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.