Explaining this year’s Presidential Primaries in one simple table

Process and Outcome Continuum

One of the most useful and simple frameworks I have ever received is a concept I gained in a decision making course taught by the late Professor Kent Womack, one of my favorite professors at Dartmouth College and whom I credit with my own enhanced appreciation for understanding human frailties and the need for humility when approaching large organizations and intractable problems.

I believe this framework can largely explain the appalling lack of praiseworthy and honorable choices that the two-party system has left us with in this election cycle.  Since the seemingly going defunct GOP Party is something I am much more familiar with, I can more readily speak to it and fit it within the framework. Trump won most of the primary races by racking up a plurality amongst split votes, but rarely did he win an above 50% majority. His negative ratings, approaching 65%, is unprecedented in presidential election history. I have little doubt in my mind that had he begun this race with fewer choices representing the typical established Republican base, he would not be where he is today. Imagine a scenario in which his only opposition to begin the race was in the persons of Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, and Carly Fiorina. The race would have likely consolidated on one of those as an alternative to Trump a lot more rapidly than the process of the agonizing and costly whittling down of votes that left us with Cruz and Trump standing in the end. Given this likelihood, Trump’s unconventional campaign and dishonourable and intemperate personality fits the table in the “Good Luck” category. The real challenge for the GOP going forward is that Trump has internalized this “Good Luck” outcome as a direct result of his own special genius – putting himself in the “Justly Rewarded” category, when the truth is much closer to what Bret Stephens from the Wall Street Journal articulated as rolling three double 6’s in a row in backgammon and believing it is a result of your own skill. Trump’s blustery and undisciplined strategy in any other year would result in a campaign going down in a tremendous ball of flames, and may still do so, but this is no ordinary year.  In this great tragicomedy, his opponent on the other side is almost as tragically flawed as he is.

This brings me to my own observations of the Democratic side, where even a pre-ordained coronation has taken a tremendously long time given that the Democratic buyer’s remorse continues to play itself out. For such a party stalwart and established candidate to take so long to take control of the primary says as much about the influence of Sanders and his avowedly democratic socialist ideas as much as it says about Clinton’s weakness. (On the topic of Sanders, Daniel Henninger of the WSJ has an insightful piece of the impact of the Sanders’ candidacy in revealing what was already latent  in the Democratic Party lurch to the left). Indeed, Clinton’s own negative ratings, which are hovering close to 60%, are not too far off from Trump’s numbers. She would probably be bogged down by Clinton family scandals of the past (cattle futures, Whitewater, Bill’s various relations with staffers and interns), but the fact that Clinton has ongoing current scandals has added additional combustible fuel to the fire.

Alas, one of the conundrums of the Democratic Party is that they lack a deep bench of political talent, having been denuded of a fresh crop of intellectual blood coming from state governorships and state legislatures where Republicans have quietly built majority strongholds in a majority of states. Even with a less developed politician farm system, to use a baseball analogy, the lack of existing party grandees such as Joe Biden, John Kerry, or even an independent run ruled out by Independent Michael Bloomberg has gifted Hillary Clinton with a relatively easy and open path to the Democratic ticket. That being said, Clinton’s gifts as a disciplined (if not exciting) campaigner and politician is leagues above that of Donald Trump, but her own glaring weaknesses likely mean that if she went into this race with a formidable opponent that lacked any of her baggage, she is likely already on the sidelines by now.

But here we are as Americans, captive of bad luck and this destined to be stuck with two hard to love and hard to respect out of any moral and virtue sense candidates that present to us little compelling or worthy choice to hold our highest office in the land. The leader of the free world comes down to two unsavory choices who are where they are today out of a historic combination of bad luck from two parties colliding together. Of course, there are other options and this race does not have to be bi-polar. I will be casting a ballot for the Libertarian Party this cycle, but my reasons for this is a topic of exploration for another day.

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