Smart Ideas: Mueller and Game Theory

From left: Democratic Caucus Chairman Joe Crowley, Assistant Minority Leader James Clyburn, Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi at a joint meeting of Congress for an address by French President Emmanuel Macron at the Capitol on April 25
AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite
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May 2, 2018, 8 p.m.

Dems can take the House with a 7-point margin on the generic ballot

David Byler, writing for The Weekly Standard

To have a 50-50 shot at taking back the House, “Democrats need to be ahead by about 7 points on the generic ballot.” Three analyses give us that number. First, if you “line the districts up from easiest GOP win to toughest,” the middle seat leans Republican by about 6.4 percent. In other words, Democrats could take “those marginal seats in the middle” with around a 7-point margin of victory. Measuring win rates also gives us a similar answer—the basic idea “is to look at a recent election where Democrats took the House … calculate win rates for various types of districts, and apply those win rates to the current map.” Finally, we can run a simple regression, using “district-specific information … incumbency, the previous House election result in that district … and the national two-party popular vote share.” It isn’t perfect, but the model gives you a “ballpark estimate” of the results. It shows that the Democrats winning 214 seats, “close to a 50/50 toss-up,” with a 7-point edge in the popular vote.

Staffer term limits a misguided idea

Casey Burgat, writing for the Washington Examiner

A rumored proposal that Congress enact “term limits” for staffers would lead to extremely bad outcomes if enacted. Many staffers, particularly on committees, “are experts in specific issue areas and serve as sources of institutional memory for members (and other staffers). You limit the tenures, you limit the expertise. And when you limit the expertise, you amplify unintended consequences of policy decisions.” Absent experienced staff, members of Congress will turn to lobbyists and special interests for detailed policy information. “It takes time to learn policies, develop networks for coalitions, identify key players, let alone know who to call to help constituents with passport and social security problems.” It would also take power away from the rank-and-file and give it towards committee chairs, party leaders, and federal agencies whose bureaucracy are not subject to term limits.

Mueller and Trump in a game of chicken

Benjamin Wittes, writing for Lawfare

“What’s going on now between the Mueller camp and the Trump camp is a complicated multi-level game of chicken that is best understood not in terms of law but as a structured game.” Mueller clearly wants the president to submit to an interview, but he may not want to force the president’s hand with a subpoena. If Trump resists, he stands a chance of prevailing in court, however small. But regardless of the outcome, it could delay the completion of Mueller’s investigation for months. “Mueller, in short, is using the threat of a subpoena to coax what he actually wants—which is a consensual interview. This kind of staring contest is not without precedent: a similar one took place between Bill Clinton and Kenneth Starr. Clinton ultimately backed down and appeared before Starr’s grand jury.” From their perspective, the Trump team is betting that “Mueller won’t actually pull the trigger and issue the subpoena.” But their downside risk is far greater. “If Mueller issues the subpoena, Trump resists it, and the court enforces the subpoena, Trump loses all of his negotiating leverage. Gone is the chance of negotiating a congenial environment for an interview, limiting the time, or having his attorneys present. The normal grand jury witness, after all, has to go into the grand jury room alone.”

The E. Barrett Prettyman Federal Courthouse is seen on Thursday, Aug. 10, 2017, in Washington. AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin
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