Power vs. Counter

My top mental model for politics comes from football fundamentals: Power vs. Counter

  • They’re the two most basic plays in football.
  • They’re also the two most basic plays in politics.

Let me explain:

Power vs. Counter is a simpler version of rock-paper-scissors.

Power = Rock

  • When the offense runs the ball up the middle, that’s Power.
  • When the offense runs away from the line, that’s Counter.

The defense can respond by stuffing the middle (Power) or attacking the edges (Counter).

The offense mixes up its plays to try to create an advantage.

  • If the defense guesses wrong, the offense gets easy yards.
  • But if the defense guesses right, it causes stops and turnovers.

So what do football game theory and political pendulum swings have in common?

Democrats and Republicans are constantly playing a game of Power vs. Counter too:

  • Donald Trump in 2016 was a major R Counter.
  • Hillary Clinton in 2016 was a classic D Power play.

This is my POTUS scorecard since 2000:

  • 2020: D Power vs. R Power (I) = ??
  • 2016: D Power vs. R Counter = R Counter
  • 2012: D Power (I) vs. R Power = D Power
  • 2008: D Counter vs. R Counter = D Counter
  • 2004: D Power vs. R Power (I) = R Power
  • 2000: D Power vs. R Counter = R Counter

Outsiders have a way of becoming insiders once they win.

  • Barack Obama in 2008 was a D Counter. By 2012, Obama represented D Power.
  • Trump even changed his slogans to match his new strategy:
    • 2016: “Make America Great Again” (Counter)
    • 2020: “Keep America Great” (Power)

We can use this game theory to pick the best candidates for each race.

We can also use it to predict where there are future lanes in politics.

  • Based on the 2000-2016 pattern, 2020 will be won by an R Power (Trump) and then 2024 will be won by a D Counter (AOC?).
  • But if 2020 is won by a D Power (Biden), then expect 2024/2028 to be won by another R Counter (Tucker Carlson?).

Rs are outstrategizing the Ds simply by switching directions each race while the Ds stubbornly play Power most times.

A core issue with the Ds is that their primary process is so biased in favor of the establishment (Power) that D Counters rarely make it to a general election.

Old-school coaches like to play Power every time (think Jim Harbaugh).

Power vs. Power leads to small wins for the stronger team. The favorite usually wins.

But this gets ugly when your team overestimates itself. (I say as a fan of Michigan football and Democratic politics.)

Counter vs. Counter is the most unpredictable. This is where most upsets happen.

With our new cultural focus on politics as entertainment, expect more Counter vs. Counter races in the next 20 years.

Now the idea of Kanye West running for president doesn’t seem so crazy, right?

This essay was originally written as a series of Tweets. Reply to a specific tweet or message me @neilthanedar.

Published by Neil Thanedar

Neil Thanedar is a scientist, entrepreneur, philanthropist, and activist. He is the founder & CEO of Air to All, a nonprofit medical device startup designing low-cost respirators and ventilators for COVID-19 and beyond. He is also the co-founder and CEO of Labdoor, a consumer watchdog that independently tests and ranks supplements and other health products for its 20M+ users. He was previously co-founder and President of Avomeen Analytical Services, a product development and testing lab acquired for $30M+ in 2016. He has also served as Executive Director of The Detroit Partnership and Senior Advisor to his father Shri Thanedar in his campaigns for Governor and State Representative in Michigan. He received his BBA (Entrepreneurship) and BS (Cellular & Molecular Biology) from the University of Michigan in 2010. Neil lives in Michigan with his wife Shoua, sons Kai (3) and Ajay (1), and dogs Zeus (12) and Pluto (11). He is also a (very) amateur hockey player and drummer.