Threading the Needle: A Shiny Conspiracy Theory

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.

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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.

[Cross-posted at The Reality-Based Community]