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We Started With 14 Possible Paths For Trump’s Presidency. Which Are Most Likely Now?

In this week’s politics chat, we debate what trajectory the Donald Trump presidency is on. The transcript below has been lightly edited.

micah (Micah Cohen, politics editor): So just after President Trump was inaugurated, Nate wrote a piece that laid out 14 possible versions of the Trump presidency — basically, 14 different paths the Trump administration might take. We were debating what to talk about in today’s chat, and one of our beloved readers had this idea:

So let’s do that! We never assigned each version a probability, but I’ll paste a scenario in here, you’ll tell me “more likely” or “less likely” (no pushes), and then we’ll quickly talk over why you think the probability has gone up or down.

Everyone got that? (We’re missing our dear colleague Clare today, FYI; she’s doing actual reporting.)

harry (Harry Enten, senior political writer): I got it. I got it.

perry (Perry Bacon Jr., senior writer): Yes. Go ahead.

natesilver (Nate Silver, editor in chief): I thought I was supposed to write an article about this, Micah. Did the statute of limitations run out?

micah: It did, yes. You were supposed to file that article about three weeks ago.

OK, No. 1, in the “extrapolations from the status quo” category:

1. Trump keeps on Trumpin’ and the country remains evenly divided. In this scenario, Trump continues to implement his campaign-trail agenda. He still rants on Twitter every morning and picks unnecessary fights, although … he mostly avoids major entanglements with foreign leaders that could really get him into trouble. And it … sort of works. The press regularly predicts Trump’s demise, but difficult periods are followed by comparatively successful ones and he benefits from relatively low expectations. At the same time, he doesn’t win over many new converts. Still, Trump’s base of 40 to 45 percent of the country sticks with him. Given Republicans’ geographic advantages in Congress and the Electoral College, that makes for a very competitive 2018 and 2020.

perry: Less likely.

harry: Less likely.

natesilver: I’m not allowed so say “push”? I guess I’d say less likely. I would have said more likely at the 100-day mark.

harry: Trump’s approval rating is at best at 40 percent. The part of the scenario where the press repeatedly predicts his demise probably still holds true, but I don’t know if there has been a successful Trump period yet.

natesilver: Also, the notion that Trump is mostly avoiding getting himself into real trouble doesn’t hold up as well, with the James Comey stuff.

harry: Trump hasn’t had a foreign policy disaster, but, as Nathaniel notes, he cannot seem to keep quiet on stuff he doesn’t need to be talking about (e.g. Comey).

natesilver: That scenario also posits that “Trump continues to implement his campaign-trail agenda,” which is a pretty debatable proposition based on his lack of big policy wins so far.

Mind you, I still think this scenario is very possible (it was one of the more likely ones to begin with). But I’m not sure that it’s become more likely, per se. He’s bogeying holes instead of parring them.

harry: Heck, Louisiana Sen. Bill Cassidy (a Republican) has argued that Trump’s budget, released Tuesday, doesn’t follow his campaign-trail agenda. Cassidy said the same thing about the GOP health care bill.

perry: Right. I think this scenario is still possible. Trump governs with a mix of his campaign-trail agenda and general Republican orthodoxy. He holds at around 40 percent approval. But it’s less likely than in January.

micah: No. 2, same category …

2. Trump gradually (or not-so-gradually) enters a death spiral … We don’t yet know very much about how sustainable Trump’s schtick will be as president, so it would be foolish to dismiss the possibility that he’s in over his head and never really recovers. Trump is fighting a lot of battles at once without much of a support structure around him. Moreover, his problems could be self-reinforcing as issues pile on top of one another and public opinion turns against him, especially if the more coolheaded and competent advisers and Cabinet members flee the White House as Trump begins to falter. In this scenario, Trump’s approval ratings wouldn’t necessarily fall off a cliff — his base would give him a mulligan or two — but they would move slowly and inexorably downward, as happened to George W. Bush during his last two years in office. Although a desperate and deeply unpopular Trump could pose some risks to American institutions, the general idea here is that Trump would become too ineffectual too quickly to cause all that much lasting damage. Impeachment and resignation are plausible endgames in this scenario.

perry: More likely.

natesilver: More likely.

harry: More likely.

natesilver: “Trump is fighting a lot of battles at once without much of a support structure around him. Moreover, his problems could be self-reinforcing as issues pile on top of one another and public opinion turns against him …” I mean, that sounds like a pretty good description of the past few weeks.

harry: We just had an article on the site about the chances of freaking impeachment.

natesilver: Now, I would say that having been on this course so far doesn’t necessarily mean that we’ll continue on this course. And you could easily wind up halfway between scenarios No. 1 and No. 2.

harry: Right, it’s merely more likely. Not probable.

perry: This scenario feels like what is happening. There are days when it feels very much like 2005, with Republicans trying to figure out how to break from the president of their party, Democrats gleeful about the upcoming congressional elections, the president’s numbers going gradually down.

harry: And look at Trump’s approval rating. … It isn’t falling off of a cliff, but it is declining.

natesilver: I do think there’s a chance that — I think I said this on the podcast on Monday, so sorry for the repetition — Trump is spending so much time treading water to get out of his various self-inflicted crises that his victories are few and far between.

harry: He got a health care bill past the House. He got a Supreme Court justice. He had the Syria strikes

natesilver: A health care bill that could get a bunch of Republicans voted out of office because the White House and Paul Ryan did an awful job of thinking through the politics of it. I’ll give him Neil Gorsuch.

micah: No. 3 (I’m truncating these excerpts, BTW, because Nate tends to be … verbose):

3. Trump keeps rewriting the political rules and gradually becomes more popular. Trump won the presidency despite being fairly unpopular, and he remains fairly unpopular now. Nonetheless, what he’s accomplished is impressive, especially given the long odds that many people (including yours truly) gave Trump at the start. Maybe the guy is pretty good at politics? One can imagine various scenarios where Trump’s default approach to politics turns out to be a winning one over the long run, even if it leads to its fair share of rocky moments.

harry: Less likely.

perry: Less likely. And I thought this was pretty likely a few months ago.

natesilver: Less likely, certainly. I suppose with the slight caveat that assessing this scenario would turn heavily on election results (e.g. how well Republicans do at the midterms) and those elections haven’t happened yet.

harry: I should note that “One can imagine various scenarios where Trump’s default approach to politics turns out to be a winning one over the long run, even if it leads to its fair share of rocky moments,” may still turn out to be true.

natesilver: I actually think a big part of Trump’s problem is that the election convinced him he could walk on water, but he can’t.

It’s like when some No. 12 seed wins their first-round game in the NCAA tournament and then starts jacking up wild 3s and playing like crap in their next game. Overconfidence.

perry: He won both the primary and general while not following the rules of politics. I’m not sure if flouting of the rules was why he won or if he won because of other factors while he flouted the rules. Either way, his violation of both casual norms (don’t make a Stephen Bannon-like figure your senior adviser) and real norms (firing the FBI director investigating you) have backfired.

harry: It’s still very early. Bill Clinton had a rocky first few months – so rocky that his approval rating dropped into the 30s at just about this point of his first term. What may have to happen is that Trump needs to get crushed in the midterms in order to recalibrate.

natesilver: Yeah, I think firing Comey — and (allegedly) asking two intelligence agency heads to push back on the FBI investigation into ties between Russia and the Trump campaign — counts as more than a “rocky moment”

micah: How about a Rocky moment?

natesilver:

micah: No. 4 … (Now we’re in Category 2, “Trump changes directions”)

4. Trump mellows out, slightly. This is the mildest course change. In this case, after an up-and-down first three to six months, Trump gradually gets better at the job of being president, not necessarily because of a concerted effort to pivot but because he learns through trial and error that he needs to pick his battles. Steve Bannon and other more incendiary advisers lose stature, and Trump’s bonds with Republican leaders in Congress strengthen as he somewhat faithfully carries out their agenda. There are still many profoundly weird moments, but Trump gradually comes to govern more like a conventional Republican. Like most first-term incumbents, he enters 2020 as a slight favorite for re-election.

harry: I’ll argue this has become more likely.

natesilver: Moreless likely

harry: The heck is that?

natesilver: That’s like the T/F (truefalse). I suppose I’d go with more likely.

perry: This is a hard one. I will go with less likely. But parts of this are more likely (he governs like a traditional Republican) and parts are less likely (slight favorite for re-election.)

harry: I once got credit on a multiple-choice science test in 8th grade because I wrote a “d” that looked like an “a.”

Anyway. I’d go with “more likely” because I think he needs a course change and it has been rocky. So it merely opens the possibility more. Not that I think he’ll take this option.

micah: Harry gets the prize for most nonsensical answer so far.

natesilver: He has shown some restraint at times. For instance, in avoiding a government shutdown.

I guess you could ask whether or not there’s been a trend toward more restraint over time.

Upon reflection, I think I’m going to change my answer to less likely.

perry: The Comey thing was just so big that it overwhelms 10 mellowing moves.

micah: Yeah, that’s true.

His first trip abroad has been pretty restrained.

perry: Agree, the foreign trip has been restrained.

natesilver: Yeah. I think if you rated each day from 0 to 10 in terms of how “presidential” Trump was, there wouldn’t be an upward trajectory. Or at least, not a statistically significant one.

micah: We should do that, Nate.

harry: My point is that we have had a rather rocky 3-6 months. He needs to learn how to pick his battles. He hasn’t yet. But this requires waiting. So we’ll have to wait and see.

natesilver: Nobody is saying this is scenario is impossible. In fact, it was one of the most likely scenarios to begin with, IMO. But does the evidence point toward a trajectory of greater restraint? You could argue the case, but my view is that not really, at least not given Comey.

micah: No. 5:

5. Trump cedes authority. I rarely see this possibility discussed, but it has several historical precedents among presidents who found the job mentally or physically overwhelming. The key aspect is that within a year or two, Trump would have effectively relinquished day-to-day control of the government to Vice President Mike Pence and to his Cabinet, instead focusing on the more ceremonial aspects of the presidency and perhaps exploiting it for personal enrichment. There are several variations on this scenario, which range from Trump being surprisingly popular as a sort of celebrity-in-chief to Trump largely withdrawing from the public spotlight.

perry: More likely.

harry: More likely.

natesilver: More likely.

micah: DISAGREE ON SOMETHING!

harry: I disagreed last time and you told me I was nonsensical.

natesilver: I’m not someone who says that Trump’s frequent golfing, etc. is a big deal. But it is an indication that he maybe likes the auspices of the job more the job itself.

micah: What evidence has there been that Trump would cede any power?

perry: I think there is a scenario where the party leaders suggest to Trump, “We can support you, as long as you let us and Vice President Mike Pence do domestic policy and H.R. McMaster/Nikki Haley/James Mattis/Rex Tillerson do foreign policy. You can give speeches.”

That would be done in private.

natesilver: He seems to be enjoying the foreign trip, which sorta fits with this theory.

harry: What evidence? How about the fact that he freaking offered John Kasich control of both foreign and domestic policy in hopes of getting Kasich to join his ticket as vice president.

micah: Reportedly.

harry: Reportedly, but still.

natesilver: In terms of ceding power, he certainly isn’t a micromanager. He totally delegated construction of the health care bill to the House, for example.

perry: I don’t think this is likely. Trump is not a humble man. I just think it’s more likely, because I think Trump’s mistakes have empowered others to try to take authority from him.

micah: That makes sense.

Next …

6. Trump successfully pivots to the populist center (but with plenty of authoritarianism too). This is [David] Frum’s scenario. To recap, it involves Trump becoming more of a true populist, remaining hard-line on immigration and trade but calling for significant infrastructure and social welfare spending. His new direction earns plaudits from the media, which is eager to tell a “pivot” story, and is genuinely popular with independents and Rust Belt Democrats. At the same time, Trump continues to erode the rule of law by using strong-arm tactics with the media, the judiciary and private business, and he collaborates with Republicans to restrict voting rights. Trump’s presidency is fairly successful as far as it goes, but he moves the country in the direction of being an illiberal democracy.

perry: Less likely.

harry: His new budget argues against this option. So: less likely.

natesilver: Less likely. There’s been rather little actual economic populism.

perry: I think he is taking steps to erode the rule of law (Comey firing, sidestepping ethics laws, bashing judges and the press) but I would argue that those steps have been somewhat ineffective so far. I don’t think he is succeeding in breaking those institutions, many of which are bedeviling him. (See the travel ban being struck down, The Washington Post and The New York Times embarrassing him almost daily with stories from leakers inside government.) And the populism has been nonexistent. He has made no real efforts to win Democrats.

micah: No. 7 …

7. Trump flails around aimlessly after an unsuccessful attempt to pivot. In this scenario, Trump is like George Steinbrenner running the 1980s New York Yankees, firing his managers and changing course all the time without ever really getting anywhere. Instead, he churns through advisers and alienates allies faster than he makes new ones. In one version of the scenario, Trump attempts a Frum-ian pivot to the center but it fails — Congressional Republicans don’t go along with with the program, and it costs him credibility with his base more quickly than it wins him new converts. By early 2019, there are impeachment proceedings against Trump, and several Republicans are considering challenging him for the 2020 nomination. Trump winds up being something of a lame duck despite being in his first term, drawing comparisons to Jimmy Carter.

perry: More likely.

natesilver: More likely. Especially given the frequent leaks and rumors of staff shake-ups.

harry: More likely.

micah: But has he attempted a pivot?

harry: He hasn’t yet, but if he stays this unpopular?

micah: Yeah, I guess he’s more likely to?

perry: I know we don’t think of it as such, but firing Comey was an attempt at a pivot, by changing the subject from Russia.

natesilver: He’s flip-flopped on some issues. But this scenario is more arguing that he doesn’t really have a strategy, and that contributes to his undoing. Which seems … very possible based on what we’ve seen so far.

perry: Right. The rumors about Bannon leaving, Gary Cohn rising in power – those all pointed to some strategic confusion.

micah: No. 8:

8. Trump is consumed by scandal. On the one hand, the threshold for what it takes to make the public truly outraged about Trump is likely to be higher than it would be for almost any other politician. On the other hand, perhaps no president has had such high potential for scandal. Between his business dealings (and potential conflicts of interest), his treatment of women, and his long tenure in the public spotlight, Trump is a target-rich environment, and news organizations are ramping up their investigative teams in hopes of breaking a story.

(We’re in the “three horsemen of the presidential apocalypse” category now.)

harry: More likely.

natesilver: Hmm, tough one. Just kidding.

perry: I think we can say that Nate nailed this one.

natesilver: More likely.

perry: More likely. And happening.

natesilver: Although, I’d note that my (long) description there in the original article did not mention Russia.

perry: True.

harry: How could you miss that? … But this scenario looks like what the last two weeks or so have actually been like.

perry: I feel like we can safely say this is the scenario of Trump’s presidency (for now). And I’m having a hard time seeing it not continuing on this path.

micah: Yeah, we’re firmly on this path at the moment.

perry: He has appointed people who are walking conflicts of interest (Jared Kushner). He has lied so often about ethics issues that the newspaper investigative teams are going to keep adding people and writing bigger pieces.

natesilver: Yeah. And there’s a lag between when he does something dubious and when it gets reported. He’s still cleaning up a lot of messes related to Michael Flynn, for example. So who knows what he’s doing now that will come to light in some big New York Times or Washington Post investigative story in July.

micah: Next!

9. Trump is undermined by a failure to deliver jobs. Although the U.S. economic outlook is fairly bright in the near term, macroeconomic conditions are largely unpredictable more than about six months in advance. Some of Trump’s economic policies, such as imposing tariffs, could also contribute to the likelihood of an economic downturn. Presidents usually see their popularity suffer amidst a declining economy, and Trump could be especially vulnerable after having promised to create so many jobs.

perry: Less likely.

harry: Push.

micah: No pushing.

harry: Fine. Less likely.

natesilver: I peeked out of my office to see how our economics editor/writer Ben Casselman would answer this question.

micah: We need an @benc guest appearance.

@benc joined #14-versions-update by invitation from @micah

micah: Ben, has the situation above become more or less likely?

benc: I would say the situation on jobs hasn’t changed meaningfully since Trump took office. I mean, I guess it’s become less likely insofar as some people were saying Trump’s mere election would spark a recession (which, for the record, I said was dumb at the time). That obviously didn’t happen. But the job market seems to have been pretty much unaffected by Trump so far, for good or ill.

micah: Thanks, Ben!

natesilver: I suppose I’d say less likely, since I don’t think most economists say there’s a recession looming, but note the caveat about “macroeconomic conditions are largely unpredictable more than about six months in advance.”

He has mostly avoided policies that could sabotage the economy so far, such as extremely draconian tariffs.

perry: Trump seems, I would argue, too scared to actually do the really aggressive economic stuff he talked about on the campaign trail, like fighting China on currency, getting out of NAFTA, etc.

The economy may be strong or weak in his presidency, but it seems like he will have little to do with big shifts either way.

harry: A weak economy could make the ground fall out from under him.

He might be looking at, instead of an approval rating of 37 percent, his rating falling to 30 percent. I don’t know if what Trump does makes economic downturn more likely, but presidents get blamed for the economy whether or not it was their fault.

natesilver: To add some data/context here, economists in the Wall Street Journal panel estimate there’s about a 15 percent chance of a recession, which is pretty typical.

(That’s a 15 percent chance within the next year, I believe.)

micah: OK, No. 10:

10. Trump’s law-and-order agenda is bolstered by an international incident or terrorist attack. It’s all too easy to envision this scenario, since the tactics Trump might use if this happened are similar to the ones he used on the campaign trail. A terrorist attack or an international conflagration initially boosts Trump’s popularity because of the so-called rally-’round-the-flag effect, which we saw with Bush after the Sept. 11 attacks. Trump uses his popularity boost to promote nationalism, curtail civil liberties, erode the rule of law and demonize minority groups such as Muslims.

perry: More likely.

natesilver: I’d say less likely.

micah: CONFLICT!

Harry is the tiebreaker.

harry: Push … I’m kidding. I guess it’s more likely.

perry: I’m not predicting an incident. Or, God forbid, an attack. I just think that the odds of Trump seeking to exploit such an incident are higher because it seems like this is one of his only paths to get to more public support and respect. The White House loved how people reacted to the Syria strike.

natesilver: It’s a tricky proposition to test because we arguably haven’t had such an incident so far. So maybe the grade is “incomplete.”

I agree that the White House seemed to like the reaction to the Syria attack, and they also got pretty favorable press coverage for it. At the same time, the response itself was pretty restrained.

micah: Perry is right. Nate is wrong.

No. 11, the first item in our penultimate category: “Things fall apart.”

11. Trump plunges America into outright authoritarianism. While Frum imagines a gradual eight-year drift toward authoritarianism, there are other precedents (such as in Turkey and Russia) for a more abrupt shock to the system. Bannon, Trump’s chief strategist, spoke in 2013 of wanting to “bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today’s establishment.” If Trump feels the same way, he could decide that there are lots of advantages to moving quickly while his opponents are still disoriented, and while he has a Republican Congress that has not yet shown much appetite to resist him. How many indicators of authoritarian and anti-democratic behavior has Trump checked off so far? In our opinion, this is a hard question to answer because Trump hasn’t been on the job for very long. But if you started out with the view that Trump represented an existential threat to American democracy, there hasn’t been a lot to reassure you so far.

harry: Less likely.

natesilver: Less likely.

perry: Less likely.

natesilver: This scenario specifically envisions a “shock-and-awe” type of approach to start Trump’s presidency.

harry: There’s no sign Bannon is really in charge, for one thing.

natesilver: It looked like we might be on that trajectory in the first two weeks — with the travel ban — but certainly not since.

perry: I read Frum’s piece and thought it was possible. I think 1. maybe the institutions are stronger than I thought 2. maybe Trump is inept. 3. Trump maybe respects institutions more than I expected (I wasn’t sure he would follow the court orders on the travel ban, but he has).

micah:

12. Resistance to Trump from elsewhere in the government undermines his authority but prompts a constitutional crisis. Have you ever heard talk about the “deep state” or the “military-industrial complex”? We may soon see how much power it actually has. Traditionally, we think of Congress and the judiciary as providing a check on the president’s powers. But there are lots of people within the executive branch (including the military and the federal bureaucracy) who have the potential to stymie Trump, whether by expressly refusing to carry out his orders or by what amounts to sabotage (i.e. by leaking to the press, foot-dragging, etc).

perry: More likely.

natesilver: More likely, for sure.

harry: Isn’t this what’s been going on the past few weeks to a large degree?

perry: Right.

harry: More likely, BTW.

natesilver: It’s very risky for Trump to make enemies in the FBI and the other intelligence agencies. And the entire executive branch has been leaking like the Titanic so far.

perry: Although, I think Nate imagined a scenario where people would be more worried about the “deep state” and take Trump’s side. I think the public has largely sided with the bureaucracy on questions like Trump firing Comey.

micah: We’re now in the final bucket of scenarios — “Trump Makes America Great Again”

natesilver: #MAGA

micah:

13. Trump becomes Governor Schwarzenegger. … [Arnold] Schwarzenegger is one of the better precedents for Trump. … After a rough first couple of years on the job, Schwarzenegger dropped his tough-guy act and shifted significantly to the center, winning re-election in a landslide in 2006. Could Trump do something similar? As Frum notes, Trump doesn’t have a longstanding commitment to the GOP platform. … Unlike in Frum’s scenario, however, Trump wouldn’t necessarily be looking to pivot to the center as a cover for authoritarian impulses. Instead, one can imagine him becoming obsessed with his approval ratings and deciding fairly early in his term that a bipartisan approach would be the best way to improve them. The desire to be popular can do unexpected things to even the most stubborn-seeming politicians.

perry: More likely.

harry: Well the mere fact that this scenario requires a rough first couple of years for Trump makes it more likely.

natesilver: Hmm. I guess I buy Harry’s logic. More likely.

perry: Schwarzenegger reshuffled his staff and moved to the middle. Will Trump do that? Don’t know. But it seems like the smartest way for him to get his approval ratings up.

natesilver: There haven’t been too many feints in this direction from Trump so far, though, other than when he said he was willing to work with Democrats on health care.

But I can imagine a case where the GOP loses the House at the midterms (which I think has gotten more likely), and Trump thinks a more bipartisan course is the best way to save his bacon for 2020.

perry: Right. Bill Clinton did this in 1995, to some extent.

natesilver: Although, also, if the GOP loses the House, then we’re in Impeachment City.

perry: Good counterpoint.

harry: I heard you can get a great deal on a condo in Impeachment City.

micah: That’s a terrible joke, Harry.

LAST VERSION!

14. Trump’s button-mashing works because the system really is broken. Another possibility is that it turns out that the elite consensus is in fact wrong in many areas — on the economic benefits of free trade and open borders, for instance. In that case, Trump does fairly well with a somewhat contrarian approach that “shakes up the system.” It’s not that all of his ideas are brilliant, necessarily, it’s just that deviating from the status quo is a good default because the status quo isn’t working very well.

perry: Less likely.

harry: Less likely.

perry: I kind of wish Bernie Sanders had won so we could try this experiment with a politician without all the legal/temperament issues.

natesilver: I’m going to use my one “push” here because I don’t think we’ve done a serious attempt to assess Trump from a policy perspective, and it would probably be too early to do so anyway.

The metrics we’ve proposed looking at are all long-term things.

harry: The first four words of that scenario — “Trump’s button-mashing works” — make me think it’s less likely.

perry: The elite consensus may be wrong on many issues, but I’m not sure Trump is challenging it in any real way.

harry: The elite consensus could very well be wrong, but as Perry says, we’d need someone not up at 7 a.m. on Twitter talking about who knows what in order to figure out whether button-mashing works.

natesilver: That’s fair enough. And the GOP health care bill — their most consequential policy action to date — made almost no one happy from a policy standpoint.

So I suppose I’d go with “less likely” if forced to choose.

perry: The health care bill also didn’t challenge consensus, just reflected the most unpopular parts of GOP orthodoxy. The budget also doesn’t really challenge GOP elite views.

harry: The only thing that has challenged elite views has been how Trump has acted on Twitter.

I don’t know if it’ll happen or not. I just think it’s less likely than it was.

micah: I haven’t really weighed in on any of these, but for what it’s worth: I actually did think there was a possibility of this one happening. The conventional wisdom is so shitty in so many cases that I thought there was like a 5 percent chance that a non-politician could come in there and get some stuff right — not because I thought all Washington needed was some plaid-draped, plain-American “common sense” to set everything straight, but just because Trump would be mashing different buttons.

But in the first few months of Trump’s presidency, one thing that I think has become 100 percent clear is that the way Washington does things may seem staid and bureaucratic, but many of those processes are there for a reason and have some benefits or at least prevent certain problems.

I guess I’ve grown to have more respect for the bureaucracy.

harry: Congrats on losing your bid for whatever office you wish to run for, Micah.

perry: lol

natesilver: Leaking this convo to James O’Keefe.

micah: OK, to wrap up here, if you had to put all your chips on one version of the Trump presidency (give me the number), which would it be? (Let’s say two years from now, in May 2019.)

Or give me three in order. Like, you’re putting chips on the roulette table.

harry: I have four.

perry: No. 7. “Trump flails around aimlessly after an unsuccessful attempt to pivot.”

natesilver: Nos. 8, 7, 1

harry: I agree on No. 8.

perry: I’ll just pick that one, with scandal (No. 8) and death spiral (No. 2) also close.

harry: I also had No. 2.

No. 12 seems plausible.

And No. 5 does too.

natesilver: The language of No. 8 is that Trump would be “consumed by scandal,” and that seems fairly likely at this point. Whether or not the scandal results in (e.g.) his impeachment isn’t necessarily the issue. Hell, he could even get re-elected. But it seems likely that Russia and other (alleged) scandals could eat up an enormous amount of his bandwidth.

micah: I think it’ll go, in order, No. 12, then 8, then 7, then 6, then 5.

perry: No. 12 is good — forgot about that one.

We seem to think the best outcome for Trump is “Trump keeps on Trumpin’ and the country remains evenly divided.”

That is not a great outcome. But it’s not a terrible one either. I guess this was Bush 2004 to some extent.

natesilver: It’s still awfully early, and so far, Trump’s presidency has been an amalgam of at least half of these scenarios. But the ones that end poorly for him have become more likely, generally, and the ones that end well for him have become less so.

Nate Silver is the founder and editor in chief of FiveThirtyEight.

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

Perry Bacon Jr. is a senior writer for FiveThirtyEight.

Micah Cohen is the politics editor.

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