Here’s a rarity for you, readers: I’m going to agree with Donald Trump about something. In February 2016, then-candidate Trump said “It takes guts to run for president.”

He’s right. In fact, it takes guts to run for anything these days; since every political contest is seen not only as having huge national implications, but as being the front line in the battle between Good and Evil. It tends to make people… passionate.

The Georgia 6th district election is the latest example. The most expensive Congressional election in history, it drew national attention. Trump tweeted his support for Republican Karen Handel before the election, and tweeted congratulations when she won.

Everyone viewed it as a proxy battle in the national contest between Trumpism and anti-Trumpism. Everyone, that is, except Rep. Handel and her Democratic challenger Jon Ossoff. They both tried to keep their campaigns focused on local issues.

The district is historically Republican, so it stands to reason that Handel’s strategy would be–no pun intended–conservative. But Ossoff, rather than shying away from the national fight, should have fully embraced it and positioned himself as the bold lone warrior–the last line of defense against tyranny.

Hyperbolic? A bit, sure. But in political campaigns as in military ones, “Fortune favors the bold”.

One reason Trump’s campaign did so well is that he was willing to take political risks and say shocking things that most politicians would never dare utter, but that riled his core supporters into a frenzy.

This strategy is, of course, risky. Trump alienated a lot of people–probably the majority of people, in fact–with his statements, but the people who liked them really, REALLY liked them.

Trump’s campaign created the following cycle, which it used continuously from its first day to its last:

  1.  Trump says something outrageous
  2. Press and politicians react with horror
  3. Trump refuses to back down.
  4. This galvanizes Trump’s core supporters

This strategy made sense, because Trump was the underdog. When you are the underdog, you have to take big risks, because it’s the only way to change the calculus that has made you an underdog in the first place.

The central gamble of Trump’s campaign was that it was worth it to alienate moderates in order to get a really fired-up core of supporters. It worked. (Barely.)

Now: what did Ossoff do to try to whip his supporters into a frenzy? As near as I can tell, not much. I knew little about Ossoff except that he was the Democrat in Georgia who people thought might pull off an upset. That’s nice, and if I had lived there, I would have voted for him. But that’s it–there was nothing I heard about the man himself that made me think, “Ossoff is the only one who can save America!”

Ossoff portrayed himself as a generic, clean-cut Democrat. That would have worked if he’d been in a Democratic-leaning district. But as it was, he should have been more willing to embrace the theme that he was fighting to save the last bastion of freedom on Earth, rather than to make things more fair for the people in the 6th district.

People might say that I’m just Monday Morning Quarterbacking, and I guess that’s a valid criticism. But all we know for sure is that the Democrats lost an election they thought they could win. Again. Maybe my ideas on campaign strategy won’t work, but at this point its fair to say that what the Democrats have been doing isn’t working either.

The former governor of California wrote:

“Gerrymandering has completely broken our political system and I believe my best platform to help repair it is from the outside, by campaigning for independent redistricting commissions.”

He’s right on the first part–gerrymandering has completely broken our political system. It has created a bunch of sharply divided, non-competitive districts that are designed to favor one party or the other. (Usually the Republicans, obviously) This results in extreme polarization in the Congress.

Will Schwarzenegger’s plan to fix it actually work? Not bloody likely, in my opinion.

First of all, even if somehow someone manages to create an “independent redistricting commission”, the political pressure on it will be enormous.  And any decision they reach will be immediately attacked as unfair by whichever party stands to lose seats as a result of it.  (And again: that party will be the Republicans. I know this because they benefit from the current arrangement, and so any meaningful change would have to come at their expense.)

Moreover, and for all the same reasons, it is unlikely that anyone would be able to create such a commission with any meaningful power.

The Republicans have absolutely no incentive to support such a project, and every reason to oppose it. And they control all the levers of power, so they have the means to thwart the initiative.

So, to summarize: Schwarzenegger has a nice idea. But it’s not going to happen.

What should he do instead to try to fix the problem? Well for starters, he should look into my suggestion from this post:

[T]he liberal entertainment industry… could make other cities have the same brand power as New York and L.A. [and] help to attract other Democrats.

That strategy could work not only for Democrats, but also for anti-Trump Republicans such as Schwarzenegger. It is easier to change the demographics in the existing districts than it would be to change the shape of the districts themselves.

donald_trump_signs_orders_to_green-light_the_keystone_xl_and_dakota_access_pipelines_bannon_cropI wasn’t the only one to notice that Stephen Bannon is driving policy decisions in Trump’s administration. All the major news media has noticed that this week as well. And so they decided it’s time to find out some stuff about this Bannon guy.

I’ve read some of the articles, and I have to say, Bannon and I have some things in common.  We both are interested in making movies. We both study military history and strategy. We even seemingly have the same unorthodox theory of politics: globalism vs. nationalism. We just happen to be on opposite sides of that divide.

There are two competing narratives about Bannon. Some think he is a mastermind who brilliantly oversaw Trump’s stunning victory and now is laying the groundwork for a powerful, militaristic, authoritarian nationalism. Others view him as a washed-up hack writer who Trump has appointed to positions for which he is patently unqualified.

Bannon is clearly a slob in his personal appearance–even when he wears a suit and tie, he looks disheveled. But don’t let that fool you.  Bill Belichick is also known for dressing like a vagrant, and he is a strategic genius in his own field. Looks can be deceiving.

In fact, it wouldn’t shock me if Bannon does that on purpose: people underestimate him because he looks like a slovenly bum, thus giving him an advantage.

Bannon’s beliefs are reprehensible, and his personal conduct even more so, but I don’t doubt his skill as a strategist.  And unlike the President he advises, he does have a coherent political philosophy that guides his thinking.  Not “right” or “moral”, you understand, but coherent.

So keep an eye on him, is all I’m saying.

This weekend, in response to the Women’s Marches in various cities across the country, the new President tweeted:

The President of the United States had 140 characters to comment on massive protests against him and his policies, and he used 24 of them to offer the advice that celebrities were detrimental to the protest effort.

Now, why would he bother to do that? What interest does he have in teaching them how to protest more effectively?

Answer: the celebrities are actually very effective.  Thus, he is trying to discourage the Democrats and other groups opposed to him from utilizing them.

Let me repeat what I said in my first post on this subject:

[Celebrity supporters] made Democrats seem out of touch with the salt-of-the-Earth workers in the Rust Belt.

Moderate Republicans and Bernie Sanders voters alike have argued that the Democrats need to jettison celebrity support and focus on connecting with “everyday folks”.

It makes for a nice story. But it’s not true.

Again, it’s instructive to look at examples of a similar phenomenon from the past: Democrats advising Republicans on what sort of candidate they should run to win elections.

“You can never win with somebody so unpalatable to the diverse, socially liberal electorate”, they said. “Republicans need moderates like McCain and Romney if they want to win elections”.

This line of thinking was so influential that prominent Republicans bought into it.

The Democrats, meanwhile, convinced themselves that running against an extreme candidate like Trump would mean an easy win for them.

This was conventional wisdom in both the Republican and Democratic establishments. And it was wrong. The Republicans didn’t win with moderates, but did win with an extremist, completely contrary to what the Democrats (and the moderate Republicans) said would happen.

Let me repeat myself: Democrats would be wise not to listen to the advice given by their opponents.

I’m about to do something my friends hate.  I’m going to use a football analogy to make a point about politics. People tell me this is over-simplifies things, but in this case, I think it is appropriate.

The football coach and theoretician John T. Reed wrote a book called The Contrarian Edge for Football Offense. The gist of it is that a team’s offense gains an advantage by doing things the opponent doesn’t expect.  Reed once said something like “one way is to run a brand new offense.  Another way is to run an offense so old that no remembers it or prepares for it.” (I can’t find the exact quote, or I would link to it.)

This is a very basic element of all good strategy throughout history. (Reed is a West Point graduate who served in Vietnam, so he would know more about military strategy than the average person.)

In all strategy, doing what the opponent doesn’t expect is the way to win.  So why do people sometimes play into the opponent’s hands by doing what they expect?

As Reed says: some of it is that people do what is fashionable.  A certain style of offense comes into favor, and everybody starts copying it.

Another element is group-think.  When you have a group of like-minded people, it’s possible no one will be able to think up original or innovative ideas.

How does this relate to the election?

Trump ran a contrarian campaign in almost every respect, and so almost all the professional political strategists couldn’t see what was happening until it was too late.

After the loss in 2012, the Republicans famously created a report to figure out why they lost, and made recommendations for steps to take to win in the future.  ABC News summarized it as follows:

The report, called the “Growth and Opportunity Project,” lays out an extensive plan the RNC believes will lead the party to victory with an extensive outreach to women, African-American, Asian, Hispanic and gay voters. Among the plans: hiring paid outreach staffers across the country in a $10 million push that begins right away; backing “comprehensive immigration reform”.

Four years later, the winning Republican campaign did none of that.  In fact, it did the exact opposite of most of it.

The conventional wisdom, among both Republicans and Democrats, was that the Republicans couldn’t win just by mobilizing their base of white voters in the Midwest. Trump’s campaign challenged this, and proved it completely wrong.  He won by doing precisely that.

They made no secret of what they were trying to do, but because most of the career strategists thought that wouldn’t work, they didn’t take it seriously.

Michael Tomasky has a pretty amazing article in The Daily Beast, and not in a good way:

What this country needs… is a large and well-funded and well-run organization to advance moderate Republicanism and elect moderate Republicans… Republicans behave the way they behave because every incentive they have rewards it. They are loony-right obstructionists because it pays to be that in terms of contributions and votes….

The presence of more truly moderate Republicans would, completely by itself, fix most of our government’s problems. Imagine, for example, that there were 12 or 15 actual Republican moderates in the Senate, instead of the three who are in fact there..

You know, you almost never hear the same concept uttered by Republicans, even though they believe almost all Democrats to be crazed radicals.  They don’t say “we need more moderate Democrats”, they say “we must defeat the Democrats in the election.”   This is probably how they got to hold the power they currently do.

Tomasky is over-thinking things.  If you want to make the Republicans change, you don’t need more moderate Republicans, you need more Democrats of almost any kind.  Imagine if there were three more Democrats instead of three moderate Republicans.  Imagine that, since it’s far more likely to happen than nine moderate Republicans showing up from somewhere.

And this hypothetical “large and well-funded and well-run organization to advance moderate Republicanism” Tomasky proposes?  Where is it supposed to come from?  And who would be fool enough to go along with it?  It’s a needless uphill battle.  If you were a young politician starting out, why would you squander your career trying to fit a square peg into a round hole?  Tomasky wants an organization to put together a band of mavericks to go on a mission that will almost certainly fail. That’s not a political strategy; it’s a “B” action-movie plot.

If the Republican party consistently lost to the Democratic party, they might feel a need to change strategies.  Right now, as Tomasky correctly notes, there is no reason to do that, because they have been maintaining a respectable enough winning percentage.

Also, do you know what would happen if there were such a “moderate Republican” advocating-organization?  Why, the Republicans would immediately denounce it as a Liberal or R.I.N.O. espionage plot. They’d laugh them off the stage.

In summary: don’t make life harder than it has to be.  The way to get the Republicans to change is to vote for Democrats.  I can see why we can’t have a third party in this country; apparently, even two are too many for some people to deal with.