Friday, January 29, 2016

Desperate Wagering

“The ancient Greeks first invented the word ‘demagogue’ to describe a new class of mob leaders who quickly evolved to fill a power vacuum left by the demise of a reigning class of elite statesmen.”
-- Michael Signer, Demagogue: The Fight to Save Democracy from Its Worst Enemies
So we now think we know where Trump voters are coming from. They seem to be essentially a new conglomeration of citizens who are alienated by both major political parties, who can be best described as white working people. Their main issues seem to be that the economy is rigged against them and that America’s national security needs strengthening. But we should not really be calling them voters—at least not yet, not until they have actually done some voting. At this point we cannot be sure if they just people who show up at rallies and tell pollsters that they like Trump. We do not yet know in what numbers they will show up at caucuses and voting booths.

That is all very interesting but, frankly, what all of those people do is really out of our hands. Let’s not worry about them for the moment. Instead, let us worry about the best way that we ourselves can settle on the candidate who will most reliably carry out policies that we ourselves support. That is a lot harder than it seems it should be.

The question becomes a lot simpler if you have settled into a definite pattern of always voting for the same party time after time. Then it comes down to things like whether you care more about a close philosophical match between you and the person you vote for or more about not throwing away your vote. In other words, are you going to limit your voting possibilities to candidates who seem “viable.” If you are a Republican, that narrows you down to maybe three or four candidates. If you are Democrat, your main decision is technically whether Bernie Sanders is actually viable. But since the Democratic primary is virtually a two-person race (sorry, O’Malley or whatever your name is, but that’s the reality), you can’t really throw your vote away because you aren’t going to get an unforeseen result through misguided strategy. And, let’s face it, if you’re a Democrat, your nominee has already been decided for you, and only God or a unexpectedly proactive Justice Department can do anything about it now.

If you’re a Republican, things are a whole lot more complicated. With such a large field, it is hard to know who is actually viable and who is not. To the surprise of all professional politics watchers, Donald Trump is viable. So are Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio and maybe possibly Chris Christie and frankly just about everyone else in the sense that there are lot of squishy and non-Trump voters to be mopped up down the line as traction-less candidates drop out. And you can come up with a scenario for anyone who has been participating in the primetime debates (except probably Rand Paul) to catch fire and begin attracting them. Realistically, though, it’s probably going to be one of the big four.

With things pared down to that number, you probably already have a pretty good idea which one you would probably vote for. But let’s take the exercise a step further. The next question is: which candidate do I most agree with who I can be reasonably certain will do what he or she says. That’s really the hard part. Both parties’ current frontrunners have moved miles away from positions they have held in the past, and there is no way to judge to what extent that is for sincere reasons or cynical ones. But for Democrats, as I say, it doesn’t really matter. Your nominee has pretty much been decided for you. People who are voting or caucusing as Republicans really have to decide, assuming they like what Trump says, whether he can be trusted to carry through. The same is true to a lesser extent for Christie. There is less basis for worry that Cruz and Rubio are not firmly behind the positions they espouse.

There is another consideration. All of the viable candidates have track records as office holders—except Trump. No matter what way you look at it, a vote for Trump is definitely the wildest roll of the dice. But then Trump supporters are clearly not people who are in a mood to play it safe. By voting for Trump they will essentially be saying, anything would have to be better than what we have now.

If you are a person who is happy with the way economic policy and foreign policy have been managed for the past seven years, you may want to do some soul-searching as to how such a large number of people arrived at such a point. And if your answer is that they are all just ignorant or crazy, then you may want to do even more soul-searching.

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