McGovern, caucuses and Nader: trying to delegitimize Bernie

If Bernie exceeds Hillary’s pledged delegate count, I expect him to win the nomination. I do not believe superdelegates will be able to toss the nomination to Bernie. If they do, I expect the Democratic party to be damaged in this cycle, and perhaps many cycles to come.

However, that consideration has not stopped many Democrats from presenting various arguments meant to undercut the message of Bernie’s victories thus far. A 74-year old socialist from Vermont running in his first national race is beating a candidate who has run multiple national races and was considered so formidable that no other major politician thought to challenge her candidacy. That the challenger is doing as well as he is, having amassed 45% of the delegates awarded thus far, is a demonstration of extreme dissatisfaction with Business As Usual in the Democratic party.

The BAU faction of the Democratic party (let’s call them, the “establishment”) is in reality near panic over this threat. That was plainly apparent prior to super-Tuesday. Hillary’s wins on that day calmed people down a bit. But what everyone knows, is that this is an anti-establishment year, and the establishment’s preferred choice is a weak candidate. Whatever you may think of Hillary’s personal abilities and qualifications, by her own account, she is not a natural politician. That fact is driving fear within the party establishment.

It has led to various people making attempts to delegitimize Bernie’s success so far, or lay the groundwork to deny him the nomination if he secures a majority of pledged delegates. I do not think any of these attempts will succeed. But we must understand them, if we seek to prevail.

Below the fold for more…

Caucuses aren’t undemocratic, super-delegates are

There have been public calls for Bernie to step aside, for “the good of the party”. The calls are generally coupled with the suggestion that his path to securing a majority of pledged delegates is impossible. I’ve discussed before, how this is plainly untrue, and I will have updated targets later this week. But in one case, the person making a call for Bernie to step aside also said that his victories thus far don’t count for as much since many of his delegates were secured from caucus contests, and caucuses are “undemocratic”. This attempt to delegitimize Bernie’s pledged delegates is what I want to consider first.

We should recall that the Democratic party also held caucuses in 2008. The insurgent candidate, Barack Obama won or tied each and every caucus. These were the results in terms of pledged delegates:

IA 16-15 1
NV 13-12 1
AK 9-4 5
CO 35-20 15
ID 15-3 12
KS 23-9 14
MN 48-24 24
ND 8-5 3
NE 16-8 8
WA 52-26 26
HI 14-6 8
TX 38-29 9
WY 7-5 2
GU 2-2 0

Obama won the caucus contests by a net 128 delegate margin. Since Obama ended ahead by roughly 62 delegates, it’s fair to say the caucus contests (“mostly white” states by the way) handed him the victory. If you want to now claim caucuses are “undemocratic”, you should also have the courage and clarity to admit that Obama was chosen as the nominee in 2008 by an undemocratic process and unless you’re a PUMA, you didn’t really have a problem with it then.

But the fact is, caucuses are not “undemocratic”. At least no more so than any other system of democracy that requires some commitment of time and travel. If the Democratic party had a problem with caucuses, it should have revised its rules in 2009, or later. They didn’t.

I’ll tell you what is “undemocratic” though, superdelegates.

They are undemocratic in the sense that the Senate was undemocratic before the 17th amendment was passed and the popular election of Senators became the norm, in 1913.

They are undemocratic in the sense that the Presidency was undemocratic, before it became the norm to select presidential electors by popular vote. That change in the 1820s is incidentally, tied to the foundation of the Democratic party and the election of Andrew Jackson. The last state to adopt the popular vote was South Carolina, after the Civil War, you can read into that whatever you want.

The superdelegate system is undemocratic in its intent. It is explicitly designed to overturn the will of the people. It is based on the belief that party leaders know better when it comes to selecting a nominee.

And finally, it is undemocratic because it was motivated by fear of the people. Not a fear that the people would choose a demagogue who would then seek to destroy our individual rights. Not a fear that the people would choose someone unprepared for the presidency. Though to be honest, the other party is well on it’s way to doing both with Trump. It was a fear that the party would choose someone unacceptable to the party elite and their view of what the general electorate wanted.

Bernie’s campaign is absolutely on the money with their very public lobbying of superdelegates over the past month. What they are doing is raising the profile of superdelegates among the Democratic primary base. The better people understand how superdelegates work, the better position they’re in to judge their actions at the convention. So having a public discussion about what arguments work and don’t work on superdelegates is a good thing.

We do not have a system of direct democracy in this country, nor would I advocate one. We delegate to our representatives the authority to make policy and write legislation. But the people jealously guard their right to choose the representatives who then subsequently create policy and legislation.

If, at the convention, Democrats reveal that a single DNC member’s vote counts as much as the 15,000 individual citizens who elected each pledged delegate from Hawaii, it will not go over well.

The real goal here is to have Bernie drop out, so that itappears that Hillary has overwhelming support in the pledged delegate count and avoid any sort of real contest on the convention floor. In other words, keep the coronation on track.

All this is of course entirely acceptable. The Democratic party is a private institution which has no defined permanent role in our system of government. Parties have come, and parties have gone. We have seen six different party systems in this country. But if you are a Democrat, and wish to see a future for your party, you will want to ensure the pledged delegate count is the one that matters.

He’s winning because he’s spending so much money

Some commenters here and in the media claim Bernie is only winning because he has spent 2x, 3x or 10x the amount Hillary has in a particular state. I got an e-mail from the Hillary campaign this week saying:

If you think Bernie Sanders isn’t gunning for a comeback, take a harder look at his campaign. They outspent us on the air 27-to-1 in Washington, Hawaii, and Alaska, and after they won those three contests, they turned around and raised ANOTHER $4 million in just 48 hours.

It then asks for money, because Hillary is having a tough time matching Bernie’s fundraising this year. He’s raised 63.5 millionin Jan-Feb to her 45m. But another goal is to create the impression that Bernie only wins where he outspends Hillary by huge multiples. Thankfully, OpenSecrets consolidates fundraising data for both Hillary and Bernie’s campaigns. So we can evaluate the claim that he’s spending more than she has:

RAISED $159,902,013 $139,810,208
SPENT $129,066,926 $122,598,571
ON HAND $30,835,088 $17,211,636
SMALL DONORS $28,585,437 (18%) $94,162,132 (67%)
LARGE DONORS $116,826,391 (73%) $43,932,888 (31%)
$2700+ DONORS $75,500,362 (25,705 people) $4,001,068 (1,257 people)

In addition, Hillary has $63m raised by SuperPACs, of which almost $19m has been spent, leaving $44m (mostly in Priorities USA and Ready PAC).

In aggregate, Hillary has spent more than Bernie. Adding the SuperPACs, she has spent $24 million more than Bernie has. That 25% higher spending has resulted in 23% additional delegates. So thus far, they’ve both gotten roughly what they’ve paid for (ignoring external media impact).

What’s caught the establishment flat-footed is that Bernie has managed to raise as much as Hillary has. With most other candidates, the knock would be that they can’t raise enough money, therefore aren’t viable. With Bernie, the knock is that he can raise enough money, but he needs to spend it to win, so he’s unviable.

See how this works?

But aside from the bullshit arguments about who’s competing where and spending what, it’s also worth looking into where the money comes from. The vast majority (73%) of Hillary’s money comes from contributors who give more than $200. The vast majority (67%) of Bernie’s from those who give less. Roughly 47% of all of Hillary’s funds came from people who maxed out their contribution ($75 million). For Sanders, that number is far lower at 3% or $4 million total.

I want to talk about what it means to a campaign to raise funds in each way. To raise money, Hillary has to attend private fundraisers. The people forking over $2,700 to her campaign or twice that per couple aren’t going to join 20,000 other for a rally. No, they expect face-time with the candidate and a passable dinner in a private environment. Plus cocktails so it isn’t all boring politics. Those giving $669,400 expect even more. All that sucks up the candidate’s time. Time that can’t be spent with voters because campaigns have a definite end date. That creates a structural advantage that both campaigns are aware of:

I don’t have a super PAC and I don’t travel the country begging millionaires to contribute to my campaign. This is a grassroots campaign.

— Mar 14, 2016 @berniesanders

In contrast, Bernie’s fundraising is far more efficient. He spends a couple of minutes in a speech making an appeal for cash, and it comes rolling in. Many people are set to donate to the campaign on a regular schedule.

The end result is that Hillary is spending multiple evenings a week scarfing down shrimp cocktails at the homes of wealthy supporters, while Bernie is out campaigning. And he’s still raising more money than her.

McGovern lost, lefties can’t win in America

Numerous people point to McGovern’s loss in 1972 to Nixon to claim:

  1. America is not fertile ground for a “liberal” candidate
  2. McGovern’s primary win was therefore a mistake where voters (who we know are stupid and naive) chose someone too liberal to win
  3. To avoid this fate, it was essential to create the “superdelegate” fix to protect primary voters from their stupidity and naivete.

I will admit that most senior Democrats aren’t dumb enough to call primary voters stupid and naive in public. They might choose to say “carried away” or get “overexcited by unreasonable and unachievable proposals”. But make no mistake, what they mean is that primary voters are stupid and naive.

The problem is, this three stage argument falls apart when evaluated carefully.

McGovern was almost certainly the most “liberal” Democratic nominee in recent memory. But his loss cannot be ascribed exclusively to his policy positions or ideology. At least equally, and perhaps far more important, were his choice of Eagleton as VP and the subsequent revelation that Eagleton had undergone electro-shock therapy for “depression” (later diagnosed as bi-polar disorder). McGovern’s initially firm “1,000%” backing of Eagleton and later back-tracking hurt him immensely. The failed attempts to recruit Ted Kennedy, Edmund Muskie, Hubert Humphrey, Abraham Ribicoff, Larry O’Brien and Reubin Askew as replacements caused further damage. Many of them had run for the nomination against McGovern. Birch Bayh, Walter Mondale and Hubert Humphrey had refused to join the ticket earlier. All these refusals were a symptom of a broader problem, McGovern was abandoned by the Democratic party, in and outside the South.

Perhaps primary voters weren’t so stupid and naive to choose McGovern. Perhaps they just misjudged the lengths to which the party would go to sabotage a nominee considered too far to the left. Now, I should point out that McGovern won only a quarter of the popular vote, about the same as Humphrey. He did win over 50% of the delegates.

Looking at it this way, the “superdelegate” fix takes on a different meaning. It is not to prevent the party from being tripped by a “too liberal” candidate who is bound to lose in the general. It is there to prevent the primary being won by a candidate the “establishment” doesn’t approve of. Subtle difference, but it clarifies why this has bearing in 2016. The party looks at Bernie’s candidacy as a guerrilla campaign by someone who hasn’t “paid their dues”. Quite apart from the ideological position that Bernie inhabits, the bigger fear is that the party’s ticket will be headed by someone who is not enmeshed in the complex web of favors and collectible chits that would otherwise allow party grandees to exercise control over their agenda.

And we should not mince words here. If Bernie wins the nomination, he will be the first nominee in a number of generations who owes little to the establishment. If you believe this is a drawback, by all means you should oppose Bernie’s nomination.

By the way, at the time the superdelegate system was devised, the fear was not about nominating a “liberal” candidate, but about infighting within the party that would undercut the eventual nominee. The examples in everyone’s minds were McGovern, who had to deal with multiple contenders challenging him, and Ted Kennedy’s primary challenge to Jimmy Carter in 1980.

Bernie is going to be a spoiler, just like Nader

Some people have begun to point to the 2000 race (also a “third-term” run) and raise fears of a similar situation. That Bernie might undertake a “spoiler run” or fail to throw all his support behind Hillary in the unlikely event she wins the pledged delegate count and the nomination.

If Hillary wins the nomination and subsequently loses the election, you can bet your bottom dollar that the Democratic party will find a way to blame it on Bernie or his supporters.

Not that I think Gore’s loss can or should be blamed on Nader, or people who voted for him (or on Bill Bradley). Gore was a bad candidate, Liberman was a bad choice, Bill Clinton was unmentionable during the campaign because Gore didn’t want to be associated with blowjobs in the Oval office. The fact is, the Democratic party should have made better choices or run a better campaign. That they failed to do that cannot be blamed on Nader.

But they will say, whatever you think of Gore-W-Nader, you’ve got to admit it was a disaster, because Iraq.

Perhaps, though the thing is, we’re not talking about Gore or Nader, we’re talking about Hillary. Hillary voted for the war in Iraq. There was no apology in 2008 because it was seen as a political liability. She did not admit it was a mistake till her book was published in 2014.

The point I’m making is that whatever you think about Gore v. W, you can’t use Iraq to argue that Hillary would be better if another Iraq came up. Because she voted for Iraq! Imagine Hillary ran instead of Gore in 2000 and lost. Blaming the war on Nader would be nonsensical because we know today that Hillary voted for it.

In fact this whole line of argument is ridiculous on its face because Al Gore initially supported a confrontation with Iraq. In February 2002, he called for a “final reckoning” with Iraq, saying the country was a “virulent threat in a class by itself” and calling for Saddam Hussein to be ousted. By September 2002, he wasarguing against the war, claiming the focus should be on tracking down the culprits behind 9-11. We know he agreed with Bush and co that Iraq/Saddam were a key problem in the Middle-East, that the US needed to remove Saddam. We just don’t know what he would have done if he actually commanded the army. He might have joined the majority of Democratic senators who voted for war (including Hillary).

But blaming Nader is a very convenient way for Democrats to ignore our own faults and avoid making necessary changes. The psychological candy delivered by blaming it all on Nader means people will continue doing it.

Stealing Elections

I’ve had a couple of discussions about whether attempts have been made or will be made to steal votes in a primary, if Bernie begins to get close.

I don’t really think that is going to happen, nor will it be effective if attempted, for a variety of reasons:

  1. To steal an election, you have to control the machinery of the elections. You also have to demand and receive, absolutely, unquestioning loyalty. I don’t think the Clintons have any of that.
  2. The proportional delegate allocation system reduces the rewards from a stolen election, unless you can shift enormous numbers of votes.
  3. You could try to maneuver to gain additional delegates at the district/state conventions, but the Clinton campaign appears to be completely inept at this. All the upward revisions in delegate counts due to unviability or split delegate thresholds have gone to Bernie.
  4. Looking at the contests to come, I don’t know which states might be the most vulnerable.


None of this matters if Bernie doesn’t win the pledged delegates. Go out and phonebank, facebank and GoTV.

A lynching: The terrible truths of our existence.


Back in October, I wrote about a man, Mohammed Akhlaq, who was killed by a mob that suspected he had eaten beef.

On Friday, Mazlum Ansari (32), and Imteyaz Khan (15), were found dead hanging from a tree in Jharkhand in Eastern India. They had left that morning with 8-12 buffaloes for a cattle trading fair. Along the way, they were stopped, beaten and hung by a mob. Photos of the lynching were widely published in the Indian press.

Local police have arrested five men for the murders and suggested theft was a motive. The buffaloes would have been worth a few thousand dollars. Complicating this story is that fact that all five of the men arrested for the murder are Hindus, and the victims are Muslim. One of the men arrested, Mithilesh Sahu, is part of a local vigilante Gau Raksha Samiti (Cow Protection Society).

Such societies have spent years agitating for “beef bans” and have assaulted people suspected of eating beef or selling cows to slaughter. Over the past year alone, mobs have beaten to death a Muslim truck driver said to be transporting cattle, and beaten to death a Muslim man they believe was about to steal a calf.

The slaughter of cows is illegal across much of India since many states have passed laws against it. Buffalo do not enjoy such strong protection and their slaughter for meat is still largely legal. The right-wing BJP government which holds power in the center has allies in the Hindutva movement that actively support the “beef ban” agenda and sponsor many of the vigilante groups.

Accusations of beef-eating have a long history in Indian politics. India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru (a Kashmiri Hindu) was accused of eating beef and being soft on beef-eaters by his political opponents. Nehru himself had used the claim that British colonial troops “cannot live without beef” to garner support among Indians for the political movement he helped lead. He opposed bans on cow slaughter arguing that India was a composite society. Nevertheless, numerous laws discouraging or prohibiting the slaughter of cows were passed under left-wing governments led by Nehru’s Congress party. The Indian constitution directs the state to prevent the slaughter of cows and there were large-scale protests against cow-slaughter in the 60s. The cow-protection vigilante societiesdate back to the 1870s and have always been enmeshed in the broader politics of the time. During the election campaign that brought Mr. Modi to power, he campaigned against what he called a “pink revolution” that has made India the largest exporter of beef in the world (mostly buffalo). Several students at one of India’s elite universities (Jawaharlal Nehru University), including the head of the student union were arrested over political speeches and demonstrations earlier this year. One of the most damning accusations leveled against them by the right, was that they were “anti-national” since they allegedly ate beef. Despite common misconceptions, this is not unusual in India. Many people, including numerous Hindu communities eat beef.

In this particular instance, multiple motives may be at play. Mr. Sahu reportedly told the police he believed the cattle were being sold for slaughter and called on several associates to help detain the traders. Within the warped mind-set of cow-protection fervor, this is legitimizes the lynching. Relatives of the victims report that the cow protection societies in the area have spent the past ten years trying to persuade and threaten cattle-traders to exit the trade. Though it is equally likely that some of the suspects used the opportunity to settle old scores, others might have been motivated by the opportunity to steal the buffaloes, and others might well have been driven by general animus towards Muslims.

Such a mix of motives is a staple of political/nationalist/racial mob violence. It’s the same political recipe, with regional flavor applied as needed. So this lynching is in many ways similar to murders and pogroms that targeted many peoples, but primarily black men and boys across America. It is also similar to violence againstIndonesians of Chinese descent, anti-Irish sentiment, the dispossession and persecution of Rohingya in Myanmar, the Hutu-Tutsi conflict, the persecution of Jews across Eastern Europe, violence against LGBT people in Latin America and elsewhere, and the distrust and hatred that follows the Roma.

Hatred of the other, religious fervor, plunder and ethno-nationalism in their various forms drive such violence. Sexual assaults and rape follows this toxic mix just as surely as night follows day.

Politicians through the ages have used ethno-nationalist-racist-religious sentiment to garner support. Always, they have tried to ride this tiger to power, damn the consequences. Some do this more openly than others. The effects are worse in some cases, but universally terrible for the poor, the marginalized and the other.

The BJP rides this tiger in India, supported by its Hindutva allies including the Bajrang Dal, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), theRashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), and Shiv Sena. The politics of division and ethno-nationalism requires both soft and hard-line proponents. Such a mix of individuals allows the hardliners to appeal to outright bigots, while more presentable faces practice a softer form of bigotry. A third group will make appeals based on unrelated matters, often the effectiveness of authoritarian methods to deliver material growth.

If this sounds familiar to you, that is not accidental. America, like all human societies, is not immune to the appeal of forces that stoke deep-seated fears and tribal sentiment. At various times, the Democratic and Republican parties have practiced the politics of division, attempting to set people against people. In our recent past, the Republican party has been the primary home for such forces.

Today, we are witness to a master class in how one individual can stoke hard and soft bigotry simultaneously by talking out of both sides of their mouth. The pattern is the same, stoke hatred, encourage violence (openly or tacitly), disavow responsibility for mob violence, rinse, repeat. We watch this with the fascination of amnesiacs who seem to believe this is somehow novel, unusual or imported. It is none of that.

Those who under-estimate Donald Trump have, in my view, failed to fully confront what RFK called “the terrible truths of our existence”.

Whenever any American’s life is taken by another American unnecessarily – whether it is done in the name of the law or in the defiance of law, by one man or a gang, in cold blood or in passion, in an attack of violence or in response to violence – whenever we tear at the fabric of life which another man has painfully and clumsily woven for himself and his children, the whole nation is degraded.


I have not come here to propose a set of specific remedies nor is there a single set. For a broad and adequate outline we know what must be done.

When you teach a man to hate and fear his brother, when you teach that he is a lesser man because of his color or his beliefs or the policies he pursues, when you teach that those who differ from you threaten your freedom or your job or your family, then you also learn to confront others not as fellow citizens but as enemies, to be met not with cooperation but with conquest; to be subjugated and mastered.

We learn, at the last, to look at our brothers as aliens, men with whom we share a city, but not a community; men bound to us in common dwelling, but not in common effort. We learn to share only a common fear, only a common desire to retreat from each other, only a common impulse to meet disagreement with force. For all this, there are no final answers.

Yet we know what we must do. It is to achieve true justice among our fellow citizens. The question is not what programs we should seek to enact. The question is whether we find in our own midst and in our own hearts that leadership of humane purpose that will recognize the terrible truths of our existence.

— Robert F. Kennedy, in his speech The Mindless Menace of Violence, delivered April 5, 1968 the day after MLK was assassinated.

Please read that short speech, if you haven’t recently. It has many lessons for us today.

By March 16, 2008, 84% of pledged delegates had been awarded

I’ve been seeing comments recently comparing March 2008 and March 2016, saying Obama was virtually guaranteed the nomination by that date, and therefore Hillary is this year.

The fact is the primary calendars differ wildly between 2016 and 2008.

First off, in 2008 we had 3,564 pledged delegates. In 2016 we have 4,051 (13.66% more). Therefore a 300 delegate difference in 2016 is equivalent to 264 delegates in 2008.

In terms of percentage of delegates awarded, we won’t be where we were on March 17, 2008 till Jun 6, 2016. So if you want to compare leads in delegates and make arguments about Hillary’s inevitability, please wait till June 6, 2016 to do so.

Pledged Delegates Awarded by March 17:

2008 2998 84%
2016 2031 50%

Pledged Delegates available on March 17:

2008 566 16%
2016 2020 50%

States left to vote:

2008 PA, GU, IN, NC, WV, KY, OR, PR, MT, SD
2016 AZ, ID, UT, AK, HI, WA, WI, WY, NY, CT, DE, MD, PA, RI, IN, GU, WV, KY, OR, VI, PR, CA, MT, NJ, NM, ND, SD, DC

By this point in 2008, only two big states (100+ delegates) were left: North Carolina and Pennsylvania. This year, Washington California, Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey are left.

In 2008:

JAN 448 IA, NH, NV, SC, MI, FL
FEB 2135 AL, AK, AR, AS, CA, CO, CT, DE, GA, ID, IL, KS, MA, MI, MO, NJ, NM, NY, ND, OK, TN, UT
MAR 415 OH, RI, TX, VT, WY, MS
TOTAL 3564

All March primaries and caucuses were over by March 11, 2008.

In 2016:

FEB 156 IA, NH, NV, SC
MAR 1-15 1875 AL, AS, CO, GA, MA, MN, OK, TN, TX, VT, VI, KS, LA, NE, ME, MI, FL, IL, MO, NC, OH
MAR 16-30 273 AZ, ID, UT, AK, HI, WA
APR 731 WI, WY, NY, CT, DE, MD, PA, RI
MAY 235  IN, GU, WV, KY, OR
JUN 781 VI, PR, CA, MT, NJ, NM, ND, SD, DC
TOTAL 4051

So let’s not jump the gun on calling the race. We have a ways to go yet.

Pivoting to the center doesn’t help if you’ve been surrounded.

The Median Voter is the power behind the throne

“Leadership” is about moving to where the voters are

If you’ve ever taken a political science class, you’ve probably seen the graph on the right. It’s a linear political spectrum, with the left shaded in all it’s pinko commie glory. The Median Voter theory suggests the optimal solution for a candidate is to move towards the center, i.e. closest to the median voter.

When Democratic candidates follow this strategy, they stake out a position slightly to their left during the primary, and then pivot to the right when the electorate broadens in the general. They’re trying to get as close to the median voter in each contest.

This is conventional wisdom and has been understood for decades. It is very likely the wrong kind of analysis to apply to this election cycle. It’s not that the theory is wrong, but rather that the cycle is unlikely to play out along the linear political spectrum. If my guess is correct, candidates who play the median voter game will falter, because the game itself has changed.

Voters understand the game

The first change is that voters are aware of this strategy, and it becomes less optimal as voters become more aware of the game (after repeated plays). Thanks to cable news and better reporting on primary nomination contests, voters now expect candidates to tack to the center. Some have resigned themselves to this because they assume all politicians are “non-authentic” in this way. Others rationalize it as a tactic required to be effective in a game where jockeying for position is part of the race.

There’s a wildcard in this cycle, a candidate who effectively says he won’t play the pivot game or run negative ads. And thanks to his long service, it is clear he hasn’t changed his positions over the years. That alters the game, because a new option presents itself with characteristics that aren’t represented on the one dimensional ideological scale. Those qualities are trust and consistency. Trust that the candidate will not shift positions out of convenience or be swayed by “interests”. The candidate also phrases policy in terms of moral imperatives rather than exclusively material aims, an important difference in language.

But perhaps most importantly, the one dimensional ideological scale is painfully inadequate. Because Drumpf.

The map is no longer one dimensional?

The median voter strategy is effective when competing against candidates who play on the left/right axis and when the views of voters follow a normal distribution along this axis. But this is not the case in this cycle, because we have an unconventional candidate in Drumpf. Drumpf isn’t following the strategy in the conventional sense. He is looking at a different map, a map that looks like this:

Two dimensional political map of four candidates and their positions

Trump plays hop-scotch on the ideological map, quite literally spanning left and right and surrounding the center.

And his views are not a fixed range on this map either. I had a tough time situating his tax plan which calls for no income taxes on any married couple earning less than $50,000. I ended up creating a separate circle for him near progressive taxation. The same goes for his critique of pay-to-play politics. It’s almost as if he plays hopscotch with ideological categories (which feeds into his narrative of independence). On this two dimensional ideological map, he encircles the center. If the center is weak because the electorate is polarized, the middle might be as empty as a doughnut hole. If the electorate is skewed towards the left, then a clear left candidate can fend off encirclement there and that might be the optimal strategy.

Trump iterates positions rapidly, picking and discarding ideas as he goes. Unlike conventional Republican politicians, he is permitted to do this because:

  1. He has no ideological debts to the conservative movement
  2. He claims to strive for effectiveness (that’s what “make a great deal” means)
  3. Voters have low expectations and allow him to learn as he goes along

You may think 3 is very unfair. For example, throughout the campaign, Drumpf said he would order US armed forces to “take out the families” of terrorists and commence torture. He reversed his position last Friday. Most politicians are wondering why he is permitted to test these positions our publicly, while they feel compelled to secretly poll-test even minor changes in position.

Now, to be blunt, we know the US has tortured people suspected of terrorism, we also know the US has delivered suspects into the custody of regimes known to torture. At some point in the campaign, I expect Trump to reference this and deride both Democrats and Republicans for letting each other get away with it.

More likely than not, he will walk away from his pivot with a reputation for moderation and flexibility with some portion of the population (it’s all negotiable).

Spanning the left-right divide

When his positions are evaluated, Drumpf does not sit on the conventional left/right divide. Quite literally, he spans the left/right divide on economic policies, with some that are populist (protectionist trade policies, progressive taxation, universal health-care) and others that have traditionally been on the right (deregulation, cutting Federal agencies). But he is careful not to take stances that directly penalize the poor and middle-class.

To those accustomed to conventional American politics it looks as if Trump hopscotches around the map, picking positions seemingly at random. He expresses socially liberal views (planned parenthood does great work), extreme authoritarian views on law and order (go after terrorist’s families), protectionist sentiment on trade (force companies to produce goods here), 2nd amendment rights and forced decryption in terrorism cases. The authoritarian bent is clearly evident, but there are a number of outlier positions.

Part of the reason many people engaged with politics brand him a “con-man” is that Trump does not subscribe to the ideological markers that have become rote in American politics. That is why you have the spectacle of so many Republicans saying he isn’t a “true conservative”.

Many political scientists do not recognize this dynamic, and remain wedded to the 65 year old, one dimensional model they were taught in graduate school:

Political scientists have had a pretty good idea since the 1950s of how voters tend to make their choices: by identifying which candidate fits closest to them on an ideological spectrum.

“They look and identify themselves on a liberal-conservative dimension, and they pick who is closer to them,” said Andrew Reeves, a professor of political science at Washington University in St. Louis. “From that perspective, Sanders is positioned fairly far out there on the left.”

This is absolute nonsense of course, which is why independents are the largest party in america. They don’t self-identify on the liberal-conservative spectrum.

Look, the linear model is a tool. And it’s a good analytical tool for the job some times, and sometimes it’s not. In a contest with Cruz, it would be a useful tool, but with Trump it is less than useless. It’s downright dangerous with Trump, who jumps around on the liner model. In fact, as I note he jumps around on the 2 dimensional model as well. And if we were to create a 3 dimensional model with “soft issues” like character, trust and independence on them, I think he would jump around on that too.

Tone, Independence, Competence, Authenticity

Social choice theory has produced a number of important results that illuminatepolitics. But social choice theory focuses on policy issues. Perceptions about candidates’ competence, character, independence, authenticity are considered soft issues and largely superfluous. Part of the reason they are ignored is that they do not fit on the linear model, or on a two dimensional model. That which cannot be measured is ignored in such analyses.

The only time voters choose from a policy menu as per the model is when we have direct referendums and ballot propositions. We do not have those at the federal level in the US, though Switzerland does. There is a caveat, Bernie is suggesting mass civic engagement and public demonstrations can serve as a proxy for referendums.

In a presidential contest, voters are picking an individual in whom they see a reflection of their views and values concerning the world. They rarely look at this individual as a policy automaton. And if there’s one thing that Trump isn’t it’s a policy automaton.

If Bernie’s candidacy fails, I suspect in some eyes, the mantle of authenticity (no political correctness), competence (great deals) and independence (I didn’t take millions from donors) will pass to Trump. Worse, his ideological encirclement of Hillary may see voters on the economic left head towards Trump. And that is truly as frightening as MB laid out.

To many ears, his claims that he will “make the best deals”, playing fast and loose with ideology (“I’m my own man”) sound like independence and pragmatism, and it’s coupled with claims of competence (at making deals apparently). Playing the pivot to center game and assuming that will bag the median voters is a risk with a candidate who spans left and right. Especially if he can find the self-control to moderate his tone in the general election.

And moderating the tone will have an impact. He can claim many of the extreme positions are simply matters of degree and tone:

Hillary is for fences, I want a wall, apparently her problem is with how big and beautiful it will be and how I’ll make Mexico pay for it. If you’re going to say I shouldn’t be advocating torture, why didn’t anyone have the guts to prosecute Bush/Cheney first, who actually did it?

If he does moderate his tone, I expect the media narrative to change. You’ll hear talking heads blundering on about how presidential is sounds, and how it might just have been an act. They’ll be patting themselves on the back in a self-congratulatory orgy, deluded by the claim that they’ve moderated Trump with “tough media scrutiny”.

This is an anti-establishment, anti-pay-to-play cycle with an opponent who does not play along the customary ideological map. For a conventional candidate to succeed, they have to be extra-ordinarily talented. By her own admission, Hillary is not a “natural”. Democrats ignore the risks at our peril.