I haven’t written much about Trump because, mostly, it upsets me that he matters. (The frequent reader knows that one of the things I hate the most are people who feel good about themselves when they have no reason to.) Unfortunately I have to care a little because we’re entering Super Tuesday with Trump mattering, which leads me to wonder “why?!”
It’s hard to remember now, but the Republican field was actually quite solid at one point, representing multiple strands of conservative thought – even my favored libertarianism was represented – and a solid mixture of successful legislators and executives. Then Trump entered and everything went to hell. It wasn’t until the 10 debate in late February that some of the front runners finally attacked Trump, and very effectively, too. Why did it take so long to make the move?
Mostly, I think, it was a coordination problem. As I tweeted earlier today:
Trump was the proverbial guy with 6 bullets and something like 16 enemies – 10 if you limit it to the main stage. At the time he ruled the polls because he had name recognition, not because he had any policy ideas (still doesn’t). Any combination of sustained attacks would have taken him down with relative ease then. Why didn’t anyone go after him?
Well, why would they?
Six bullets will protect you from ten enemies because none of them want to be one of the first six. There was no incentive for any individual candidate to go after Trump and draw his attention.* Better to wait for others to take the hit, or let Trump fade away on his own, rather than risk one’s candidacy to take Trump down for the good of all. If you rewatch the early debates (and I suggest you don’t) you can see an air of “it might be dangerous; you go first” among the non-Trumps, especially as Trump rebuffs the occasional uncoordinated attack.
*”Never argue with a fool. People might not know the difference.”
Of course, coordination problems can lead to disaster. Trump now has more ammunition than enemies and is now on a level playing field with legitimate candidates. Whatever the benefits of his unmasking the press for the weak partisan wannabe elite that they are, the mainstreaming of populist nationalist authoritarianism is too high a cost to pay.
Now pardon me as I go dust off the Mad Dog chapter from my Game Theory class.