Re: Palin as Rational Choice

September 7, 2008

There can be only the most respectful disagreement between even distant cousins in the ‘the Great’ family, but I must say I’m not convinced by Frederick’s analysis of the Palin pick. The basic insight is a good one: since there is relatively little effective difference between a narrow defeat and a blowout, a strategy can make the latter much more probable and still be rational. Certainly she is a very real risk to become a major liability, and perhaps she also has a shot to be a major boost. But I suspect this hurts McCain’s chances overall, for the following reasons:

1.) I’m don’t see her having quite as much upside as Frederick suggests. As best I can tell, her job is to take over the role of Republican candidate while McCain vies for independents. She is certainly doing a terrific job of thrilling the base, so she could draw out a bigger conservative turnout than McCain could have, but – by becoming the most prominent figure in the race – she might well be making it impossible for McCain to gain much ground with moderates.

2.) That said, I agree that their is at least a non-negligible chance that this strategy provides a major boost to the ticket’s performance, but I still think the graph is misleading, because I see no reason to think that the potential upside is as great or as probable as the potential downside. Given what we already know (the ongoing ethics investigation, another possibly following it, the suspect firings in Wasilla, the improper involvement of Todd Palin in executive matters, the chance that that involvement could lead to damaging emails losing the protection of executive privilege, the possible affair, the Jimmy Hoffa connection, etc.) there is a decent chance that some of her baggage could cause huge damage to the campaign. I don’t see how even the best possible realization of the Palin strategy could match this downside. Furthermore, it is almost certain that some of these scandals will end up doing at least some damage, which means the strategy has some work to do before it can break even.

3.) While it is true that McCain should be (more or less) indifferent between a narrow loss and a landslide, it does not follow that he should be indifferent to different levels of potential harm from a particular decision when both would lead to defeat based on current polling numbers, because none of these decisions exists in a vacuum. That is, when weighing potential VP picks, possible downsides of two points and ten points are not equivalent simply because either would suggest a lost based on where we are now; all sorts of other factors could shift things in McCain’s favor such that he would win with a VP that did nothing for, or even slightly damaged his polling, but still lose with a VP implicated in a major scandal.

4.) Building on this last point, even though McCain had been trailing consistently, treading water would not have been an entirely hopeless strategy, as any number of things could happen to shift things. An Obama scandal could surface; Cheney could start a war with Iran; someone on the Democratic side could commit a hymie-town-level gaffe in a public setting. A McCain campaign barely trailing could capitalize on such an event; a McCain campaign in shambles might not be able to. So while a high risk strategy such as this could certainly be the rational choice, the price has to be right. With Sarah Palin, I don’t think it is.

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One Response to “Re: Palin as Rational Choice”


  1. […] of Sarah Palin? I know it sounds silly now, but really, it was happening. All over the place. The founding issue of this blog was telling people to chill. So, humble as we are, we can’t help but feel […]


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