“Donald Trump on Thursday, September 3, 2015 signed a pledge saying he will not run as a third-party candidate in the 2016 election,” according to The Hill.
“Insisting he has been treated fairly by the Republican National Committee (RNC),” Trump announced at a press conference upon signing that “he is pledging his allegiance to the Republican Party.”
“I will be totally pledging my allegiance to the Republican Party and the conservative principles to which it stands,” Trump said. “We will go out and we will fight hard and we will win, and most importantly, we will make our country great again, because that’s what it’s all about.”
Asked if he would change his mind, Trump said, “I see no circumstances in which I would tear up that pledge.”
The RNC’s strategic move and first-offer albeit surprisingly public announcement at the Cleveland GOP presidential debates on Thursday, August 6, 2015, now secures Trump’s signed pledge with the aim of removing any potential third-party breakup of the GOP off the front-pages of the international newspapers and breaking news reports across international broadcast media.
“However, the RNC pledge is not legally binding and Trump is a wild card in the GOP race and committed to running on his own terms,” The Hill reports.
One must take note here as a brief aside that this election 2016 is more than just usual politics – it’s highly extraordinary in its exceptional complexity and historical uniqueness – especially given the possibility of the first woman presidential nominee in Clinton, or a RFK-McGovern last stand challenger in Sanders, perhaps going up against an outsider billionaire mogul in Trump to a first Latino presidential hopeful in Rubio, up against an establishment insider in Kasich versus an establishment outsider in Cruz.
This presidential election 2016 cycle is more than just politics, it’s social, technological, educational, and economic breaking news, impacting more folks than we can shake a stick at.
Most of all, this particular historical election 2016 is more passionate than the history-making election 2008 ever was in the age of demography shift and heightened engagements from the electorate.
Which party nominees, historically speaking, has won popular vote consensus? Considered in the appendix as low compared to previous party nominees, according to What Happened In The March 15 Primaries, by Nate Silver at FiveThirtyeEight.com, Trump has won 37.1 percent share in contrast to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s much higher 57.8 percent share of their party’s popular vote as of Tuesday, March 15 in the GOP 2016 primaries and caucuses.
Silver notes Trump’s GOP popular vote share should significantly increase with only three candidates (Trump, Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), and Ohio Republican Governor John Kasich from the original 21 candidates at the Cleveland GOP presidential debates on Thursday, August 6, 2015) still in the GOP nomination race as of Tuesday, March 15, 2016.
As party nomination primaries became the standard in 1972 going forward, Silver adds George McGovern, significantly aided by his party’s new delegate rules, clinched the Democrats nomination in 1972 with the smallest 25.3 percent share of his party’s popular vote.
“GOP convention rules allow a series of ballots if none of the candidates has the requisite 1,237 delegates, and the eventual nominee would not necessarily be the candidate with the most delegates heading into the convention. But that is where Rule 40b would come into play, limiting the alternative names that could be considered,” reports The Washington Times on March 16, 2016. “Most of the fear of hoodwinking relates to Rule 40b, adopted at the 2012 Republican National Convention, which says candidates must come in with a majority of delegates from at least eight states before they can be nominated and put to a vote.”
Nonetheless, the RNC’s strategic move on Thursday, September 3, 2015 is classic high-stakes political gamesmanship, discussed below as the primary focus of this piece. But first, let’s look at how remarkably history repeats in centennial cycles in this country.
Photo Credit: 26th U.S. President Teddy Roosevelt
We asked a century ago to “Make America Great Again!”
Thursday’s RNC political chess moves were specifically focused on Trump, the multi-billionaire business mogul running at a huge capacity of political brinksmanship.
As history a century ago could repeat itself going into 2016, a strategic option available to Trump to launch his own third-party presidential bid for the White House in 2016 is akin to 1906 Nobel Peace Laureate Teddy Roosevelt’s strategic third-party move back in 1912.
Some of you may already know, upon the assassination of the 25th U.S. President William McKinley, then vice-president Teddy Roosevelt succeeded McKinley as the 26th U.S. President in 1901.
During his presidency (1901-1908), Roosevelt was not only the Russian-Japanese War peace architect, but later on, he was the leading force of the post-war, then-original Progressive Era.
Writing thirty-five books, mostly related to his passion for progressive causes, benefitting America’s poor and working classes, Teddy Roosevelt’s ethos adhered to his motto: “to lead a life of strenuous endeavor.” Teddy Roosevelt passed his old-moneyed class ethos forward to the future generation of his namesake in President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who’s evoked Teddy’s same old-moneyed ethos of hard work, turning his own disability into the best of his ability, and by treating everyone with courtesy and respect, regardless of their status across the Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s social fabric. Teddy and Franklin Roosevelt neither exclusively used their power of their presidencies nor their influences to benefit the just moneyed class to a broader extent at the exclusion of the poor and working classes.
And, this old-moneyed Roosevelt ethos of hard work, self-made welfare and education, and one’s individual liberty “to be great again” that transformed the GOP party for a century, remarkably began with Teddy.
Teddy Roosevelt’s “Square Deal” domestic policies, like the Trump 2016 campaign today, also promised over a century ago to “Make America Great Again,” as the country reorganized itself post-Civil War between 1901-1908. The “Square Deal” domestic policies brought about providing the average citizen fairness, breaking up greedy trusts, eliminating monopolistic business lobbies, regulating the federal railroads, ensuring clean food and pure drugs, conserving the environment, creating the Interior Department, and building the Panama Canal, connecting the transatlantic and transpacific oceans of the world, as a foreign policy focused south of America’s border in Central America.
Roosevelt’s 1912 presidential re-election bid eventually led to a rival democratic progressivist and Columbia University president, Woodrow Wilson, elected the country’s president.
Inasmuch as, Roosevelt’s own, Progressive “Bull Moose” Party, called for wide-ranging progressive reforms that Roosevelt believed his close friend and hand-picked White House successor, Ohioan William Howard Taft, as 27th U.S. president, did not go far enough in implementing those reforms as Roosevelt wanted.
As a result of the then-GOP breakup, the Taft Republicans have been the GOP establishment for about a century (in pushing for less government, low taxes to spur supply-side economic growth (aimed at 4 percent or an additional $2 trillion added to the overall economy after 2016), strong defense, sound national security, individual liberty, and economic efficiency in a pursuit of happiness).
About the same time, the Roosevelt progressivists disbanded into today’s Wilsonian progressivists (in pushing for “The 5 Es” — environment, energy, education, economy, and equality — and progressive income and corporate taxes alongside neo-Keynesian public borrowing to pay for them).
So, “Let Trump Be Trump.”
Trump’s meteoric rise in the presidential 2016 election cycle pulls from these five mass communication strategies. He can “attack, defend, counterattack, sell, or ignore,” says Fox News Chairman Roger Ailes’ expert thinking on mass communications in conveying “You Are The Message.” Mr. Ailes says if Trump sticks with defense, it will be “his weakest possible position.”
What voters now expects from Trump are broad strokes, largely about the country’s immigration and trade policies, across his large modern-day Monet painting of what will “Make America Great Again.”
Contrary to what the political pundits, experts, campaign consultants, and pollsters bloviate about across the daily news media, voters aren’t necessarily asking at this point for the details of Trump’s brush strokes or the chemical make-up of his paint mixtures. Moreover, his natural instincts say keep giving the voters exactly what they want. Trump knows they are the only ones that matter on primary day and election day.
Be that as it may, the public wants to know the broad messages on how we can right the ship. A majority of Americans now believe the ship is heading in the wrong direction towards a destination away from greatness.
Photo Credit: Victor J. Blue/Bloomberg. “Donald Trump, president and chief executive of Trump Organization Inc., speaks while announcing he will seek the 2016 Republican presidential nomination at Trump Tower in New York, U.S., on Tuesday, June 16, 2015. Billionaire television personality and business executive Donald Trump formally began his Republican presidential campaign in Manhattan, saying that the United States has become “a dumping ground for other people’s problems.” “
Three broad issues loom large in the minds of most Americans, as Trump is clearly painting for them in his “Make America Great Again” picture going into the 2016 election cycle:
- Immigration: Lack of a secure southern border spells immigration restrictionism, as a means to better secure our domestic way of life for 2016 and beyond;
- National Security: Seven of ten Americans see the upcoming Iran-Nuclear Deal as destabilizing to our national security. Just as much, the public is knowledgeable and concerned about what Washington is doing in this deal. And, the public wonders what is Congress’ substantive and procedural role here, and are our representatives really listening to us. The public clearly wants a better deal. Why, because they’ve watched our soldiers, as they have been continually killed by derivatives of Iranian aggression for a generation or about three decades since Reaganism back in 1983;
- Economy: Despite the federal government’s “full-employment across the U.S. economy” announcement recently, about 95 million Americans are still out of work, as the economy slowly steams along at 2 percent growth since the Civil War. Albeit, we are now working in a high-technology, high-growth era. This is because the government only measures unemployment accumulatively over the past 4 years, after which those out of work fall off the government’s labor participation calculations. Eventually, this causes the official unemployment percentages to fall to the surprising August full-employment levels. On top of this, full-force Obamacare 2016 and beyond will weigh the economy down by as little as $4 trillion and as high as $6 trillion dollars, according to a wide range of Washington beltway think-tank and Congressional Budget Office long-term estimates. So immediately, we will need to increase economic growth from 2 to 4 percent (perhaps even 5 percent) to yield an additional $2 trillion dollars annually to the U.S. economy just to simultaneously pay for social security entitlements and keep up with Obamacare chugging along its new entitlement tracks.
Photo Credit: President Ronald Reagan and Democratic candidate Walter Mondale during the second debate on foreign policy in Kansas City, Missouri, October 21, 1984.
Roger Ailes, a stellar corporate communications consultant back in 1984, told the Reagan White House Staff (particularly Reagan close aides, James Baker and Michael Deaver) to “Let Reagan Be Reagan” in preparation of his second debate on foreign policy in Kansas City on October 21, 1984 with Democratic presidential campaign rival Walter Mondale.
“You don’t get elected on details. You get elected on themes. Every time a question is asked, relate it to one of your themes. You know enough facts, and it’s too late to learn new ones now, anyway,” Ailes counseled President Reagan, as he prepared to debate Mondale.
This same advice also rings true especially now for Trump in the midst of a heated national election campaign amongst two dozen rivals.
Besides, the public can’t keep up with the information-age overload of too many details about where a presidential candidate wants to take the country right now to be great again.
When we “Let Trump Be Trump,” we hear his modern message more clearly through the loudest noise of attacking, defending, counterattacking, selling, and ignoring that are constantly in the constellations around his innovative campaign.
Trump’s first-offer not only has defined a third of the presidential GOP nomination pie so far among the hopefuls. But also, his first-offer charts new territory in presidential politics in the millennial age of mass social media technologies outstretching, outlasting and outreaching over conventional media communications.
Still, the RNC likes order not chaos. It always has, always will, even as it manages its way through modern outreach and diversity challenges across twenty-one presidential campaigns in the dawn of the twenty-first century.
At the same time, the GOP is strategically committing its political X-Factor in Trump to message forth its Roosevelt-Taft “Grand Ole Party” established principles in a new age of demography shift and heightened engagement of an increasingly diverse electorate.
As a persuasive messenger across public opinion, Trump relies on three aspects of public opinion management:
- His business and media mogul instincts,
- His overarching themes about immigration, national security, foreign trade and the economy, altogether tied to what the country needs to fix and steer the great iron ship (well before the ole’ captain ignores the cold of the north Atlantic and speeds up The Titanic into an iceberg, heaven-forbid), and
- His vast experience in negotiation and mediation practices alongside his gamesmanship and brinksmanship in crafting and closing “The Art of the Deal” with the American voter on primary day and election day.
My late Harvard professor, Richard E. Neustadt, counsels inside his classic, Presidential Power and the Modern Presidents – The Politics of Leadership from Roosevelt to Reagan, presidents turn three keys of power: to sign, appoint, and persuade. The White House is words of persuasion.
But also, as we now discuss below, The Road to The White House is strategic gamesmanship and competitive brinksmanship.
Presidential Hopeful Game of Limiting Strategic Moves and Options
Presidential gamesmanship and brinksmanship is a branch of political-economy concerned with assessing optimal decision-making of political leaders, when all of them are assumed to be rational, and each is attempting to anticipate the strategic moves of its political rivals.
A mathematical Nobel Laureate John Nash game occurs when each presidential hopeful elects a strategy that gives him or her the highest payoff in their campaign, given the strategies elected by the other twenty or so presidential hopefuls in the Nash game.
For instance, a take-no-prisoners’ dilemma game, elected by either U.S. Senator Rand Paul against Donald Trump early-on or New Jersey Governor Chris Christie against U.S. Senator Rand Paul later-on during the Cleveland GOP presidential debate last month, illustrates the conflict between self-interest and collective interest.
In the Nash prisoners’ dilemma game, each presidential hopeful takes on a “non-cooperative” action, even though it is in the presidential hopeful’s collective interest to pursue a cooperative action, much as former Florida Governor Jeb Bush or a Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker are generally currently taking in their campaigns.
A pure strategy, taken by either U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, neurosurgeon Ben Carson, Ohio Governor John Kasich, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, or business woman Carly Fiorina, is a specific choice among various possible strategic moves in the presidential hopeful game of limiting rival campaign maneuvering options.
Generally speaking, what goes on among the presidential campaigns is a classic “tit-for-tat” game of “you play nice, I play nice; you play rough, I play rough.” In this repeated prisoners’ dilemma game, the presidential hopefuls might campaign cooperatively. The likelihood of a cooperative outcome is enhanced when the presidential hopefuls are careful in their numerous interactions, and cheating and backstabbing is easily observed, whereby any single gains on such strategic moves is small.
Taking a closer look into the political sequential-moves game between the GOP establishment and Trump reveals that taking the first-move in the presidential hopefuls game has significant strategic value in the long run.
A strategic move is an action a presidential hopeful’s campaign takes in an early stage of the political game that alters the presidential hopeful’s behavior and that of the other presidential rivals in a way that is favorable to said presidential hopeful.
Of course, strategic moves tend to corner a presidential hopeful or to restrict a presidential hopeful’s campaign flexibility. But also, such cornering or restricting can have strategic value for said presidential hopeful.
For instance, the RNC committed in advance to a political course of action in publicly asking GOP presidential hopefuls for a pledge of allegiance to the “Grand Ole Party.” Whereas, Trump has the surprising strength and flexibility to respond to the RNC. Yet, the RNC’s bag of inside political tools is twice as large as Trump’s arsenal to manage public opinion and the media.
After all, the “Grand Ole Party” has been at this game of inside politics for a century, since the old Roosevelt-Taft days of presidential politics. Albeit, the game was retooled and updated during the 1980 Reagan Revolution and its economic “Seven Fat Years” alongside some exceptional presidential persuasion and Michael Deaver image-making in conventional media engagement and outreach that “Let Reagan Be Reagan.”
Nonetheless, by surprisingly and publicly asking at the Cleveland GOP debate last month for a pledge of allegiance to the “Grand Ole Party,” the GOP and RNC strategic commitment in its first-offer in advance fares far better for them in the long-run, than for Trump to maintain his inefficiently outlying, yet subordinated publicly-stated intent, to remain flexible in the presidential race.
This brings forth a fundamental truth in high-stakes presidential political gamesmanship and brinksmanship. Strategic moves that constrains such decision-makers’ options can actually make a leader better off. In other words, inflexibility can win the day. This is so because Trump’s commitment can alter his rivals expectations about how to compete with him. This will cause his rivals to make choices that benefit Trump’s pledge of allegiance and its strategic credibility to the “Grand Ole Party.”
In the GOP-Trump game, when the RNC commits itself in advance to an apparently inferior course of action, like a pledge of allegiance, it alters Trump’s expectations about what the RNC will do on behalf of the GOP.
Had the GOP and RNC not made the strategic commitment, Trump would understand that it would have been in the GOP’s and RNC’s interest to resort to conventional “backroom deal-making,” which, in turn, would have induced the Trump campaign to resort to its “war-room deal-making” as well.
By committing in advance to the more overt strategic move of a public pledge of allegiance to the “Grand Ole Party,” the GOP and RNC are making it less strategically advantageous for the Trump campaign to expand its “war-room deal-making” capacity along any lines of a possible third-party push.
Put another way, this has the result of pulling the 2016 election cycle to a place of less chaos and more order that the GOP can ultimately control best towards a fairer process that is in the best interest of the “Grand Ole Party” in the long-run, as it pushes forward in the age of demography shift and heightened engagement from an increasingly diverse electorate.
Photo Credit: AP/Andrew Harnik. “Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, left, speaks as Jeb Bush listens during the first Republican presidential debate at the Quicken Loans Arena Thursday, August 6, 2015, in Cleveland.”
Sequential strategic moves, like those we are observing between the preemptive GOP and RNC and the follower Trump, impact how competitive political rivals make their moves as the 2016 election cycle unfolds later down the line. As military generals undergoing war-games have rudimentarily understood the strategic value of inflexibility, sequential strategic moves tend to force the Trump 2016 campaign into more predictability, which till now has charted into very uncharted territory of presidential politics.
More is to come, of course.
As Trump signals in his campaign message, strategic moves are relevant to his approach to foreign, immigration, even trade policies, as the nation’s potential negotiator-in-chief.
Taking stock of lessons learned about strategic moves in the Middle East, the Israeli government traditionally holds to a foreign policy of no negotiation with terrorists under any circumstances. This Israeli hard-line strategic commitment deters terrorist organizations from choosing the brinksmanship of first-moves against Israel by resorting, for instance, either to taking citizen hostages or to public killings of Israelis across international media in exchange for economic concessions, military arms, or release of political prisoners.
Like Israeli’s hands are tied, Trump’s hard-line stance on foreign, immigration, and trade policies actually tied down Americans hands in which unwise negotiation and mediation practices with those acting contrary to American interests are unwarranted strategically in his presidential campaign theme of “Making America Great Again.”
The GOP’s and RNC’s strategic move of pledging allegiance to the “Grand Ole Party” worked, mainly because it is visible, understandable, and hard to reverse. Trump observed and understood the RNC has committed to removing Trump from the early primary balloting, if he did not sign-off on the pledge.
What makes such politically-overt strategic moves by political parties and presidential hopefuls hard to reverse?
A key aspect is such strategic moves involves a commitment of a huge amount of specialized assets, which cannot be redeployed to alternative uses by either the GOP and RNC or Trump — specialized assets on the order of at least $1-2 billion to complete a successful presidential bid for the White House.
Given this, Trump must pull together a huge national organization, making it impossible to back out, unless his political rivals make the presidential hopeful game so bad that the Trump campaign cannot cover its average non-sunk costs of the campaign. These specialized assets committed by Trump implies that most of his costs are sunk, so average non-sunk cost is small.
This creates a strong incentive for the GOP/RNC and Trump not to back out of their strategic move of the signed GOP pledge nor Trump’s or any of the presidential hopeful’s bid. This is an especially acute commitment, as the GOP primary demands are insufficient to strategically support the options for more than one presidential nominee on the right and possibly one as a third-party independent challenge on the GOP nomination floor. That, in turn, would possibly induce a multiple GOP ballot nomination in Cleveland, which could benefit a possible home grown Ohio Governor John Kasich, who could possibly survive the presidential hopeful game turned into a food fight and emerge as the lone grown up in the room to save the day.
In this sense that a public GOP pledge or public RNC statements of intentions to take actions to remove GOP presidential hopefuls from the ballots of early primary states can also facilitate irreversibility, the signed GOP pledge is an “implicit contract” or “implicit promise” amongst all the GOP presidential hopefuls in the court of public opinion.
But especially so for the Trump campaign. For this is “The Art of The Deal,” which Trump is proud to pronounce is the core reason he’s built his multi-billion dollar empire, which must remain and survive his Trump 2016 presidential run – win or lose. Above all, it is about being, doing, saying, while Letting Trump Be Trump.
If Trump or the RNC cheats or reneges on the GOP pledge, either side or both loose big in the election cycle of presidential politics. For Trump, as the newcomer, has far more to loose by cheating or reneging, then the RNC and GOP establishment, which has been around longer and playing this sequential strategic presidential hopeful game for centuries.
Trump, his political rivals, and the voters now understand that the GOP and RNC are putting huge strategic credibility, economic commitment, and political risk on the line, if it fails to match words with actions.
Otherwise, erosion of public opinion will result, as it will be further evidence that talk is cheap in Washington, and the electorate will discount the claims, promises, or threats the GOP and RNC are making about adherence to a pledge of allegiance to the “Grand Ole Party” and its brand.
In the final analysis, strategic credibility of last Thursday’s public pledges of allegiance and public announcements of punishment for non-compliance by the GOP presidential hopefuls is enhanced, when it is clear that the integrity, reputation and trust of each presidential campaign and its candidate suffers, when it fails to carry out what it has signed off on in a GOP pledge of what it will do for the “Grand Ole Party.”
Failure to match political actions to pledged words now will result in a significant loss of face or reduction of reputation and trust by the electorate towards the GOP presidential hopeful, who reneges on the pledge of allegiance to the party and the general electorate.
Photo Credit of Painting: Water Lilies (or Nympheas) is a series of approximately 250 oil paintings by French Impressionist Claude Monet. The paintings depict Monet’s own flower garden at Giverny and were the main focus of his artistic production during the last thirty years of his life. The paintings are on display at museums all over the world. The one show above is displayed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
Which party nominees won popular vote consensus?
History shows now in terms of popular vote share a potential Clinton-Trump 2016 presidential election contest could closely shape up, analogously albeit remotely in terms of say near “incumbent versus insurgent” nominees, as a reversed Ford-Carter 1976 presidential election contest.
Reagan* 1984 Republicans 98.8% (popular vote share)
Bush* 2004 Republicans 98.1%
Clinton* 1996 Democrats 89.0%
Obama* 2012 Democrats 88.9%
Nixon* 1972 Republicans 86.9%
Gore 2000 Democrats 75.4%
Bush* 1992 Republicans 72.8%
Bush 1988 Republicans 67.9%
Bush 2000 Republicans 62.0%
Kerry 2004 Democrats 60.1%
Reagan 1980 Republicans 59.8%
Dole 1996 Republicans 58.8%
Clinton 2016 Democrats 57.8% (as of March 15, 2016)
Ford* 1976 Republicans 53.3%
Romney 2012 Republicans 52.1%
Clinton 1992 Democrats 52.0%
Carter* 1980 Democrats 51.1%
Obama 2008 Democrats 47.3%
McCain 2008 Republicans 47.3%
Dukakis 1988 Democrats 42.4%
Carter 1976 Democrats 40.2%
Mondale 1984 Democrats 38.3%
Trump 2016 Republicans 37.1% (as of March 15, 2016)
McGovern 1972 Democrats 25.3%
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