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The Republican Primary Dropout Draft

For this week’s 2016 Slack chat, we introduce a new, fantasy-football-inspired game. As always, the transcript below has been lightly edited.

micah (Micah Cohen, deputy editor for politics): All right, with the last Republican presidential debate of 2015 tonight, we’re approaching a period when the Republican primary should really start to get going — when the field should start to consolidate. So to get a sense for how the dominoes may tumble, we’re going to play “Dropout Draft.” Nate, give us the rules.

natesilver (Nate Silver, editor in chief): Well, this is pretty simple. The rules are this: You get five points if a candidate drops out (or “suspends his campaign”) in December, three points if he does so in January, and one point in February. No points for dropouts after that.

clare.malone (Clare Malone, senior political writer): Is there a monetary incentive to this?

natesilver: Yeah. The winner gets bought a six-pack of beer of his or her choosing, or that godforsaken A&W cream soda stuff Harry drinks if he wins somehow.

Also, you can’t pick Jim Gilmore. Because, really.

harry (Harry Enten, senior political writer): Nate is so anti-Gilmore. It’s disgusting.

natesilver: #feelthegil

clare.malone: It’s a nice little vote of confidence for George Pataki there.

natesilver: We drew cards to determine the draft order, and it’s 1. Harry, 2. Clare, 3. Nate, 4. Micah. And everyone else rejected my proposal for a snake draft, so we’ll just do a straight three-round draft.

So we’re off. With the first pick in the 2016 Republican Dropout Draft, Harry Enten selects….

harry: The junior senator from the Commonwealth of Kentucky: Rand Paul.

His favorable ratings are not good, his poll numbers are so bad that he was nearly left out of tonight’s mainstage debate, he has a re-election campaign to worry about, and unlike the JV debaters this time around, Paul could actually be a player down the line.

micah: Rand is the Jadeveon Clowney of this draft. That’s a solid pick. I thought he would drop out before Thanksgiving.

natesilver: Is this a PPR league? Clare, you have the second pick.

clare.malone: OK, I think I’m going to go with Lindsey Graham.

natesilver: Shit, he was No. 1 on my board.

clare.malone: I think he’s feeling queasy about the current state of the party — he basically said as much a couple of weeks ago, and I think that he might want to get out of the race and start saying stuff to calm everyone the hell down.

micah: Also, it’s not like he has an issue to trumpet. His main cause, an aggressive foreign policy, now comes standard with the other Republican candidates (save Paul).

natesilver: Yeah, and there’s been some solid reporting about how some of the more moderate Republicans are hesitating in endorsing other candidates out of deference to Graham. But if he’s really concerned about the party’s health, he might want to get out of the way.

micah: With the #3 pick, Nate Silver is on the clock …

clare.malone: (Nate is muttering under his breath.)

natesilver: This is tricky. Can’t believe Clare took Graham. But I’ll go with John Kasich.

micah: Interesting! I don’t agree.

harry: I don’t like this pick. I think he’s going to wait until New Hampshire.

clare.malone: Because he has fire in his belly like a 17th-century Boston preacher?

micah: That too.

harry: I think Donald Trump is playing with Nate’s mind, and Nate is now irrational.

micah: Justify yourself, Nate.

natesilver: Look, Kasich doesn’t have a ton of money, he has no sign of momentum, and he’s been a little bit valedictory lately in critiquing Trump and the state of the race. To me, that makes him a poor man’s Lindsey Graham.

harry: He has New Hampshire. HE HAS NEW HAMPSHIRE! Or not. He’ll probably lose New Hampshire to my main man Chris Christie.

natesilver: Yeah, but at least I’m going to get my one point when he drops out after that. Unless he holds on until Ohio. Which he might do, come to think of it, because he’s sort of an egomaniac.

OK, maybe that was a terrible pick.

Micah, you’re up next.

micah: Hmm …

harry: HURRY UP.

micah: George Pataki

natesilver: That’s like drafting a fucking punter in the first round.

micah: He has no chance, and he’s not completely Gilmore-ing it. And there will be pressure among establishment candidates to drop out.

natesilver: But he had no chance to begin with, so what’s gonna compel him to drop out?

micah: See above re: establishment pressure. [Editor’s note: Pataki missed the filing deadline for the Texas primary — not exactly a sign of a serious or well-organized candidate.]

OK, Harry, you have the #5 pick

harry: It pains me to do this because I admired her leadership at HP, but Carly Fiorina.

clare.malone: When you were an employee there at age 8.

micah: I was going back and forth on her.

harry: I’m playing to win.

clare.malone: Cream soda gleaming in the distance…

micah: I think Fiorina has a little “I’m doing this to raise my profile and get a better TV contract” — so I think she’ll stay in as long as she can.

natesilver: Yeah, I think that might be a little early for Fiorina. With a bunch of debates ahead — and she’s pretty good at those — she can still maximize her exposure for future speaking circuit $$$ without embarrassing herself.

clare.malone: Gee whiz, we’re all so cynical.

harry: I just think she’s greeted by half-filled audiences at her appearances. She’s getting closer and closer to falling off the main stage with her poll averages. Do I think she’ll drop out this month? No. But I wouldn’t be shocked if she dropped out in January.

natesilver: Clare, you have the sixth pick.

clare.malone: Oh man, only eight left to choose from

I think I’m going to say Rick Santorum. He’s really putting in the legwork in Iowa, but I just think that once that primary passes, he’s out. He’s just not the evangelical flavor du jour.

micah: That’s a good pick. Post-Iowa, I can see Santorum hanging it up.

natesilver: It’s a good pick for ME because I’m gonna get huge value at No. 7. And I’ve gotta think Santorum is keeping 2012 in the back of his mind, where his surge in Iowa came at the proverbial 11th hour.

My pick. I am thrilled beyond belief that Jeb Bush fell to No. 7. He’s my choice.

clare.malone: Naw, man. I think he waits it out. He doesn’t want to bring shame on the family.

micah: Yeah, I think he’s in through New Hampshire at least. Although, maybe avoiding shame means dropping out before any voting takes place.

clare.malone: I think they’re more face-the-music types. Old New England.

natesilver: Bush has a lot of money — and almost NOTHING else going for him. And he’s a party guy who might have the best interests of the GOP in mind. The resources he commands could be helpful elsewhere: He’s about the only candidate on the Venn diagram who could meaningfully help another establishment candidate to win, and yet who doesn’t have much chance himself.

harry: I gotta agree with Mr. Nathaniel Read Silver here.

Take a listen to our election podcast pilot

We’re launching our election podcast in January. For now, take a listen to the pilot in the feed for our podcast What’s The Point.

micah: With the No. 8 pick, I’m going with … Ben Carson. Bam! The doctor has better things to do if his support in the polls drops into mid-single digits.

clare.malone: Back to pondering the grain stores of Egypt.

natesilver: Solid pick, Micah. Not clear how much his heart is in the campaign, and his trajectory in the polls has been steady and downward.

micah: Glad you approve, Nate.

Harry, you’re next.

harry: Folks, I’m going to pick the greatest presidential candidate ever: Donald Trump. I have to do it. Do I think he’ll drop out? No. But of the players left on the board, there really isn’t anything solid. He has the highest upside. As my JV baseball coach said about me, “He’s a diamond in the rough.”

micah: You should have picked Mike Huckabee.


clare.malone: Harry is now claiming that he was confused.



clare.malone: Your JV coach’s words are ringing in all of our ears.

harry: To be honest, Nate’s whiteboard is really dirty, and I just didn’t see that Huckabee’s name was still on it.

clare.malone: That is not a metaphor, or a euphemism.

micah: For the record, here’s the white board:


All right, well, you’re stuck with Trump.

clare.malone: My turn???

micah: Clare, you have the #10 pick.


micah: Yay!

clare.malone: Like butta. I feel like the reasons are obvious.

micah: Nate, you’re up.

natesilver: Clare’s team is gonna be tough to beat.

natesilver: I guess I’ll complete my establishment triumvirate by adding Chris Christie to Bush and Kasich.

micah: You are bad at this game, Nate.

natesilver: Wait, what?

micah: You should have diversified!

clare.malone: He couldn’t see the board.

harry: Horrible pick.

natesilver: Christie has some momentum now. But not that much. Whoop-de-doo — he’s at 11 percent in one poll of New Hampshire. And he has all sorts of liabilities if he rises to the top of the field again.

micah: Nate’s putting all his chips on the establishment meeting behind the scenes, picking Rubio, and having everyone else exit stage-right.

harry: You know, I’m getting sick of your anti-Christie vibe, Nate. It’s not like he stopped you from crossing the George Washington Bridge.

natesilver: I’m actually slightly bullish on Christie, despite all that! I’m just saying there’s some solid value there for the 11th pick.

micah: So I have the last pick.

clare.malone: Yes

micah: OK — Marco Rubio

clare.malone: President Ted Cruz it is.

micah: Even though i think he is more likely to win than Cruz, I think Rubio is also more likely to drop out. Cruz is in this until the balloons drop in Cleveland.

clare.malone: Best damn balloons in the nation. [Editor’s note: Ohio nativism.]

natesilver: I’m still of the belief, although it’s been wavering lately, that Rubio is the more likely nominee than Cruz. But I like Micah’s pick despite that.

Cruz doesn’t give a damn about annoying anyone. And he might have a higher floor than Rubio, even if he also has less chance of achieving his ceiling.

OK, let’s look at the final “teams”:

Harry: Paul, Fiorina, Trump

Clare: Graham, Santorum, Huckabee

Nate: Kasich, Bush, Christie

Micah: Pataki, Carson, Rubio

micah: That’s an amazing team, Clare!

clare.malone: I’m pretty confident in my dream team.

harry: Let’s allow the game to be played.

clare.malone: You’re just salty, Harry.

micah: Here’s how I would rank the teams: Clare > Harry > Micah > Nate.

harry: Nate is garbage.

natesilver: I’m looking forward to that six-pack, guys.

clare.malone: I expect mine to be Great Lakes Beer.

micah: OK, we’ll check back in on this as people drop out. Enjoy the debate, everyone!

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.

Micah Cohen is FiveThirtyEight’s former managing editor.