Category Archives: Politics

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.

FiveThirtyEight.com 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?

FiveThirtyEight.com 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.

Trump Has Captured the Blue Dog Vote

Blue DogIt’s no secret that both major American political parties have become substantially more extreme than they were 20 years ago. The media won’t let us forget that the Republicans have – they blast it on every horn. But often overlooked is how much the Democratic party has also shifted leftward. Some people I’ve discussed it with refuse even to see it. But the proof is in the political extinction of Blue Dog Democrats.

The term Blue Dog was always just a bit nebulous, as any coalition tends to be. The term itself comes from the Blue Dog Coalition, formed in 1994 as a response to the Republican Contract With America. But the coalition of voters that they represented goes back much further than that – and those voters haven’t gone away.

Voters who fit the “Blue Dog” profile tend to be, roughly:

  • Fiscally conservative. They believe government shouldn’t spend money it doesn’t have.
  • Pro union.
  • In favor of trade protectionism.
  • Moderately liberal on social issues. They’re definitely in favor of fair treatment, but their support for affirmative action or similar programs would generally be weak. Anything as extreme as reparations would be straight out.
  • Ranged from mildly pro-choice to mildly pro-life, but in either case not a single issue voter on the topic. Perhaps best summed up by Bill Clinton’s line, “safe, legal and rare” – but these voters would probably put the emphasis on rare.
  • Strong on national defense.
  • Pro second amendment.
  • Religious – specifically Christian – but not in your face about it
  • Southern

In a word, they’re basically center-left. Very center, mildly left. Any individual Blue Dog voter might miss one or two of these specific issues, but the coalition as a whole would look like that. These voters had a very strong tendency to vote Democrat – but for a very certain kind of “conservative” Democrat.

The Democratic Party under Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, and Barack Obama has systematically purged these conservative Democrats. It began in the final years of the Bush Administration. If I had to pick a date, I’d say that the purge began with the primary challenge to the left that Joe Lieberman faced in 2006.

Moving forward from this point, the Democratic Party shifted on several issues in ways that alienated the voters who supported this ideal. The party stopped paying even lip service to fiscal responsibility. The party lost all interest in trade protectionism, adopting the Republican Party’s free trade stance. Pro-choice and gun control became litmus tests. And social issues went strong leftward. Whereas a Blue Dog would generally favor gay rights – including benefits and hiring – most would generally not favor gay marriage, or at best would be wishy-washy on it. Much of this shift came from the far left voter base pushing at the primary level, in the same general way that the Tea Party did for Republicans.

But simultaneously, the party engaged in purges at the top levels. Much of this came from President Obama himself, who throughout his term has appointed very few southerners to high positions. Southern voters were already leaving the Democratic party. But at this point, southern politicians began leaving it, too. And why shouldn’t they? The party wasn’t helping them.

In my own district, Congressman Bud Cramer – a founder of the Blue Dog Coalition – retired in 2009. Now, the man really was at a good retirement age. As my dad put it, he probably really did want to spend some time with his grandchildren. But given the voters in this area, he could have had that seat to this day if he’d wanted it. He was extremely popular locally. His seat was filled by his chosen successor, Democrat Parker Griffith. Before the year was out, Griffith switched parties. This story played out all over the south at about the same time.

The problem for these voters is that the Republican Party of today doesn’t really represent them, either. They’re not extreme pro-choice, but neither are they extreme pro-life. They’re still protectionist, and they still favor unions. The GOP isn’t exactly fiscally conservative these days, either – and all Republican voters are aware of it. And their simply more liberal than the GOP as a whole on race and other social issues. But today they’re nominally GOP voters or GOP-leaning “independents.”

Donald Trump has absolutely dominated with these voters, and no small part of it is because his politics actually represents them better than anyone else’s does. Build a wall? These guys are OK with that. Start a trade war with China? These guys are on board. Keep the unions strong? Good deal. Pro choice but not likely to shut down the government over it? They like it. Strongly pro second amendment? Nice!

Trump’s support stems from well outside this group, for sure. They’re not numerous enough to win him the Presidency on their own. But his absolute domination within it forms the solid core of his support.

All Politics is Power Politics

scaliaFor those of you living on a deserted island – or who somehow otherwise missed the news – Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia passed away over the weekend. Unsurprisingly, it seems that before his last breath even faded the political battle over his replacement ended.

The conservative base, unsurprisingly, wants the Republican controlled Senate to dig in and refuse to confirm any nominees that President Obama makes to the court before his term is up in January 2017. Despite the horrified shrieking of Democrats, there is indeed precedent for this – although the case is perhaps not as strong as Republican shills would like to make it appear. But the root fact of the matter is that the shouting of both sides is mere political yammering.

All politics is power politics.

If Obama were able to replace Scalia with a liberal  justice – even a moderately liberal justice – the court would mark a major leftward shift. This would be a huge win for liberals and Team Democrat – perhaps the biggest win in a generation, and that’s not an exaggeration. The effects of that victory would last at the very least until the next Supreme Court opening.

To be sure, the odds are strong that the next vacancy will be for one of the more liberal justices. With Scalia’s passing, the three oldest sitting justices are Ginsburg (82), Kennedy (79), and Breyer (77). However, as Scalia’s passing shows, anything can happen. If another four year presidential term passes without any vacancies – or with a conservative vacancy – then the court is fundamentally transformed, most likely for an entire generation.

The reverse, of course, is also true. If Senate Republicans successfully fend off a nomination until the election is over, there’s a strong chance of having Scalia’s replacement chosen by a Republican president. There is also, then, a strong chance of Ginsburg, Kennedy, and/or Breyer being replaced by the same president – especially if he wins a second term. Once more, the court would be fundamentally transformed, most likely for an entire generation. It would be a huge win for Team Republican.

Make no mistake about it: if the roles were reversed, the Democratic Senators who are currently complaining about Republican obstructionism would be vehemently opposing a Republican president making an appointment. Likewise, the Republicans would be labeling them obstructionists. The legal theories espoused by each side in this argument are strictly a matter of power politics. The players involved each want their own team to win.

And the further truth of the matter is that in this case the victory will go purely to the team with the political will to play. Obama absolutely will make a nomination. It remains to be seen if he’ll nominate a moderate in the hopes of breaking the resistance and winning a nomination or if he’ll nominate a strong liberal who will fire up his base. Either way, constitutionally, he has every right to make the nomination.

But by the same token, the Republicans in the Senate have every constitutional right to block it. The constitution gives no guidance on why the Senate should accept or reject a nominee. And if they choose to hold firm, they can absolutely prevent any nominee from being confirmed.

We conservative voters are currently very unhappy with the Republican establishment. A very large factor in our discontent is a feeling that Republicans in Congress are not fighting. We understand that control of Congress without control of the White House or the Supreme Court limits what can be accomplished. But we also see a Republican establishment that is refusing to fight the fights that it can – and should – actually win.

There is absolutely no reason that conservatives should lose this fight. It is pure power politics, plain and simple. The only way we can lose is if we lose the will to fight it. Unfortunately, that means that it’s extremely likely that Republicans will lose it.

Has the Anti-Hillary Preference Cascade Begun?

hillary_bitch_faceReuters and Quinnipac are both showing Hillary Clinton’s lead over Bernie Sanders in low single digits and – more importantly – within the polling margins of error. To be sure, the RCP average is still showing Clinton with a 13 point lead. Nevertheless, as the article linked above notes:

“If polls are to be believed, Hillary Clinton’s once commanding national lead over Bernie Sanders appears to have evaporated in a matter of days…”

Has the preference cascade begun? It’s too soon to be certain, but it does appear that way.

Trump Should Buy the Farm

Well that was certainly interesting.

Results are in from last night’s Iowa caucuses, and the media is in full spin mode. The general analysis looks ludicrous to me, so here’s my own take.

Democratic Primary

We’ll start with the Democratic Party because it’s simpler over there.

Hillary Clinton: She eked out the narrowest of wins last night, but this result is terrible for her. It’s nearly as bad as an actual loss, and maybe even worse. Somebody on Twitter last night posited that the good news for Hillary was that the news from the Republican side dominated the airwaves. That’s only last night. On the Democratic side, all anyone will be talking about is that Bernie very nearly pulled it off. It’s the big talk on the airwaves for the next week, and it doesn’t help Hillary. It’s claimed that she let out a sigh of relief last night. She shouldn’t have. Last night is just the start. This is going to be a long primary season for her.

Bernie Sanders: The only thing better for Bernie than last night would’ve been a huge victory. This is just as good for him as a narrow win would’ve been. Bernie is a serious candidate, and he just proved it. He’s guaranteed that it will be a long fight for the nomination, and he very well might be snatching it from Hillary’s harpy hands. He battled the machine down to an effective draw in the first battle, and will likely crush it in the rematch in New Hampshire. That’s a powerful narrative.

Republican Primary

Ted Cruz: As the winner, this is clearly good for him. But how good is it? I’m not one to dwell on how many times Iowa has “gotten it wrong.” It doesn’t matter – every race is different, and that’s a correlation-doesn’t-equal-causation effect. But up until the last week or so, he was the odds on favorite to win Iowa. It’s is ideal terrain for the fight, and yet he still only squeezed out the win by 3%. The RCP average still has him down by 22 points in New Hampshire and 17 in South Carolina. That’s a lot of ground for an Iowa bump to cover.  Final verdict? A good night for Cruz, but don’t get cocky.

Donald TrumpMake no mistake, a win would’ve been better – a lot better. But this is still a good result for Donald Trump. For the last month the talking heads have spun the theory that Trump’s support in the polls somehow “isn’t real.” Last night he finished within the margin of error of the polls, which proves that it’s definitely real. It also proves that if winning Iowa had been his main goal, he should’ve invested in a better ground game. He didn’t, and we all know it. If he had? There’s a good chance he could’ve won this. We now know that his 22 point lead in New Hampshire is big enough that he’ll still win in a landslide even if his voters are at the low end of the polling error margins again. But this time around that’s less likely. The New Hampshire primary is not a Caucus. The ground game still matters, but much less so. Forget the spin: last night was good but not great for The Donald.

Final verdict? He should buy the farm in Iowa. It’s all anybody would talk about for a week or more if he did it, guaranteeing him the airwaves again. And he could almost certainly sell it at a profit after the election merely by marketing it as “the farm that Trump bought.”

Marco Rubio: The best night that he could’ve hoped for. There’s no way he was going to win this, but his very strong third place finish is a huge help for him, no doubt. Is it enough? Like many, I predicted months ago that by the end of February this would be a three man race between Trump, Cruz and Rubio. That winnowing is already happening. Will Rubio emerge victorious from that battle? The problem is, you can only ride third place for so long. Eventually you have to break out. And Rubio’s not even polling third in New Hampshire – he’s currently fifth there. South Carolina has him at third again. Eventually you have to start racking up actual wins. Unless he gets a bigger bump from Iowa than is typical, I see Rubio continuing to sit in third place as the front runners rack up more and more support. The truth is, everyone loves a winner. And as candidates exit the field, voters will flock to the front-runner. All signs right now say it won’t be Rubio.

Ben Carson: He does better than expected and his campaign gets one last major gasp of breath. But it’s unlikely that he’ll even place in New Hampshire (the RCP average currently has him in eighth place there with a mere 3.2%), and things aren’t looking much better in South Caroline where he’s in 5th place. This campaign is in “done but won’t admit it yet” status, but it could stay there for a good while.

Rand Paul: Better than expected, but nowhere near good enough. Instead of uniting his father’s coalition with the mainstream, he’s only managed to alienate his father’s supporters. Go home and defend your senate seat, Rand, before it’s too late.

Jeb Bush: Another better than expected showing. Unfortunately for Jeb, the story out of Iowa last night is that Rubio is the establishment candidate. Another “done but won’t admit it yet” candidate who will take a long time to admit it. But at this point I’m not crying because it’s actually kind of fun to watch him get kicked around. So stick around a bit, Jeb. There’s plenty of time to go crying to mommy later.

Carly Fiorina: An “also-ran” who’s not polling any better anywhere else. Expect her to be out of the race very soon.

John Kasich: An “also-ran” who’s going to stick in for a few more races because somehow he’s polling well in New Hampshire. He’ll either live up to his polls and claw out a second or third place showing in New Hampshire before dying over the next few contests or his supporters jump to the Rubio “strong horse” and his hopes and dreams are crushed. Either way, he’s out by the end of the month.

Mike Huckabee: His entire candidacy centered around repeating his 2008 performance in Iowa. That clearly didn’t happen, and he dropped out last night. If he’d dropped out last week and endorsed Trump, he might have started 2017 as the new Vice President. Consolation prize: his stock as a talking head keeps its value and he cries all the way to the bank.

Chris Christie: Poor showing in Iowa and only polling sixth in New Hampshire – and he hasn’t even hit the southern states yet. People here loved him for his attitude five years ago. Now they hate him even more for hugging Obama. If he can’t win the northeast he’s got no prayer. He should be dropping out, but his ego probably won’t let him.

Rick Santorum: Another candidate who was banking on repeating an Iowa performance. It was a fluke in 2012, Rick, and literally anybody could’ve told you that you wouldn’t repeat it this year. I don’t even know why you tried. At least you had the sense to get out after your poor showing last night.

Takeaway

Sanders is going to give Clinton a long, hard fight. I still think he’s going to prevail in the end, but he is fighting a formidable political machine.

By the end of this month we’re looking at a three man race on the GOP side – Trump, Cruz, and Rubio. My expectation is still that they’ll finish up the primary in about that order. The others are dead men walking. And Trump should buy the farm.

Get your popcorn, kids. The show is just starting.

Preference Cascade

As I mentioned at the end of yesterday’s post, I believe Bernie Sanders will win the Democratic party’s presidential nomination. I also believe that Donald Trump will win the Republican nomination. That second prediction isn’t much of one given the polls of the last few weeks. So let me add another one: I believe he’s going to have a much larger victory margin than current polls show. I believe each race will feature a massive preference cascade.

What is a preference cascade? The classic example involves totalitarian states – say, the Soviet Union or Iraq circa 2002. Residents in the totalitarian state really, really dislike their government. But the secret police abound, and anybody who doesn’t like the current regime suffers terrible consequences: imprisonment, torture, execution of themselves or their families. Saying you don’t like the current regime carries terrible consequences. If you have half a brain you lie about it, and tell everyone that you love it.

The thing is, your family, friends, and neighbors all hate it, too. But they’re also afraid to tell everyone about it, and for all the same, good reasons that you are. So everyone tells each other that the current regime is wonderful and amazing. Meanwhile, they secretly all hate it. But if you took a poll in the society, it would look like you have 97-99% approval ratings of the current regime (some people are too stupid to live, apparently).

But then a funny thing happens. The regime gets some cracks in it. The government starts collapsing losing its power as the Soviets did in the late 1980s; or the US invades and promises to kill your dictator, as in Iraq in 2003. It’s not quite so dangerous to voice how much you hate the regime anymore. So a few people get a little braver and speak out. Then their family, friends, and neighbors notice that those people didn’t get sent to Siberia, and they get a little braver, too. Then it grows, and grows some more, and eventually nobody’s afraid anymore and everybody’s telling each other how much they hated that evil regime the whole time.

That’s a preference cascade.

I think we will see two of them in this primary season. First, Donald Trump. I keep hearing people say that they don’t understand how he’s doing so well in the polls because they don’t know any Trump supporters. I see it in the news, from the typical left media types who don’t actually know any conservatives. But I also see it in my Facebook feed.

The thing is… I know a lot of Trump supporters, both personally and online. And I also know that a great many of them are afraid to admit it. I’m pretty confident that once it becomes clear how many others are also Trump supporters, they’re going to start speaking out more. I also think these people are afraid to tell even pollsters about it. They’re not afraid they’ll go to Siberia – they’re just afraid they won’t have any friends anymore. Scott Adams claims that Trump will persuade huge majorities by the end. I think he already has, at least of Republican voters. They’re just afraid to admit it still.

I think Hillary Clinton is in the opposite situation. The Democratic party consists of voters who are strongly feminist. They want to support a female candidate. But even more strongly they want to be seen supporting a female candidate. Hillary’s the only one they’ve got. And this time around, they can’t deflect criticism by supporting a minority candidate, either. It’s her or the old white dude.

Yet Clinton is a lying liar and they know it. She’s one of the most untrustworthy people ever to enter politics. Her politics are cold and calculating, shifting with the wind. Perhaps worst of all, the set of people who actually like her, even among strongly Democratic voters, basically consists of my sister and… my sister.

But Democratic voters are afraid to admit that they aren’t supporting the feminist cause, so they’re telling everyone they’re for her. All the while, her poll numbers keep slipping… and slipping… and slipping. Check out the chart below from the Washington Post. Hillary’s poll numbers are falling faster – and earlier – in 2016 than they did in 2008.

Hillary's preference cascade, visualized.
Hillary’s preference cascade, visualized.

Looking at current poll numbers, Hillary might still pull out the win in Iowa. If she manages it, expect a repeat of 2008: a long, hard fight for the nomination that carries on almost to the end before it becomes mathematically impossible for her to win.

I’m skeptical, though. I think Sanders just might pull it off in Iowa. He’s within spitting distance, and his polls are moving in the right direction (hers aren’t). Centrist democratic voters are afraid of the S-word (socialism). A caucus environment is the perfect one for them to lose that fear, as their friends start standing for Bernie – and their more conservative friends are across town at the Republican caucus, and won’t see them.

If Bernie wins Iowa and New Hampshire, then look for the preference cascade to hit fast. Expect him to get  a huge boost heading into the Nevada caucuses – enough to enter that state in a position very similar to where he now finds himself in Iowa. If he pulls that one out, too, then expect Hillary’s support to break, and to break hard.
Trump, meanwhile, will be riding his own preference cascade straight into the Republican nomination.