Wednesday, December 9, 2015

The Republican Nomination, Trump, and the Laws of Thermodynamics

James Taranto at the Wall Street Journal took a hard look yesterday at Trump's "modest proposal," the response to it, and what this all means for the Republican contest. With regard to the proposal itself—barring any and all Muslims from entering the country—Taranto allows that it would have costs in the realm of international relations, that it's possibly unworkable, and that it's morally questionable (to say the least).

But what he doesn't do is condemn it out of hand, unlike pretty much every other commentator, journalist, and Presidential hopeful (Ted Cruz basically punted when given the opportunity to slam the proposal). Some might say Taranto is making a misstep here, that there's no reason to not condemn it out of hand, because it's just so wrong, so offensive, etc. I think, however, that Taranto is correct, that the proper way to approach the issue is to treat Trump's proposal with reasoned analysis and discussion.

And in this regard, Taranto looks at some of the proclamations about the proposal from various pundits and constitutional scholars, who seem to think the proposal would be deemed unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. Their arguments in this regard are, as Taranto notes, basically empty. So are the ones offered elsewhere by other constitutional scholars like Lawrence Tribe, who oddly cites Article VI on the matter (the "no religious test clause," which has zero bearing on immigration policy). Indeed, the plenary power the Court has granted Congress when it comes to immigration is sufficient to allow a policy such as Trump's. Of course, this would still take an act of Congress; the President could not mandate such a policy. And that is really the end of it. Congress isn't going to pass a "no Muslims allowed" bill. It just isn't.

So why all the blather here? At the end of the day, Trump is just shooting off his mouth again, right?

The problem of course is that this tactic has been paying dividends for Trump; he's still the front runner and has, until yesterday, seen his numbers continue to increase. Yesterday, following the release of the USA Today poll, something interesting happened. Take a look at the RCP polling averages. Trump is still in the lead, but he saw a bit of a drop (as did Carson, who's basically falling off of a cliff, poll-wise). And both Rubio and Cruz ticked upwards, leading to the following event, for the first time in this contest:
R + C > T
"R" refers to Rubio's support, "C" refers to Cruz's, and "T" refers to Trump's. And according to the latest averages, adding the numbers for Rubio and Cruz yields 30.3%, while Trump's number stands at 29.3%.

Why is this significant? Well, let's consider it through the prism of the Laws of Thermodynamics. The First Law states that Energy cannot be created or destroyed. So too for polling numbers: when someone loses, someone else wins (and this includes candidate "undecided"). Yeah okay, I know that's trite, but it's still worth remembering. Because Carson is going down and he's not coming back, in my opinion. Ditto for Jeb Bush. And really, everyone else, aside from Trump, Cruz, and Rubio. This is really a three horse race now, barring some major gaffe by Cruz or Rubio. And as these other candidates fade and drop out, their support has to go somewhere else. I'd argue that it's going to be dispersed mostly between Rubio and Cruz, and I'll tell you why.

Donald Trump's candidacy has been, up until this point, what amounts to an isolated system in the race. He hasn't really been running against the other candidates (apart from Carson to some extent). You can see this in the polling data. The numbers for Trump don't follow the fluctuations of the others very well at all. In contrast, there's an obvious pattern to the rise of Cruz and Rubio: as they have gone up, everyone else (apart from Trump) has gone down.

Here's the thing about isolated systems: according to the Second Law of Thermodynamics, entropy in them tends to increase. That is, they eventually slow down and fall apart, unless additional energy is supplied from outside the system. Trump maintains only by keeping people wound up. And I think he has more or less reached his maximum level of support, so all he can do is maintain. So he has to keep being extreme, he has no choice. The problem of course is that there's a limit to this as well. And we're seeing it being reached with his latest proposal.

Trump's numbers may largely hold up, well into the immediate future. But again, they are numbers that exist outside the rest of the system. Trump can't garner more support because he has nowhere to get it. In contrast, Rubio and Cruz are in a system filled with potential additional support. When they add energy to this system, they can still achieve a net benefit, rather than just maintaining their positions. It's a world of difference as compared to Trump. As we move into 2016, this is going to become apparent, in my opinion.

True enough, Trump is a master manipulator of the media (which, to be fair, is more than happy to be manipulated, if that translates into better ratings and more clicks) but lacking a pool of potential support, all he can do is keep his name in the news to placate his current supporters, nothing more. And eventually, those supporters are going to tire of hearing the same ol', same ol'. That, or Trump will cross line after line and drive them away, a little at a time.

There's a good term for this phenomenon, too: heat death.


  1. There's comes a breaking point in which "nationalism" becomes "un-Americanism" and the political life preserver becomes a millstone. Trump has found the breaking point.