The Republican primaries would seem to be a fertile ground for game theorists. For example, you have the current situation where Donald Trump is leading in the polls and in winning states and delegates. He does not have an overall majority in each category but is heading for a plurality. Ignoring John Kasich for the moment, the question is what is the best strategy for the two challengers Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio to adopt in order to try and win.
Should they desist from attacking each other and instead each take aim at Trump and seek to bring him down in each state? But that also risks their second place rival winning that state and thus gaining on them in delegates and momentum. Or do they try to eliminate their rival first by aiming their fire at their rival and bringing him down even if they have little or no chance of winning the state? That strategy could result in Trump winning that state and increasing his delegate count in the short run.
This is kind of a Prisoner’s Dilemma problem. If Cruz and Rubio work together, they may be able to arrive at a strategy whereby Trump is denied outright victory. But then which of the two takes the second position is unclear unless one agrees to cede to the other. If they work against each other, they may increase their own chances of coming second but increase the chances of Trump winning outright.
It looks like Cruz has decided on the latter strategy, which is not surprising given his history of seeking only his own benefit, everyone else be damned. He has apparently started campaigning aggressively in Florida against Rubio even though Cruz has little or no chance of winning Rubio’s home state that the latter must win on March 15 to stay in the race,
Ted Cruz is threatening to make one of the biggest gambles of the 2016 season: diving into Florida to knock off Marco Rubio.
Cruz has little chance of winning the March 15 Florida primary, but he’s showing signs he might compete by opening field offices and sending surrogates to stump in the state while his super PAC prepares to strafe Marco Rubio with a seven-figure ad buy.
The aim: pull enough voters away from Rubio to ensure Donald Trump wins the state’s 99 delegates and deny the Florida senator any pick-up opportunity elsewhere by forcing him to defend his turf. Doing that gives Trump a bigger lead in delegates, but it means Cruz has calculated he can catch up.
Whether it’s an elaborate headfake or expert play to kill off a rival 2016 contender, the Texan aims to force Rubio to spend more time and money defending his home turf, freeing up Cruz to more easily compete for delegates in eight states and U.S. territories that hold contests between Tuesday and Saturday.
I suspect that political scientists and game theorists will have in this year’s Republican race a rich source of insights that they will mine for years.