Saturday, May 16, 2020

Political Minimax

     If you’re uninterested in game theory, you might not be familiar with the term minimax. Minimax is a common approach to many gaming situations. It’s a strategy of playing so that the maximum possible loss to the player is minimized, normally reckoned in monetary or quasi-monetary terms. In adopting it, the gamer eschews the maximum possible gain out of aversion to the possibility of great loss. The possibility of loss is a feature of zero-sum and negative-sum games, whereas in a positive-sum game – i.e., a game where all the players come out better off at the end of the game, regardless of who “wins” – it does not appear.

     Much of the decision making of major Republican figures is minimax-based. That is, it’s based on the answer to the question: “What’s the path forward along which, if everything breaks badly, the maximum political damage to me will be minimized?”

     For an example of Republican minimax strategy, consider President George W. Bush’s decision to sign the McCain-Feingold Campaign Finance Reform Act, even though he believed it unConstitutional. Dubya believed he would suffer political damage from vetoing the bill; therefore, he left it to the courts, which he believed would rule it unConstitutional as soon as it was tested. His decision angered many in the Right, including some of Dubya’s stronger supporters, which makes it difficult to grade his strategy a posteriori. However, be it admitted that he did avert whatever degree of harm the Democrats could have done to him through the media.

     This sort of Republican decision making – “Leave the tough calls to folks who don’t have to face the Democrats, the media, or the voters” – has been common in recent years. Just now, Mitch McConnell is playing minimax with the Flynn and Russia-hoax revelations:

     In last night’s interview, McConnell appeared not just uninterested but uninformed on the scandal of Democrats weaponizing the intelligence community for partisan gain. Baier asked McConnell to comment on the case of Flynn, Trump’s first national security advisor who was a major victim of the Russia collusion hoax. Here’s McConnell’s limp response:
     Well, If there were in fact misbehavior surrounding the Flynn case, the American public needs to know. And clearly that was the view of the attorney general. I gather it’s now in a rather unusual procedure of being reviewed by the district judge before whom the case was. I think we’re just anxious to get the facts. what actually happened. The American public needs to know; all of us would like to know. And one thing about Washington: you guys are so good at your job, truth always comes out, sometimes it takes a little longer than other times, but we’ll find out what in fact did happen.

     McConnell even plays minimax to shunt political risk to other Republican Senators:

     At the end of the interview, Baier asked McConnell if he agrees with President Trump that former President Obama should be called into a Senate hearing and whether he agreed with President Trump calling the scandal Obamagate. Obama’s personal role in the scandal was confirmed in additional documents released as part of the Justice Department’s motion to dismiss charges against Flynn. Here’s McConnell’s response:
     Look, that will be up to [Judiciary Committee] Chairman [Lindsey] Graham to make those kind of decisions — I think he may have addressed it already. I’m not certain… Look, that would be up to Chairman Graham to determine how to handle this. I have a lot of confidence in him and he knows what he is doing and I’m going to follow his lead.

     Game theorists would call it minimax; I call it cowardice.

     Republican minimaxing is one of the reasons for the election of President Donald Trump. We in the Right have become contemptuous of Republicans that lack spines. Why support such persons? Indeed, why does the GOP continue to hold them forth as the candidates and officeholders we should support?

     It has long been believed that a sub rosa agreement exists between the GOP and the Democrats: specifically, that as long as the Republicans don’t fight the Democrats and their misdeeds “too hard,” the Democrats, when in the majority, will allow them to get in on the gravy train. (Note the lack of a reciprocal clause.) The actions and inactions of prominent Republicans bear this out. To dampen the popular disquiet from this arrangement, the Republicans have usually replied – albeit not in so many words – “If you don’t support us, you’ll get them.” Until 2016, the arrangement appeared impregnable.

     But matters have become unprecedentedly serious. The Obama Administration’s abuses of power constitute an internal coup attempt by the outgoing executive administration against the incoming one. Thanks to the documentary revelations of recent weeks, the criminality of the Obamunists, including Obama and Biden themselves, is now beyond dispute. If this is allowed to pass without prosecution, then what reason would future executives that have suffered reversals of political fortunes to deny themselves the same extra-legal, extra-Constitutional latitude?

     Mollie Hemingway provides a foreboding assessment:

     McConnell is praised throughout the Republican Party for his focus on confirming originalist judges to federal courts. It’s easily his greatest legacy, and one I wrote about at length in “Justice On Trial,” my book with Carrie Severino. But he should remember that he can’t confirm good judges if Republicans are not in the majority and if a stalwart person isn’t president to nominate them. Both of those key factors are threatened by his long-time lack of interest in holding Russia hoaxers accountable for what they did.

     If McConnell and Graham want to confirm judges after November, they need to understand how viscerally outraged many Americans are by the spying and leaking scandal. They need to know that refusal to do anything about it will hurt Republicans, not Democrats, at the ballot box.

     Republican analysts, strategists, and power brokers must discipline the GOP’s elected officials:

Show some backbone.
Abandon minimax.
Stand and fight.

     If they fail to do so, We the Voters must do it for them.


Andy Texan said...

Unfortunately, the Repubs and Dims are truly 2-sides of the same coin. The constitution is totally breached. Rule of men has replaced blind justice. The only reform possible is a rope, study oak branch and a ladder. I refer you to the woodcut of the hanging tree by Jacques Callot (1633).

milton f said...

" If they fail to do so, We the Voters must do it for them."

Woo, I bet the spineless are just shivering in their boots. The rascals have been replaced in every election since my birth, way back in the last century.

Kinda agree with Andy Texan, above, with the exception of secession; problem being there just ain't enough stout rope in the world for all the anti-Americans that have gained power.

Col. B. Bunny said...

This highlights the "curious inaction" of the Republicans at every critical juncture. Even Reagan accepted the con about FUTURE immigration restriction. Boehner was wooden Indian. So was Ryan. Even Trey Gowdy who provided so many interesting fireworks during congressional hearings has proved to be a disappointment. When the Dems issued hundreds of subpoenas, Gowdy AND Ryan OPPOSED the issuance of subpoenas that other more stalwart Republicans wanted. What the heck?! Ryan I understand was a complete squish but Gowdy?!

Of course, the Rs were stupefyingly silent on the issue of Obama's not being a natural born citizen, even on the face of his fake birth certificate. As they were on the same issue affecting -- fatally -- the candidacies of Rubio and Cruz.

The language of McConnell that you quote is classic Mashed Potato Speak. After three years of this he acts like he's still a bit unsure of the equities involving Flynn. And his wanting to leave it to Lindsay, McStain's BFF, is obviously consigning the issue to total oblivion.