Friday, August 18, 2017

Trump, Corker and competence

As you may have read, Senator Bob Corker has finally just come out and said it.  Trump is neither competent nor stable, and he doesn't really get basic American values, or at least the values that we are supposed to hold.  And Corker is a Republican.  Holy shit.  It may be time for me to question whether or not Trump's support will really crater.  I'm still not there yet, but maybe.

What I want to address, though, is the point that I made frequently throughout the campaign.  "Valence."  Back in 1963, Donald Stokes published an article called "Spatial Models of Party Competition."  The article is old enough that the link is un-gated, so you don't need to be on an academic terminal or to set up a VPN to access it.  The gist is that there are "positional" issues about which voters fundamentally disagree abut the objective (e.g. abortion today), and there are "valence" issues, which are the issues about which we fundamentally agree about the objective, but disagree about how to get there, or who can get us there.  For example, we all want a strong economy, but disagree on how to strengthen it, and who knows how to do it.

Game theorists (like me-- hi!) have modified the idea, and turned it into the concept of the valence "characteristic," which is a trait that voters supposedly just want candidates to have, like competence or honesty.  So, candidates have scores for traits like these, which can be converted into a score in a valence "dimension," which we then combine with a candidate's location in some n-dimensional policy space, and then a bunch of math happens, and then we pretend like our fancy math means something when instead, a bunch of racist yokels elect Donald Trump after James Comey decides to pretend like he might indict Clinton over some bullshit even though he knows he won't, but I'm getting ahead of myself.

Anyway, game theorists (like me) have been working with the concept of the "valence characteristic" for years, and I wrote quite a bit about how important those models were during the campaign, and after.  During the 2016 Democratic Convention, Michael Bloomberg gave this speech:

Yes, this was obvious all along.  It was clear, all along, that Trump was crazy and incompetent.  And frankly, Bob Corker knew all along.  One of the points I keep making about Trump is that he is so obviously an idiot, so obviously crazy, so obviously a con-artist, and so obviously a bad one that you have to be grotesquely stupid not to see through him, and while some congressional GOP-ers are stupid (e.g. Louie Gohmert), Corker isn't stupid.

Corker made a devil's bargain.  He decided to elect someone he knew was unstable and incompetent, and he did it because he thought that person would sign a tax cut and put people like Neil-the-plagiarist-Gorsuch on the Supreme Court, having supported McConnell's year-long blockade.

So, Bobby, what are you going to do about it?

My guess?  Nothing.

What might happen?  I'm going to start putting this out there.  A strong primary challenge in 2020.  The last time we had anything even close to a strong primary challenge to a sitting president?  1992-- Pat Buchanan's challenge to George H.W. Bush, and that wasn't very strong.  For anything real, you have to go back to the complicated politics of Johnson stepping aside in 1968.  Could that happen if enough Republicans get sick of Trump and mount real challenges?


Well, wasn't Trump supposed to be a joke of a candidate in 2016?  He won the nomination by inflaming racial tensions and steamrolling the whole party by going full racist.  Um....  You see my point.

2020 is going to be a mess.  For now, though, the GOP is stuck.  They put an incompetent and unstable person in the White House, and some of them knew what they were doing.  Corker did.  But hey, at least you know the political science terminology if you read this blog!  Thanks to Donald Stokes, we can make it all fancy-sounding and highfalutin!  Valence!

Fun fact about game theorists:  most of them don't actually read the literature, so when I go to academic conferences, they talk about "valence," and don't even know that Stokes was the guy who started it all!  They usually cite a decade-younger piece by Enelow & Hinich, or something else influenced by Stokes, because they are too lazy to read.  Old joke:  a grocer in Cambridge, MA is working the express checkout and a kid shows up with about 30 items.  The grocer asks, "Harvard, or MIT?"  The kid is puzzled, and asks how the grocer knows that he attends one of those schools.  The grocer responds, "well, either you go to Harvard and you can't count, or you go to MIT, and you can't read."

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