Rock, Paper, Scissors
The 2024 Election as a Game
Daniel Henninger in the Wall Street Journal wrote a column last week about a Trump vs. Biden 2024 election, and how it’s not going to happen. I realize that in these polarized times, it’s impossible to tell you, “Be objective.” Nonetheless, be objective.
I know you want to react emotionally to the words “Trump” or “Biden.” I’m asking you not to here. A vain request, but there it is. We’re just going to look at it as a game. I will studiously refrain from any value judgments.
(It’s not really a game, of course; it’s deadly serious. If you can’t let that go for a second, then this isn’t for you.)
Rock, Paper, Scissors
We’ve all played this game, where you put your hand behind your back, and on the count of three, you bring it out as a fist (rock), two fingers in a V (scissors), or flat (paper).
Rock breaks scissors, scissors cut paper, paper covers rock. It’s impossible to win consistently, if your opponent chooses randomly and uniformly. However, you can read the Strategies section of that article to get into the nuances of player psychology, past patterns, and reading the opponent’s hand movements. People have studied this, in depth.
We can consider the hypothetical Trump - Biden rematch as “both parties show ‘rock’.“ Thus, it will be a draw until the campaign happens.
The problem, though, is that in a real game, the players show rock/paper/scissors at the same instant. In 2024, the opposition party (Republican) has their convention first (July 15). The Democrats go second (August 19).
How Would You Win?
The electorate does not want a Trump - Biden election. It’s not only that they’re sick of both of them; it’s that both men are generally disliked. Remember I said we’re going to be objective here, and rehashing why they’re disliked would test your objectivity beyond human endurance.
It stands to reason, then, that if the Republicans nominate an attractive candidate other than Trump, and the Democrats nominate Biden, the Republican candidate most likely wins. Conversely, if the Republicans nominate Trump, and the Democrats nominate someone other than Biden or Harris, they probably win. If they both go with ‘rock’, who knows?
You can disagree with that analysis; that’s OK. No one really knows anything, as William Goldman said a long time ago about movies. I’m not going to attempt to prove it to you.
What Does the Lack of Simultaneity Mean?
Unfortunately for the Republicans, the choices are not simultaneous. They have to show their hand first.
If the Republicans pick Trump, the Democrats have to decide if Biden can win again. Maybe they will say, “Yes, of course he will!” Who knows? We know now that they claim to be terrified that he’ll lose. They’re afraid their rock will crumble. Daniel Henninger thinks so, too.
However, picking a different candidate probably insures their victory, as Henninger points out, while sticking with Biden risks a Trump victory. It might or might not happen that way; I said I’m going to avoid any partisan statements so I’ll stick to that.
Thus, in the rock/paper/scissors analogy, the Republicans show “rock” by nominating Trump. Democrats can then either stay with “rock” and fight it out, or choose “paper” and win easily.
What About Principles and Betrayal?
Extreme polarization predicts that neither party can disappoint their partisans and not nominate Biden or Trump. That would be seen as betrayal. That’s where we’re at now.
Betrayal in Dante
In the Divine Comedy, betrayal is considered the very worst sin, and those guilty of it are quite literally consigned to the lowest circle of the Inferno. Cocytus is a monster, and Judas, Brutus, and Cassius are the famous betrayers. Cocytus is chewing them all, upside down. (The Guide is Virgil, the Roman poet.)
Thereby Cocytus wholly was congealed.
With six eyes did he weep, and down three chins
Trickled the tear-drops and the bloody drivel.
At every mouth he with his teeth was crunching
A sinner, in the manner of a brake,
So that he three of them tormented thus.
To him in front the biting was as naught
Unto the clawing, for sometimes the spine
Utterly stripped of all the skin remained.
"That soul up there which has the greatest pain,"
The Master said, "is Judas Iscariot;
With head inside, he plies his legs without.
Of the two others, who head downward are,
The one who hangs from the black jowl is Brutus;
See how he writhes himself, and speaks no word.
And the other, who so stalwart seems, is Cassius.
But night is reascending, and 'tis time
That we depart, for we have seen the whole."
After Cassius, the Guide says, paraphrasing, “That’s it! We’re done here!”
Here’s a theological explanation of why betrayal is the worst sin. The most extreme political partisans regard it exactly that way: “A politician who turns on Our Rock deserves to put in the lowest circle of Hell.”
Betrayal by The Mob
Here’s Sal being betrayed by Michael Corleone. It’s just business, after all, and Sal was planning to betray Michael anyway:
Betrayal by Politicians
If we remember that we’re being objective and treating this like a game, then the possibility of betrayal becomes a live option. Democrats are all loyal and committed to Biden, until they’re not.
Betrayal happens all the time in politics. Let’s go back to 2007, when Hillary Clinton was the prohibitive favorite. As the Washington Post article said, Obama was seen as unelectable, even by black voters. Clinton was counting on her solid base of support among African Americans. Here are a few examples of politicians whose loyalty was, let’s say, “transactional.”
John Lewis was a former civil rights leader, who led the Bloody Sunday march in Selma, Alabama. He later become a prominent Congressman.
As a Superdelegate (by virtue of being a Congressman), he endorsed Hillary Clinton on October 12, 2007. Ben Smith of Politico said that "it would be a seminal moment in the race if John Lewis were to switch sides."
However, he did that on February 27, 2008.
Edward Kennedy, brother of the assassinated President John F. Kenndy, was a Senator and one of the leading lights in the Democratic party. He had a very close relationship with Bill Clinton, but declined to endorse Hillary in 2008. He remained neutral in the contest between her and Obama, and we have to assume that she counted that as a blessing, at least compared to an endorsement of Obama.
Nonetheless, he did give an endorsement to Obama on January 28, 2008, disregarding appeals by both Clintons not to. This was national news and gave Obama a huge boost ahead of Super Tuesday. The New York Times said, on January 30, 2008:
Mrs. Clinton still leads in total number of endorsements from senators and governors, with 12 senators and nine governors, while Mr. Obama has eight Senators and five governors. (Some argue that Senator Kennedy’s backing, and that of his niece, Caroline Kennedy, are worth far more than all the others put together.)
She was a governor of Arizona, and Secretary of Homeland Security under Obama. She initially endorsed Clinton, but switched to Obama at a crucial time, From that same article,
The Kennedy stamp of approval aside, the Obama campaign is touting the backing of three Democrats in particular: Governor Sebelius, Gov. Janet Napolitano of Arizona and Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri. They all represent red states, meaning they all got elected with Republican votes and they want to keep them.
Will the Republicans really nominate Trump? Let’s assume they do, assuming that Democrats won’t betray Biden. Then the decision for Democrats is, “Is dumping Biden like being a Judas? Or is it more like Michael getting rid of Sal?” I don’t claim to know the answer to that one.