Modern American politics abounds with talk of chess. People will tell you Democrats play chess and Republicans play checkers. Not to mention all the discussion of the three-, four-, even five-dimensional chess games reportedly going on at any one time.
But in watching the situation of the so-called “Tennessee Three” play out, I’m inclined to think the left’s game of choice is actually blackjack.
Blackjack is a simple casino game and is popular because it gives you the best odds of winning, upwards of 40 percent depending on house rules. One strategy in blackjack is to bet the minimum amount. If you win, you pocket the money and bet the minimum amount again. But if you lose, you double your bet on the next hand. Because blackjack typically pays 1:1, if you win a hand at double the amount of the one you lost, you recoup your original losses.
This blackjack strategy is increasingly analogous to the way the left does politics in America today. Consider recent events in Tennessee. The left’s transgender agenda was on the back foot in Tennessee after the legislature took action to curtail the surgical and chemical castration of children. Considering their tremendous gains over the past decade, leftists might have viewed it as a small setback. Still, they lost.
Then the traumatic and awful Covenant School shooting gave them an opportunity to double their bet, and they gruesomely took advantage. To grab the narrative spotlight, three Democrat legislators — Justin Jones of Nashville, Justin Pearson of Memphis, and Gloria Johnson of Knoxville — helped orchestrate an insurrection at the Capitol, flooding the building with protesters and seizing the rostrum with the use of a bullhorn.
Tennessee Republicans, with their legislative supermajority, did not cave. Instead, they chastised the three Democrats for blatantly and undemocratically violating legislative rules, and they voted to expel Pearson and Jones. Johnson escaped expulsion by one vote because she had not used the decorum-violating bullhorn.
The left had doubled down and lost even more. On social media, the right celebrated the state GOP’s backbone and appeared energized by the success. The left could not allow this to stand.
So, leftists escalated again. The national corporate media, such as “Good Morning America,” feted the Tennessee Three. The left began to call for donations to flood into Tennessee Democrats. Former President Barack Obama and Vice President Kamala Harris praised the protest on social media, and President Joe Biden invited the three troublemaking Democrats to the White House.
And now the Nashville Metro Council, the local government of the area Jones represents, voted to reappoint him as an interim representative to fill his own vacated seat. Jones marched back into the Capitol at the head of a protest of about a thousand people and was sworn back into office in time for roll call.
Before he returned, the Tennessee Republican Party issued a statement saying they would “welcome back” any reinstated legislators. Jones responded by telling House Speaker Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville, to resign and calling him “an enemy of democracy.”
So despite losing several rounds, through repeated escalation the left has restored its losses and maybe even gained an incremental amount by putting Republicans on the back foot.
America’s two-party system should be a little bit like blackjack. If everyone plays by the rules, then both parties win some and lose some, and the ship of state will mostly drift between two poles.
The left, however, is increasingly unwilling to accept even the smallest losses. As so-called progressives, the left believes in the inevitable march of history. Any rollback of their signature policies is tantamount to fascism and utterly unacceptable. Every loss must be redeemed by any means of escalation.
As Obama famously paraphrased, “If they bring a knife to a fight, we bring a gun.” Or as Obama’s Attorney General Eric Holder put it, “When they go low, we kick ’em. That’s what this new Democratic Party is about.”
Since the 2016 election of President Donald Trump, the left in America has been less willing to accept losses, so it endlessly escalates its means of political action — from ballot harvesting, to lawsuits, to protests, to civil disobedience, to riots. For the left, losing a state legislative vote or a Supreme Court case no longer marks the end but the beginning of the spectrum of political outcomes.
As in blackjack, the left’s strategy of escalation works because their conservative opponents are predictable. They operate within a constrained set of options, and they treat each round of escalation as separate and independent, judged on its own merits.
The left has cultivated political power in many areas. The left utilizes legislative, judicial, and executive power at all levels of federalism. It has access to the coercive power of both Fortune 500 companies and labor unions. Above all, it has the national media, which can elevate local stories into national headlines in minutes. Leftists have the bankroll to double down continuously.
How then can conservatives respond? To begin, the right needs to increase its menu of political options. Instead of staying on every 17, the right must prepare to double down on occasion, especially when the left least expects it. It must develop a bigger political bankroll, represented by the ability to utilize power at the local, state, and federal levels, as well as greater political capabilities, including peaceful protest and community organizing.
The right must stop treating each political battle as a tabula rasa, unaffected by what happened before or what happens after. When the right is on a hot streak, it should keep pushing.
Finally, the right should stop allowing the left to escalate without political cost. When leftists take to the streets, engage in legal extortion, commit economic blackmail, or otherwise disregard the boundaries of respectable civil politics, the right should not reward it in any way.
Make it clear to the leftists that they have hit the table limit.