Monday, November 7, 2016

Warnings on how political scientists will interpret/explain Trump

I started this pretentious, little blog with a series called "Trump to Political Science: Drop Dead," detailing all of the ways that Donald Trump's rise broke all of our cherished, little models.  So, as we begin to grapple with tomorrow's result, whatever that may be, I'll give you, my very, very few readers, some advanced warning on the inevitable bullshit that my profession will spew.  None of us understand 2016, nor what it really means.  Hopefully, we will in the not-too-distant future, but right now, we still have work to do, extracting our heads from our collective recta.  Three warnings, in particular, stand out.

1)  Be wary of any explanation that is purely "institutionalist," meaning one that excludes voters from the process.  Trump won the nomination because voters-- Republicans-- liked him.  He got this far because those voters stuck with him.  Any examination of the Trump phenomenon that writes voters out of the process in favor of jargonistic handwaving about institutional features of the political system is bullshit.

To this end, Julia Azari at least makes some progress in this Mischiefs of Faction piece.  Yes, that blog functioned a bit like the Politburo for The Party Decides, AKA, the wrongest book ever written on party politics, but Azari never drank the kool-aid.  And, in her piece, she at least begins to build in voters.  For my money, she still oversimplifies in some critical ways, leading to...

2)  Be wary of any explanation that doesn't grapple with party asymmetry.  Clinton for all her many, many, faults, is basically a normal politician.  However, right before the first Comey announcement, I posted this joking that we weren't actually having a presidential election this year.  The presidential election looked more like one of those 2010 Senate races with Christine O'Donnell or Sharron Angle.  Here's the thing, though.  Which party nominated each of those candidates?  If, as Azari claims, the problem is the gap between the strength of our partisanship and the weakness of our party institutions, then the Democrats should be just as capable of nominating these kinds of asshats.  So, either the problem is within the Republican Party rather than truly institutional and pervasive, or the Democrats could just as easily have nominated a Trump-like figure.

In terms of party asymmetries, then, I return to one of my very first posts.  Grossman & Hopkins keep arguing that the Republican Party, unlike the Democrats, care about ideological purity, which is why they behave differently.  Oh yeah?!  Then why did they nominate the most ideologically impure candidate of the field?  Watch those party asymmetries and ask yourself:  where are the Democratic Trumps?

3)  Be wary of ex post facto arguments.  Here's a fun little one from the authors of The Party Decides.   Yeah, they're the ones whose model said Trump shouldn't have had a chance, and I've been picking on them since I started this blog.  Deservedly so.  Finally, they have come around to the position that maybe good, ole' Nelson Polsby has something valuable to say on the topic of nominations.  As in, party reform, post-68, gave power to the voters to tell the party muckety-mucks to go fuck themselves, leading to the rise of candidates that they can't control, and this, maybe better than The Party Decides, explains nominations in the current era.  Hmmmmmmm......   It seems to me like I started writing that a while back...  Like, back in March.  I don't even know where to start, so I'll just pick on one egregious line:
Yet we do not wish to be too hard on Party Decides. Its account of nominations in the period 1980 to 2004 remains, in our view, sound.
Aside from the line about not wanting to be too hard on their own book, I'll note the time frame for which they give themselves credit.  Note that they don't take credit for doing well in either 2008 or 2012?  I actually think their model did a mediocre-at-best job in 2004, but, well, take a look at my original critique of their success/failure record.  They just never impressed me.  At least they finally started reading Nelson Polsby.  A bit late.

Political science got a lot very, very wrong this year.  We don't know why.  But, a lot of smoke will be blown.  Be warned.

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