Republicans Bet Country’s Future on a Weak Hand. Will Dems Call their Bluff in ’18?

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The Republican Party just passed a major revision to the federal tax laws. This act may result in either a very good or a very bad outcome for the Republican Party in the 2018 elections. In a poker game of Texas Hold’em, they would be considered to be “All In.”

When I was a young man, my best friend’s father was a man from New Orleans. He taught his son, me, and many of our friends how to play the game of poker. I had already learned the game of chess and knew it to be a game of strategy, and I learned how to think ahead with a strategy. I was taught to play the knights early to attack, position the bishops to cover my flank and protect the king at all costs.

In international politics, chess is probably an important game to know how to play, since nations generally need to take a long view. Some cultures do this well and look out to future generations in their policy decisions. Both psychology and a long sequence of play are required to win a game of chess.

Poker is a very different game, however. Winning primarily involves knowledge of human nature in order to win with a weak hand. Not only must a player learn the statistical probability of a winning hand, but he also needs to learn when to bluff if he has a weak hand. The higher the stakes, the more critical the bluff. As Kenny Rogers sang, “You got to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em, know when to walk away, and know when to run.” My friends and I would play a friendly penny-ante game almost every week and I got to be fairly good at these low stakes games.

Later in life, I worked for several bosses who claimed that poker helped them manage their organizations. It helped them to develop a keen eye for the “tells” in an opponent’s face and to know the psychology of their opposition. I now see the current political situation as a giant poker game, and as in a Las Vegas poker tournament, the stakes in this game are extremely high.

By pandering to the economic interests of the GOP donor class, Republicans are betting that a somewhat simplified tax return and a small temporary decrease in tax payments will win them the votes they need to maintain control of the Senate and the House in the 2018 elections.

The Republicans are betting that the electorate is ignorant of economic data and policy, and they’re treating the electorate like mushrooms in the proverbial mushroom farm, where the order of business is to “keep them in the dark and feed them manure.” They believe they understand the American voter’s human nature and are betting that the voters will give them credit for President Obama’s economic recovery program which has led to near full employment. Their bet was the same in the Ronald Reagan and George W Bush administrations, and they won.

However, the over-stimulation of the current economy could lead to increasing inflation, higher interest rates, and a major recession, and they have no tools to aid in a recovery. They would leave the high deficits and recessions for the next Democratic administration to fix with what would very likely be necessary, but distasteful, economic policy.

The Democratic Party is betting on the electorate recognizing that the new tax code is heavily weighted toward the very highest incomes. They’re counting on the voters to understand that the deficits resulting from these tax transfers to the wealthy will have to be paid for ultimately, by our children and our children’s children. The Democratic Party is also counting on us to understand that the very next Republican move will be to reduce entitlement benefits. The Republican argument will be that the deficits are growing and we cannot afford to provide aid to the elderly or the sick, or for our children’s education.

History has shown that the Republican poker players tend to be keen observers of the voting public. Once again, they have moved all of their chips to the center of the table, and are holding a very weak hand. They are “all in” on this hand. If the Democratic Party and its supporters can’t identify the “tell,” call out the Republican bluff, and show that the Democrats hold the winning hand, then the voting public deserves to lose.

George Donohue is a Professor Emeritus of Systems Engineering at George Mason University and the president of the South County Democratic Club. He can be contacted at

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