Trump and Doubling Down

Trump and Doubling Down November 11, 2018

I know, there is a general obsession with Trump and politics at the moment. I guess it’s that kind of time in the four-year cycle. I just want to point out that Trump’s response to, in what is appearing to be more of a blue wave than was initially thought, is to double down. In investment terms, this is chasing bad money with good.

To intellectualise this a little bit more, we can look at Nobel prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman:

It is apparent that hawks often have the upper hand as decision makers wrestle with questions of war and peace. And those advantages do not disappear as soon as the first bullets have flown. As the strategic calculus shifts to territory won or lost and casualties suffered, a new idiosyncrasy in human decision making appears: our deep-seated aversion to cutting our losses. Imagine, for example, the choice between:

Option A: A sure loss of $890

Option B: A 90 percent chance to lose $1,000 and a 10 percent chance to lose nothing.

In this situation, a large majority of decision makers will prefer the gamble in Option B, even though the other choice is statistically superior. People prefer to avoid a certain loss in favor of a potential loss, even if they risk losing significantly more. When things are going badly in a conflict, the aversion to cutting one’s losses, often compounded by wishful thinking, is likely to dominate the calculus of the losing side. This brew of psychological factors tends to cause conflicts to endure long beyond the point where a reasonable observer would see the outcome as a near certainty. Many other factors pull in the same direction, notably the fact that for the leaders who have led their nation to the brink of defeat, the consequences of giving up will usually not be worse if the conflict is prolonged, even if they are worse for the citizens they lead.

U.S. policymakers faced this dilemma at many points in Vietnam and today in Iraq. To withdraw now is to accept a sure loss, and that option is deeply unattractive. The option of hanging on will therefore be relatively attractive, even if the chances of success are small and the cost of delaying failure is high.

Donald Trump’s response has been akin to backing a losing horse. He has overseen the worst Republican performance since Nixon’s Watergate scandal and he has done nothing to change course. Indeed, he has outright ball blamed losing Republicans who didn’t back a Trumpian approach to campaigning and has made everything all about him. This is entirely what his campaign was about. It was a very negative campaign that centred around the cult of personality that is Donald Trump. If this continues for another two years, then it would suggest that Trump is in for a tough time and the Republican party could see themselves being rejected into a political wasteland, at least for the time being,

Doubling down is nothing unusual to Trump as some claim this is precisely the psychology and decision-making that is led to his various bankruptcies. For example, this happened with regard to Atlantic City and his casinos, amongst other things.

Doubling down fits entirely with his psychology because he has shown himself to be, repeatedly, the sort of person who can never admit he is wrong. He invents narratives that allow his mind to maintain the belief that he was right in any given situation. He simply cannot be wrong in his own eyes. Therefore, if he has indeed made an incorrect decision, such as arguably with his campaign in the midterms, then he cannot admit it. In this way, his only option is to maintain that same course and, in effect, double down.

I imagine this is what he always does. When he does, occasionally, back down, it will be in blaming other people. This is the narrative he provides himself to maintain his perfection, in his own eyes.

What I do wonder, though, is why Republican congressmen and women, senators and governors, haven’t jumped ship. I don’t know if there is a history in the US of politicians switching political allegiance. This does happen in the UK, though infrequently, and I wonder why, in this election cycle, it hasn’t happened at all. There must be many Republicans, behind closed doors, who are absolutely incandescent with rage at what Trump is doing to the Republican Party. He is transforming it into the Trumpian party and for old-school, fiscal conservatives, this must be a travesty.

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