Friday, March 11, 2016

What's the endgame?

I've observed a few things about Trump supporters and Cruz supporters that I'd like to comment on. It's based on what I've run across. I don't claim it's a scientific sample. So it may not be representative. For instance, Jerry Walls as spent a lot of time berating Rubio. So I'll return the favor.

i) One contention is that it's time to unite behind a single candidate–that candidate being Ted Cruz. Critics like Walls are very impatient with Rubio supporters. Time is running out to block Trump. Cruz is our last best hope!

But a reason I prefer Rubio, a reason I've been hanging back with respect to Cruz, is that I find that advice nearsighted. What's the endgame?

There's a twofold goal: beat Trump, then beat Hillary (or Bernie). There's no particular advantage to beating Trump in the primaries if you lose to Hillary in November. You need a good general election candidate. So you have to think ahead. What's the second act? 

I'm not saying for a fact that Cruz can't beat Hillary. I'm not saying for a fact that Rubio would beat Hillary. You can only go with the best information you have at any given time.

If he can get nominated, I think Rubio has a much better shot of beating Hillary than Cruz. I'm not keen on uniting behind a candidate who can edge out Trump in the primaries only to lose in November. I want a conservative candidate who has a good chance to cross the finish line. Leading in the backstretch is not enough. 

ii) Jerry totally supports Cruz and totally opposes Rubio. I've encountered this same mentality among other Trump supporters and Cruz supporters. The mindset is that you can't support one candidate unless you totally oppose his rival. In addition, some Trump and Cruz supporters so identify with their candidate that he's above criticism. 

That's unhealthy. Now, there are candidates who richly deserve unmitigated opposition. I totally oppose Trump, Hillary, and Bernie. If Christie were still in the race, I'd say the same thing about him. But it's irrational when Walls can't find anything good to say about Rubio. The problem is not with opposing a candidate, but acting as though the only way to support one candidate is to utterly oppose a rival candidate. 

Which brings me to a related point: while there are candidates who deserve our wholehearted opposition, there's rarely if ever a candidate who deserves our wholehearted support. Our political support for candidates should always be qualified. In particular, Christians should not be blind loyalists. 

Although I support Rubio, I don't totally support him. To the contrary, I've made a note of positions he's taken that I oppose. Conversely, the fact that I prefer him to Cruz doesn't mean I totally oppose Cruz. In fact, I think Cruz has a lot going for him. Mind you, I doubt he's equally sincere on all his current positions. 

iii) Another problem with this polarized mindset is that it's a recipe for disillusionment. What has catapulted Trump to the frontrunner status, and what attracts many voters to Cruz, is bitter disillusionment with the GOP "establishment". 

But when you totally support one candidate, it takes very little for him to let you down. And when that happens, the cycle of bitter disillusionment repeats itself. That can be a vicious circle. It's prudent to lower our expectations. Work for improvement, not utopia. As William Rusher said, "Politicians will always disappoint you." 

iv) Apropos (iii), I've seen both Trump supporters and Cruz supporters use a common narrative. Here's one version:

After Obamacare became law, House Republicans ran on a repeal and replace platform. "Give us control of the House, and we'll revoke Obamacare!" But they broke their promise. Then Senate Republicans ran on a repeal and replace platform. But they broke their promise. The GOP establishment betrayed us!

Here's my problem with that complaint: it's inherently impossible for the House to singlehandedly repeal Obamacare. One house of Congress simply lacks the unilateral authority to pull that off. So that was never in the cards. Now I fault House Republicans for making a campaign promise they knew they couldn't keep. And I was aware of that at the time.

But if you voted for Republicans because you thought the House could repeal Obamacare, you have only yourself to blame. Voters have a duty to know how the system works. There's no excuse to be that ignorant. That's not betrayal–that's being a patsy. 

The situation is similar with respect to the Senate. Now it's true that in principle, both houses of Congress, acting in conjunction, can repeal a law. But that's not automatic. If you have a hostile president, then the only way to do that is if both houses pass a bill by veto-proof (or even filibuster-proof) majorities. And although the House of Representatives may currently have that margin, the Senate does not. 

I'm not sympathetic to voters who are complain about how they were "betrayed" when they are politically illiterate about the rudiments of our legislative system. This isn't arcane knowledge. You don't need a law degree to figure that out. Even if they don't teach that in public school, anyone with Internet connections can find out. Is that really asking too much? 

Ironically, the same mentality makes them suckers for Trump. They are being duped all over again because they refuse to think. They don't bestir themselves to do the most elementary research. 

BTW, it's always a good idea to sweep Democrats out of power. 

v) Let's take another example: I've seen people express admiration for Cruz because he called Mitch McConnell is a liar on the Senate floor. Sorry, but I think that's a really dumb thing for Cruz to do. 

McConnell is majority leader. How do you get anything done as a lawmaker if you antagonize the leadership? They determine who gets to sit on what committees and subcommittees. They determine if a bill gets voted out of committee. They determine if a bill gets a floor vote. 

I'm not saying there's anything necessarily wrong with challenging the leadership. That can be a good thing. But unless you have someone viable to take their place, it is foolish to alienate the leadership. 

The legislative process requires teamwork. If you have open contempt for your colleagues, what does that accomplish? Why are you there in the first place? Why join an organization that requires collaborative effort to get anything done if you can't stand your associates? 

We need to distinguish two different issues. To say it's true to call McConnell a liar doesn't mean it's smart to call him a liar. For instance, imagine a subordinate who publicly said his commanding officer was a moron. And suppose his commanding officer really is a moron. But it's counterproductive for a subordinate to say that. He will be relieved of duty and court marshaled for insubordination.

Likewise, suppose a football player says the coach is an idiot or the quarterback is an idiot. Even if that's true, why join the football team in the first place if you have such open contempt for the coach and the quarterback? You will either be booted off the team or spend the rest of the season on the bench. What purpose does that serve? 

The political process requires cooperation. If you're better at making enemies than allies, that's self-defeating. If you find it demeaning to schmooze people you don't respect, then choose a different line of work. Sometimes Cruz acts like the stereotypical autistic savant: high IQ but antisocial. 

Once again, what is the endgame? Is it just to have a moment of emotional release? Moral satisfaction, or is it to make a difference? Change the status quo? 

To a great extent, etiquette exists for folks who dislike each other. The amenities submerge the enmities to make social life possible. 

Imagine a family reunion or Thanksgiving meal where everyone finally decides to say what they really think of each other. They've been saving that up for years. All the cumulative grudges. Well, that may make them feel better for the next hour or so, but they will never be on speaking terms for the rest of their lives. 

vi) Which brings me to another point: in my observation, Trump supporters and some Cruz supporters are unable or unwilling to put themselves in the shoes of voters who aren't naturally drawn to candidates like Trump or Cruz. Indeed, they seem to think it would be demeaning or compromising to do that. Just today I ran across a perfect illustration:

Some Cruz fans wrote in, “the fact that these people don’t like him makes me like him more!”

Okay, but while that might make Cruz fans like him even more, how does that endear him to voters who aren't already members of his fan club? 

Problem is: that's a prescription for defeat at the polls. You need to be able to think like other people. Assume their viewpoint. The electorate is very disparate. A winning coalition consists of different voting blocks. If you wish to win, you need a candidate who has fairly broad appeal. That's not a question of right or wrong, but how to achieve your objective. Maybe it shouldn't have to be that way, but that's the way it is. Once again, what is the endgame? 

vii) A danger I see among some voters is that if you insist on too much, you end up with nothing at all. You don't get more. You don't get less. You don't get anything. 

viii) Florida is do-or-die for Rubio. I think it's droll for Cruz to suggest that Rubio should drop out and unite behind him because Rubio can't win Florida. Classic self-fulfilling prophecy. 

Now I'm not suggesting this is about fairness. Cruz has a perfect right to run in Florida. It's a competitive process. But the question is the endgame. If the Rubio is knocked out, and Trump nets the delegates, what's the endgame? 

Depending on how Tuesday turns out, it may be hard to shake an air of futility. I'm already becoming fatalistic about November. It's shaping up to be one of those tragic dramas where the stage is strewn with bodies at the end of the play. You know how it's going to end before it begins. The only man left standing is the villain. Or in this case, Hillary. 


  1. It's helpful to keep the state of the electorate in mind as we make political judgments. Don't just look at the candidates, but also look at your fellow voters. Given that conservatives are a minority in this nation, given how ignorant voters are about the issues, etc., what can be accomplished in that kind of environment? Rubio has the optimal balance of conservatism and electability among the candidates available, but it's probably too late to make him the nominee. Cruz is the next best option. Kasich would be more electable than Cruz (and Rubio) in November, but he's far too unelectable in the primaries.

    It's likely that Rubio will lose in Florida. If he doesn't drop out before Tuesday, I expect Trump to win most of the states on Tuesday. If Rubio drops out before then, I expect Trump to lose most of the states. What Rubio should do is look at his internal polling, the latest events in the news, whatever he knows about stories that are about to break, etc. and make a judgment about whether it's probable that he'll win Florida. If it's not probable, he should drop out before Tuesday.

    My impressions about the general election haven't changed much. As more information has come to light about Trump, my low expectations for him have gotten even lower. But I still have mostly the same expectations. If Trump is the nominee, I'd given him about a 10% chance of winning. I'd put Cruz at 45%, Rubio at 70%, and Kasich at 75%. Cruz seems to be the likely nominee at this point. He'd probably lose to Clinton, but he has a good shot at winning, far better than Trump would have.

    One of the biggest problems with the Republican electorate is that they don't know much about electability and don't care much about it. They need to learn more about the nature of their fellow voters and what can and can't be accomplished in that sort of environment. Because of their ignorance, many Republicans expect too much from their leaders and don't know how to go about solving the problems they're upset about.

  2. Hello Steve! As someone who does admire Cruz for calling McConnell a liar, I would say that your comments on that topic are right *IF* the status quo is never going to change. However, the fact that Trump got so much support from anti-establishment Republicans (and while a huge chunk of his support is Democrat plants and "independents" who are sneaking in to vote in Republican primaries, that Cruz is solidly in second place also highlights the anti-establishment movement) leads me to think that many, if not most, Republicans *are* sick of the establishment. To further illustrate it, I would contrast something you said here with my own view.

    You said:
    After Obamacare became law, House Republicans ran on a repeal and replace platform. "Give us control of the House, and we'll revoke Obamacare!" But they broke their promise. Then Senate Republicans ran on a repeal and replace platform. But they broke their promise. The GOP establishment betrayed us!

    But for me, the betrayal is not that the house didn't repeal Obamacare, nor even that once both the House and Senate were in Republican hands they didn't repeal Obamacare. It's the fact that once the Senate and House were in Republican hands, they *put forth* legislation that was exactly what the Democrats would have done.

    In the speech that Cruz gave where he called McConnell a liar, I think the more important quote was: "Madam President, which of those decisions would be one iota different if Harry Reid were still majority leader? Not a one. Not a one."

    In other words, the betrayal is not because they promised what everyone knew the could not deliver while Obama was president. It's the Republicans having control and then moving ahead with the exact same issues the Democrats wanted.

    That is why, at least for me, the establishment is so worthless. And while I cannot speak for anyone other than the few people I interact with, I can at least say that the anti-establishment people I know seem to all feel the same way.

    1. I agree with most of what you say here, although I think a lot of angry voters are too ignorant to know what Congress can or cannot do.

      The other problem is that voters punish the Congressional Republicans on those debt ceiling games of chicken. The media accuses Congressional Republicans of "shutting down the gov't," when that's a two-way street. Why not say the President shut down the gov't? But Congressional Republicans always get the blame.

  3. I'd vote for either Cruz or Rubio. Each has their merits and demerits. Rubio is more electable and winsome, both of which are important for winning the election and getting things accomplished. Cruz is more cunning and aggressive, which has gotten him this far, to say the least.