I tried to read this article, I really did, but I couldn’t make it past this huge non sequitur:
Why do Republicans have so many candidates and Democrats so few? That’s directly contrary to the conventional wisdom that Republicans nominate the next guy in line, while Democrats tend to have multi-candidate brawls.
Mr. Barone seems to be under the impression that a field with a large number of candidates is somehow more difficult for the Republican Party Establishment to rig in favor of the one guy they want to win, and will get to win. Let’s teach him how to rig a majority vote.
Imagine for a moment that I have two friends. Let’s call them my Establishment Friend and my Low Information Friend. We’ve decided we want to all pitch in to pay for dinner for the three of us. We all agree to hold a series of votes between each of our preferences in pairs. But my Establishment friend is devious and clever: for some reason, I’ve given him the power to decide in what order we vote on our options. Moreover, he knows that I most prefer Hamburgers, but prefer Pizza to Tacos, but my low information friend prefers Pizza, but prefers Tacos to Hamburgers. Here’s how he insures that Tacos wins: First of all, the rule will be that we will vote on two pairs of options, and the loser of each vote drops out-notice that this is more or less how the primary process works. So he says we’ll vote on Hamburgers versus Pizza first. He votes with me and Hamburgers wins out over Pizza, so Pizza drops out of the race. Next we vote on Hamburgers versus Tacos. This time, my establishment friend votes against Hamburgers in favor of Tacos, knowing that this is my low information friend’s preference if he can’t have Pizza, who has already dropped out of the race. So, naturally Tacos wins. This is called the Condorcet Paradox, but the important thing that Michael Barone needs to know about the Condorcet Paradox is this: The Minimum Necessary Number Of Candidates For This To Occur Is Three. In other words, a greater number of candidates increases the ability of the savvy vote order setter to rig the outcome, because no candidate has a clear majority of support as anyone’s top preference.
If irrefutable mathematics and logic is a little too abstract for Mr Barone, however, perhaps I can lay out a highly probable real life scenario: suppose that in the first several primaries, Donald Trump runs away with the Low Information Republican vote, and gradually the better conservative alternatives drop out of the race, having divided their support. The Establishment simply tells their preferred candidate to hang in there, make solid showings in these early states but they don’t really need to win them. Once all the better alternatives have dropped out, the Republican party is faced with a choice: Donald Trump, or the Establishment candidate. The vast majority of Republicans can’t stand Trump, the predictable result will be that the Establishment candidate defeats Trump and secures the nomination. Gosh, does that sound a little plausible? More than a little really.
Mr. Barone: The notion that Republicans simply nominate the Next Guy In Line is based on strong observational evidence and historical precedent. It’s based on actually examining the outcomes of the primary processes! You are evidently very impressed with the sideshow of the process itself. When the Establishment nominates it’s preferred candidate, however, you will deny that your mental model of how the primary process works (“We had a lot of options! The system works!”) has been proven wrong, using the same arguments you’re making now. You’ve already decided the process isn’t rigged and will be impervious to evidence, since you clearly are already. But sadly, you’re just wrong. The primary election process is nothing but elaborate legerdemain, and it always has been.