Monthly Archives: February 2016

I Will

I WILL break 300lbs on the bench press!
I WILL break 300lbs on the bench press!

I’ve been struggling with my workouts for the last couple of years. After making a lot of progress for a while, I got kind of stagnant. My bench press especially got stuck for nearly two years at about 295lbs.

Right around the new year I was pointed at this post by Mike Cernovich, and it had some words I needed to hear.

There is no “I want.”
There is only “I will.”

Go read the whole post. Seriously. It’s probably his most important post. I’ll wait.

The thing is, it’s nothing I hadn’t heard before. It’s not even a mindset I’d never adopted before. But I’d lost it, and I just needed to hear the words again. From somebody. Anybody. And Mike was the one who happened to be saying it on the day I needed to hear it. So I began this year without New Year’s Resolutions but instead with a list of New Year’s “I WILL’s.” The very first item on the list: I WILL break 300lbs on the bench press in 2016.

Tonight I smashed it out of the park:

  • 320 on the bench press (25lb or 8.5% increase over last record)
  • 395 on the squat (50lb or 14.5% increase over last record)
  • 425 on the deadlift (50lb or 13.3% increase and also broke the 400lb barrier).

There are guys out there who lift a hell of a lot more than that, so don’t mistake this for any kind of bragging. But those are respectable numbers. More importantly, they represent a break in the stagnation and the achievement of multiple personal goals tonight.

So tonight I’m putting out the thank you to Mike for giving me the words I needed to do it. Here’s to shattering many more personal records!

Trump Wins Because San Dimas High School Football Rules

Every time I see a Donald Trump rally, speech, or debate I’m reminded of the following scene from the film Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure:

If you’ve never seen the film, or if you can’t watch the video for some reason, the context is that each student at San Dimas High School has to give a major presentation as their final exam in history class. The student in the clip above is one of the school jocks. His presentation is poor, his grasp of the history appears to actually be even poorer, and any sane teacher would give him an equally poor grade. A generous teacher might be able to squeeze him into a D.

BillTedBut when he finishes his presentation by belting out, “San Dimas high school football rules!” the crowd loves him, and they go nuts to show it.

This, in a nutshell, is why Donald Trump is winning the race for the GOP nomination. It’s why a Donald Trump type will always win in our current system, and it’s why he’ll win the general election in the fall. The vast majority of voters don’t care about the history lesson. It doesn’t matter who is giving the history lesson – they will always find it boring and tune it out, just as the audience did above.

Trump understands this. His entire campaign has been to cut out the history lesson and focus on the only part voters care about. To the typical voter, Rubio and Cruz and Hillary and even Bernie sound like the history lesson. Trump just wants everyone to know that San Dimas High School Football Rules!

There are only two ways to defeat Trump. The first is to out-Trump him, which might well be impossible. The second is to turn the history lesson into an epic multimedia entertainment spectacle. Unfortunately for those who want to stop Trump, Bill S. Preston, Esquire and Ted Theodore Logan are not among the 2016 crop of candidates.


fightlikeaphysicistThere’s a reason that martial arts are called “arts.” There are a lot of myths, half truths, gray areas, and outright lies in our field. And even when we can demonstrate with practical experience that something works, martial artists all too often have a terrible understanding of the science behind why it works. In that environment, Fight Like a Physicist by Jason Thalken is a real breath of fresh air.

Thalken’s tome is basic rather than exhaustive. Anybody who’s had a college level physics course should be familiar with most of what he lays out. The problem is that all too many college educated martial artists leave their physics knowledge outside the dojo door, swallowing whole whatever their sensei feeds them. The even bigger problem is that too many senseis are feeding them a diet of junk science.

And it’s a shame, because there’s very good, very real science to back up much of the martial arts. Thalken covers the key concepts here – center of mass, momentum, energy, rotational physics, and leverage. Again, none of this is groundbreaking to any college level physics student. But what Thalken does is to apply the physics to the body and explain how it interacts when human beings fight one another.

In the second section, Thalken discusses some of the ramifications of the physics he lays out in the first section. Importantly, most of this section is given over to safety. His discussions of padding, gloves, helmets and concussions should be required reading for any martial arts instructor or coach.

My only complaint about this book? As I mentioned above, it’s not an exhaustive tome. It’s more basic than I would have liked, covering a lot I already knew (I did take college level physics). I’d very much love to see a follow on to this book at a far more advanced level. Mr. Thalken, if you’re reading this, know that I’d buy such a book in a heartbeat if you wrote it.

For what it is, though, this book is top notch. Five out of five stars, and I would consider this book a necessity for every serious martial artist.

This post has been cross posted to the Madison Martial Arts blog.

Trump is a Cult of Personality – and So is Evangelicalism

One of the more interesting data points to come out of the South Carolina Republican primary is how well Donald Trump did with self described evangelical Christian voters. Interesting – but not surprising.

First, the data: Trump pulled 34% of their vote, compared with 26% for Ted Cruz and 21% for Marco Rubio.

The reason this isn’t surprising? Donald Trump’s following is a cult of personality. Trump’s major selling point isn’t his policies. It’s not his ideology. It’s not even his good looks, his business sense, or his wealth. Trump’s major selling point is his personality. Voters are attracted to an alpha male who leads the pack with swagger and assuredness, charisma and vitality. Most of all, he’s entertaining.

Evangelical Christianity functions the same way. What draws evangelical Christians to any given church? You’ll hear lots of answers, ranging from the atmosphere to the style of worship to the particular beliefs being espoused. But what you’ll also see, almost universally, is that when the pastor of the church changes the makeup of the congregation also changes dramatically.

Tellingly, when people leave the congregation of one church to join another after a pastor change, the church they choose almost always puts the lie to any other reason they’ve given in the past for choosing. The ideology will be different. The atmosphere will be different. The style of worship will be different. Sometimes all of it will be different. Quite often the spectator will choose an entirely different denomination. And yet the congregationalist will once again use one of these reasons to justify his choice.

Sometimes people are honest enough to acknowledge that they just like (or dislike) the pastor. Most of the time they’re not. We all seem to inherently know and accept that that’s a poor reason to choose a pastor, and a far worse reason to choose a different denomination. It’s even worse for someone to admit that the pastor is the reason they chose to become Christian at all – but that happens, too.

Donald Trump may not be an evangelical Christian. But he appeals to them for the same reasons their pastors do. He’s energetic, bold, assertive and strong. He calls it like he sees it and doesn’t back down. But above all, he’s interesting.

Can Rubio and Cruz Afford the Fight?

Last week I wargamed the GOP primaries out through Super Tuesday. Things already weren’t looking good for anybody not named Trump. After this weekend’s vote in South Carolina, what’s changed? Conventional wisdom says that Rubio should be the big winner. But will he? There’s an honest question to be raised here: will Rubio have the funds to continue the fight? The same question applies to Cruz – although, as we’ll see in a minute, not to the same degree.

Candidates were required over the weekend to report their finances through the end of January. So we know what they had when the primaries actually started. What we don’t know yet is what they’ve spent and raised throughout February. So this analysis is necessarily a bit speculative.

First, the standing as of February 1:

Ted Cruz had $13.6 million cash on hand. That’s not bad. Marco Rubio had $5.1 million on hand – considerably less good. And Donald Trump had $1.6 million on hand – barely more than John Kasich’s $1.5 million. How does this effect the race?

We know that all of the candidates spent a lot more money in both January and February than they had been previously. As the actual voting neared, it was time to open the wallets. And the New Hampshire media market is particularly expensive. We also know that this problem is going to get worse. With Super Tuesday being a week out, the race has now gone national. Candidates can no longer pull a Kasich and just camp in one state. Eleven states vote next Tuesday – no candidate can be in all eleven at once. They’re going to have to make up for it with media presence.

Advertising is expensive. Advertising on a national level is really expensive. Will the candidates have the funds to do it? Looking at the mounting evidence, I’m starting to come to the conclusion that if your name isn’t Donald J. Trump, the answer is “no.”

The expectation for weeks has been that when Bush dropped out of the race his donors would migrate to Rubio. Various reports this weekend have been showing that’s not happening. Some of his donors have gone to Cruz. A few have actually gone to Rubio. Trump has even contacted a few. This is probably more strategic than monetary; Trump just wants to ensure that they don’t keep his rivals funded. But many, apparently, are holding tight anyway.

This really shouldn’t surprise anyone. Indeed, although I didn’t predict it, I feel now that I should have predicted it. Deep pocketed donors didn’t get deep pockets by throwing money away. They’re very often deeply conservative – not in the political sense but in the fiscal sense. They won’t spend money unless they think they’re getting something for it.

In the case of Rubio and Cruz, it’s not at all clear that they’ll get something for it. Cruz has only an Iowa win under his belt and seems to be hitting a ceiling with voters. Meanwhile Rubio – supposedly the establishment’s new darling – has yet to put a notch on his win board anywhere. Donors are right to be skeptical.

Additionally, I’ve seen more than one report that Bush’s donors aren’t even sure that political spending has even accomplished anything this cycle. Given how much money Jeb spent per vote, they’re right to be skeptical here, too.

Jeb’s donors holding back from the other candidates is a serious blow – especially to Rubio, who would have seemed to be the natural beneficiary. Without the extra cash, can Cruz and Rubio compete nationally? Or will they run out of cash? And if these donors do finally open up their wallets will it be too late?

My suspicion is that we won’t find out the answer to that last question. Lack of funding combined with Trump’s current momentum will cause both Cruz and Rubio to stall out next Tuesday. And after that, the donors will be clamping their wallets closed. The odds for Cruz and Rubio will simply be too long for conservative donors. It’s very possible that they’ll both drop out much sooner than I’ve expected – possibly even as early as March 2nd – simply because the finances dry up.

Nevada & South Carolina Post Mortem

États-Unis : les candidats déclarés aux investitures pour les primaires démocrates et républicaines (180x108 mm)

Nevada first because it’s simpler:

Good but not great news for Hillary. She pulled out the win – and although it was still close, it was a lot less close than I would have expected. She absolutely needed to win. But she really, really wanted to win by a much larger margin. But, as they say, a win is a win.

Oddly, I also think it’s good but not great news for Sanders. In January Clinton had a 20+ point lead in Nevada. On Saturday she one by a mere 5.3 points. He didn’t quite get below the 5 point margin I claimed would be a huge win for him – but he kept it close to that.  The Democratic primaries are almost all proportional, so by continuing to keep the race close he still racks up delegates. But sooner or later he’s going to have to actually win. I continue to think that he’ll eventually pull it out. The evidence is there for a preference cascade. The question for Sanders is whether it’s too little, too late.

A further data point: there’s evidence that the Clinton campaign is running into a fundraising wall. She’s been reliant on big donors contributing the maximum allowed, but there are only so many people who can contribute $2700 to a political campaign. Evidently she’s already hit them all up. If Clinton runs low on cash halfway through this thing and Sanders keeps up his smashing success with small donors, the race could get very interesting in a few weeks.

South Carolina

At dead last, Carson hit his worst case scenario. Why he’s still in the race is beyond me. Kasich didn’t hit either his best or worst case scenario. He avoided “dead last,” but couldn’t quite beat out Jeb. He’ll most likely limp along through March 15th to see if he can win Ohio. Unless he runs out of money.

The reports aren’t saying it yet, but Jeb ran out of money. Count on it. As I noted last week, that was the only reason he’d actually be out yet if he didn’t fall behind Kasich. Good riddance. I’m not interested in a hereditary monarchy.

Cruz hit what I laid out as his second-worst case scenario. If he can’t beat Rubio in a state as heavily evangelical as South Carolina, it’s extremely difficult to see where he does win. His path to the nomination is not looking good. He’s got the money and organization to hang in for a good while – and a few upcoming states, such as Texas, still look good for him.

But a win in his home state is unlikely to revitalize his campaign, and even there the trend is running the wrong direction. He needs more, and it’s hard to see where he gets it at this point. Also, he’s not polling anywhere close to high enough to hit the 50% threshold for winner-take-all status, which means that Trump and/or Rubio is likely to rack up a fair amount of delegates here as well. None of the other Super Tuesday states where he’s polling well have recent enough polls to be reliable.  Super Tuesday simply isn’t looking good for him.

Rubio came very close to his second-best scenario. The finish order wasn’t quite what I laid out yesterday (Kasich couldn’t beat out Bush) but the end result was what Rubio needed: Jeb out of the race.

Rubio gets Bush’s donors… or does he? There are reports that the Republican megadonors are gun shy after seeing how little their money did for Jeb. Some are saying that they plan to sit out the rest of the race. Others are merely reluctant and may eventually cut Rubio his checks.

And Rubio get’s Bush’s voters, right? Well… maybe not. It’s unclear where they go, but it seems to be a given that they won’t go 100% to Rubio. A USA Today/Suffolk poll shows them actually going heaviest for Kasich – and both Trump and Cruz do nearly as well as Rubio. That’s just not enough for Rubio, in the end.

Still, this was about as well as Rubio could’ve reasonably expected to do this weekend.

And what can we say about Donald Trump? He got the best win order he could’ve hoped for. But Jeb still dropped out and that’s not great for him. On the other hand, it’s not as terrible as many make it out to be. For one, see above about Jeb’s voters. For another, though, it’s one more challenger gone. In a way, it’s very like a reality show: each round, you want to not be the guy voted off the island, and this is one more round that Trump survived – and held onto his lead.

He also managed to pull of something I absolutely didn’t expect: he very well might have won all of South Carolina’s delegates. And if not, he got very nearly all of them. That’s 4% of the delegates needed to win all in one go, and that’s definitely a good night for him. Also, the media is very much solidifying on the “Trump is front runner” narrative. That’s also good for him. Ignore the cross tabs. At the end of the day, everyone wants to root for either the underdog or the winner. Trump can make a reasonable claim now at both.

Also, both Cruz and Rubio did well enough to keep them in the race a while longer. And the only thing better for Trump than both of them dropping out is both of them staying in. The Republican Nevada Caucus is tomorrow, and although the polling there is likely to still be sketchy it’s also looking very good for him. He’s got room for Cruz and Rubio to both overperform and still not be able to touch him. The only way Nevada is even news tomorrow is if Trump doesn’t win.

Otherwise, he’s looking strong going into Super Tuesday next week. Massachusetts looks terrific for him, and Georgia, Minnesota and Oklahoma are all looking good. shows Virginia looking rough for him in their polls-plus model – but their polls-only model shows it looking quite good for him, and so far this cycle it seems to have been the better predictor. Virginia is commonly thought of as the hardest state to get on the primary ballot for, due to the number of signatures involved. Trump was the first candidate to file. We can thus expect his organization and ground game there to be one of the better ones he has, and that will help him.

Texas is honestly looking good for Cruz… but not so good that he can afford to ignore it. And the Texas polls are a month out of date now. Don’t be surprised if they change between now and Super Tuesday.

TL;DR: Both Clinton and Sanders did well but neither did as well as they’d have liked. Cruz had a bad night. Rubio had a good night, but probably not good enough. Trump’s night wasn’t absolutely perfect… but was pretty darn close.

Nevada 2016

The GOP South Carolina primary is today. Across the country, the Democratic Party is having their Nevada Caucus. Next weekend these will be flipped. Why the parties did that is beyond me, but there it is. What should we expect in Nevada?

The RCP average shows Clinton at 48.7% and Sanders at 46.3%. But polling in Nevada is notoriously terrible, and the candidates are within the margin of error of each other as well. This one’s going to be a nail biter, plain and simple.

Anything less than a solid victory (5-10% or more) is terrible news for Clinton. The Democratic primaries are proportional all the way through to the end. That means that if Sanders keeps the race neck and neck, he’s going to continue to rack up plenty of delegates even if he loses. And the longer he pulls that off, the more likely Clinton is to falter.

On the flip side, anything smaller than a 5 point Clinton victory is a huge win for Sanders. A month and a half ago Clinton had a 20+ point margin in Nevada. If he manages to erode that down to a close contest in such a short period it shows him with honest momentum in the campaign.

My call? I’m expecting this one to be close either way, which is terrible for Clinton. Bernie’s brought out a killer ground game to Nevada just as he did in New Hampshire and Iowa. Nevada uses cards instead of coins to settle ties, so Clinton won’t be helped by magic quarters this time around. But the Nevada mafia might settle it for her all the same. She might pull out a technical victory, but my money is that the margins will be so tight that it hurts her more than it helps.

South Carolina 2016

The GOP South Carolina primary is today. Across the country, the Democratic Party is having their Nevada Caucus. Next weekend these will be flipped. Why the parties did that is beyond me, but there it is. What should we expect in South Carolina? has Trump at either a 77% or 82% chance for victory, depending on which model you prefer. In an environment so vehemently anti-establishment, I think the polls (as bad as they are in primaries and caucuses) are more predictive than endorsements, so I lean toward the higher side there. However, Trump’s lead has dropped in the past week and Rubio seems to have had a mini surge again so there’s still a chance for an upset.

The RCP average as of this writing looks like this:

  1. Trump – 31.8%
  2. Rubio – 18.8%
  3. Cruz – 18.5%
  4. Bush – 10.7%
  5. Kasich – 9.0%
  6. Carson – 6.8%

If the polls are right then Trump should be cruising to another double digit (or nearly so) victory. Meanwhile, Rubio and Cruz are battling it out for second and third while Bush and Kasich fight over fourth and fifth. Let’s look at the more likely scenarios given these poll numbers and see what happens.

Trump’s Best Case Scenarios

The best case scenario for Trump is Trump/Cruz/Bush/Rubio/Kasich/Carson. If Bush somehow managed to pull out a third it would serve to keep both him and Rubio in the race, continuing to split the establishment lane vote. Kasich probably won’t quit just yet no matter what happens tonight, so this would be ideal for Trump.

It’s not going to happen, though. Given the poll numbers above, this is a long shot. Bush would have to show a major surge somewhere with Rubio tanking, and the momentum just really seems to be going the other way.

The best case likely scenario is Trump/Cruz/Rubio/Bush/Kasich. Rubio’s surge duds out. Cruz keeps enough momentum to stay fired up and keep propelling him forward while still hitting a hard ceiling that prevents him from actually winning. Also, I think Trump’s best case scenario is for the final one-on-one death match to be against Cruz.

But unless Bush pulls out the third – or a surprisingly strong fourth – odds are looking good that he’s out tonight. That’s less than ideal for Trump, as it helps Rubio consolidate the establishment vote. Even so, the machine politics of South Carolina is more or less ideal territory for Rubio. If he can’t pull out the win there it’s hard to see him pulling it out elsewhere.

Trump’s Worst Case Scenarios

Rubio/Cruz/Trump would be devastating. That’s pretty unlikely, though.

Rubio/Trump/Cruz or Cruz/Rubio/Trump would also be plenty bad, though. These scenarios are also unlikely, but FiveThirtyEight gives Rubio and Cruz each an 11% chance of pulling it out in the polls-plus model. Cruz carries a slight edge in the polls-only model. If this happens, it throws my entire wargaming scenario out the door. Trump can win with 30% of the vote. But to do so, he has to actually win.

Rubio’s Best Case Scenarios

The best case scenario for Rubio is Rubio/Trump/Cruz. This definitely blunts Trump’s front runner status, and establishes Rubio as one of the three candidates who has actually won a primary. The race automatically becomes a three way race at this point, and the Kasich and Bush donors flock to Rubio.

One or two of the polls this week hint that this just might happen… but it seems pretty unlikely. His last minute surge would have to be huge. Trump has a big lead. Also, Iowa proved that Cruz has a pretty effective ground game and you can count on him to bring it to South Carolina. South Carolina’s machine politics are ideal for Rubio… but the conservative evangelicals in the electorate are ideal for Cruz. Don’t count on Rubio squeezing out a win.

His best case likely scenario is Trump/Rubio/Cruz/Kasich/Bush – with Rubio being a strong second and Bush being a weak fifth. That achieves almost all of the same goals as above. Bush is forced out of the race and Rubio gets his donors. Kasich probably stays in a bit longer, until he realizes that all his donors have flocked to Rubio, too. Rubio consolidates the establishment lane, just not quite as quickly as above.

He has decent odds here. But again, Cruz’s ground game could prove a spoiler.

Rubio’s Worst Case Scenarios

Trump/Cruz/Bush/Rubio would be pretty bad. It’s about the only thing that could keep Bush in the race, and Bush in the race is the worst possible thing for Rubio. Odds are really low for this one.

His more likely worst case scenario is Trump/Cruz/Rubio, and there’s a strong chance on that one.

Cruz’s Best Case Scenarios

Cruz’s best case looks something like Cruz/Trump/Bush/Rubio. Rubio and Bush continue to split the establishment lane vote and Cruz solidifies the idea that he’s the only one who can actually beat Trump. If he pulls it off, this race is completely changed. He won’t, though. He’s shown basically no momentum in the polls and the gap is too big.

His best case likely scenario is actually the same as Trump’s best likely scenario: Trump/Cruz/Rubio/Bush/Kasich. The small difference is that Trump would like to have a big lead whereas Cruz would like Trump’s lead to be small. Cruz reaps all the same benefits as Trump for keeping the establishment lane split, just not to the same degree. This is what his camp is hoping for tonight.

Cruz’s Worst Case Scenario

Trump/Rubio/Bush/Cruz would be utterly devastating but it’s unlikely to actually happen. Again, Bush just doesn’t have the momentum here – and while Cruz doesn’t either, he also doesn’t seem to be losing ground.

More likely is Trump/Rubio/Cruz. That’s still a rough night for Cruz, as it seems to cement the narrative that his support has hit a ceiling.


Bush’s Best Case Scenario

Bush has to beat Rubio to keep his campaign alive. It’s unlikely to happen for reasons already discussed. RIP Jeb!

Bush’s Worst Case Scenario

Dead last might actually happen. But anything that doesn’t involve beating Rubio is probably a campaign killer for Bush.

Kasich’s Best Case Scenario

Kasich would like to beat Rubio, too, but he’s probably far more realistic about it and understands that it won’t happen. Beating Bush is his best likely scenario for tonight.

Kasich’s Worst Case Scenario

Dead last might actually get him out of the campaign tonight. I think odds are good that he’ll still beat out Carson, though, and limp along for one or two more contests.

Carson’s Best Case Scenario

The best Carson can hope for tonight is “not last.” He’s unlikely to get it. He’s a dead man walking and will probably be out of the race in another week no matter what.

Carson’s Worst Case Scenario

The opposite of his beast: last. Given his public statements, I don’t think it would end his campaign tonight. But it should.

My Call

I won’t put voter percentages out because it’s too volatile, but my feeling is that the RCP average is probably going to be the final order. Rubio’s got the momentum to beat out Cruz – but not Trump – and Bush, Kasich and Carson just aren’t budging that much in the polls.

We’ll find out in about ten hours or so.

Head Games

In any competition against actual human beings, winning is seldom about utterly destroying your opponent. Granted, utterly destroying your opponent almost always will grant you the win. But it’s seldom necessary. Rather, the necessary condition for victory is destroying your opponent’s will to fight. Once your opponent stops fighting, it’s done. Sure, there’s often a bit of cleanup left. But once the enemy breaks it’s over.

Toward that end, elite players in all kinds of competitions – from chess to sports to war to politics – make heavy use of head games. Getting inside your opponent’s head – and keeping him out of yours – is crucial to competition. It is not sufficient, but it is absolutely essential in every respect.

First, maintaining your own confidence is important. If you do not have confidence in your own ability to win, you will not act decisively. Lack of decisive action is deadly. So you must maintain confidence. On the flip side, you will work to destroy your enemy’s confidence. One aspect of this is projecting your own confidence outward. If you do not appear confident to your enemy, it will embolden him. Conversely, an external appearance of supreme confidence can often cause your competitor to doubt his own.

For the most part this is not a rational process. The heavy part of it is instinctive. With that said, elite level competitors of all kinds know the game and exercise conscious techniques to honestly maintain their own confidence, project a higher confidence than they feel, and defend against attempts by their opponents to undermine their confidence. They will also exercise other techniques deliberately designed to sabotage their opponent’s confidence: deception, misdirection, intimidation.

Often it isn’t even your opponent’s confidence you must destroy. Quite often destroying the confidence of his allies is sufficient. Destroy their confidence and they withdraw their support. Without their support, quite often your opponent honestly cannot win.

For a concrete example we’ll turn to – where else? – the current Presidential election. Yesterday I pointed out that Donald Trump does not need to hit 51% of the popular vote in order to win a majority of delegates and secure the nomination. I covered the delegate math in excruciating detail to hammer home the point.

But the reality is even harsher for his opponents than it seems, because there’s one more key detail that I didn’t cover: funding. Donald Trump doesn’t have to worry about funding. He can self fund his campaign for as long as he needs to. And his spending levels have been so low that he doesn’t even really need to spend all that much on it (measured as a percentage of his actual income and assets).

His opponents, on the other hand, need cash. Lots and lots of cash. They can’t provide it themselves, so they must raise it from donors. And this will be the final nail in their coffins. Trump doesn’t have to destroy the other candidates. All he has to do is destroy their fundraising.

Nearly a dozen candidates have already dropped out of the GOP race. Ultimately their decision to leave came down to funds. Look at John Kasich today. His poll numbers are now actually measurable – not because he suddenly became more popular but solely because he managed to survive long enough to have a smaller field to compete against. Do you honestly think that Christie or Jindal or even Scott Walker wouldn’t have found a similar polling boost if they’d found themselves in Kasich’s survivor shoes? Of course they would have. But they didn’t survive this long because ultimately they ran out of money. Their donors no longer saw them as having a viable path to the nomination and so the money dried up.

By all accounts, Jeb Bush is very close to a similar fate. I hedged yesterday and assumed he’d stay in the game longer. I still think he would if the choice were solely his. His confidence is, at this point, supremely irrational and apparently unflappable. But his donors feel differently, and they appear to be jumping ship. Odds now look extremely good that he’s out after a resounding defeat in South Carolina tomorrow.

Where does this leave yesterday’s analysis? Not much altered, frankly. But there is one extra wrinkle. Today Nate Silver is again insisting on the mathematical fallacy that Trump needs to hit 51% of the electorate to win.

Perhaps the single most important question in the Republican race is how high Trump’s ceiling is and whether he can eventually get to 50+ percent of the GOP electorate.

Here’s his path to 50%, Nate: intimidate the donors until his opponents can’t afford to continue in the race. Gather enough delegates before the winner take all states to ensure that his opponents can’t amass a majority, and then scare away the donors with head games. The candidates would love to take the fight all the way to the convention floor. Their donors will be far more reluctant to bankroll it. Most of them will find themselves far better off making their peace with Trump instead.

By Wednesday, March 2nd – the day after Super Tuesday – this will officially be a three man race. By March 15th we will know for certain if either Cruz or Rubio still has a realistic path to the nomination. My suspicion is that both will be out by the end of March due to donor support drying up.

Look for Trump to continue playing the head games he’s already become famous for. Why? Because they work.

Wargaming the GOP Primary Through Super Tuesday

Nate Silver again has failed to do the delegate math on the GOP primary.

SuperTuesday20121-620x300As I have already pointed out, this is mathematically incorrect. The GOP primary rules this year are setup so that a candidate can easily win a majority of the delegates with only a plurality of the vote. Due to arcana of the rules, 20% is the magic threshold to pass. 25% is safer. 35% – which Trump’s national polling average has hovered around for the last month – is a lock.

This does, however, have one rather strict requirement. Winning the GOP nomination on a plurality requires at least a 3-man race. If any of Trump’s opponents can whittle it down to a one-on-one race, they have a chance. As Mr. Silver has already noted, when candidates drop out has a huge influence. The other important influence is what candidates drop out.

The current GOP field has already narrowed considerably. However, it still consists of six candidates. In this environment, Trump’s 35% plurality continues to make him a shoe-in for the nomination. So let’s consider each of the remaining candidates and what happens if and when they drop out.

First, let’s take a look at the current national RCP average. Yes, I’m aware that the state level polls matter far more. But we can use this as a current proxy for our thought experiment.

  • Trump – 33.8%
  • Cruz – 21.0%
  • Rubio – 16.3%
  • Kasich – 8.8%
  • Carson – 6.0%
  • Bush – 4.5%

First note that the polling average only sums to 90.4%. That leaves 9.6% of the electorate undecided. Mr. Silver makes the assumption that Trump won’t do particularly well with these undecideds. I haven’t seen him explicitly state it, but I would guess that he assumes Trump will underperform his current poll numbers within that group. He may in fact be right. However, I don’t think there’s any good reason to assume that as of yet. For the sake of our experiment, we’ll forget about those voters and just work with the numbers that we have.

Sooner or later most of the candidates still left will drop out. Even with six candidates in the field, single digit poll numbers won’t win you the nomination. Remember: you can’t even be entered for nomination at the convention unless you’ve outright won at least eight states, and single digit numbers won’t do it for you. “Momentum” strategies can work, but three out of the five remaining candidates are relying on a momentum strategy. It will only work for one of them.

The South Carolina primary is in two days. None of the remaining candidates will drop out before then. If they were going to do so, they would have already. Will any drop out afterward? The only dropout case that I see potential for is Bush. Right now the South Carolina RCP average shows him 6 points below Rubio and only one point (a statistical tie) above Kasich. His national numbers are likewise abysmal, and now there are rumors that his campaign is running out of cash. At the same time, Rubio is lining up the endorsements that Bush was counting on.

Logically, if he finishes behind Rubio – and especially if he finishes behind Kasich – Bush should bow out after South Carolina.  My prediction? He won’t – unless he really is out of money. Everything to come out of his campaign to date shows that he – or his family; it’s unclear – really and truly just doesn’t understand that the current crop of GOP voters simply does not want him. He’ll push for one more (Nevada) if it’s possible for him to do so. Until his ego finally lets go, he’ll continue to split the “establishment lane” vote.

Likewise, Kasich won’t drop out yet either. He’s still riding a bounce from a) overperforming in New Hampshire and b) being one of the few men left standing. In a few short weeks he’s gone from “who?” to… well, doing better than Bush. My guess is that he’s going to try really hard to hold on until March 15th when his home state of Ohio votes. He’ll be hoping that “favorite son” status will help him pull out an actual win. It’s very questionable, though, if he’ll have the funds to hold on. My guess? He’ll either be out on the 15th or he’ll be out sooner after a dismal performance on Super Tuesday (March 1st). Until then, he also continues to split the establishment lane vote.

Rubio is in until Super Tuesday no matter what. He’s got a strong Iowa performance to point to and all signs point to him performing well in South Carolina. There’s no way he’ll catch up to Trump there, barring a catastrophe. But he’s in a statistical dead heat with Cruz for second place and he very well might pull that off with the South Carolina establishment behind him. Even if he doesn’t, he’s likely to be a very close third. The potential upset? If Bush somehow manages to pull out the upset and close the 6 point gap for second or even third. Even then, though, expect Rubio to hold on until… you guessed it, Super Tuesday. It’s only a week and a half away and Rubio’s got cash. He won’t be out before that. He’s also unlikely to be out before March 15th (that date again!) when his home state of Florida votes. Again, it’s not that far off and he’s got the cash. If he does well between now and then, he’ll probably be in for a while at that point.

Cruz looks poised for a 2nd place finish on Saturday in South Carolina. If things go poorly for him, that may slip to third. I don’t expect it. He proved in Iowa that he knows how to run a killer ground game, and word is that he’s brought his A game to South Carolina. I expect him to overperform his polls – but not by nearly enough to catch Trump’s 16 point lead. But even a disappointing third place finish keeps him in the race as the only non-Trump candidate who’s actually won a state. Plus, he’s got plenty of cash and he’s proven to be disciplined and strategic at spending it. Unless his poll numbers tank, Cruz is likely in it through March.

That leaves Carson. Honestly, who knows what Carson is thinking right now? However, he’s now vowed to continue to Nevada no matter what happens in South Carolina. And Super Tuesday is only three days later. So I would expect him to stay in through that point as well, although honestly… who knows.

So… Super Tuesday. What does the picture look like then? Let’s assume that the RCP polls hold for South Carolina and Nevada (if they’re off, it’ll still probably be close). For the Super Tuesday votes, I’ve used RCP averages where available (Georgia, Massachusetts, Oklahoma, and Texas) and fallen back to the RCP national average for all of the rest (Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Minnesota, Vermont, Virginia, and Wyoming). Note that some of these states have poll numbers that are massively out of date, but they generally reflect the ordering of the national polls so I’ve stuck with them. This won’t be perfect methodology, but it’ll get us generally close. Using the RCP delegate simulator (and adjusting for the fact that its totals don’t quite match already allocated delegates), I get the following:

  • Trump – 308 delegates and 13 state wins
  • Cruz – 205 delegates and 2 state wins
  • Rubio – 89 delegates
  • Carson – 37 delegates
  • Bush – 26 delegates
  • Kasich – 24 delegates

That’s 689 delegates allocated – almost 28% of the total 2472  delegates. It’s also 15 out of the 56 total contests already “won.” Note that out of those, only two candidates (Trump & Cruz) have any wins counted at all and Trump already has enough to be entered for nomination.

Let’s make a few assumptions now. Let’s assume that Carson gets a clue and drops out at this point. Let’s also assume that Kasich drops due to lack of funding. Bush is a wild card. He may hold out until Florida votes on the 15th, or maybe he’ll drop, too.

It’s always hard to predict whom voters will see as their second choice. But here are my calls. Carson’s voters will predominantly continue to be anti-establishment. That means they’ll mostly split between Trump and Cruz, with a small but significant minority moving to establishment players. Let’s assume for the moment that Trump and Cruz split their share fairly evenly and that the minority predominantly goes for Bush. Let’s say 6 points for Carson becomes 2.5 Trump/2.5 Cruz/0.5 Rubio/0.5 Bush.

On the flip side, Kasich’s supporters will mostly go for the establishment “anyone but Cruz or Trump” lane. Let’s say that his 8.8% becomes 4% Bush, 4% Rubio, 0.4% Cruz and 0.4% Trump.

Assuming Bush stays in, we have the following situation in the national polls:

  • Trump – 33.8% + 2.5% from Carson + 0.4% from Kasich = 36.7%
  • Cruz – 21% + 2.5% from Carson + 0.4% from Kasich = 23.9%
  • Rubio – 16.3% + 0.5% from Carson + 4% from Kasich = 20.8%
  • Bush – 4.5% + 0.5% from Carson + 4% from Kasich = 9%

In this scenario, Trump’s hand has only gotten stronger. We could assume that Carson’s voters go much heavier for Cruz. But even if they do, it’s not enough to close that 13 point gap. Likewise, we can assume that Bush drops out as well and all of his support goes to Rubio. That’s enough to put him ahead of Cruz, but still not enough to close the 16 point gap between him and Trump.

Whatever Bush does, neither Cruz nor Rubio has the incentive to drop out yet. Both will have money and organization. And yet in the three way race, Trump continues to dominate. His plurality in the votes continues to be enough to win him a majority of delegates.

The only hope that Cruz, Rubio and Bush have is to survive the attrition to face a one-on-one match with Trump. The problem that each of them faces, however, is that none of their rivals (save perhaps Bush) has a particularly strong incentive to drop out and let them have that one-on-one race. The game here is one of chicken, primarily between Cruz and Rubio. Whichever of them holds on the longest has the best chance of beating Trump.

And yet the reality is that both of them are strongly incentivized to hold on long enough that it’s mathematically too late for the other to actually win the victory against Trump. By March 1, 27% of delegates will already have been awarded. By March 15th, when I project the other candidates will seriously think about dropping out, 62.5% of the delegates will have already been awarded. Even assuming that Cruz or Rubio survives to a mano y mano with Trump at this point, and even assuming that they carry the rest of the states with actual 51% plus majorities, it’s mathematically very difficult for them to actually win at this point. If Trump does well in New York (home turf plus a large haul of 95 delegates) and a handful of other states, there simply isn’t a path for Cruz or Rubio to a majority.

And those assumptions are both very strong. When do donors stop giving money to campaigns that aren’t winning? At a certain point, people stop throwing good money after bad. And for either candidate Mr. Silver’s contention about Trump also holds true. In a one on one race, Cruz or Rubio would also need to hit 51%. I think Mr. Silver would agree with me that Cruz’s chances of besting Trump one-on-one are middling at best. He polls well with evangelicals, but not any group outside of that. Rubio might do better. But even Mr. Silver – who has been thinking Rubio had the best shot for months – would have to agree at this point that it’s not a given that Rubio would hit 51% against Trump.

A key point to remember: by this point in the game, Trump’s ~35% plurality will have already carried him a far portion of the way to a majority of delegates. As I noted above, 62.5% of the delegates will have already been awarded, roughly half of which are likely to be Trump delegates. In order to win outright, his one-on-one challenger would have to essentially run the table. But even to deny Trump an outright majority and force a brokered convention, his challenger would have to do extremely well. They’d have to do much better than seems likely at this point. They’d also still have to win at least 8 states outright to even have their own name thrown in the hat.

Pulling off a mano-y-mano victory at such a late point, for either Mr. Cruz or Mr. Rubio, would be akin to an Superbowl team hitting the middle of the third quarter with a 21-0 deficit and managing to come back for a win. It’s theoretically possible. It’s no doubt happened in regular season games, and possibly even at a Superbowl. But nobody actually thinks it’s going to happen until it actually does. In presidential primaries it would be unprecedented.

Also consider that a brokered convention isn’t necessarily in the best interests of either Rubio or Cruz personally. There’s no guarantee at all that such a convention doesn’t just nominate Trump anyway. That’s not a given; if Trump has 40% or more of the delegates he needs and the convention doesn’t nominate him, expect a major voter revolt in the GOP. But even if a brokered convention doesn’t nominate Trump, there’s no guarantee that it would nominate Cruz or Rubio. Cruz isn’t well liked by the establishment and is unlikely to fare well at a brokered convention. Rubio is well liked, but anything could still happen – including but not limited to his mentor Jeb Bush having his name thrown in the hat.

Put yourself in their shoes. Would you continue a Quixotic campaign that was sure not to get you the delegates you needed to actually win just for the off chance of coming out ahead in a brokered convention? Or would you throw your support behind the front runner well before the convention in exchange for concessions – possibly including a VP slot? Trump literally wrote the book on cutting deals. Expect him to be ready to cut one here, if it becomes necessary.

The problem is more than simple delegate math. It’s game theory. And game theory predicts that neither Cruz nor Rubio will exit the race until it’s too late for the other to win. It further predicts that one or both of them is likely to eventually cut a deal with Trump to throw their support to him and finalize his delegate majority. Barring a sudden change in the polls, the nomination is Trump’s to lose. Like it or not, this is the truth on the ground. Mr. Rubio and Mr. Cruz know this, and by the end of March their campaign advisers will be reminding them of it heavily.