The danger of negative strategizing


In elections, in addition to hoping that your party ends up with the candidate whom you think has the best ideas and also the best chance of winning, you also hope that the other side ends up with the candidate with the best chance of losing. Hence each side has an incentive to boost the other side’s weaker candidate and cheer on the decline of the candidate that may be the strongest. Some people go beyond that and actually try to bring about the worst result for the opponents. But is such negative strategizing wise?

In the current US presidential race, the Democrats are likely hoping that either one of the current Republican front runners Donald Trump and Ben Carson end up as the Republican nominee, seeing them as so far out there that they will get crushed in the general election. The failure of the establishment candidate like Jeb Bush is seen as a good thing, though there are other potentially establishment candidates like Marco Rubio who might be able to step into the breach. Wisconsin governor Scott Walker, although an extremist on policy, was seen has having a moderate enough image to be a serious threat and his early exit was a relief for the Democrats. John Kasich is in the Walker mold and is looked on favorably by the establishment but he too seems to be unable to gain traction, likely pleasing Democrats.

Things are not so clear for the Republicans. They obviously fear Hillary Clinton the most and have launched a massive and concerted attack to try and increase her unpopularity. They seem to think that they have a better chance against Bernie Sanders because they can successful paint his positions as too far out of the mainstream (which they are actually not), and Martin O’Malley, while harder to paint as an extremist, may have a difficult time gaining sufficient name recognition to win.

But is negative strategizing a good thing? Suppose the Democratic strategy works and either Trump or Carson wins the Republican nomination. Can we be really sure that they will lose the general election? What if they win? That would be a disastrous outcome with Carson being worse because he is an ignorant egotistical religious ideologue who seems to be living in a dream world where he actually believes his delusions. Trump, while a bombastic egotistical opportunist, is not entirely divorced from reality,

The possibility of either winning should not be discounted too easily. After all, the GOP establishment and the media has pretty much gone to war against Trump but his popularity has not been dented. What is to say that when the election is just between him and the Democratic candidate, enough people find his message, whatever the hell it is, appealing enough to vote for him? And the same applies to Carson. Remember that since only about 55-60% of the electorate votes, all you need is about 30% support to win the general election. Given that polls consistently show that a quarter fifth (see the comment) of the American public believes the most crazy things and will even vote for ridiculous candidates, it would not take much of a shift for 30% to vote for either person. This election has entered uncharted waters and it is dangerous to rule out any option as too extreme to consider based on past experience.

If Trump or Carson does gain the Republican nomination, what will the Republican party establishment do in the general election? Remember that the ruling oligarchy wants candidates whom they can control and are predictable. The oligarchy does not care much for social issues and indeed is quite liberal on the hot-button GRAGGS issues (guns, race, abortion, god, gays, sex), using them just as a means to win elections. What they really care about are lowering taxes, eliminating all regulations and oversight on their activities (this is underlying message of ‘their ‘government is too big’ mantra), and allowing for the free flow of capital across the globe. But above all, they want stability, which is why they prefer dictators and authoritarian governments to democracy.

Faced with the choice between Trump/Carson and Clinton, I think their choice would be clear. They would support Clinton because she is a loyal servant of oligarchic interests. But if the Democrat is Sanders, then their choice becomes much more difficult. Do they go with the volatile and possibly crazy Republican who supports their core mission but may do other wild things? Or do they go with the clearly sensible and sane Sanders who will go against their core interests? I suspect that greed will win over the desire for stability and they will stick with the Republican.

So while Trump and Carson are undoubtedly making the political race interesting and watching the resulting discomfiture of the Republican establishment provides considerable schadenfreude, I am becoming increasingly uneasy about whether they are as transient a phenomenon as people seem to think.

Comments

  1. Dunc says

    How on Earth did we get to a position where Donald Trump is the “not entirely divorced from reality” option out of the front-runners for the Republican nomination? It’s terrifying.

  2. busterggi says

    Dunc – see 2012, 2008, 2004, 2000, 1996, 1992, 1988, 1984, 1980 – the progression is pretty clear in retrospect.

  3. Nick Gotts says

    I’ve been saying pretty much exactly the same, Mano – particularly when anyone expresses the hope that Trump or Carson will win the nomination. Although that said, the next two in the Republican polls (Rubio and Cruz) are scarcely less alarming as prospective Presidents.

  4. sonofrojblake says

    I am becoming increasingly uneasy about whether [Carson and Trump] are as transient a phenomenon as people seem to think.

    Scott “Dilbert” Adams has been predicting a Trump landslide for months. Not in the nomination race – in the election. His position is that Trump is a Master Persuader (he started off by calling him a Master Wizard, but apparently decided that sounds too hokey), and all the others are “just” politicians who haven’t noticed that it’s 2015 and the rules have changed.

    To a relatively uninteresed observer across the pond, what’s interesting is that I keep hearing about how the media has gone to war against Trump… and yet the message that same media actually seems to be putting across is that he is the single person most likely to be the next president unless he’s stopped. Meanwhile, Carson has singlehandedly dismantled the stereotype of brain surgeons as clever people. Practically every story about the other candidates seems to be about how dumb, shady or unelectably useless they are. If I were a betting man, I’d put £50 on Trump to win the election, and to do so by a comfortable margin.

  5. DonDueed says

    Negative strategizing worked perfectly for Nixon in ’72. The Nixon team feared Muskie so they sabotaged his campaign. Muskie imploded. Instead, the Dems nominated McGovern, who Nixon beat in a landslide.

  6. mnb0 says

    “seeing them as so far out”
    That may very well be a fallacy this time. While I trust Carson to defeat himself I’m far from sure about Trump. You already correctly noticed that the Republican elite turning against him did not harm him at all, which should not have surprised anybody. Those voters who favour Trump don’t trust the Republican elite either.
    Neither am I sure that the American socio-economical elite will automatically favour Clinton to Trump. The latter is also one of them in the end and Trump is smart enough to understand that he could do what Hitler did: pretending that he’s anti-establishment, but protecting its interests.

    “I am becoming increasingly uneasy”
    It’s about time. For an outsider like me it would be fascinating if Trump would become the Republican candidate, but it spells disaster.

  7. atheistblog says

    I disagree. You seem to be out of touch with reality. You are seems to be pandering the same thing most democrat party worshipers believe that hillary is way better than republicans.
    The presidential nominees can say anything they want, when you look at the reality, its all owned by the oligarchs and plutocrats. You thinking obamacare will be repealed. No, it won’t, the parts that which benefits insurance companies going to stay. The reality is rhetoric is different but when these people go there, it’s all same old same old. If bush continued for 3rd term, it would looked exactly as obamas first term. President has more and individual power to wage wars (AUMF), and manipulate the foreign regime change policy, remember obama cut the indian trip and gave attendance in saudi ? Plutocracy rules. The meaning for “moderate” is what is acceptable to plutocrats, corporations. Anything else its fringe, it doesn’t matter whether it right or wrong, right or left.
    Why are we in war around the world ? Have you ever heard of the words “American interest “? it means corporation profits. Oil in middle east is american interest, tpp is american interest, oil in south america is american interest, resources in cuba is american interest.

    People read about the past, read about colonialism, and think it was something in the past, empires did bad thing, now the world has moved on, now it is fair and better place, the past the suffering from colonialism by the empires was so obvious to the people, but if it’s still exist today, people would know today. But it does exist today, and nobody frigging care, it has one of the names called american interest. One day in 22nd century people will again read and study what is called colonialism in 2nd half of 20th century, and fill 21st century called american western countries interest. If you called it in different name no one would notice it, that what conservative idiots think and liberal democrat party worshipers ridicule at the other side, but its all same at the end. The world is fighting for resources and it is today’s version of colonialism.

  8. says

    Given that polls consistently show that a quarter of the American public believes the most crazy things and will even vote for ridiculous candidates

    Hold on…I’ve brought this up on your blog before and I guess I’ll bring it up again…Regarding that link, 27% of the population of Illinois did not vote for Keyes. It was 27% of those who voted who voted for Keyes. Turnout was 71.3% — a good turnout, really –so the actual percentage of the voting population would have been 19.2%. That’s a 10% shift, then, to get to the 30% you’re worried about.

  9. lorn says

    It also has to be kept in mind that the GOP has a several dozen Billionaire backers waiting in the wings to contribute perhaps $2 Billion dollars to get their way. The Democrats have their own but they have fewer.

    If the GOP goes all-out to suppress the vote while driving their own core of fanatics to the poles with hot-button issues they could squeak out a victory. Suppression could include voter roll culling, closing or last minute moving of voting stations, jiggering the ballots, making up and advertising false voting rules, “losing registrations”, contesting individual votes, ballot stuffing, and open intimidation at the polls. Remember that the holiness of the cause is assumed to be true and it could easily allow people to do virtually anything. If the GOP candidate is associated with God and the Democratic candidate associated with evil and the corruption of the American nation a true believer might feel justified in any action. Bully-boy tactics were used to stop the recount in Dade County Florida in 2000 and nobody was prosecuted. The stakes are seen by nearly everyone as being higher this time around.

    Strap in … we are in for a ride.

  10. moarscienceplz says

    I still maintain the GOP will not nominate a black man. Not all conservatives are racists, but most racists are conservatives. I also agree that if Carson did somehow get nominated, he is just too weird for the general electorate.
    Trump, though, is hard to pin down. Yes, he has said a lot of ridiculous and horrifying things since he entered the race, but his actions in tha past have been a lot more moderate (see here).
    Trouble is, I can’t tell if he is just telling the Tea Party wackos what he thinks they want to hear, or if he has changed over the years and really believes that crap.

  11. Nick Gotts says

    sonofrojblake@4,

    I wouldn’t take anything said by an idiot like Scott Adams seriously – are you aware that he is (or at least, was, I don’t know if he still is) an “intelligent design” numpty? Unless he has a record of succesful political analysis I’m unaware of, he’s just another whacko shouting from the sidelines. That’s not to say I dismiss the possibility of Trump winning, but all this guff about him being a “Master Persuader” – srsly? He’s not going to persuade anyone who isn’t already a couple of sandwiches short of a picnic, but unfortunately there are all too many of those in the electorate, and if he wins the nomination, he could get elected on Republican party loyalty, misogyny, and (entirely understandable) dislike and distrust of Clinton (I’m assuming she will be the Democratic nominee). Speaking of which:

    and yet the message that same media actually seems to be putting across is that he is the single person most likely to be the next president unless he’s stopped.

    I haven’t seen that, although since I don’t systematically survey the US media that doesn’t mean much – but I’d have thought Clinton was seen as the single most likely 45th POTUS, simply because she looks a shoo-in for the Democratic nomination, and is certainly a canny politician.

  12. sonofrojblake says

    Nick Gotts@12:

    I wouldn’t take anything said by an idiot like Scott Adams seriously

    Neither would I. He’s a cartoonist. The interesting thing is he stuck his neck and made a prediction that was the opposite of what everyone else was saying, and has been boring on about it ever since, justifying why he made it. And gradually the prediction has looked less and less ridiculous as time has gone on.

    are you aware that he is (or at least, was, I don’t know if he still is) an “intelligent design” numpty?

    I’m aware that he’s published a “for discussion” blog post that uses the phrase “intelligent design” and the idea of DNA seeding to basically rehash Nick Bostrom’s simulation hypothesis. It’s a pretty big leap from that to suggest that he actually believes it.

    Unless he has a record of succesful political analysis I’m unaware of, he’s just another whacko shouting from the sidelines.

    He’s a whacko with a profile who has made a single, testable prediction.

    That’s not to say I dismiss the possibility of Trump winning…

    And this is where your cognitive dissonance begins. You don’t want to give credence to the predictions of an allegedly evolution-denying cartoonist, and you don’t want to believe a whacko like Trump could win the election. But you’re dimly aware that there’s at least a reasonable chance you’re dead wrong, so you need to shore up your position with prevarications. For example:

    a “Master Persuader” – srsly?

    That seems an odd way to put it. The use of internet shorthand seems to me to imply that not only do you think Trump is NOT a world-class negotiator and image-manager, but that you consider the very idea ridiculous. Whereas the evidence of reality would suggest that the only question that makes any sense is “Is Trump a better negotiator and image-manager than, say, Bernie Sanders?”. Surely their positions right now place them as world class by definition? Or do you honestly think that people become front-runners for the presidency by accident or luck, rather than being very, very good at negotiation and image management? (Note: the Bush boys are exceptions – they are/were operating on luck, specifically lucky to be the sons of HW, a world-class negotiator and image manager.)

    He’s not going to persuade anyone who isn’t already a couple of sandwiches short of a picnic, but unfortunately there are all too many of those in the electorate

    Hang on… what you’re saying here is that you believe he is, in fact, going to persuade “too many” of the electorate… which would mean he’s going to win the election. Can you see your own cognitive dissonance in action here? Do you believe Trump can win the election, or not? Note: I’m not asking what you think of him or his policies or whether you think he should win, or whether you think he’ll be any good, or whether it would be better if someone else did. Can he win, yes or no?

    if he wins the nomination, he could get elected…

    Oh, OK. So, your point boils down to “Scott Adams is an idiot and I agree with him.”

    I’d have thought Clinton was seen as the single most likely 45th POTUS,

    Based on what?

  13. Nick Gotts says

    sonofrojblake@14,

    Dear me, I have made you cross!

    Adams showed complete ignorance, combined with appalling arrogance, in the episode I referred to.

    The use of internet shorthand seems to me to imply that not only do you think Trump is NOT a world-class negotiator and image-manager, but that you consider the very idea ridiculous. Whereas the evidence of reality would suggest that the only question that makes any sense is “Is Trump a better negotiator and image-manager than, say, Bernie Sanders?”

    Srsly? His success, so far (and he’s looking less successful than he did a month ago, according to the polls, as Ben Carson has caught up with him, while Rubio and Cruz have begun to detach themselves from the chasing pack) say more about the Republican electorate – mostly ignorant, many stupid, mostly angry with professional politicians – than anything about Trump except for his pre-contest name recognition. Do you, by the way, say the same about Carson as about Trump? His achievement is actually a lot more impressive, as he was much less well known in advance, and is a black man running for the nomination of a deeply racist party. In fact, both – and Sanders – are benefitting from the widespread, deep, and entirely understandable popular resentment of the political elite, more than from any qualities of their own. So yes, there’s a great deal of luck involved.

    Hang on… what you’re saying here is that you believe he is, in fact, going to persuade “too many” of the electorate… which would mean he’s going to win the election.

    Well, I could have spelled things out a bit more, but it’s not really that complicated. If Trump wins it will be by default – because both his Republican opponents and Clinton are perceived as even less acceptable. Not because of any positive qualities Trump has, and in particular, not because he’s a “Master Persuader”.

    Can he win, yes or no?

    Try reading for comprehension. As I already made clear, I think he could. I also think he probably won’t.

    So, your point boils down to “Scott Adams is an idiot and I agree with him.”

    There’s plenty I agree with idiots about. Only an idiot would think this is a point against me. But since I think Trump probably won’t win the Presidency, I disagree with Adams, as you’ve reported him.

    Based on what?

    Try reading the last sentence of #12.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *