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The tragi-comedy of the commons

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commons

Jon Chait points out that the looming Trump Tower casting its shadow over the Babylon of the GOP nomination struggle is a product of a classic collective action problem: it’s in the interest of the Republican establishment as a whole to unify to stop Trump (and Cruz), but doing so isn’t in the interest of individual establishment candidates, unless and until they become the Anointed:

Before New Hampshire, National Review’s Tim Alberta reported that, if Bush finished ahead of Rubio, it might “prove crippling” to the younger Floridian. That proved prophetic. After Rubio’s debate choke, Bush can claim vindication that Rubio is not up to the challenge of a presidential campaign, let alone the presidency. Yet Bush is nowhere close to consolidating Establishment support. He carries the fatal burden of a last name that is a general-election branding disaster, while also being a massive liability within his own party (a shockingly high percentage of Republican voters disapprove of Bush — perhaps as a reaction against his brother, and perhaps as an expression of contempt for his status as a regular victim of Trump bullying). John Kasich has neither the money, the organization, nor the message to plausibly unite his party.

That leaves Bush and Rubio in a death struggle to be the sole alternative acceptable to a party Establishment that loathes both Trump and the candidate who has given Trump his strongest competition, Ted Cruz. The Texas senator may have finished third, but he enjoyed a strategic victory greater than his outright win in Iowa. Cruz saw the crippling of the strongest competition for a candidate of the conservative movement, Rubio. If he finds himself ultimately matched up against either Bush or Trump, Cruz will enjoy something close to unified conservative-movement support.

Trump has performed better than any of his critics (myself included) imagined possible when he first seized control of the race last summer. If he has a ceiling, it’s no lower than that of any of his competitors. His internal opposition has declined. He has gotten better at politics. But he has also benefited from a hapless Republican Establishment that now faces the prospect of a takeover by an outsider it cannot control, and that richly deserves its predicament.

The problem here is not merely game theoretical but ideological: Since the contemporary GOP got a gentleman’s C- in Econ 101 and never took any of the advanced courses, it doesn’t believe in collective action problems, because such concepts suggest that a blessedly unregulated Market might not always be a source of omniscient beneficence for rich people society as a whole.

Anyway the odds of Trump being the next president of the United States are now 24.763% (approximately).

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