Playing To Win

Can Bernie Sanders win the general? Seriously, will people vote for a withered-looking Sanders over a vibrant-looking (but, IMO, incredibly empty) Marco Rubio? Will people actually, seriously, cast a vote for Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton–like her or not–in a general?

I’m just a little baffled by primary politics. I love Bernie Sanders, but get serious: the vast majority of American voters are going to vote a personality or a haircut. Martin O’Malley looks and sounds a lot more like a president than anybody running. I don’t understand why people–Dems or Repubs–vote their rabid partisanship rather than vote strategically in the sense of voting for the more electable candidate.

The most competent people running, with the freshest ideas, are not getting any traction at all. Most of the leading GOP candidates are strong personalities and ideology over, IMO, competence. Bernie, as much as I love his cantankerous liberalism, is kind of a pseudo-Democrat at best, and Rand Paul’s cranky Uncle Fester. Much as I love him and respect his views a great deal, I don’t see him winning over any of the GOP haircuts.

Which really leaves only Hillary, whose candidacy is personality and novelty-driven: bring back Bill (she’s not Bill) and the novelty (and perhaps importance) of the nation finally electing its first female president. I sort of acknowledge the second and, considering the alternatives, still consider Mrs. Clinton the leading (electable) candidate, all things considered.

But I’d much rather have seen a race between O’Malley and Kasich or somebody; two actually qualified executives rather than the field of cartoon characters. Still, much like horse race gambling, I’d put my money on the candidate I’d believe could win, rather than my ideological favorite. Her substantial cons notwithstanding, for the Dems, that’s Hillary.

I’m less sure about who that is for the GOP; I, like many others, believe 30-40% of GOP voters isn’t nearly enough to elect Trump, but they’ve got no other personality-face-haircut in their stable that can go toe-to-toe with Clinton, other than maybe Jeb. Trump’s disengagement with the facts (and, in many instances, reality) is an ironic fit for the GOP who have a long history of not only supporting but electing unfathomably incompetent ideologues. Jeb is proving to be an empty suit and an embarrassment to his brand, but a Clinton-Bush matchup (which is what many of us expected) would at least *appear* to be an even field.

Trump will fight a tabloid campaign against Hillary while Hillary will run devastating ads demonstrating Trump’s disengagement and lunacy.

It also seems to me that Bernie himself should realize he can’t win a general against any of the GOP candidates, which means he’s mainly weakening Clinton and hurting the Dems–which he probably doesn’t care about since he himself is not actually a Democrat.

The contest, for both parties, exists largely within the fantasy football camp of the early “whites only” primaries, which are largely cosmetic because they really do not represent America in any sort of balanced way.

However, if Trump can survive the early contests, he may steamroll right to the nomination. Clinton getting pasted in the early contests may make her candidacy seem more fragile, vulnerable and needy than it actually is, lending her campaign the much-needed façade of a real contest. Ironically, her losing early contests may only make her nomination all the more inevitable.

The primaries seem to be the place where our votes can make the most impact. I really don’t get why America votes the ideological extremes rather than playing to win. Even sadder: why America behaves like little children rather than voting for mature grown-ups who can actually do the most important job on the planet.


  1. Ralf Haring says:

    Voting for the strategic candidate just gets you weak tea. I’m done with same old same old. If you want my vote, you have to actually represent most of what I want, not some tiny fraction.

    • Priest Priest says:

      Hey, I’m with you. But doesn’t that also work against reality? Bernie will be a great Pyrrhic victory.

      BTW: watching the SOTU, watching Marco look constipated and Paul Ryan repressing his obvious agreement with statements like, “…protect our kids for gun violence,” and “…make the economy represent what’s best in us and not what’s worse.” These are areas where all Americans are surely in agreement, but these guys are sitting there with the Stupid Face. I suppose they are against these things? Is *anybody* fooled by these childish displays? These are supposed to be mature adults, leaders. But they treat the voting public like morons, perhaps because that’s what we are. They’ve been coached: don;t give Obama an inch. Not a smile, not a hand clap., because it will end up in your opponent’s campaign commercial. They should be concerned that their Stupid Face–apparently opposing keeping kids safe from gun violence–might end up in Dem superpac ads.

      I want to vote for a grown-up. I’m so sick of this. I am so very sick of these people. And, no offense, the vast majority of them are Republicans behaving like 2-year olds. They are a disgrace to this nation. Which makes me worry about the nation itself because none of these folks would be in the public eye if they weren’t supported. I honestly don’t know who’s scarier: Donald Trump or people who actually support Donald Trump, and what that says about us as a nation.

      Ronald Reagan wouldn’t even shake hands with some of the “Republicans” of today. He’d never behave this disrespectful to the sitting president of the United states, no matter how much he disagreed with him. The Reagan these folks (allegedly) espouse is a caricature of a disarmingly honest, kind, and, yes i’ll say it, somewhat naive man who really did love this country and–politics aside–is an appropriate model for the American Statesman. “Oh, Priest, you just hate Republicans.” I do not. I am probably a closet Republican myself. But most of the big names today aren’t Republicans at all. They are people Reagan wouldn’t cross the street to spit on.

      I believe Reagan would applaud broad areas of agreement, like a grown-up, and fold his hands on the partisan stuff. The all-or-nothing stonewalling just makes these people look like caricatures. Their message: There Is No Common Ground In America. Their actual message, for those paying attention: This Is An Election Year And We’ve Created A Culture of Six-Year Olds. Appearing to even be “civil” to the sitting president is enough to cost you an election, which makes GOP *voters* sound like six-year olds. It’s a scramble for the tinfoil hat crowd. Grown-ups wouldn’t penalize Ryan for applauding an end to poverty.

  2. Dave Van Domelen says:

    Bernie polls well in hypothetical general elections against Trump and Cruz, though. The most likely reason is that he doesn’t alienate the core on his own side enough to matter, and both Trump and Cruz have a lot of support from “anyone but the Usual Suspects” voters who would hold their noses and vote Trump over Hillary but will vote Sanders over Trump with a clearer conscience.

    Mind you, with all the gerrymandering, it’s unlikely any Dem President will get much done regardless of whether they’re an opportunistic wind vane or a socialist firebrand.

    As for Bernie’s chances in the primaries, pay attention to his performance in the red states. Hillary can come in second in all the blue states but still get the nomination if she wins the red states by enough of a margin. Similarly, Trump and Cruz need to win delegates in the blue states, not just the red ones. That’s the main reason we tend to get more moderate candidates: no matter how polarized the country gets, the voters who don’t matter in the general election because their states vote the other way still matter in the primaries.

  3. Thad says:

    There’s an algorithm in game theory called min-max; it’s how chess-playing computers and the like operate. You make the best possible move assuming your opponent will make the best possible move assuming you will make the best possible move…and so on down the line, for as many moves ahead as memory can handle.

    I’ve always thought primaries operate on that principle. Which is why candidates who are perceived as middle-of-the-road (McCain, Romney, Kerry) or are charismatic (Obama, Bill Clinton, Reagan) or have name recognition (Reagan, both George Bushes, Gore) wind up getting the nominations. Ultimately, primary voters nominate the candidate they think can win, not the candidate who best represents their views.

    I think that’s going to happen again here. I don’t see Trump or Cruz getting the nomination; right now I think Rubio’s the likeliest pick. He seems middle-of-the-road (he isn’t, but he seems that way), he’s got establishment support, and he’s got charisma — he’s not the barn-burner that Trump is, but he’s also not nearly as divisive.

    I think Sanders is weaker in the general than Clinton, but I think he’d have a legitimate shot. Demographics favor Democrats for the Presidency (just as they favor Republicans for the House and for state legislatures, and are split for the Senate). It’s not impossible for a Republican to win in November, but it’s getting harder every four years; the GOP has become the party of old white men and all its efforts to get out of that rut have been thwarted by the base, from the Tea Party to Trump. Even if a woman (Fiorina) or a Latino (Rubio or Cruz) got the Republican nomination, I don’t think that would be enough to shake the perception that it’s the party of bigotry and exclusion; Trump’s shadow is going to loom large over the general even if he doesn’t get the nomination, and I don’t doubt for a second that there will be other Republicans saying racist and sexist things in front of cameras in the coming months.

    I think Sanders could beat Trump or Cruz in a walk. Trump is horrifying to most of the electorate, while Cruz is a smug, uncharismatic little shit who’s despised even by his fellow Senate Republicans. He’s good at scoring points with the base, but he’s openly contemptuous of everybody else, and that’s no way to win the White House.

    (I think he’s got a good shot at winning the Iowa Caucus. I also think that’ll be as effective in getting him the nomination as it was for Huckabee and Santorum. The Iowa Caucuses have made for some important upsets for Democrats over the past dozen years — Kerry and Obama — but not for Republicans. I don’t expect that to change.)

    Rubio, Bush, or Kasich would be harder for Sanders to beat, but I think still possible. Bush is crashing and burning for a couple of reasons: one is his lack of charisma; another is his baffling tendency to keep bringing up his brother’s failures. (He recently nicknamed a supporter “Hurricane Katrina”. Why on Earth would you do that? I try to imagine what’s going on in his head and it looks like Homer Simpson’s conversations with his brain. *Don’t say Katrina, don’t say Katrina…* “Uh, Katrina?”) Kasich…well, Kasich would probably be their best shot (now that Walker’s dropped out of the race), but I’d be *very* surprised if he got the nomination.

    Anyhow, I accept the premise that Clinton’s likelier to win in the general than Sanders, but I reject the premise that Sanders *couldn’t* win.

    There’s also another function that candidates like Sanders serve: they can force concessions from the eventual nominee. Clinton has moved to the left on the TPP, criminal justice reform, corporate tax reform, and a number of other issues. If Bernie Sanders weren’t nipping at her heels in Iowa and New Hampshire, she wouldn’t have. Sanders has already changed the terms of the conversation; even if he loses, he’s had an impact.

    I’d happily vote for Sanders in the primary if I were still a registered Democrat, but I’m not (and there’s no way he’d carry Arizona anyway; Clinton beat Obama here and she’ll certainly beat Sanders). I’m a registered independent now; we can vote in party primaries for offices other than President, but not for President. (And I’m not going to be voting in the Democratic primary anyway; I’m requesting a Republican ballot so I can vote against Joe Arpaio.)

    Whereas if Clinton gets the nomination, I’ll vote third-party in the general. (For a number of reasons, but the foremost is that I’ll never forgive her for her Iraq War vote. I believe she prizes her own poll numbers over doing what’s right.) Though of course I’m in a solid-red state and it doesn’t much matter which presidential candidate I vote for. Or Senator, for that matter. I vote because it can make a difference in the down-ballot races (again, maybe this is the year we finally dump Arpaio), but I don’t have any illusions that Hillary Clinton is going to carry Arizona, and the only way John McCain loses his seat between now and November is if he dies of old age.

    That wound up being rather a lot longer and more rambling than I expected. But what the hell, there it is, if anybody’s actually interested in reading the whole thing.

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