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Introducing Value Over Replacement-Level Republican President (VORRP)

As we’re now a full year into President Donald Trump’s first term, pundits across the spectrum have been taking stock of his administration. Left-leaning analysts view the Trump administration as an historic disaster. Right-leaning analysts have offered more diversity of opinion, ranging from ringing endorsements to unmitigated condemnation.

One source of controversy comes over the discussion of baseline: on what standard should we grade Trump? Should we compare Trump to a normal Republican president? Or any president? The Weekly Standard, for its part, chose the “Republican” baseline. Pondering Trump’s successes, they wrote,

… similar ends would have come from almost any Republican president given a Republican Congress. The fact that almost all of Trump’s accomplishments could have been expected from a generic Republican should disappoint true-believing populists and belie Trump’s boast, ‘I alone can fix it.’

Columnist James Taranto of the Wall Street Journal has explicitly blasted this approach, calling it a “notably stupid argument.” On the contrary, Taranto says, you must compare Trump against the hypothetical administration of his 2016 opponent, Hillary Clinton.

Below, I propose a different approach, informed by sabermetrics: grade presidents against a replacement level. To that end, The Weekly Standard is closer to the right answer than is Taranto.

Average is Over

Let’s start with something more interesting than politics: baseball. Below is a graph of every “qualifying” major leaguer’s weighted runs created plus (wRC+), a statistic that looks at a player’s range of offensive contributions. The stat is scaled to 100 (100 = average), so we should expect to see a friendly bell curve when we break down into ranges of 10 points. (Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs.com.)

Introducing Value Over Replacement-Level Republican President (VORRP)

It’s not quite a bell curve, but we see clustering right around the average. About 70 percent of qualifying players fell between 75 and 125. The extremes are less common. So it makes sense, in one way of thinking, to grade players against the average. Is the player above or below average? We want above average players.

This bell curve isn’t really a good representation, though, of what the talent pool actually looks like in practice. 70 percent of eligible players are not going to give you a wRC+ between 75 and 125. The number of eligible players that could put up a 75 wRC+ in the majors is closer to 0.0000007 percent. Why? Because there are a lot of people who would play baseball professionally if given the opportunity. The full available pool of talent is not a full bell curve. It’s really the end of a long, long tail of a curve.

Let’s expand our chart and imagine the pool of people available who could do a bit worse:

Introducing Value Over Replacement-Level Republican President (VORRP)

Note that if we extended this out to zero, we’d have literally millions of potential players, but the graph would be less instructive. The point is that professional athletes are not best viewed against an average, but against replacement-level, or the level of freely-available talent if you had to replace a given player. In this sense, average is quite good! There is genuine value in being an average professional baseball player; they’re not that easy to find.

Sabermetrician Keith Woolner was a pioneer of the replacement-level concept, and it’s fundamental for sports analysis. When people mention “Wins Above Replacement” (WAR) in sports, it’s standing on those shoulders.

This “replacement-level” concept works in politics as well, but the implications are a little different.

Slots!

If the replacement level concept were merely “below average major leaguers,” then this would be simple: compare Trump to a below-average Republican, and score accordingly. But it’s not. The second part of the discussion is the number of available positions. The challenge is to draw the line on the tail of our bell curve that separates “major league caliber” and “not quite major league caliber.” The answer is intuitive, when we think of it in the context of our long tail: if we have X number of positions to fill, then the replacement level would be, essentially, the level of the top ranked player after all of our positions are filled, or player X + 1.

In terms of roster construction, each team has 25 players, and there are 30 teams. That means that there are 750 slots, consistently available, in the major leagues. Theoretically, “replacement level” would be at the level of the 751st best baseball player. So, while the 100th best baseball player in the world is well above replacement level; the 752nd best major leaguer is hovering right at the line. The 7,500th best major leaguer isn’t good enough for prime time, even though they’re far towards the right end of the bell curve when compared to the eligible pool of major leaguers. Unfortunately, the math is unforgiving for the fringe ballplayer.

In this sense, average is not a relevant baseline on its own. The question is: in the absence of the person we are trying to evaluate, what would happen to their position? In baseball, it goes to the 751st best player. Thus the player’s value over replacement level is the difference between their performance and the expected performance of the 751st best player.

So, what does this all have to do with politics? At any given time, there are probably no more than 4 or 5 people alive that will become a Republican president. It’s not like playing pro baseball; it’s a much more exclusive club. So we’re not comparing Trump to the 751st best possible potential Republican president (say, a first-term state legislator in Montana or something). We’re comparing against the hypothetical “freely-available” talent: Republican politicians like John Thune, Brian Sandoval, and Jodi Ernst.

So we should grade Trump on that scale: Trump’s value over replacement-level Republican president is the difference between his performance and the expected performance of his replacement. Considering how few Republicans will be president, it is reasonable to have fairly high expectations of what one can do. On the other hand, we can’t rank politicians quite like we do baseball players; the data just isn’t there, and there’s no AAA equivalent to the White House–the position is one-of-a-kind. Because of that, we need to be fairly broad in terms of imagining a replacement; we can’t assume that Kris Bryant or Noah Syndergaard is freely-available. Generic is the watchword here. The general concept is the same in both baseball and politics: use the expected available alternative as the baseline.

The relevant question, then, is straightforward: what should we expect one of those freely-available Republicans to do, and what are we actually getting?

Report Card

With all this in mind, I would suggest that we can grade presidents on four domains: crisis management, policy achievements/appointments, electoral effects, and institutional development. But we should draw these against a baseline expectation of a generic co-partisan, not a member of the opposite party. (Also, for the purposes of grading a president, we shouldn’t evaluate the policy preferences on the merits.)

Grading Trump on crisis management is straightforward. Trump has not yet faced a severe crisis as far as we know, so we should grade him at incomplete, versus a replacement-level Republican. Crisis management is crucial–and it’s why John F. Kennedy is not an all-time terrible president–but we don’t have the data yet.

Most of the positive grading on Trump has been in the policy achievement realm, and indeed, Trump has made substantial progress in terms of tangible policy gains. The tax bill was far more extensive than it could have been. He has appointed a veritable army of Federalist Society-type conservatives to the federal bench. He has focused intensely on deregulation, moreso than previous Republican presidents. These are all to his credit, if you’re grading on outcomes.

On the other hand, the Republican failure to revamp the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is at least in part Trump’s fault. Trump has never really known what he wanted on health care; he spoke favorably of single-payer during the 2016 campaign, and he described the developing Republican House health care bill as “mean.” The bill failed as Republicans could not unify around a single solution. Surely, direction from the White House might have made a difference. Moreover, Republicans have a solid majority in the House, and a small majority in the Senate, but have not been able to do much besides the tax bill.

If we’re being generous, we can mark Trump as slightly above replacement level on policy. Some might grade him differently on this and see him as extraordinarily successful, given the level of polarization in the country, and the fact that corralling 8 or 9 Democratic senators behind a Republican plan seems near impossible in the current environment. Others might say that he is below replacement level on policy for somehow overseeing a huge increase in the popularity of the ACA.

Either way, it is the other two areas where Trump comes in as well below replacement level, and a fair-minded assessment of his first year should not ignore those domains.

First, electoral effects. A replacement-level Republican president would suffer a moderate midterm setback, as is typical for a first-term president with the Congress on his/her side. But Trump is set for a deluge right now, with the wave of retirements the canary in the coalmine. On this metric, Trump is well below replacement level. Performance above replacement level would mean that the midterm was only a wash–or even a net positive–for the GOP.

This would be worth reevaluating if Republicans end up closing the gap in the midterm election. But surely one must dock Trump points for this for now. Considering the strength of the economy, there’s no reason for Republicans to get crushed in 2018, and yet it looks almost inevitable. Many Trump supporters appear to treat the impending midterm doom as exogenous; it’s just something that will happen, and it shouldn’t be blamed on Trump. But voters are not happy with Trump. His approval ratings are abysmal. That falls on him, not the voters. If the electorate is not wise enough to see through Trump’s foibles and recognize his brilliance and perspicacity, that means you need a different candidate, not a different electorate.

Why is this important? Part of the president’s job is to sustain future policy development, and that requires bringing voters on board with their program. A successful president starts with a coalition, governs well, and brings new voters into that coalition. Trump has been an atrocious president on this score so far, even worse than Obama, who had similar issues of coalition-building. The result of this will be another couple of years of divided government (and potentially unified Democratic control of the government beginning in 2021). Trump will have three options in the meantime: the pen-and-phone, triangulation, or quietly doing nothing on domestic policy in the absence of a crisis.

The final category, a catch-all look at “institutional development,” covers a bunch of different areas, but it mostly comes down to the dignity of the office and respect for the separation of powers. On this, Trump must surely be downgraded. This is where most of the light and heat is on the Trump presidency: his war with the intelligence community; his increasing desire to have the Department of Justice be his defenders rather than enforcers of the law; his flirtation with obstruction of justice; his demonization of a professional football player exercising his free speech rights; his unwillingness to condemn the white supremacist protesters in Charlottesville; his habit of retweeting sordid characters on Twitter and increasing their exposure; his diminishing the office by giving his opponents ridiculous nicknames; his rhetorical condemnation of the press in ways that make it easier for foreign authoritarians to do the same; his treating the office like a reality show host; and his general lack of interest in details. Are there tangible policy effects to this stuff? Not usually, and that’s why Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell get to claim that they don’t follow what the president does on Twitter. And sometimes, the noise around these elements of his presidency often overshadow relevant stuff going on in the more conventional world, and it’s easy to put these things aside and grade on policy alone. But they matter. The president’s conduct sets standards and precedents for the future. As much as we may wish for the return of legislative supremacy, today, the president is the lodestone of the American system, and we follow his/her lead. Future presidents are watching, and they will adopt elements of Trumpism as part of their approach.

Policy achievements or not, Trump has damaged the office with his behavior, and he has put the Republican majority in enormous jeopardy for no real reason. A replacement-level Republican could have made similar policy gains without fostering the gargantuan backlash that is going to sweep Republicans out of office in 2018, and without debasing the office of the president. That’s the standard on which to grade Trump. Policy alone isn’t enough.

Image by cornstalker Introducing Value Over Replacement-Level Republican President (VORRP)


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Dan Scotto lives and works in New Jersey. He has a master's degree in history, with a focus on the history of disease and the history of technology.

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73 thoughts on “Introducing Value Over Replacement-Level Republican President (VORRP)

  1. Generic is the watchword here. The general concept is the same in both baseball and politics: use the expected available alternative as the baseline.

    Would this player have beaten Clinton in 2016?

    I ask because if we want someone who would be a better President than Trump who might not have gotten chosen over Clinton, then we’re in a weird place where we want Trump to have won the election but to have had someone else entirely sworn in and we’re comparing President Trump to the someone else entirely who got sworn in who couldn’t have won.

    I mean, hey. Maybe generic, average Republican candidate would have beaten Clinton. She ran an awful campaign, after all. She didn’t even go to Wisconsin. She barely campaigned at all in October. Did you see the Democratic Convention? They had controversy before, during, and after. Maybe *ANYBODY* could have beaten Clinton and it was just really unfair that Rand Paul waited to drop out of the race until after Iowa and he was responsible, among others, for diluting the field and not allowing Jeb! to get nominated instead.

    But if Jeb! wouldn’t have won Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania (and the arguments that he wouldn’t have make sense to me), it does make sense to argue that we’re putting our thumbs on the scale at a weird part of the process.

    I mean, could we have gotten the electoral college members whose states voted for Democrats to, instead, vote for Generic Republican and then hoped against hope that a handful of Republican states would defect against their voters and instead throw their votes toward this Generic Republican?

    Let’s assume so.

    What’s the list of those people look like?
    Jeb!, Rick Perry… Mitt Romney… Um… who else do you think we could have gotten California and New York delegates to vote for rather than Clinton?

    So, assuming those names above, shouldn’t we be comparing Trump to Jeb!, Perry, or Romney rather than “generic”?

    (For what it’s worth, I understand if you have serious qualms about me including Mitt Romney. He was very mean to his dog and he said some awful things about the 47%.)

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    • Which makes me wonder: would Clinton be better for the Republicans using your yardsticks?

      crisis management, policy achievements/appointments, electoral effects, and institutional development

      Trump hasn’t had any real crises, neither would Clinton have had them.

      When it comes to policy achievements/appointments, you gave Trump a passing grade here, he’s (presumably) doing better than Clinton on this one area.

      As for electoral effects, you say this:

      Performance above replacement level would mean that the midterm was only a wash–or even a net positive–for the GOP.

      I’m just going to repeat what I’ve said for a while: The Republicans have won 1000 (count’em!) seats in elections since Obama’s (historic!) win in 2008. The elections in 2010, 2012, 2014, and 2016 averaged 250 seats for the Republicans.

      Yes, yes. Gerrymandering. Fine. (Though I think that all gerrymandering can really do when there’s enough long-term trending going on is front-load these seats switching… it’s not like you can prevent them given enough long-term trending.) So let’s say that 200 of those seats are due to gerrymandering. And let’s say that another 200 of those seats were due to nothing more than regression to the mean after Obama’s (historic!) 2008 win so we shouldn’t count those either.

      So we’ve still got 600 seats that the Republicans picked up in 2010, 2012, 2014, and 2016. That’s a *LOT* of seats! Personally, I’m expecting Republicans to lose seats in 2018 based on nothing more than regression to the mean *ALONE*. Which makes me wonder what “good” numbers would look like for the Republicans in 2018. “Are they beating regression to the mean or not?” is a very important question for both parties here.

      It would be very bad for the Democrats to see the regression to the mean and assume that just because they picked up 100 seats in the election (that’s only 2 per state!) then that means that they’re sitting pretty for 2020 and they can look forward to that sweet, sweet momentum to carry them past the post then.

      So to compare this to Clinton being President, do I think that the Republicans would do a better job in 2018 if Clinton was President than they would with Trump in office?

      Hrm. You know what? I think that, on this, Republicans *WOULD* be better off if Clinton was in office. Republicans would be energized locally, they’d be able to point to the Republicans passing ACA Repeal bills every other week and getting them vetoed, and they’d do a better job of holding the line in the House (and picking up seats in the Senate!) if Clinton were president.

      (A brief aside)

      You say this here:

      Part of the president’s job is to sustain future policy development, and that requires bringing voters on board with their program. A successful president starts with a coalition, governs well, and brings new voters into that coalition.

      And I’m just thinking that I really should have quoted this in the comment above when I was talking about who else the Republicans could have run against Hillary. Part of the Candidate’s job is bringing voters on board with their program. A successful candidate starts with a coalition, governs well, and brings new voters into that coalition.

      But I digress.

      And, finally, “institutional development”. Would the Republicans be better situated when it comes to institutional development if Clinton were president?

      I think that the answer is an obvious “yes”.

      So, according to these loosey-goosey guesses, the Republicans would be better off if Clinton had won in pretty much every area except for policy achievements/appointments.

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        • Sure, but policy achievements/appointments are… uh… kind of the whole point of getting your guys elected in the first place. Otherwise it’s just Tuesday night football every 2 years.

          I’m showing up a little late to this discussion, buuuuut….that rather pre-supposes that there is a ‘you’ that wants ‘your guys’ elected.

          Like there is some abstract party as a whole, moving forward, empowered by the electorate, that elects people to achieve specific goals. This is how people think about political parties, but I’m not sure it has ever been true for either party.

          Maybe it once was for the Republican Party, but isn’t really that anymore. Instead it’s mostly a bunch of guys who want to get elected because they want to get elected, and an electorate that just wants to see the other guys lose.

          There are still elected Republicans who want outcomes beyond ‘Me getting elected and then me getting reelected’, but they are finding to their frustration that not only do Republican voters not care about their goals, Republican voters sorta don’t even like those goals very much, so promoting those goals too much is dangerous.

          (The Democratic party, meanwhile, has really never, or at least never recently,been that way, and is instead composed of some people who get elected because they have completely goofy ideas how to fix things, some people who want to do what they think ‘the party’ wants, although their ideas on that often completely differ, and, of course, some people who are just in it to be elected.)

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            • I rather suspect that, the lower down in government you go, the more you have people who actually want to do specific things.

              Of course, these ‘things’ are less anything we’d call ‘policy goals’ and more ‘fund the damn park’ and ‘local sales tax is too high’ and ‘why do all the sidewalks suck?’.

              Very concrete changes at the local level, not ‘our political ideology demands this’.

              Or, to put it another way: The level of things elected officials wanted done has always become more and more abstract as it goes upward.

              The problem with the Republicans is they recently abstracted it to nothingness. (Almost literally, as in, the thing they want is ‘nothing’ or at least ‘no government’.). And, thus Republicans became unmoored from actual ‘things that should be done’.

              But I’m not trying to pick picking on Republicans in that regard. All political parties drift in and out of ‘having national goals’. I mean, what were the goals of Democrats during the Bush administration? I couldn’t tell you. There were plenty of things the Democratic based wanted to be the goals, but they were not the goals.

              The different now really is more that some Republicans seem to _think_ the party has goals, or possibly want to have goals, but those goals aren’t actually shared by their base, so that doesn’t end up particularly well.

              So there’s one small group of Republicans who want to do something, and the rest have noticed that on _one_ side if they fight that thing, they lose their donors, risk a primary challenge, and risk their reelection, but on other side if they actually do those things their voters (and everyone) gets annoyed and they risk their reelection.

              Which has result in multiple instances of the extremely weird ‘Let’s try to pass this bill through before other Republicans realize how unpopular it is with their voters!’

              It’s weird.

              Anyway, I am at this point pretty well convinced that a bunch of Republicans in Congress are happier in a universe where they _aren’t_ expected to be able to fulfill their stated policy goals. Aka, when they are in a minority or have a presidential veto to stop them.

              In states, in my experience, it’s different, because people at the state level actually have to get things done…but then again, I live in a single party state, and we all know that if something is screwed up at the state level, it’s the fault of Republicans. Everyone, Republicans and Democrats, mostly accept that. If the state is not functioning in some manner, it is the fault of the Republicans, because they can do anything they want without Democratic approval.

              It might be different in states that go back and forth.

              (Fun hobby of my state government…the legislature creating something that fixes a real problem, a group or a fund or higher pay for state employees or something, and then trying to fund that thing via _constitutional amendment_. Which means, if it passes, they don’t have to admit they raised taxes, because ‘they’ didn’t..they just solved the problem in a way that would require taxes to go up, and then…made us vote on it. Of course, if the amendment doesn’t pass, they…still have to vote to raise taxes so that thing really does get funded. It’s all completely stupid.)

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      • I strongly suspect that if Clinton were president, but all else was held equal, Scotto wouldn’t be giving Puerto Rico a pass as a non-crisis.

        I mean, I understand the post’s tribal bias, but in a world where American citizens have been so thoroughly unaided for so long, I have a heard time seeing how we can say Trump is anything other than 0-1 on actual crisis management. And, of course, he’s working pretty hard to create a crisis in Korea.

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    • Well, certainly in the run up to the election everyone, HRC included, presumed that a standard GOP candidate would be stronger against her. I do agree that it’s an interesting thought experiment to imagine Jeb or Rubio against HRC and I also agree that it’s hard to imagine them winning against her with the same margins and outcomes. One of Trumps more notable characteristics was his willingness to heave standard republican faux-libertarianism out the window. It’s hard to imagine a Rubio or Romney getting the same voter support in the Midwestern states that Trump got to push him over the edge. The big question is would an alternative Republican have gotten more votes elsewhere where it would have mattered? They still would have had HRC’s own missteps and, of course, the enormous assist from the FBI presumably. I can’t imagine that Jeb would have pulled it out. The Bush name was not an asset to put it mildly. Rubio.. maybe?

      Also it’s possible that liberals might not have indulged as much in their own complacency and purity pining had they considered HRC’s opponent more of a challenge. Then again maybe not. The Naderites were a thing and Bush wasn’t considered outmatched by Gore.

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        • The speed at which the right wing collective mind is capable of reversing course depending on what suits its needs at any given moment remains awe inspiring. Perhaps you forgot how Trump himself fired Comey for inappropriately putting his thumb on the scale during the election (against Hillary)? It wouldn’t be surprising considering that prior to that he lauded him for the same thing.

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    • I think this is a good point but it probably reflects a deficiency in the “Report Card” more than anything else. Unlike your random congressman, a Presidential Candidate builds an electoral coalition/movement, and that alone should at least be on the scorecard.

      Mr. Scotto posits the following for his “scorecard”: crisis management, policy achievements/appointments, electoral effects, and institutional development.

      This isn’t a bad list, but as you note, if we are to measure WAR, we need to account for things the average president must do just to be president and qua president… and in those categories, I think the scorecard wouldn’t pass sabermetric QC. At a minimum and in descending order of importance, I’d suggest we revisit the scorecard:

      1. Electoral Coalition/Movement (National)
      2. Executive Management Effectiveness (Regulations/Appointments)
      3. Navigating Foreign Policy
      4. National Policy achievements (with Congress)
      5. Event/Contingency/Crisis management

      So… if we look at your point above, we have to acknowledge that it was a singular achievement to build an Electoral Coalition that secured the presidency; but we can also evaluate that there is little or no “movement” support, so no policy think-pieces, no long-tail of appointments into Exec Positions, and wildly disproportionate disapproval ratings that suggest that the Coalition either isn’t there, is ephemeral, or has already switched sides. This will, in part, be measured during the Mid-Terms and again during re-election.

      On the matter of the Mid-terms, I think Dan is probably correct (at least in so far as my hunches align with his hunches), but I’m quite surprised to see the results taken as fact; I want to see how the mid-terms actually play before I issue a grade on this.

      If you travel anywhere near Sabermetric circles, the phrase most used and abused is “small sample” and that’s sort of my response to this post at this time. I like the idea of framing the key “stats” we want to track, and I have no problem assigning numbers or counting stats along the way, but 1-year in to the presidency and prior to any actual votes being cast in the mid-terms… I think we’re still just model building.

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    • I think that crisis means something like “hurricane such-and-such” rather than “OMG did you hear that he said that he’s never seen a skinny person drinking diet coke?”

      Which makes me wonder why hurricane whatever-it-was wasn’t used as an example of a crisis but, anyway, I think that he’s using crisis to mean “stuff that creates a body count” rather than the run-of-the-mill “if we don’t pass this mandatory infant indoor helmet law, PEOPLE WILL DIE!” kind of crisis.

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      • I wouldn’t call Trump being unpopular, controversial, or offensive a crisis.

        I’d call the hurricanes crises.
        I’d call Charlottesville a crisis.
        I’d call the Mueller investigation a low simmering crisis.

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          • I agree in so far as we only use Crisis as a measure of the executive. I do think it useful to expand the definition to evaluate how good the Executive is at Event/Contingency/Crisis Management.

            I’d say that Charlottesville as an Event (not a crisis) that merited an Executive Response and that his response was poor. So we can mark him down for that.

            Mueller isn’t really a crisis at all… if we keep the baseball analogy, its more like proving (or failing to prove) PED use, which would invalidate or call into question the legitimacy of all the other stats.

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        • I’d agree with those as crises. I’d also add North Korea and Antifa as borderline crises, and give Trump points for North Korea not turning into a serious crisis. Additional points for the Iranian protests and the Jerusalem embassy decision not turning into crises despite many predictions that they would.

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          • I’d also add North Korea and Antifa as borderline crises, and give Trump points for North Korea not turning into a serious crisis.

            Are you asserting that Trump’s handling of North Korea has been a net positive, or is he getting points for only making things slightly worse and not massively worse?

            And neither antifa or the Nazis in Charlottesville are ‘crisises’. They might be things that the president needs to make response to afterward, a statement or something, but a ‘crisis’ requires actual action during it, and honestly, under any president, the Federal government trying to intervene in those things would probably it worse. (I can’t even imagine in what way Trump would screw it up, but even the ‘perfect response’ would result in all sorts of backlash.)

            Now, what Trump said with respect to Charlottesville afterward was a _failing_ and he should be docked points for that, but that’s not a crisis either.

            Additional points for the Iranian protests and the Jerusalem embassy decision not turning into crises despite many predictions that they would.

            …he gets points for a thing unrelated to him, the Iranian protests, not turning out as bad as people thought? This is a rather absurd form of grading on a cure.

            I can’t even figure out the logic of how ‘Things in other countries that Trump barely interacted with in any manner didn’t turn out as bad as they might have’ gives _Trump_ points.

            ‘Well, the bus driver was drunk this morning, and everyone assumed he would crash, but he didn’t, so everyone gets ten more points on today’s pop quiz!’

            Meanwhile, the Jerusalem embassy decision is that, but even sillier, where something that is entirely Trump’s fault and somehow didn’t turn into a disaster is a bonus for him.

            ‘And the drunk bus driver gets a raise!’

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            • “Meanwhile, the Jerusalem embassy decision is that, but even sillier, where something that is entirely Trump’s fault and somehow didn’t turn into a disaster is a bonus for him.”

              I’ll push back here because “not turning in to a disaster” is probably the only reason why the stated aim of moving the capital to Jerusalem under the past 6 presidential terms and 3 different presidents has not happened.

              So, technically, yes… if moving the Capital to Jerusalem doesn’t cause a disaster, then he executed a policy goal of the United States and he gets points for that.

              If you want to say that you are witholding judgement on the Jerusalem move until such time that it happens *and* nothing disastrous happens within a reasonable(?) amount of time… I’m ok with that too.

              But that just means that we have a policy in progress that we can’t fully judge, and contra you indignation above, he certainly would get credit [if it doesn’t turn into a disaster].

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            • The question isn’t whether a drunk circus performer should be juggling axes on a tightrope. He shouldn’t. The question is whether he’s actually doing ok at it. I personally wouldn’t have thought that mocking Kim would be a wise strategy, and I’d be worried that public support for the Iranian protesters would do more harm than good. President Trump doesn’t seem to think in terms of “more harm than good”. But I have to recognize when something doesn’t blow up in his face.

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                • I don’t know; I might just be in a mood after watching the Democrats sitting on their hands during the State of the Union Address. Lower unemployment rates, an amnesty proposal, and infrastructure spending, and they couldn’t rustle up a heartfelt ovation? As some point, those of us who don’t like Trump start to look foolish. We can’t wave our hands around and say that President Trump is impossible to rate when his administration has done quite a bit that would get ratings otherwise. The argument against rating Trump starts to sound like, “but I really, really hate him.” That’s when it becomes what the Army calls a personal problem. So yeah, nobody blew up Guam, and that counts as a win for Trump because it would count as a win for anyone.

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                • I think it falls into the category of, “He won the game of Russian roulette.” Awesome.

                  “Say what you will about the man, but when he hit on 19 against a 12, he pulled a 2, so was it really a bad idea?”

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    • For those of us who do not identify as Republicans, conservatives, or nationalists, yes. For us, the policy changes that are within Trump’s column look like steps backwards, failures each of which result in a net harm to the nation as a whole. But Republicans may not see them that way and we’re to consider Trump from the Republican perspective.

      If you do so identify, at least as a Republican, I think the only significant crises that have come up have been the hurricanes. Responses in Florida and Texas were about what we might have expected and hoped for. The response in Puerto Rico, not so much.

      As argues above, the minimum passing grade here is 100%.

      Some Republicans probably realize that the Trump-Russia thing resulting in the Mueller investigation is also a crisis, but it was a crisis resulting from Trump’s own architecture, a crisis that a replacement Republican would almost certainly not have precipitated. There are a few others who seem to have drunk too deeply of the Kool-Aid who don’t seem to get it or who think it’s just like any other political football. I’m looking at you when I say that, Devin Nunes.

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  2. Its difficult for me to even accept the framing here.

    Trump, and his entire base of support, is not concerned with policy on virtually any level.
    Instead, they are entirely a mood affiliation.
    Their primary mood is white cultural resentment which permeates every possible policy discussion; Domestic policy, foreign policy, economic policy, law and order, social issues.

    Pundits keep scratching their heads wondering why his base is not enraged at his broken promises but they don’t get that he was elected to do only one thing, which is be the voice of white rage at Obama, black people, feminists, foreigners, gays, and whatever other villain Breitbart or Fox conjures up.

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    • Somewhere between 1% and 99% of Trump’s support comes from such people. Somewhere between 1% and 99% of Obama’s support came from anti-white rage against Bush and Christianity. * Does that negate the possibility of analysis of Obama’s presidency in terms of crisis management, policy, et cetera? After all, there were going to be people who would have continued to support him even if he failed to pass a carbon tax or seal a four-month oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico, as long as he criticized police departments as racist.

      * You may point out that Obama is Christian, and I’d point out in response that Clinton is white.

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  3. I’m particularly focused on what our esteemed author calls the “institutional development” criterion. This is is difficult to quantify, and perhaps it has an effect on the “electoral effects” criterion also. I would have used the phrase “cultural leadership,” but Dan’s phrase is at least equally valid.

    There’s a reciprocal relationship between what Trump is doing as the pivotal cultural figure of the era and both policy and electoral results of his Presidency.

    And against what other available replacements should we consider evaluating Trump? Dan suggests John Thune, Brian Sandoval, and Jodi Ernst as examples. That’s fine, I guess, but I notice none of them even ran for President in 2016. Since they didn’t offer themselves as alterantives to Trump, is it fair to consider them as potential replacements? I think we must consider significant members of Trump’s primary rivals and also include the Vice President, because they are all plausible replacements. People like Ted Cruz, John Kasich, Marco Rubio, and even Carly Fiorina actually offered themselves as replacements and could plausibly have been chosen. Mike Pence was also offered (and technically is on offer right now) as the replacement President by the Trump campaign itself.

    So let’s pick Cruz and Rubio (significant primary adversaries), Ernst (a nod to Dan’s choice of a non-primary Republican of some stature), and Pence (who is, after all, the actual replacement waiting in the wings) as the likely sort sof replacements actually on offer. I shall call the generic Republican replacement by an acronym of their last names, CREP.

    Dan argues that Trump worked out better than CREP would, referencing the extent of tax reform bill and judicial appointments. IMO this underestimates the to-date failure to implement meaningful immigration restrictions, repealing Iranian arms development deal, failure to and now near-reversal of re-negotiating trade agreements, cozying up to China, and so on.

    Seems to me Republicans could have done a lot better than they have done, given control of both houses of Congress. It also seems to me that a great deal of what has happened by way of policy changes fall into two categories: things Congress has done and things the President has done. The tax reform falls into the category of “something Congress has done” because Trump and his people did not provide much by way of leadership or policy ideas for what’s in the bill. The substance of the tax reform bill is much more the responsibility of Congressional leaders (Ryan, McCarthy, McConnell) than Trump or any of his executive office appointees. Those same leaders have failed to deliver immigration reform, for instance, or an infrastructure deal that seemingly everyone, including Democrats, wants. Trump gets a piece of this, of course, by virtue of his failure to provide leadership, direction, ideas, or even a coherent stance as a participant in the legislative negotiations.

    I’ve gotta think a generic Republican CREP would have done better than Trump has done during those negotiations by taking a more active, visible, and most importantly, focused stance. Such people would all have experience rolling logs and sending political signals and cutting deals.

    As for the “stuff the President does mostly on his own,” I say Trump has again underperformed against what the generic Republican CREP would have done. Trump’s judicial appointments do indeed look really good from a Republican perspective, but can someone tell me how Trump’s appointments, which have principally been outsourced to the authors of the Federalist Society’s wish list, are materially different than the appointments that this generic CREP would have made?

    Same thing with deregulation. Personally, I question exactly how much meaningful deregulation has actually occurred, and note that a bunch of it is tied up in the courts for compliance with various administrative rules so far because of the hamfisted way that such deregulation as has happened was actually implemented. A generic Republican CREP could easily be imagines to have picked more experienced and policy-savvy staff and encountered fewer judicial and administrative challenges.

    And with regards to the substance, it’s pretty clear to me that Trump personally hasn’t a clue what he’s deregulating in the first place, so this too is functionally outsourced to a group of decision-makers who probably aren’t all that much different in identity and focus than what a generic Republican CREP would have chosen for that sort of rule.

    If I were a Republican, which I’m not, I’d think on the policy front I’d say Trump is satisfactory, but a generic CREP would have done better.

    Otherwise, I basically agree with Dan’s assessment on the other three fronts: thank whatever Divine you might believe in or Providence if none that there hasn’t been a crisis yet for Trump to manage, although the response to the hurricanes this summer comes close. (And I’m calling that report card “mixed” because Puerto Rico remains in more of a shambles than need have been.) Trump’s cultural leadership has been abyssmal. “Deplorable,” even. And that, it seems to me, is the principal reason that Republicans are facing a much worse-than-need-have-been round of midterms.

    Basically, if I were a Republican, any old CREP would have been better than Trump.

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  4. Trump’s judicial appointments do indeed look really good from a Republican perspective, but can someone tell me how Trump’s appointments, which have principally been outsourced to the authors of the Federalist Society’s wish list, are materially different than the appointments that this generic CREP would have made?

    Well, I’d imagine a CREP would have actually vetted their appointments, resulting in fewer being rated as grossly unqualified or having to withdraw their nomination.

    Of course, a CREP would probably also have fully staffed up the Executive, which remains a hollow shell run on whatever term means “like a skeleton crew, but less than that”.

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    • I doubt the State Department will ever recover. That’s a job that requires decades of relationship-building and continuity to function even adequately. The loss of those relationships isn’t something that can be fixed by any politician in either party any time soon.

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    • A generic Republican CREP could easily be imagines to have picked more experienced and policy-savvy staff and encountered fewer judicial and administrative challenges.


      Well, I’d imagine a CREP would have actually vetted their appointments, resulting in fewer being rated as grossly unqualified or having to withdraw their nomination.

      When we think about it, we can simplify it down a bit. The problem Trump has with unqualified appointments is basically the same as the problem he has with deregulations being challenged in courts.

      In both of them, Trump doesn’t care about them, but is willing to do whatever Republican donors/Republican ‘think tanks’ tell him to do.

      He’s just really bad at following procedure and rules. Anything that even vaguely stands in his way, like ‘Let’s check if this person is qualified.’ or ‘What procedure must we follow to add or remove a government regulation?’ Or, in an example we have mostly forgotten about, ‘Does this person have any conflicts-of-interest before being proposed for nomination to the Cabinet or other executive offices?’

      It’s all the same problem. Trump decides to do something (Often by just being told he should), and then he does it without regard to anything at all, even stuff the person asking was expecting!

      I.e., when a Republican think tank produces a list of judicial nominees, it’s probably expecting at least a few to not be a good idea, and those to be dropped…not actually nominated. It’s job was finding as many far-right nominees as it could, it was the job of the system to weed out the crazies.

      So they find themselves in a position akin to someone who finds themselves saying ‘When I told you to park the car in the garage, I assumed you would move the lawnmower first if it was in the way, not drive on top of it.’ or ‘When I told you to park the car in the garage, I assumed you would stop and get out if the car was on fire!’

      What’s even weirder is when the person Trump-whispering isn’t an experienced politician. Like, oh, what happened with the Muslim ban.

      In those situations, it turns into a complete farce, because for a while no one even seems to understand why the car isn’t parking correctly and the wheels seem to be off the ground.

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  5. I have been thinking for a while to do a “Trump Voter” score card and kept finding reasons why I did not want to bother.

    This has motivated me a little to at least briefly give one.

    crisis management – B-: Hurricane on main land US were handled well. Puerto Rico was handled poorly. No other national crisis.

    policy achievements/appointments – A:Wonderful judge appointments, very good reductions in regulations, good, over due tax overhaul.

    Down marks for failing on ACA and the shifting of some tax bunrdens in the tax overhaul bill (tax cuts are just that – cuts, not shifting the taxes to people you don’t like).

    I also think you overestimate what a Jeb!, Rubio, Average Republican would have done. They would not have failed on ACA, because they would have done nothing or even worse, validated it by doing some “reforms” to it, but leaving it in place. Trump at least gets better marks for dropping the individual mandates.

    electoral effects – C: To a large number of liberals, Trump stole this election and would be highly motivated by Trump breathing heavily. The wave was going to be there no matter what. Now he has not helped his cause by the stupid crap that comes out of his twitter account and it that stuff that drops this to a C.

    institutional development – N/A: The shear left anger and the constant attack from the opposition party (CNN, NBC, ABC, etc) gets this one thrown out for me. Though I will go back to the stupid crap Trump tweets as a negative.

    Also, I wanted someone that would fight (openly) in office and that has not disappointed. There has been face palm moments, but I was expecting there to be as part of the open fight.

    Now for the one missed.

    Foreign policy – A: Israel, ISIS, North Korea, NAFTA drop, PTA drop, Paris climate accord drop, push for immigration reform all top marks.

    Poor execution of travel bans, Puerto Rico, turning foreign leaders like UK’s May into enemies with stupid comments reduce this from an A+ to an A.

    Overall – B+ to A-

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    • If I were inclined, I would say that there hasn’t been any crisises, defined as discrete time-sensitive events requiring steering the ship of state with the head of state’s hand personally on the tiller.

      The hurricanes were slow motion, entirely predictable events, ones that the permanent bureaucracy with its longstanding experience and institutional knowlege should be able to handle on autopilot. Ditto with the flu epidemic.

      The incident in Charlottesville was a failure of state and local government, who were caught flat footed, and then made bad decisions while events were unfolding.

      That is, if I were inclined, I would say those things.

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      • Just as long as we are clear that we have now invented a new definition of “crisis” to allow special pleading for this administration, then I’ll acknowledge the special definition of terms.

        That said, I personally don’t think violence in Charlottesville was Trump’s fault. I’m quite confident a similar demonstration would have happened had a democrat been president, given that removal of confederate symbols is just plain controversial. I think his response is the part of that story that he bears blame for.

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    • “Crisis” is a flexible word. Dan can use it to describe anything greater than or equal to the Cuban Missile Crisis. Cable news can use it to describe everything. I don’t have a problem with this article’s use of the term, although I disagree with it.

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      • Fair enough. I will agree that Trump is 0/0 on cuban missile crises, though he’s taking a shot at creating a denonminator.

        Maybe eight years of the search for “Obama’s Katrina” makes me question how useful a metric that is, though.

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