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.
I was a proud Scout Teamer for my high school football team; one of the backups who learned the plays of our opponent that week and practiced against my team’s starting lineup. I got so into it that I once went to an opponent’s game during a bye week and scouted them myself.

The defense responds 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) = D Power
  • 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?).
  • 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.

Power vs. Power leads to small wins for the stronger team.

  • The favorite usually wins.
    • Old-school coaches like to play Power every time.
      • But this gets ugly when your team overestimates itself.

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 an entrepreneur, investor, scientist, altruist, and author. He is the founder & CEO of Utopic, his startup studio. He is also the founder & chairman of Air to All, a 501(c)3 nonprofit medical device startup, and Labdoor, a consumer watchdog with $7M+ in funding and 20M+ users. He previously co-founded Avomeen Analytical Services, a product development and testing lab acquired for $30M+ in 2016. He has worked with community organizations since 2007 and political campaigns since 2016 to fight for better education and economic opportunities in Michigan.