The Suckers at the Table


“If you can’t spot the sucker within the first half hour at the table, then you are the sucker.”
–Amarillo Slim

Poker enthusiasts are likely familiar with the above quote from Poker Hall of Fame professional gambler Amarillo Slim. Whether you’re a novice poker player or an experienced card sharp, Amarillo’s words of caution are worth heeding. And I find the adage just as relevant in other contexts not related to playing cards.

As someone who comes from a long family line of card and dice players, it’s easy for me to draw a few analogies. And because I see poker as a quintessentially American game, it makes for an ideal model to describe and analyze another American game, the one we know as politics. Pull up a chair folks, let’s sit in on a hand or two.

From the moment Trump announced his candidacy, the entire presidential campaign turned into a championship Texas Hold’em tournament you might see on ESPN. Who had the winning hand? The media claimed they knew. Each candidate tried to convince us that once the betting was over, the pot was going to be theirs. And all of Washington was kibitzing loudly as if they had the inside track on the winning strategy.

It’s just a wild theory, but I think most bureaucrats suck at poker. That might seem counter-intuitive if you consider that politicians are always bluffing, making it look like the cards they’re holding are a lot better than they actually are. But they have a serious problem. Their credibility is typically poor, so anything they claim is immediately subject to doubt. Sure, they do a lot of bluffing, but it’s hardly ever convincing.

On the other hand, I suspect that Donald Trump knows a good deal about the game. It would stand to reason. As a successful entrepreneur, he recognizes the difference between a good gamble and a bad one. And he’s not afraid to take a chance if he thinks the odds are in his favor. Trump is a seasoned negotiator, so he knows how to keep his hand “close to the vest.” In the world of business, any successful deal maker knows that you never reveal all of your cards until all of the bets are on the table.

As the primaries continued, it was easy to spot the losers. They were the ones trying to bluff their way through hands that had limited prospects of winning. The polls were telling us one thing, but the real world reflected something different. Were we being taken for a ride? Throughout the presidential election, Trump’s detractors were giving off poker “tells” that any decent card player could recognize. The opposition’s transparent bluffing was often pathetic. And they seemed unaware that much of the public wasn’t buying in. Little did Hillary supporters know that they were the ones being taken to the cleaners by a savvy card player that could smell a bluff a mile away.

I don’t get offended easily, but I do have a button when it comes to insulting my intelligence. That is, of course, unless I happen to be playing poker. In which case the more stupid you think I am, the better my advantage. High stakes negotiators understand this. Liberals do not. All the cards were dealt. The players took every last chip they had and tossed them into the pot. The stakes couldn’t have been higher. Winner takes all. Losers go bust. Suckers walk.

So traumatic was the Hillary defeat that many Democrats couldn’t leave the table. Others couldn’t even admit they lost. They were like the proverbial loser with a gambling problem, unable to walk away. Like the gambling addict, the Dems have deceived themselves into thinking their luck is going to change any moment. Rather than cut their losses, they’ll continue to lose while desperately trying to recover what can never be regained.

In the wake of such a profoundly unexpected defeat, it may be hard to believe that there are so many Dems that continue to double down on every mistake, misperception, misinformation, and miscalculation that ultimately took them down. But such is the mindset of Democrats in denial. They’re unable to learn from their mistakes.

Though it may seem cruel to take advantage of dysfunctional Democrats, I say let the game go on. As long as they’re convinced they can win, why not accommodate them? If they brought their money, let’em play. The dispassionate card sharp shows no mercy. Republicans shouldn’t either. Every time the Democrats step up to the negotiating table, Republicans should remember what kind of game they’re playing, and who exactly their opponents are. And play for keeps. Trump, of all people, understands this completely.

For eight years the GOP has been bluffed out of games they could have won had they stood up to their opponents. But they backed down, intimidated by big talk and arrogant bluster. Then came Election Day. The Dems finally got called on the weak hand they were holding and they lost everything. The worst thing the Republicans could do now is hedge their bets. Folding is not an option.

Republicans have been repeatedly fleeced by second rate card cheats. But make no mistake, President Trump is no easy mark. He knows a hustler when he sees one and knows how to beat them at their own game. Now that the Democrats have been exposed, and there agenda rejected, they’re become the perennial suckers at the table, trying to convince us that they still have the winning hand. I say let them have their little self-deception and deal the cards.


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