Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Predicting exercise in conditional, joint, and discombobulated probabilities

Four years ago at this time I predicted that Mitt Romney would be the Republican nominee for president and that Barack Obama would beat him in the general election. I thought it was easy to predict these matters. Romney was facing apparently strong challenges from Santorum, Huckabee, Gingrich (the frontrunner in polling), and Ron Paul. But Romney was well-financed compared to the others, and he had a nationwide organization which the others lacked. (Santorum, who ultimately mounted the strongest challenge, failed to even have sufficient organization to file for primary ballot status in several states!) I was aware of these differences and predicted Romney as the eventual nominee, with Obama winning owing to the generally inferior grassroots organizing of the Republican establishment (and, we now know, because of the effectiveness of Obama’s IRS in blocking formation of conservative grassroots organizations!) and the generally uninspiring message of the GOP establishment and their man Romney. I was right on both counts, and for the reasons I suggested.

2016 is not so clear at all. Consider the two GOP frontrunners. Ted Cruz (my favored candidate) appears to already have fairly strong nationwide grassroots organization, and is financially strong. Donald Trump doesn’t have a nationwide organization, but appears to be building one, and has obvious financial resources. Marco Rubio is not exactly a frontrunner and doesn’t have a nationwide organization, but does seem to be getting some interest from donors to the Republican establishment. Whether one likes them or not, none of these men is boring. Each can inspire in his own way.

Imagine the presidential debates, Hillary Clinton vs. an as-yet undetermined Republican.  Clinton is not particularly intelligent, well-informed, nor principled -- i.e. she lacks characteristics that stand one in good stead in a debate.  She tends to speak in terms of slogans, appeals to emotion, and fabrications.

Now consider her possible opponents.  Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, or Carly Fiorina – the non-political class/non-establishment candidates – would beat her soundly in a debate, as they have all the characteristics she lacks, and are passionate and articulate.  I think they'd also clobber her in the election.  They'd not tolerate her nonsense, they'd expose her as a liar and crush her with facts, logic, and emotionally appealing rhetoric.  The American people will by and large respond favorably to someone who emphasizes liberty, limited government, and a hopeful future.  Most Americans oppose importing Syrian Muslims at taxpayer expense, confiscating our firearms, raising our taxes, floundering around against Daesh, shutting down our economy because it's the "green" thing to do, and the like.

Next consider Clinton vs. the GOP political establishment candidates, Jeb Bush or John Kasich, probably Chris Christie as well.  One can imagine such a debate beginning with the Republican candidate thanking Mrs. Clinton for her service as Secretary of State -- "service" for which she should have been impeached and for which she is being investigated for multiple felonies by the FBI, felonies of which she's certainly guilty.  The Republican side of the debate would go downhill from there, with “Bushich” apologizing for various positions favored by the conservative base.  The Republican would lose the debate, and the election.

What about Trump? Trump never relies on anything like principles and it is hard to know what he would do. I’m rejecting the “Trump is a Democrat operative” hypothesis and take him at face value. He says what he thinks – which varies considerably at times because he doesn’t have a particular ideology or set of principles – and he wants to be president. A Clinton vs. Trump debate would be a real show. Trump would be quite willing to call her a liar (this should be done). He regularly uses ad hominem arguments and is ruthlessly politically incorrect – something for which he deserves great praise. I can’t predict such a cage match and popularity contest, other than to say that the debates and election would be a free-for-all. The United States would become a reality TV program. Trump might well win the debates, and the election, but it is not easy to say.

Rubio? Rubio combines characteristics of the first two camps, the non-political class and the GOP establishment. As with Trump, I think this is similarly hard to predict. Rubio doesn’t seem to be particularly principled and this doesn’t serve him well. But he is quite articulate and has passion. I suppose he’d have an edge in the debates and the election. (Note, BTW, that on the Democrat side I entirely discount Sanders and O’Malley. The nomination is Clinton’s. She is being investigated for felonies and no doubt could be indicted. She has patrons who are keeping this from happening, and that’s for a reason.)

This might make it sound like I’m predicting a GOP victory in 2016, but these are analyses, not predictions. This is already a complex problem to analyze, but it is made far messier by the internal dynamics of the GOP. The GOP leadership and establishment hate people like Cruz, Trump, Paul, Fiorina, and Carson. (I ignored Carson because he’s not sufficiently aggressive to even sound like a candidate, unfortunately. He’s a good man, but his campaign will not succeed.) “Country club Republicans,” “patrician conservatives,” “crony capitalists” describe the GOP establishment. They are advocates of big government, which they use to benefit themselves, and they hate their own base. The base hates them back, rather reasonably, because they are absolutely useless in standing up to the left and preventing the destruction of the country. They simply want to manage its decline while preserving corporate welfare.

These dynamics pose two problems for predicting. First, the establishment candidates inspire no one and will continue to fail, hence the establishment will attempt dirty tricks at the convention. If they succeed in foisting an establishment candidate upo the country, that alone will ensure a Democrat victory as the outraged base deserts them. [Memo to GOP establishment: your boy Paul Ryan is hated by the base for what he did to us with his budget deal.] Second, if a non-establishment candidate does get the nomination, there’s a good chance the establishment will sabotage the republican candidate and throw its support behind Clinton. (For example, John McCain suggested he would do this if Rand Paul were the nominee.) Clinton still might lose, but predicting the outcome of such a mess is… a mess.

So who will be the Republican nominee? Cruz? Trump? Rubio? Bush/Kasich/Ryan? (Don’t count out Ryan at a brokered convention.) It’s just a big mess. All of this is simply background for my predictions for 2016... forthcoming soon!

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