Let’s admit it: we love listicles, we love brackets, and we love preposterous #hottakes. It’s called clickbait because we fall hard for it. We love ludicrous comparisons that have no basis except the author’s pique, even though we know this saps our productivity so much it reduces GDP growth.
But we still love it so. We love articles with more snarky link-text than actual text, we love insidery, with-it political jokes, and we really, really love “Game of Thrones.” Let’s just get this over with. Let all these powers combine and create the Captain Planet of Clickbait. This can be done by asking one question: “Which active politician would have the longest life expectancy as a character in ‘Game of Thrones’?” The result is (drumroll):
The American Politician Westeros Survival Bracket
Oh, yes. A selection committee* has closely examined the current political climate and used the perfect balance of quantitative modeling** and its expert judgement to select 16 hopefuls and seed them for a tournament of head-to-head matchups.
Don’t like the choices? Blame the establishment! Secretive committees openly rigged the system! Nonetheless, these are your choices. Vote! Or, don’t vote, mumble something about “not dignifying the charade,” and complain about the result later, because this is America and that’s your right, dagnabbit! You’d definitely be right in this instance, because you can be absolutely sure there will be nothing whatsoever dignified about this process.
Remember, though—we’re not in Kansas anymore. We’re in Westeros (and of course the Free Cities, too). The only yardstick of success is survival. Who lives the longest is the name of the game. Vote accordingly.
*consisting of me, myself, and I **completely, totally fabricated
The Red Bracket
Marco Rubio: Handsome, widely admired, reputed to possess great skills, Latin. You sound a lot like Oberyn Martell. You fight the good fight, but we all know how that ends in Westeros. It ends with a hulking sociopath smashing your face in like it’s a Gallagher watermelon. Banking on right-makes-might in the Seven Kingdoms is a ticket to a one-and-done first round exit. 8th Seed.
Jeb Bush: Has your family been unjustly dispossessed of the throne that is rightly yours? Does 99 percent of the populace want to keep it that way? Have you managed to attract to yourself exclusively members of the other 1 percent? Have they convinced you that you had a constituency pining for your glorious restoration? Did you really think your family’s honor would mean anything to a barbarian? Well, so did Viserys Targaryen, and that was a mistake. The committee grades you on a curve because you were dealt a weak hand by your family’s fortunes, but still deems you to have poor survival odds. 7th Seed.
Donald Trump: You lead a massive, partially computer–generated horde of appalling savages. Your leadership structure is undisciplined and fractious but fiercely loyal to you, so long as you remain strong. Your command of the common tongue is rudimentary, but your army hears you loud and clear. Your spirit animal is Khal Drogo. As fearsome as you are, the selection committee is unimpressed by the comparison, who didn’t last all that long. Sad! You’re a one-trick pony, unskilled in the subtler arts of power. You are untouchable in the field but out of your depth at court. 6th Seed.
Paul Ryan: You are a throwback. You believe in the old gods. Even your enemies respect you. You rise in the world by making a great show of appearing not to want a promotion, fretting about what it will do to your family, and pining to go back home to the frigid North. Somehow you still arrange to be the only plausible choice for the job and get others to beg you to take it. The computer models spit out Ned Stark. Your position is a hard one, since you lack a nearby power base and your intrigue skills are only middling by King’s Landing standards, but if you can avoid coming into the power of petulant tyrants you’ve got a fighting chance. The committee roots for you but notes your comp and slots you as a slight first-round underdog with a 5th Seed.
Scott DesJarlais: Huh? Who? Exactly. The committee notes that obscurity is a wildly underrated survival tactic, and is highly impressed by the Ramsay Snow/Bolton-esque way in which you maintain obscurity by being such a revolting and embarrassing figure that your own clan avoids mentioning you and only reluctantly acknowledges your existence. Westeros is a place where the wicked prosper and the righteous perish, and you’d fit right in. Reprimanded by your medical board? For having an affair a patient? Whom you then pressured into an abortion? Re-election for you! The committee would give you a higher seed, but your 38-vote margin in your last primary indicates your survival skills aren’t truly elite. Numbers are brutal that way. 4th Seed.
Chris Christie: This one is too easy. There’s already an app for that. Chris Christie is Reek. It is an open and important philosophical question as to whether Theon Greyjoy is still alive, but that disputation ought to be settled by pretentious English majors pursuing that fleeting quality of “relevance.” The selection committee (like any respectable one) doesn’t have any of those, sticks to rigorous quantitative analysis, and thus must demur on that point.
However, the committee recognizes no ontological uncertainty about Reek. He is indisputably alive, proving that, in Westeros, valuing your dignity will get you killed, and becoming a psychopath’s pet is a legitimate survival strategy (and may provide occasional opportunity to escape). He may not have his self-respect. He may not have his manhood. He may reside in the kennel of a monster. But he is alive with a good chance to stay that way, and that’s all that matters to the committee. 3rd Seed.
Mitch McConnell: You are loathed by your enemies, loathed by your allies, and loathed by Ashley Judd. Youmaintain a firm grip, however, on a critical strategic position that ensures nothing important can happen without your assent. You take hostages when necessary. You know well that at the top levels, people will always set aside their feelings for their interests and cut a deal with you. Your wisdom is that of Walder Frey, who enjoys as secure an existence as can be had in such a dark world. The selection committee acknowledges that as wisdom indeed, and awards you a 2nd Seed.
Ted Cruz: Few like you. You inspire lifelong grudges from your youth. You inherited no name, no money, and no connections in a dynastic world. Despite that world’s disintegration you have rapidly risen from obscurity to the top of the game, and more impressively have done so with 100 percent virtu / 0 percent fortuna splits. You provoke chaos because you possess the supreme confidence in yourself to believe (correctly, as it turns out!) that you will benefit most. You occupy the elite survival tier of Littlefinger. You even exceed Mr. Master of Coin Lord Baelish in possessing a tolerably competent grasp of monetary policy. No ticket to Palookaville for you; you’re a contender. Top seed in the bracket.
Barack Obama: You exist outside and above politics, detached from the world. You see the future. Some worship you as the very embodiment of Truth. Others view you as a bloodthirsty terror. Either way, you are definitely capable of suddenly inflicting death anywhere in the world, and no mere mortals know how you go about using that power. The only possible comparison is with the Lord of Light, who isn’t even a proper character. Therefore, the selection committee must unfortunately disqualify you as ineligible.
The Blue Bracket
Joe Biden: A nice, friendly, affable man. You could get a tankard of ale with absolutely anyone from Fleabottom to the Red Keep. You’re a classic liberal whose bleeding heart is much, much, much, much larger than your brain. There are no good comparisons to make in “Game of Thrones” because someone like that wouldn’t survive the pilot. 8th seed.
Bernie Sanders: Have you taken over the chief priesthood of a false religion that no one believes in (except, of course, for your deeply problematic cadre of bros)? Are your weapons of choice arbitrary imprisonment and shame? Do you get undue enjoyment from tormenting powerful, unscrupulous women? Your alter-ego is the High Sparrow. For survival, you mainly rely on a vague aura of personal holiness. This is a reasonable but lower-tier survival strategy. With limited data the selection committee doubts its durability. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. 7th Seed.
Chelsea Clinton: Not an active politician? You probably wish you were true, as would Sansa Stark. When all you seem to want in life is to be a good girl and enjoy the innocent pageantry of courtly life, it’s a tragic fate to have your childhood marred by constant reminders of your father’s infidelity and your adulthood destined to be the object of ceaseless fighting between cretins who care nothing for you and everything for what your status as the only (known) bearer of your name can bring them. The selection committee sheds no tears for you, though, because what a name to carry! All it sees is the reasonable chance at a long lifespan that name grants you and awards a 6th Seed.
Bill DeBlasio: Your political project is driven by dishonor done to your father. You have a legit outside chance at the crown. You inspire fawning admiration from those distantly beyond the fourth wall, very few of whom seem to notice that everyone close to you is kinda scummy, there’s grumbling in your ranks, you aren’t that effective at managing your enterprise, you incompetently damage your allies, and you have limited effectiveness beyond your core domains. Still, Robb Stark had a decent multi-season run, and the committee is willing to match that with a 5th Seed.
John Kerry: Do you have an inflated sense of entitlement that no one else takes seriously? Have you made your play for the throne, lost decisively because your navy was incinerated, and still survived to play the game some more? Have you somehow managed to put all that history aside to become the only person in the administration who understands who the real enemy is and what the stakes are? The computer models say your best comp is Stannis Baratheon. It’s not obvious what your survival strategy is besides sponsoring witches and having an island defended by pirates, but whatever it is, it worked for (almost) five solid seasons. That’s impressive enough to merit a 4th Seed.
Elizabeth Warren: Have you given birth to a demonic shade that answers to no one? That mysteriously attacks your enemies and shifts blame to innocent parties? Do you have a frighteningly insistent fixation with human sacrifice? You sound a lot like Melisandre. You rely for survival on inspiring supernatural terror, but inspiring irrational fear is a dangerous way to live. Nonetheless, it’s worked for you so far, and the committee is willing to respect that with a 3rd Seed.
Rahm Emanuel: Forget that his political career in this world is in persistent vegetative state. That’s only because in good ol’ Murica we have quaint bugaboos about things like due process, black lives, and habeas corpus. Those things matter not at all in the Free Cities or the Seven Kingdoms. The selection committee recognizes his potential there. In Westeros, he’d be the Godfather again, the rare talent who could make the trains run on time in a place as rotten and corrupt as King’s Landing. There, he’d be Tywin Lannister. Like Tywin, though, his imperiousness can alienate those closest to him, exposing a clear weakness that denies him a top slotting. 2nd Seed.
Hillary Clinton: Are you a cold-blooded conniving blond who made it to the top by marrying the worst kind of philandering pig because he was obviously on his way to the throne? Did you stay there by deftly and ruthlessly cleaning up his messes? Is your family famous for hoarding obscene amounts of gold? Is your only detectable empathetic human quality devotion to your progeny? Then your heroine is Cersei Lannister. You survive by possessing the most elite intrigue skills in the game and pawning off your crimes onto your underlings. The selection committee is unanimous in awarding top seed in the bracket.