More guesses about how the 2016 US presidential race will turn out


Out of the starting gate

Since I’ve been so brilliantly successful at forecasting the progress of the US presidential campaign so far, I’ve decided to share more predictions.

At Five Thirty Eight, Nate Silver sees “Four Roads Out of Iowa for the Republicans.”  I also see four sets of outcomes for tomorrow’s Iowa caucuses, but not quite the same four Mr Silver sees.

I see four possible winners. Loudmouth landlord Don-John Trump is leading the polls among Republican voters in Iowa and most other states.  If he wins the first contest, (let’s say he has a 35% chance of doing that,) his odds of winning everywhere else likely increase.  However, it has several times happened that the winner of the Iowa caucuses has gone on to receive a smaller percentage of the vote in the next contest, the New Hampshire primary, than the New Hampshire polls had suggested before that Iowa win. George H. W. Bush in 1980, George W. Bush in 2000, and Barack Obama in 2008 can all be cited as examples of that sort of anti-momentum. A highly unconventional candidate like Mr Trump might be especially vulnerable to anti-momentum.  New Hampshire voters might be leery of giving him wins in both of the first two contests, thereby putting him in a commanding position in the rest of the primary season.  If they do desert him, the likeliest candidate to benefit would be Ohio governor John Kasich. Mr Kasich is rising in the New Hampshire polls, drawing big crowds at events in the state, and dominating the airwaves there. So if Iowa goes to Mr Trump, I would put the chances of New Hampshire also voting for him at about 70%, and of it turning to Mr Kasich at about 20%.

Texas senator Ted Cruz is also strong in the Iowa polls, and his voters do seem likelier to turn out for the caucuses. So I’d give him a 50% chance of winning Iowa. If he beats Mr Trump by a narrow margin, that shouldn’t be much of a surprise to anyone; Mr Trump’s chances of winning New Hampshire would probably be at least 70% in that case. On the other hand, if Mr Cruz wins by a wider than expected margin, that would put Mr Trump on the defensive, and again Mr Kasich comes into the picture as a possible winner in New Hampshire. Maybe his chances would rise as high as 40% in that case, with a 50% likelihood Mr Trump would win New Hampshire.

Florida senator Marco Rubio has consistently stood in third place in the Iowa polls, and is the only conventional Republican candidate making a stand there.  Mr Cruz and Mr Trump have been feuding with each other in recent weeks; Iowa caucus-goers don’t like that sort of fighting, as witness the Democratic race in 2004, when frontrunners Howard Dean and Richard Gephardt spent weeks filling Iowa television and radio with attacks on each other, then neither finished in the top two on the night.  It’s possible Mr Rubio could pull the kind of upset this year that John Kerry pulled on the Democratic side in 2004.  If that happens, Mr Rubio will eclipse Mr Kasich, New Jersey governor Chris Christie, former Florida governor John Ellis Bush, and onetime tech CEO Carly Fiorina to become the default candidate of those looking for a conventional Republican candidate. That will likely guarantee him a win in New Hampshire, and probably make him unbeatable down the road to the nomination. If he doesn’t win Iowa, Mr Rubio won’t win anywhere; he’s been static in the polls, fundraising, and organization for months and months, and simply is not very good at connecting with Republican voters.  If he does win in Iowa, though, he’s the nominee.  (Unless something embarrassing bubbles up from his past, or something else unforeseeable happens.)  On the other hand, that Iowa win, is pretty unlikely, I’d say about a 5% chance. So let’s say that translates to a 4% chance of a Rubio nomination.

Retired brain surgeon Ben Carson, briefly a frontrunner in the polls last year, is now polling at about 10% in Iowa.  However, the final polls before the 2012 Republican Iowa caucuses showed former Pennsylvania senator Richard Santorum with about that same level of support, and he won. Mr Santorum’s people were the hardcore religious conservatives, the group that is far likelier than any other to show up and take an active part in the Republican caucus meetings. Dr Carson draws his support from the same bloc, and he has been a familiar figure among them for decades. While Mr Cruz may have made sufficient inroads with the religious right that Dr Carson is unlikely to emerge tomorrow night as the big winner, it would be foolish to discount his chances altogether.  I would guess that he has about a 10% chance of winning Iowa. If he manages that, Mr Trump and Mr Cruz will both be seriously damaged, and Mr Kasich is virtually certain to win New Hampshire.

If Mr Trump comes out of Iowa and New Hampshire looking like winner, he’ll have to knock all of his opponents out of the race quickly, lest his poverty choke his campaign before he can clinch the nomination. If he wins Iowa, Dr Carson will probably back out of the race; if he wins it by a wide margin, Mr Cruz may see his candidacy collapse.  If he wins New Hampshire, he’ll knock Mr Kasich, Mr Christie, Mr Rubio, Ms Fiorina, and Kentucky senator Randall “Rand” Paul out of the race.  Mr Bush has enough money in the bank and enough institutional support that he can continue his campaign indefinitely.  He will likely spend many millions of dollars trying to win the primary in South Carolina regardless of the results of the first two contests. If Mr Cruz is still in contention at that point, as it seems virtually certain he will be, then the outcome of the South Carolina primary will be quite unpredictable.

If Mr Kasich wins the New Hampshire primary, he may slip through the Trump/ Cruz/ Bush scrum to win South Carolina as well.  Even if he doesn’t manage that feat, a win in New Hampshire would give him the mainstream default candidate status Mr Rubio could gain by winning Iowa.  That in turn would take him to March 15, when the first states hold primaries in which the winner takes all of that state’s convention delegates, instead of giving each candidate a share of delegates proportional to his or her percentage of the vote. The two biggest of these states are Ohio, which Mr Kasich will certainly win if he is a viable candidate, and Florida, which is also likely to favor a candidate more conventional than Mr Trump or Mr Cruz. If he wins those two states, Mr Kasich will be all but unbeatable in the later stages of the nomination contest.  But he has to win New Hampshire; he stands so low in the polls nationally and has so little organization or institutional support that anything less than a first-place finish there will force him out of the race.

Of all the Republican candidates, Mr Kasich sounds the most like a president; no less an an observer than the late Richard M. Nixon has declared that he is his party’s most, and indeed only, electable candidate.  I would rather not see a Republican elected president, so I suppose I should hope they nominate Dr Carson or Mr Bush or Mr Cruz, each of whom, for his own particular reasons, would probably drive well over 50% of the electorate to oppose him unalterably.


I say something about politics and something about religion. No sex or money, though.

I’ve recently been participating in two discussion threads at The American Conservative. In a thread on Noah Millman’s blog, I’ve been laying out a theory that Florida Senator Marco Rubio will either win virtually every state in the Republican Party’s presidential nominating contest, or he won’t win any states at all. It all hinges on whether he can pull an upset win in the Iowa caucuses. My comments are here, here, and here.

In a thread on Rod Dreher’s blog, I’ve been talking about how the request by the “Primates” of the Anglican Communion that the leaders of the Episcopal Church scale back their participation in the Anglican Communion’s policy-making structures raises questions about how we can tell whether formal organizational bonds are helping or harming efforts to unify Christians, and if we decide that a particular structure is doing more harm than good, how we can dissolve it without making matters even worse.  My comments are here and here.

I’m not going to vote for a Republican for president in any case, and I think Mr Rubio would do an especially bad job in the White House.  The fact that I have worked up a theory about his prospects, therefore, just goes to show what a political junkie I am.  The other topic is of more direct personal interest to me, since I am a member of the Episcopal Church, and I find some value in the “Anglican” label.  Still, I discuss that topic also in terms of political strategy.

The other white guilt

Here are a couple of tweets I just put up:

This was in response to a bit on Quartz about a study of suicide among older white men, titled “Masculinity and Privilege are Killing Older White Men- No, Really.”

Rational voting

hdzwzq71-300x300Sometime in the late 1990s, a magazine I read regularly ran an article in which two professors of political science made the case for increasing the size of the United States House of Representatives from 435 to 635. I was sure this article had appeared in The Atlantic, and that magazine did run a different article proposing the same thing in 1992.  I can’t find the article I’m thinking of in their archives or the archives of any other magazine I was reading in those days, so I’m stumped as to where it could have been.

The case for increasing the number of seats from 435 was fairly straightforward. The Constitution leaves it up to Congress to determine the number of seats in the House, and the number rose steadily with US population from 1789, when 65 Representatives stood for a population of about 4 million, until 1911, when 435 Representatives stood for a population of about 92 million.  Now the population is over 320 million, and there are still just 435 Representatives.  Since each state has at least one Representative, that means that the Representative from a sparsely populated state such as Wyoming speaks for 585,000 people, while each Representative from a heavily populated state such as New York speaks for over 700,000 people.*  Since each state’s share of the vote for US president is determined by its total number of seats in Congress, this also implies that small states are over-represented in voting for president.  In very close elections, this over-representation can tip the balance; it is likely that if there had been 635 seats in the House in 2000, for example, that Albert A. Gore rather than George W. Bush would have been declared the winner of that year’s presidential election.**

The case against increasing the number above 635 was more complex. The authors of this article, whoever they were, explained a body of political science literature which examines voting behavior in legislative bodies. This literature showed that, when a chamber has more than about 650 seats, it becomes very difficult for its members to engage effectively in strategic voting (a.k.a. “tactical voting” or “instrumental voting.”)  The likelihood that any given question would be settled by a margin of one vote shrank to such a low order of probability that in chambers with more than 650 seats only those members who held positions that enabled them to control other members’ votes made their voting decisions based on the likely outcome of the vote, while members who neither controlled followers nor submitted to the control of leaders found themselves isolated, forming metaphorical “islands” from which they would use their votes expressively, signaling preferences for which they were not in a position to press in the negotiations where legislation was written and national policy formulated. As an example of a legislative chamber with too many seats, the article cited studies of the parliament of Zaire in the days when that parliament had over 1000 members. That, incidentally, is how I know that article came from the late 1990s, since Mobutu was overthrown and Zaire renamed the Democratic Republic of the Congo in May 1997, and I remember that those events were quite fresh in my mind when I read the article.  I would say it was published sometime between June 1997 and June 1998.

The same article does allow that it is difficult for a group as large as 635 to operate on a basis of strategic voting, and mentions that the single organization most studied by political scientists looking into strategic voting is the United States Supreme Court, which has a nine-member electorate. Still, they do argue quite persuasively that in many groups as large as 635 do effectively function on that basis, and can find no reason why the US House of Representatives should not do so as well.

I think of this mystery article quite often, not only because the US House and the US presidential election system are often in the news, but also because the ideas of expressive voting and strategic voting are often hot topics.

It strikes me that if the maximum size of an electorate in which strategic voting makes sense is somewhere slightly north of 650, then voters in virtually every public election in the USA would be wise to make a habit of casting their ballots expressively. That is to say, except in the few villages and rural precincts where fewer than 650 voters are likely to turn out, voters should support the candidate who most closely reflects their actual views, not the candidate whom they regard as likeliest to win the election.  This view is supported by the behavior of elected officials, who use ever-more sophisticated techniques to examine election returns in search of votes they might be able to gain next time around and who resolutely ignore the opinions of people whose votes either they or their opponents can take for granted.

In an election where four candidates are available, a leftist, a Democrat, a Republican, and a rightist, therefore, a voter who is satisfied with the Democrat or the Republican will be wise to vote for that candidate. A voter who thinks that the two parties have become too different from each other will be able to signal that opinion by voting for the party opposite the one s/he usually favors; analysts are quick to note such defections and to present them to candidates as grounds for moving closer to the other party’s policy profile. A voter who thinks that the major parties have become too similar can signal that opinion by voting for whichever fringe candidate s/he would like to see have an influence on the major party s/he usually prefers; that vote will show the major party that it is leaving votes on the table by tacking in the direction favored by its main opponent, and if there are enough votes like it office-holders and candidates will take them into consideration as they conduct public affairs.

It does mystify me that so many Americans, left and right, seem to regard it as a mark of virtue to vote for candidates who disgust them.  Granted, Candidate A embodies all the evils that beset our country, and will only make them worse, but Candidate B is EVEN WORSE, and so we dare not vote for anyone other than Candidate A. What if Candidate B wins by a margin of one vote?

Well, unless Candidate B is running for mayor of a tiny village, s/he will not win by a margin of one vote.  People who would never buy a lottery ticket, because the odds of any given ticket being a winner are millions to one against, will construct elaborate, tortured arguments in favor of voting based on the idea that someday an important election might be decided by one vote.  Yet there usually is at least one winning ticket in a lottery, so there is some minuscule chance of a ticket being a winner, while elections where the voters number in the thousands or millions are never decided by the margin of one vote. So strategic voting in such elections is not only like playing the lottery, it is like playing a lottery which has never once paid a prize after centuries of continuous operation.

I suspect the reason for this attachment to strategic voting over expressive voting has something to do with gender.  Words like “strategic,” “tactical,” and “instrumental” are associated with competitive activities such as sports, war, and business, and are therefore tagged as masculine in a society like the USA.  Words like “expressive,” “signaling,” and “communicative” are associated with the arts, personal relationships, and education, and are therefore tagged as feminine.  Strategic voting is sometimes called simply “rational voting.”  That phrase would imply that it is rational to vote based on the premise that this election, unlike every similar election in all of history, will be decided by a single vote, while it is irrational to vote based on the premise that politicians and parties analyze election returns and craft their approach to governing with an eye to maximizing their support in future elections.  That implication is so bizarre that the only explanation for calling strategic voting “rational voting” is that “rational” in that phrase simply means “masculine.”

A puzzling comic strip

I don’t get this joke:

blondie 18 jan

Why not have macaroni and cheese for breakfast? That would seem like as good a meal as any for it.

Former colonial power considers censuring nationalist demagogue


Donald Trump admires a typical resident of the UK

There was a debate today in the Palace of Westminster on a proposal to urge the Home Secretary to ban Donald Trump from entering the United Kingdom. Mr Trump is a demagogic politician whose support in his bid to become US president is based primarily on nationalistic resentment. Therefore, it would be difficult to imagine a development more perfectly calculated to increase his support and to improve his odds of becoming his party’s nominee for that office than a formal censure of him by the former colonial power, especially if that censure is delivered a few days before the voting begins in the first electoral contests.

This much is so obvious that one cannot suppress a cynical curiosity as to the true motives of those sponsoring the proposal. The foremost advocates of the recommendation represent predominantly Muslim constituencies. Why would members of parliament representing people towards whom Mr Trump has shown such extraordinary hostility embrace a proposal that would do more than anything else in their power to help him become president of the United States? Well, in the first place, it is unlikely the Home Secretary will actually take any such action. So they can go home and tell their constituents that they did something to express their alarm at the rise of so objectionable a figure, without triggering any real-world consequences.

If by some odd chance Mr Trump actually were banned from entering the UK, his resulting surge of support in the USA would certainly bode ill for British Muslims, especially if it were to take him all the way to the White House. But it might not harm Muslim M.P.s.  On the contrary, they would be able to invoke fear of him and of the USA to consolidate support for themselves as a last line of defense for British Muslims in an openly hostile West.

Moreover, a President Trump, taking office after the UK government had taken a stand against him in so dramatic a fashion, would be in a position to inflict almost unlimited humiliations on that government. If you wonder how that would play out, just think of the consequences of John Major’s decision to actively promote George H. W. Bush’s reelection campaign in 1992.  In the period from 20 January 1993 to 1 May 1997, John Major’s life took on an almost nightmarish quality as Bill Clinton demonstrated time and again just how severely an American president can punish a British prime minister who displeases him. Mr Clinton did all of that out of the public eye, as a purely private vendetta. Imagine what Mr Trump could do with the full force of US public opinion behind him. The sponsors of this recommendation, in a world where the news is daily showing the prime minister, the cabinet, the Queen, and all of the other nominal leaders of the UK crawling on their bellies and begging the US president to relent from his wrath against them, might even attract support from non-Muslim Britons disgusted by that desperate tableau. They might emerge as symbols of patriotic defiance against the power that was grinding Britain into the dust and exposing its leaders as gormless sycophants.

Something that’s wrong with white people


He wants a crackdown

I think one of the least appealing characteristics of white Americans is an excessive tendency to identify with authority figures. We can see this tendency among whites who lean to the political right, who are often ridiculously tenacious in their defense of police officers who shoot unarmed suspects or presidents who invade barely-armed countries.  I’m a white American myself. Even though I usually tend towards the opposite extreme, being overly leery of authority, there are times when I revert to the norm. For example, when I’m under stress, my first reflex when I hear about a conflict is to identify with the more powerful side and ask impatiently why they don’t just go in with overwhelming force and sort the whole mess all out once and for all.

When I was a kid in the 1970s, people were still talking about the 71-day standoff that began when activists associated with the American Indian Movement took control of the town of Wounded Knee, South Dakota. Those activists were armed, and in the course of the standoff they shot United States Marshal Lloyd Grimm, paralyzing him from the waist down. When the topic of the Wounded Knee Incident came up in a room full of whites, there was always a good chance someone would say that the authorities should have resolved the situation with a violent assault, that organizers Russell Means and Dennis Banks should have been prosecuted on the gravest possible charges, and that the patience the government showed during the standoff and the acquittal of Mr Means and Mr Banks at their federal trial in 1974 were special treatment accorded to the activists because they were Native American.

For the last several days an armed group made up of whites has been in control of a federal bird sanctuary in Oregon. While the group who seized Wounded Knee were moved to action by their belief that their tribal government was corrupt and in need of reform, a belief that connected to a wider vision of Native American history and the place of Native peoples on this continent, the group in Oregon is incensed about what they see as the unjust federal prosecution of one man who, like them, was upset about federal land policy in the West. What strikes me is the sheer number of left-leaning whites whom I’ve heard in the last couple of days talking exactly like the people who were frothing at the mouth about Russell Means and Dennis Banks almost 43 years ago. I’ve heard them call for police violence to end the standoff; I’ve heard them call for prosecutions under federal anti-terrorism statutes; I’ve heard them say that a failure to do either of those things is the result of special treatment for the occupiers due to the their race. White people haven’t changed very much over the years, and don’t change just because they put down one political party’s banner and pick up another’s.

I’ve seen a number of interesting things about this situation.  Counterpunch isn’t what it was when Alexander Cockburn was alive and co-editing it with Jeffrey St. Clair; Cockburn would probably have had a great deal of sympathy for the occupation and never had anything but scorn for people who interjected the word “terrorism” into a political discussion, but Mr St. Clair is the co-author of a piece there today calling the occupiers terrorists and chronicling the woes of a federal land management official who has long been in conflict with them and their relatives. Mr St. Clair certainly makes out a strong prima facie case that the occupiers are a bunch of jerks and that they they would be an unwelcome addition to any neighborhood, but that’s a long way from justifying the use of the “terrorist” label, a word which, these days, is virtually trademarked by those who demand a submissive attitude to the law enforcement and intelligence-gathering apparatuses of the US government.

Artur Rosman, citing his status as a naturalized citizen of the USA, declares himself incompetent to form an opinion about the Oregon standoff, and quotes at length from an African American friend of his:

If over the last several years you’ve thought that any of the black lives cut short by police violence “had it coming” because they were not compliant with law and order and/or were disrespectful and aggressive towards those in authority, then surely you are now advocating for a quick and overwhelming amount of lethal force to be brought against the activists in Burns, Oregon, who are openly breaking the law, actually bearing and threatening to use arms against police forces, intentionally flouting authority, etc. You can’t have it both ways. Conversely, if you think that the patience and calm with regard to the disgruntled and armed activists in Burns, Oregon, is probably the better part of wisdom, then surely you have been deeply outraged at the lack of patience and calm shown by police officers in so many cases in recent years involving un-armed black men and women posing far less of a threat to authority and government than is represented by this “militia” in Oregon. Again, you can’t have it both ways. Or, if you want to have it both ways, especially if you’ve been tempted by the “all lives matter” clap-trap, you have some serious explaining to do.

At Slate, Jamelle Bouie cautions against an interpretation of the situation which is phrased in solely racial terms. He also points out how bizarre it is that people who present themselves as opponents of police violence appear to be frustrated that the police are not handling this matter with an immediate recourse to violence. Mr Bouie’s last two paragraphs sum this aspect of it up well:

In any case, why won’t they shoot at armed white fanatics isn’t just the wrong question; it’s a bad one. Not only does it hold lethal violence as a fair response to the Bundy militia, but it opens a path to legitimizing the same violence against more marginalized groups. As long as the government is an equal opportunity killer,goes the argument, violence is acceptable.


But that’s perverse. If there’s a question to ask on this score, it’s not why don’t they use violence, it’s why aren’t they more cautious with unarmed suspects and common criminals? If we’re outraged, it shouldn’t be because law enforcement isn’t rushing to violently confront Bundy and his group. We should be outraged because that restraint isn’t extended to all Americans.

Libertarian stalwart Justin Raimondo has taken a lively concern with the case; in this piece, he anticipates the arguments Mr St. Clair and others have made about the basic rottenness of the people occupying the bird sanctuary and the cause they represent. Mr Raimondo defends the occupiers and extols their cause, unconvincingly to my mind, but vigorously.

He’s also spent a lot of time tweeting at people who have expressed authoritarian rage at the Oregon activists; here are a couple of samples:





Glenn Greenwald has also mounted his Twitter account and taken it to the heart of this particular battle. As for instance:



Presidential Deathmatch Revisited

When blogger Geoff Micks first raised this vital question in 2012, I responded with a spreadsheet rating the 43 men who have served as  US president on six variables: Coalition-Building Ability, Visual Inconspicuousness, Expertise in Hand-to-Hand Combat, Willingness to Kill (a.k.a. Badass Quotient, or BQ,) Physical Fitness, Spatial Awareness. The numbers I assigned each president under each variable came from the POOMA Institute, but I think they look pretty reasonable.  So here it is again:

President Coalition Building Visual Inconspicuousness Hand to Hand BQ Physical Fitness Spatial Awareness Total
Washington 5 2 4 4 3 3 21
J Adams 2 5 1 2 4 2 16
Jefferson 5 2 1 2 5 4 19
Madison 2 5 1 1 4 2 15
Monroe 3 3 5 4 5 4 24
J Q Adams 3 3 1 2 5 3 17
Jackson 5 1 5 5 3 5 24
Van Buren 3 3 1 1 4 3 15
W Harrison 2 3 3 3 1 4 16
Tyler 1 3 1 2 5 3 15
Polk 1 4 1 2 1 3 12
Taylor 2 2 4 4 2 5 19
Fillmore 2 4 2 3 3 3 17
Pierce 2 2 1 2 3 3 13
Buchanan 2 4 1 1 2 3 13
Lincoln 5 1 5 4 4 3 22
A Johnson 2 3 4 3 3 3 18
Grant 3 4 3 3 4 4 21
Hayes 3 1 2 2 5 4 17
Garfield 4 3 3 3 5 4 22
Arthur 2 1 1 1 1 3 9
Cleveland 1 1 1 1 1 3 8
B Harrison 1 3 1 1 5 3 14
McKinley 3 4 4 4 4 5 24
T Roosevelt 4 1 5 4 5 4 23
Taft 1 1 1 1 1 3 8
Wilson 1 3 1 1 5 3 14
Harding 3 3 1 1 2 3 13
Coolidge 2 4 1 2 3 3 15
Hoover 3 4 1 1 5 5 19
F Roosevelt 3 1 3 3 1 4 15
Truman 2 3 3 4 5 5 22
Eisenhower 4 2 3 3 3 4 19
Kennedy 2 1 2 2 2 3 12
L Johnson 4 1 2 3 2 3 15
Nixon 1 3 1 1 4 1 11
Ford 3 2 3 3 5 4 20
Carter 1 3 2 2 5 5 18
Reagan 3 2 2 1 1 3 12
G H W Bush 2 2 2 3 4 5 18
Clinton 3 3 1 1 4 3 15
G W Bush 2 2 2 1 5 4 16
Obama 1 1 1 1 4 3 11


Here’s everything

Two new visual representations have been catching people’s attention today. Each, in its own way, offers a view of all the matter in the known universe.

One is the periodic table of elements, now with four additional elements, completing the seventh row:


And the other is this picture by Pablo Carlos Budassi: