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The Limits of Enthusiasm: Iowa 2016

Before addressing Trump’s failure in Iowa last night, I would like to dispel some enthusiastic spinning currently coming out of the Bernie Sanders activist community regarding his showing.

This will hurt many Sanders fans to hear, but Bernie needed to win Iowa more than Clinton did. Hilary barely beat (or did she?) Bernie, but the Sanders campaign is going to need decisive victories over Clinton in the early voting states to build the momentum necessary to take the nomination. Having lost the caucus to Obama in 2008, team Clinton needed to demonstrate that this time around, things were going to be different. She didn’t win by a large margin, but I disagree with those who argue her victory looked more like a defeat. At MSNBC, Chuck Todd wrote:

Winning essentially by one vote (err, five state delegate equivalents) instead of 1 percentage point, denied Clinton the opportunity to use ANY win as momentum heading into New Hampshire, where Sanders enjoys a sizable lead. And…if you don’t want to take our word for it, here’s the attitude inside Clinton Land. “Clinton advisers … said they did not know if a significant staff shakeup was at hand, but they said that the Clintons were disappointed with Monday night’s result and wanted to ensure that her organization, political messaging and communications strategy were in better shape for the contests to come,” the New York Times writes.

Based on current polls, Bernie is likely going to win the New Hampshire primary next week. I doubt a more decisive victory in Iowa was going to change that. However, if Bernie were to win Iowa and then NH, the accumulating losses for Clinton would taint her campaign with the smell of defeat that could accumulate and dog her moving into the states she is best situated to win. Clinton just needs to hold her own against Bernie in the early states until she can rack up a slew of victories in more favorable markets.

That isn’t to take away from Bernie’s “victory” in Iowa. The fact that an old Jewish socialist performed so well throughout the state says something about the desire for something (or anything) different from the status quo. I am rooting for the guy, and he is the most desirable character in the bunch currently running. Yet, I find his chances of actually winning the primary slim, even as he has edged closer to Clinton in national polls. The real test for Sanders will be his ability to perform in western states and those with large black constituencies.

The Republican Nominee is…

Many snide jokes were made in Twitterland over the readiness by some to celebrate Rubio’s third place finish as a “victory.” There is no doubt that Ted Cruz was the clear winner of the caucus, demonstrating just what a focused game plan and electoral strategy can achieve. Cruz knew what he needed to accomplish in Iowa, and put the resources, effort and time into making it happen.

Nick Baumann of the Huffington Post had this to say about Rubio’s third place “victory”:

The pro-Rubio narrative will be that, as the “establishment” candidate who did best in Iowa, he is well-positioned to gather the full strength of the Republican establishment behind him. But Monday night’s results showed just how weak that establishment is: With 99 percent of the results in, Cruz, Trump and Carson, the candidates most often described as anti-establishment, took a combined 61 percent of the vote. Everyone else combined for 39 percent.

This is true, but Nick assumes that every state race across the country is going to favor “anti-establishment” candidates the same way Iowa did. It also assumes that the energy surrounding Cruz and Trump will sustain indefinitely, a claim I find historically suspect. At this stage Rubio simply needs the mainstream of his party to get behind him as the Bush/Christie/Fiorina crowd gives up in defeat. Unlike the other establishment figures like Walker, Perry, and Bush, Rubio has run a strong campaign thus far. As Marco’s competitors in the establishment fade away, his chances of receiving the nomination improve exponentially. Jeb has demonstrated quite vividly how money and connections do not guarantee a primary victory, but to say these variables mean nothing is deceptive. If Marco can consolidate the party’s establishment figures around his campaign in the next few months, he will likely earn the nomination.

Cruz’s overwhelming victory and Rubio’s strong third place showing revealed the inherent weakness in Donald Trump’s campaign strategy. It wasn’t until recently that Trump was even expected to do well in Iowa, but his loss may be the terminal political moment his foes have been anxiously anticipating.

Yes, Trump is not finished. He still has a commanding lead in the polls in the state primaries to follow. The man will continue to get an abundance of free press, something any candidate would kill for. Nor should one overlook his robust showing in Iowa. Without a viable strategy or ground game, he drew thousands to caucus for him, a real rarity in this form of electoral politics. Trump’s vague message of rebirth clearly inspired enough citizens to show up and vote without the typical administrative campaign choreography. That is impressive.

However, Trump is now seen as having failed. The entirety of his campaign has focused on his ability to triumph over his adversaries by the sheer will of his personality. Trump’s message to his supporters was that he would accomplish great deeds unthinkable by the lesser politicians before him. He could win by saying and doing just about anything, and his popularity in the polls appeared to confirm that.

In failure, Trump gave the most affable speech in his political career (perhaps his first concession of any kind), but you could see the sting of defeat on his face and the subdued stillness at his event last night. It was a single defeat, but it pierced his invincible aura and deflated some of the perceived inevitability that has fueled his rise the last few months.

Watching his followers on Twitter lament his failure was telling as well. His defeat seemed shocking to many; a number believed it illustrated why they should give up on electoral politics altogether. I felt similar watching Ralph Nader fail to attract much support in 2000 after tirelessly campaigning for him. That was my first political campaign, and I imagined that the country at large would share the enthusiasm I shared for my candidate. My young mind could not believe that this candidate was unpopular and did not possess the strategy or resources necessary to make an honest bid for the presidency. I blamed the voters and doubled down on my radical political leanings without reflecting on the factors that made Nader’s triumph impossible. Perhaps these young Trump supporters are just getting their first taste of electoral defeat after being assured limitless success and victory by their candidate.

Trump and his followers may reassure themselves that the Donald is still doing very well in the polls in many of the early primary states. But as the polls demonstrated in Iowa, people need to actually show up to vote. As our own CK mentioned last night in our extended Twitter conversation, the polls are mirages at the moment. With every win or loss, misstep or endorsement, the polls will shift. As candidates drop out and others pick up steam, Trump’s game plan appears to be the same one he pursued in the early days of his candidacy: Get media attention for outlandish statements, pack large venues for campaign speeches and remind voters that he is a winner who will win America back for Americans by winning.

If Trump is going to need more than nebulous policy statements and massive rallies to win the nomination, has he demonstrated the ability or willingness to change tactics and do the hard work required to get voters into the booth? Perhaps now would be a good time to demonstrate his advertised intellect and produce a strategy that goes beyond the blowhard visage he has relied on thus far.


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Roland Dodds is an educator, researcher and father just north of San Francisco who writes about politics, culture and education. He spent his formative years in radical left wing politics, but now prefers the company of contrarians of all political stripes (assuming they aren't teetotalers). He is a regular contributor at Harry's Place and Ordinary Times.

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76 thoughts on “The Limits of Enthusiasm: Iowa 2016

  1. Trumpets didn’t seem to care about Trumpy’s multiple bankruptcies or his frequent lack of business success. Expect Doonie to come up with a big ad buy and more importantly something new and outrageous in the next couple days to goose him in NH.

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  2. I’d like to see some attention paid to the entrance polls for Iowa. It turns out that men and women are not all that different in their candidate choice. The Democrats’ real gap is an age and class gap, but we don’t have the language to talk about that.

    Instead, many of us watched a soap opera with a few thousand top 1% of active tweeters attacking each other as representatives of a wider world that could not care less about their day-to-day drama.

    This should be a sign that anyone who really wants to know what’s going on in the Democratic primary needs to talk to people who can’t spit back the self-serving jargon of the political personality class.

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  3. Another way to look at this is that Trump did amazingly well for someone who did not follow any of the traditional rules of politics and campaigning:

    http://www.slate.com/blogs/xx_factor/2016/02/02/donald_trump_got_a_huge_number_of_votes_in_iowa_imagine_if_he_d_actually.html

    I think Sanders also did well besides more established media types saying that he needed a blow-out. He took HRC to a statistical tie in both percentage and votes. He did so with younger voters who normally don’t turn out for caucuses.

    Yes traditional political nohow won but the the outsiders actually got their supporters to come out this time.

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  4. I am curious how Trump will do in a less esoteric situation. Caucuses seem to be tailor made for more traditional well-planned ground games and less for run of the mill turnout. NH is going to be a wash, but SC and the SEC primary will be a much better measurement of Trump’s longevity.

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    • I think it’s a really, really good thing that the caucus came first. The ground game really does still matter for primaries, even if not as much. I also think that some of the “Imagine what happens when he develops a ground game” is misguided because he’s too far behind the curve to really catch up (Cruz was working on Georgia about four months ago). Trump will be hurt further by the lack of traditional political networks that he can reach through.

      Which is not to say that Trump will lose (1-in-5, I say), but as scary as it seems the amount of support he could have is probably greater than the amount of support he will actually get showing up to the polls, simply due to logistics.

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      • The ground game doesn’t matter that much though. Rubio pretty famously eschewed a ground game at the expense of spending (especially in comparison to Cruz). Ground game matters much more in the caucus states because of their very nature. But in a show up and spend 20 minutes of your day sort of state like NH or SC Rubio and Trump look much stronger.

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        • And look where the counties that Rubio won are located: Des Moines and its suburbs, Iowa State University, University of Iowa, and Davenport. Second in Cedar Rapids. That’s the three largest cities and two flagship universities, where advertising can be most effective.

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    • Also, don’t forget the nature of caucuses vs. primaries. Most Trump supporters are loud and proud, but I suspect that there are a fair (if smallish) number of people who would walk into a booth and pull a lever in privacy who wouldn’t stand up and shout it out in front of people who they have to go on living, working, or worshiping near.

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  5. Nick Baumann is mistaken for another reason: Anti-establishment candidates may have gotten 61% of the vote, but that doesn’t mean that Rubio isn’t generally acceptable to those voters. Only 5% of Republican voters say they absolutely won’t support Rubio, which is lower than for any other candidate. http://www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/2015/12/02/poll_trump_leads_gop_pack_rubio_cruz_gain_steam.html

    Rubio is a favored candidate of the GOP establishment, is acceptable to the party’s Tea Party wing, polls the best against Hillary Clinton in nationwide matchups, and calls the nation’s most electoral-vote-rich swing-state his home. He’s definitely the one to beat at this point.

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  6. Would a more appropriate title for this post perhaps be: “The Limits of Doleful Pessimism for the Human Race and the Desire to Self-impale: Iowa 2016”?

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  7. I don’t think I’d count Trump out yet. Cruz had some advantages in Iowa; he ran around hitting all the counties, he appealed to evangelical Christians, he had the backing of many state legislators, he had a reasonably well staffed GOTV team, etc. Trump had some evangelical supporters, to be sure, but he didn’t really spend much campaigning, his GOTV effort was negligable, and it was widely reported that many of his supporters were not experienced caucus attendees.

    Despite those weaknesses, he ran only three percentage points behind Cruz. Granted, he’d hoped for more, and before the actual voting he often seemed to be doing better. But his showing is still quite respectable, and in places where evangelicals aren’t as numerous, his strength relative to Cruz is likely to increase.

    It’s conceivable that despite the current narrative, Iowa may actually have been Cruz’s high point in this campaign. I’m not prepared to make any large bets on that, alas, but if things turn out that way, I’ll be happy to pop up and claim “I TOLD YOU SO!”

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    • He’s definitely not out, but as points out below, he doesn’t have the margin of error that other candidates do. Without impressive victories, he’s going to have a hard time getting people to line up behind him en masse. Cruz is going to have a hard time getting the party to line up around him, but he is more likely to be able to just win the raw votes. Trump’s unfavorables make things a bit more difficult for him. He’s going to have to win strong and completely break the opposition.

      Not that there’s no way he can do it (1-in-5!), but he just has to win more and win by more than any candidate in recent history.

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  8. Trump now needs to win NH *and* SC. Otherwise he’ll be in a pattern of maybe winning a primary here & there, which does not a frontrunner (or eventual nominee) make if you re a whacko outsider candidate.

    Unlike if you are the establishment Ken doll the party is trying desperately to install, in which case third-place finishes are part an obvious path to the nomination.

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        • Not that I am not interested in larger changes to our system, but I am not sure exactly how Trump is going to make this change. His supporters will feel defeated when he loses and may say they need to give up on the electoral process, but we have seen this many times before with other failed “aspirational” characters.

          I think Trump supporters will remain in the political system and won’t become committed radicals in the long run.

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      • You never know when an unprecedented election kerfuffle will be followed by an unprecedented act of terrorism on American soil, so it’s important to not just throw your vote away on third-party candidates, Jaybird. Only the Big Two, always and forever, can keep us safe from ourselves.

        And if your Big Two (wo)Man loses and bad things happen, as they do, it will always be the fault of those who threw their votes away, and not your (wo)Man for being insufficiently-electable.

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        • If not for 9/11, there would have been a different pretext for invading Iraq. War was a foregone conclusion given the prominence of Perle and Wolfowitz among W’s foreign policy team. Just as I can tell you right now that if any Republican is elected, there’s going to be a pretext for canceling the Iran deal.

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          • I’m not taking issue with hindsight saying Iraq would have been inevitable given what we now know of the Bush FP team, nor with people using Iraq’s invasion as a predictive data point for the actions of a future Republican admin; but (and maybe I’m crazy, or don’t recall this) I don’t recall the at-that-time CW being that invading Iraq was inevitable under a Bush admin *before 9/11 happened*.

            Invading Iraq may well have been Bush’s plan all along, but I certainly don’t recall that being clear to the public at large leading up to or during the election season, which is what they are being indicted for here, more or less – knowing what would happen, and failing to help prevent it.

            That strikes me as faulty, ego-centric memory; because things went terribly wrong, sometimes people not only want to say “I had a bad feeling about this guy”, they want to say “I predicted this specific thing, and anyone who didn’t, is a fool or a villain.”

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            • I don’t recall the at-that-time CW being that invading Iraq was inevitable under a Bush admin *before 9/11 happened*.

              I knew it was likely. Also that his approach to North Korea and Iran would be completely counterproductive belligerence. Look at who his guys were: the ones who’d criticized Reagan as soft-headed (even senile) because he was willing to make deals with Gorbachev.

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              • It may not have been common wisdom, but it was well known among those who’d followed his campaign and the lead-up to it. Information about the Iraq plans of the Bush team leaked pretty early in the campaign. It was pretty commonly talked about among anti-war activists.

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                • Interesting; my recollection would be that at the time people thought (feared) Bush Jr’d be like his father, who famously did NOT invade Iraq; much as they now fear that Jeb would act similarly to HIS brother. Right or wrong, people tend to assume family, will act like family.

                  And pre-Iraq/Afghanistan, the US anti-war movement was presumably pretty small and insular; at that time, there wouldn’t have been nearly so much (American) war to protest. So even if they had correctly sussed out Bush’s plans, I don’t know that that is something the average American would have been aware of.

                  Further, even assuming that the plans were in place and the average American WAS aware of all this – Gore’s predecessor Clinton had signed into law the Iraq Liberation Act of 1998 (calling for regime change in Iraq, subsequently cited when seeking authorization for war).

                  Based on that precedent, I think the counterfactual that a hypothetical President Gore would have never gone to war in Iraq, is at the very least debatable – or put another way, I’m not sure why the type of in-the-know people who feared that Bush might go to war, wouldn’t have feared the same of Gore, or a known hawk like Hillary now.

                  At this point, the question isn’t which of the Big Two candidates are hawks; but which ones are COMPETENT hawks.

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                  • I don’t think it’s obvious that Gore wouldn’t have invaded Iraq under any circumstances. I think that in hindsight it’s rather obvious that Bush would invade Iraq, and that some people, though certainly not most people, were aware of this in ’99, because the Bush people had said so.

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                    • in hindsight it’s rather obvious that Bush would invade Iraq

                      Right, but the “hindsight” part is specifically what I am objecting to in this context. In hindsight, almost everything is obvious, including what the best path for all voters to take probably would have been. Not so much in the other linear temporal direction.

                      I also, in general, object to the “spoiler” framing that holds those who did not vote for a winning candidate, responsible for the winning candidate and his actions.

                      It may be “true” in some sense that people who did not cast votes for the winning candidate’s primary opponent, failed to help prevent the winning candidate’s election.

                      It is likewise “true” that the losing primary candidate and their supporters failed to convince enough voters so as to defeat all comers, which is kind of what an election is – a contest, in which a loss may be incurred at any time via unexpected, non-traditional means.

                      If there are three runners – A, who is the consensus-best runner alive; B, who’s almost as good, and has been training like hell; and C, who is a great initial sprinter but has not yet shown the stamina to win a full race – race together, and at the last moment C happens to fall and trips up A, so that B wins – yes, in some sense C’s presence and actions messed up A.

                      But in another sense: A failed to avoid C, while B did not fail to do so. That is just part of the game, and it is really A’s fault that he failed to avoid C – not C’s “fault” that B won instead.

                      Perhaps we could say that Gore and his supporters or the Democrats have “blood on their hands”, by failing to convince enough people that a Nader was superfluous.

                      I mean, I wouldn’t say that, because I think it’s too much of a stretch; but I don’t see why I couldn’t make that stretch from “Iraq is Nader voters’ fault”, since that seems to get me most if not all the way there anyway.

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                      • Oh yeah, I didn’t want to get caught up in Nader thing. I think there’s a very real sense in which voters in a democracy are responsible for the consequences of their votes, even if the specific consequences weren’t possible to foresee. How responsible, and what that means, is an interesting topic of discussion.

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                        • Yeah, I’m not trying to absolve them of all responsibility; if the winning candidate was, like, literally Hitler reincarnated (with the mustache and everything, so there could be no mistaking him) then yes: people who otherwise might have voted for Hitler2’s primary challenger, but went third-party instead (or sat out) are on the hook.

                          But beyond that obvious case, I’m not sure how much meaningful responsibility you can apportion to people who looked at the Regular Old Big Two and said, “nah, not again” and either voted third-party or sat it out. Even if the guy who got in turned out to be a disaster (non-Godwin-division).

                          I mean, it’s perhaps true in some sense; but to be making sarcastic comments about it sixteen years later just strikes me as trivial, and heavily-weighted by a hindsight that was by definition not available to voters at that time.

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                          • For what it’s worth, I meant voting for Bush, not for Nader. On the list of internet conversations I’ve had so many times utterly fruitlessly that I will never, ever enter one again, the Nader conversation is near the top.

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                            • “For what it’s worth, I meant voting for Bush, not for Nader. On the list of internet conversations I’ve had so many times utterly fruitlessly that I will never, ever enter one again, the Nader conversation is near the top.”

                              Understood, and I was silly to take the initial bait myself.

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                        • I think there’s a very real sense in which voters in a democracy are responsible for the consequences of their votes

                          Well, the current election is about the best we can hope for, yeah?: it’s a referendum on the political status quo!

                          Given that democracy is the worst form of gummint except for all the rest, I’m actually pretty sympathetic to Ronnie Van Zant: we all did what we could do. And sometimes shitty things still happen. Recall that Iraq required a whole bunch of extra-executive politicking before it came to pass. Way more than Afghanistan. (And even Afghanistan required some politicking.)

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                      • FWIW Glyph, I’m with Mike and Chris on this one. I very clearly remember conversations with people during the general election in which I told them that a vote for Bush was a vote for war, most likely in Iraq. Amongst all the other things I remember telling them about a vote for Bush…

                        ETA: Whoops. I meant for that to link to the “hindsight” comment just above this.

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                        • But see, I’m down with you telling people that a vote for Bush is a vote for war.

                          It’s the whole “a vote for NOT-BUSH, is also a vote for war” that makes me twitchy.

                          Because it slides really easily, as I see it, into the usual partisanship/supposed-traitor-naming/The Big Two Are Our Only Hope (And By ‘Big Two’ I Really Mean My Big One, As The Other Big One Is Clearly Evil) mindset and framing.

                          And I think that’s BS.

                          But I’m clearly a crazy person, so what do I know.

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                          • Ahh, NOW I get it! You’re objecting to a logic that says that a vote for Nader was a vote for war (because it was effectively a vote for Bush). Is that right? (I puzzled over that comment, re-read the thread…)

                            Yeah, I agree (if that’s what you’re saying). And I get your worries about hindsight/foresight and all that too. My wife voted for Nader that election, and I’ve yet to criticize her for helping to elect Bush thereby being responsible for getting us into the most disastrous voluntary, freely-chosen war in the history of humanity. (Not to mention all the other “worst of” categories he won honors in.)

                            As one of my old professors used to say, does wishing you were the richest person alive mean the same thing as wishing everyone were poorer than you are?

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                    • Absent the psychological impact of 9/11, there’s no way the Bush administration has enough poltical schlitz to do anything close to the scale of OEF. Just more Desert Fox/Desert Strike type stuff.

                      Plus, look at the pre 9/11 EP-3 Hainan island incident, where the administration realists did emerge victorious over the neoconservatives.

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                      • Possibly true, though who knows what a WMD scare might have done even without 9/11.

                        That said, pre-9/11, I was really hoping he’d be 4 and done and not have time for anything that major.

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                      • Absent the psychological impact of 9/11, there’s no way the Bush administration has enough poltical schlitz to do anything close to the scale of OEF.

                        Oh I don’t know. The most compelling explanation of Iraq I I’ve heard (since Saddam was “our guy in Iraq” and all) was that Hussein was pissed about Kuwaiti slant drilling into his reserves and asked the US if he could take action against. Green light. And when he did he was attacked.

                        It’s all too easy to create a pretext for war (ETA: in the US!!). Plus: PNAC.

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                            • There is a kind of fatalism in that statement, but not the one to which I was referring. I was referring to the fatalism that considers the notion of a meaningfully alternative alternative to be delusive.

                              Chris is far enough to the left not to care very much whether we acknowledge that the counterfactual – if Gore had won! – might not have been as counter as partisan Democrats and Gore himself would like us all to assume.

                              My own counterfactual vision has always been of a President Gore giving his infamous speech on “the Inconvenient Truth” that we were at war with Islamic Radicalism, and that only a full mobilization of state power, at home and abroad, could protect our porous borders, open society, global commitments, and so on, from the threat. I imagine his policy to have involved higher levels of taxation and public employment, but overall to have taken, at least by now, the same shape that events took for all concerned. In the theory of alternative timelines, this is the convergence principle – as when the guy goes back in time to kill Hitler before the catastrophe, and succeeds, but ends up replacing him. So, as for Iraq and the Middle East, the logic of war was set, 9/11 was also not a random event, and the US coming out of the ’90s was bound to escalate, test the limits of “unipolarity” and unstoppable progress at the end of history – and, in particular, deal with Saddam’s Iraq as a main peace of unfinished business in an unsustainable situation.

                              Gets in the way of hating Bush, hating neocons, disqualifying squishes, despising your uncle, celebrating one’s own prescience and moral superiority (whether cumulative or newly achieved) and so on – so has limited appeal, especially, as I said, among Ds – and even Chris won’t go this far, in part because he’s also very firmly attached to idea of the yes-or-no on the war at a particular moment being a decisively meaningful yes-or-no.

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                              • That counterfactual will only get in the way of hating Bush to the extent that it’s viewed as likely, tho, yes? And there are other, even worser, counterfactuals to be plucked from conceptual space as well. Ones involving nukes or martial law and the confiscation of guns and whatnot. As it stands, tho, by invading Iraq Bush acted on policies advanced by almost every member of his cabinet, ones proposed before he ever attained office. Which is factual, rather than counterfactual.

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                                • The possibility of a Gore Presidency is unusually close to a coin flip in history, so it’s the major counterfactual. The counterfactual intellectual universe I prefer is actually the one without counterfactuals.

                                  Gore’s own past statements and positioning – that the one mistake GHWB made in the Iraq war was not continuing to Baghdad, the vote in favor of Gulf War I, history as a DLC hawk and otherwise as a many-time-tested opportunist, the pressures on a “liberal” president in war to prove he (or perhaps soon she) is as bloody-minded as the other guys, the presence in the Gore ircle and among holdovers from the Clinton years of believers in the instrumental uses of military power, most of all the temptation to use the warfare state and crisis to achieve the long-stalled aims of the welfare state – make me think Gore at War is a more reasonable counterfactual than the ones involving random extreme events, especially those of the latter that stand outside longstanding historical trends.

                                  What would interfere with hating W presumptively, and based on something other than personal taste, and not as a matter of sticking one’s tongue out at the image in the mirror, would be having to consider that the best explanation for wh’appened is not that he and his folk competently and with malice aforethought lied us into an evil and incompetently run war of his and their, not authentically our, choice, but, rather, that he and his folk were stumbling down a path of least resistance cleared for them by us all, and that being “right about the war from the beginning” may merely reflect where you happened to be standing at the time or may always happen to be standing, not any dependable virtue of character, intellect, or judgment good for today and tomorrow.

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                                  • The possibility of a Gore Presidency is unusually close to a coin flip in history, so it’s the major counterfactual.

                                    I disagree. The major counterfactual regards the invasion of Iraq. Ie., If Gore had attained the Preznitcy, he would have invaded Iraq (just as Bush did).

                                    So two things: the first is that your analysis assumes that all Bush hate re: Iraq derives from thinking Gore wouldn’t have gotten us into that war. I disagree. Bush hate needs no crutch from counterfactuals regarding Gore to be justified, since he actually did, in fact, lie us into a war.

                                    The second thing is that insofar as a person’s Bush hate does rely on a counterfactual regarding Gore, I think a person would be entirely justified to claim that he wouldn’t have engaged in adventurism in Iraq (I mean, there’s no truth conditions here anyway, right?) since he (for example) wouldn’t have had Wolfie, Rummy, Pearle, Cheney, etc in his cabinet, folks who were on record advocating the necessity of a US presence in Eurasia based outa Iraq.

                                    So, to sorta repeat myself: the Gore counterfactual blunts Bush hate to the degree it’s viewed as likely (as well as the degree to which Bush hate rests on the counterfactual). Also, perhaps you’re arguing that the Nader hate rests on the counterfactual being likely, and in that case I think you’re probably right (about the role the counterfactual plays, anyway). But I’m not a Nader hater…

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                                    • Why would Gore have invaded Iraq? Afghanistan, yes.

                                      But the immediate aftermath of 9/11 was Dick Cheney trying to blame Iraq. In fact, the entire invasion of Afghanistan seemed to happen almost reluctantly — that Cheney et al, knew that Afghanistan had to be invaded before they went onto the main event.

                                      And sure, why Gore might be on record as saying we should have kept going in 1992 — that’s a heck of a lot different than starting a war for funsies, while in the middle of ANOTHER war.

                                      There’s a heck of a lot more ground for “9/11 might not have happened under Gore” than “Gore would have invaded Iraq after 9/11”.

                                      After all, at least Gore was somewhat familiar with the Clinton administration’s focus on terrorism. It’s mostly down the memory hole now, but prior to 9/11, the Bush administration’s #1 priority for the FBI was…internet porn. I suspect that, all things considered, a Gore administration would have still held terrorism as a high priority rather than relegating it to the back-burner to chase down boobies on the internet.

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                                    • The Gore Presidency stands as the major counterfactual for consideration simply because imagining its having occurred doesn’t depend on major re-writing of history as we know it.

                                      Imagining “nothing happening of substantial interest to President Gore in the area of the Persian Gulf leading – all at once, or in stages – to approximately the same general results” would, in my opinion, require such major re-writing of history, including all of the things that made the American polity susceptible to the “lie” or “sales job” on the invasion.

                                      To imagine the US military never substantially involved again in Iraq and environs, you don’t have to imagine a few more voters sorting out a butterfly ballot, or Gore campaigning an extra day or two in his home state, or sighing a little less in a debate. Among other also important things alluded to above, we’d have to imagine a both stable and non-aggressive Saddam regime, an America not already focused on and actively engaged in Iraq and environs – with regime change in Iraq bipartisan policy already enacted into law – a perceived threat from Al Qaeda and others purely localizable to Afghanistan, relative insensitivity on the question of WMD, a populace that didn’t already perceive Saddam as “Hitler re-visited” and so on, and so on.

                                      Hating Bush (and Cheney and so on) is a suspiciously natural recourse, another path of least resistance, for anyone repressing facts about the world and the US position in it, and otherwise for anyone who finds a scapegoat useful for practical political and intellectual as well as emotional purposes.

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                                      • Stillwater: The major counterfactual regards the invasion of Iraq.

                                        So, your other presumptions are off. A counterfactual world on Iraq would be “The world in which the US didn’t invade Iraq.” My view is the world in which the US did not invade Iraq is most likely the world in which the US, never chastened by the results of its invasion of Iraq, now proceeds to invade Iraq. The secondary alternative would be the world in which the US, not having invaded Iraq, invaded some other country, to approximately equivalent effect.

                                        However, I find counterfactual speculation usually to be a distraction for those who, for analyzable causes, prefer not to reason from effects to analyzable causes.

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                                        • So, your other presumptions are off. A counterfactual world on Iraq would be “The world in which the US didn’t invade Iraq.”

                                          No the counterfactual world we’re discussing – or at least the one I obviously thought we were discussing – is the possible world in which Gore is president and invades Iraq. (It’s surely a possible world, right?)

                                          The counterfactual you’re imagining, seems to me, is the one in which any – or perhaps every – person elected President woulda invaded Iraq. But if that’s the case, then Iraq was necessary (since there’s no possible world in which it doesn’t happen) and the “who’s President” part drops outa the analysis entirely.

                                          But that’s precisely what’s at issue: the conditions obtaining in the possible worlds where Gore invades Iraq, and those obtaining in worlds where he doesn’t.

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                                          • We’re discussing two conceivable counterfactualities or counterfactual worlds: Invader Gore and Peaceful Gore, both premised on not-Bush, therefore Gore. It is also possible at the same time, in comparing Bush-World to Gore-World, to consider Iraq-Invasion-World vs. non-Iraq Invasion World irrespective of who was president. My own view is that non-Iraq-Invasion-World always inevitably turns into rough equivalent of Iraq-Invasion-World.

                                            All seems pretty clear to me. It’s simple logic.

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                                        • However, I find counterfactual speculation usually to be a distraction

                                          Me too. {{Now I’m curious as to why brought them up, then, by referring to the “Gore counterfactual”… }}

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                                          • Others brought up the question of whether Iraq is “on” Naderites or anyone else whom you care to blame for Bush’s victory. It’s all up there. The speculation depends on a counterfactual (Gore winning, under presumption he wouldn’t have invaded), whether or not anyone uses the term.

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        • Granting arguendo that one of the Big Two will probably always be a worse option than the other, and that third-party candidates always have little realistic chance of doing anything more than siphoning votes from one or both of the Big Two candidates, is it your position then that Americans have a responsibility to always vote for the lesser of the Big Two evils, lest the even-worse bastard get in?

          And that if we do not do so, and the even-worse bastard gets in, and is unsurprisingly a complete and total bastard: any actions he takes in office are therefore our fault, for which we may be sarcastically and tediously “thanked” sixteen years after the fact, despite the fact that we pointedly did not cast a vote for said complete and total bastard?

          Maybe we are allowed to vote third-party only when the Big Two appear equally-bad, or when they are less equally-matched estimated-vote-wise, both to the best of our knowledge and independent of future historically-unique events of which we cannot be aware?

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          • Bottom line: Bush was foreseeably disastrous in 2000, and it was obvious voting for Nader rather than Gore would help his election. So yes, the OP does have blood on his hands, and deserves far worse than the occasional sarcastic comment.

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            • Is it only people who would possibly have voted Gore if Nader hadn’t run who have “blood on their hands”, or are the people who sat the election out for one reason or another (or who consistently vote third-party because they feel the Big Two don’t represent their interests well enough, and so would never have pulled the lever for Gore or Bush no matter what) also indictable?

              I just want to make sure I know exactly who “deserves far worse”, and why.

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                • Any time you feel like answering any of the questions I posed, feel free. I suspect that’d be less personally-satisfying though than what you’ve got going on, so I’ll understand completely if you don’t.

                  In any case, when I inevitably don’t respond further, it’s probably because I’m in the bathroom washing the blood off my hands from all the baby-killin’. Or because I’m bored with this now. Either/or.

                  Have a nice day!

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              • I’m not sure I understand the logic either. Seems to me the people with the most blood on their hands are the ones who lied us into war (Cheney, Rummy, Condi, etc). From there, everyone who fell for those lies and supported the invasion irrespective of who they voted for are also bloody (Senators who voted to authorize the use of force on thru citizens who fell for it outa bloodlust or stupidity or whatever else). Maybe thirdly on the list are people who voted for Bush with the understanding that he was gonna go full Neocon Hawk on Eurasian foreign policy (I don’t know of any Bush voters who thought that at the time).

                But not Nader voters. Voting for needs to be distinguished from voting against, especially if voting (and related) is a useful mechanism for changing political culture. From Wiki:

                Nader insisted that any failure to defeat Bush would be Gore’s responsibility: “Al Gore thinks we’re supposed to be helping him get elected. I’ve got news for Al Gore: If he can’t beat the bumbling Texas governor with that terrible record, he ought to go back to Tennessee.”

                Gore has blood on his hands!

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                • I was yelled at from both sides (both sides do it!) that “A Vote For (3rd Party Candidate) Is A Vote For (the candidate that I don’t like)!”

                  It puts it into perspective when you go from being screamed at that you’re “really” voting for Bush to being screamed at that you’re “really” voting for Kerry by voting for Badnarik.

                  I kinda wished that they could both yell at each other and hammer out who I was “really” voting for… but, of course, they’d never ever want to talk to each other.

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                  • A vote for Bernie in the primary is a vote for Trump in the general!!

                    I mean, that’s about where the Clinton supporters are at right now: that she’s “electable” and Bernie isn’t. It makes no sense to me. Or rather, it does, but the cynicism of the logic is one reason why our political process is so effing ineffably effed up.

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    • I have been through the whole Nader vote (both externally and internally) over the last 16 years, that I have no interest in rehashing it now. Especially considering the young man I was at 18 is far different than the one I am today, I feel like I am talking about some foreign individual at this point.

      But I would also add that if one thought the Iraq War was a terrible idea, why did you not throw your body on the gears of the state? I know many who did and went to jail for it. I was out in the streets, getting detained and the like, protesting the build up to the conflict.

      Voting is not an excuse for inaction if one truly believes an act is criminal and destructive. But I imagine most Gore voters were happy to pat themselves on the back and say “this isn’t my fault.”

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