Monday, August 22, 2016

The most interesting, but clearly wrong explanation for Trump's nomination yet

Over at Mischiefs of Faction, there is a new piece up with a fascinating idea on why Trump is the Republican nominee.  The piece is wrong.  But in an interesting, and not entirely dismissible way.  Now, it is worth pointing out that Mischiefs of Faction is the Politburo for The Party Decides, which is the wrongest book ever on nomination politics, as I've been saying since the start of this silly, little blog (see here).  But, the author of the piece, John Patty, had nothing to do with that book.  I read a lot of Patty's stuff.  Very sharp game theorist.

Patty says it's because nobody else really wanted the nomination.  Yeah, I'm not buyin' it either.  But, it has just enough to it that we can't discard it completely.  Here's the gist.  Patty is taking an older argument from Banks & Kiewiet that, when there is a really strong candidate from one party, usually a rock-solid incumbent, the other party fields a chump because nobody decent wants to run against the invulnerable incumbent.  The chump can never get through a primary against a tough field, so the chump's only chance at getting into office is to run when there is no real primary competition, and hope for a miracle against the strong incumbent of the other party.  By default, strong incumbents wind up facing chumps in the general.  Clinton is facing Trump.  The math works out, if you jigger the equations properly.

Trump, chump, same diff, right?

A few problems should be glaringly obvious.

1)  This is a year that Republicans should win.  Three-in-a-row is rare.  It has only happened once in the post-WWII era, and the economy isn't strong enough to justify it, which is why Abramowitz's "Time for a Change" model predicts a Republican victory in 2016.  Trump is just underperforming.  To say that Republicans would expect this to be a losing year?  I don't buy it.

2)  With Clinton's high negatives, there is no reason to think she is an extraordinarily strong candidate.  I've written before that I don't think she's a weak candidate.  I just think she has already absorbed all of the damage a campaign can do, but to say that she looks invincible?  Uh, no.  More importantly, I can't see Republicans thinking that.

3)  The Banks & Kiewiet model requires the strong candidates to sit the race out.  Everyone said that this was the strongest field of candidates ever.  Jeb, Rubio, Walker, Christie, Jindal, fuck it, I don't feel like typing after that because I've made my point.  They didn't sit it out.

But...

And here's where Patty's argument can't be dismissed.

Why the heck didn't anyone bother to fight Trump?

At all?

Ever?

Even on the debate stage?

....

[crickets]

And here's where I can't dismiss Patty, much as the Banks & Kiewiet argument makes no fucking sense here.

So, we fall back on the more obvious explanations for why nobody fought him: 1) complacency, 2) fear of retribution, 3) collective action problem.

So why is Trump the nominee?

Here's a little explanation I've been working on, along with ending clauses with prepositions.  Just an idea I've been kickin' around the ole' noggin.  He won because a plurality of Republican voters decided that they liked him more than the alternatives.  So, they voted for him.  Those votes, through some sort of mystical process, got translated into "delegates," who voted at a convention across town from me, and voila!  The Trumpification of the Republican Party!

One wouldn't think of this as controversial, but I've had long arguments with people like Jonathan Bernstein about this.  Wanna know why?  Read this.  Yeah, we didn't see eye to eye.

So I pose my simple explanation.  Trump won because Republican voters liked his schtick, and The Party Decides was always bullshit.  He's losing now because the Republican voters who voted for him in the primaries were the only ones who like his schtick.

Screw Gillette.  Occam.  The best a man can get.

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