Pascal’s Wager and the GOP Presidential Nominee

inuyesta’s excellent post about which GOP candidate liberals should want to win the GOP nomination got me to thinking a bit about the possible outcomes of either Mitt Romney or Rick Santorum winning the nomination.

In college, back in the dark ages, I learned about using truth tables in discrete math, which are especially useful in Boolean algebra. One can imagine such a table that represents these possible outcomes.

GOP Winner November Result Outcome
Mitt Romney Loses to Obama GOP grows more insane.
Mitt Romney Defeats Obama GOP grows more moderate.
Rick Santorum Loses to Obama GOP grows more moderate.
Rick Santorum Defeats Obama APOCALYPSE NOW

There’s your basic truth table for the GOP nomination and the November election results. At this point, I consider only Romney and Santorum as likely winners of the nomination, and after last night’s debate it looks like Romney will be the frontrunner again, but of course, there are other possibilities. Some explanations of the outcome column are in order.

Romney is nominated and loses to Obama

If Mitt Romney wins the GOP nomination, as expected, he will do so over the objections of much of the base of the party, which considers him to be more moderate than what they prefer. You can visit any right-wing blog for heartfelt ramblings on why Romney is unacceptable to conservatives. For example:

If Romney is going to win this race, he needs to appeal to the base of conservatism.  While he is doing well with moderates and independents, those are typically not the ones who volunteer and donate to the cause.

You could accuse me of nutpicking, but all I did was type in “Romney too moderate” and click on the first link that Google gave me. Go ahead and try.

So if Romney wins the nomination, and loses to President Obama, the GOP base will react by becoming even more conservative and demanding even more ideological purity from their candidates. Remember that the base thinks John McCain lost to Obama because he wasn’t sufficiently conservative. We saw the results of this when they blew their chance to retake the Senate by nominating very bad candidates like Christine O’Donnell, Ken Buck, Joe Miller, and Sharron Angle. At the time, I thought that the lesson of 2010 would be enough to convince the GOP to grow more moderate, but if Romney loses, this lesson will be lost. Mid-term elections are important and all, but it’s the four-year contests that have the most effect. If Romney wins the nomination and loses to Obama, I expect the GOP will lose their collective minds and nominate, say, Ted Nugent in 2016.

Romney is nominated and defeats Obama

If this happens, then I think we can expect that the conventional wisdom within the GOP establishment will be that moderation turned out to be the winning strategy. The base might not like it at first, but if Romney is able to have a successful presidency they will fall in line quickly and will support him enthusiastically in 2016, and probably nominate another center-right candidate in 2020.

Santorum is nominated and loses to Obama

The nightmare (for the GOP establishment) of the 2010 Senate race is repeated and the GOP blows a chance to retake the White House against an incumbent with barely above water approval ratings. Once again the conventional wisdom will be that moderation is what is necessary for the GOP to win elections again.

Santorum is nominated and defeats Obama

Human sacrifice. Cats and dogs living together. Mass hysteria.

Anyone who is familiar with Pascal’s Wager will see the parallel here. In both cases, there is an outcome that happens with 2 of the 4 combinations. In the GOP nomination case, the most likely eventual outcome is that the GOP will become more moderate.

But the basic idea of Pascal’s Wager is that the worst outcome (hell/Santorum becoming president; oh wait, redundant) is so bad, that you cannot dare risk it. Critics point out that the probabilities are not distributed equally as the table might suggest, whereas an adherent would point out that any non-zero probability of eternal damnation or a Santorum presidency (redundant again) is too high to risk.

However, since rooting for Santorum to win doesn’t actually increase his chances of winning, I find myself kind of hoping he wins (the nomination, not the presidency), just to see what will happen. Please don’t blame me for the Apocalypse.

Author: Wiesman

Husband, father, video game developer, liberal, and perpetual Underdog.

3 thoughts on “Pascal’s Wager and the GOP Presidential Nominee”

  1. First of all, I love how your mind works. LOVE LOVE LOVE. I haven’t seen such a great application of Pascal’s Wager in a long time. Bravo.

    However, I’m kind of recoiling in horror at your conclusion. Not that I can find fault with your logic, it just makes me very, very sad. Based on my own predictions about what will happen, we can expect the GOP to stay crazy for many years to come..


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