Trump: worst poker player ever

I don’t even play poker, but this Nate Silver post on how Trump is basically a terrible poker player is so good:

In general, the strategic goal of poker is to put your opponent to tough decisions. If you see one of those hands on TV where one player is thinking for several minutes about whether to call or fold on the river, that usually means the other player has played his or her hand well, putting the opponent in a no-win position by leaving just the right amount of doubt about whether it’s a bluff or a real hand.

As a corollary, good players play in such a way as to avoid putting themselves to tough decisions. Bad players, conversely, tend to paint themselves into corners. They’ll curse their luck when they suddenly realize that a hand they’d assumed was a winner might be no good. But more often than not, it reflects a mistake they made earlier in the hand, such as playing a weak hand that they should have folded to begin with…

It’s been obvious the whole time that it was liable to end in political (if not also literal) disaster. Trump was an unpopular president using an unpopular technique to push for an unpopular policy, and he was doing it just after Republicans had lost 40 seats to Democrats in the midterm elections while Trump tried to scaremonger voters on immigration. I can certainly think of lapses in presidential judgment that were more consequential in hindsight than the shutdown, but not all that many that were so obvious in advance. [emphases mine]

And this isn’t the first time that Trump and Republicans have gotten themselves in trouble by picking a fight over an unpopular policy. GOP efforts to undo Obamacare were similar to the shutdown, since Republicans risked either passing a massively unpopular repeal bill or breaking a promise they’d made to voters in 2016. The dynamics over the Republican tax bill were also similar in several respects. Republicans ultimately passed their bill in that case, but they paid a price for it in the midterms in congressional districts with high state, local and property taxes, which can no longer be deducted beyond $10,000 under the new law. Confirming Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court after he was accused of committing sexual assault when he was in high school, when Republicans could have withdrawn his name and chosen a less controversial nominee, is another case in which Republicans had to choose from among several difficult options.

Part of this is just a way of saying that public opinion does have consequences: Sometimes it prevents you from passing unpopular policies, and sometimes you pass them but suffer electorally. And sometimes, it’s both: Republicans didn’t get their full Obamacare repeal, but health care was a huge issue in the midterm campaign nonetheless.

If Trump doesn’t believe the polls showing himself and his policies, such as the border wall, to be unpopular, then maybe that’s part of the problem. (There are a lot of ways to be bad at poker, but probably the most common one is to play too many hands because you overestimate your own abilities.) This being FiveThirtyEight, I feel obligated to point out that the notion that polls systematically underestimate Trump is on shaky ground. But if Trump thinks polls are fake news and if he hires advisers who encourage that perception, that could explain why he constantly puts himself in such politically untenable positions…

Trump, similarly, has gotten a long way on the basis of hustle and luck — he was lucky in several important respects to be elected president. There are some cases in which he has displayed solid (if unconventional) tactical instincts, from his negotiations with foreign leaders to his handling of the media to his belittling of his primary opponents. That’s not to say he always gets these decisions right or even does so anywhere near approaching a majority of the time. But he gets enough “wins” — he became president of the United States! — to sustain his ego and not prompt a lot of self-reflection.

But Trump has no sense for which battles to pick and seemingly little awareness of his own unpopularity and the consequences it has for the presidency. Moreover, although Trump sometimes seems to realize when he has gotten himself into a no-win position, he doesn’t recognize how often his own decisions are responsible for putting him there. The presidency is a long game, and a much harder one than being a real-estate developer or a reality television host. The scary possibility for Trump — and I do mean merely a possibility — isn’t that the chaos of the shutdown, coming on the heels of the midterms and as the Russia investigation still looms over him, is a new low for him. It’s that it’s the new normal.

Schultz 2020!

Good God Howard Schultz is an idiot.  First of all, I do think political science/journalist/liberal twitter is way over-freaking out.  I just don’t see this guy siphoning off enough Democratic votes to get Trump re-elected.  I know it is an exciting and fun story for a billionaire to be running for president (Perot certainly did make things more interesting in 1992), but people need to relax on the apocalyptic takes.

The part that really kills me, though, is the way that so many people are successful in one area and are convinced that they are a genius in everything.  Life does not work that way.  Donald Trump is a terrific marketer of the Trump brand.  He is a horrible president.  Daniel Snyder was great at making a telecom start-up; he’s an abysmal NFL owner.  For one, many of the skills involved in the original success don’t translate as well as well as the individuals are convinced that they do.  And, for another, if you have an amazing, outsized success, you almost assuredly benefited from a huge amount of luck, in addition to whatever skill, genius, and hard-work you might have brought.  Chances are, you are not going to have that same great luck in the new endeavor.

Chait with a really, really thorough and good take.  My favorite parts:

Billionaire coffee-shop mogul Howard Schultz is seriously thinking of running for president as an independent. Schultz appears to be one of those rich people who has confused his success in one field with a general expertise in every other field that interests him. His apparently sincere belief that he can be elected president is the product of a sincere civic-minded commitment to the public good and an almost comic failure to grasp how he might accomplish this. That confusion is probably being spread by his hired staffers, whose financial incentive, conscious or otherwise, is to encourage him to embark on a costly political fiasco…

The independent label is a myth. Schultz believes that the large cohort of Americans who identify as “independents” indicates a market for a centrist candidate positioned between the two parties. “What we know, factually, is that over 40 percent of the electorate is either a registered Independent or currently affiliates themselves as an Independent,” he says, “Because the American people are exhausted. Their trust has been broken. And they are looking for a better choice.”

That is not factual.

The center is not what Schultz thinks it is. “Republicans and Democrats alike — who no longer see themselves as part of the far extreme of the far right and the far left — are looking for a home,” he tells the New York Times. What would this center look like? In Schultz’s mind, it would combine his social liberalism with a desire to cut social insurance programs. “We can get the 4 percent growth,” he said last year, “we can go after entitlements, and we can do the right thing — if we have the right people in place.”

In reality, there is no constituency for cutting these programs in either party. A 2017 Pew survey found 15 percent of Republicans, and 5 percent of Democrats support cuts to Medicare, while 10 percent of Republicans and 3 percent of Democrats support cuts to Social Security.

survey of the 2016 electorate by the Democracy Fund Voter Study Group
plotted voters by social and economic views. What it found is that many voters have socially conservative and fiscally liberal views — those are the voters who were attracted to Trump’s combination of nativism and promises to maintain social programs and provide universal health care. Vanishingly few voters have socially liberal and fiscally conservative beliefs…

And plenty more good stuff that shows Schultz is amazingly ignorant about how politics actually works.  And far to ignorant on such things to get anywhere near the presidency.

And Crooked’s Jon Lovett with an open letter to Schultz:

Let’s dive in. A year before the first votes are cast in Iowa, you are assuming that the outcome of that process will be unacceptable. You must believe that a) there are tens of millions of people in America who are clamoring for your politics but b) you couldn’t persuade them to vote for you in a Democratic primary. It’s a real pickle.

So what are your politics? In your 60 Minutes interview, Scott Pelley peppered you with policy questions, and on one after another you described a mainstream Democratic position. On immigration, on climate change, on tax policy, you stake out completely ordinary liberal critiques of Trump. Nothing special, nothing new. So what is this great divergence that suggests that you, a lifelong Democrat, have no choice but to run as an independent? That you need to take your ball and go home?

It’s that even though everyone deserves health care, Democratic proposals are too expensive—Medicare for All is a partisan fantasy, our version of Trump’s wall. It fits with what you’ve said previously—that neither party cares enough about fiscal responsibility. Earlier this year you told CNBC that “the greatest threat domestically to the country is this $21 trillion debt hanging over… future generations.” This is the substance of your centrism, the appeal you believe will draw the independents you view as your natural constituency—the socially liberal, fiscally conservative political homeless American voter.

But I have bad news: while there are many voters like this who nod their heads in Aspen and Davos, and who form the base of the Democratic donor class and the consultants who share their politics—cosmopolitan, tolerant, capitalist, constitutionally moderate and rarely touched by poverty and grinding inequality—those nodding heads do not represent a coalition. In fact, it’s the opposite. What we have learned in recent years—and why you see a move toward more left policies in Democratic circles —is that the politically homeless voter is opposite to what you describe: fiscally liberal and socially moderate

You want to help your country? Help us defeat the propaganda machine that enables Trump and the worst elements of the Republican Party. Help us push back against corporate interests arrayed against action on climate change. Fund local journalism. Fund scholarships. Fund voter registration and protection. And, if you believe in the case you’d make as an independent candidate, join the Democratic primary and make that case before the voters you’d need to win. Put some skin in the game. Put some time on the trail. Because unlike money, time and skin are as limited for you as they are for the rest of us.

I believe you love this country. I believe you believe in a noble conception of your motivations. So my hope is that the criticisms reach you, that you talk to smart people you do not pay, that you do not show the same kind of hubris and selfishness and ego that led Trump to believe he alone could fix it. [emphasis mine] In other words, I hope you show some patriotism and get your head out of your ass. That’s it from me, Howard. If you want to talk more, just send a note to the baristas at Sunset and Gower.

Anyway, if Schultz is remotely as smart as he thinks he is (and in 60 Minutes he talked about knowing when he’s not the smartest guy in the room and listening to others)… he’ll actually listen to the resounding criticism.  And, if not, he’s not remotely qualified to be president.  Whatever happens, I’m going to go on record with a (rare, for me) prediction: Howard Schultz will not prevent a Democrat from defeating Donald Trump.

How “both sides-ism” leads to the ridiculous amounts of horserace coverage

I warn my students about the absurd excesses of “horserace” coverage of political campaigns all the time.  I also tell them to be on the look out for facile, “both sides!” political coverage.  Thus, I love this Brian Beutler post that explains how these two deep pathologies of modern political coverage are ultimately inter-related.

First, building on the terrific media critic, Jay Rosen, what a better approach to coverage would look like:

Rosen has argued in the past for widespread adoption of a model called the “citizens agenda,” in which reporters, with all the horserace resources of their outlets behind them, survey voters with a single question: “What do you want the candidates to be discussing as they compete for votes?”

This approach would place substance at the center of the campaign reporting project, but it is also the recipe for serving news consumers a dog’s breakfast of parochial concerns and competing priorities. A better question for journalists to explore—one that would bring to bear the standard reportorial toolkit of the Trump-country diner genre—is whether various candidate agendas are responsive to real, identifiable human problems. Why are the candidates running on the ideas they’re running on? Every presidential candidate develops a platform, and never once in the history of democracy has a candidate adopted a governing agenda entirely at random. Rather, candidates adopt their proposals in response to a variety of pressures, including from donors, constituents, and their own perceptions of what’s politically viable.

Why are most Democratic presidential candidates embracing a program of Medicare-based universal health care? Is it literally true that the current health-care system leaves tens of millions of people uninsured? Would those people lives be materially improved if America had a single-payer health-care system? Do those people hope a candidate who supports single payer wins the election? There are, of course, other stakeholders in the health-care debate, but they, too, are approachable humans, just like Trump supporters in rural diners. Do doctors, nurses, and hospital administrators want to insure the uninsured? What if it reduces their income-per-patient? Do the health care professionals in rural America think the Republican resistance to Medicaid expansion has been good for their communities? Where do the answers to those questions leave them, politically, with elections looming?

That’s just one issue, but the model can be applied across the whole range.

Indeed.  So, this all sounds good.  Why so reliant on the facile, both-sides, horse race approach then?

An approach that mapped candidate agendas on to the realities of American life would leave plenty of time and space for digging into candidate backgrounds, and vetting them for honesty, ethics, and other character issues. Its major drawback isn’t inherent to the reporting model but to the ways it would clash with the existing professional habits of political journalists.

As long as journalists feel compelled to appear balanced—to offset negative stories about one candidate with negative stories about the other, and report that views on the color of the sky differ—they will struggle to bring more substantive coverage to the campaign trail, or simply decide it’s not worth the trouble.

That wouldn’t necessarily be the case if the parties were actually symmetric, but the GOP is genuinely more ideologically rigid than the Democratic Party, which is why, as its agenda has grown unpopular, Republican candidates have grown increasingly comfortable lying about it, rather than embrace new ideas.

Trump brought new innovations to that trend, but it didn’t begin with him. For decades now, Republicans have insisted against all evidence that regressive tax cuts spur economic growth, and thus increase federal revenue. Before Trump came along, they claimed to have ideas about how to insure all Americans, while claiming the Affordable Care Act included a death panel. Neither claim was true. But under Trump’s leadership, Republicans have made ever more outrageous claims—that their bills and lawsuits aimed at gutting protections for people with pre-existing conditionswould actually strengthen protections for people with pre-existing conditions, that funneling billions of dollars out of health-care spending wouldn’t cause people to lose insurance.

In a world where media companies prized truth over contriving balance, this endemic dishonesty wouldn’t matter. In the world we inhabit, a campaign-reporting model based on talking to voters about real priorities will inevitably inflame hostilities between the mainstream press and Republicans. Once reporters have committed themselves to the goal of holding the candidates’ policies up against voters’ preferences and the realities of American life, they will find it hard to avoid reckoning with the merits of ideas—not whether they’re good or bad, necessarily, but whether they answer popular demands…

If some candidates propose more health care spending because they want to insure the uninsured, and it turns out voters support this goal, what happens when Republicans say they share that goal, but intend to achieve it by repealing Medicaid expansion and freeing insurance companies to discriminate against the sick? What happens when they say it’s “biased” to report that their approach will increase, not decrease, the uninsured population?

The answer should be damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead. First, because there is no amount of blindness to the issues that will stop conservatives from accusing the mainstream press of liberal bias. Second, because the alternative approach is damaging journalism itself… [emphasis mine]

I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again.  Given the practices and norms of modern journalism: the liars win.  Do Democrats lie sometimes?  Sure.  But, the empirical evidence that Republicans lie far more about policy is overwhelming (and that is the clear incentive from their unpopular policy agenda, as opposed to their popular rhetorical agenda).  And, until journalism changes… the liars win and democracy loses.

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