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Buy, Sell, Hold: What Comes After Trump’s First 100 Days?

In this week’s politics chat, we play one of our favorite games: buy/sell/hold. The transcript below has been lightly edited.

micah (Micah Cohen, politics editor): Welcome, everyone, to a special almost-100-days-of-President-Trump edition of our weekly politics chat. To celebrate the occasion, we’re going to play a game of buy/sell/hold with PredictIt prop bets (plus some I made up). I checked the prices of a bunch of propositions at noon Eastern on Tuesday, and we’re translating those prices into probabilities. (I know that’s not exactly right, but it’s close enough.)

In case you forgot how to play buy/sell/hold:

  • Buy means “I think the chances of this happening are higher than indicated”;
  • Sell means “I think they’re lower”;
  • and hold means “I’m a total coward and am unwilling to take a stand.”

clare.malone (Clare Malone, senior political writer): Is “Trump 100 Days Week” the equivalent of the ugly person version of fashion week? I think it might be — the politics universe is having a group aneurysm.

micah: That seems about right.

OK, let’s start with the most immediate one …

Buy, sell or hold: There will be a government shutdown on May 1 (Monday). 10 percent

(Again, these probabilities are as of noon Tuesday — they may have changed.)

perry (Perry Bacon Jr., senior writer): Sell.

natesilver (Nate Silver, editor in chief): Buy, I suppose.

clare.malone: Buy.

harry (Harry Enten, senior political writer): I say hold.

natesilver: Holdin’ Harry

micah: Wow … didn’t take long for Harry to wimp out.

harry: It’s not like I’ve been bitten in these games before.

natesilver: I think I bought Carly Fiorina stock at one point during the GOP presidential primary.

harry: The truth is I don’t know what the chances are. I know they are low. But as we’ve learned, things at the tail ends of the probability distribution often have a higher chance of happening than we think.

clare.malone: I think the chances are low, but higher than 10 percent given the volatility of American politics in 2017.

natesilver: And the disorganization of the White House.

micah: OK, Harry, that’s the only “who knows? … as we’ve learned” you’re allowed this chat.

harry: OH, COME ON!

micah: OK, Perry, you’re the outlier. Explain yourself!

perry: Well, 1. I think the administration and Congress will make great effort to avoid a shutdown, and 2. I think the shutdown could come after May 1.

micah: So, Perry, they would pass a short-term fix by this weekend then screw it up later?

perry: Yeah, I’m not wedded to this one. But there is some talk of a short-term fix, moving the deadline a bit.

natesilver: I guess I just think — they haven’t passed a budget yet, the deadline is April 28, and there are about a million ways they could screw it up.

Like, if “Fox & Friends” or CNN makes fun of Trump for caving on the border wall, maybe he’ll change his mind?

micah: Next!

Buy, sell or hold: Trump will sign a bill without majority GOP support in 2017. 13 percent

harry: Is this House and Senate? Or just House?

micah: The House. Whatever … you get the idea.

perry: Buy.

natesilver: Buy. Cha-ching.

clare.malone: Buy.

harry: I’m going to say buy. Partially because I think it’ll happen and partially because I’m herding.

clare.malone: Honest man.

micah: So Clare, are you buying because you think this will happen at least once, or are you buying because you think Trump will pivot to the center in a sustained way?

clare.malone: I’m buying because I think the problems Republicans ran into on health care were a good foreshadowing of the problems Trump could have going forward (conservatives dig in heels, Trump digs in heels against them, etc.). And also, if the more moderate forces at the White House win out (aka Jared Kushner over Steve Bannon), it would seem that Trump would be more likely to trend moderate.

perry: The Freedom Caucus might balk at a debt ceiling increase, causing other Republicans to do the same in the House. Then Democrats in the House have to vote to get it through, and maybe they get something in return. I’m not saying it will happen, but it could. I’m skeptical Trump will make a broader, sustained move to the center.

harry: The big question I have is whether Democrats will actually throw Trump a bone. There’s a fairly decent shot of it happening on a budget item?

natesilver: Of course, there are a few barriers here. House Speaker Paul Ryan is going to be reluctant to let such legislation come to the floor. But 13 percent? That’s CHEAP. I’m going to build a new Trump Hotel there, in fact.

micah: Where? This isn’t Monopoly.

harry: Baltic Avenue cheap.

natesilver: On Reading Railroad.

harry: I still cannot believe they got rid of the thimble, but, please, let’s continue.

micah: Did you all buy the railroads?

I bet I can guess:

  • Nate: yes.
  • Clare: no.
  • Harry: Never played Monopoly.
  • Perry: yes.

clare.malone: Accurate. I’m the only no!!! I’m noting this, Micah.

natesilver: The railroads are a great investment in Monopoly. Whereas the utilities are terrible.

micah: 2 for 2.

perry: I don’t recall, since this is a political chat.

micah: I’m counting that as a win. 3 for 3. (Harry is refusing to answer.)

OK …

Trump will be president at the end of 2017. 84 percent

natesilver: Buy.

perry: Buy.

harry: Buy.

clare.malone: Buy.

You know what …


micah: YES!

clare.malone: Variety is the spice of life.

He’s old! We know not the hour nor the day …

Impeachment would take waaaay too long to finish in 2017, though.

micah: This just seems like liberal wishful thinking?

clare.malone: Yes, for SURE.

perry: That is an interesting notion. Age, not impeachment/removal/scandal/resignation, which I agree is very unlikely this year.

micah: So it’s health or he just walks away?

harry: If you’re betting on it happening this year, then it’s age. But the man has so many doctors around him — I just don’t see it happening.

clare.malone: Trump and Hillary Clinton were among the oldest presidential candidates we’ve had.

He’s not gonna walk away in 2017. That would be a loser move, no?

micah: It would.

harry: Trump’s not a loser. He’s told us as much.

natesilver: Without looking up actuarial tables, the risk of age-related death or incapacity is not that high in any given eight-month period, even if you’re 70 years old and have a super stressful job. So we’d probably be talking about resignation, yeah.

harry: It’s low, Nate. See Clare’s piece that she just linked to, or here’s a direct link.

perry: This betting line I assume is getting at “Will Trump be pushed out by a scandal, particularly around Russia?” And I think no way in 2017. It still could happen. But I feel like it might require either a transcript of a phone call between him and Putin or Democrats winning the House. These investigations in Congress are going slow. And the investigation by the FBI still must go through Trump’s Department of Justice.

harry: It takes time for scandals to develop.

natesilver: For Trump to be forced out in some way, Republicans also have to decide that they’re better off throwing Trump under the bus and cutting their losses. And I don’t think we’ve seen many signs of that yet. A few around the margins. But not enough for this to develop into impeachment within eight months.

harry: If his approval drops into the mid 30s permanently, then it might be worth it. Hanging in the low 40s? Forget it.

micah: Speaking of …

The prop bet on Trump’s job approval rating on PredictIt is narrow and boring, so I’m going to make one up. We’ll do an over/under.

Over/under: Trump’s approval rating at the end of 2017 will be 47 percent. (It’s 41.4 percent now.)

natesilver: Under.

clare.malone: Under.

harry: Under.

perry: That is a pretty safe under.

harry: Trump might say over.

natesilver: He’d say over publicly but then leak under to Maggie Haberman or Robert Costa.

perry: If I said 39 percent, what would you say? Over/under?

harry: That’s a good one. I’d say over.

natesilver: I’d hold at 39. Suppose I’d go over if forced to pick.

clare.malone: Yeah, ditto. Over.

perry: Micah?

micah: Under.

perry: Wow.

natesilver: Ordinarily a president’s approval rating declines throughout his first year, and Trump is already at 41 percent. But he’s so low so early that the precedents might not apply.

micah: I just think it’s easier for things to go wrong than to go right — for any president in modern times. And he’s already pretty close to 39 percent.

OK, next up: Paul Ryan will be speaker of the House on June 30. 94 percent

perry: Buy.

harry: Hold.

clare.malone: Sell.

natesilver: Sell.

clare.malone: 94 is quite a confident percentage.

harry: Yes, it is.

perry: Yeah, 94 is really high. But there is no one ready to take that job. He just got it. And everyone knows it sucks.

natesilver: What if he quits?

clare.malone: What if some scenario came about where a Freedom Caucus member could finagle it? Yeah, or if he quits. I just think 94 is suuuper high.

harry: I’m holding because of the reasons Perry outlines.

natesilver: Holdin’ Harry.

micah: But I think Clare and Nate are right that this is more about him quitting than being overthrown.

On the other hand, what if Trump needs a big scapegoat on something?

harry: He could just fire Press Secretary Sean Spicer or something.

perry: I could have seen Ryan being pushed out right after health care. But he survived that, which was a huge, huge fail.

natesilver: But Ryan massively screwed up on health care. He wasn’t just the fall guy. It was a disaster from start to finish. And it was at least partly his fault. So that leads me to think he’s more prone to screwing up again.

clare.malone: I don’t think it would have looked good for them to push him out then.

micah: I was a bit surprised Trump didn’t go after him more.

harry: I mean, who else is going to be the speaker? That’s the problem. There’s no one better. No one who wants the job, anyway.

clare.malone: Oh, come on, let’s not oversell the “no one wants it” argument. The House is filled with power-hungry and ambitious people.

micah: Yeah, I’m with Clare. I’d be speaker.

harry: Hold it a second … are you better than Paul Ryan, Micah?

perry: To take Harry’s side here, we are not in a place where there is a great amount of palace intrigue about replacing Ryan. I think ambitious members who could be speaker probably know this is not the best time to make a play for the job. In contrast, I’d imagine lots of people are gunning to replace Reince Priebus as Trump’s chief of staff and Stephen Bannon as his chief strategist.

micah: That’s a good segue …

Sean Spicer will be press secretary on Dec. 31. 56 percent

Buy (you think the chances are greater), sell (lower) or hold (that’s about right)?

clare.malone: Buy.

natesilver: Sell.

perry: Hold.

micah: That’s the name of the game!


harry: I’m going to buy. Usually we get a little more mileage out of press secretaries.

clare.malone: Make Nate explain himself.

micah: Nate, explain yourself.

natesilver: I mean, the tenure of press secretaries has been pretty short in the modern age. It was only two weeks ago that Spicer sparked an outcry with a Hitler comparison. And he has a sort of impossible job for an intemperate boss.

Plus, I get a slightly good price (I’m taking the under at 56 percent, not 50 percent). It seems like the buys are the ones who have to justify themselves!

micah: What if it were: Bannon will still be in the Trump administration on Dec. 31? 56 percent

Buy, sell or hold?

natesilver: In what capacity?

micah: Any capacity.

perry: Buy.

harry: As White House chef.

natesilver: Buy on him being in the White House in some capacity, but sell on him remaining in his current role at 56 percent.

harry: There’s a better shot Bannon is out than Spicer.

clare.malone: Eh, I dunno. I think Bannon has a better shot of staying in. They don’t want him on the outside pissing in.

harry: I think you’re all crazy!

clare.malone: Maybe you demote him.

harry: He’s already been demoted.

natesilver: Yeah, Bannon is potentially quite dangerous to have on the outside.

perry: And Bannon has a constituency outside of the White House. Firing him is complicated and might be covered like Trump is abandoning his more populist campaign rhetoric. I don’t know if that’s true, but it will be covered that way. And Trump cares about coverage.

micah: How about: Priebus will still be chief of staff on Dec. 31? 56 percent

perry: Sell.

micah: Ooooh.

natesilver: Buy, I guess?

micah: Bad move. Chiefs of staff can turn over pretty quickly.

natesilver: But is he really empowered like a traditional chief of staff? Does he have enough power to be worth firing?

harry: I’m a hold or sell.

micah: Holdin’ Harry.

clare.malone: I think it’s likely he’s out by beginning of 2018.

natesilver: Holden Caulfield Enten.

perry: The simplest move for Trump — if he’s in real trouble — would be to dump his chief and suggest everything that has gone wrong this year is a big management failure. He brings in some CEO type to replace Priebus. And he can keep Kushner and Bannon.

harry: FWIW, I got a “C” on the “Catcher in the Rye” test. Thanks, Ms. Altschuler!

micah: I’d rank them, in order of most likely to leave/quit/be fired to least: 1. Spicer, 2. Priebus, 3. Bannon.

OK, two more quick ones!

Buy, sell or hold: The individual health insurance mandate will be repealed by the end of 2017. 37 percent

perry: Sell.

harry: Selling like a fake purse in Herald Square.

clare.malone: I guess sell …

natesilver: Selling like a cronut when the tour bus pulls up.

micah: That’s terrible.

perry: I would sell that at 20 percent too. It is hard to drop the mandate outside of a full Obamacare repeal. And we saw how that went.

micah: So you are all skeptical about this because you think the overall chances of health care reform happening — repeal and replace Obamacare — are low?

clare.malone: Yes.

natesilver: The chances for comprehensive health care reform are quite low, whereas there’s some chance they could do some token-ish stuff, including repealing the mandate. But it’s still a sell at 37 percent, for me. It was such a flaming disaster last time around, and there’s no credible path forward so far.

micah: OK, the penultimate prop bet:

There will be an individual tax cut by the end of 2017. 56 percent

Buy (you think the chances are greater), sell (lower) or hold (that’s about right)?

clare.malone: Buy.

perry: Sell.

natesilver: Sell.

harry: I say … buy.

perry: This was the hardest one.

micah: I’m surprised you’re selling, Perry and Nate. Republicans control everything. Isn’t some type of tax cut a pretty good bet?

natesilver: You’d think the same would have been true with health care.

perry: I see tax cuts for individuals getting trapped in a more controversial corporate tax cut proposal that either 1. passes early next year, after lots of wrangling, or 2. doesn’t pass at all.

clare.malone: I guess I bet they pass this year … they gotta get something done, right?

harry: I don’t see this being similar to health care. For one thing, everyone in the GOP agrees on tax cuts.

micah: The price for corporate tax cuts on PredictIt, by the way, was 69 percent. A bit better than an individual cut.

natesilver: Yeah, I might put the chances of some type of tax cut bill at 56 percent, but I suppose it’s possible they’d cut the corporate tax and not the individual tax — the corporate tax is the only detail that’s leaked so far.

perry: The buy people have moved me here. But I will stick with sell.

harry: I’d probably hold at 67 percent on both. But predicting legislation is hard. Predicting anything is hard. Save for snow in Syracuse in December.

micah: And finally, to close us out …

Over/under: 20 percent of people who have visited this article are still reading this chat.

harry: Over. I believe in you, dear reader. Don’t let me down.

natesilver: Sell.

micah: Nate is having a hard time with the difference between over/under and buy/sell/hold.

natesilver: Under.

perry: We have data on this, right? Do people finish the chats?

natesilver: I wouldn’t trust the past data because this chat is unusually long and bad.

Nate Silver founded and was the editor in chief of FiveThirtyEight.

Harry Enten was a senior political writer and analyst for FiveThirtyEight.

Clare Malone is a former senior political writer for FiveThirtyEight.

Perry Bacon Jr. was a senior writer for FiveThirtyEight.

Micah Cohen is FiveThirtyEight’s former managing editor.