Threading the needle: a shiny conspiracy theory

The plutocrats want Trump to lose but the GOP to keep control of Congress.

Just when Hillary Clinton’s polls start to weaken the press suddenly discovers that Trump has been lying and the taboo against using the word vanishes.

Here’s a conspiracy theory for you. The plutocrat owners of the Republican Party don’t want Donald Trump to win. They know he is a nutcase, quite capable of ruining them in a financial panic, and are not giving him significant amounts of money. But they really, really don’t want to lose control of the Senate and especially the House, which writes tax legislation. So they desperately want to limit Trump’s losing margin to stay in the safe zone for Congress. So orders went out to go easy with Clinton on Phlegmghazi and start pushback on Trump’s birther nonsense.


Like all good conspiracy theories, this is nonsense wrapped round a grain of truth. There is no Plutocratintern: but the club of politically active billionaires is not so big that they don’t know each other. The dilemma is real to them.

It is pretty unlikely that newspaper and TV owners are phoning in day-to-day instructions to the underlings like Stalin to Pravda. It would leak. Rupert Murdoch used to do that sort of thing, but he has handed over day-to-day management of the empire to his less engaged sons. The impact of media bias is also overrated, simply because it is so visible to political junkies. Attempts at fine-tuning the bias would be lost in the noise.

It is a better fit to campaign finance. The Kochs are putting all their donations into downticket races. They are not alone. The millions Trump said Adelson had promised him have not materialised. Some downticket candidates have benefited a lot. Rob Portman, GOP Senate candidate in Ohio, has massively outspent his Democratic challenger Ted Strickland, whom outside donors have now given up on.

needleHow effective could the posited threading-the-needle strategy be? It could just work for the Senate, where strong candidates like Portman can buck a national swing. But how many Portmans are there? Even today, Sam Wang’s modal estimate is a 50-50 Senate, giving effective control to the Democrats. House representatives have much less individual visibility, and voting tends (dixit Wang) to closely follow national swings. Keeping GOP control of the House depends on keeping Clinton’s margin of victory down, which is not really in the plutocrats’ control.

The other worry for the Plutocratintern must be the GOTV operation. American readers please correct me if I’m wrong, but GOTV is normally the responsibility of the Presidential candidate, who can rouse enthusiasm and volunteers in a way that Congressional candidates rarely can. Trump’s crackpot belief that he can do without a field operation therefore leaves House GOP candidates in competitive races stranded, facing the formidable Clinton machine (including at least three RBC bloggers in superhero Lurex catsuits).

2-for-20-green-shield-and-crest-teeThere is no recent precedent for the current gross asymmetry. All other recent American elections have featured two well-funded professional operations mostly cancelling each other out: Chelsea versus Manchester United. 2016 is more Barcelona against Plymouth Argyle. This will be the election when the importance of GOTV is tested.

BTW, Wang’s day job is neuroscience. He has an unusual post up from that perspective on the persistence of belief in provable lies like birtherism. My takeaway: the debunker of a lie like “Clinton started it” must have a true replacement narrative. Fortunately in this case it’s much less complex than the origins of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion in a well-concealed fabrication by the Okhrana, the very efficient Tsarist secret police. It took 60 years before the full story was uncovered.

Author: James Wimberley

James Wimberley (b. 1946, an Englishman raised in the Channel Islands. three adult children) is a former career international bureaucrat with the Council of Europe in Strasbourg. His main achievements there were the Lisbon Convention on recognition of qualifications and the Kosovo law on school education. He retired in 2006 to a little white house in Andalucia, His first wife Patricia Morris died in 2009 after a long illness. He remarried in 2011. to the former Brazilian TV actress Lu Mendonça. The cat overlords are now three. I suppose I've been invited to join real scholars on the list because my skills, acquired in a decade of technical assistance work in eastern Europe, include being able to ask faux-naïf questions like the exotic Persians and Chinese of eighteenth-century philosophical fiction. So I'm quite comfortable in the role of country-cousin blogger with a European perspective. The other specialised skill I learnt was making toasts with a moral in the course of drunken Caucasian banquets. I'm open to expenses-paid offers to retell Noah the great Armenian and Columbus, the orange, and university reform in Georgia. James Wimberley's occasional publications on the web

14 thoughts on “Threading the needle: a shiny conspiracy theory”

  1. It's funny. If someone wanted to make the case that Hillary supporters were complicit in the birth thing before Trump was, there is certainly evidence for that. None of it exculpates Trump, but as a factual matter there is smoke around that purported fire.

    1. Hillary supporters, somewhere on the Web. Claimed supporters – show me a meatspace identity. The one recorded response from her campaign staff was "get lost" or words to that effect.

      1. Anybody notice that Obama asked Hillary to be his Secretary of State? Would he have done that if she or anyone who mattered in her campaign were responsible for birther nonsense?

  2. Wait, I was not offered a Lurex catsuit. Is there a special place to sign up for that?

    Or do you have to provide your own?

    1. The RBC management is responsible for the catsuits. I don't have a PhD or a tenured post at a posh university and am therefore not qualified in liberal superhero couture. I will pass on your request to the Supreme Leader.

      (With thanks to something called the Harrisburg Superhero Weekend. They didn’t have a supergirl one with the logo, sorry Kelly.)

      1. NVM, I was thinking they were provided by the campaign. If a PhD (let alone a tenured post, let alone a posh one) is required, I'm definitely not going to get into the club.

        Also, I would look horrid in one. Would clash with my socks-and-sandals idiom.

  3. "There is no recent precedent for the current gross asymmetry. All other recent American elections have featured two well-funded professional operations mostly cancelling each other out. . . ."

    While I agree that the present situation is unprecedented in the lack of any ground game at all from the presidential candidate on one side, the last two elections have shown marked dissymetries, largely due to Obama's (unprecedented, I think) mobilization of volunteers and use of data for targeting voters. Numbers are hard to come by, but Nate Silver's reporting at the time indicates Obama led McCain three to one in field offices, with similar ratios for Obama/Romney in 2012.

    Reporters who visited field offices of both campaigns reported that the Obama offices were busy, while the McCain offices weren't. (This comports with what my students told me: those volunteering for Obama were welcomed in and immediately put to work; McCain volunteers never got callbacks or were told there was nothing for them to do.)

    McCain raised only $238 million to Obama's $770 million.

    And, for further comparison, Nate Silver's August 9, 2008, column contains the following: "What’s more, the overwhelming majority of McCain offices aren’t really branded as McCain offices. Rather, they are so-called ‘Victory Offices’ that are operated by the local Republican party in that state and which serve all Republican candidates in that state."

    Trump, of course, is sui generis, but to some extent, at least, we may have seen a scene or two from this movie before.

    1. Yes. I clearly overstated the case on this point. The disastrously low turnout of Democrats in mid-terms does suggest a structural disadvantage, either in enthusiasm or from the many obstacles and deliberate inefficiencies in US electoral systems designed for the purpose. Clinton's proposal for uniform national voter registration would be a radical reform and will be fought tooth-and-nail by Republicans. Democrats need better GOTV to reach an approximately level playing field. I need to change the historical team matchup analogy: not Chelsea vs. Man U but either against Sunderland (a reputable second-tier team that sometimes wins things), with two men sent off. For 2016, I stick with Barcelona against Plymouth Argyle.

      I wondered if the good predictive performance of late polls in 2008 and 2012 does not indicate that GOTV is irrelevant. But that's wrong; both registered-voter and likely-voter screens in polls already build in GOTV effects. In the UK transport to the polling stations is am important service offered by parties, but in the US I understand that registration and ID are the big factors, and they take place before polling day.

      1. Barcelona against a bunch of random people brought in off the street, but they are carrying loaded guns and bearing ominous expressions, and some of the referees are working for them, and the rest aren't really taking the play seriously because these clowns are such a novelty.

        1. Let's hope Obama's DOJ has contingency plans against an organised attempt by the Trump campaign to disrupt the election and intimidate minority voters. If Trump called for it explicitly, he should be arrested.

          1. Unfortunately, arresting Trump–or even the suggestion by a member of the administration that it's being considered–would play right into Trump's narrative, with consequent energizing of his voters. In fact, it wouldn't surprise me if someone on his team is thinking of having him say something that just skirts the edge of acceptability late in October. Of course, Trump himself never skirts the edge of anything, so he's likely to barrel right into a statement that would get anyone else a long, unpleasant interview with the FBI.

  4. An anecdote in support of the “media pivot” hypothesis comes from last night’s NBC Nightly News. They had a story about a Syrian refugee family and the American sponsors who have been helping them. The teenaged daughter has a heart defect for which her family is seeking treatment. She is about as likeable as you can imagine, charming and bright, articulate and quite fluent in English. The story showed her for a while, then showed Trump giving his stump speech about how dangerous these people are, then back to her and her smiling face before the story ended. This way of organizing the report gives the viewer an impression of Trump which most of us have seen since the beginning. It could be the start of a trend to show that man as he deserves to be seen in front of a national audience.

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