Cory Leonard

Archive for July, 2016|Monthly archive page

Game Theory for the Win: Explaining Ted Cruz

In politics on July 29, 2016 at 5:37 pm

Some might say that Ted Cruz is a traitor. Others see him as a spur in Trump’s saddle. Another, more satisfying explanation is that Cruz is a rational actor (champion debater, actually), and had a strategic goal in standing up to Trump at the RNC Convention.

With that in mind, think of the GOP speakers as poker players. Trump has led the betting, and they are all holding bad cards. How will they respond? Poker pro Phil Hellmuth once reduced all poker players to five distinct types: the mouse, jackal, elephant, lion, and eagle. We don’t need to discuss all of them here, but suffice it to say that Trump is a jackal—he always bets big, regardless of the hand he’s holding. Jackals can be difficult to play against because, as in Nixon’s Mad Man theory, they don’t abide by the rational rules of poker. This makes it hard to tell if they’re bluffing, but it also makes them vulnerable to an opponent who catches good cards and isn’t afraid to bet them, because they’ll never fold but just keep raising until they’ve bet all their chips on a losing hand. But so far, Trump’s opponents have acted as mice: fundamentally weak players who are too timid to take a risk on less-than-perfect cards and fold against a more aggressive player. When mice face jackals, they tend to wait too long to make a move while the jackal slowly eats up their ante bets. Eventually they are forced to make a last-gasp bet with bad cards before they run out of chips.

via How Poker Theory Explains Ted Cruz’s Convention Speech | WIRED


A Linguistic Analysis of Political Populist-Speak

In Uncategorized on July 28, 2016 at 4:04 pm

Trump uses language differently than other candidates.(He’s on a 4th Grade level.) Here’s how he sells, according to Nerdwriter, an outstanding YouTube series:

The End of America, a la Trump (Explained by Plato)

In politics on July 27, 2016 at 11:41 pm


In case you missed it, this is one of the best bigthink pieces from Andrew Sullivan in a long time, and for internet time, this is already old. But it gets passed around because it is that good–and particularly prescient, especially in the postmortem of the RNC Conference.

Plato, of course, was not clairvoyant. His analysis of how democracy can turn into tyranny is a complex one more keyed toward ancient societies than our own (and contains more wrinkles and eddies than I can summarize here). His disdain for democratic life was fueled in no small part by the fact that a democracy had executed his mentor, Socrates. And he would, I think, have been astonished at how American democracy has been able to thrive with unprecedented stability over the last couple of centuries even as it has brought more and more people into its embrace. It remains, in my view, a miracle of constitutional craftsmanship and cultural resilience. There is no place I would rather live. But it is not immortal, nor should we assume it is immune to the forces that have endangered democracy so many times in human history.

Source: America Has Never Been So Ripe for Tyranny — NYMag

Dothat opined on this when it came out and when Trump was still a novelty, not a cruel populist joke. (“If the republic is lucky, such a figure simply couldn’t exist”). But others saw Sullivan’s framing of Trump in Platonic terms–as elites v. uneducated–as wrongheaded and even “dangerous,” with others struggling to engage with Sullivan’s longform arguments.

A Republican Party Future?

In politics, Uncategorized on July 20, 2016 at 4:40 am


Let’s start with the Republicans for now, in honor of their dispiriting convention. This is the problem: Their demographics are changing and yet the party lacks a compelling plan for the real problems the country faces.

In a worthy read by Clare Malone at Five Thirty Eight, the party’s demise is skillfully documented. Ben Sasse is noted as a thought leader capable of leading the party to a more effective future.

“We have before us the task of trying to create a society of lifelong learners because people’s jobs are going to expire every three years forevermore at a pace that’s going to continue to accelerate. And so what’s the Republican’s Party solution to that? What’s the Democratic Party’s solution to that?” Sasse said. “The Democrats have a really crappy product — they’re trying to sell more central planning and more monopolistic rule of experts in the age of Uber — and Republicans, no one knows what we stand for.”

via Five Thirty Eight

Interesting to see them cite Mike Lee as a possible leader in a new vision for R’s. But for now, both parties are focusing on the negatives of the other side—rather than what they can do to build in a way that matters.
Is there a way forward for the Grand Old Party? Not likely in this election cycle. Another thought leader, Yuval Levin, offers prescriptions in his book, The Fractured Republic:
Nostalgia for the way things used to be — heavy industry, vibrant social safety net institutions — “is why younger Americans so often find themselves re-enacting memories they do not actually possess, and why our nation increasingly behaves like a retiree,” he writes.

What’s Behind the Natavism?

In politics on July 15, 2016 at 4:27 pm

Concerns and criticisms that are being channels by autocratic populists are real. Understanding what is really happening across Western democracies is an important starting point. In the U.S., Trump is changing the foundational beliefs of the Republican Party, turning inward in a nativist dream vision that he sees as a way to regain American “greatness”. James Traub explains in FP:

Illiberal democracy is a highly effective political strategy because many of the constituent principles of liberalism, especially the ones seized on by the populists, are intended to serve as bulwarks against majoritarianism. Perhaps the first liberal was James Madison, who in the Federalist Papers made the case that democracies, by their nature, endanger the rights of political minorities and must design institutions to protect those rights. Over the course of the 19th century, liberalism evolved to include advocacy of civil liberties, free markets, and activist government. The high-water mark of liberalism was the mid-20th century, when the world was threatened by the totalitarian nightmares of communism and Nazism. For its great exponents, like George Orwell, liberalism meant anti-totalitarianism.

That moment has long since run its course, and liberalism has taken on different meanings that are less urgent, less binding, and more deeply contested. Liberalism (as tolerance of others) isn’t working for the French or Belgians who look at the North African immigrants in their midst and fear another terrorist attack or for Germans who worry that refugees will upend their culture. Liberalism (as free trade) isn’t working for American industrial workers whose factories left town and reopened in Mexico. Other contemporary elements of liberalism, such as the cosmopolitan welcoming of diversity and difference, go deeply against the grain of the way most people live and will always be subject to charges of elitism. The New York Times’s Ross Douthat has pointedly argued that cosmopolitanism is an elite taste masquerading as a universal principle.

In short, there are good reasons why liberalism is in crisis and illiberalism in the ascendant.