Don’t Expect Boehner To Play The Black Knight

The GOP didn’t really have a plan in place in case it lost. It certainly didn’t have a plan for getting snotclobbered. And if you try to spin Tuesday’s results as anything less than a good old-fashioned ass-kicking, you’re deluding yourself. Black-Knight

Republicans Got Creamed

I know Michelle Malkin found 20 things that went right on election night, but there about 60 million things that went wrong. Let’s take a look:

  • Obama was re-elected handily in a terrible economy with American prestige at its lowest level since Carter’s administration
  • Republicans lost ground in the Senate despite a huge number of open seats and unpopular Democrats (McCaskill)
  • Stupid comments by Senate candidates set back the pro-life movement 20 years
  • In Missouri, Republicans lost every statewide race except Lieutenant Governor
  • Liberal ballot initiatives dominated
  • Conservative turnout was low except for Evangelicals
  • Conservative mega-donors broke the bank on this election and came up less than empty

Boehner Told House Republicans There Will Be No Fiscal Cliff Fight

Considering all this, it comes as no surprise that John Boehner told House Republicans that there will be no death match over the Fiscal Cliff.

Their party lost, badly, Mr. Boehner said, and while Republicans would still control the House and would continue to staunchly oppose tax rate increases as Congress grapples with the impending fiscal battle, they had to avoid the nasty showdowns that marked so much of the last two years. (source: NYTimes)

That’s a bitter pill for Tea Partiers and conservatives, but it’s probably unavoidable.

Mitt Romney and many other Republican candidates for federal offices campaigned without any big ideas for people to champion. They made the election about policy differences, and the status quo won.

You can say that bitter fights over debt and budgets are part of that status quo. You’d be missing the point, which is this:

The only card in Boehner’s hand is shutting down the government. Voters—even some who voted for Romney—would see that as a repudiation of the election and the people, not of Obama. Boehner would look like the Black Knight in Monty Python And The Holy Grail.

[youtube=http://youtu.be/Jvqhk7YDH9U]

There’s a chance, of course, that Obama would cave and hand the Republicans a victory. But there’ a good chance the subsequent unemployment, the stock plunge, the recession, and the starvation horror stories would land squarely on Republican shoulders. (Do you think media would see an Obama capitulation as anything but statesmanlike sacrifice to help the most vulnerable?)

Republicans simply won’t take the chance that 2014 will be a referendum on government shutdowns by a party that just got its ass handed to it on Nate Silver platter.

Game Theory and History Help Explain

Here's a SlideShare I've put together to explain the Republican position. I looked back at Reagan's 1981 budget battle with Congressional Democrats.

Pay attention to how that battle turned out. (Best viewed full screen) [slideshare id=15147728&w=427&h=356]

Bottom Line: The Republicans cannot choose a strategy first. They must force Democrats to make the first move.

Game Theory and the Ryan Pick

  If Mitt Romney applied game theory in choosing Paul Ryan, I have renewed respect for him. I'll explain why, but first a bit of background on game theory.

Game theory is a branch of social science concerned with strategic decision-making. It is most closely associated with economics. Professor John Nash, the subject of the movie A Beautiful Mind, won a Nobel Prize in Economics for his work in game theory. (For a great primer on the subject, read Thinking Strategically: the competitive advantage in business, politics, and everyday life.)

According to professors and authors Avinash K. Dixit and Barry J. Nalebuff:

a game is a situation of strategic interdependence: the outcome of your choices (strategies) depends upon the choices of another person or persons acting purposively.

Borrowing from an example in from Dixit and Nalebuff, two-person political races are somewhat sequential. Each candidate has a choice of which road to take. If Obama takes the high road and campaigns on a ideas, Romney has a choice: he can take the high road, too, or he can take the low road and sling mud.

Each team must think ahead and reason backwards. He must discern his rival's response, his counter to that response, etc.

If Romney moved first, his decision tree might look like this:

In this case, Romney concludes that taking the low road won't work. Everyone already knows that Obama is a failed president, a radical who believes America needs to be "taken down a notch." He also knows that negative campaigning lowers public approval of both parties. Therefore, Romney might figure that taking the high road is his only hope.

In this case, though, Romney didn't move first. Obama did. Obama, too, realizes that he's a failed president with a goal for America that dare not speak its name. So Obama actually moved first. Obama has been slinging mud since last fall. His minions pile on more mud--some half-truths, some complete lies--every day. He shows no sign of changing course.

This made Romney's decision easier. By asking Ryan to be his running mate, Romney can campaign on ideas, on America's future, on a transparent and important vision for our future. After years of hearing voters complain that they wish politicians would be more serious about the nation's problems and cut back on the vitriol, Romney has finally done it. He's left the low road to Obama and seized the high road.

This give Obama a choice: he can remain on the low road, and risk alienating voters who want a national debate about the legitimate role of government in our lives, or he can take the high road and risk alienating voters who would cringe at his twisted and starkly un-American vision of our future.

I don't know that Romney reasoned this way, but if he did, it bold, brilliant, and brave.