You Keep Using That Word

by John Holbo on January 21, 2016

Eric tells us one thing we’re sure of. Which is interesting. And relates to something I’ve long thought would be an interesting scholarly exercise. A survey of the history of Presidential impossibilities-turned-realities. In this season of Trump, we shall see what we shall see. In the meantime, go back and collect all the ‘Dewey Defeats Truman’ events, from every Presidential season. Who is certain to be a contender, then immediately eliminated? (Looking at you, Scott Walker.) How many candidates who cannot possibly win have won?

Now, there is an ambiguity in the question, insofar as the other side always has a vested interest in kicking up dust. Every possible candidate is ‘impossible’ to someone. So let’s focus on the consensus cases. Like Trump. No one – I mean: no one – thought he would make it this far. Impossible. Now things get tricky, count-wise, because, from an impossibility, an infinite number of impossible consequences flow. (Looking at you, Ted Cruz, last, best hope of the Establishment.)

But seriously. Barack Obama was impossible. Clinton was impossible. Reagan was impossible. Carter? A long-shot, for sure. Watergate was impossible, ergo Ford. Nixon was impossible, insofar as he was a has-been.

Back of the envelope, I think more than 50% of the most important things that happen in Presidential elections are strictly impossible, at least according to conventional wisdom, six months earlier. What do you think is a good number?

UPDATE: The impossibility unit, per season, could be the Trump. Every election can have a T-rating, for the number of impossible things that actually happen.

{ 125 comments }

1

Gary Othic 01.21.16 at 11:46 am

I have a horrible feeling that this is going to be a lot closer than it should reasonably be…

What will in some ways be more interesting, form a popcorn point of view, will be seeing what the American media establishment will do seeing as this election is basically going to come down either; a socialist (self-declared) vs. a lunatic, or a woman (and a Clinton) vs. a lunatic. I predict much renting of garments, gnashing of teeth and chewing of scenery.

2

LFC 01.21.16 at 12:54 pm

G Othic @1
what the American media establishment will do seeing as this election is basically going to come down [to] either: a socialist (self-declared) vs. a lunatic, or a woman (and a Clinton) vs. a lunatic.

This assumes Trump will get the Republican nomination. He may or may not. Since the first votes of the primary season haven’t been cast yet, assuming he will get the nomination seems a mite premature/unwarranted.

3

marcel proust 01.21.16 at 1:01 pm

If Trump is elected, I plan to rent a cape. That, or a clown outfit (maybe both). Either way, it will be Yoooge.

4

oldster 01.21.16 at 1:57 pm

…but given that this clause, “at least according to conventional wisdom”, means that you are not talking about impossibilities, but merely things that run counter to conventional wisdom, doesn’t this just boil down to, “how often is the conventional wisdom wrong”?

Your headline shows that you know you’re engaged in a massive abuse of language. But you seem still to want to engage in a massive abuse of language (“the number of impossible things that actually happen”).

Why? People don’t misuse modal discourse enough already? What did modal discourse ever do to you?

5

oldster 01.21.16 at 2:09 pm

sorry. Ignore me. I’m old and humorless.

6

John Holbo 01.21.16 at 2:14 pm

“Your headline shows that you know you’re engaged in a massive abuse of language. But you seem still to want to engage in a massive abuse of language (“the number of impossible things that actually happen”).”

“I’m old and humorless.”

If you truly are completely devoid of humor, that would explain your first comment. But I don’t see what your age has to do with it.

7

oldster 01.21.16 at 2:22 pm

You don’t. You will.

8

PirateLaddie 01.21.16 at 2:53 pm

“Life is what happens while you’re making plans.” A good aphorism & one that’s more than a little telling in a world that’s increasingly “intellectualized.” Too much thought, at least too much forethought, has always been the scourge of the politicized branch of the brainiac class.
Little wonder that everything is “foreordained” and yet so little comes of all the scribbling and verbal posturing. You’da thunk we might have learned our lessons after all the prep and posturing that went into our recent excursions into: Affie, Iraq, Libya, Syria & other triumphs of the neocons I may have forgotten.

9

Gary Othic 01.21.16 at 2:53 pm

@LFC (2)

“This assumes Trump will get the Republican nomination. He may or may not. Since the first votes of the primary season haven’t been cast yet, assuming he will get the nomination seems a mite premature/unwarranted.”

Well not quite; it seems to be coming down to Trump or Cruz (the Trump-who-is-not-Trump) so my intended joke was that either way its a lunatic (albeit Cruz might be, bafflingly , better received).

10

Lee A. Arnold 01.21.16 at 3:01 pm

Humor me here. I am old, but hilarious. I still think that Trump is impossible.

But, Big Big Surprise… if Trump gets the Republican nomination and Sanders gets the Democratic nomination, that makes SANDERS possible.

I didn’t see THAT coming. Don’t get me wrong, I love Bernie. But, most of the other GOP candidates could beat him. Not Trump. Sanders out-trumps Trump. Bernie could stomp all over The Donald with an emotional truth that Hillary does not tap into.

However, John Holbo writes of Trump, “No one – I mean: no one – thought he would make it this far.”

Harrumph!! At the end of September (Sept. 24) in a comment under a John Quiggin post here, I predicted that in three months, Trump would hit a ceiling at about 25-30% of the GOP primary voters, due to the predictable emotional fatigue of much of the electorate + his lack of policy specifics + the other contenders would nail him.

Magically, the aggregate poll shows that three months later, around Dec. 24, he leveled-off at 35% of GOP voters:
http://www.realclearpolitics.com/epolls/2016/president/us/2016_republican_presidential_nomination-3823.html

I do not claim vindication. But I still have plenty of evidence to support my basic predictive theses of:

1. The GOP’s Epochal, Historical Cul de Sac.
2. The Three-Month Emotional Fatigue in Politics.
3. The Sudden, Permanent Disappearance of the 100-year Mass-Media Narrative.
4. The Donald’s Fatal Flaw.

Four independent factors! …Thus, I get almost as much wriggling-room, as any social scientist or economist. You can’t touch me!

What screwed-up my September prediction, what I really didn’t see coming, was that the other GOP candidates couldn’t neutralize Trump. That was a big part of my reasoning that Trump was toast: that they would easily put him to bed.

Wow. It should have been very easy. Yes, it is a hypothetical “prior” that they are descended from various species of political knucklehead. But they wouldn’t NEED real, true, scientific facts at their command; even if they knew a’ one! Far from it!

I just didn’t realize that they would be so politically unskillfuI. Their varying lacks of stage-moxie were the true shocker, to me… This is a big story, here: If there is one single reason why NONE of them should EVER be Commander-in-Chief, it’s that they couldn’t stop Donald Trump on the political stage.

And I should have predicted this! Upon my own personal egotistical reflection and self-reinforcement, and also as a good scientist!, I now believe that their incompetence might have been derived from my thesis #1: The Reaganomics disaster that has riven the heart of the GOP — an epochal disaster — has rendered them psychologically rattled, befuddled, politically incompetent.

So don’t even let them take out your trash, they couldn’t separate the bottles from the cans. One of the corollaries of #1 is that we are witnessing a first-rate socio-psychological disaster. It’s sad, but pass the popcorn!

11

John Holbo 01.21.16 at 3:05 pm

“You don’t. You will.”

I don’t think old people tend to be so non-cognizant of the possibility of non-literal usage of language. What makes you so sure it’s age? Not aphasia, or some other condition that would seem to fit the symptoms better?

Just to clarify the point of the post, in case there is any sincere misunderstanding: it is hard to judge how good people are at judging political likelihoods. The incidence of confident, wrong judgments of ‘impossibility’ are kind of interesting. First, you separate the obviously insincere or exaggerated or transparently motivated ones. (Admittedly a non-trivial task.) What remains, I suspect, are an awful lot of cases in which events that people sincerely rate at maybe 1/1000 come true. For recent elections, of course, we have Presidential betting markets, so I’m sure there’s a literature. Very few people would claim to know what’s going to happen. But people do feel that they have a sense for what’s possible. It would be interesting to try to articulate how exaggerated that sense is – if, indeed, it is exaggerated.

12

P.D. 01.21.16 at 3:11 pm

“Why? People don’t misuse modal discourse enough already? What did modal discourse ever do to you?”

There is a possible world in which modal discourse killed my parents and left me an orphan. That both justifies misusing it in the actual world, and it’s a premise in the ontological argument for the existence of Batman.

13

Anarcissie 01.21.16 at 3:14 pm

I think you all are making a serious misjudgement of Trump. Scary, yes; lunatic, no.

14

Sam Dodsworth 01.21.16 at 3:25 pm

Lunatic is a slippery word (and I see a lot of people with mental health problems who don’t like seeing it used), but I think narcissist would be entirely appropriate.

15

The Temporary Name 01.21.16 at 3:30 pm

(Looking at you, Ted Cruz, last, best hope of the Establishment.)

It turns out that everyone in the Establishment hates the guy.

16

Anarcissie 01.21.16 at 3:31 pm

Narcissism is helpful in some fields, like show business; and you know what they say: ‘Politics is show business for ugly people.’

17

Lee A. Arnold 01.21.16 at 3:36 pm

John Holbo: “…it is hard to judge how good people are at judging political likelihoods.”

For the last 20 years I hung out with a bunch of people, all very different politically, to discuss politics: who would win, without regard for who we personally wanted or liked. Several of them are to the right of Mussolini and they think I’m a Marxist. Regardless, we love each other’s company. About half of this little group had been state and local campaign operatives, and one went much higher. A few in this group got every Presidential election right, almost every Senate seat down to one or two even in midterms, and got the House right to within 10 seats. I am not making this up. I refused to get in the pool because they wiped me out. I learned a LOT.

18

Lee A. Arnold 01.21.16 at 3:41 pm

Anarcissie: “I think you all are making a serious misjudgement of Trump. Scary, yes; lunatic, no.”

I don’t think Trump is scary or a lunatic.

His fatal flaw derives from being a short-sighted egotist + thinking that a political campaign works like a business deal.

It has driven him too far: To win the GOP primary, he has said things which damage the foreign policy of the United States. And he has taken positions which he cannot retract, although he must, to win the general election.

19

LFC 01.21.16 at 3:43 pm

G Othic @9
I think Cruz, for various reasons, would probably be a worse (more dangerous etc) President than Trump, though either wd be a disaster.

20

Ze K 01.21.16 at 3:48 pm

They are all scary, but I don’t think Trump is as scary as Clinton. Assuming, of course, they actually affect the game.

21

Lee A. Arnold 01.21.16 at 4:03 pm

The Temporary Name: “It turns out that everyone in the Establishment hates the guy.”

Cruz is a George W. Bush Republican who is POSING as an anti-establishment firebrand. The others don’t mind that part: It’s okay to lie to the electorate. But to oppose your own party’s legislation on the floor of the Senate, and slander McConnell’s leadership, for your own personal campaign purposes? That is unforgivable. Even Lindsey Graham has called him an “opportunist”.

LFC: “…would probably be a worse (more dangerous etc) President than Trump…”

Want more war? A quick Google search shows that Cruz’s foreign policy team are neocons, including John Bolton, Elliot Abrams, and other Iraq War hawks.

Want more Constitution-bending? According to Wikipedia, “Cruz joined the George W. Bush presidential campaign in 1999 as a domestic policy adviser… Cruz assisted in assembling the Bush legal team, devising strategy, and drafting pleadings for filing with the Supreme Court of Florida and U.S. Supreme Court, in the case Bush v. Gore, during the 2000 Florida presidential recounts, leading to two wins for the Bush team. Cruz recruited future Chief Justice John Roberts… to the Bush legal team.”

22

Alan White 01.21.16 at 4:16 pm

And here is a former-VP candidate’s endorsement of the Trumpster:

http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/transcript-palin-endorses-trump-no-pussy-footin-article-1.2502732

If you can’t subject your eyes to the entire transcript, just pick a paragraph or two at random. The fact that this event counts as political in the US is beyond embarrassing.

23

anon 01.21.16 at 4:18 pm

I’m a dork and can’t help thinking about impossibility claims in politics in the pretentious way that philosophers do. What are the “truth conditions” of a claim that it’s impossible for x to be elected? Other than, of course, x failing to be elected, which proves nothing about whether it was possible?

Actually, I have this problem with all predictive political claims. What are the truth conditions of, e.g., Lee A. Arnold @10’s “But, most of the other GOP candidates could beat [Bernie]”? What kind of evidence could possibly verify or refute it? Or for that matter, what could verify the opposing claim that Bernie could beat the other GOP candidates?

As for “Sanders out-trumps Trump,” I think this common analogy is mistaken, if not entirely off track. In Freudian language, I’d say Trump is the Id, Clinton the Superego, and Sanders the Ideal Ego. The important point is that while the ideal ego is easily mistaken for the id, it’s the superego, on the contrary, that despite its self-image as the voice of reason and maturity, is most closely tied to the id.

24

Marshall Peace 01.21.16 at 4:35 pm

It isn’t just politics, the tendency to overcommit to whatever view of the future seems universal, I suppose otherwise nobody would bother to do anything. Lottery tickets. Creedal statements of religion. Ecological interventions (or lack thereof). Everybody laughed at “unknown unknowns” but hey it’s an excellent point.

… Ted Cruz: even a local friend here in rural Oregon, with whom I once more made the mistake of mentioning Socialism, thinks Ted is literally unlikeable. That’s a hopeful relief to me.

… In my eighth decade I am more confused about things than ever, and often regretful personally and globally, but not bitter: I have every expectation that in just one thousand years things will be completely different. Which takes me back to the OP …

25

Lee A. Arnold 01.21.16 at 4:41 pm

Anon: “What are the truth conditions of, e.g., Lee A. Arnold @10’s ‘But, most of the other GOP candidates could beat [Bernie]’? What kind of evidence could possibly verify or refute it?”

None.

26

jake the antisoshul soshulist 01.21.16 at 4:43 pm

It might be a good time to rewatch Forbidden Planet. After all, the Krell were destroyed by monsters from the id.

27

Lee A. Arnold 01.21.16 at 4:45 pm

Anon” “Trump is the Id, Clinton the Superego, and Sanders the Ideal Ego.”

Well I won’t ask you for the truth condition of that one! But it brings me as political junkie to two interesting parallels in this campaign so far, although perhaps trivial:

1. Trump and Cruz are parallels. Both are amazing opportunists; both are stepping into the GOP’s “Tea Party vs. Country Club” breach with anti-establishment rhetoric for the primary; and neither one is saying what he truly believes. The difference is that Trump’s got enough money of his own to come in posing as an outsider, while Cruz had to try to get anti-establishment street-cred using the strategy of noisy obstruction on the floor of the Senate.

2. “Trump vs. Jeb” and “Bernie vs. Hillary” are parallels. “Upstart, up-ending emotional success” vs. “Judicious establishment reasonableness”.

28

Lee A. Arnold 01.21.16 at 4:48 pm

#26: Plus, it’s got Anne Francis in case you don’t know what your id is.

29

Trader Joe 01.21.16 at 5:04 pm

“But seriously. Barack Obama was impossible. Clinton was impossible. Reagan was impossible. Carter? A long-shot, for sure. Watergate was impossible, ergo Ford. Nixon was impossible, insofar as he was a has-been.”

I’d disagree with many of these characterizations.

Obama – was a long-shot early on but by this stage of 2008 he was solidly in the top three and it was a near 100% certainty that the D nominee would be president given the economy and Ws ‘accomplishments.’ The fact anyone was even discussing the possibility of McCain was that he was a likeable enough war hero, but he never had much real chance

Reagan – same as Obama. He was consistently a top three candidate and it was all but certain Carter wouldn’t be re-elected.

Nixon ’68 was far from impossible…maybe not 1st choice probable, but to suggest a candidate that got 50% of the vote in ’60 was “impossible” eight years later seems a real stretch. Additionally, I wouldn’t count Ford as that had nothing whatsoever to do with voters and voting and all to do with politics and dealmaking.

Carter and Clinton probably legitimately could be viewed as longshots, although even Carter in the context of his time was a far more plausible and estabilishment Southern Democrat (therefore electable) than either Bernie or Trump are today.

That said, I’d still agree with the main point – unless by some magic we wind up with Clinton-Bush or Clinton-Rubio (which were early favorite outcomes) 2016 may go down as one of the more unlikely races in ages.

Perhaps more interesting is the “WHY” behind voters interest in non-main stream candidates. Perhaps the better part of 16 years of on the whole poor leadership has finally entered the psyche.

30

Bloix 01.21.16 at 5:39 pm

Previous impossibilities were hyperbole. Trump is inconceivable in the literal meaning of the word. Brad DeLong is good on this:

“[T]he rise and durability of Donald Trump is a zero probability event… For a zero probability event to happen means that your visualization of the Cosmic All is simply wrong–or it would not strike you as a zero probability event…

[T]he herds and hordes of journalists and political scientists are not coming to grips with this… They do not want to face the reality that they need to pretty much throw everything away and start over.”

http://www.bradford-delong.com/2016/01/live-from-la-farine-nail-em-up-methinks-it-is-time-to-go-reread-robert-penn-warrens-_all-the-kings-men_-again.html#more

31

P O'Neill 01.21.16 at 6:10 pm

The Republican establishment went to so much effort to get Trump to commit not to run as an independent candidate. Now that’s an option they might need themselves. John Anderson 1980 looked impossible except for a couple of things that could have gone a bit differently and propelled a moderate Republican (terms used advisedly) running as an independent to the Presidency.

32

anon/portly 01.21.16 at 6:10 pm

“No one – I mean: no one – thought he would make it this far. Impossible.”

That’s just saying that “no one – I mean; no one – seems to have a basic grasp of what Trump has actually accomplished so far, how unusual it is, or (i.e.) what it really means in the context of past presidential election data.”

I don’t actually follow the election at all, I read nothing about it except when trying to find Barnwell articles on the espn site I happen past Nate Silver pieces and read them. (Also of course occasional blog posts and comments). I’m guessing that reading those (and nothing else) makes me a relative expert on Trump’s electability.

Understanding Trump on the issues, I am pretty clueless, since I’m trying hard not to pay attention, but when Lee Arnold (#27 as of now) says that Trump doesn’t believe his little-guy vs. big-guy rhetoric, I’m wondering if he isn’t trying to debunk or forestall the idea that TD should have some appeal for CT readers.

33

anon 01.21.16 at 6:15 pm

Bloix @30: “Trump is inconceivable in the literal meaning of the word.”

In the literal meaning, sadly, no.

34

anon/portly 01.21.16 at 6:21 pm

“But the problem is that, for all of the experts and all of the different schools of interpretation, the rise and durability of Donald Trump is a zero/probability event.”

Today DeLong says this, but he has spent a lot of effort recently and in the past recommending Nate Silver. Which means that he’s taking both sides of this position.

By the way, today’s Nate Silver piece suggests that one thing helping Trump a lot is that the GOP is more worried about Cruz! That’s pretty funny. Also contra Lee Arnold’s point (#27 as of now) that *Cruz* (not just TD) doesn’t believe his own rhetoric.

http://fivethirtyeight.com/features/one-big-reason-to-be-less-skeptical-of-trump/

35

anon 01.21.16 at 6:23 pm

Now I can’t stop fantasizing about an ontological theological-style argument against the existence of Trump: an asshole than which no greater asshole can be conceived could exist only in the mind alone.

36

Dr. Hilarius 01.21.16 at 6:27 pm

Watch out for Rubio. His politics are similar to those of Cruz (and the rest of the clowns for that matter) but he’s not as nakedly opportunistic as Cruz or as crass as Trump. Jeb! has been on life support for some time and clearly doesn’t even want the job. The rest have had their 15 minutes of breathless media hype and faded.

The most alarming facet of the election is that, consistent with Mr.Delong’s thoughts, the media mostly treat the Republican candidates as if they are all capable of responsible governance rather than a traveling show of carnies and grifters. Denial of climate change is treated as intellectually respectable. Next stop, return to the the gold standard. The failure of the media and pundits to admit that the Republican party is not longer interested in reality makes the seemingly impossible all too probable.

37

Bloix 01.21.16 at 6:33 pm

@33 – did you read DeLong? No, you did not. Read DeLong and try to understand it.

38

oldster 01.21.16 at 6:52 pm

@35–speaking of metaphysical a-holes.

When I was younger, people used to abuse language for a good reason, namely to be funny. And when I was younger, I found it funny. Here’s the Editors, of the late lamented Poorman blog, explaining the literal and metaphorical rectification of names:
http://web.archive.org/web/20050815014012/http://www.thepoorman.net/2005/08/13/son-of-love-them-that-they-are-wingnuts/

In searching for this, I found that if you ask Google about the string “enormous mend-” then it immediately auto-fills the rest. Or is that only on my computer?

39

Bloix 01.21.16 at 7:10 pm

anon/portly: You are misreading DeLong. An event is “zero-probability” as determined by an observer’s model. “Inconceivable” is a mental state, not an objective reality. And if an observer sees an event that according to his or her model is “zero-probability” – an event that is inconceivable – it means that the model no longer works.

Digby today:
“If the GOP accepts Donald Trump’s openly xenophobic, white supremacist, nationalist agenda as the Republican platform, whatever was left of sanity in the GOP is gone. They are setting their party on fire and risking immolating the whole country in the process.”
http://www.salon.com/2016/01/21/the_gops_terrifying_trump_plan_why_the_partys_establishment_thinks_it_can_control_the_donald_and_why_its_wrong/

I believe that the Republican Party, starting with Gingrich and Army, has been moving toward genuine fascism for many years, and that Bush/Cheney was a failed attempt to institute permanent one-party rule. But until now I have never considered the possibility that the Republican Party is controlled by insane fools. Ignorant, arrogant, greedy criminals, yes. But not self-destructive maniacs.

This is not like Obama or Ford or Nixon or Carter or Truman. It’s not enough to say, “I was wrong about the candidate.” It’s beginning to look like we will have to say, “I was wrong about American society.” We may be moving from the world of Tiberius to the world of Caligula, where rules will be different.

40

john in california 01.21.16 at 7:51 pm

1. Polls show Sanders beating all GOP contenders by wider margins than Clinton.
2. If trump is nominated he will spend ZERO dollars of his own money(He will probably pocket millions).
3.Trump is a (unwitting?) B. Clinton plant. Clinton thought he would be a disrupter (not the nominee ) and easy foil for his wife. Hillary has ,until lately, been focusing most of her attention on trump, making it unnecessary to make a positive case for herself. Now that Sanders is surging she has found it necessary to attack all the things that once were the backbone of the Democratic Party’s principles. This, of course actually weakens her against trump. Therefore, if she is the nominee, a trump presidency is possible.

41

Collin Street 01.21.16 at 8:11 pm

Lunatic is a slippery word (and I see a lot of people with mental health problems who don’t like seeing it used), but I think narcissist would be entirely appropriate.

Are there any republican candidates who do not have severe and obvious mental/cognitive issues involving empathy disturbances?

42

anon 01.21.16 at 8:24 pm

Lee Arnold @27
– “Well I won’t ask you for the truth condition of that one!” Touche (glad I don’t have to come up with some!)
– “#26: Plus, it’s got Anne Francis in case you don’t know what your id is.” Robby, make me an Altaira!

Bloix @33
Oh, I wasn’t commenting on the link. I was just making a silly joke–that it would have been nice if Trump’s parents had not been able to “conceive” him.

oldster @38,
Just to make sure I’m not misreading, was “@35–speaking of metaphysical a-holes” meant as a jab at me? Because if so, I’m not sure how I offended. If not, then I guess it’s just another good example of the perils of language, used literally or otherwise!

(By the way, it’s clearly false that you’re “old and humorless.” I loved “What did modal discourse ever do to you?”–funniest sentence I’ve read in weeks!)

43

LFC 01.21.16 at 8:24 pm

@Collin Street
heartlessness and lack of empathy are not, in this context, “mental/cognitive issues,” they are bad political stances. Your continued insistence that people with whom you (and most CT readers, incl. me) disagree are mentally disturbed ignores a large number of things, such as the history of the last, say, three or four thousand years, for one.

44

Lee A. Arnold 01.21.16 at 8:26 pm

Anon/portly #32: “…when Lee Arnold (#27 as of now) says that Trump doesn’t believe his little-guy vs. big-guy rhetoric, I’m wondering if he isn’t trying to debunk or forestall the idea that TD should have some appeal for CT readers.”

I am flattered that you think I am persuasive enough to convince CT readers about anything! But this is silly.

If Trump believes what he says, then he is refuting his previous support for universal healthcare. His tax plan is pretty much a GOP party-line business-as usual, a giveaway to the rich, see Kevin Drum back in August, here:
http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/08/conservative-tax-borg-has-finally-absorbed-donald-trump

In international trade, China is collapsing for for the foreseeable future, and Trump will be forced to HELP them.

In foreign policy, Trump won’t do anything different. Most of his listeners don’t know that ISIS is already being defeated; it has lost territory in Syria and in Iraq. That is a complicated situation with at least 11 different players involved (by my count). He is going to do what Obama is already doing.

45

Lee A. Arnold 01.21.16 at 8:28 pm

Anon/portly #34: “…today’s Nate Silver piece suggests that one thing helping Trump a lot is that the GOP is more worried about Cruz! That’s pretty funny. Also contra Lee Arnold’s point (#27 as of now) that *Cruz* (not just TD) doesn’t believe his own rhetoric.”

Silver’s analysis neglects to consider that the GOP Establishment doesn’t want either one of them, but has to knock them off, one at a time.

As Lindsey Graham and Bob Dole said today (and Graham said it, not for the first time), either one of them loses to Hillary.
http://www.nytimes.com/politics/first-draft/2016/01/21/lindsey-graham-says-electing-donald-trump-or-ted-cruz-would-be-death-of-the-party/?_r=0

There is a big fight going on inside the GOP over which one is the greater poison. The ones who want to get rid of Cruz cite a widespread personal contempt. Therefore, I guessed that something doesn’t comport between what he says in public and how he acts in private:
http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/22/us/politics/donald-trump-ted-cruz-republican-establishment.html

Silver also notes the current little Kasich surge in NH, funny because he was my old pick for toughest to defeat.

46

Lee A. Arnold 01.21.16 at 8:28 pm

Bloix #30, quoting Brad DeLong: “[T]he rise and durability of Donald Trump is a zero probability event…”

I greatly admire Brad, but 4 years ago I fingered Trump as a goofy populist demagogue who might step into the GOP’s historical breach, in a comment under a post by Henry Farrell:
http://crookedtimber.org/2011/05/18/the-war-against-sheep/#comment-360214

47

oldster 01.21.16 at 9:05 pm

anon @42–

no, no–no jab intended, no offense taken. I liked your proposal to run an ontological argument on a-holes, but it caused me to remember the Editor’s “enormous, mendacious, disembodied anus.”

48

The Temporary Name 01.21.16 at 10:29 pm

They are all scary, but I don’t think Trump is as scary as Clinton. Assuming, of course, they actually affect the game.

In which completely bonkers way do you mean any of this?

49

LFC 01.21.16 at 10:55 pm

TNC @48

Do you really want to ask Ze K that? Do you think it would lead to a productive conversation? He wants someone to take the bait.

50

The Temporary Name 01.21.16 at 11:00 pm

I agree, LFC, but I liked reading TimeCube. Most right-thinking people don’t I guess, so point taken.

51

Alan White 01.21.16 at 11:40 pm

The GOP knows that the Trump phenomenon reflects a loud quasi-populist double-digit percentage of the party, but cannot be converted into numbers that will win the general election (same for Cruz on other grounds; I for one find his physical appearance so much like underdone dough that I cannot stand to look at him–mea culpa for shallowness). The difficulty for them is finding a torpedo strategy for Trump that also blows the ballast for a Rubio or Jeb! to allow them to surface in forthcoming primaries. An unknown factor is how many of the Trumpsters will turn out to vote–loud approval doesn’t always translate into an effective ground game.

BTW I’ve appreciated the Forbidden Planet refs. Monsters from the Id indeed.

52

Bruce Wilder 01.22.16 at 12:25 am

I’m with Lee A Arnold on the power to predict politics: I think it is very high. We think it isn’t, because pundits and journalists have a deep stake in fictionalized narrative suspense.

The Trump phenomena raises a different issue: if politics suddenly seems unconstrained by the “rules” of an established order, is it because the actual power behind those rules and that order, have simply given up or don’t care? One explanation for the Republican disarray is that what used to be the Republican establishment — serious people with business interests and complacent reactionaries — mostly don’t care: they hate Obama, but are happy enough with him, policy-wise; they hate Clinton and expect to be happy with her.

The U.S. experienced a coup in 2008, as several acute observers pointed out at the time. Political office no longer comes with political power. The Republican Party is more advanced in adapting to the new reality; most of their leading figures outside the Presidential Survivor Series are already spokesmodel politicians, chosen for their good-looks and glib manner. The Presidential Survivor Series, staged in advance of the primary season as a way to grift shamelessly from the frisson of political celebrity is an adaptive innovation.

So, we are pretty sure we will “elect” and inaugurate a new President, because there’s no sign yet that the new Powers-that-Be are interested, for the time being, in tearing down the Constitutional facade from a structure no longer inhabited by Power.

53

Tabasco 01.22.16 at 12:47 am

If Sanders takes out Clinton in Iowa and New Hampshire, as well he might, then Biden will be drafted faster than you can say Establishment.

All rules about filing deadlines and other trivia will be set aside.

54

LFC 01.22.16 at 1:03 am

BW @52
serious people with business interests and complacent reactionaries — mostly don’t care: they hate Obama, but are happy enough with him, policy-wise

I can think of at least some business execs very unhappy w Obama policy-wise, starting w the owners of coal-burning power plants. Then there may be people who had hoped to profit commercially from the substantial additional acres of ocean in U.S. territorial waters that he has extended federal env. protection to. Those unhappy w the Keystone pipeline decision. Other categories wd doubtless come to mind. (OTOH, the people pushing TPP don’t have much to complain about.)

55

Bruce Wilder 01.22.16 at 1:05 am

The trouble with a Biden-in-the-emergency scenario is that Biden’s potential as a candidate or a President has been repeatedly proven to exist exclusively in Biden’s own fevered imagination. That Obama, the most astute political observer among American politicians, chose Biden as his life insurance policy ought to tell you something.

You are never supposed to even point to any of the organs of actual power in American politics, because “conspiracy” and certainly never speak of actual methods, but it does seem to me that Sanders, at age 75 (on election day) is his own exit plan.

56

LFC 01.22.16 at 1:09 am

TNC @50
I just looked up Time Cube. I’d never heard of it. Read the first para of the Wikipedia entry. wow.

57

The Temporary Name 01.22.16 at 1:22 am

58

Peter T 01.22.16 at 1:22 am

Modern intellectuals like to think that, if they get the theory right, the practice will be tractable. But in messy, reflexive, hard-to-measure, harder to repeat domains (economics, politics, literature…) the map has to have a very low ration to the domain before you get much traction. The theory is more a game than a guide. Still, opinion pages don’t write themselves, games are good fun, they cover a lot of pages and one can be paid for playing well….

In this case (as in the perhaps analogous one of the recent puppy-infested Hugos), the rules count. And the rules, set up on the presumption that the establishment candidate would have at least a plurality, now favour Trump. See Sam Wang’s analysis: http://election.princeton.edu/2016/01/13/full-simulation-of-gop-nomination-rules/

I would not be surprised if senior Republicans were checking around for a Trump creditor with a sniper rifle….

59

LFC 01.22.16 at 1:35 am

@Peter T: If S. Wang is right and Trump gets the nomination, that’s good news for whoever the Dem. nominee is, I would think. I don’t want to entertain the possibility that Trump might actually become Pres.

60

Bruce Wilder 01.22.16 at 1:44 am

LFC @ 54

Obama has great PR.
Here’s an unusually good Politico piece on the art of being Obama:
http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2015/12/alaska-oil-drilling-lobbying-obama-213442

Obama mostly got good headlines all last year about his moves to close the Arctic wilderness even while he was letting the political process undo established protections.

Saying no to the Keystone Pipeline, by the late date it happened, was little more than meaningless symbolism. He’d milked his own procrastination for every campaign dollar and every vote possible. And, in the meantime, what less publicized workarounds had not already accomplished, the oil glut, at least temporarily scuttled. The Kochs, if they come back for a sip of shale oil, will not be announcing major pipeline projects in the future; the cost of salience has been learned.

I don’t think either electric utilities or power generators are particularly upset by the coal regulations. I am not saying it is a bad plan on that account; it is, as they say in policy circles, flexible. Coal producers, many of which are already bankrupt, are upset. Murray Energy is the one that will sue and fight tooth and nail. And, if Obama had a shred of backbone or integrity, he would shut Murray down as the criminal conspiracy it is. But, he won’t.

Obama is conservative in the mode we used to be call a liberal Republican, a species that went extinct in the 1970s. Back in the day, much of what used to be identified as the Republican establishment was fine with the liberal Republicans, when that persona was necessary to get votes from Democrats. I guess it is still necessary, and they still like it for that reason.

61

John Quiggin 01.22.16 at 1:53 am

I’m as old as most here, and my main research topic is exactly that of the OP: the relationship between unconsidered possibilities, zero-probability events and decisions under uncertainty. So, I don’t think there’s anything about the OP that’s unacceptable to the old.

But I have observed that old people (more particularly old, high-status men) tend to get dogmatic and cranky (in all senses of the term). In academic circles it’s called emeritus disease. Participation in blog discussions can help cure the disease, or bring it to the crisis point of complete meltdown.

62

LeitrimNYC 01.22.16 at 2:18 am

LFC @ 49

Maybe the statement about Trump over Clinton was trolling but it’s not actually that ridiculous. How much blood does Trump have on his hands? I don’t recall him helping destroy any countries in MENA. Also while his business “empire” is probably all smoke and mirrors, his own personal corruption can hardly be any worse than that of Bill and Hillary, who use the Clinton Foundation as a personal slush fund and money laundering tool. If it’s Hilary vs Trump then I’m not voting, but if you put a gun to my head, that’s not an easy choice.

63

John Quiggin 01.22.16 at 2:32 am

Based on a reasonably close viewing of the 2012 campaign, I don’t think there was anything inconceivable about the way the current Republican primary has played out. The 2012 candidate most similar to Trump was Herman Cain, and he looked very strong until he was felled by a string of sex scandals (he and his supporters toughed out the first couple). Michelle Bachmann also looked strong, and was disqualified by anti-vax comments, which were then unacceptable but are now in the Repub mainstream. Gingrich did well enough to show that a similar candidate with a few less negatives could have one. On the other side of the fence, the establishment was unified behind a single candidate without any obviously disastrous negatives.

So, all you need to flip this is a campaign in which the obvious establishment candidate (Bush) flops for some reason, but doesn’t withdraw, and where the bar for disqualification on outsider candidates is raised a bit, as the Repub base withdraws more and more into its alternate universe. With those conditions in place, one or other of the outsiders is highly likely to win. If Trump and Cruz had been too problematic for the base, we would probably be talking about Carson and Fiorina right now.

64

js. 01.22.16 at 2:40 am

BW — I’m curious how you think Obama compares to other post-war Democratic presidents, Clinton, Carter and LBJ, in particular. Honestly.

(I have some thoughts about impossibility and the current freakshow, but they may have to wait until I’m not on a phone.)

65

steven johnson 01.22.16 at 2:46 am

DeLong’s phrase “visualization of the Cosmic All” I think is another SF reference, not to Forbidden Planet but to E.E. “Doc” Smith’s Lensman series.

If you don’t know, don’t ask.

66

js. 01.22.16 at 2:47 am

Quickly though, I’m with Trader Joe. I don’t think any of Holbo’s examples really hold up re “impossibility”. They were long shots, sure, but there was nothing like the current situation re Clinton or Obama, e.g. (And I’m too young to remember the other examples first-hand.) I think if you want something comparable, Goldwater winning the nomination probably counts (going by Perlstein, anyway). And leaving that aside, Trump I do think is sui generis—in more than one way.

67

JimV 01.22.16 at 3:21 am

On age effects: the naturalist Richard Lydekker wrote, “The male primate grows morose and savage with age.”

To which I reply, yeah, but there’s a lot to be morose and savage about.

68

Alan White 01.22.16 at 3:28 am

I am old enough to remember Reagan versus Brown as a teenager in CA–and was stunned that an actor could displace a seasoned politician. That made the Reagan v. Ford face-off in KC (I happened to be there too by coincidence of life-path) a bit more negotiable in my understanding in terms of getting the cache of culture-based politics over tradition, though Ford barely survived. Trump is a media-exponentially-enhanced ’76 Reagan in 2016–and the Fords are on the ropes. The GOP is not in the same place as ’76–then it was a mixed spectrum of politicos placing bets on the past versus the future–now it is a solid right-wing bloc dealing with unanticipated blowback of their long-term demonization of principles of economic justice. And they can’t control it because that blowback is the result of large-scale social media forces they could not comprehend even as they tried to exploit them for their own capitalistic purposes.

69

LFC 01.22.16 at 4:14 am

BW @59
Obama is conservative in the mode we used to be call a liberal Republican, a species that went extinct in the 1970s. Back in the day, much of what used to be identified as the Republican establishment was fine with the liberal Republicans, when that persona was necessary to get votes from Democrats. I guess it is still necessary, and they still like it for that reason.

I find this wrong. A liberal Republican like, say, John Lindsay was not conservative, therefore to say Obama is “conservative in the mode of a liberal Republican” is rather pointless. As for the rest, I started to write a long comment, but I’ve decided I don’t have the time or energy right now. Anyway, no minds are going to be changed about anything.

70

LFC 01.22.16 at 4:21 am

@LeitrimNYC

Hillary v Trump is a pretty easy choice, I think. To say the Clinton Foundation is a personal slush fund and money laundering tool strikes me as considerable exaggeration. It’s prob. funded or supported some unfortunate projects (Eko Atlantic City in Lagos, for one) but also done some good things. My understanding is that the Clintons’ wealth comes mainly from speaking fees and book advances and royalties, not from misappropriating the funds of their own foundation.

71

LFC 01.22.16 at 4:24 am

Actually, since money laundering is a criminal offense, accusing them of money-laundering via their foundation is probably libel, assuming the accusation meets the NYT v. Sullivan ‘reckless disregard’ test. But since this is a blog comment thread, I guess it’s a libel-free zone, or something like that.

72

js. 01.22.16 at 4:29 am

People get so caught up in these weird personal judgments and feelings about candidates, it’s frankly fucking bizarre. I might start calling it the Doug Henwood Disease.

73

js. 01.22.16 at 4:37 am

My last comment was directed at SomethingSomethingNYC, sort of adding to LFC (tho maybe not much of value).

74

kidneystones 01.22.16 at 4:55 am

@ 46 Lee. A. Arnold for the win:

I had thought that Republicanism could be reanimated for a final zombie fling by a goofy populist demagogue; Ross Perot once came too close; for a brief moment there I was wondering if Trump might be our bane, but Newt seems also to lack the requisite charisma for television-fascism

That’s prescient by any standard. And while I missed Lee’s early insight, I watched the video Lee thoughtfully provided back in September and have been watching Trump ever since. Trump’s visit to the John Wayne museum a couple of days ago before linking up with Palin was a classic. He’s off the reservation, thinks fast on his feet, and is proving (like O) that underestimating his organizational and political skills is a big mistake.

Unlike Lee, I picked Trump to go all the way, unless he gets bored. Look for liberals to declare openly for Trump. There isn’t much chance Americans will get something like single-payer, but the get-shit done guy just might pull if off. The NRO just issued a formal harumph, which I take to be a good sign. The conservative purists are freaking.

75

Sebastian H 01.22.16 at 6:28 am

A number of people seem to be misreading DeLong’s comment. His whole point is that is a zero probability event seems to be happening, that means your understanding of the underlying situation is faulty. He is suggesting that because Trump has in fact made it this far, despite the ‘impossibility’ of Trump getting this far, means that we don’t understand the underlying dynamics going on with the US electorate as well as we thought.

The same is true of Sanders. On many levels he is appealing to the same underlying anxiety as Trump–that the middle class is failing to thrive. Trump says it is immigrants, Sanders says it is banks, but they are both seriously talking about something that the professionals have been giving only lip service to for the last 20 years.

The scary thing about Trump *should be* that the fact that he has made it this far means that nearly all of the professional political world has mis-diagnosed the underlying political landscape. Clinton is absolutely a creature of the professional political world, so if she goes up against Trump, we can’t be sure she will win because she doesn’t understand the landscape.

The proof that she doesn’t understand the landscape is in the fact that she hasn’t already dispatched Sanders. She hasn’t done so because he is dealing with the actual landscape in a way that she is not.

That doesn’t mean that she can’t win. She has enormous institutional advantages. But in some way that is ultimately part of the underlying problem. The institutions are losing touch with the political reality. That opens the door for people like Trump.

76

Neville Morley 01.22.16 at 6:44 am

Gratuitous and belated historical digression re Bloix @39: can be argued that the differences between Tiberius and Caligula are partly the creation of the historical accounts, such as they are, and the ways they choose to represent the two emperors, and partly (to an unknown degree, given previous point) a matter of differing personalities. The basic rule of the early Principate remains the same, that you are subject to the whim of the emperor. From the perspective of a Roman senator, Tiberius is preferable because he spends more of his time on Capri doing unspeakable things, and is therefore less likely to take an active interest in you, rather than because you have any greater legal or constitutional protection.

77

Bruce Wilder 01.22.16 at 6:57 am

js. @ 64

I started to write one of my interminably long comments, but discarded it finally. There’s no hope that anything I wrote would be understood. LFC @ 69 is a case in point. And, as you say, “weird personal judgments and feelings”.

There’s no easy way to distinguish a President from his times, his choices from his compromises, from his friends or from his enemies, or ultimately from fatuous insistence on the historic inevitability of it all.

78

Bruce Wilder 01.22.16 at 7:02 am

Sebastian H @ 75

One of my weird personal feelings is that I wish that Sanders and Trump represent a restiveness in the electorate. I fear that this is just how the irrelevance of politics manifests itself in an era in which actual political power has migrated elsewhere or simply dispersed.

79

Glen Tomkins 01.22.16 at 7:20 am

@53,

Under the incomprehensibly decentralized election system in the US, states control filing deadlines and all sorts of other critical components of even federal elections. Both major parties have cooperated to put in place election procedures that make third party runs very difficult, and especially third party runs by people who contested for the nomination of one of the two bigs.

That said, it’s not unimaginable, inconceivable, or impossible that states with D Secretaries of State, and D judges, might be able to bend their own rules. But too many states are controlled by Republicans to imagine that enough states would bend the rules to allows the Ds to get an establishment alternative like Biden on the ballot in enough states to have any chance to win. Any D candidate would have to win many states whose govt is in the hands of Rs. Most Rs, foolishly or otherwise, want Sanders to be the D nominee.

80

PlutoniumKun 01.22.16 at 7:44 am

Were Carter and Clinton impossibles? I thought the post LBJ consensus was that the ‘ideal’ Democrat would be always be a moderately liberal southerner, i.e. liberal enough to get the northern States, but southern enough to get a few southern states. I can’t see how Reagan was ever impossible, except insofar as he was the first non-establishment candidate to get through the Republican primaries. All three were long shots, but certainly not impossibilities I think.

Obama was something of a one-off I think. What so many commentators didn’t notice about him was the core establishment money he was attracting. He was (as we can now see) the Wall Street Choice, all the better for them that it wasn’t so obvious at the time. Its hindsight talking of course, but he always had a chance so long as he was not up against a genuine populist of the left or right.

Trump is an impossibility. Not because he’s a crazed narcissist, but because he would never be able to expand beyond his core vote of disaffected working class voters.

Sanders is far more electable than the establishment gives him credit. A strong liberal with an anti-establishment streak, but a genuine attraction to conservative working class voters potentially makes him a Reagan of the Democrats – able to rouse the core, while having an emotional appeal to the less ideological of his opponents.

81

kidneystones 01.22.16 at 7:49 am

Re: the OP, Bill Scher and Matt Lewis muse: http://bloggingheads.tv/videos/38721

Bill cites Rush on conservatism today and how and why Trump the candidate has emerged. Hint, there is no single ‘there’ there in American conservatism. The elite political, pundit, and intellectual class (to the degree the latter exist) have in fact over estimated the conservatism of the base, many of whom don’t seem to be so conservative after all. I think this is right and it’s certainly the first time I’ve this analysis of the Trump candidacy.

82

kidneystones 01.22.16 at 7:51 am

To be clearer: ‘The elite conservative political, pundit…”

83

Ze K 01.22.16 at 8:08 am

“I don’t recall him helping destroy any countries in MENA.”

Yes, on the superficial level, not to mention her chilling “we came, we saw, he died” boast, that should, in an ideal world, disqualify her from showing her face in public ever again. She very much sounds like a psycho.

On a slightly more analytical level, Trump’s rhetoric is far more non-interventionist, which (non-interventionism) is, in my view, the single most important criterion for comparing presidential candidates. Of course his rhetoric is probably mostly bullshit, but still it’s something. And with Clinton, we can judge her actions and the consequences.

Again, this is assuming that these clowns are not mere figureheads. And if they are, Trump definitely is a better entertainment value.

84

magari 01.22.16 at 8:58 am

There is a possible world in which modal discourse killed my parents and left me an orphan. That both justifies misusing it in the actual world, and it’s a premise in the ontological argument for the existence of Batman.

Oh my god. Flashbacks to listening to philosophy grad students talking. I still feel disbelief that they give out PhDs to these people.

85

kidneystones 01.22.16 at 9:49 am

Heads exploding:
http://www.realclearpolitics.com/video/2016/01/21/kelly_file_group_of_leading_conservatives_unite_to_stop_trump_from_winning_nomination_in_national_review.html

I would have paid money to watch the foam flood.

O’ Reilly try to bait Trump the other night, calling Trump’s contributions to the Clinton foundation: ‘bribes.’ God, how they hate him.

Trump has all the right enemies, so there’s that. Agree very much, btw, with @ 83, the boasts of the Donkey death machine are revolting. Ditto on the wisdom of selecting someone clever and brave enough to speak out against the insane invasion of Iraq.

86

dax 01.22.16 at 10:07 am

“A number of people seem to be misreading DeLong’s comment. His whole point is that is a zero probability event seems to be happening, that means your understanding of the underlying situation is faulty. He is suggesting that because Trump has in fact made it this far, despite the ‘impossibility’ of Trump getting this far, means that we don’t understand the underlying dynamics going on with the US electorate as well as we thought.”

Well yes, if something is happening, then it’s not zero probability. But who is this we? I never thought Trump zero probability, and a lot of other people did as well, because I and they know what zero probability means. Anyone who had a model with Trump really as zero probability is not likely to be a good authority on anything – and that I presume means De Long.

87

Shylock Homeslice 01.22.16 at 10:11 am

88

Shylock Homeslice 01.22.16 at 10:14 am

89

kidneystones 01.22.16 at 10:21 am

Good news! Billmon on twitter? Laugh out loud snippets of snark.

Who knew?

https://twitter.com/billmon1

90

kidneystones 01.22.16 at 12:23 pm

Why Trump gets the evangelical vote: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Eg3f29kEOg4

More news from outside the bubble, Fallwell jr. all but endorses Trump and provides a cogent persuasive explanation of why the religious right needs to vote for the right leader, not a Sunday school teacher, or professional politician.

91

Lee A. Arnold 01.22.16 at 3:07 pm

Political prediction is tough, it’s a complex system and it involves emotion. And you have to get your own preferences out of it. But it helps to start with a good theory as guide. Mine is three-part, in no order of importance, with a minor addendum about a current candidate. I will disappear and go back to work, after this:

1. The Sudden, Permanent Disappearance of the 100-year Mass Media Narrative.

A big new change: There is NO main storyline, no solid source of information, which MOST people know and refer to. This is much more important than you may think: In the heyday of the US mainstream media, everybody watched the evening TV news on one of the 3 networks. Everybody heard the same stuff at the same moment. Next morning when you went to work, everybody was on the same page, for a discussion. —- Whether it was true or false is not the point here. This main cultural storyline was half-false (it even hid horrors), but what’s important was its system FUNCTION: everybody relied upon it as the conventional wisdom, instead of real knowledge or personal investigation. (It stood-in for the herd instinct, the “wisdom of crowds”.) —- Not any more! and maybe never again. There is lots more information available, and lots better information, too. But people are not on the same page. Just go out and talk to some strangers. (I do this every chance I get.) You find no common knowledge of the news, other than: the weather report, the price of gas, who looks sexy now, the latest sports scores, and (maybe?) the colors of “the banners, they are flown in the next war”. —- In addition, the old main storyline kept the loonier stuff from going far into the mainstream consciousness. Some of you oldsters will remember when Walter Cronkite was “the most trusted man in America.” Well, Cronkite and the other broadcasters had a function we didn’t quite appreciate until now: they simply didn’t let the lunatic stuff get on the air; and that was that. They were “gatekeepers”. But now, misinformation abounds, and it looks just like the real stuff. Thus we see balkanized niches of lunacy arise in the formerly-educated developed nations. And the immediate access lets any new loony go national, in about 1 day. —- This sudden disappearance of a reinforced mainstream narrative has social effects and psychological consequences which are taking us unawares. Here are three: A. It has put educated people into a daze and depression, saying, “How can so many people suddenly believe this new crap?” B. We hear louder complaints about the fact that “the kids don’t know anything any more.” But a lot of them never did, they just went along with the mainstream narrative. Watch how the kids work it now, it’s fascinating. C. Politicians on stage are quickly losing any main reference points, from which to address their wider audience. PREDICTION: Any winning politician will be forced to adopt the function of elementary schoolteaching! (Example: Preface each comment with, “There so much information to learn, that people don’t know that [this] is happening, and [that] is happening.” Such as: [the annual budget deficits are down to nothing under Obama], or [ISIS is losing ground]. This little rhetorical preface will be important.

2. The GOP’s Epochal, Historical Cul de Sac.

Engineered unknowingly by Ronald Reagan. Mantra: “Small gov’t, low taxes, deregulation: the whole system will work, if only markets are set free of government!” The Country-Club-GOP knows this is nonsense. But they sold it to the Tea-Party-GOP to get them to come out and vote for control of the gov’t and for high-end tax cuts. (Country Club never has enough votes to win without Tea Party.) Trouble is, after 35 years the mantra is crashing into reality (e.g. by deregulating the banks). But now, the Tea Party, still chanting and thinking it’s all the government’s fault, are getting themselves elected, and repudiating the Country Club. PREDICTION: Nothing can save the GOP but accepting Reality. It has to massively mutate, or break up. (I started pointing this out 10 years ago, on DeLong’s blog.)

3. The Three-Month Emotional Fatigue in Politics.

People in general have a short-term emotional trajectory that is about 3 months long. After that, they become tired, and they may even be persuaded to believe the opposite. (Not so, with the long-term emotions, feelings about family, friends, money, war.) A lot of voter feelings & poll surges now reflect the short-term emotions. PREDICTION? Current primary polls, almost a year away, are not very useful for predicting what’s going to happen in the end. It depends on the final two candidates, their performance on stage against each other. For example, some people decide to vote for the one whom they’d rather hang out with — or to vote for the face they can just bear to look at for the next 4 years — regardless of some of the policies that candidate supports.

4. Trump’s Fatal Flaw.

Really a trivial side-show, but germane to this election. Basic rule: US politicians play to their wingnutty bases for the primaries, then their rhetoric moves toward the center for the general election. But if your rhetoric in the primaries is not careful, if it is too extreme, then you cannot go back on it in the general election, without looking like a hypocrite or an imbecile. Trump has set up this problem for himself. If you are a politician, how do you solve it; and how did you make this mistake in the first place? Maybe he thinks politics is a business deal: In business deals they take extreme positions and even temper tantrums, then they fall back, and everybody eventually signs on the dotted line because everybody gets some money out of it, and it’s bygones be bygones. I don’t see that happening here. What’s he going to do, promise everybody a free buffet meal in Atlantic City? Worse, US party affiliation had been trending Democratic already. The GOP cannot win with just white, male, blue-collar belligerents. Trump is running people out of the Republican Party (women, Latinos, foreign policy realists, non-haters of all stripes). How does he get them back without being perceived as untrustworthy, a hypocrite? PREDICTION: Implosion.

92

Rakesh Bhandari 01.22.16 at 3:53 pm

Zero-probability that an aggressive racial demagogue whipping up exterminationist hatred could get far in American politics? Oh, no, not in America! Is this some kind of puzzle that needs to be solved?

93

Rakesh Bhandari 01.22.16 at 3:53 pm

94

Rakesh Bhandari 01.22.16 at 3:58 pm

95

LFC 01.22.16 at 4:22 pm

@Rakesh B.
T’s lack of any experience in elective office and his (until recently) position as anathema to the Republican party establishment made his doing this well unlikely in the view of many professional and amateur observers. If there is an unexpected aspect, it’s that, rather than the appeal, as a general matter, of xenophobic rhetoric to parts of the electorate.

96

Bloix 01.22.16 at 5:25 pm

@92 – when something has never happened before, the argument “it was ever thus” is singularly unpersuasive.

97

Rakesh Bhandari 01.22.16 at 5:40 pm

He’s not doing well with the Republican establishment, so no expectation has been failed there. He is appealing to and strengthening racist and xenophobic sentiment outside of the Republican establishment. That this is working for him is not surprising. Are people surprised that he can get a lot of votes without RNC support? So did another billionaire, Ross Perot. As for @96, America has long history of rewarding racial demagogues from George Wallace to George Deukmajian to Pete Wilson.
What is remarkable is that this discussion seems to have run to 90 comments without anyone even considering the possibility that it may not be surprising that Trump could turn on racist and xenophobic prejudice to fuel his at-this-point successful campaign. But that’s Crooked Timber for you.

98

Rakesh Bhandari 01.22.16 at 5:47 pm

So am I to get this right: professional observers and the CT intellectuals were convinced that once Trump painted racist caricatures of Mexicans and issued calls for the internment of Muslims after suggesting that they were in their hearts enemies of the state he would quickly lose favor with much of the Republican electorate? All this is very surprising, a zero probability event? That is what you are saying?

99

Bloix 01.22.16 at 6:26 pm

@98- no. You are not to get this right (is that even English? I am to think not.) You have gotten this wrong.

100

Bruce Wilder 01.22.16 at 6:39 pm

The charge of racism is so loud and automatic that it hard to know sometimes whether people are actually all that racist or are simply rebelling against the lectures, in a good tribalist fashion.

The white middle-class — especially males — are in economic trouble and they see a political system that responds to no one but the rich, except when the charge is racism or sexism. The Democrats have been dependent for popular support on women and minority groups, whose grievances are symbolically privileged, even as substantive policy is driven by corrupt service to the plutocracy.

Trump’s persona talks like a 3rd grader. That is worrisome. Also, people are regularly told that everyone is lying to them. Also worrisome.

Trump as racist demagogue just seems like a manipulation, the setup for why everyone good has to vote for the lesser evil.

I do not know why someone at the RNC decided a reality teevee show debate series months in advance of the electoral campaign would be a good idea. That Trump, a reality teevee veteran did well is not surprising. I do not know who has actual ambitions for office or an actual campaign apparatus and the ability to mobilise voters on the Republican side.

The legitimacy of both Parties is under erosion. I know that.

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Rakesh Bhandari 01.22.16 at 6:40 pm

Bloix, you say that I have gotten “this” wrong, but I have no idea to what “this” refers. I see that you expect people to be well-tuned to your inner thoughts, but it would help things if you spelled them out. I am saying that I have not been surprised that Trump has done well on the basis of racist and xenophobic comments. It is exactly what I expected once he started making them. Why should have anyone expected otherwise? It was clear that due to his personal fortune he could continue to hold rallies without financial support from the RNC.

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Rakesh Bhandari 01.22.16 at 6:53 pm

Bruce: “The white middle-class — especially males — are in economic trouble and they see a political system that responds to no one but the rich, except when the charge is racism or sexism.” That’s what they see–that the system is responding to poor blacks and Latinos and women as a whole? And then you are questioning whether prejudice is really real?

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mds 01.22.16 at 7:04 pm

The white middle-class — especially males — are in economic trouble and they see a political system that responds to no one but the rich

Which is why they’re currently flocking in droves to (1) a repeatedly-bailed-out billionaire mogul whose shtick is almost entirely racist resentment and (2) a Princeton/Harvard grad turned government lawyer who’s married to a Goldman Sachs investment banker, and whose shtick combines attacking the undeserving poor with theocratically-motivated attacks on homosexuality and female sexual autonomy.

Yeah, these guys tell their audiences that they’re not getting a fair shake, but then they point the blame at all those big government benefits going to parasitic “urban dwellers” (and nearby dogs prick up their ears). Hell, they don’t even bring up George Soros as much as they used to.

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Cranky Observer 01.22.16 at 7:43 pm

= = =The Democrats have been dependent for popular support on women and minority groups, whose grievances are symbolically privileged, even as substantive policy is driven by corrupt service to the plutocracy.= = =

Ah, the old David Broder formulation. Because of course women and minorities aren’t real citizens compared to white males, so their votes don’t count as much as those of the latter (zero for women and 3/5ths for minorities probably). And therefore an election won 55%-45%, say, isn’t legitimate if a good portion of the 55% is comprised of the inferior types.

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LFC 01.22.16 at 7:49 pm

R. Bhandari @97
He’s not doing well with the Republican establishment, so no expectation has been failed there.

There is a recent WaPo story (which I didn’t read, not being a subscriber and having used up the free-article limit for the month) to effect that the Repub establishment is now warming up to Trump, whom the establishment prefers to Cruz as the nominee. That’s why I put in the qualifying phrase “until recently” in my earlier comment.

As to the electoral appeal of racism: yes, it has always had a certain appeal to parts of the electorate and under current circumstances it’s not surprising that T. is wielding xenophobic rhetoric to his benefit among primary voters (though, again, the first primary votes have yet to be cast). But racism/xenophobia itself has not been enough to secure the Repub nomination in recent years, and in T’s case it is being supplemented w/ other appeals.

The, or a, pertinent question would be when the last time a major-party nominee was neither a governor nor a senator — i.e., someone who did not hold electoral office at that level. I can think of at least three members of the House of Representatives who made serious runs at the presidency w/in my memory: Morris Udall (1976), Dick Gephardt (1996 and 2000, iirc) and I think Jack Kemp ran (was it ’92?) when he was a Congressman. Then there was Gingrich, a former speaker of the House, who ran a couple of times (the last time in 2012). But in recent years, if you’re not a governor (or, in the case of Romney, former governor) or senator, you don’t get a major-party nomination.

Putting aside Guiliani, I remember two (former) mayors running for pres.: Lindsay and Sam Yorty, both in 1972. Yorty appeared in one Dem. primary candidates debate in ’72 along with one Ned Coll, who, if memory serves, waved a rubber rat to symbolize something or other.

In previous years, someone like Trump would have been either a third-party candidate like Perot or a sort of joke candidate, like Ned Coll or, even more, the comedian Pat Paulson. This year he is a serious contender for the Republican nomination. That confounds precedent and expectations.

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LFC 01.22.16 at 7:51 pm

p.s. correction — I think Kemp’s run, at least the first, was in ’88.

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LFC 01.22.16 at 7:53 pm

p.s. and Gephardt also ’88 the first time. He wdn’t have run in ’96 b/c Clintion was an incumbent running for re-election.

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LFC 01.22.16 at 7:54 pm

Clinton, not Clintion. (typos. whatever.)

109

LFC 01.22.16 at 8:08 pm

I forgot Kucinich, also a former congressman (and former mayor, iirc).

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The Temporary Name 01.22.16 at 8:15 pm

I am saying that I have not been surprised that Trump has done well on the basis of racist and xenophobic comments. It is exactly what I expected once he started making them. Why should have anyone expected otherwise?

The expectation was not that they wouldn’t have been made, but that they would be sufficiently clouded for the purpose of actually running for president. There are national negatives to running ugly (though those are not negatives to motivated primary voters). Trump really is shocking. Even when you invite all the toddlers to the birthday party the one who faceplants in the cake is still surprising.

One way this might not have been surprising, though, is that running a campaign can be a scam, simply a way to be famous and keep making money, so ANY antics could be expected I suppose. Carrot Top for President!

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Peter Dorman 01.22.16 at 8:21 pm

It’s been pointed out by a number of commentators (although none on this thread so far) that Trump is occupying a political space that is growing by leaps and bounds in Europe: nativist defender of the welfare state. I briefly discussed this phenomenon in EconoSpeak in “Europe, Where Two Rights Make a Wrong”. It is absolutely no surprise that this space exists in the US or that a candidate has arisen to fill it.

The second question then is why Trump? (a) He perceives that this space exists and recognizes he can take advantage of it. (b) He was jumpstarted through all the TV exposure, which always had a political dimension. (c) He learned how to address mass audiences through his media experience. (d) Voters are ready for a candidate who projects power and activity after eight years of Obama, who is perceived as ineffectual. (Reagan offered some of this after four years of Carter.)

Of course, Trump is a clown. But being a clown hasn’t been a dealbreaker in nativist-populist circles in Europe, so perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised.

Incidentally, Trump is scary, but not as a fascist, since he doesn’t have any brownshirts.

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Bruce Wilder 01.22.16 at 8:22 pm

Cranky Observer @ 104

Tribalism and goofy narrative formulas, like Mommy party and Daddy party, have been used to herd people into partisan identifications and voting behavior. Feeling affiliated in one’s personal identity with one of the Parties and alienated from the other Party is the formula. To a large extent, these divisions have been created less by particular candidates and more by the political pros, the operatives who make money from fund-raising and television ad buys, and cynically use propaganda techniques to get out the vote in closely calculated fashion. Political programs and ideologies are crafted to produce the electoral behavior, while leaving policy to the lobbyists. A lot of resentment and fear is stirred up. I don’t think it is surprising that authoritarian attitudes come to the fore, or are echoed by characters like Trump.

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LFC 01.22.16 at 8:42 pm

Lest people think (horrors) that I’m older than I am, I was a teenager in 1972, not old enough to vote, but I followed that campaign closely (as part of a school project, actually) and also was a volunteer for McGovern. Hence my recollection of the now-forgotten Ned Coll.

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b9n10nt 01.22.16 at 9:26 pm

@ Lee A. Arnold #91 re: “1. The Sudden, Permanent Disappearance of the 100-year Mass Media Narrative.”

What I perceive in the Trump phenomenon is actually not an end of MM dominance in US politics, but its apotheosis. In a Democracy, where the People are Sovereign, one could at least imagine a political infrastructure that allowed for electoral legitimacy to flow upwards from popular mandate. What we have instead is electoral legitimacy flowing downwards from elite mandate, and represented via MM as popular mandate. [this is civics 101 for the left, no?]

So the MM becomes the key institution in such a sham democracy. Because actual governance is taking place behind “closed doors” (a balancing of elite interests rather than popular ones), the MM has the function of performing our “democracy” for us. Mass politics, arising in the context of profoundly anti-democratic economic and cultural institutions, discovered mass communications…and that was that.

Neither Trump (nor the lot of ’em) exists without a microphone and a camera. Yes, now there are many microphones and lots of cameras, but that’s not a substantive difference. All but the radical few have become habituated to American Democracy as it has been performed by its various “producers” and “directors” for generations. Today, everyone in the MM in its metastasized form knows what “Democratic Elections” look like, so they go along with the show without much sophistication regarding its fabricated, illegitimate nature.

Trump (again, like the lot of ’em) is exploiting and thus exposing the system. You mean, all you have to do is be a celebrity and give some speeches, and the directors and producers of “Election ’16” will put your poster on every street corner in town? You’ll get plugged into the pre-scripted discourse of US politics and become a legitimate canditate? Yes, Mr. Trump, that’s exactly right.

When political legitimacy is an act, anyone with a backstage pass can put on the mask and take the stage.

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Rakesh Bhandari 01.22.16 at 9:36 pm

@111 see @94. Wouldn’t it be something if the CT collective ever thought of having someone like Younge join them on their blogging journey?

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Val 01.22.16 at 9:56 pm

Lee A Arnold @ 91
Trump is running people out of the Republican Party (women, Latinos, foreign policy realists, non-haters of all stripes).

That’s a fascinating assertion – is there evidence of it? (Not trying to be rude, just interested). Could it be possible (ie not ‘impossible’) that he gets the nomination (at least in part) by driving people who might vote for a more moderate Republican candidate away from the party altogether? I don’t understand your presidential nomination process well enough to know if that’s any sort of possibility.

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LFC 01.22.16 at 10:14 pm

b9n10nt @114
Agree the MM plays a ‘legitimizing’ role but in this case it’s not clear that they were instigators rather than responders — probably a mix but appears to be more the latter, I’d say.

Compromised, flawed, dominated by money, and often dysfunctional as it is, the U.S. political system, one might argue, is more democratic (or less undemocratic) during campaign seasons than in between them, even though the floods of money since Citizens United work against this (though money alone doesn’t win elections). Electoral campaigns provide a ready-made mechanism through which ‘ordinary’ people can exercise some influence, however attenuated and filtered through the MM, on an outcome, namely who the candidate will be. ISTM it is difficult to explain the periodic relative success of ‘insurgent,’ anti-party-establishment candidacies, except on some such basis.

What’s obviously exceptional about T. is not the anti-establishment aspect per se, but the fact that he’s never held elective office. Even if, as Peter Dorman suggests, T. is perceiving and filling the ‘nativist-defender-of-the-welfare-state’ space, his candidacy remains rather exceptional in terms of his background and biography (and, perhaps, his willingness to say almost anything unconstrained by even a semblance of interest in facts).

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js. 01.22.16 at 11:15 pm

There’s no easy way to distinguish a President from his times

I very much agree with this. Which makes it difficult for me to understand a lot of what you have to say about Obama. (Tho maybe what you mean is different from what I imagine.)

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b9n10nt 01.22.16 at 11:33 pm

LFC:

“Agree the MM plays a ‘legitimizing’ role but in this case it’s not clear that they were instigators rather than responders — probably a mix but appears to be more the latter, I’d say.”

Well, sure…but that’s looking at the trees. Looking at the whole forest, the whole show is and has (always?) been a farce if we take a bottom-up view of democracy as a serious possibility and not just a reflexive invocation of an ideal that no one intends to honor (a common fate of Good Ideas spanning the centuries).

“the U.S. political system, one might argue, is more democratic (or less undemocratic) during campaign seasons than in between them”

Right, and the romantic interludes during Superman I were more realistic than the fantastic and heroic scenes. But that doesn’t make Superman I a documentary, or even more of a documentary.

Another analogy: say that a real live commuter is sitting in the driver seat, manipulating the steering wheel, etc…, making it look like she’s driving the car. But then some jester puts in a blow-up doll in the driver’s seat while she’s at work…and the car still drives! There’s been tons of (legitimate) controversy about how poorly the blow-up doll will perform once it arrives at the job site and gets to work. But shouldn’t we notice the crystal clear evidence that the car was self-driving all along?

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kidneystones 01.23.16 at 12:58 am

@ 87 is welcome and should be internalized. Trump did not oppose the Iraq invasion. Like many, he used the 20/20 vision of hindsight to criticize both the concept and the execution. For those interested in a more detailed critique, this very useful Gallup survey of opinion on Iraq http://www.gallup.com/poll/1633/iraq.aspx confirms that the summer of 2004, specifically June 21st to July 21 saw a huge spike among Americans who judged the war a mistake – jumping from 41% to 54%. I read the Esquire article and Donald is riffing on Iraq in a series of boasts – ‘I woulda, I wouda…’ Privately, he may well have felt the war was a bad idea before 2003. But he’s got no business pretending public foresight and opposition. Trump was following ,not leading, a trend.

@91, 100, 111. Partly, yes, and yes. There is nothing new at all about using xenophobia and tribal hostilities to gin up political support and make money, whether we’re talking about the ‘The Teares of Ireland..’ or a modern manifestation in America, or abroad.

Re, the GOP. As I’m probably the only one here who reads the right more often than I do the left, I can assure you that ‘establishment’ is regarded as a smear. The Instapundit stable of pundits (yes, it’s not just Reynolds now) are uniformly denouncing Trump as an opportunist, which I continue to regard as an asset rather than a liability, insufficiently principled to become Supreme Leader of the American church. Makes for great comic reading, especially when we recall that Cruz is both a lawyer and a politician.

@ 116 raises an excellent question. Case in point: the National Black Republican Association just now endorsed Trump. Nate Silver pointed out that something like 20% of Dem voters might cross to Trump. Trump will absolutely spend big to bring black voters over and his daughter Ivanka is no slouch on the political trail. Trump’s liberal positions are going to get a great deal of attention in the near future as the NRO and Cruz purists publicize Trump’s long support for the New York values social conservatives hate. Trump will use a four-letter word to bring in minorities: J-O-B-S. Trump, I suspect, is serious about his protectionism.

Trump is building an impressive group of supporters that crosses political boundaries – Rush is right, the conservative elite has over-estimated the net conservatism of the base. If you want to know how Trump is actually winning the evangelical vote – watch the Fallwell Jr. intro – it’s about 15 minutes. Junior, btw, easy on the ear and nothing at all like his old man, or Trump for that matter.

Right now, I don’t see anybody stopping Trump. He, Bernie, Ted, and Hillary are the leaders of our time, like it or not.

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Ze K 01.23.16 at 1:42 am

“Trump (again, like the lot of ’em) is exploiting and thus exposing the system.”

The MM is not a tool for Trump to use, the MM is a tool of the establishment, to install the one they want. Regardless of who you are and what you do, it can make you a winner, or it can crush you; ask Perot, or Nader, or Gore.

122

Shylock Homeslice 01.23.16 at 8:55 am

“Trump as racist demagogue just seems like a manipulation, the setup for why everyone good has to vote for the lesser evil.”

I mean, this is all over the blogosphere, apparently, since I got it from memeorandum, but the he just got caught retweeting a Nazi AGAIN, and this time it was a really really obvious Nazi, like, you look at his his twitter feed for 2 seconds, or just his name, and you figure, “Well, this guy must be a Nazi,” as opposed to just somebody who says crap about 90% of White murder victims being killed buy Blacks, which normal people wouldn’t retweet on account of it being obvious bullshit, aside from the Nazi stuff.

Point being, good God, of COURSE Trump is a racist demagogue.

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Lee A. Arnold 01.24.16 at 11:45 am

Kidneystones #120: “As I’m probably the only one here who reads the right more often than I do the left…”

No.

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kidneystones 01.24.16 at 12:38 pm

123 Wrong again. I should have known.

“God help this country if Donald Trump is elected President.” (Brent Bozell) Whoopi warns she’s leaving.

Works for me.

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Stephenson-quoter kun 01.26.16 at 4:59 pm

I don’t really want to pollute this otherwise very reasonable discussion with ramblings from the other side of the internet, but Scott Adams (cartoonist, known mostly for Dilbert and a sort of neo-realist-sexism, a term I just made up because I don’t know what the right word for it is) has a reasonable claim to have called the Trump phenomenon before it happened, or at least before most people noticed that it had happened.

To be fair, he only started calling this publicly back in August, by which point it was obvious that Trump was polling well, but it was also widely expected that Trump would falter, perhaps by eliminating himself through some beyond-the-Pale gaffe, or as a result of the public getting bored of his shtick, or the Republican establishment rallying support to a more ‘credible’ candidate. I think it’s fair to say that expecting Trump to be where he is now was a minority position at the time.

Adams’ view is that Trump has particular skills of presentation and negotiation that make him well-suited to modern campaigning. In a fragmented media environment, you need to create a spectacle in order to make yourself the focus of attention; we can no longer rely on the large media outlets to decide amongst themselves who is the most credible candidate and direct attention towards them. Trump uses particular techniques like ‘anchoring’ – saying his personal wealth is $10bn when it’s probably $4.3bn or $2.5bn or what-have-you means that many people will still remember the high figure, and the main thing we come away with is that Trump is very wealthy. His overreaching policy proposals can be considered similarly, as ‘big asks’ that Trump can use as bargaining chips later, chips that he earned simply by asking for them. His 3rd grade reading level speeches do have a repetitive, hypnotic quality to them which Adams argues is a technique that Trump uses because it works; Adams specifically claims that Trump employs techniques of hypnosis on the basis of his own training in the same.

Now, all of this would be so much BS if it didn’t appear to have so much predictive power. Most of the things that people like us think of as being Trump’s weaknesses really have not turned out that way. He has the good fortune of incredibly weak opponents, but he has dispatched them with particular ruthlessness and has made it look easy. I find Scott Adams pretty disagreeable, in a creepy uncle kind of way, but he would appear to be on to something.

Of course, in an age of thousands of mid-list bloggers, simple probability theory tells us that someone is going to have an amazing predictive streak. Maybe Scott Adams is just lucky, and the apparent predictive value of his ‘master persuader’ theory of Trump is an after-the-fact explanation rather than a true prediction. Adams has made a particular point of predicting key events – that Trump will use ‘linguistic kill shots’ (such as the branding of Jeb as ‘low energy’) on his opponents, and several of Trump’s later utterances have been claimed as examples. Does that mean Adams was right about Trump’s modus operandi, or could we claim almost anything as a ‘kill shot’ if Trump said it and the person he said it about subsequently declined in the polls?

What strikes me here is that we don’t have an accessible store of knowledge about this kind of verbal and presentational manipulation that isn’t pop-culture self-help/hypnosis/airport business paperback material. There are practical books about how to fight political campaigns (I’ve read a few from eco-campaign backgrounds, which don’t cover electoral politics), but we mostly tend to ignore the influence of personal characteristics on political outcomes, perhaps because there are very few Western elections in recent memory where the personal characteristics of a leader can truly be said to have been decisive. Does that mean that they’re not decisive, and any apparent effect is just an illusion? (Labour would have won in the UK in 1997 even without Blair, for example, but he gained enormous prestige from being the first Labour PM in 18 years).

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