Politics and Sports are Different

Bill Veeck (pronounced “Veck”) is one of the most legendary figures in the history of baseball. As the former owner of several different MLB franchises, Veeck is largely credited with broadening the popular appeal of baseball and is largely credited with pioneering several entertainment features that are still with the game today.


Veeck was the consummate showman and was perpetually looking for ways to bring fans out to the games even when his teams were bad – much to the chagrin of the stuffed shirts who ran baseball at the time. Veeck was responsible for sending the 3’7″ Eddie Gaedel to bat (wearing the number 5/8) in the second half of a meaningless doubleheader, a move which got the whole world talking about his miserable baseball team and scandalized the scoffing priests of baseball purity.

But as much as Veeck was a showman, he was above all things a business man. One of the things Veeck revealed in his autobiography Veeck as in Wreck (which is a hilarious and engaging book that every baseball fan should read) is that he engaged in some sophisticated analysis that related to the effect winning had on loosening up his patrons’ wallets. He discovered that the effect of winning on ticket sales was mostly incidental, but it had a huge effect on the amount his patrons spent on concessions and souvenirs. By his calculations, baseball attendees spent over 30% more on concessions and souvenirs at games at which the home team won than they did when the home team lost.

I thought about that when I read this piece in Politico today titled “GOP elite line up behind Donald Trump.” If the reporting in this piece is accurate, it’s kind of stunning (and not in the good way) how many people are making a decision to support Trump based solely on whether he can win or not:


While some well-funded Republican groups are considering sitting out the presidential race – notably, those overseen by billionaires Charles and David Koch – others see an avenue for getting involved. The Karl Rove-founded American Crossroads, for example, is considering whether to invest in the contest, according to one source familiar with the group’s planning. It has been encouraged by recent polling showing Trump competitive with Clinton nationally and in some swing states.

The most refreshingly honest (and equally galling) statement in the article comes from ACU’s Matt Schlapp, who is responsible for putting together CPAC every year:

Yet, as people get used to Trump being the nominee, many believe it’s only a matter of time before holdouts get on board – if for no other reason than their dislike of Clinton.

It’s a pretty simple calculus: Do you want to win or do you want to lose?” said American Conservative Union chairman Matt Schlapp, who was a political adviser in the Bush White House. “It’s inevitable that the vast majority of people will support him.”

This election cycle has made it perfectly clear that a whole bunch of people who have professed to believe in things over the years actually do not believe in anything other than winning elections just for the sake of supporting a winning team. That’s how sports works. You might overlook a jerk or three playing for your favorite team if they have the talent to help your team win and provide the self affirmation you get from watching them make the playoffs or hoist the trophy at the end of the season.


Politics, at least in theory, is supposed to work differently. One thing I’ve learned about myself over the years is that there’s probably nothing the Chicago Bears or Boston Red Sox can do to stop me from being a fan (and they have tried earnestly). But I don’t participate in politics or support candidates just for the sake of being on the side of someone who can or will win. I have sports for that. When I consider whether to vote for a given politician or not, I still evaluate whether I actually feel that he or she deserves my vote on the merits. Maybe that’s a naive position in today’s post-Trump world, but I don’t have any intention of changing it any time soon.

Meanwhile, make no mistake: many of the people who are quoted in that Politico article are lining up behind Trump for the same reason Bill Veeck understood that it was important to put a winning team on the field: they know that people are more willing to open up their wallets for the benefit of the conservative nonprofit cottage industry and/or for the benefit of the consultants who draw huge salaries from the various megadonor PACs when the Republican Party is winning. And that’s the full extent of their interest, period.

This is the point Byron York and so many other people have missed about the #NeverTrump movement in general – the idea that Trump might win does not really change the #NeverTrump calculus at all. “Trump will probably lose” is not and has never been a reason to be #NeverTrump. The reason to be #NeverTrump is that Trump deserves to lose, regardless of whether he will or will not (and he will). Absolutely no one has been #NeverTrump just because we didn’t want to be on the losing side of the general.


That behavior is associated pretty much exclusively with the people who are for Trump right now. And I wish them all the best of luck with it.



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