Presidential Politics Meets… Game of Thrones

(Author’s note: if you’ve been waiting for the answer to last week’s April Fools Challenge, the answer will be at the bottom of today’s post. In the meantime, it’s not too late to go back and lock in your guess!)

Welcome, blood of my blood! For Game of Thrones fans like myself, it’s been an agonizing couple of years since its seventh season faded out after we saw [spoilers redacted]. This Sunday, our wait for the eighth and final season finally ends. It might say spring on the calendar, but winter is finally here.

To commemorate this moment, I thought I would blend two of my favorite things into one post: Game of Thrones and presidential politics! I’m going to connect 14 of my favorite Thrones quotes — one for each of the seven kingdoms and seven new gods — to modern politics. After all, the race to sit in the Oval Office is not totally unlike the quest to sit on the Iron Throne. Gods be good, you’ll enjoy it.

Now, join me south of The Wall, where presidential politics meets… the Game of Thrones!

1. Season 3, Episode 6 — Petyr Baelish (Littlefinger): “Chaos… isn’t a pit. Chaos is a ladder. Many who try to climb it fail and never get to try again. The fall breaks them. And some, who are given the chance to climb, they refuse. They cling to the realm. Or the gods. Or love. Illusions. Only the ladder is real. The climb is all there is.”

One of Thrones‘s most famous quotes comes from perhaps its most devious character. Here, Littlefinger’s often shady strategy is provided illumination by the man himself. Responding to Lord Varys, who describes the kingdom’s chaos as “a gaping pit waiting to swallow us all,” Littlefinger counters that, for some people, chaos can actually be advantageous.

Politically, chaos was a huge boon to Donald Trump in the 2016 election. On the Democratic side, while Hillary Clinton’s inevitability scared away most candidates and gave her majority support from her declaration to the nomination, the GOP’s primary had 17 major candidates dividing the electorate. By July 2015, Trump took the lead in polling with numbers in just the high teens, but this support gradually climbed as these polls placed him at the center of the debate stage, helped him dominate the media’s attention, and encouraged new support from voters who lost interest in being one of only a few percent supporting other candidates.

Now, in the comparably crowded Democratic field, we might see the same thing benefit Bernie Sanders, who also has a zealous fifth of the party, or Joe Biden, who has to this point garnered support from nearly 30 percent of Democrats. (Of course, Biden’s support came before recent accusations of inappropriate contact with younger women. We’ll see how that affects his polling. PPFA is overdue for a Biden post, but I’m trying not to slam you with posts like I did last month. I have tweeted about him, though.)

2. Season 2, Episode 1
Jaime Lannister: “Three victories don’t make you a conqueror.”
Robb Stark: “It’s better than three defeats.”

Speaking of Biden, his continued hesitance to enter the race likely stems from a fear that he’s not sure he can win. Another loss in a presidential race would make three for his career (after 1988 and 2008). At a time when he’s enjoying the most popularity of his life, he must be wondering if a chance at the presidency is worth getting battered. He’s already getting a taste, and he hasn’t even officially entered the race yet. It’s only going to get worse.

3. Season 6, Episode 4 — Tyrion Lannister: “A clever man once told me, ‘we make peace with our enemies, not our friends.'”

Tyrion — quoting Littlefinger — sheds a bit of light on President Trump’s foreign policy. The President often draws criticism for his provocative language toward European allies contrasting a chummy stance toward dangerous dictators. However, he probably sees the world a bit like Littlefinger and Tyrion. Since he trusts that the American-European friendship is unbreakable, he can press them on paying their fair share to NATO or lowering tariffs on American products, while at the same time he turtles while standing next to Putin or fawns over the lovely Kim Jong-un in an effort to thaw relations with these American antagonists.

I’m not saying I agree with these postures, but there may be a method to the madness.

4. Season 2, Episode 3:
Tyrion Lannister: “Listen to me, Queen Regent, you’re losing the people. Do you hear me?”
Cersei Lannister: “The people? You think I care?”
Tyrion Lannister: “You might find it difficult to rule over millions who want you dead.”

Domestically, however, I have less sympathy for the President’s approach. He’s never backed off his All About That Base approach to politics, an approach that cost his party 40 seats in the House of Representatives — the worst House result for his party since Watergate — and continues to drown his approval rating. Like Cersi, he acts like he doesn’t care what a majority of the country thinks, but he’s turned that majority into furious political enemies that won’t go along with any of his policies. Though they probably don’t wish to see him literally dead, they can’t wait to kill his political career in 19 months. Saddled with a Democratic House, he’ll have a hard time passing any legislation between now and the point when the country might remove him from power altogether. It’s indeed become more difficult to rule.

5. Season 3, Episode 4 — Tywin Lannister to his daughter, Cersi: “I don’t distrust you because you’re a woman. I distrust you because you’re not as smart as you think you are.”

(Cue millions of voters who didn’t support Hillary Clinton in 2016 nodding their heads.)

6. Season 4, Episode 3 — Stannis Baratheon: “If I do not press my claim, my claim will be forgotten. I will not become a page in someone else’s history book.”

Stannis was in rough shape for most of his run as a claimant to the Iron Throne. His greatest frustration was that few people in the Kingdom of Westeros saw him as a legitimate king. He always carried a sense of urgency about him, knowing that if he didn’t make his move for the throne fast, he’d lose his chance forever.

The Stannis Baratheon of the 2020 race is Elizabeth Warren. In the rubble of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 defeat, Warren was seen by many as one of the top favorites for the Democratic nomination. Indeed, in the polls that came out directly after the last election, she always placed in the top three and usually with healthy double-digit numbers. However, once the real race began in late 2018 and early 2019, it’s safe to say no candidacy has fallen shorter of expectations than hers. She’s now the owner of a sluggish second-tier candidacy that runs third in her home state and can’t seem to overcome her original sin of lying about Native American ancestry, as if other politicians (and presidents) have never lied about worse.

Meanwhile, she’s going to turn 71 next year, which makes it pretty unlikely she can be a contender again, particularly if a Democrat wins in 2020. It has to be now. In Thrones, Stannis’s strength — tactics — wasn’t enough to overcome his lack of financial and popular support. Warren hopes her strength — peerless policy knowledge — fairs better. She’s working as hard as anyone on the campaign trail and hopes her determined and detailed stump speeches and town halls can take her to the White House despite her current lack of popularity. Don’t write her off yet, as she still might be the best candidate to bridge the establishment with the far left.

7. Season 3, Episode 6 — Olenna Tyrell: “Old. I’m something of an expert on the subject.”

The 2020 race has several candidates who are also experts on this particular subject. Trump, Sanders, Biden, and Warren will all be in their 70s on election day. Only one president had ever been in office over 70 years old, so many wonder… how old is too old?

8. Season 1, Episode 6 — Syrio Forel: “What do we say to the God of death? Not today.”

Speaking of old, seven blessings to Mike Gravel, who is 88 years old and running for president. I’m pretty sure he repeats Syrio’s words every morning.

9. Season 3, Episode 3 — Tyrion Lannister: “I’m quite good at spending money, but a lifetime of outrageous wealth hasn’t taught me about managing it!”

“Put a billionaire in the White House!” his voters said. “He’ll figure out the debt problem,” his voters said. “What could go wrong?” his voters said.

Despite once promising to eliminate the national debt in eight years, President Trump’s first two years in the office has seen it grow by the trillions, and it’s projected to be trillions more by the time his administration ends. Perhaps, considering his high profile corporate bankruptcies, everyone should have been a bit more skeptical that, like Tyrion Lannister, a man fortunate enough to be born to a wealthy father was inherently more likely to know how to manage money.

10. Season 2, Episode 10 — Melisandre to Stannis Baratheon: “You will betray everything you once held dear, and it will all be worth it.”

On that note, here’s a shout out to the Republican Party, which maybe hasn’t betrayed “everything” it once held dear, but gone are the days of promoting fiscal responsibility, free trade, the importance of character, projecting global American leadership, respecting separation of powers, and not lambasting recently deceased war heroes and first ladies. Many Republicans will admit, “I wish he didn’t do that,” or “He shouldn’t tweet so much,” but these desires seem to have no impact on his record approval from the party. As long as 90 percent of his party lavishes praise upon him, the President pays no price for these heterodox positions and insulting behavior, and he’s galvanized to continue to them.

And why do they lavish this praise? Why are his embarrassing tendencies, as Lady Melisandre says, “all worth it”? Because he beat Hillary Clinton, he appoints conservative judges, and he stands up to libtards and the mainstream media better than any elected official ever has. Other things once held dear by the party pale by comparison.

11. Several episodes — Ygritte and Melisandre: “You know nothing, Jon Snow.”

For this one, we actually hop the Atlantic and arrive in the mess that is the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Island. The clumsy Brexit transition has become a source of national shame.

One British commentator has been particularly insightful and precise with his criticism. This journalist’s name? Jon Snow! I couldn’t make that up. Here’s video of him dressing down British cabinet member Matt Hancock. I’ll paste the diatribe below, but words on a page can’t compete with the pissed off eloquence of an English pundit:

“Secretary of state, you know better than I do that parliament is for once deeply representative of the country. It’s completely asunder.

“Nobody in the country knows what’s going on. Nobody in there [points to Parliament] knows what’s going on. And you know nothing about what’s going on – even inside the cabinet.

“The cabinet is at sea, the country is at sea. We are a laughing stock.”

Finally, it’s Jon Snow telling others that it is they who know nothing.

12. Season 1, Episode 1 — the dwarf Tyrion Lannister to the bastard Jon Snow: “Never forget what you are. The rest of the world will not. Wear it like armor, and it can never be used to hurt you.”

One of the show’s most inspiring quotes (and, upon a re-watch of the series’s first episode years later, one of its most emotional) goes to Mayor Pete Buttigieg, the first openly gay major candidate for president. Earlier in his political career, he perhaps went through a phase where he thought he should closet his homosexuality, or, short of that, be honest yet discrete about it, lest he scare away conservatives uncomfortable with the lifestyle.

If that were a phase, it was short-lived. Instead, his husband, Chasten Glezman, has become the Mayor’s chief surrogate, and he has contributed to the rise of popularity for both men. In fact, Glezman — who took the name Chasten Buttigieg after their marriage last year — has become somewhat of a Twitter celebrity. The two are often seen at public events together, acting as any candidate and spouse would act, and they openly speak of their love for each other during interviews.

Buttigieg, like every other candidate, is unlikely to win the 2020 election. If he loses, however, it won’t be because people are surprised by his sexuality, and it won’t be because he tried to forget who he was.

13. Season 3, Episode 8
Daenerys Targaryen: “Ride with me, and you’ll never need another contract. You’ll have gold and castles and lordships of your choosing, when I take back the Seven Kingdoms.”
Daario Naharis: “You have no ships, you have no siege weapons. You have no cavalry.”
Daenerys Targaryen: “A fortnight ago, I had no army. A year ago, I had no dragons.”

This exchange is a nice reminder to anyone who thinks President Trump is an easily beatable candidate next year. He’s not. In fact, he’s already a formidable candidate in decent shape for re-election.

Nearly four years ago, we all laughed when he glided down an escalator and declared his candidacy. Then he became a contender by summer. Then we all knew he wouldn’t last on top of the polls once the debates began. Then he lasted. Then we were sure he’d fall apart by the primaries. Then he stayed together. Then we thought an Iowa loss would send his candidacy into a tailspin. Then he stayed upright. Though that’s when I was finally convinced he could win in November, most of the punditry said there was no way he could win the general election. Then he did.

He has his army. He has his dragons. By 2020, he’ll have his ships and siege weapons.

14. Ramsay Snow to Theon Greyjoy — Season 3, Episode 6: “If you think this has a happy ending, you haven’t been paying attention.”

Dark wings, dark words. Here, Ramsay stands in for our worst fears about where the show is headed. We suffer so many shocking losses throughout the series that we sometimes worry the show (or, rather, George R.R. Martin’s series of books) is a treatise on nihilism made palatable by nudity and dragons. If the Night King takes that Iron Throne, it might just be. Similarly, as we engage in political bickering, perhaps climate change will one day end our civilization as we know it, and our descendants will curse us for our selfish priorities as they choke down toxic fumes while trying to survive another 120 degree summer.

But that’s the long-term. In the near term, both parties should know that there will inevitably be a massive disappointment looming. For Democrats, it’s obvious: Trump can easily win four more years. Even if he doesn’t, Trumpism has so thoroughly taken over the Republican base that this particular strain of DNA will remain in our body politic for the foreseeable future. Meanwhile, the many high profile court seats filled by the President will affect American law for decades.

For Republicans, things aren’t looking much better. Trump has created such virulent animosity among diverse demography — most women, most minorities, most young people, most college-educated voters — that the left is now ascendant. Many of these groups, and the people who comprise them, will never forgive the Republican Party for embracing this President.

Combined, the above two realities signal that politics will get worse moving forward. Perhaps the 2020 election will make some people happy, but an ending it will not be.

(The April Fools Challenge answer was… B! The story is apocryphal and doesn’t stand up to close examination. The other four events — hilariously accurate.)


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