Sunday, August 30, 2015

The Counterfactuals

Here are some interesting questions (for which we will have no good answers--but will take a stab at anyway):
  1. What would the election look like if Jeb wasn't running?
  2. What would the election look like if people who saw little more than Fox News didn't think Hillary was about to be hauled off in chains?
  3. What would the election look like if the media didn't cover Trump as much as they have?
These counterfactuals (the "didn't happen" sides of the coins) are interesting because in each case specific drivers have created them. They're not random events. Let's look:

What if Jeb(!) Wasn't Running?

Noah Rothman (Commentary) asked (in a Tweet, The Omnivore can't find) what would happen if Jeb wasn't running? The (very, very conservative) Conservative Treehouse aka The Last Refuge has a theory. The theory is that the GOP Establishment has made a complicated and powerful plan to force Bush on us. This dastardly plot looks like this:
  1. Change the funding rules in campaigns (hidden in the Cromnibus bill) to take in vastly more money.
  2. Set up a series of SuperPACs to ensure party-orchestrated control of the other nominees (the nominee is prohibited from coordinating with their SuperPACs--but the RNC can play puppet-master).
  3. Change the delegate rules so that more delegates are party-controlled.
  4. Staff PACs with loyal (currently retired--but bring'em back) operatives.
  5. Plan out a calendar that puts Jeb in the nomination.
For this last part, you need to (a) have Jeb win a big, big state--and take ALL of its delegates. That state, of course, is Florida. In order to win Florida, you need to poll county-by-county and then see where you're at with Plan Jeb. There are just two problems:
  • Jeb, although popular, isn't all THAT popular--that stubborn Bush name.
  • Florida isn't Winner-Take-All.
Well, they fixed #2. Florida changed to WTA and so what do we do about the Bush-name. The answer is: Run a bunch of candidates. A LOT of candidates--until, by the time Florida votes, the non-Jeb vote is split so that Jeb squeaks ahead, takes 99 delegates--and after that, it's all over but the (conservative) crying. Their progression (hypothetical--but not entirely) looked like this:
Bush 30% – Cruz 35% – Walker 35%
Add Paul:
Bush 25% – Rand Paul 10% – Cruz 35% – Walker 30%
Still not there. Add Rubio!
Bush 25% – Rand Paul 10% – Cruz 25% – Walker 20% – Marco Rubio 20%
Now Jeb's Tied--who else can we ... oh--Hey: This guy!
Bush 25% – Paul 8% – Cruz 22% – Walker 19% – Rubio 20% – Rick Perry 6%
They'll never see THAT coming!
Now, to be fair, this is not total nonsense. The problem with the conspiracy-theory take on it is that it relies on (a) a vast amount of careful planning with no unintended side-effects (when, in fact, all these guys with live-forever SuperPACs are the unintended side-effects)--and (b) near-zero leakage (when, in fact, guys like Cruz would leak like a sieve). Plus, (c) the RNC, frankly, evidences zero evidence of the capability for this kind of careful planning. But all that aside, the (beautiful) conspiracy theory points out a few true things:
  1. The RNC does, in fact, want someone like Jeb. Sure, they'd take Rubio--but he's a first term junior Senator--so not great. If Walker was ready they'd take him for sure (or Perry)--but neither seem to be. So they're kinda screwed on the senior-statesman angle. But: yes, they WANT someone like Jeb.
  2. The rules were changed to try to prevent a humiliating 2012 chaos scenario and to leverage what they figured would be a serious edge in super-donors. The problem is that everyone got a super-donor and thus you can have zombie campaigns running on fumes and a massive SuperPAC. The vote-splitting that's occurring is the unintended consequence. Do you really think the RNC could make Rand Paul run? Seriously?
But the fact remains: Jeb is--by conspiracy theory or not--being crammed down our throats. Yes, he's fading--yes, he's kind of sucked on the stump. Everyone has--including Trump--and Ben Carson has hardly been on the stump (that we've seen, anyway)--but Jeb is still the betting-money favorite (and hasn't declined much from his top-slot).

Would people be flocking to Trump if Jeb wasn't in the race and kinda-sorta-dominating (The Omnivore thinks the vernacular in sex-talk is "Topping from the bottom"--but maybe someone can help him out here?). 

Answer: If Jeb was not in the race two things would be different (a) Jeb's (massive) fundraising black-hole would not have sucked up all available donor money to him--there would be a lot more sloshing around and (b) the conservative dynasty panic-condition would not be triggered by Jeb. But . . .  the other person who might get that money would still be around. Our top slot would be . . . Mitt Romney 3.0: THIS TIME HE'S A NUKULAR CONSERVATIVE.

What If Hillary Didn't Look Crippled?

David Wiegel, in a series of Tweets The Omnivore can find lays out the following question:

He has a point. The fact is that it isn't just the conservative media. The mainstream media has been pretty aggressive on Clinton as well--and, perhaps, rightfully so. How can The Omnivore tell? The Omnivore, during his time in the service, was given the rules for classified info--and, if you, like, walk out a door with a classified document in your hand, you go to Leavenworth (apparently?). So, like, is Hillary going to jail? Seems like she should ('should'?).

But--then--then again--it doesn't seem to be playing out that way. Maybe these rules are just . . . "policy?" Maybe . . . the rules for Secretary of State aren't quite that . . . draconian? The Omnivore doesn't know--but sure as hell, no one else does either (no causal observer). So The Omnivore is going to go with this: The Omnivore will link the Clinton-About-To-Fall narratives to the Obama's-About-To-Fall narratives and conclude the following (and read this twice):

'News stories' implying hated candidates are about to go to jail sell really well. Journalists are encouraged to keep slinging them. This is true even if the gestalt situation does not likely include the candidate/official going to jail.

These stories are also comforting to people who fear (secretly) that Hillary might not be beatable. This is a real fear--The Omnivore has watched people on comments boards swear she wouldn't run--swear she'd never be the nominee--swear she was in ill health or whatever. They claimed inside knowledge and 100% certainty.

These are clear markers of fear. Does the narrative make a Trump candidacy look more likely?

Answer: Trump is the net-effect of anger, not fear. Trump is a spear aimed at the heart of the GOPe--not Hillary (explicitly so: Trump's attacks are largely on Jeb--not the Democrats). So, no: Trump is not being voted in as a "high-risk high-reward candidate."

However, Ben Carson--who is now surging and in Iowa, closing on Trump--is a high-risk, high-reward candidate. He is very conservative, has no political experience (and, hence, no anti-purity heresies and no defeats as Ted Cruz has). He might not be super exciting to listen to--but he's standing against political correctness (which is all important). He's willing to signal by taking a batshit-crazy position every now and then.

Oh--and he's black.

So we might be seeing people choosing Carson as evidence that they think he might be running against an exhausted Joe Biden with a shrill Elizabeth Warren running mate. If Hillary didn't look doomed we'd likely see Cruz surging behind Trump instead of Dr. Ben Carson.

What If The Media Was Only 'Fair' To Trump?

John Sides seems kinda pissed (or maybe just pissy?) that Trump hasn't collapsed the way he 'predicted.' So he has a humorous fake conversation with a detractor about why that is. It's the media, stupid. He has some graphs (which he self-mocks!) to make his case. Let's look:
Yep--Polling Tracks Vote-Share. Causation?
But The Coverage All Sucks??!?
His point(s) is that (a) Trump has dominated the news-coverage and (b) that tracks well to his rise in the polls--even if most of the coverage was, well, negative. This is more than simple "name recognition," though. A couple of things:

Trump's Favorables Have Increased

Most of the coverage might be unfavorable but Trump's favorables have steadily improved--and that's with a constant string of "gaffes" (hint: they have improved because of the 'gaffes'):
Trump’s support among Republicans and Republican leaners rose to 28 percent in the poll conducted Aug. 20-25 and released on Thursday, up eight points from the last Quinnipiac poll, conducted in late July, before the first debate and Trump’s attacks on Kelly. In the same period, the percentage of American voters who viewed him favorably rose 9 points to 36 percent and the percentage who viewed him unfavorably fell 5 points to 54 percent.
This is no mean feat (Jeb would love to be able to do this!) and it means that Trump is, in fact, doing something with his appearances (Sides thinks there's no really new evidence). Sides does note that the media needs to move on to another candidate in order for coverage to decline--and Trump's whirlwind of drama makes that unnecessary. That is true.

Trump's Appeal is Broad

Sides thinks it might be "personality" rather than "position" that is lofting Trump in the polls. You don't say? Hey, that's also Jeb's problem (and, to an extent, Walker's). Why, it's also Rubio's strength--and it's kinda Ted Cruz's whole position. Who knew?? But we do know that (a) Trump's appeal is broad based--he doesn't have just one constituency in the party and we know that (b) different people consume different media.

What this means is that, for Republicans, at least, everyone is finding something they like in Trump's media blitz. Namely that he seems like he's unbowed, speaks his mind, and is pissing off the right people. Huzzah. The thing Sides doesn't get his head around is that this is a winning "policy." If you can sustain it--without donors (which it will lose you because it is incredibly high risk--Trump's instincts are working very, very well for him right now--but, for example, Walker couldn't pull this off--he can't even keep basic policy positions straight--Click that link. Seriously--you won't be disappointed.).

So what if The Media had not covered Trump like the addicts they are?

Answer: They tried. Oh, Lord, they tried. The Omnivore listens to the Slate Political Gabfest and it's clear that those guys (more or less liberals save for Dickerson who is strategically cagey) are both very smart and would like to talk about something or someone other than Trump each week.

They can't. No one can. Firstly, Trump-wins is still the story. Secondly, Trump, out in front, isn't standing still. He's doing outrageous things. He's being interviewed by Palin (something the Will MacAvoy character on Twitter described as "A 'Voltron of Stupid'). He's throwing Jorge Ramos out of his conference hall--and then letting him back in. There is no way NOT to cover this stuff--and Trump knows it (that's why he doesn't go to Sunday morning shows--The Donald calls in--and they take his call. Yes, they do).

Trump drew record ratings to Fox. He will draw record ratings to CNN. He doesn't disappoint. The Media simply cannot not cover him. FiveThrityEight thinks viewers want even more Trump than they are getting. This is Trump's super-power--and he's using it.

His coverage isn't a media artifact. It's a helpless response. The Trump-whirlwind both sows and reaps itself.

Exit Question: What if Trump Was an Avocado?

WHO'S TO SAY????!??

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