a good thing!

Right now, the Republican commentariat is tying itself in knots, trying alternately to find a way to stop Trump or to make peace with his probable nomination.  The bottom line, though, is that none of them trust him.  Not the Senators, not the Governors, not the Representatives, not the major interest group leaders, not the conservative press...  They don't trust him.  And with good reason!  Donald Trump is a pathological liar who has a history of taking policy stances to the left of Bernie Sanders whenever it suited his whims.  Any conservative who trusts Donald Trump, well...

So I've got this bridge...

Normally, a party with a divisive primary wrings its hands in terror of a failure to unify at the end.  In 2008, Democrats, ever afraid of their own shadows, agonized over whether the party could unify around Barack Obama after his bruising contest with Hillary.  Of course, they did.

This time, can the party unify around Trump?  Maybe not.  And that could help Trump!  The lack of trust from conservatives could depress their turnout somewhat, but play up an image as a moderate, which is electorally beneficial.  That could soften the general election penalties from some of the harsher statements Trump has made because, well, nobody believes him anyway!  Hey, Trump just conned the conservatives!  What rubes!

And what are the conservatives gonna do?  Vote for Hillary?  Write in "Paul Ryan," thereby accepting Hillary?  No.

The logic here is an "enemy of my enemy" mentality.  Politics are never really about dichotomies.  The world is complex.  But people can't wrap their brains around complexity, so they reduce conflict to dichotomies.  If Donald Trump is the enemy of a group I don't trust, that makes him my ally, right?

Can Trump turn the conflict with his own party into a general election boon?  I don't know.  That's the point.  Trump might be the weakest nominee in modern history.  He could also surprise us all.  We have no data because we haven't seen a nominee like Trump before.

And on the topic of bridges...

Monday, March 28, 2016

Republicans won't destroy their own party to block Trump

Nobody can plausibly overtake Trump in the delegate count.  In principle, a convention could block Trump from getting the nomination anyway.  Doing so would unleash chaos, and potentially fracture the Republican Party beyond repair.  Might some actors prefer a party rebuilt from scratch?  Maybe, but they won't do it.

The key thing to remember here is that a party is, among other things, a vehicle for career advancement.  People who have positions of influence within the Republican Party today are achieving a primary goal.  To tear the party down and rebuild would be to undermine their own career advancement.

Think of a business.  Consider the position of a bunch of VPs of various functions.  They may not like the current CEO.  They may not like the person set to become CEO, but they have no incentive to break up the company in the hope that they can achieve similar positions in whatever rises from the ashes.

This is what we must remember about party functionaries.  Existing Members of Congress, Governors, state legislators and other muckety-mucks need a party system to maintain their positions, and possibly advance.  The strongest incentives to destroy an institution are always among those who don't benefit from it.  The people who could try to block Trump, then, are actually the ones who would be hurt most by doing so.

That is why we are seeing so little real movement to block Trump, as demonstrated by this nice piece by Andrew Prokop.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Would it be undemocratic for a convention to take the nomination from Trump? No more so than letting him have it

As promised, here is a brief rant on the concepts of "democracy," "the will of the people," and other such fairy tales.  With more than two candidates, there's no such thing as an outcome that is democratic because democracy doesn't exist.  If the Republican convention took the nomination from Trump, would it be undemocratic?  Yes.  So is everything else.  Don't worry about it.  Worry about the riots that would ensue.

Try this one for a rule:  If a majority prefers A to B, it would be undemocratic for B to win.

Got it?  Be careful.  I'm not saying A should win, just that B shouldn't.  I'm not saying anything about how anyone votes.  I am talking about outcomes.  If the outcome is B's victory when a majority prefers A to B, something is fucked up.  Got it?

OK, let's examine a simple electorate.  Not one of simpletons, just a simple one.  Three voters, three choices: A, B and C.  Here are their preference rankings, from first to last.

Voter 1:  A, then B, then C
Voter 2:  B, then C, then A
Voter 3:  C, then A, then B

OK, now let's look at preferences.  Not votes.  Preferences.  We aren't talking about votes at all yet.

Voters 1 and 3 prefer A to B.  Voters 1 and 2 prefer B to C.  And here's where it gets really fucked up.  Voters 2 and 3 prefer C to A!

Let that sink in.  A majority prefers A to B, B to C, and C to A.

Let that spin your head around for a bit.  If A wins, it's undemocratic because a majority prefers C to A.  If C wins, it's undemocratic because a majority prefer B to C, and if B wins, it's undemocratic because a majority prefer A to B!  Democracy?  Ain't no such thing, kiddies!

What the hell just happened?  Democracy, as a concept, blew up because it is mathematically impossible with more than two choices.  Kenneth Arrow won a Nobel for elaborating on this in Social Choice and Individual Values, but the mathematical problem has been known for far longer.  A famous mathematician named Lewis Carroll even worked on it.  Yes, the child molesting author of a creepy story about a little girl.  Same guy.

How does this apply?  We have three main Republican candidates left.  Trump, Cruz and Kasich.  See where I'm going with this?  If the Republican electorate has preferences that look anything like my little example here, then any outcome is equally undemocratic.  Regardless of how anyone votes, we could have an electorate that prefers Trump to Cruz, Cruz to Kasich, and Kasich to Trump.

The will of the people doesn't exist, so a contested convention cannot subvert the will of the people because you cannot subvert that which doesn't exist.  If a contested convention takes the nomination away from Trump, that is no more undemocratic than anything else because democracy is a mathematical impossibility.  Thanks, Ken Arrow, for ruining everyone's fun.

That doesn't mean perception of democracy is irrelevant.  The point is that if a contested convention takes the nomination from Trump, a lot of people will think that democracy has been subverted.  We saw what happened in 1968.  Trouble ensues.  And the fear of appearing to subvert the not-really-existing "will of the people" will probably keep the convention from taking the nomination from Trump.  Otherwise, trouble.

If you don't love bluegrass, you hate America

Lots of deal-making going on.  Or attempts at deals.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

If you don't love country, you hate 'mer'ca

In honor of the sloppy path Trump is taking towards the nomination, this may be the Mike Cooley-est song Mike Cooley has ever written.  So appropriate for our times, it's scary.  Does it count as country?  Who cares.  Just listen.

The Trump/Cruz bloodbath and what it means for the nomination

A while back, I posted a piece speculating about what would happen if Trump were the delegate leader going into the convention, but not quite clearing 50%.  I thought that a Trump/Cruz alliance would be the most logical result.

Once again, then, here's the 2016 disclaimer:  everything may go out the window this year because the world doesn't make sense anymore.

A Trump/Cruz alliance now looks rather unlikely.  Politicians insult each other all the time.  And insulting people is the only thing that gets Trump to take a break from bragging about his wealth/poll numbers/hand size.  Bringing the wives into it, though...

It is now hard to see how Ted Cruz goes along with playing second fiddle to Trump.  He could.  This is Ted Cruz we are talking about here.  This is a guy who thrives on people hating him, which means he has a higher tolerance for people, well, hating him.  Still, if he joins Trump and his wife has even a shred of self-respect, she'll leave him.

What about Trump's wife and the self-respect issue?  She's, um, married to Donald Trump.

Anyway. what does all this mean for the nomination?  Well, Trump is still on track for a delegate majority.  Here is the current tally.  It is plausible, though, that Cruz holds Trump under 50%.  There is almost no chance of Cruz overtaking Trump in the delegate count.

If Cruz holds Trump under 50% and a Trump/Cruz alliance is off the table, then we really might be headed for a brokered convention.  Or, the convention will not be unbrokered.

The two delegate leaders in that scenario are Donald Trump and Ted Cruz.  Giving the nomination to anyone who isn't the delegate leader will prompt riots from Trump's supporters, and be seen as somehow undemocratic by even a lot of people who aren't Trump supporters.  Would it be undemocratic?  I'll put up something soon about how there's really no such thing as democracy, or the will of the people, or any other such nonsense, but the point is that it would tear the party apart.

Are Republican muckety-mucks going to tear the party apart to give the nomination to Ted Cruz?  A man they loath so much that the only person they hate more is Donald Trump?  They're going to tear the party to shreds to give the nomination to that guy?  No.  Remember this from Lindsey Graham?  This isn't even much of an exaggeration.

Will the party tear itself to shreds and do something that would be seen as so fundamentally undemocratic to give the nomination to someone most of them would happily see murdered?  No.  If they are going to throw out the election results and give the nomination to someone who isn't the delegate leader, there is no reason to go with the number two guy.  Why bother with the charade of caring how the people voted?  Just go with someone you don't want to see murdered in front of you.

What happens, then, at a brokered convention?  We don't know.  Cruz is probably off the table.  That leaves two options:  Trump, or a "consensus" candidate.  At this point, that would probably be Paul Ryan, after his speech the other day.  (See my previous comments).  The question is whether the party would rather let Trump have the nomination and lose peacefully, or tear everything down with the hope of rebuilding before 2020.

I just don't see how a party declines to nominate the guy with a plurality of votes and delegates in order to nominate Ted Cruz.

For what it's worth, here are the current betting odds.  The bias is to overestimate the likelihood of unlikely events.  Trump is still likely to get the nomination.  He may win sloppy, but I'll let Mike Cooley explain in my next post (it's Saturday, so country music time!)

Friday, March 25, 2016

If you don't love jazz, you hate America

Do I have to keep pretending there is no meaning to these?

Anyway, you can argue about whether this is jazz or blues, but who cares?  It's great.

Trump to Political Science: Drop Dead? Part, oh why bother counting?

As the next installment in the Trump to Political Science series, let's talk about the most obvious reason Trump may beat expectations in the general election.  He's a chameleon.  Or, a shapeshifter.  Or, or something.

When we use political science models to examine candidates, we must assume that their past predicts their future.  In congressional elections, the more experienced candidate has a strong tendency to win.  That usually means the incumbent.  All other things being equal, the more moderate candidate tends to win.  (See my examination of Trump on that dimension here and here).

But, what happens when one candidate is so malleable that his past no longer predicts his future?  Once upon a time, Donald Trump advocated single-payer healthcare and tax increases on the wealthy.  This is why Republican elites are so terrified of him.  They don't trust him because what he says at any given time is whatever he thinks is most in his interest at the time.  If, for example, he became president and a 2018 midterm gave control of the House to Nancy Pelosi, Republican establishment types wouldn't trust him to oppose Pelosi.

Right now, Donald Trump's campaign is based around mobilizing anti-immigrant attitudes and other nationalistic impulses.  Will he do that as the Republican nominee?  Certainly not.

Donald Trump may be a pathological liar, a bloviator, a raging egotist and grossly ignorant about how political processes work, but he is a master of branding himself.  He knows that what may work in a Republican primary isn't what will work in a general election.  And he will change.

What will he say?  I have no idea.  None whatsoever.  The campaign, though, will be a contest of framing.  Hillary Clinton will do her best to make sure the campaign focuses on what Trump has been doing to win the primary.  Trump will try to change the subject to something that will be more favorable to him in a general election.  We have no idea what that might be, but we do know that Donald Trump is a master of getting the media to talk about whatever Donald Trump wants to talk about.

Normally, general election campaigns don't do much.  Competing campaigns tend to cancel each other out, and the outcome reverts to whatever the state of the economy would predict.  Donald Trump is a master campaigner.  Far better than anyone expected.  How far will that take him in the general election?  Let's be cautious.  It is time to stop underestimating Donald Trump.

The odds-makers don't think much of his chances.  They didn't with respect to the nomination either.  His general election campaign will be fascinating to watch, impossible for the media to ignore, and nothing like what we have seen so far.  Stay tuned...

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Paul Ryan's presidential campaign speech yesterday

Maybe you heard, but the big political news yesterday is that Speaker Paul Ryan gave a speech.

Ooooh!  Ooooh!  A Paul Ryan speech!

What did he say?  Nothing of consequence.  He whined about the tone of our politics, without mentioning Donald Trump, but are we going to pretend that our political system isn't Trump-centric?  I have already explained why I don't particularly care about Trump's "vulgarity" (see here), but the speech was interesting for other reasons.

By implicitly criticizing Trump without mentioning him by name, Ryan was trying to make himself a unifying figure in the party.  The point is that a contested convention scenario, should it lead to any non-Trump candidate, would probably lead to a Ryan candidacy.  Does he want that?  Well...

Ryan absolutely does not want to be Speaker with a President Hillary Clinton.  That's Boehner territory.  John Boehner was torn between the Ted Cruz-influenced House Freedom Caucus and reality.  In reality, a Republican House can't move policy significantly to the right with a Democratic president because the president just vetoes everything.  But, the Freedom Caucus didn't want to believe that.  Spurred on by Ted Cruz, they insisted that if they just shut down the government and threatened to blow through the debt ceiling, Obama would eventually cave and give them whatever they wanted.

John Boehner, smart person that he is, recognized that the Freedom Caucus's position was, in technical, political science terms, idiotic bullshit.  Boehner knew that shutting down the government was a un-winnable scenario, and breaching the debt ceiling is pretty much the dumbest thing you can do.  Any conflict with Obama, after the 2011 Budget Control Act, was going to lead nowhere.  Any demand Republicans made after that was going to be rebuffed, and Republicans would have to withdraw their demands.  That meant Boehner would be seen by the Freedom Caucus as a betrayer for recognizing the constraints of divided government.  That led to his downfall.

Next, remember that Paul Ryan didn't want the job of the speakership.  Why not?  He knew he would be in the same bind.  He didn't accept the job until Boehner raised the debt ceiling to cover everything through 2016, hoping that 2016 would give Republicans unified control, at which point the Speaker would simply be able to move policy to the right without worrying about a left-leaning president's veto.

Well, here we are in 2016.  If Trump is the nominee, Clinton is the betting favorite to win.  A Ryan-Clinton dynamic would be the same as the Boehner-Obama one.  It will probably end the same way-- with Ryan's forced resignation because the Freedom Caucus doesn't want to believe that a Democratic president actually constrains Congress in any significant way.  Ryan is as scared of a Trump nomination as anyone because it could easily cost him his Speakership the way it did for Boehner.

But, if a contested convention gives the nomination to Ryan as a "consensus" choice, the result would probably be a Trump third party run, and a Clinton presidency with Ryan out of a job completely.

At that point, Ryan becomes the leader of old guard of conservatism in exile.  Does the party fracture?  Regroup?  Reform in some other way?  We don't know, but Ryan would be at the center of it.

Does Ryan want a contested convention to give him the nomination?  Quite possibly.  He doesn't really have any good options here.  He won't be president.  He doesn't expect to be Speaker with a Republican president.  That means either being run out of town like Boehner, or making himself a martyr to the cause of conservatism.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

How should the media cover the current state of the Republican contest?

Is the Republican presidential contest still a thing?  Should the media treat it as such?  There are competing incentives at work here.

Arizona and Utah voted yesterday.  Trump won the former, Cruz won the latter.  Since Arizona has more delegates, this extends Trump's lead.  And it is hardly a news story.  Part of that is the terrorist attack in Belgium.  But, part of it is the knowledge, finally setting in, that this thing is pretty much over.  Trump denialism can still be found in a few corners of the commentariat, but most people who don't have their heads someplace dark and special understand that Trump is nearly unstoppable.  Key word, "nearly."  And that's where competing incentives come in.

Diminished coverage of the campaign, based on the premise that Trump has it locked up, benefits Trump.  It is still mathematically possible for Trump to be held under 50% in the delegate count, at which point it is mathematically possible for the RNC to "pull a Humphrey" on Trump and give the nomination to someone who got fewer votes, but as I have explained before, that scenario is not just unlikely in statistical terms, it is unlikely in political terms, and it relies on the Republicans being willing to tear themselves apart, probably violently, and burning down my city this summer.  Let's check that "years without the river catching on fire" sign.  I'd prefer not to reset it.

However, if the media stop covering the campaign based on the premise that it is over, those mathematical possibilities become really impossible.  Treating Trump as inevitable makes him inevitable.  Trump's opponents, then, who include the entirety of the Republican "establishment," or whatever is left of it, need the media to pretend that this thing isn't over.  If Trump's nomination would be the disaster some foresee, then they need to do everything possible to stop Tony Clifton, I mean, Donald Trump from getting the nomination.

What about Hillary?  Most people think she benefits from a Trump nomination, so anything that helps Trump helps her, if that's true.  I will continue writing about how everyone might be underestimating Trump, but for now, suppose conventional wisdom is right.  She wants to get on with the general election, right?  Problem:  this can backfire because if Hillary starts focusing on Trump, she might actually hurt him.  Maybe she helps him by pretending that the contest is still going, saving her fire for when Trump clinches it.

And then there's the press.  Torn between the competing incentives of various players, and, oh yeah, reality.  How long should the media pretend that a basically-over contest is still happening?  With ISIS operating on European soil, and lots of other stuff happening around the world, should anyone besides political junkies like me still be obsessed with the ever-shrinking odds that somebody can nomination-block Trump?  But if the media don't play along (yes, that is grammatically correct), they are handing the nomination to Trump.  But it's already his, so...

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

The media, Donald Trump, and the Andy Kaufman/Tony Clifton problem

Donald Trump is actually Tony Clifton.  Keep reading, kids.  I'll explain who Tony Clifton is/was, in a roundabout way.

Let's start with press interviews.  Every journalist interviewing candidates aspires to be Tim Russert.  The late Tim Russert was the longtime host of Meet the Press.  The Sunday morning talk shows are pointless and stupid.  Once upon a time, they were ever-so-slightly less pointless and stupid because Tim Russert had one skill.  He could recall every statement ever made by any candidate, and grill them on the inconsistencies so that we, the audience, could enjoy the schadenfreude of watching narcissists squirm.  How good an interviewer was Russert?  That is up for debate.  What is not up for debate is that every interviewer currently living is a pathetic imitator.  I thought Russert was decent.  Decent is an impossible dream to the current crop of wannabes.

The Russert model relies on the premise that the person being interviewed is open to evidence.  More subtly, it relies on the premise that the person being interviewed is a person, not a character.  That brings me to Tony Clifton.

Tony Clifton was a caricature of an obnoxious, incompetent and all-around-vile lounge singer with an overinflated opinion of his own greatness.  Comedian/performance artist Andy Kaufman created the character, along with Bob Zmuda, to have fun by prodding the audience.  Most of the time, Kaufman played the character.  The key to the joke was that Kaufman could never admit that Clifton was just a character.  In order to keep the joke going, sometimes Kaufman would have to appear alongside Clifton.  In order for that to happen, Kaufman's partner, Bob Zmuda, would have to perform as Clifton.  Everybody knew it, and everybody had to play along.  Here is a clip of an old interview in which Merv Griffin talked to Kaufman about Tony Clifton.

Griffin knows that Clifton is a character created by Kaufman.  In order to do the interview, though, Griffin has to play along.  Imagine a self-important journalist trying, in all seriousness, to get Kaufman to admit that Clifton doesn't exist.  How absurd would it be?

As it turns out, we have a not-quite answer.  Remember when Stephen Colbert had a show in which he pretended to be a Bill O'Reilly-type figure?  For a decade?  Well, during that period, Colbert would rarely give an interview breaking character.  His inspiration was clearly Andy Kaufman.  (Sacha Baron Cohen has been known to pull the same schtick as, for example, Borat).  As the character of "Stephen Colbert," Colbert appeared on Meet the Press with Tim Russert.

Russert knew to play along.  Imagine how stupid Russert would have looked if he hadn't.  The character of Colbert was that of a self-important jackass who never thought before he spoke.  He was impervious to evidence, unwilling to admit ever being wrong, and utterly confident in everything he said.  To confront the character with logic or evidence, then, and hope for a reasoned or semi-reasoned response would be to miss the point.

I know what you're thinking.  What could any of this possibly have to do with "Donald Trump?"  Note the quotation marks.  One might wonder how much of "Donald Trump" the candidate is a Clifton-like creation, and how much of it is real.  The more Clifton-like the candidate is, the more futile normal interviews become.

Does Donald Trump believe that Barack Obama was born in Kenya?  Almost certainly not.  He first dipped his toes into birtherism by asserting that he had only a small amount of doubt over where Obama was born.  The problem was that, when confronted with evidence, he either needed to admit that he was speaking from ignorance, or dig in his heels.  He chose the latter.  Why?  He was playing to an audience.  Trump's birtherism is about as sincere as Tony Clifton.

On the other hand, what about getting Mexico to pay for a wall?  Quite simply, I don't know of a dumber campaign promise from a major candidate.  Ever.  There is no chance whatsoever of this happening.  None.  Zero.  Physicists will claim that for any possibility that doesn't violate physical laws, there is an alternative universe in which that possibility happens.  There isn't even an alternate universe in which Mexico pays for a wall.  Anyone who believes this promise knows less than nothing about politics.  How informed do you think this guy is?

And yet, Trump almost certainly believes it would happen. Why?  The greatness of Donald Trump is the one thing we know for certain that Trump really believes.  That still leaves interviewers in a bind.  If asked what policy tools a president would have to get Mexico to pay, Trump won't answer.  He will simply assert the greatness of his deal-making skills and his intrinsic powerfulness.

How does one interview Donald Trump, then?  Half the time, he doesn't believe what he says, and the other half, he is just too clueless about how government and policy work to give a reasonable answer to a policy-based question.

The challenge of trying to interview Trump, then, is that getting a serious answer is as futile as trying to get Tony Clifton to admit that he is really Andy Kaufman (or sometimes Bob Zmuda).

Here is my advice to serious journalists, then.  Stop interviewing Donald Trump.  How unprecedented would that be?  About as unprecedented as a presidential candidate who has more in common with Tony Clifton than with any past president.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Trump to Political Science: Drop Dead, Reboot Part II, sans-Khan

Many analysts are writing off Donald Trump as a sure-loser against Hillary Clinton.  As I continue with the rebooted "Trump to Political Science" series, I think I will take a look at some of the many reasons political scientists are prone to underestimating The Donald.

Let's start with the "Bradley Effect."  The effect comes from Tom Bradley's 1982 gubernatorial campaign in California.  He was ahead in the polls, and then lost.  A similar effect is often claimed with respect to Doug Wilder's Virginia gubernatorial campaign.  So, sometimes polls are wrong, right?  What's the deal?  The deal, according to legend, is that both Bradley and Wilder were African-Americans.  OK, that part isn't a legend.  It's true.  You can look it up on this magical looking-up machine you are using right now!  The question is whether survey respondents claimed they were going to vote for the African-American even though they had no intention of doing so because of race.

The underlying concept in political science is what we sometimes call a socially desirable response.  When a survey question gives respondents one answer that makes them somehow look better, they are more likely to give it even when it isn't true.  So, maybe people were more racist than they wanted to admit, right?

The evidence on either Bradley or Wilder was never conclusive, though.  Then, in 2008 and 2012, the polls nationwide got it pretty much right, despite there being an African American nominee.

How might Trump scramble this?  Well, if Trump's campaign is seen too much as a vehicle for social forces with which people don't want to be associated for reasons including race, then survey respondents may understate Trump's support.

Normally, this kind of thing doesn't affect general elections in particular because there are so many ways to interpret a respondent claiming to support Candidate X.  Will Trump be different?  Possibly.  We might see the biggest Bradley effect ever.  Or maybe reverse-Bradley.  The determinant will be the associations people make with Trump throughout the general election campaign.

That will depend on the media, and Hillary.  You better believe that Hillary will emphasize Trump's racially divisive language to motivate turnout among non-whites.  That may have the effect, though, of creating a reverse-Bradley scenario.  The media will be constrained by the campaign, and Hillary will try to make sure the race issue keeps coming back up.  The more the campaign is about race, the more likely the polls are to understate Trump's support.

Trump will try to change the subject, though.  More on this in a future post, but that brings in the complication.  Trump is a master of getting the press to talk about whatever he wants to talk about.  The question is how these balance out.

The Bradley effect is something of a legend in political science, barely glimpsed out of the corners of our eyes, but always in our minds.  Trump may make it real.  And if he does, our polls will underestimate him.

See?  No Khan.  Fine.  Here's Khan.  No, wait.  That guy isn't even Indian.  You know, like Ricardo Montalban.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Donald Trump and the politics of vulgarity

Godwin, here I come!

If you had to choose, would you rather have a well-mannered Nazi as president, or a potty-mouthed Abraham Lincoln?

Too extreme?  Try this.  How many points of GDP growth would you sacrifice for a president who acts like a country club sophisticate rather than one whose State of the Union addresses air with a 10-second delay so that the networks can add bleeps to avoid constitutionally-flimsy FCC fines?

How many additional unemployed people would you tolerate for a president who just kinda seems "presidential?"

Maybe you're one of those "income inequality" people.  Suppose candidate A will burn down more mansions than candidate B, thereby reducing "inequality," but candidate A also hurts your wittle feewings with naughty words?  (See my previous rant on "income inequality")

There are plenty of reasons one might not vote for Donald Trump, and he scrambles the rules of political dialog such that I can break my normal rules and demonstrate my contempt for the man without giving away anything about my preferences over tax rates, abortion policy, etc.  But his vulgarity isn't one of those reasons.

I have no patience for pearl clutching.  Remember this moment?

Oh, no!  Bush and Cheney said naughty things about a reporter they didn't like!  Was the Iraq War worth the cost?  The answer has nothing to do with whether or not this moment revealed something horrible about their characters.  Likewise, how responsible was the Bush administration for the financial collapse that began in 2007?  The answer's got nothin' to do with whether or not calling someone an "asshole" somehow "demeans the office of the president," or some other such blather.

So, let's talk about "bless your heart."  As we all know, the phrase is Southern for "go fuck yourself." Personally, then, I am more aggrieved by the former.  Both phrases tell me to go fuck myself, but the euphemistic version also insults my intelligence by pretending that I don't know the real meaning of the phrase.

Therein lies the reason I don't give a flying fuck about "vulgarity."  Etymologically, "fuck" is considered obscene because of its Germanic roots, whereas "copulate" is fine because it is rooted in Latin.  Latin was the language rich kids learned in school, which was unavailable to poor kids.  Germanic-rooted words, then, are more taboo precisely because they were the words of the lower class.  Note the double meaning of "class," as in both socio-economic status and personal grace.  That isn't an accident.  I have no patience for arbitrary rules that cannot be derived from first principles, and there are none with respect to that which supposedly deserves no respect.

Remember Trump?  This is a post about Trump.  So let's talk about this moment.

Yes, Donald Trump is bragging about his penis size.  Oh, no!  Someone, bring me my fainting couch!

There is a real reason to be concerned about this moment, and it isn't the vulgarity.  Donald Trump was interviewed in 1988 by "Spy" magazine, which called him "a short-fingered vulgarian."  Ever since, he has been obsessed with demonstrating his hand size.

1988.  For 28 years, Donald Trump has been obsessed with his hand size because of a line in a magazine that went belly-up 18 years ago.  There's a little thing I like to call, "perspective."  Trump lacks it.  Remember this moment?

Donald Trump is still obsessed with has-been, D-list celebrity, Rosie O'Donnell.  To the point that he has to take a dig at her.  In a presidential debate.  Perspective.  Or lack thereof.

The problem isn't that Donald Trump talks about his penis in a presidential debate.  The problem is that he is obsessed with the implications about penis size from a 28 year old magazine article.  The problem isn't that Trump takes a cheap shot at Rosie O'Donnell.  The problem is that he feels it necessary.

Is Donald Trump "vulgar?"  Yes.  What of it?  Have we learned nothing from the greatest philosopher of the 20th Century, George Carlin?  Let's all take a lesson from Tyler Durden and learn to let that which does not matter truly slide.

Let's end with George Carlin.  Truly, George, where are you when we need you?

If you don't love bluegrass, you hate America

Because, why not?  Something has me thinking about this old gem these days...  (Read about him, kids).

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Trump to Political Science: Drop Dead?, Rebooted (now, with extra lens flare!)

Time to bring this one back, but with a question mark.  I started a "Trump to Political Science: Drop Dead" series to demonstrate all the ways that Trump's success in the Republican primaries has upended conventional political science.  Now, let's talk about all the ways he may upend conventional political science in the general election.

For a first installment, let's begin with the media.  I wrote a paper last year about the constraints placed on neutral media outlets by partisan media.  The basic problem is this:  neutral media demonstrate their supposed lack of bias by treating all political conflict as symmetric.  Democrats and Republicans are equally extreme, equally right, equally wrong, and equally guilty of all political sins.  The problem is that this isn't always true.  What should the neutral press do when it isn't?  They can either acknowledge the asymmetry and be accused of bias, thereby nullifying the criticism, or they can pretend that everything is symmetric and perpetuate the asymmetry.

Consider liars.  There is a ridiculous rule in politics that we aren't even supposed to call a liar, "a liar."  It's impolite, or something.  Cuz', ya' know, calling someone "a teller of statements that contain intentional factual inaccuracies" is better.

And the press isn't supposed to point out when one side tells more egregious lies.  Which brings us to Donald Trump, who rose to political prominence by telling everyone that Barack Obama was born in Kenya.  Donald Trump is a liar of a different caliber, and we all know it.

More importantly, the press knows it.  Every serious journalist knows that Barack Obama was born in Hawai'i.  Every serious journalist knows that when Donald Trump claimed to have an investigative team in Honolulu uncovering astonishing things, he was lying like that cheap rug on his head.  And when it happened, nobody except the most brazenly partisan observers felt any need to pretend that Trump wasn't lying.  Will he continue telling lies of that caliber?  Certainly.

And what will the press do?  On one hand, there is the norm of neutrality that the unaligned press are supposed to observe, which requires pretending that Trump is no more dishonest than any conventional politician.  On the other, this is Donald Trump.

Three factors separate him from past nominees:  the brazenness of his lies, the rejection by so many within his own party, and actual, literal violence towards the press.  All three factors increase the likelihood that the unaligned press subject Trump to more scrutiny, and admit that he is more dishonest than conventional politicians.

Let's start with the brazenness.  Calling someone a "liar" is verboten, for reasons that I still don't understand.  But, claiming that Obama was born in Kenya is such a brazen lie that nobody in the press could take it seriously.  Hillary Clinton will bring it up.  A lot.  It will help motivate African-American turnout.  She will force the press to cover it again.  At that point, will the press begin to pretend that the birthers might be onto something?  Or, will it set the stage for Trump to be treated differently?  I don't know.

Next, party rejection.  Normally, a party rallies around its nominee, and will defend its nominee to matter what.  Will the party rally around Trump?  Well, we have never seen anything like the Stop Trump movement.  There has never been a nominee so completely despised by the leading figures in his party.  If Republican elites don't start rallying around Trump soon, they will make it acceptable for the neutral press to call Trump a liar (or some synonym based on this idiotic rule) based on the premise that "even so-and-so calls Trump a liar."  When the nominee's own party is divided, calling the candidate a liar no longer looks purely partisan.

Finally, Trump's relationship with the press.  Most journalists are liberals.  Let's just admit it.  Outside of Fox News, the Wall Street Journal and a few other outlets, the mainstream press leans Democratic.  That doesn't mean Republicans are subject to some sort of conspiracy, and the extent to which journalists' personal preferences affect their news coverage is debatable.  But, most journalists lean left.  And Republicans perpetuate this by constantly attacking the press.

Journalists don't just dislike Trump, though.  They hate him with a passion.  Part of it is Trump's brazen dishonesty, part of it is the general tenor of his campaign, and an increasing part of it is his treatment of the press.  One of the things we all need to acknowledge about Trump is that he can't take criticism.  At all.  By anyone.  Ever.  Hence, this moment:

And of course it gets worse.  Trump's campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, physically grabbed Breitbart reporter Michelle Fields to eject her from an event, and did so with enough force to leave bruises.  Breitbart.  These are Trump's allies, but any criticism cannot be tolerated, according to Trump.

What does this do to media norms?  All Republicans complain about media bias, but Trump's campaign escalates this to not just the kinds of remarks Trump made about Megyn Kelly, but to physical violence.  And remember, these incidents were towards a Fox News reporter, and a Breitbart reporter.

Will the press abide by the convention of pretending all candidates are equally guilty of all sins?  Or, will Trump's behavior continue to be so belligerent that none of the major press figures can contain their intense hatred for the man?

In 2008 and 2012, it was pretty clear that the press liked Obama more than they liked McCain or Romney.  Let's not pretend otherwise.  In the case of the former, it was just that they liked Obama more than they liked McCain.  In Romney's case, they pretty clearly disliked the man.  Trump, though?  This will be a level of hostility between the press and one nominee that we have never seen before.

So, there are at least three reasons to think the neutral press will subject Trump to more open hostility than journalistic norms generally allow.  Will it happen?  We'll see.  What effect might it have?  Again, we'll see.  One way or another, the Trump campaign continues to break from old patterns in ways we need to acknowledge.

I promise, Part II of the rebooted series will not involve Khan.  Really, why don't you believe me?  John Harrison.  Not Khan.

If you don't love country, you hate 'mer'ca

As a corollary to my Friday jazz series, I am now prompted to add this.  Besides, if one wants song titles appropriate for our modern political system, the best place to look is country music.  So, here we go.

And for anyone craving an apostropocalypse, get over it.

Friday, March 18, 2016

If you don't love jazz, you hate America

This is normally the part where I put up a jazz classic with a snarky reference appropriate to the political events of the week.  In class today, though, some comments were made about country music.

So, here's Willie Nelson doing a Django Reinhardt classic.  Yeah, Willie can play jazz too.  Miles Davis was a Willie Nelson fan.  You should be too.

And as long as I'm putting up Willie Nelson, Ross Perot used this in 1992 as his campaign theme.   Yes, kids, it's true.  Go read about it.  And then deal with the fact that country music is great.

A post-mortem on the Democratic contest and the Sanders campaign

For all the attention I (we) have been paying to Trump, one could easily forget that there was another presidential contest going on-- Sanders challenging Clinton for the Democratic nomination.

It's over.  It has always been over.  It was never a real contest, and Sanders never had a chance.

But Sanders was never really running to win.  He was running to push Clinton, and possibly the Democratic Party, to the left.

So let's talk about income inequality.  Or, rather, let's talk about "income inequality."  Why the quotes?  Because it isn't an issue so much as a slogan.  People with higher incomes make more money than people with lower incomes.  That makes incomes unequal.  Wow!  Startling revelation, right?

Those who like the slogan, "income inequality," will assert that they don't have the Marxist goal of equalizing income, but rather seek to reduce the gap between the rich and the poor.  There is some optimal level of income inequality, more than in a Marxist system, but less than in a Gilded Age system.  What is this mythical, optimal level?  I don't know.  I have never heard someone attached to the slogan give a direct answer, measured in terms of the GINI coefficient.  Less than we have now, OK?

Fine.  But you know what?  The Democratic Party's platform, since FDR, has been to increase the extent to which the federal government taxes the wealthy in order to give money to the poor, elderly, and those unable to afford healthcare.  The Republican Party's platform has been to reduce the level of wealth redistribution.  Whether we use the slogan, "income inequality," or not, that has been the basic dividing line between the two parties for going on a century.  Democrats seek to use government to reduce, but not eliminate income inequality.  So has it been, so it ever shall be.  (Or, at least until something happens to upend the current partisan divide).

What effect has Sanders had on Clinton?  Has he moved her rhetoric to the left?  Perhaps.  On policy?  Well, she was always predisposed to advocate wealth redistribution, but less than Sanders.  At best, Clinton's proposals are slightly more redistributive as a result of fending off Sanders.

And it doesn't matter.  Even if Hillary becomes President, the chances of a Democratic Congress are somewhere between slim and none.  No fiscal policy advocated by either Clinton or Sanders has any chance of being enacted.  In budgetary terms, all we have done since 2011 is pass "continuing resolutions" that maintain the spending levels set by the Budget Control Act in order to solve the debt ceiling crisis in the summer of 2011.

Whether Clinton or Sanders wields the veto pen, the result will be the same.  A Republican Congress will pass some tax cuts and other "veto bait."  A Democratic President will issue a veto.  We will approach government shutdowns and debt ceiling crises, and probably not breach them.  At the last minute, Congress will pass more continuing resolutions adhering to the 2011 Budget Control Act.  The Democratic President will sign them.  And nothing else will happen.

Without a Democratic Congress, moving Hillary to the left accomplishes nothing, and Republicans have very nearly a lock on the House of Representatives.

So, no, Sanders has not accomplished much, except to repeat slogans like, "income inequality."

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Can Trump defeat Hillary?

As promised, it is now time to start thinking about November.  My standard 2016 disclaimer applies:  anything can happen this year because rules no longer exist, but scenarios in which Trump loses the nomination now exist only in 2016 disclaimer territory.  Barring photographic evidence of dalliances with his daughter, or something similar, Trump is the nominee.  And things get weird.  Can Trump win?  Here are the considerations.

1)  The economy.  Journalists like to cover every twist and turn of a campaign as though such minor events matter.  They don't.  When the economy grows, the party in control of the White House has a very strong tendency to keep it.  In a weak economy, the party in control loses.  Fourth quarter GDP grown in 2015 was 1%.  That's borderline territory.  It wouldn't take much for the economy to gain steam, in which case Trump is toast, and it wouldn't take much to push the economy into recession, in which case the Republican Party could nominate an indicted ham sandwich and still win.  Oh, and the legal case against Trump University is a civil case, not a criminal case, so technically, Trump isn't even indicted.

Effect:  To make everything close.  Weird stuff can happen.

2)  Ideology.  Moderates do better than extremists.  Hillary is roughly in the middle of her party.  When she was in the Senate, her voting record was roughly as liberal as her co-Senator, Chuck Schumer.  On the "NOMINATE" scale, ranging from -1 to +1, both were around -.4.  For comparison purposes, Bernie is around -.7.  Yes, he is an extremist.

This is the part where whiny Bernie Sanders worshippers insist that in their favorite European country, Bernie wouldn't be considered an extremist.  Which might be relevant if this weren't the United States of America.  David Duke wouldn't be considered an extremist in 1850 Mississippi.  Nobody cares how extreme Bernie would be in another country.  Get over it, Bernie fans.  But I digress.

So, no big extremism penalty for Hillary.  What about Trump?  This is where his ideological incoherence might work for him.  He isn't a moderate.  He changes his positions at the drop of a dime.  Based on that, "independent" voters (who are, by the way, the least informed voters) might think of him as a moderate.

Effect:  potentially a Trump benefit.

3)  Race.  Latinos and African Americans don't like Trump.  They really, really don't like Trump.  Turnout among minorities will probably go way up, and those are going to be Hillary voters.  The reference point is California in the 1990's.  In 1994, California Governor Pete Wilson was facing a tough campaign.  He built his reelection campaign around a state ballot proposition-- Prop. 187-- which centered on blocking services to illegal immigrants.  He won his reelection, but had the effect of mobilizing Latinos to a previously-unseen level.  And it made Latinos very solidly Democratic in California.  California has been reliably Democratic since, with only Arnie being able to win as a Republican.

The catch is that delay.  Wilson won in 1994.  The effect of heavy Latino mobilization didn't materialize until 1996.

So, how fast can the mobilization efforts work?  We'll see.

Effect:  probably against Trump, depending on how quickly minority mobilization efforts get going.

4)  Trump supporters' enthusiasm(s).

Trump supporters like him.  They really, really like him.  They'll turn out.  This is the inverse of (3).  Basic math:  number of votes = number of supporters * turnout rate.  Minorities are, by definition, less than 50%.  So, will Trump's supporters be more enthusiastic in favor of him than non-whites will be about defeating him?  We'll see.

Effect:  for Trump, but take in context of (3).

5)  Money

Trump has money.  A lot.  Did you know that?  Probably not.  It isn't something he likes to brag about.  He isn't one for bragging.

Money doesn't matter in presidential elections.  Quit whining about.

In 2008, McCain took matching funds, Obama didn't.  Obama outspent McCain by somewhere around 4 to 1 in the general election.  And he got right about what we would expect given a tanking economy and a Republican president.

Money will be irrelevant.  Stop this nonsensical, uninformed, "Citizens United" bullshit.  Money won't matter.  And by the way, even in a pre-Citizens United world, rich idiots could spend as much of their own money on their campaigns as they wanted.  Buckley v. Valeo.  1976.  Learn it.  Know it.

Effect:  none.

How does all this add up?  I have no clue.  We should all spend some time thinking about it.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

The Supreme Court and Mitch McConnell's no-win situation

Obama has named Merrick Garland to replace Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court.  He's a moderate, and not that young, and he has been praised in the past by Senate Republicans.  Between the choice of Garland and Trump, Republicans are now in a no-win situation.

When Antonin Scalia died and Mitch McConnell immediately announced that the Republicans would prevent Obama from filling the vacancy, I posted this about McConnell's gambit.

The basic problem is this:  fear of a conservative revolt means McConnell can't allow a Democrat to fill any important court vacancies.  But, McConnell must know that Democrats can't cede complete control of the Judiciary branch to the Republicans.  The eventual solution?  Then end of advice and consent.

McConnell is now trapped.  He can't back out of his pledge to block Obama's nomination.  However, things are now looking pretty good for Hillary.  Why?  Trump is the nominee, and conventional wisdom right now is that Trump is a weak general election candidate.  We shouldn't be too hasty in discounting Trump, as I will discuss later, but if McConnell buys conventional wisdom here, he is trapped.  Either he backs down on Garland, or Hillary names someone way to Garland's left.  What happens then depends on whether or not Trump drags the Senate down with him, giving the Democrats control.

Let's say Republicans keep the Senate.  McConnell won't be able to claim that the nomination was too close to an election.  It will be literally the first thing Hillary does.  It will be as far from an election as mathematically possible.  And Hillary will claim that by McConnell's own reasoning, the people will have spoken, and the Senate should abide.  What then?  McConnell is trapped.  He won't be able to let the confirmation go through without be sacked by conservatives in his own party, and he won't be able to block the nominee without pushing things further towards crisis.

Or, let's say Trump drags down the whole party, and Democrats get the Senate.  By blocking Garland, the Senate will have ensured the seat going to someone far more liberal.

What happens now?  It depends on whether McConnell wants to bury his head in the sand and hope that November gives him an out, or whether he can think of something I haven't.

One way or another, advice and consent won't last.  A system in which one party is disallowed from filling judicial vacancies is not sustainable, and McConnell knows that.

Oh, and I was right about this too...

Earlier, I posted something indicating that Trump's violent rallies served to warn party officials that if they tried to rules-monger the convention in order to take the nomination away from him, violence would ensue.

Trump is pretty much saying it directly.

Trump is the nominee.

The conservative movement has incentives to destroy the Republican Party so that they can rebuild from scratch, but the party officials don't.  The ones who have positions of power now have no reason to tear down existing power structures in the hope that they would achieve similar positions in whatever rises from the ashes.

Time to start thinking about November

Hillary vs. Trump.  This is happening.  Let's stop wasting our time arguing with Trump denialists, and think about what happens in November.  I will begin more thorough posts on this soon, but as a starting observation, take a look at the betting odds.  The Dems are currently projected to have a 71% chance of retaining the White House, and there has been an upward tick as The Donald solidified his hold on the Republican nomination.  What's going on?  No mystery here.  The people putting money on it think that Trump will be a weak nominee.  Yes, let's use the indicative rather than the subjunctive.  Yay, pedantry!  There are reasons to think the gamblers are right, but caution is warranted, which leads me to...

2016 disclaimer:  Maybe I should just make this a signature at the end of every post, but every rule and piece of wisdom could go out the window this year because everything already has.


Your 2016 nominees: Hillary vs Trump

It is basically over.  Going into yesterday's contests, we had one question on the Democratic side.  Would the polls be as far wrong in another big state as they were in Michigan?  Nope.  Of the four states that are done counting, Hillary won all four.  Michigan was weird, and probably a one-off.  Hillary is the nominee.  Bernie's done, folks.  Stick a fork in him.

On the Republican side, I was wrong about one thing.  I thought Rubio might wait until this morning to drop out.  He dropped out last night.  Trump clobbered him in his home state.  Ain't no comin' back from that.

Trump won Florida, Illinois and North Carolina.  As predicted, Kasich won his first state-- Ohio, but it's too late.  We are more than half way through the process, and Kasich has one state.  Yesterday, I suggested that going from a single state victory to a coronation at a brokered convention was basically the South Park underpants gnome theory of electioneering.  Step 1) Lose every state but your home state.  Step 2) Mystery step.  Step 3) Victory at the convention!  If Kasich can just figure out that mystery step, he'll be golden!

Here's the basic situation, folks.  Kasich has won one state.  His home state.  The shock would have been a loss.  Lose your home state and you're in Rubio territory.  Cruz has won:  Iowa, Texas, Oklahoma, Maine, Alaska, Kansas, Idaho and Wyoming.  What do these states have in common?  They are either rural, or Cruz's home state.  New York hasn't voted yet.  Neither has New Jersey, or a bunch of other eastern seaboard states.  Who do you think will win there?  How about California?

Trump hasn't lost his lead in the national polls since that brief, tiny blip of a Ben Carson surge last year.  Trump doesn't lose unless the polls shift on a massive scale.  Nothing has moved them in any significant way so far.  Not fighting with the Pope, not escalating violence at Trump's rallies, not an endorsement from the KKK, not fighting with Fox News...  Shall we go on?

Oh, but now Rubio is out!  Rubio will endorse someone else, and finally the party will rally around a non-Trump!  Cuz, ya know, Rubio has so much sway among Republican voters.

The premise that those who haven't voted for Trump will never vote for Trump is a logical fallacy. Once a winner becomes clear, party faithful tend to rally around the clear winner.  That's Trump.  Just ask him!  He'll tell you!

2016 disclaimer:  everything could go out the window because 2016 is batshit crazy.

What would it take for the intrinsic weirdness of this year to defeat Trump?  Remember that old chestnut from Edwin Edwards about what it would have taken for him to lose?  Being caught in bed with a dead girl or a live boy.  Well, for Trump, maybe being caught in bed with his daughter.  He isn't subtle about lusting after her.

And while we're on the topic, remember how I keep bashing that lousy book, The Party Decides?  Jonathan Bernstein has always been an even bigger believer in the model than the book's own authors.  Yesterday, Bernstein wrote this.  The Party Decides is dead.  Good riddance.  That book was clearly nonsense even before this year.  When they lose their high priest, it's over.

For today's music, there's only one choice.  Sorry, it's the obvious one.  Just replace "mother" with "daughter."


Tuesday, March 15, 2016

The strangeness of the Kasich campaign

John Kasich is highly unlikely to be the Republican nominee.

OK, yes, I said the same thing about Trump last summer, but we're in the middle of actual, real-life voting.

The premise of the Kasich campaign right now is that a victory in his home state today, which would be his only victory so far, will breathe life into his campaign.  Let's get realistic.  Here is the delegate count.  Trump currently has 469.  Kasich has 63.  This is an order of magnitude difference.  And half of the states have already voted.

Kasich will not take a delegate lead over Trump.  He won't even overtake Cruz, who currently has 370 delegates.

The premise of the Kasich argument is that if Trump doesn't get an outright majority of the delegates, some sort of unspecified magic will happen at the convention, leading them to give the nomination to the guy who came in third in the delegate count.

John Kasich will probably win his home state.  Will he get a bump?  Not much of one.  Why?  It's his bloody home state!  Rubio will be forced out tomorrow after getting crushed in his home state, but a candidate is presumed to win his own home state, so no, it isn't sponge-worthy, I mean, bump-worthy.  And I don't see how a process plays out that gives the nomination to the guy who comes in third in the delegate count, behind Trump and Cruz.

Remember, Trump's supporters will riot, and then he'll run as an independent.  The party knows it.  If Trump wins Florida, North Carolina and Illinois today, which is highly likely, Kasich gets nothing by winning his home state.  Unless you buy the underpants gnome theory of electioneering.

Today is probably the last chance to stop Trump

It is worth paying attention to the Democratic side today, mostly because the polls were so far off in Michigan, but I just can't stop talking about Trump.  So, here are the numbers for today.

Kasich is leading in Ohio, and he will probably win here.  His victory will be written off as a home state thing, he won't win anywhere else, and his presence in the campaign right now serves only the purpose of giving Trump denialists a candidate to delude themselves about.  The convention won't take the nomination away from Trump and give it to a guy who can't win any state besides his home state.  For what it's worth, I gave an interview last year suggesting that Kasich would be the fallback candidate if Bush, Rubio and Walker stumbled.  Hey, look at that!  Maybe I know a thing or two.

Trump is way ahead in Florida.  Rubio probably drops out tomorrow and backs Kasich.  (Lower probability of backing Cruz, but that could happen too).

Trump will win North Carolina, and he has a small but consistent lead in Illinois.  Not much polling on Missouri, so we'll see.

Bottom line:  if Trump wins everything but Ohio, the scenarios to defeat him just get even more absurd.  Kasich will stay in the race as the establishment figure, Cruz will stay because he is second in the delegate count and unable to back an establishment candidate, and with more winner-take-all contests coming up, Trump becomes nearly impossible to stop.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Heading into tomorrow, Hillary is more vulnerable than Trump

More primaries tomorrow, and more dumbfoundedness among the commentariat that the Republican frontrunner is... really?  That guy?!  Yes.  Really.  Him.  And his lead is more secure than Hillary's.

Does anyone remember John Rawls?  Veil of ignorance?  No, it isn't what you think.  The basic idea is that you evaluate the fairness of a system by examining it in ignorance of who is in what position.  Imagine how this works in campaigns.  Basically, it's the golden rule.  Don't levy an attack that you would consider unfair if positions were reversed.

Let's pose an analytic version of the veil of ignorance.  How secure would we assess a candidate's lead to be, once we strip them of their names.  Here are the polls on the Republican side for tomorrow's contests.  Ohio is a tie right now.  Give the tie to the guy with the home state advantage-- Kasich.  Trump's leads in Florida, North Carolina and Illinois are commanding.  Missouri?  Not enough information.  Still, big advantage Trump.  Add to that his existing lead, his persistent national polling lead, and you have a candidate who looks pretty damned hard to stop.

Now, let's consider Hillary. Here are the Democratic polls for tomorrow's contests.  Hillary has commanding leads in Florida and North Carolina, but the race is much closer in Illinois and Ohio.  And, the Dems use proportional representation.  Yes, that means Hillary can sit on a lead, but it also means Sanders isn't shut out by a narrow Hillary victory.

What has to happen for either Trump or Clinton to lose?  The polls have to be wrong in a big way.  On the Republican side, they haven't been.  For the Democrats, remember Michigan!  It has happened already!

What makes Hillary look unassailable?  Her lead in the superdelegates.  Basically, Democratic Members of Congress and other muckety-mucks can vote however they want at the convention, and they have promised to back Hillary.  If the race really does turn to Sanders, so will they, out of fear of recreating 1968.  They won't steal the nomination for Hillary.

Is Sanders likely to win?  No.  But, Hillary is more likely to lose than Trump.

Tomorrow is a big day.  If the Republican establishment can't stop Trump tomorrow, the scenarios start looking more and more like bad movie plots.  And Hillary is more vulnerable.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

More on Trump and the Altamont thing

One more observation about Trump's violent rallies.  They serve a real, practical purpose for the nomination phase.  Trump needs the Republican Party to be afraid to take the nomination away from him.  The threats of a third party run serve that purpose, but right now, the brokered convention strategy is particularly susceptible to this kind of threat.

As I have written before, Trump is highly likely to get a majority of delegates.  However, if Cruz and the rest can hold Trump below 50% in the delegate count, there is at least the potential for someone else to get the nomination.  The problem, as I have written, is that taking the Democratic nomination away from McCarthy in 1968 sparked riots.

And those were hippies.  Trump's supporters aren't exactly hippies.  What do you think they will do if a backroom deal takes the nomination away from Trump at this point?  The repeated, violent incidents at Trump's rallies serve to remind the party establishment of what will happen if they try the brokered convention approach to defeating Trump.  There will be widespread riots.  If the party wants to avoid that, then even if the delegate count puts Trump below 50%, he will still get the nomination.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Donald Trump's Altamont problem

Look it up, kids.  Fine.  Here's a link.

So, the big story right now is the fact that a Donald Trump rally had to be cancelled out of concern about the violent incidents that keep happening at his rallies.  Two observations.

1)  Trump rallies are going to step up the security.  Big time.  And he probably won't hire the Hell's Angels.  Security will be under strict orders to remove anyone who looks like they might protest, and protect the protester from the crowd.  This is going to involve a big increase in security costs.  But, hey, it isn't like Trump needs to spend money on advertising.  He just needs to put an end to these incidents.

2)  The media will be in a real bind.  There is a general norm among journalists to cover politics as a symmetric conflict between two parties that are mirror images of each other. I have been writing recently about the problems journalists face when this isn't true.  The basic problem is as follows:  you can't call out one party without looking like a shill for the other, and voters are rational to discount one-sided criticism because there are so many shills out there among the media.

When Trump is the Republican nominee, journalists will face exactly this kind of dilemma.  There is a reason this happens at Trump rallies, but not at Clinton rallies.  If Trump's rallies keep being plagued by violent incidents, journalists will have a hard time pretending that it is a problem for both candidates.  Hillary will play up the contrast, too.  For a model, watch this clip of how Obama handles a protester.  Then, compare that to Trump.  Listen for references to coats.

Hillary will follow the Obama model of unfailing politeness.  What will Trump do in the general election?  If one nominee is polite and shows consideration to protesters, and the other calls for his followers to violently assault protesters, offers to pay their subsequent legal bills, and demands that protesters be thrown out into the winter weather to freeze to death without their coats, it will be impossible for journalists to pretend that the candidates are mirror images of each other.

Trump can go pretty far because any journalist who calls him out will look like a Democratic shill.  But there is such a thing as too far.  Trump knows this.  That is why he will crack down on security at his rallies.  Otherwise, journalists will be unable to pretend that the Democratic and Republican nominees are mirror images of each other.

Very soon, Trump's rallies will stop looking like Altamont.  Journalists will stop talking about it, both because they have the attention spans of a puppy with ADHD, and because they would rather avoid discussing asymmetry.

Friday, March 11, 2016

If you don't love jazz, you hate America

And another in the Friday series on a blog nobody reads anyway, so screw it.  Here's more appropriately-titled jazz.

What could Trump actually do if he wins?

In my previous post, I suggested that the proper historical comparison for Trump, should he become president, is Jimmy Carter-- the outsider who wins despite a lack of good relations with his own nominal party, and no understanding of how Washington actually works, thereby stymying any attempt to change policy through normal means.  Republicans in Congress hate the guy, and most executive branch employees have "civil service" protection that would prevent Trump from going around and saying, "you're fired!" to bureaucrats who refuse to play along with him.  What could Trump really do?

1)  The Wall.  Can it be built?  Yes.  Will Mexico pay for it?  Do I have to dignify that question with an answer?

If a Republican majority gets the House and the Senate, will they pass a bill to build the wall?  The complication is whether or not Mexico footing the bill is a precondition.  If yes, the wall doesn't get built.  Contractors won't take the job on the promise of getting paid when Mexico ponies up the money because everyone with a brain knows that will never happen.  On the other hand, nothing will stop Congress from appropriating the money, if they choose.  It would cost a lot.  A big fence?  Maybe.  A wall?  Depends on how much Congress wants to spend.

2)  A trade war?  Trump has been sounding like a protectionist, with promises of tariffs and other stuff.

Starting a trade war cannot be done by executive order.  It would require congressional action.  Republicans in Congress are split between protectionists and free-traders, with the divide roughly matching the one between the Chamber of Commerce faction of the party and the social conservatives.  The former won't back any trade war.

Trump likes to say that we don't "win on trade."  The whole point of trade, though, as anyone who has read Adam Smith can tell you, is that there is no such thing as a "loser" on trade.  A business transaction makes both participants happier.  That's the point, and the basis of the invisible hand.  The seller prefers the money to the product, the consumer prefers the product to the money, so everyone is better off.

Well, maybe not everyone, but here's the problem.  If we are running a trade deficit, who benefits most?  Consumers.  We get cheap goods.  Who does worse than without trade restrictions?  US producers, because we are buying cheaper goods from foreign producers.  Impose trade restrictions, and consumers pay higher prices, with business going to US firms.  Is that worth it?

Make up your own mind.  The important point, though, is that trade restrictions hurt plenty of people in the US.  Will Congress play along, knowing that?  Not bloody likely.  There won't be a trade war because the president can't start one unilaterally, and Congress wants no part of one.

3)  A shooting war?  Speculation among Trumpophobes is that he might throw one of his patented temper tantrums over some imagined slight by a world leader, and get us into a shooting war.

Only Congress can declare war, but the president has plenty of authority independently of Congress.  Under the war powers resolution, the president has a couple of months with which to do pretty much anything he wants with the military.  And, even after that, Obama has stretched the bounds of war powers so much with Libya that there are essentially no legislative constraints anyway.

The real constraint is the military.  Hypothetically, let's say Justin Trudeau makes a joke about Trump's tiny, tiny... hands, and Trump orders the Army to invade Canada.  Cue music.  Would the generals actually follow through?  If the scenario is that ridiculous, they may not.

On the other hand, could he spend months drumming up sentiment to invade Mexico if they don't agree to pay for his wall?  Well...

Trump is unpredictable.  The probability here isn't zero.  Nuking France because a French MP made a comment about Trump University?  No.  Let's be realistic.  It's fun to joke about this stuff, but it won't happen.

4)  Rounding up Mexicans, muslims, etc.

This is the scenario that Trumpophobes really mean when they compare Trump to Hitler.  There are both legal and practical obstacles.  When FDR issued an order to intern Japanese-Americans, he justified it under wartime powers.  Without a declaration of war, which Congress is unlikely to issue, the legal structure just isn't there.  Of course, presidents don't always follow the law.  But, there are big legal obstacles to having the US military operate on US soil.  And the generals know it.  Would they actually follow such an order, without a formal declaration of war?  Your answer to that depends on how much you trust the generals' basic intelligence.  Even if Trump were to issue such an order, for the generals to actually follow it would be really fucking stupid.

And this is precisely why Trump is unlikely to do it.  A private advisory session would make it clear to Trump that such an order wouldn't be followed because the generals a) know the law, and b) know the consequences if they follow this kind of illegal order.

Will Trump order the rounding up of Mexicans, muslims, and anyone who makes jokes about the size of his hands?  No.  Calm the fuck down.

We have a very different legal and political structure from Germany.  Checks and balances, a distinction between the military and domestic law enforcement, etc.  This is why the proper historical comparison for Trump is Carter.  Read your Nelson Polsby.

What would Trump do as president?  I really don't know, and neither does anyone else.  I doubt even Trump knows.  A bad president can do a lot of damage, and Trump is a reckless, undisciplined person.  But let's not get carried away with ridiculous scenarios.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Explaining Trump: Party Reform Strikes Back, Part II

For now, I'm taking a break from the "Trump to Political Science: Drop Dead" series to talk about what political science can do to explain Trump.  The first post in my Explaining Trump series talked about how party reform after the 1968 election was designed precisely to let someone like Trump win.  Consequently, I compared him to history's greatest monster.  No, not Hitler. This guy.

Understanding Trump, then, requires us to read Nelson W. Polsby's Consequences of Party Reform.  Nelson Polsby is still right.

So, let's talk about the Carter administration.  Mostly, people remember it as a failed presidency, and in context, one might be surprised.  Carter had not only a Democratic majority in the House of Representatives, but the 1976 election actually gave the Democrats 60 seats in the Senate.  The previous year, the requirement to end a filibuster had been reduced from 67 votes to 60.  Just in time for a 60-seat Democratic majority.  Carter had a Democratic House majority, and his party held what was, in theory, a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate.  But he didn't get what he wanted.  Why not?

The obvious structural point is that the Democratic majorities in the House and the Senate weren't exactly a bunch of Elizabeth Warrens.  A lot of them were Southern Democrats, colloquially known as dixiecrats.  Many of them leaned conservative, creating what was called the "conservative coalition" along with Republicans, large enough to block most liberal legislation.

But, wait, Jimmy Carter was a Southerner too!  There's more going on here.  One of the major problems for Carter's presidency was his inability to work, even with his own party in Congress.  Polsby had an explanation-- he had no connections with and no history with national-level Democrats.  His political career was isolated to Georgia, and his lack of connection to Washington left him unable to deal with a different set of people and a different set of norms, along with a complete misunderstanding of the nature of deal-making in Washington.

Pre-reform, such people couldn't get the nomination anyway.  If party muckety-mucks chose the nominee at a convention, they wouldn't choose an outsider, so such people wouldn't be president.  Post-reform, outsiders can win.  They just can't work with Congress.

At this point, there is an old quote, prominently used in the central text on the presidency:  Richard Neustadt's Presidential Power.  President Truman's thoughts on a potential Eisenhower presidency were as follows:  "He'll sit here, and he'll say, do this, do that!  And nothing will happen.  Poor Ike.  It won't be a bit like the Army.  He'll find it very frustrating."

The key observation is that presidential power in this country is actually comparatively weak.  A president unable to persuade Congress is a president who looks more like Carter than like Hitler.  Trump fancies himself a negotiator.  Really, though he isn't any more sophisticated a negotiator than Ellis.  Mostly, he orders people around, and since he surrounds himself with sycophants, he is used to people doing what he tells them.  Sound familiar?

Now, for what it's worth, Fred Greenstein wrote a book called The Hidden Hand Presidency, arguing that Eisenhower was a more effective president than Truman predicted, but not by ordering people around.  If Trump is sworn in, will he go around telling people "you're fired!"?

There's history to presidents trying to fire people.  That will be a topic for a future post.

Regardless, Trump can't fire an intransigent Congress, and he has no tools with which to bully them, regardless of how the assesses his own tool. s.  Tools.

Hey, firing Members of Congress!  I wrote a book about that.

Basic point from reading Polsby, then.  Trump won't get along with Republicans in Congress.  They already hate him and his one weird trick.  That limits his power drastically.  Elect him, and he will rage impotently at a Republican House and a Republican Senate who think of him as a crank, a con artist, and a bloviating idiot.

Trump won't be Hitler.  He'll be Jimmy Carter.  Nelson Polsby is still right.

Oh, and:

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Presidential nomination rules, post-Trump

In a previous post, I pointed out that Donald Trump's ability to win the Republican nomination is actually precisely what the post-1968 reforms were intended to allow.  Democratic voters wanted McCarthy, who won most of the primaries.  The primaries didn't matter, and the elites wanted Humphrey.  So, they chose him, riots ensued, Humphrey lost, and the party changed to rules so that the voters got to determine the nominee next time.  Now, Republican elites are trying to figure out how to over-rule the voters when the rules were set up precisely to prevent that.

Trump is highly likely to win.  Republican elites don't want that now, and will try to figure out how to stop other insurgent candidates in the future.  And here's the funny thing about party rules.  They can be changed!  That's the point.  So, what will Republicans do to stop a future Trump?  Here are some possibilities:

1)  Do what the Democrats did after they got stuck with Carter:  introduce superdelegates.  Since most Democratic muckety-mucks were unhappy with Carter and never would have picked him in the first place, in the aftermath, they created a new category of delegates:  superdelegates.  Basically, elected officials and other party types get to vote at the convention for whomever they want.  This is why Hillary's lead in the delegates is so 'yuge.'  The muckety-mucks in the party don't want Sanders, so they came out for Hillary.

Problem:  what if the superdelegates hand the nomination to someone who got fewer delegates from primaries and caucuses?  Hillary tried to convince them to give her the nomination over Obama in 2008, but that was doomed because nobody wanted to recreate 1968.  That doesn't mean superdelegates are worthless.  They can create a narrative of one candidate being toast, e.g., Sanders.  That narrative alone can hurt a candidate.

So, will the Republicans create the same kind of system the Democrats imposed after Carter?  Maybe, but let's remember that the narrative said Trump was toast all last year anyway, so who knows how much good that will do them.

2)  Ballot access games.  Here's some fun trivia.  What happened to former Senator Robert Bennett from Utah in 2010?  If you said that he lost a primary to a tea party candidate, congratulations.  Half a point.  Bennett didn't lose a primary.  The state of Utah has a funny and unique system.  In order for congressional candidates to make it to the primary ballot there, the party has to nominate them.  Bennett had his name yanked from the primary ballot by party muckety-mucks because they thought he was too far left.  Why?  Long story, but it doesn't matter.  The point is that such a system can exist.

What if getting your name on the ballot for a Republican presidential nomination required having your name sponsored by state party muckety-mucks?  You'd still have a primary, so the voters wouldn't be completely locked out, but Trump-like candidates could be barred from the ballot.

As Boss Tweed famously said, "I don't care who does the electing so long as I get to do the nominating."

This seems like a smarter plan.  It gives muckety-mucks more control without creating a situation like 1968.  Could there be something else?  Sure.  But one way or another, the Republican Party will almost certainly change the rules after Trump in order to prevent future Trumps from getting this far.