Gaming the GOP

By Robert Wallace
America’s Right

I agree with Jeff: A third-party is not the answer, but there is another angle to consider.

Most people think of the sacrifices of the Greatest Generation fighting for freedom when they think of the 1940s. What most people don’t realize is that a series of scientific revolutions happened during that conflict that reshaped our world more than the Industrial Revolution. Of course harnessing nuclear power is the obvious one, but entire disciplines were created that had not existed before: from operations research and systems engineering to game theory. The world we live in today would not be possible without these breakthroughs.
A lot of the principles behind game theory are far older, but many people view the 1944 publication of Game Theory and Economic Behavior by John von Neumann and Oskar Morgenstern as the true beginning. Game theory is the study of how people behave in situations where what they choose to do depends on what another person chooses to do.

When people think of game theory – if they think of it at all – they probably think of Russell Crowe playing John Forbes Nash, Jr in A Beautiful Mind. Nash – who studied under von Neumann – invented the concept of a Nash equilibrium in 1951. The concept has been refined ever since, and one of the current more advanced versions is known as subgame perfect Nash equilibrium.
I know that right now you are all thinking “wasn’t this article supposed to be about the GOP?” Fear not, we are almost there. First we need a simple example of what a subgame perfect Nash equilibrium (SPNE) looks like. Stick with me for one paragraph, and this will all make sense. Not just subgame perfect Nash equilibrium, but also the third party debate in the GOP.
Professors use a simple example to demonstrate SPNE. There are two companies. The first company (C1) is already established in the market. The second company (C2) is thinking about entering the market to compete. So C2 has a decision to make: get in or stay out. If C2 stays out then nothing changes and C1 is very happy. But if C2 goes in, then C1 has their own decision to make: fight or adapt. If they adapt then the two companies have to split the profit. If they choose to fight then everybody loses.
Obviously C1 wants to scare C2 away. So they threaten to fight. But what C1 realizes is that once they enter the market it doesn’t make any sense for C1 to fight. The threat is not credible. So the SPNE is for C2 to ignore C1s threats and enter the markets, and for C1 to give up on the threat to fight and just go along with C2s decision.
This is the exact same situation we’re looking at between the establishment wing of the GOP and the conservatives. The conservatives are threatening (not all of them, but a lot of them) to start a 3rd party or to run as independents. But the establishment GOP know full well that if the conservatives do that than everyone loses. Once again: the threat is not credible. So just like C2 ignores the threat and enters the market expecting C1 to go back on the threats and play along, the establishment wing of the GOP expects that if they just keep doing their thing the conservatives will swallow their threats and go along.
Here’s the really fascinating aspect of the whole situation: if you can find a way to make the threat credible you won’t have to use it. This applies in all kinds of circumstances. You could imagine that an army is getting ready to attack an island where the defenders have a single bridge back to the mainland. As long as the bridge is standing, the attackers know the defenders have an option to retreat. So if the pledge to fight to the last man, the attackers probably won’t believe it. They will attack.
But if the defenders burn their own bridge they force themselves to fight to the last man, and then the attackers may very well rethink their strategy. It’s very counterintuitive, but if you cripple your own freedom you can make your position stronger. It’s the same idea behind an invading force burning their own ships when they get to the enemy shore. And it’s also the same strategy I use as a parent. No matter how much of a pain in the butt it is to put my little girl in timeout when she does something wrong, I do it every single time. That way the threat is credible, and I don’t have to put her in timeout as much.
I absolutely agree with Jeff. Third parties may be the only thing that can save the Democrats right now. It would be a 2010 disaster. I don’t believe there is enough indignation spread throughout the entire American population to support a third party victory, and so the result would be handing the country over to progressives.
On the other hand I don’t mind Glenn Beck ranting and raving about how he hates the Republicans and Democrats. For one thing: I agree with him. For another, I want the GOP scared. But for them to be scared, we need a credible threat. Outrage is a start, but to really bring the GOP back into line we need to demonstrate that conservatives know how to convert passion into cool, rational action.
Make no mistake: it’s a tightrope. If we rule out a third party forever the GOP establishment has no incentive to listen to us. But if we launch a third party campaign prematurely they also have no incentive to listen to us (after all, we’ve already launched it!) and even worse than that – we’ve handed 2010 to the Democrats.
What is the answer? It’s the same answer that worked during the Cold War: if you want peace, prepare for war. The more conservatives can prepare for a third party takeover the more credible the threat becomes. That means that we need to be active in the primaries, we need to run our own candidates at local levels, and we need to start building the national infrastructure that would be necessary for a real third party alternative.
If we do the job right, the GOP will take the hint and shape up. And if through corruption, complacency, or incompetence, the GOP continues to sell us out then years down the road conservatives will be ready to launch a third party campaign that reshapes the political landscape. It has happened before. It wasn’t always Democrats vs. Republican. There used to be Federalists or Whigs.

Robert Wallace is classical liberal studying economics in graduate school. He and his wife work as business analysis consultants, and they live as undercover conservatives with their two small children in a socialist bastion of a college town. He has been writing for America’s Right since December 2008.



  1. Robert Wallace says:

    I consider Patrick Ruffini at The Next Right to be on the establishment side of the conservative vs. establishment split in the GOP. Here's his take on the 3rd party question:

    "Though a curiosity, Congressional GOP approval is actually irrelevant to next year's election results. That's because a big chunk of the disapproval comes from the "Tea Party" that thinks the GOP is not doing enough fast enough. Combined, the Teapublicans get 41 percent of the vote to the Democrats' 36 percent."

    In other words, he assumes that the Teapublicans – those in favor of a 3rd party + traditional Republicans – will automatically come together to vote in 2010. In short: he doesn't believe there is a real 3rd party threat.

    He goes on:

    "The prevalence of the Tea Party movement does hold a cautionary note for the GOP — if they win. The danger is that Republicans will interpret a victory as a sign that all is well in the party, and that they can go back to their old ways pre-2008. In other words, they'll confuse a Teapublican victory for an old-school Republican mandate."

    So at least he gets the fact that Tea Party folks are angry.

    I take this as a sign of progress. The GOP elite is a little nervous. They are afraid that the Tea Party movement will turn on them. That's the right idea, but we need them more than a little nervous.

  2. Robert Wallace says:


    Shouldn't you be at least as worried about who comes in as you are about who goes out?



    first things first

  4. REP-BE-OUT says:

    Worth repeating,

    CLEAN HOUSE 2010

    Send a message

    Mine just quit, John Tanner, so my job is done!

  5. Vibe says:

    He is right..We do not need a 3rd party …YET. And the Game theory example shows why. What is needed, is to first break the hold that ALL the political "machines" have by providing a 3rd alternative that anyone can get behind. Most third party candidates have one thing in common – they run on a "Not Him" platform aimed at the other major players. We need to run that option first. Run "No!" as the third option in EVERY election (or even the 2nd option in an unopposed race).
    The "Protest Vote" needs to be united in a way that no single 3rd party candidate can do – which is sort of what the "Tea Party" is doing…In that is is NOT one of the other two.

  6. Gail B says:

    We need to hear loudly and clearly that the Republicans are conservatives, that they will stay off the Appalachian Trail, that they will stay right of center, that they support capitalism so that there will be jobs and a recovering economy, that they will pick up on the US Motto "IN GOD WE TRUST," and assure Americans that no Republican will ever bow to any king, not even to the Burger King!

  7. Vibe says:

    Now Gail…Why exclude conservatives from the AT? I happen to like a good hike now and again…but I do like to be loaded for bear when I do. I think an "open carry hike" would be a fun trip. :D

  8. SMOKEY says:

    Looks like Tiger knows that entire trail.

  9. Uncle Rick says:

    The times they are a-changin'. And, as we say in Texas, "If you always do what you always done, you'll always git what you always got. If you want differnt, do differnt."

    Take three minutes to watch this, which appeared Saturday on channel 13 in Houston:

    Note the professor who observed that only 47% of potential voters identify with a party. There is a tipping point, and GOOOH is getting closer. There is more media coverage – including national coverage – coming up.

    OK, it's a long shot. So is every good idea at first. We are headed for an economic brick wall at break-neck speed. Hitting the brakes will only forestall the collision; we need to stop, then put the gears into reverse. That will take considerable political courage in the face of the inevitible and vicious media onslaught. My personal top ten list of what has to be done (in no particular order) is:

    1) Phase out the Department of Education
    2) Scale back HHS to an advisory or information clearing-house role.
    3) Just say no to earmarks. Period.
    4) Insist on single-subject bills.
    5) Reduce total budget by at least 5% per year.
    6) De-fund the National Endowments.
    7) De-fund NPR.
    8) Pass the Fair Tax.
    9) Eliminate most foreign aid, especially to those countries whose people have a lukewarm attitude toward us.
    10) All bills declare in their opening section the Constitutional authority for the bill and the source of funding for it.

    Where are the Republicans with that kind of political courage? The 'leadership' of the GOP has become an OB club, so we won't find them there. If they really believed that GOOOH – or anything else – was a serious threat, that would go a long way to fixing the problem.

    If GOOOH candidates took enough seats in the House, it's a sure bet they wouldn't look to the Democrats for alliances. The onlly Republicans who could – or would – link up with them would be those who were on board with these issues. The ironic thing is, I'll bet that, in this scenario, those Republicans would have an easier time getting re-elected than the fence-squatters.

  10. PALIN 2012 says:


    Been a long time since D.C. has had one of those.

    Nevermind A BEAUTIFUL HEART.

  11. Anonymous says:

    I'm with Uncle Rick on this one.

  12. Robert Wallace says:

    I admire the principles, but I'm wary of the policies.

    If we push for too much too fast we're going to end up repeating the Democrats of '08. What the American people want is not sweeping, ideologically-based reform. What the American people want are incremental steps in the right direction.

    The safest way forward from every perspective is to bring the GOP back to its small government roots and start with simple, meaningful reforms. Earmarks? Check. Trashing the Department of Education? Hell no.

    Do I want to get there? Yes. But the American people don't trust the GOP. They don't trust a yet-to-exist 3rd party.

    The way forward is to earn that trust through small, manageable reforms.

    This country is a big ship. It doesn't turn on a dime.

  13. Gail B says:

    I can see how people can change parties. I voted the Democratic ticket for 50 years; I voted for every Republican I could find on the ballot in the last General Election and even went back to vote for Saxby Chambliss in the runoff.

  14. Anonymous says:

    They sink on a dime.

  15. Uncle Rick says:

    Robert –

    OK, that was my personal list. I don't think many Americans will resist the budget reductions or the de-funding of the endowments or NPR, either. Ditto single-subject bills. Fair Tax is also a winner. Who loves the IRS?

    Please note that I said 'phase out' the DoE, not 'trash' it. Budget reductions apply here. Just keep them going until there is nothing to fund.

    Much of the problem on the right — and I include the GOP here — is that they are woefully inept at presenting their cases. Look at what happened when Harry Reid accused the GOP of being in the way of history. The best Hatch could do us mumble something about Reid's bad form. He could have pointed out that Reid's list was an indictment of his own party, since it was Democrats who resisted every single civil rights effort since 1864, and Republicans who championed and eventually passed them.

    Every single one of the items I listed can be presented as a winner if the presenter doesn't assume that he's on the defensive as soon as he's out of the gate.

    However, I agree that timing is important, and I didn't mean to imply that we should attack on all fronts at once.

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