Monday, June 1, 2015

Presidential politics and the Mirabelli strategy

Every season there seems to be a stretch when watching the Red Sox is so frustrating that I just turn off the TV and walk away. Sometimes the team is appallingly bad for a few days, sometimes the stretch lasts for a week or two. This bout of horrendous play seems to be lasting longer than most so I started to do some poking around on the 2016 presidential campaigns to get a reprieve from bad baseball. The cast of characters vying to be president is nearly as big as the Sox roster and many of them have spent less time in the “big leagues” than Brock Holt.

In the time it took to establish that we need more pitching and a stronger offense (about 6 weeks), it seems like the field of presidential candidates tripled. Not too long ago I could name most of the major candidates running for president, but today I am quite sure I’d leave out several Republicans and a few Democrats too. While it’s still early, the field has expanded so quickly that they fill in the normal categories of left, right, center and cuckoo.

Whether it’s a state representative race in South Kingstown or a White House contest, having a huge field of candidates with diverse views is usually indicative of a divided and unhappy electorate. If so many different candidates can look at polling data and see that their message may resonate, it means that Americans are looking for a wide range of different policies and qualities from their president. Having a lot candidates in a primary process that is waged across many states in the span of more than a year could turn this into one of the most costly and down-to-the-wire presidential campaigns in recent history. It is incredibly expensive to wage an effective presidential primary campaign in several states at the same time, so only the most wealthy candidates will be able to have a presence in each primary, but marathon-like nature of a primary campaign could give some of the also-rans a moment their moment in the spotlight — and enough delegates to wrangle some influence at the conventions.

This field full of also-rans will have to employ what I think of as the Doug Mirabelli strategy, where a person has one strength (in Mirabelli’s case, being able to follow the trajectory of Tim Wakefield’s knuckleball) and he or she leverages that asset as long and as much as possible. Lincoln Chafee’s vote against the war in Iraq will be the center point of his campaign while Bernie Saunders will use a “you can’t get lefter than me” mantra to attract the most liberal voters. On the Republican side, the field is so rich with candidates with thin resumes and similar politics that some of the earliest contests could have a winner capturing less than 20% of the votes.

The 2016 presidential race is looking like a long and expensive slog with a few stars and a bunch of also-rans to make things interesting — in other words, just about the same as the 2015 Red Sox season.

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