Monday, May 15, 2017

Explaining Republican unity around Trump right now

Before I went on that series of cathartic weekend rants, I was getting to a point about the strangeness of Republican incentives and the fact that they have mostly circled their wagons to block investigations of Trump.  As I pointed out on Thursday, they face a collective action problem, wherein any individual Republican actually has incentives to be the one Republican to break from the party and be the one to criticize Trump, given the likelihood of this whole thing coming apart.  On Friday, I connected it to the "mini-max" regret rule, which I originally used to try to defend Comey's decision to presidency-block Clinton, back in October.  What both of these posts suggest, though, is that Republicans shouldn't really be circling the wagons as effectively as they are.  So, why are they?

At some point in your life, you have known Blind Willie's blues.  At some point in many peoples' lives, though, the check engine light has come on, and they have done something like this:

Like I said yesterday, once upon a time, it was a great show.  Many people will disregard serious warning signs of problems with their cars.  Scary noises or warning lights.  Maybe they hope it is not a big deal, or maybe they just hope to make it to the next paycheck.  My first car used to make some noises that mechanics said were less worrisome than they sounded, and a lot of people live paycheck to paycheck.  And, mechanics do charge for their time, even if they don't fix anything, and if you really need to get to that next paycheck, then what do you do?

You can start to see the predicament of congressional Republicans in this light, then.  I have read conflicting assessments from lawyers on whether or not Trump could be convicted on obstruction just for firing Comey, but the evidence of true collusion with Russia, at this point, is only circumstantial.  It is clearly enough to warrant a full investigation, though-- a point only sincerely rejected by hardcore, rabid Trumpists with their heads twisted so far up their own asses that we should call them Mobius Trumpists.

The interesting ones are the ones putting tape over the check engine light.  If the car just breaks down, it will cost more in the long run, but if they are hoping to make it to the next paycheck (or election), then one can see the rationale for stonewalling any investigation.  Yes, it could backfire, and yes, it has an element of denial to it, but with limited resources, it could even be rational.  It's all about trying to run out the clock.

Here are the considerations:

1)  Probability of disaster before the clock runs out (p)
2)  Cost of fixing the disaster before the clock runs out (f)
3)  Cost of the disaster happening before the clock runs out (c)

It's actually kind of a simple calculation.  If pc < f, then try to run out the clock.  Most of the Republicans in Congress understand that Trump is a disaster.  They weren't exactly rushing to endorse the guy in the primary!  But, they hope to wait him out.  Yes, it will be costly, but taking the car in to the mechanic when it makes that noise?  They don't think they have the money.  They just want to make it to the next paycheck.

Here's the problem.  There's another analogy here.  You feel a lump.  Maybe it is metastatic and maybe it isn't.  If it is, the longer you wait, the more likely that lump is to kill you.  We could also go with the risks of a lethally infectious and contagious disease.  The potential dangers here are more serious than just a car crapping out on you at a quiet intersection in a tiny town.  Just days ago, Trump was touting James Clapper as the guy who exonerated him.  Over the weekend, Clapper not only called bullshit on that, he said that Trump is putting the Republic in danger.

This is far worse than Homer Simpson putting some tape over the check engine light, apt though the analogy may be.


  1. There has to be a game-theoretic example of this type of model.

    Multiple rounds. Can exit the game at any time. However, you DON'T know if you're playing the pc<f game or the cancer lump game.

    1. Making it game-theoretic rather than decision-theoretic means adding another player. Whom would you like to add? You can then add rounds, or other structural complications, but it is still just a fancy version of pc<f. The cost parameter can incorporate any type of cost you want, be it electoral or the general cost of destabilizing democracy. The cancer lump thing is also decision-theoretic, with the same basic structure. Instead of simple constants for p, c and f, you'd have more elaborate functions that change over time in ways that reflect medical stuff that neither of us study. Again, I'm going for simple here. As Ray Wolfinger tried to beat into both of us: Keep It Simple, Stupid (KISS). Of course, KISS does NOT rock.