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Cruz and Rubio playing game of Chicken

Cruz and Rubio playing game of Chicken

And neither seems likely to swerve

Even before yesterday’s Super Tuesday primaries, it seemed that Cruz and Rubio were locked in a game of Chicken, and it promised to be a bumpy ride. The same holds true now:

The game of chicken, also known as the hawk-dove game or snowdrift game, is an influential model of conflict for two players in game theory. The principle of the game is that while each player prefers not to yield to the other, the worst possible outcome occurs when both players do not yield.

The name “chicken” has its origins in a game in which two drivers drive towards each other on a collision course: one must swerve, or both may die in the crash, but if one driver swerves and the other does not, the one who swerved will be called a “chicken,” meaning a coward.

Although there are five players now left in the GOP primary, one is dominant (Trump) and the two second-place candidates have been trading leads (Cruz and Rubio), with the other two (Kasich and Carson) very far behind. Back when the game featured far more players, the GOP race seemed a variation of the Tragedy of the Commons:

In the meantime Trump is amassing delegates and each of the un-Trump candidates is hurting the others, weakening them. It’s something like a weirdo version of The Tragedy of the Commons, although this battle isn’t over scarce resources (unless you consider the electors resources, but that’s not really a proper analogy, either). As in the Tragedy of the Commons, the un-Trump candidates are all “acting independently and rationally according to their own self-interest” and yet behaving “contrary to the best interests of the whole”—that is, if they’re assuming that defeating Donald Trump is in the best interests of the whole.

But now that it’s down to two main non-Trump alternatives, the game is actually closest to Chicken. Last night Cruz pulled ahead of Rubio. Although the exact delegate count of each candidate is still being solidified, most news outlets this morning seem to be reporting that Cruz now has 161 delegates to Rubio’s 87, with Trump at 285. Although Cruz won his home state of Texas and neighboring Oklahoma, as well as Alaska, Rubio won in Minnesota and they were close to each other (and even to Trump) in several other states.

It’s becoming more and more clear—and it was already clear before last night—that if Cruz and Rubio stay relatively evenly matched it only muddies the waters of the primary battle rather than clarifying them. In addition, although each man found something to encourage him last night (particularly Cruz), both men staying in the race would seem to benefit Trump the most.

But even that is not certain. Trump has not consistently broken out of his pattern of winning 1/3 of the votes, except for a state here and there where he gets in the 40s, and it is unclear what would happen if the battle came down to one main Trump opponent. It is certainly possible that, in a hypothetical two-way race where Trump is pitted against either Cruz or Rubio, the result would be that Trump would remain the strong leader and would forge ahead to become the GOP nominee. If that were to occur, then the GOP voters’ preference for Trump as candidate would have been made clear.

But in the current 3-way race, we don’t even know whether Trump’s victories are at least in part an artifact of this being essentially a 3-way race. What does seem clear is that if both Rubio and Cruz stay in and refuse to swerve, both are extremely likely to lose the nomination and guarantee a Trump victory, particularly when the winner-take-all states start coming into play.

If both Cruz and Rubio can see the Chicken game emerging—and they must see it already, because it’s crystal clear—someone could decide to sacrifice himself. Or, the one doing a little worse could be promised something (Cabinet, VP spot, SCOTUS appointment) by the other.

With a unity ticket, the lion’s share of the dropout’s support would be more likely to go to the two rather than to Trump, and victory (or at least a brokered convention) might be assured. It’s one of those Solomaic things, though: who would be willing to sacrifice himself for what he sees as the greater good, or at least the good of both? After last night, the leading candidate to do so would be Rubio, with Cruz to stay in. But the likelihood of that happening with Florida looming on March 15 is probably around zero.

However, even if Cruz and Rubio were to stay in, there is a small chance that a crash for both might still be avoided. Last night’s results gave each some weak hope for the possibility of Trump not getting quite enough delegates to win outright by the time of the convention. As Charles C. W. Cooke of National Review points out, both men had a pretty good night, and although Trump had an extremely good night it fell short of demonstrating total dominance.

So here we stand, watching Cruz and Rubio drive towards each other at high speed and waiting for either a crash and a Trump victory, or a brokered convention. The latter is a recipe for a tremendously contentious battle that would be highly likely to cause further rifts in a party already at (or even beyond) the breaking point in one of the most contentious primary battles in modern history.

And standing in another observation tower is Hillary Clinton—poised for her own nearly-inevitable victory in the Democratic race, and no doubt smiling.

[Neo-neocon is a writer with degrees in law and family therapy, who blogs at neo-neocon.]


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Rubio has two options for for how he is seen 4-8 years from now.

1 (8 years)Vice President and Republican nominee to succeed outgoing President Cruz.

2 (4 years)Former senator and once presidential candidate seen only as an occasional guest commentator on Fox News on a slow news night. While Senator Cruz is the presumptive nominee after Hillary’s disastrous term (Or her VP in office post-impeachment.)

Either way, when the dust settles, Cruz will still hold elective office and be viable in 4 years. There is only one way Rubio will be able to say the same about himself.
Rubio either cuts a VP deal with Cruz (who is not stupid enough to pass that up), or he will be out of office and out of opportunity.

Fair analysis. Assuming the dropout would be Rubio(and carson / Kasich), where do you see Cruz winning Vs Trump?

Rubio has serious issues with the conservative wing of the GOP. He needs to spend the next 4-8 years building some street cred. I’d wager 90% of his support would fall to Cruz. That’s enough to end this cartoon called Trump.

Inasmuch as Rubio has declared himself standing with #NeverTrump, I want to understand why he’s not being disqualified by the RNC. The “pledge”, remember?

Meanwhile, yet again the Republicans are doing everything they can to defeat themselves instead of getting behind the front-runner. Those who are following them are being manipulated by both the GOPe and the liberal media. The ones “blowing up” the Republican party are the establishment honchos and pundits. They are most assuredly not the rural farmers’ “party of Lincoln” either.

Good comment in Redditt about some of this anti-Trump nonsense:

    tom swift in reply to janitor. | March 2, 2016 at 1:04 pm

    They don’t want Trump. They don’t really want Cruz either. They wanted Jeb, but would settle for Rubio. If they can’t get Rubio, I expect they’ll try to sabotage the Republican effort, throwing the election to Hillary. They don’t really want her either, since she isn’t a Republican, but at least she’s One Of Them, and won’t rock any boats.

“the greater good”?

That would happen for the nation when Trumph droped out during the NY DA’s investigation into Fraud U.

“With a unity ticket, the lion’s share of the dropout’s support would be more likely to go to the two rather than to Trump…”

I wonder if anyone has objective evidence of this. If Cruz dropped out I think Trump might get a lot of his votes. This would be an argument for Rubio being the dropout under the ‘chicken’ scenario.

    Brian Epps in reply to DaMav. | March 2, 2016 at 12:57 pm

    Lt. Gov Patrick says internal polls of Cruz supporters has Trump as the recipient of 50-60% if he drops out with the 20 % Rubio and the remainder being undecided. Rubio supporters are at 75-80% for Cruz, 5% Trump and the remainder undecided.

    Rubio can be the kingmaker or the goat.

I read somewhere, don’t have the link, that Cruz is doing much better in closed primaries and Trump does better in open ones (lots of independents). The article also said that many/most of the upcoming primaries were closed. So Cruz might have a path to victory.

    Barry in reply to daitken. | March 2, 2016 at 11:14 pm

    As I posted elsewhere:

    Don’t drink the kool aid to deeply. I’ve not found exit polling supporting any notion trump is winning based upon D crossover votes. Cruz has wins in 4 states, 3 are closed and one open primary (texas). However, 2 of the 3 Cruz wins in closed states were also caucus states (Iowa, Alaska), so it would be just as obvious to say Cruz does better in caucus states. Rubio won a caucus state that is open (minn). Trump has won one closed state, Nevada, the rest were open.

    J McCain did not win a majority of R’s in any state until super Tuesday.

Cruz shouldn’t drop out. He polls best head to head against Trump and he’s won 4 states already. Most of conservative radio is solidly behind him.

Marco Rubio needs to drop out. He brings nothing with him but the all negative ads Consevative Solutions PAC (responsible for the KKK robocalls) and its money. Rubio has a long string of third place finishes and can’t win anywhere outside of a Minnesota caucus, where evidently the Lutherans want to keep importing Somalis.

At this point Rubio can’t win. He wants the Republican convention delegates to play spoiler in the election which will hand the election to Hillary and destroy the party, no matter the outcome.

Rubio needs to quit and tell his negative ads donors to back off.

impeach obama | March 2, 2016 at 1:33 pm

I’m a long time Cruz supporter.
Rubio has always struck me as self serving used car salesman, with s useless warranty.

Trump is the likely nominee, perhaps with Cruz (who he holds in high regard) as his VP.

    conservative tarheel in reply to impeach obama. | March 2, 2016 at 2:26 pm

    Cruz has stated he will not be anyones VP. nor should he be.
    if the GOPe doesn’t want him … let him go back to the senate
    or the USSC.

      “Cruz has stated he will not be anyones VP”

      I think you’re mistaken. I heard him answer that question without answering that question…

      “if the GOPe doesn’t want him …”

      IF? They hated Cruz more than they hate trump. Perhaps trump has so frightened them they are willing to accept cruz, but I doubt it. They would prefer shrillary.

Sorry f9or the interruption but this all may be moot.
Romney is giving a speech on the state of the race.

perhaps the GOPe is calling hoping Romney comes to the rescue.

      If Trump gets the nomination and Romney runs 3rd party, I’d be happy to vote for him again. Not my ideal conservative, but at least he’s a conservative, and he is a nice guy. Running against two mobbed up candidates, he’ll stand out.

        HandyGandy in reply to edgeofthesandbox. | March 2, 2016 at 3:31 pm

        The concern of some is not that Romney runs 3rd party.
        The concern is that joins the race, wins a few big primaries ( California, NY ) then gets the nomination handed to him by the GOPe in a brokered convention.

        “but at least he’s a conservative”

        Just curious, what are your conservative litmus tests?

        Concern or hope? Half of the GOP is practically screaming anyone but Trump. It’s amazing how long Trump can “dominate” the field without locking it. It’s already past supertuesday, and he’s still basically at his 35%. Maybe 40% overall. 35% strongly dislikes him.
        Barry — fiscal conservative, strong foreign policy, social conservative. Trump is neither of these.

          HandyGandy in reply to edgeofthesandbox. | March 2, 2016 at 5:11 pm

          I(‘m pretty sure the dogs of America are concerned.

          “Barry — fiscal conservative, strong foreign policy, social conservative.”

          OK, please square that with the following:

          In a debate during his 1994 race against Democratic Sen. Edward Kennedy, Romney said, “I believe that abortion should be safe and legal in this country.” Referring to the 1973 Supreme Court decision that made abortion legal in every state, Romney added, “I believe that since Roe v. Wade has been the law for 20 years, it should be sustained and supported. And I sustain and support that law and support the right of a woman to make that choice.”

          In his 2002 campaign for governor, Romney said during a debate, “I will preserve and protect a woman’s right to choose and am devoted and dedicated to honoring my word in that regard.”

          But there is more. In the Univision interview, Romney also said that permanent immigration reform was “badly needed” and urged Republicans in Congress to pass legislation that will make “more transparent” the process by which illegal immigrants can obtain residency.
          “Maybe even then,” Romney said, “Republicans will swallow hard and say, ‘OK, even despite the fact that we now have a stick in our eye launched by the President, we’re going to go ahead and try and see if we can’t make some improvements to the immigration system.’ I hope we’re able to do that.”

          He is of the opinion that it is the businessmen and not politicians who should negotiate trade with foreigners so that patents, designs and technology etc are adequately protected. On China:

          “Well number one, on day one, it’s acknowledging something which everyone knows, they’re a currency manipulator. And on that basis, we also go before the W.T., the W.T.O. and bring an action against them as a currency manipulator. And that allows us to apply, selectively, tariffs where we believe they are stealing our intellectual property, hacking into our computers, or artificially lowering their prices and killing American jobs. We can’t just sit back and let China run all over us. People say, “Well, you’ll start a trade war.” There’s one going on right now, folks. They’re stealing our jobs. And we’re gonna stand up to China.””

          “I will label China as it is, a currency manipulator. And I will go after them for stealing our intellectual property. And they will recognize that if they cheat, there is a price to pay. I certainly don’t want a trade war with anybody. We are going to have a trade war, but we can’t have a trade surrender either…”

          “…I would apply, if necessary, tariffs to make sure that they understand we are willing to play at a level playing field.”

          So, you will not vote for trump, but you will vote for Romney. I don’t care who you vote for, and I understand why you don’t like trump. But please don’t pretend trump is not a conservative and Romney is. That is not what is bothering you, IMO.

          Of course I left out Romneycare, the parent of obamacare.

          I never said Romney was a strong conservative.


          Well, you did say “strong foreign policy”.

          It almost looks as though trump plagiarized Romney.

        Why do you think Mitt would be more effective against a woman than he was against a minority. He lacked the spine to challenge the PC meme. He had his chance.

buckeyeminuteman | March 2, 2016 at 2:00 pm

Cruz has never yet compromised on his Constitutional ideals, why would you expect him to start doing that with Trump?

Cruz and Rubio are like the Batman and the Joker (Dark Knight version), Batman can’t kill the Joker because it’s against his code to kill him. Joker can’t kill Batman because he finds him too interesting.

In a sense Rubio is all in. He won’t get reelected to his Senate seat. ( in fact, I am hearing rumors that the GOPe is offering Carson his seat if Carson drops out ). His career is over unless Cruz offers him something. I don’t see anything Cruz can offer,

Rubio might offer Cruz SCOTUS, but I don’t think his GOPe puppetmasters will be too pleased. But also if Cruz gets oput, Rubio would need at least a 2:1 split and I don’t think he will get that.


Rubio’s campaign has no rationale.

He doesn’t even have a slogan. Even Jeb Bush had a slogan. What problem does the country have that he’s going to fix?

The closest thing Rubio had to a slogan was “I’m going to unite the party,” but how is taking the party to a convention where the elites can tell the grassroots to fuck off and die going to unite anything.

The only thing Rubio has is a big pot of Superpac money that runs negative ads against other republicans. He should leave.

    janitor in reply to rotten. | March 2, 2016 at 2:43 pm

    Rubio was only originally in the race to be stalking horse for Jeb Bush, take votes from conservative Floridians anti-Bush — to deliver later to Bush.

    You really have to think again what a two-faced snake this one is, since he not only burned his supporters on immigration but also did this to the man who boosted his entire career.

Completely wrong.

Playing ‘Chicken’ means that both sides are going to be equally hurt by their refusal to yield.

Even if Cruz dropped out, Rubio loses to Trump. He’s down over 200 delegates to Trump with very little indication that he wins a head to head against him at ALL, much less by the margin necessary.

If Rubio dropped out, MAYBE Cruz can close his own 90 delegate gap and dethrone Trump, he projects much better in closed primaries, which compromise a large majority of the states left.

They aren’t playing chicken. Rubio is playing ‘If I can’t have it Cruz can’t either’.

Which isn’t surprising. His strategy all along has been the same as Jeb! ‘I don’t need conservatives to win’ Bush. Keep anybody else from winning outright, take it to a brokered convention, and be crowned by the establishment.

Rubio will not drop out not because he thinks he can WIN, but because he thinks he can keep Trump from winning and that the thinks the establishment will give him the nomination.

He’s dead wrong on all counts and he’s the one that’s going to ensure we’re stuck with Trump.

Do you really think The Washington Post has the best interests of the GOP, Country, or The People at heart? If either Cruz or Rubio can not arise to the occasion and out poll Trump they need to go home.

On another note, where was Romney 4 years ago? Now he comes out trying to muck up the primary contest to push the GOPe and Chamber of Commerce chosen one across the finish line.