Saturday, April 30, 2016

How Trump denialists are rationalizing Trump's impending victory

Most of the political commentariat is finally starting to accept that Trump is going to be the Republican nominee, short of some political meteor strike.  Some have a harder time with this than others.  Those who have the worst of it are devotees of a little book called The Party Decides.  The book argued that party elites control the nomination process by signaling the correct party choice to voters, who act as automatons and do whatever their fearless leaders tell them to do.  Thus, party establishment types get the nominee they want.



I've been pretty hard on the book since I started this little blog (see, for example, here).  Deservedly so.  The book had obvious problems before 2016, and just looks ridiculous now.

What should a Party Decides apparatchik do now that Trump has pretty much wrapped up the nomination, even though party elites detest him?  Well, they could do what Party Decides co-author Hans Noel has been doing.  Two months ago, he took to the pages of the New York Times to talk about the fact that the model just isn't working.  As though it matters, I gave Hans a lot of credit for that.  His book sales will do just fine without me anyway.

On the other hand, you could do what Jonathan Bernstein does.  Check out his latest here.  Bernstein is the high priest of The Party Decides.  If you look back through his writings, you'll see that he treats the book as divine wisdom, handed down from the mountain top, beyond question and beyond reproach.  Obviously, that means he needs some fast-footed rationalizations.  In yesterday's piece, he blamed... John Kasich.

Wait, what?

Yes, the high priest of The Party Decides is blaming... John Kasich for Trump's glide path to the nomination.  You see, if Kasich just got out of the race, the party would unify around Ted Cruz, and Trump would be toast.

Let's start with the basic reality check.  The standard line among Trump denialists has been that Trump had a ceiling of somewhere in the 30 to 40% range.  Thus, once enough others drop out, the last-standing non-Trump would crush The Donald.  News flash-- that ceiling never existed.  It was predicated on the notion that anyone who isn't currently a Trump supporter must be someone who hates Trump so much that they will vote for anyone other than The Donald.  Does it follow logically?  No.  Does it have empirical support?  No.  Check out the national polling averages at RealClearPolitics.  Trump's polling average is up to 44%, and the latest has him ahead of Cruz by 19%.  He would need just over 6 percentage points more to clear an absolute majority.  The latest poll had Trump at 48%, Cruz at 29% and Kasich at 16%.  If that's right, then even if every Kasich supporter switched to Cruz, Cruz would still be running three points behind Trump in that poll.

John Kasich is handing the nomination to Trump?  Umm, no.

And then there's the hypocrisy here.  Let's say The Party Decides were right.  If it came down to Trump, Cruz and Kasich, the Republican Party establishment would choose Kasich.  No question.  They would signal that choice to voters, voters would dutifully carry out the will of the party leaders, and neither Trump nor Cruz would have a chance.

But let's say they're constrained.  Kasich has no chance.  It's Trump or Cruz.  If The Party Decides were right, the elites would rush to endorse Cruz, voters would follow, and it wouldn't matter whether Kasich runs or not because the voters would just do as they're told.

Why is Bernstein twisting himself into knots trying to find a way to pin Trump's rise on some bug in the system?  Because to do otherwise is to admit that The Party Decides is just wrong.  In order to avoid admitting that, Bernstein is claiming that the party could successfully sway voters to Cruz, if only that pesky guy would just be a team player.  That pesky guy, though, is the only one among the three who would be a team player.

John Kasich isn't handing the nomination to Trump.  Trump is just winning.

Of course, I promised recently to keep giving some scenarios in which Trump loses.  After all, this year is weird, and anything can happen, right?  So, here's another one.  Edward Snowden releases Trump's real tax returns for the last few decades, and shows that Trump is broke because all of his money was embezzled by his accountant, revealed to be an illegal immigrant.

The VP slot

A few weeks ago, I posted this, arguing that Indiana Governor Mike Pence is a likely VP nominee for either Trump or Cruz.  Two bits of news on that front.

1)  Cruz selected Carly Fiorina as his "running mate."  That goes in quotes because it ain't gonna happen.  As we all remember, mergers involving Carly Fiorina don't have the best record of success.  Cruz has lost the nomination, but doesn't want to admit it.  (See my comments on losers in denial here).  The point of naming a hypothetical running mate was to try to gin up some media attention and convey the false impression that he is still running a viable campaign.

Parallel universe question:  in the hypothetical, alternate universe in which Ted Cruz decisively wins the nomination by actually winning primaries, what does Ted Cruz do?  He waits until just before the convention, goes through a normal vetting process, and picks... someone.  Who?  Probably not Carly Fiorina.  The only reason to pick Fiorina is to generate headlines.  An actual winner doesn't need to do that.

2)  Mike Pence endorsed Cruz, and sucked up to Trump.  Smart move.  He shows the "establishment" that he is one of them by endorsing someone not named "Trump," but does it in a way that also doesn't alienate Trump.  He is still a reasonable pick for Trump's VP.

The irony, though, is that Trump will go through the VP selection process normally, unlike Ted Cruz.  He has no need to rush through some stunt selection to generate media attention.  He gets all the media attention he needs anyway.  What he really needs is to convince the Republican establishment that he won't be a recklessly stupid nominee or president, and the way to do that is to take some real care in his vice presidential selection process.

That kind of process is much more likely to lead to Mike Pence than Carly Fiorina.  Her merger with Ted Cruz will be about as successful as past mergers she has attempted to manage.  (Google it, kids).

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

Sorry, I couldn't resist...

Friday, April 29, 2016

If you don't love jazz, you hate America

It's Friday.

Let's not think of it as the end of the nomination phase.  It's the start of the general election phase.



PS:  Yes, Oscar Peterson was technically Canadian.  Sue me.

PSS:  Don't sue me.

The complicated politics of Donald Trump, the Republican Party and race

I've been procrastinating this post for a while.  Mostly, the problem is hard.  So here are some thoughts.

Back when I was in grad school and studying for my comps, the big debate on racial politics was the concept of "symbolic racism."  The notion is that expressions of old-fashioned, KKK-style racism are no longer considered socially acceptable, but racism remains, and those who hold racist beliefs have to find more subtle ways to express them.  Advocates of the "symbolic racism" theory basically claimed that negative attitudes towards "welfare," for example, are expressions of racial animosity.  The mental image that many people have of a "welfare recipient" is of an African-American.  And, if someone secretly holds the old-fashioned, racist belief in stereotypes of laziness, then our closet racist will oppose "welfare" out of the belief that it is just a cash payment to supposedly lazy minorities.  This is a bit of an over-simplification, but if you want to read what I read in grad school, try Divided by Color, by Don Kinder and Lynn Sanders.

It isn't hard to see why the claim upsets people, particularly on the right.  The "symbolic racism" argument comes pretty close to saying that conservatism is a smokescreen for racism.  If you want a good counterpoint to the Kinder & Sanders book, try The Scar of Race, by Sniderman & Piazza.

Race has a complicated relationship with partisan politics today.  The vast majority of non-whites are Democrats, a majority of whites are Republicans, and a regular theme of political dispute is whether Republicans' opposition to "welfare" is racially motivated, or simply based on more of an Ayn Rand view of economics.

How can it be sorted out?  The problem has always been one of "falsifiability."  Buzz-word alert!  Buzz-word alert!  A claim is "falsifiable" when the following condition is met:  hypothetically, if the claim were false, evidence could be found.  That's not the same as being false.  It is a fancy way of saying "testable."  If I accuse you of being secretly racist, then I can always come up with an argument for what you really mean because the whole point is that I challenge your sincerity.

So, consider the common Democratic claim that the Republican Party is just plain racist, and everything they claim to believe is just a smokescreen.  How could we test that?

Here's a thought experiment.  Imagine a candidate running for the Republican presidential nomination who has absolutely no commitment to conservative or libertarian principles or policy, but amps up the racism.  How would that candidate fare in the Republican Party?  If Republican opposition to "welfare" and such policies is based on ideological principle rather than affect towards non-whites, then that candidate would lose.  Badly.  On the other hand, if Republicans are just plain, old racists, that candidate would do pretty well.

Unfortunately for the social scientists, Donald Trump isn't exactly the perfect vessel for this experiment.  Does he have any demonstrable commitment to conservative or libertarian principles?  Not by a long shot.  In the past, he has advocated massive tax increases on the wealthy, single-payer healthcare, etc.  Does he say racist things?  Obviously.  I'm not going to bother documenting them because, well, I'd like to finish this post before November.

But...

There are several problems with treating Trump's victory as a vindication of the "symbolic racism" theory.  First, while he has no historic commitment to conservative principles, he has performed ritual conversions.  It is hard to find examples of him committing conservative apostasy since he decided to run as a Republican.  Thus, a gullible conservative who doesn't research Trump's political history might not know that Trump is a fake conservative.  Trump's victory over real conservatives like Cruz and Rubio might not mean that his supporters prefer racism to real conservatism.  It might just mean they bought into his con.

Second, Trump's support within the Republican Party has not been primarily among movement conservatives.  As other political scientists have documented elsewhere, Trump's support comes not from evangelicals, nor the business community, but among the lower-income voters within the Republican Party who oppose cuts to Social Security, etc.  So, the voters who are supposedly "symbolic racists" haven't been the ones supporting Trump.  Those voters have been supporting real conservatives, like Cruz.  The ones most in favor of redistribution are the ones supporting Trump, who is the most open to redistribution.  If their support for Trump is motivated by the, as it turns out, correct observation that Trump is the most supportive of redistribution, then it isn't about race.  It's about policy, and the divisions within the Republican Party are between those who support redistribution, voting for Trump, and those who oppose it, voting for Cruz.

Then, of course, there's immigration.  Disentangling negative attitudes towards immigrants and a desire not to depress citizens' wages by increasing the labor supply?  Again, we're back to the question of sincerity.

We can't necessarily draw any conclusions about "symbolic racism" from Trump's success among Republicans.  What does Trump's takeover of the Republican Party mean?  Figuring that out will take a long time.

What to look for:  eventually, we will get the results of academic surveys, and in particular, the American National Election Studies survey, and the Annenberg survey.  The question will be as follows:  what is a better predictor of Trump support-- policy positions or affect towards minorities?

I can't wait to get my hands on those data!

(Yes, "those."  See my related comments here.)

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Between now and the Republican convention...

Barring the political equivalent of a meteor strike, Donald Trump will be the Republican nominee, as I have been indicating for a while.  If a meteor were going to strike, it would be this year, but any intellectually rigorous discourse about the presidential contest should treat Donald Trump as the presumptive nominee.  Yes, those were his words exactly.  He's right.

But, as long as the convention is still in the future, Trump denialists can still pretend like there is a reasonable path to defeating him.  What can we expect?

1)  Ridiculous stunts

We saw this just yesterday, with Ted Cruz choosing a "running mate."  It was intended to convey confidence and strength.  Instead, it reeked of desperation.  We can probably expect more publicity stunts that will fall equally flat.  Desperation is too easy to spot.

2)  Over-reactions to some Trump stumble

Remember Wisconsin?  Trump lost Wisconsin to Cruz, and the denialists decided that this was truly the end of Trump's campaign.  Yeah, that didn't work out.  Right now, Trump opponents (and pundits with a financial incentive to pretend that the race is still a thing) are setting up Indiana as the new Wisconsin.  Trump must win Indiana!  Indiana is the key to the whole nomination!  And Trump's lead there is narrow!  You see, if Cruz overtakes Trump in Indiana, that starts the domino effect leading to the end of the Trump campaign.

Even if Trump loses Indiana, it will have the same effect as his loss in Wisconsin.  Haven't we learned our lesson?

The problem here is the ever-moving goal post of the Trump denialists.  The Trump denialists cannot possibly accept that they were wrong about Trump's campaign.  Since Trump keeps winning, though, they have to keep finding new goals, and declaring that failure to meet the new goal will doom Trump's campaign.

Indiana is irrelevant.

3)  Predictions of Trump's doom in the lull between contests

Between now and June 7, we have a smattering of small state contests, but nothing big.  When there aren't any contests, Trump isn't winning contests.  When he isn't winning, he must be losing!  No, that doesn't logically follow, but Trump denialism isn't about logic.  It is about denying reality.  The only thing that ever cows a Trump denialist is a Trump victory, and in the interim periods between elections, the absence of Trump victories allows the denialists to concoct increasingly absurd scenarios in which Trump loses.

We saw that between March 15 and the New York primary.  Trump denialists started talking about how a contested convention would give the nomination to Ted Cruz-- the second-most-hated person in the Republican Party.  Or, actually, the most hated by former Speaker John Boehner (go read about his talk at Stanford).  These scenarios were ridiculous, but they proliferated because there weren't any Trump victories to tamp down talk of the contested convention.

We are about to enter another slow period.  Between now and June 7, there are no large states.  Without large state victories, Trump denialists will start talking themselves into believing some new contested convention scenario.  Trump's odds in the betting markets will go down.  Then, as Trump's poll numbers fail to drop, the betting odds will go back up in the lead-up to California's primary.


Maybe the next series of posts should be all of the possible political meteor strikes that might actually hurt Trump.  Here's one:  Trump loses bladder control during a rally.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Why losers pretend they're still running for president

On March 16 (the day after Super Tuesday II), I posted this declaring both nominations essentially settled.  I briefly toyed with a ridiculous conspiracy theory about the Republicans nominating Cruz to screw both him and Trump, but even that was a thought I described as "spit-balling."  Hillary had this thing in the bag long, long ago, and stopping Trump now would require something like a secret phone recording of Bill urging Trump to run as a secret plot to destroy the Republican Party.  We're done here.

And yet, not everyone seems to understand that. In particular, we still have some candidates pretending that their campaigns are viable.  Why?  Time for some more spit-balling.  Political science doesn't really have an answer to why some candidates stay in the race long after their fates have been decided.  Why?  Because we don't generally bother studying the losers.  Maybe we should.  So, here are some thoughts, not 100% original, but it is worth thinking about the competing ideas.  Why might losers stay in the race?

1)  The protest campaign

The most obvious reason is that a protest candidate doesn't run to win anyway.  A protest candidate gives voters an option other than the inevitable winner, generally as an ideological statement.  Ron Paul used to be the Republican version of this.  He never had a chance to win, but his goal was to pull the Republican Party to the right by showing how much support he had.  For such candidates, winning isn't the point.  The point is to make a symbolic showing about the size of a faction within the party.  So, they have to stay in the race until the official end.

The fact that Rand dropped out so long ago demonstrated that he was, well, delusional.  He wasn't running as a protest candidate.  He actually thought he could win, the sap!  So, what about Bernie?  In all likelihood, he started as a pure protest candidate, knowing that he couldn't win, with the goal of pulling Hillary and the Democratic Party to the left.  There is, in fact, another similarity between Bernie and Ron Paul.  Paul ran for president in 1988 as the Libertarian Party nominee.  Bernie runs for his Senate seat in Vermont as an independent.  Bernie Sanders and Ron Paul were both ideologues with minimal connection to the party whose nominations they sought.  Dead giveaway that the candidate at least starts as just a protest candidate.  Where they end, though, well, we'll get to that.

2)  Positioning for the next race

Remember how Hillary stayed in 2008 to the end?  She's the nominee this time.  Did she help herself by staying in until the end in 2008?  Maybe not, but at least she didn't kill her chances.  Perhaps the point of staying until the end is to make a point about running next time.  This is probably the best explanation for John Kasich right now.  I have puzzled over Kasich before, comparing his campaign to the South Park underpants gnomes, but the simplest explanation for why Kasich is still in the race is to continue demonstrating to the establishment Republicans that he should be their pick in 2020 after Trump loses to Hillary in a comically lop-sided general election.  This explanation doesn't work for Bernie.  He won't challenge the incumbent Hillary in 2020.  Frankly, he'll probably die before 2024.  It also doesn't make sense for Cruz.

3)  Egotism/self-delusion

You don't seriously run for president unless you believe that you should be the most powerful person in the world.  That takes some serious ego.  But, there's a difference between a regular, old black hole, and the super-massive ones at the centers of galaxies.  Some candidates have egos of that latter size.  With that kind of ego, it is easy to delude one's self.  Cruz certainly has that kind of ego.  Also, he is fighting hard to make sure that the actual delegates themselves are Cruz loyalists.  That way, even if the delegates are bound to vote for Trump on the first ballot, once freed by nobody getting a majority on the first ballot, they'll switch to Cruz on the second ballot.  He really thinks he's going to win this, or at least that he has a shot.

Bernie probably started as a protest candidate, but he has deluded himself into thinking he had a viable campaign.  That's why so many of his surrogates are now urging super-delegates to ignore Hillary's electoral lead and pull a reverse-1968.  That would be pretty weird.  In 1968, the conventioneers screwed the liberal protest candidate out of the nomination because the primaries didn't really matter.  Bernie wants the super-delegates to screw the establishment candidate out of the nomination in favor of a protest candidate who couldn't actually beat her.  That ain't gonna happen.  But, Bernie may have deluded himself otherwise.

4)  Digging in

It is hard to admit losing.  When everyone tells you that it's over and you should get out of the race, the contrarian impulse is to stick it out to the end.  Like the last soldier to carry on the fight after the leaders have surrendered, losing candidates may just have dug in so much that they can't extricate themselves.  Bernie, maybe?  Cruz?

What's going on, though, is that this is over.  Short of an incriminating recording of Bill and The Donald scheming together, this is a Hillary/Trump race.  The fact that the candidates aren't admitting it doesn't mean that we should play along with the nonsense.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

You have my permission to ignore today's election results

It's primary day!  Again!  Yay!  Is this thing still going on?

No.  No, it's not.  Five states are holding contests today:  Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, Connecticut and Rhode Island.  Donald Trump will win.  And it doesn't matter anymore.  Nobody can possibly overtake Donald Trump in the delegate count.  There are three possible scenarios:

1)  Donald Trump wins an outright majority of delegates.  Much conservative/Republican hand-wringing and agonizing, followed by a normal convention in which the party nominates the guy with a majority of the delegates.

2)  Donald Trump wins, not a majority, but a plurality of the delegates (more than anyone else, but less than 50%).  Much conservative/Republican hand-wringing and agonizing, but after debating whether or not to throw out the election results and hand the nomination to someone who failed to beat Trump, the Republicans just nominate Donald Trump.

3)  Donald Trump wins, not a majority, but a plurality of the delegates, and after much agonizing and hand-wringing, Republican delegates at the convention decide to throw out the election results because they didn't like them, and nominate whoever they please, meaning anyone not named "Donald Trump."

If all you care about is who gets the nomination, the question is what separates Scenario 2 from Scenario 3.  The answer?  As I have been saying all along, the national polls.  So, here they are.  As you can see, Donald Trump still has a commanding lead.  The latest polls have him consistently ahead of Cruz by more than 10 points.  With an average of 43%, he is within striking distance of an outright majority in the polls.  With this kind of commanding lead in the polls, there is no way that the convention can possibly get away with stealing the nomination from Trump.  As I have said all along, the only way Republicans can get away with the contested convention scenario is if public opinion among Republican voters turns against Trump so that delegates can say that they are just obeying the will of the voters, which turned sour at some point after the states held their contests.  Otherwise, it just looks illegitimate.

So let's take a look back at the betting averages.  Just before the Wisconsin primary, when Cruz started overtaking Trump in that state, everyone freaked out and decided that this was the inevitable Trump collapse that people had been predicting all along.  Betting odds for Trump tanked.  As you can see at PredictWise, Trump is now back to around a 75% chance.  Oh, and what was I saying during the great Wisconsin freak-out?  You can go back and find out, here and here.  2016 is weird.  Stuff can happen.  But seriously, folks, if Trump keeps his lead in the national polls, the Republicans cannot get away with stealing the nomination at the convention, even if Trump doesn't quite clear the 50% threshold.

So, you have my permission to ignore today's voting.  I won't, but that's because I care about the difference between Scenario 1 and Scenario 2.  It would be a great show.  Who says we've already reached "peak tv?"

Monday, April 25, 2016

Ideology in the academy

My previous post on felons, gun rights and voting rights probably doesn't sit well with everyone.  And it might surprise some people that a professor would question liberal orthodoxy, either on the issue of voting rights or guns.  And serendipitously, we have a new piece over at The Monkey Cage in which Henry Farrell interviews the authors of a new book on conservatism in academia.  I haven't read the book, but I might.  Rather, here are some general thoughts on the topic.

First, let's define ideology.  My definition of ideology comes from Philip Converse's classic article, "The Nature of Belief Systems in Mass Publics."  For Converse, ideology is about constraint.  To be liberal is to be constrained to take the liberal position on a broad range of issues.  To be conservative is to take the conservative position on a broad range of issues.  Converse describes three types of constraints:  logical, psychological, and social.  A logical constraint is a principle from which one derives policy positions.  The problem is that no ideology is truly logically consistent.  Ideology comes about, then, by incorporating psychological predispositions and social influence.

Let's focus on logical constraints.  No ideology is purely logically constrained.  To me, that means that if any two people agree on all issues, at least one of them isn't thinking.  If you aren't sure whether or not that one is you, it's you.

And yet, Shields & Dunn aren't wrong to say that academia treats people poorly when their positions deviate from liberal orthodoxy.  For pedagogical reasons, I don't share my political beliefs with people who don't know me personally.  I don't want students trusting me just because I agree with them, nor do I want them using politics as a reason to reject what I say if I disagree with them.  If I obscure my positions, students must evaluate my claims and arguments on the basis of their merits.

Regardless, I think.  That means I have at least some positions that deviate from liberal orthodoxy.  What happens if I express such opinions around other academics?

Most don't care.  We are a narcissistic bunch.  We live in our own heads and obsess with the depth of our own great thoughts.  Boredom is other people, or something like that.

But there will always be a few who resort to ad hominem attack.  What does that cost one?  Realistically, not much.  Shields and Dunn analogize conservative professors to closeted gay people in an earlier era.

Except, you know, they don't have to worry about being physically assaulted.  Stonewall for conservative professors?  Yeah, that never happened.

And to be blunt, most probably wouldn't even have to worry about tenure decisions.  When a professor goes up for tenure, his or her file goes out to external reviewers, who look at the professor's publication record, etc., and make recommendations.  If a department deviated significantly from the external reviewers' letters, there might be grounds for a lawsuit.  If a hypothetical conservative professor publishes, he or she should be fine, regardless of personal politics.

So, what does a conservative professor really have to fear?  Realistically, not much.  We are a privileged bunch (those of us with permanent positions, anyway), and we whine far more than our conditions justify.

But there are negative social implications for stating positions that deviate from liberal orthodoxy.  As I said, I like to think for myself.  (Title of the blog, anyone?).  That means I have at least a couple of positions that deviate from liberal orthodoxy.  And to state them around other academics is to invite some serious scorn.  At the very least, conservative professors would risk losing their colleagues' respect for acknowledging their positions.

What do I lose by either pointing this out or stating heterodox positions?  Nothing.  Nobody knows me, and those who do, don't respect me anyway.  There is freedom in that.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Elections aren't just about autonomy, they are also about imposition

Yesterday's post on Virginia, felon voting rights and guns probably isn't what someone would expect from a tweed-blazer-with-elbow-patches-wearin' member of academia (and yes, I wear one of those), but hey, did you notice the title of the blog?  Nobody gets my references...

Anyway, it is worth pointing out a few things about the nature of elections.  The argument for restoring ex-felon voting rights tends to ignore how elections necessarily work.  The right to vote gives citizens (plural) influence over the laws that govern them (again, plural).  Voting rights are about autonomy, then, right?  Well, things get complicated when we move from the plural to the singular.  Your vote doesn't just affect you.  It affects me too because I have to live under the same laws as you.  Your vote imposes your will on me.

Hey, I wrote about this in my book!  Voters aren't like consumers.  If I buy a Mac, it doesn't force you to buy a Mac.  You can still buy a PC.  I get what I buy, and you get what you buy.  Elections don't work that way.  We aren't buying a product.  We are making a collective hiring decision.  In a congressional election, all voters in a given district are collectively choosing to hire one person to do a job in Congress.  The fact that they don't actually do that job is a separate problem.  I'm talking about the structure of the decision.  The problem is that even if I want Jim Traficant, it doesn't matter if a plurality vote for Duke Cunningham.  I'm stuck with The Dukestir.  (Go read about 'em, kids.  Corruption is fun!)

That means voting isn't just about personal autonomy.  It is about pluralities imposing their will on everyone else.  I can't claim credit for this observation.  Go look up William Riker.  Yes, really.  His most famous, and probably best book was Liberalism Against Populism.

What does this mean with respect to felons and voting rights?  It means that if we re-enfranchise ex-felons, we are giving power over ourselves to ex-felons.  That is the price for giving them the same level of autonomy that the rest of the population has.

Is that a good idea?  A moral idea?  Uh...  Excuse me while I duck those questions, and just give one simple, basic piece of advice...

If you don't love bluegrass, you hate America

Continuations on a theme...

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Virginia, felons and voting rights

Time to take a break from Trump.  'cuz, you know, I can quit talking about him any time I want.  I don't have a problem...

Let's talk about Virginia.  Terry McCauliffe just issued a clemency order restoring voting rights for ex-felons in Virginia.  To the left, this is about restoring basic rights to those who have served their time and should be allowed to reintegrate into civil society with basic rights.  To the right, this is an attempt to add a large number of probably Democratic voters into the electorate, with the potential to swing a swing state, and therefore nakedly political.

And maybe they're both right.  Buzzword time.  "Motivated reasoning."  This is the psychologists' term for the observation that if a claim would benefit you, you are more likely to accept arguments in its favor.  A disproportionate number of ex-felons are non-white.  Most non-whites vote for Democrats.  Re-enfranchising ex-felons, therefore, would likely provide at least some electoral benefit to Democrats.  Therefore, a Democrat engaged in motivated reasoning will believe that ex-felons must have their voting rights restored as a matter of basic justice.  A Republican engaged in motivated reasoning will believe that voting is about power in society, and felons, ex- or not, have demonstrated a lack of the kind of civic-mindedness that voters must have.  How much power should ex-felons have over those who do follow the rules?

Should felons have their voting rights restored?  Umm, that's a normative question.  I suck at those.  So here's something to piss off the liberals.  Hypocrisy bugs me.

There are parts of the Constitution that conservatives hate (like the 14th Amendment) and parts that the liberals hate (like the 2nd Amendment).  Let's review that latter part.

"A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed."

Wow, whoever wrote that gets an F in composition!  (Sorry, I am a professor).  Does that mean that individuals have a right to bear arms that shall not be infringed, or does that mean well-regulated militias can arm themselves?  Motivated reasoning time!  If you don't like guns, the latter.  If you like guns, the former.  Why?  'cuz the Constitution is obviously a document written by people who agreed with me ideologically!  Duh!

So, the liberal take on guns is that there is really no individual right to bear arms.  Doesn't exist.  But how dare you think we're trying to take away everyone's guns!  We just want background checks!  And, also, Australia did something awesome by taking everyone's guns away!  But how dare you accuse me of wanting to do that awesome thing Australia did?!  Did I mention how awesome it was?

What does this have to do with Virginia?  Simple.  Ask your friendly neighborhood liberal whether or not they think ex-felons who have served their time should be allowed to own guns.  Their answer?  You know already.  Fuck no!  No guns for ex-felons!  They lose that right permanently!

So here's the hypocrisy.  Once a felon has served his or her time, that person should have full rights restored.  That's the liberal line on voting rights for felons.  Notice, though, that they don't want to apply that reasoning to guns.

But the 2nd Amendment isn't about individual rights, the liberal will say!  Well, where in the Constitution does it say that there is a fundamental right to vote?  Umm, nowhere!  The Constitution says that voting rights cannot be denied on certain bases, like race, sex, or age (for those over 18), but it doesn't say "the right to vote shall not be infringed."  It ain't there.  Should it be?  Maybe.  Go ahead and make that argument, but right now, it isn't.  The second amendment is vague and badly written, but there is clearer language on a fundamental right to own guns than on a fundamental right to vote.  If the principle is that an ex-felon who has completed his or her sentence must have full rights restored, there is a clearer case for guns than voting rights in the actual text of the Constitution.

What's my position on felon voting rights?  I really don't have one.  I can see a case either way.  But, McCauliffe's decision is likely a) sincerely reflective of a belief in constitutional principles, b) influenced by his partisan leanings, c) hypocritical, or d) all of the above.

D.  All of the above.

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

Yes, I'm going somewhere with this...


Friday, April 22, 2016

If you don't love jazz, you hate America

It's Friday.  Here's some Miles Davis.



And for no reason in particular, here's some more Miles.

Hillary Clinton won't be indicted because... math!

One of the questions I keep getting is as follows:  will Hillary Clinton be indicted, and if so, how would that affect the dynamics of a Clinton-Trump campaign?  Is that really two questions?  Yes.  Congratulations you know enough math to follow my answer.

I don't really bother researching accusations against Hillary Clinton in detail anymore.  Why?  Allow me to explain.  With math!

Let us start with some notation.

P(indictable) is the probability that Hillary Clinton is indictable with facts currently publicly available that a lazy observer might not know.

P(accusation) is the probability that Hillary Clinton will be accused of the most heinous crimes in history by her political opponents.

P(X | Y) is the conditional probability that statement X is true given that statement Y is true.  What do I mean by that?  This is about-- warning, buzzword!-- Bayesian statistics!  Bayesian statistics are about uncertainty, and how we update our beliefs as we make relevant observations.  Suppose you don't know whether or not X is true.  Then, your assessment of the probability that X is true is P(X).  Then, you learn that Y is true.  Your assessment of the probability that X is true becomes P(X | Y), which may or may not be the same as P(X).

We've got two of those!  P(indictable | accusation) is the conditional probability that publicly available facts (unknown to the lazy observer) support indictment given that accusations are made.  P(accusation | indictable) is the conditional probability that an accusation will be made given that indictable evidence is available.

Well, actually we have four conditional probabilities.


You see, we also have P(indictable | no accusation) and P(accusation | no indictable evidence).  With that, here's why I ignore stories about HRC's supposed crimes.  With math!

P(accusation | indictable) = P(accusation | no indictable evidence) = 1

Therefore, P(indictable | accusation) = P(indictable).

Ta-da!  OK, let me explain, for those who aren't Bayesian statistics geeks.  HRC's opponents will accuse her of heinous crimes no matter what.  Therefore, the fact that accusations are made provides no information about whether or not indictable evidence exists.  Therefore, my belief that HRC is indictable doesn't change in response to accusations.

Couldn't I have just said "the boy who cries wolf?"  Yes, but then I wouldn't get to talk about Bayes, or use that vertical line thingy on my keyboard, so fuck off and let me have my fun.  It's my damned blog.

So, in historical terms, here's the deal.  HRC's opponents have spent the last 25 years accusing her of everything up to and including murder (Vince Foster), and what has come of a quarter of a century of investigations?  When Ken Starr spent four years and millions of dollars with an open-ended investigation of all things Clinton, he came up with Monica Lewinsky.  Whether or not there is anything indictable has nothing to do with whether or not accusations are made, so ignore the accusations.

Hillary Clinton is sleazy.  She is unethical.  She is a spineless weasel.  Indictable offenses, though?  At some point, paying attention to the accusations becomes a waste of time.  See?  Math is fun!  And it lets you be lazy!

Thursday, April 21, 2016

What happens when the media really are (yes, "are") out to get a candidate?

For those confused by the title of this post:

Medium-- singular

Media-- plural

When nouns and verbs disagree, a puppy dies a horrible death.  Make sure your nouns and verbs agree or you're a puppy killer.  This has been a public service announcement from your friendly, neighborhood grammar police.

Back to politics.  I just did a radio interview about my recent piece over at The Conversation about what happens when the media have to cover a race in which one candidate is a normal politician, and the other is a pathological liar.  Towards the end of that piece, I posited that the 2016 election may scramble the normal political rules.  Since Donald Trump lies so often and so brazenly, and he has already antagonized the press to an unprecedented degree (just ask Megyn Kelly), the relationship may be different.  The press might be more willing to call out Trump's lies than if they were dealing with a normal candidate.

Then again, consider the Republican norm of attacking the press.  For decades now, Republicans have asserted that there is a pervasive liberal bias throughout the media.  A Republican is subjected to any form of media scrutiny?  Liberal bias!  Liberal bias!

If Trump really is the Republican nominee, though, most of the media really will be out to get him!  We will be faced with a bizarre circumstance in which the media call Trump a liar, Trump claims the media are all out to get him, and everyone will be correct.  What are the implications of that?

I'm working on it.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

A Clinton-Trump campaign would be the most entertaining but meaningless campaign ever

After Clinton's and Trump's victories in New York last night, it is time, once again, to think about what a general election campaign between those two would look like.

Entertaining, obviously.  Consequential?  Not likely.

Yesterday, I gave a talk about political narratives, and the relationship between campaigns and narrative structure.  In literature, the epitome of tightly structured narrative is probably Sophocles' Oedipus Rex.  Every event follows necessarily from the previous event, making the endpoint logical and inevitable.  I contrasted that with a book called Grimspace by Ann Aguirre.  It was a fun, but ultimately pointless sci-fi novel in which there isn't so much a plot as a sequence of disconnected events that the author used to get to a predefined endpoint, predictable from the beginning.

Campaigns are more like Grimspace than Oedipus Rex.  Fun to watch, but the endpoint is predetermined, and the steps along the way are ultimately just entertaining diversions that don't necessarily have a logical connection to the endpoint.

At the end of a presidential general election campaign, it is mostly about the economy.  When the economy is growing, the party in control of the White House keeps it.  When the economy is weak, control switches.  So, what about the campaign?  The poll numbers will frequently move during the course of the campaign, but at the end, they tend to converge to what we would have predicted given the economy.

Why, then, do the numbers move during the course of the campaign?  My general opinion is that campaigns inform people about the economy, the party divisions and the candidates themselves, who are normally little more than partisan ciphers.  The campaign is what causes convergence to the nigh-inevitable end result, and whatever gaffes we find entertaining along the way generally amount to nothing.  But, that relies on the premise that voters are uncertain about one or both candidates.

Clinton and Trump.  Neither are incumbents, but anyone likely to vote already knows who both are, and has firm opinions.  There is nothing about which to inform voters, save for the state of the economy.

Clinton will attack Trump.  Trump will attack Clinton.  But, attacks matter only inasmuch as they inform the uninformed.  If everyone's opinions of Clinton and Trump are already well-formed, then this may be the most entertaining but pointless campaign ever.

I can't wait!  Did I mention that I enjoyed reading Grimspace more than Oedipus Rex?

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Why Hillary is only limping to the nomination

It is time, once again, to check in on the Democratic contest, which is strange enough that in a normal year, it would stand out as high entertainment.  Clinton should be crushing Sanders.  She is winning, but narrowly.  Why?

I have pointed out before that Sanders has outperformed expectations, particularly those of adherents to The Party Decides.  As a reminder, that's the book (which I hate) arguing that party elites control the nomination process by using endorsements to signal the party's official-unofficial choice to voters.  Yeah, that didn't work.  HRC has been mopping the floor with Sanders in the endorsement contest, but only narrowly winning among voters.  Why?  I don't have an answer, but it is worth going through some ideas.

1)  Policy.  The obvious point is that Sanders is to the left of Clinton.  Both like the idea of economic redistribution, but Sanders wants a lot more of it.  The Democratic base likes that.  Maybe this is simply policy.  I bashed the failure of "the spatial model" with respect to Republicans here, but the Democrats seem to be cooperating a little more.  The hard-core leftie is doing relatively well in the left-wing party.  Maybe this is just policy, right?

2)  Realism versus purity.  This is the big difference between Clinton and Sanders.  Sanders is, as I have written before, a particularly deluded goo-goo.  He thinks that Ted Cruz secretly agrees with him on policy, and without those evil corporations and their icky, icky money, Cruz would be pushing for single-payer healthcare, massive tax increases, and taking bong hits with Noam Chomsky.

Clinton is... not an idealist.  She isn't making grand promises.  If she becomes president, mostly she will just veto stuff from a Republican Congress.  Maybe some people just don't want to hear that.

Then again, John Kerry, Al Gore, Bill Clinton... The Democrats have usually nominated the candidates who don't make grand, transformational promises.  Then again, they nominated Obama, and here's Clinton on Obama from the good, old days...



3)  Clinton fatigue.  This is hard to conceptualize or quantify, but Clinton has been on the national political scene for a quarter of a century.  Do people get sick of a politician?

Maybe, but I am skeptical here.  If Republicans could reanimate the corpse of Ronald Reagan, we would see just how fast the Constitution is amended to allow a third term for ReaganGolem.  Are the Democrats different in that respect?  Ted Kennedy maintained his stature for decades.  Maybe that was the name.  Maybe the legend.  Then again, he couldn't unseat Carter in 1980...

So is Clinton fatigue real?  Uhhh.....

4)  Perception of corruption.  One of the most fascinating aspects of the Clintons' political lives has been the extent to which allegations of corruption, with minimal evidence, have stuck to the name.  Emailgate!  Benghazi!  Whitewater!  Vince Foster!  Filegate!

What, you don't remember those last few?  I do...  Look 'em up, kids.

The funny thing is that the allegations have always been more innuendo-based.  Ken Starr was appointed Congress as the independent counsel to investigate the Clintons.  With four years, an unconstrained agenda and millions of dollars, he found a stained dress.

I mean, I know Monica was only an intern, but is dry-cleaning really that expensive?

One of two things is the case:  either the Clintons make Al Capone look reckless, or they are no dirtier than any normal politician.  Is she crooked?  Probably.  More so than other politicians?  If she is, she's the smoothest criminal out there since nobody has come even close to prosecutable actions.

Is she sleazy?  Hell, yes.  She tried to steal the 2008 nomination.  The quick summary:  In 2008, the DNC passed a rule saying that only four states could have their contests before February 5:  Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina.  Florida and Michigan tried anyway.  All of the candidates, Hillary included, agreed that neither would count.  In Michigan, Obama and Edwards even took their names off the ballot (it was too late for that in Florida).  Hillary left her name on the ballot, claiming that it didn't really matter anyway because the state wouldn't count.  Then, when she fell behind in the delegate count, she tried to argue that Michigan's results were valid, and needed to be counted.

Hillary Clinton has nothing even resembling an ethical impulse.

Corrupt, though?  If she were, Ken Starr would have found it, and no, the email thing isn't a thing.

If you want reasons to distrust Hillary, there are plenty of good ones.  And maybe the accumulation of reasons, real and imagined, have put Clinton in a weaker position.

5)  Them wacky college kids.  Every election, journalists try to write a story about how this year, the kids will finally turn out, and their chosen candidate will win.  Eugene McCarthy!  Well, that's another story.  Gary Hart!  Bill Bradley!  Howard Dean!

Of course, a stopped clock is right twice a day, and Obama won in 2008.

Then again, maybe that emboldens the kids.  I have no idea how to measure or test that, though, so I'm pretty much bullshitting here.

And then I'm out of prominent ideas.  Clinton will win.  Sanders was always toast.  But this was closer than anyone predicted, and we need to figure out why.  Once we stop obsessing about The Donald.

Hey, did you see what Donald Trump just said?!  Can you believe it?!

I just typed that.  I had no specific statement in mind.  Funny how it works anyway.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Donald Trump, the 50% threshold and changing the rules

The big question for the Republicans right now is how they would handle a situation in which Donald Trump wins more delegates than anyone else, but less than 50% (a "plurality").  Republican rules require a candidate to get more than 50% of the votes from delegates at the convention in order to secure the nomination.  If no one gets over 50%, then, the result is some sort of deal.  It is worth considering the options.

1)  The delegates vote.  Nobody gets over 50%.  The convention goes to a second ballot.  Some delegates pledged to Trump on the first ballot switch to Cruz, or someone else, and the convention nominates someone other than the delegate leader/poll leader.  Chaos ensues.

2)  The delegates vote.  Nobody gets over 50%.  The convention goes to a second ballot, and on that ballot, some of the non-Trump delegates vote for a man they consider odious simply to prevent the chaos that would have ensued had the convention gone with option 1.

3)  There's a third option!  Change the rules.  The convention rules require an outright majority because the party doesn't want ten candidates splitting the vote so much that somebody gets the nomination with 15% of the vote.  So, lower the threshold.  Change the rules to something like the following:  let whoever gets the most delegates have the nomination as long as that person gets over, say, 40% rather than 50%.  That way, no second ballot is required, the convention doesn't have to deal with the chaos of denying the nomination to the vote/delegate leader, and nobody pledged to a non-Trump has to support Trump.  No deal-making, no brokering, just a simple, clean vote.

How does option 3 work?  The delegates have to agree to the rule change in advance.  This is the tricky part.  For all practical purposes, voting for the rule change in option 3 prior to formal convention action is voting for Trump, but in a sneaky, cop-out way.  But, what's the alternative?


Sunday, April 17, 2016

Checking in on the Republican contest

For quite a while now, I have thought that the Republican nomination was Trump's to lose.  The contested convention strategy always struck me as a reach at best, and it wasn't until two weeks ago that I saw a plausible contested convention scenario.  And even that was a borderline conspiracy theory (see here).  Basically, I've been seeing a nearly inevitable Trump victory for a while now.

Then something interesting happened.  Or, rather, nothing happened.  By "nothing," I mean that we haven't had a large state contest since March 15.  Without large state victories by Trump to keep the story going, the political commentariat shifted back to some good, old-fashioned Type A Trump Denialism.  Trump's not winning!  That means he's losing!  Contested convention!  Everyone freak out over Wisconsin!

No, he wasn't winning because no large states were voting.

Well, that's about to end.  New York votes this Tuesday, and, um, Trump will win.  Big.  A week later, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware and Rhode Island.  In every state for which we have polls, Trump is ahead.  And his lead in the national polls has stabilized.  As you can see here, Trump's lead in the latest polls is solidly back in the double digits.

As I warned repeatedly, the contested convention scenario doesn't work if Trump is leading in both the delegates and in the polls.  The only way it works without burning down my city in July, and possibly the entire Republican Party, is if the conventioneers can tell everyone that the voters got buyers' remorse, as evidenced by Trump's drop in the polls.  No drop, no contested convention.

And this is why Trump's odds over at PredictWise are back to 63% and rising.  And even that probably has a hint of Trump denialism to it.

Oh, and voters don't get buyers' remorse because voters aren't consumers.  I wrote a book about that!

If you don't love bluegrass, you hate America

In honor of the current state of the Republican Party, here's this...


Saturday, April 16, 2016

Why can't I stop bashing Sanders? It's not policy. He's a goo-goo.

Between this blog and a couple of pieces at The Conversation (here and here), one might get the impression that I don't have much respect for Bernie Sanders.  I am actually much harder on Donald Trump, but that is apparently expected.  Funny, though.  I don't hear much from Trump supporters.  Berniacs, however, don't hesitate to let me know that they are displeased.

Currently, that takes the following form:  in one of my Conversation pieces, I point out that Bernie Sanders is really no different from Paul Ryan in that his budgets are based on magical numbers that cannot possibly add up.  Paul Ryan wants to cut taxes, and he doesn't care about the budget or the economy as a whole, so he lies about the effects of his tax cuts on both.  Bernie Sanders wants to redistribute more, and he doesn't care about either the budget or GDP, so he lies about the effects of his policies (for elaboration, see here).  Bernie Sanders = Paul Ryan*(-1).  OK, that's not quite right.  If you head on over to Voteview, which compiles "NOMINATE" scores to estimate ideology based on congressional voting patterns, you will see that Sanders comes it at -0.7170 on a -1 to +1 scale, whereas Paul Ryan's score is 0.8580, so Ryan is actually more ideologically extreme than Sanders, but my point is that they both lie in the same way for the same reason.

The answer among Berniacs is that he who walks on bong water never lies, and that the greatest economist in the history of the universe, James Galbraith, has proven beyond all doubt that Bernie's budget will cure the Zika virus, and Paul Krugman is a moron and a shill for Hillary, and you have a stupid haircut!

Anyone who wants economic analysis of the various budget plans floating around in the political muck can read an economist's blog.  But there is something else going on here.  I don't like Sanders.  And it goes beyond the fact that his policy platform is based on bogus numbers.

And most other political scientists don't like Sanders.

Why don't we feel the bern?  The answer has to do with one of the most snarky insults that political scientists can call a person:  a goo-goo.  What, you may ask, is a goo-goo?  A "good government" advocate.  A person who thinks that some "good government" reform will cure all political ills.

Goo-goos come in many varieties.  People who want to change the redistricting process.  People who want mandatory voting.  People who want to abolish the electoral college.  People who want to change the primary voting rules.

Who pisses me off most of all?  Campaign finance reformers.

And that brings me to Bernie.  Forget about Bernie's substantive policy platform.  What does Bernie want to do most of all?  He wants to pass a constitutional amendment letting him ban privately financed campaign activity.  He has claimed that this would be his first priority, and that there is no point working on anything else before it happens.  Afterwards, Congress will unanimously pass all of Bernie's socialist/utopian policy dreams!

This is bullshit.  Pure, uncut bullshit of the most pungent but agriculturally useless variety.  Let's count all the ways.

First, let's be practical.  Passing a constitutional amendment for this?  Ain't gonna happen.  Never.  No way, no how.  We have amended our Constitution 27 times.  The first ten were all at once, right after ratification.  Three of them took a civil war.  One of them canceled out another.  One of them took two centuries to ratify.  Ratifying a constitutional amendment is insanely hard.  It's supposed to be.  If amending the Constitution were easy, it would look like the California state constitution, and there would be no functional difference between statutory law and constitutional law.

The amendments we have passed have also related mostly to highly salient issues.  Slavery.  Women's suffrage.  That kind of stuff.  Have low salience amendments passed?  Sure, but that brings us to good, old Amendment 27.  And I do mean old.  That one limited congressional pay raises.  And it took 200 years to pass.

Where does campaign finance reform fit on the public salience scale?  About as low as possible.  Goo-goos, their journalist supporters, and a few others are totally obsessed with campaign finance reform, but most of the public couldn't care less about it.  Ask people to rate 20 issues from most to least important.  You will have a hard time finding any issue that receives any news attention that rates lower than campaign finance reform.

If Bernie is so deluded as to think that a constitutional amendment allowing the restriction of campaign spending will pass, he is too stupid to be trusted with presidential authority.

Next, let's talk about the effects.  This is one of the areas where political scientists and goo-goos are most at odds.  Bernie is convinced that everyone secretly agrees with his socialist agenda.  You see, the only reason anyone in Congress opposes him is that they are all bought off.  Really, if Ted Cruz weren't getting all that corporate money, he'd be taking bong hits and joining the drum circle at an Occupy rally.

No?  You don't think so?  Congratulations.  You are smarter than Bernie Sanders.

There is a pattern of statistical association between politicians' receipts from interest groups and their behavior in office.  Is that because the money buys them off, or because groups give to their ideological allies?  Pretty much the latter.  That's what empirical analysis tells us.  Everyone should go read John R. Wright's Interest Groups and Congress.  Bernie never will because Bernie has convinced himself, implicitly if not explicitly, that Ted Cruz secretly agrees with him.

Since that's bullshit, though, take away the money and how will people behave?  Basically the same.  Bernie will have just as much difficulty turning America into Denmark.  Why?  Cuz we aren't Danes.  Remember how PolitiFact's "lie of the year" a few years back was the Republican claim that Obamacare was a "government takeover" of the healthcare system?  Well, why did Republicans tell that lie?  Because Americans don't want a government takeover!  That will still be true, even if Bernie gets his silly, little constitutional amendment.  So, even if he could accomplish his constitutional goal, it wouldn't help him one whit towards his policy goals.

So, let's sum up.  Bernie Sanders has promised to spend his presidency working first towards a constitutional amendment that cannot possibly be ratified based on the false premise that doing so would allow him to pass policy initiatives that would fail anyway.

Hmmm.  Now, why is it I'm not feelin' the bern?  I don't care what you think about policy.  I don't care if you want a government takeover of the healthcare system or not.  I don't care if you want more or less redistribution.  Bernie Sanders doesn't understand politics.  He is a goo-goo.  And that just annoys me.  If you understand politics, it should annoy you too.

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

As long as we're talking about cheating, here's this.  Not the most famous version, but in my opinion, the best.

Friday, April 15, 2016

If you don't love jazz, you hate America

As per yesterday's post, maybe Trump doesn't...

If you are reading this, spread the word

I've been ranting at the aether about politics and music for two months now.  I don't know exactly who, but somebody is reading this nonsense.  If you enjoy it, spread the word.  Otherwise, I might have to focus on my secret identity as a New York Times editorial writer.  Have fun trying to guess which one!  It's a good gig, but they won't let me curse.

Donald Trump and the legitimacy of the electoral process

I have written a bunch of pieces recently about why I am skeptical that the Republican convention will deny Trump the nomination if he has a delegate lead over everyone else.  Not many people get it, but over at Vox, Andrew Prokop does (see his piece here).  The basic problem is one of legitimacy.

So, what is legitimacy?  Um... It's something about... rules... and voting rights... and, oh fuck it.  A government/party/process is "legitimate" if people think it is legitimate.  Perception is reality when it comes to this kind of amorphous abstraction.  The flip side, then, is that a process is not legitimate if people don't think it is legitimate.

Would observers, or more importantly, Republican voters think that it is legitimate for the convention to steal the nomination from Trump?  According to the poll Prokop cites, no.  Notice something interesting.  Donald Trump has been polling around 40% for a while.  But, 55% of Republicans think it would be illegitimate for the convention to steal the nomination from him if he is the delegate leader.  That means a bunch of Republicans don't like Trump, don't want him to be the nominee, and won't vote for him, but would object to the convention stealing the nomination from him.

The key issue here is willingness to lose.  In order for an electoral process to work, people have to be willing to lose.  They don't have to like it, but they have to refrain from violent revolt based on the premise that the process was "legitimate."

Problems ensue when a large group of people are unwilling to lose.  Democrats and Republicans each have their favorite stories about lost elections.  Democrats blame their losses on money, exaggerating the importance of spending beyond all empirical reason.  Republicans blame voter fraud, with no empirical support at all.  Problems ensue, though, when one side views an outcome as so illegitimate that the proper response is to tear down the system.

The irony here is that Republican voters seem more willing to accept a "loss" (the nomination of a person without an outright majority) than the elites who are scheming to block Trump at the convention.  The reason party elites are constrained, though, is the perception of legitimacy.  Trump's supporters would riot if the elites blocked him at the convention, and the rioters would have sympathy, even among non-Trump supporters.

That makes the stolen convention strategy a bad idea.  Will it happen?  Anything can happen this year, but plenty of people understand that this would be playing with fire.

Please don't burn down my city this summer.  I kinda like it.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Trump either doesn't understand the rules of the game, or wants to lose

I have been writing about whether or not "Republicans" will go through with stealing the nomination from Trump at the convention even if he has the most delegates (here, for example).  What I haven't been addressing is that Trump is, well, kind of a moron, and playing into the hands of the Stop Trump movement.

Here's the deal.  The "Republicans" who make the formal decision about whom to nominate at the convention are not congressional leaders, interest group leaders, etc.  They are people who can be influenced by those leaders, but the actual decision-makers are the delegates.  The primaries and caucuses bind the delegates to vote a certain way on the first ballot at the convention, but after that, they are basically free to vote however they want.

And Trump hasn't been playing the delegate selection game.  Cruz has been working to ensure that as many delegates as possible are Cruz loyalists so that if the convention goes to a second ballot, they vote for him.  Trump hasn't bothered, expecting to win on the first ballot.

Trump, of course, is whining about it, because Trump is a whiny, little Donald.



Currently, he is claiming that the nomination game is rigged.  Is it fair?  Fairness doesn't exist (see my comments here).  For Trump to complain about losing through the delegate selection game is like a novice poker player whining that the game is rigged because he lost a hand to an opponent who bluffed.  That's the game.  And Trump doesn't understand the game.

What does this mean for the convention itself?  Cruz loyalists will have no qualms about screwing Trump out of the nomination.  If Cruz can get enough loyalists on the delegate slates, he will win.

The problem is that there will be plenty of delegates who both hate Cruz, and won't want to deal with the chaos unleashed by screwing the delegate leader out of the nomination.

For what it's worth, the betting markets currently put Trump's chances at around 55%, and Cruz's at around 35%.  Is that right?  Who knows at this point?

Of course, there is a flip-side to this.  Many people, myself included, thought that Trump would never go through with a formal campaign.  I thought it was all just a publicity stunt, until he actually showed up for the first debate.  The problem with going that far is that Trump is probably a weak general election candidate.  So, either he would have to quit, or eventually lose.  Trump hates losing, but if he can claim he got screwed, then he can lose with whatever the Trump analog of dignity might be.

Perhaps, then, he wants to get screwed out of the nomination at the convention because that would be less embarrassing than having his ass handed to him by Hillary,

With Trump, though, everything is speculation.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Do Republicans have the courage/chutzpah to block Trump at the convention?

The only hope that Trump opponents have now of preventing The Donald from getting the Republican nomination is a contested convention.  Trump will have a plurality of delegates, and a consistent polling lead, but he may not have a majority of delegates.  In that case, the contest may go to a second ballot, and pledged delegates will be free to vote however they want on that second ballot.  So, if Trump's opponents can hold him under 50% of the delegates and convince a majority of delegates to vote for a single, specific, non-Trump on the second ballot, Trump gets screwed out of the nomination.

I've written before (here) about why I don't think this is likely.  It has too high a probability of fracturing, or even destroying the party.  Really, though, this is about comparative risks.  The basic question is this:  are Republican leaders more afraid of nominating Trump, or of opposing him?

There are plenty of reasons to fear a Trump nomination.  While we should not write him off as a sure-loser (he has outperformed expectations by so much that we cannot be sure of anything regarding Trump), his weaknesses as a general election candidate are obvious.  He is probably a weak candidate, and he could drag down vulnerable congressional incumbents with him.  That's a real risk.  The risk of blocking Trump at the convention, though, is that riots ensue (think 1968) and the party fractures beyond repair, while Trump directs the full force of his wrath at whoever led the coup.

Which risk is bigger?  It doesn't matter.  What matters is which risk the Republican muckety-mucks think is bigger.  How do we know that?  We look at their past behavior.  How far have any Republican leaders gone to oppose Trump?  Not very far. Take a look at the state of endorsements so far here.  Cruz is ahead of Trump, but compared to Clinton's lead over Sanders, Cruz's lead is razor-thin, and Trump is ahead of Kasich on this point scale!  And, if you combine all the points that Cruz and Kasich have, it's still a mere fraction of Hillary's endorsement points!  Republican leaders haven't even been willing to endorse non-Trumps.

Of course, if endorsements decided nomination contests, this all would have played out very differently.  But, the point is that Republican leaders are hardly even trying to stop Trump.  Why?  They are afraid of him.

If Republican leaders are too scared to endorse a non-Trump now, what makes anyone think they will have the courage/chutzpah to steal the nomination from him at the convention?

I admit, I don't get it.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Who brokers a brokered convention?

Right now, there is a high probability that nobody will have an outright majority of pledged delegates going into the Republican convention.  What happens then?  Chaos.  Glorious, beautiful, political science-informing chaos.

Or, not quite chaos.  We have a "brokered convention."  The question, though, is as follows: who brokers a brokered convention?  Up through 1968, the brokers were the party leaders, who could pretty much do whatever they wanted.  Now, it's different.  The Republican convention will have 2472 state and local-level party functionaries, pledged to various degrees on the first ballot to vote a certain way.  If that first ballot doesn't give any one candidate a majority, we get more ballots, but it will be the same people voting.  So, this won't quite be like an old-fashioned brokered convention, but here's some basic social science.

In a group that large, leaders will emerge.  Those leaders could be the candidates, they could be among the 2472 delegates themselves, or they could just be high-profile Republicans.  The basic issue is this:  when there are more than two choices, voting reflexively for your first choice is stupid.  If you rank your preferences as A, then B, then C, you need to ask yourself whether it is more important to try to get A, or to stop C.  If it is more important to stop C, then you might have a better chance of doing that by voting for B.

So, if those who rank A first, and those who rank B first are trying to coordinate their votes to block C, what's the most efficient way to do that?  The A supporters and the B supporters need at least informal leaders to do the negotiation, and solve the coordination problem.

Here are the choices at a brokered convention:

1) Nominate Trump, who will be the delegate leader, thereby preventing a conflagration.

2) Nominate Cruz because he has more delegates than anyone else not named Trump.

3) Ignore the primaries and caucuses entirely, and nominate whoever looks like a consensus choice.

That's three basic options, but option 3 has plenty of sub-options.  That's a lot of choices, and the decision will be made between 2472 people.  That can't happen unless some leaders emerge to coordinate.  Who will those leaders be?  I have no idea.  But social science will learn something about leadership emergence by watching.

And of course, I used to think that if Trump didn't get a delegate majority, there would be a Trump/Cruz coalition.  That's off the table now that they have attacked each others' wives.  So, what do I know?

Monday, April 11, 2016

What Sanders means for political science

I have been rather harsh on my fellow political scientists regarding Donald Trump.  None of our prominent models either predicted his success, nor even permitted it, and few of us put his chances of winning at anything significantly greater than zero.  But let's be honest here.  Bernie Sanders has also outperformed our models.

Bernie Sanders will lose.  But, if prominent models were to be believed, Hillary should have crushed him like a drunken frat boy crushing a cheap beer can.  Instead, she will limp to the finishing line.

What's going on here?  Let's start with my favorite whipping boy, The Party Decides.  I... don't like this book, and never did.  The basic argument is that party elites control the nomination process by endorsing and directing money to their favorite candidates, thereby signaling to voters whom they should support.  There is a logic to it.  The primary determinant of vote choice is party identification, but in a primary, all of the candidates have the same party label, so voters don't necessarily know what to do.  Following elite cues makes sense.

Except that the model never really worked, empirically.  As I explained here, party elites frequently fail to get the kinds of presidential nominees they want anyway.  And then there's that mechanism I mentioned.  Voters in a primary don't know what to do because they don't have their normal cue:  party labels.  Except that for the Democrats in 2016, they did.  Hillary is a Democrat.  Sanders "caucuses" with the Democrats in the Senate, but has run for election and reelection in Vermont identifying as an "independent" candidate.  Is he functionally a Democrat?  Yes, but the party label cue should advantage Hillary.

But of course, that's not what The Party Decides is all about.  The authors of the book argue that endorsements control the game.  Well, take a look at this.  In endorsements, Hillary is crushing Bernie.  And yet, she is only going to limp to the finishing line.  Sorry, Party Decides-apparatchiks, this shouldn't be happening.

Most other models, though, have little to say about Hillary v. Bernie.  Hillary is in the middle of her party ideologically, but Bernie, while far to the left, isn't outside the range of what Democratic primary voters can accept.  They split the early states like Iowa and New Hampshire, so momentum could carry either to victory.  There just aren't all that many other coherent models relevant after that.

And yet, even a Party Decides refusenik like me thought Sanders would lose by a larger margin.  Why?  He just... stands out as a weird candidate.  His connection to the party has always been at least slightly tenuous, he is older and less polished than most successful candidates...  There's the "income inequality" thing, but as I argued here, the division between the parties has been about redistribution since FDR, regardless of whether or not people use the slogan, "income inequality."  Why has Bernie out-performed?  Eventually, we need to figure that out.

Bernie will lose.  But he will lose narrowly.  He should have been crushed.  This isn't a failure on the scale of underestimating Trump, but we need to acknowledge it.  And people should stop reading The Party Decides unless they are doing an investigation into the history of failed theories.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Thoughts on the Republican VP slot

We haven't wrapped up the Republican nomination for president yet, but here's a quick thought on the best bet for the vice presidential nominee:  Mike Pence.

There are two main possibilities for the presidential nomination:  Donald Trump and Ted Cruz.

Trump

In order for the Republicans to not block Trump at the convention, they would almost certainly extract some concessions.  They don't trust him to govern either conservatively or intelligently.  They would need to shackle him with a VP who both keeps him on the ideological straight-and-narrow, and understands, ya' know, how government actually works.  A Cheney-type-figure.

Pence is a former House member who could have risen higher in the leadership ranks, but instead chose to go for Indiana Governor.  He has both legislative and executive experience, conservatives trust him, and he doesn't do anything reckless.  He is the anti-Trump.

Cruz

In order for the Republicans to trust Cruz, they similarly need to shackle him with the kind of guy who won't shut down the government on some damned-fool-idealistic-crusade.  Again, that's Pence.  Cruz would need Pence's institutionalist approach.

There are other choices, of course.  What's interesting about Pence is that he is an obvious pick for either Trump or Cruz.

Then again, maybe it is time for my 2016 disclaimer:  standard political logic doesn't apply this year, so what do I know?

If you don't love bluegrass, you hate America

I've been writing about arrogant methods of political analysis.  So, here's this one.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Ideology and laziness in politics and economics

Continuing on the theme from yesterday, there is a particular argument structure that just drives me nuts.  It goes something like this:  every sane, intelligent, well-informed, well-meaning person must agree with me, so everyone who doesn't is either insane, stupid, uninformed, or somehow morally compromised at best (i.e., corrupt if not downright psychophathic).

The relevance here will be obvious from my last couple of posts, but this is an important general principle that I try to impress upon students.  No matter how well-thought-out your opinions are, someone smarter than you, who has devoted his or her life to the study of the subject, thinks you are a  moron for thinking what you think.

And that brings me to Sanders, goo-gooism and accusations that anyone who disagrees with he who walks on bong water must be either crazy, stupid, unformed, bought off by the Hillary campaign, or just plain evil.

Let's define our terms here.  "Goo-goo."  Short for "good government."  A derisive term used by empirical political scientists for those who claim that some "good government" reform will solve all problems.  For Sanders, that would be campaign finance reform.  The central plank of Sanders campaign is as follows:  the first and most important priority must be a constitutional amendment to give Congress the authority to restrict spending on political advertisements.  Then, big restrictions.  Once you do that, everything else falls into place for his "revolution."  Single-payer healthcare, massive tax increases, you name it.  Sky's the limit.

What's more, according to Sanders, there is no point doing anything else first because any legislation that can pass in a pre-constitutional amendment system must definitionally be too small to bother.

Let's unpack this.  We have a term in social science:  the "counterfactual."  What if the world were otherwise?  According to Sanders, the "counterfactual" world without privately financed campaigns is one in which everyone wants single-payer healthcare.  Translation:  everyone secretly wants single-payer healthcare, or just knows nothing. There are actually plenty of reasons that most of the country opposes single-payer healthcare.

Let's list a few of the obvious ones:

1) Opposition to the principle of redistribution.  This is a competing values question.  Widespread access to healthcare versus the moral question of achieving it by having the government put a gun to everyone's head and saying, "you will pay for other people's healthcare or else."  If that is theft, then can you justify theft in the name of charity?  Let's not pretend there is only one side here.

2) Single-payer healthcare costs less.  That's good, right?  Well where is the best research done?  Here.  Where the companies that make cool stuff profit handsomely.  Take away that incentive, and reduce the quality of research.  Other countries have much cheaper healthcare.  Why?  They have single-payer.  And everyone around the world uses drugs 'n stuff that we make.  And a lot of the companies' profits come from high prices here.  Other countries get cheap healthcare because we subsidize them by being the ones who pay higher costs.  Fair to us?  Maybe not, but without that, less research.

3) Centralized authority.  Nothin' bad ever came of that, right?

4) Individualized plans.  Market-based systems allow product differentiation.  There are efficiency benefits to that.

5) Transition costs.  We have had a mostly private system for a long time.  Transitioning is difficult and costly.  And lots of people are on the losing side of those costs.

Did I just change anyone's mind?  Of course not.  That's not my point.  My point is that off the top of my head, I can list five big reasons that a well-informed, well-meaning person might oppose a transition to single payer that have nothing to do with being bought off.

To Sanders and his ilk, none of these topics even merit the slightest thought. They are just so obviously wrong that nobody could put any weight on any of these arguments.  Nope, the only reason Congress doesn't pass single-payer healthcare is that people are bought off.  Notice, then, the real point of goo-gooism.  Ego defense.   If you are an advocate of single-payer healthcare, reading my short summary of counter-arguments won't change your mind, but if you hadn't thought of these issues before, then you should probably think about them.  The problem is that doing so is psychologically uncomfortable.  In technical terms, thinking about these issues in a serious way causes cognitive dissonance for advocates of single-payer.   How do you avoid that uncomfortable feeling?   Disregard the arguments entirely, and just tell yourself that all sane, intelligent, well-meaning, well-informed people agree with you!   Anyone who makes this kind of argument doesn't really believe it anyway, so you shouldn't give it any real thought.   They're just shills for the insurance lobby!  Corruption!  Campaign finance reform!

Here, then, is the real problem with goo-gooism.  The point is to dismiss all political disagreement as being in bad faith.  That way, you never have to question yourself.   Laziness of the worst form.  Always remember, smarter and better informed people than yourself think your beliefs are nonsense.  And maybe they are.  Don't be like Bernie Sanders.

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

As serious music fans know, Merle Haggard died this week.  Instead of Merle, here's this.  Listen closely.  Darrell's better anyway.


Friday, April 8, 2016

If you don't love jazz, you hate America

It's Friday.

Since I've been talking about the bipartisan nature of voodoo economics, here's the Dirty Dozen Brass Band (embed fixed).

Argument and authority in politics and economics

I have a troll!  My very own troll!  A blog isn't a blog until it acquires a troll, you know.

Yes, I'm going somewhere with this.  But first, epistemology!  How do we know what we know?  The two primary forms of argument that are epistemologically valid are deductive arguments and inductive arguments.  Deductive arguments are basically math.  You start with a premise, and see what logically follows from that premise.  Euclidean geometry, a lot of economic theory, etc.  That's deductive reasoning.  Inductive reasoning is trickier.  Essentially, what has happened in the past is likely to repeat itself.  In my opinion, these forms of reasoning complement each other well.

Then there are the fallacies.  My favorite?  Argument by authority!  Im rite cuz Im tha prof!  (That was actually hard to type since I am using my iPad right now, and auto-correct didn't want to let me do that).

That leads me to my favorite riddle:  what do John Maynard Keynes and Milton Friedman have in common?  They were both smarter than me.  Authority is tricky.  If you look, you can always find someone who has some form of authority taking whatever position you want to defend.  So, inductive and deductive reasoning only, right?

Unfortunately, that isn't always practical.  Economics, for example is a technical field.  Just because it is filled with ideological hacks and insufferable douchebags doesn't mean the subject isn't technical.  So, what do you do if you know you don't have the technical expertise to evaluate something as complicated as, say, an economic plan?  And that leads me to my troll!  My very own troll!

If you are reading this blog (hi, me!), you know I don't think much of outsider candidates, like Bernie Sanders and Tony Clifton, I mean, Donald Trump.  Well, someone is attempting to get me to feel the bern.  Yeah, that'll happen.  Recently, I posted an article at The Conversation about the problem journalists face when covering liars.  I went after Mr. Clifton, sorry, Trump, pretty hard, but it was the criticism I leveled against Sanders that got me my brand new troll.  The thread is here.  In fairness, he is the most polite troll I have ever seen, but what's the deal here?  The deal is that I think of Sanders as the mirror image of Paul Ryan-- someone committed to a set of policies regarding wealth redistribution for moral rather than practical reasons, and hence willing to fudge the numbers because macroeconomic growth isn't really the point anyway.  So, Sanders and Ryan are both willing to lie about the macroeconomic and budgetary effects of their policies.  You can read a longer version here.

Sanders people don't like it when you criticize their savior.  Really, though, what should you do here when faced with an economic plan that may or may not be hogwash? In strict, epistemological terms, you should study economics.  But, what if you don't want to spend years of your life reading about economics to prepare yourself to evaluate politicans' economic plans?  Unfortunately, that brings us back to authoritah... sorry... authority.  Whom do you trust?  Therein lies the problem of lies.

We are psychologically predisposed to believe those with whom we are otherwise in broad agreement.  We are also psychologically predisposed to assess authoritah, sorry, authority by whether or not someone agrees with us.  Round, and round we go!

And that leads me back to my troll.  I called Sanders a liar.  Why?  Cuz he's a liar.  His economic plan is based around voodoo.  In order to make the numbers add up, you have to make ridiculous assumptions.  One way to do that is with an assumption of 5.3% growth.  Ridiculous?  Yes, but that's how ridiculous things have to get before Sanders' numbers add up.

Should you trust me?  Fuck, no.  I'm just an asshole with a blog that nobody reads.  Whom should you trust?  Ummm..  That's the problem.  Here's something to consider, though.  A very wide ideological range of economists, from John Cochrane to Brad DeLong think that Sanders is full of shit.  If you look hard enough, you can find a left-wing hack willing to defend Sanders, but if you look hard enough, you can find a biologist who rejects evolution, so, well, look at the range.

Could every economist from Cochrane to DeLong be involved in an anti-Sanders conspiracy? Well, I can't disprove it, but that's not a compelling argument. Not to me, anyway. Then again, argument by authority is far from proof anyway.  What am I really saying here?  Just ask yourself, at what point do your decisions about whom to accept and whom to reject start to look conspiratorial?