Today’s op-ed piece in the New York Times got tongues wagging, because it was written by an unnamed senior White House official who scalded President Trump for being an unmoored, untamable child. The piece, entitled “I Am Part of the Resistance Inside the Trump Administration,” stated that the #Resistance inside the White House was the only thing keeping us from annihilation.
Both inside the White House and on the Twittersphere, the hunt began for the author. Trump tweeted “TREASON?” (to which I replied, “Yes, you did”), insisting the “GUTLESS” individual turn him/herself in. For what punishment is unclear, but whatever, Young Donny needs his pacifier.
Anyway, it’s obvious who wrote it. Either Mike Pence wrote it or someone is trying to convince Trump that Pence did. Either way, Pence is the Werewolf.
The game Werewolf is a classic in the genre of social deduction games. Others include Secret Hitler, Coup, and, quite fittingly, The Resistance. These games usually feature two main tenets: everyone has a secret role and somebody’s going to be eliminated. In Secret Hitler, the liberals are after Hitler, whose hidden fascists aim to pass terrible laws and assassinate the opposition. In Coup, multinational CEOs try to kill each other. In The Resistance, no one dies, but spies are trying to expose and neutralize the freedom fighters in their midst.
In Werewolf, the villagers are beset by werewolves. The villagers don’t know who the werewolves are; to them, everyone looks like a villager. The werewolves know each other and who’s a villager. Every day, the villagers (including the werewolves shape-changed to look like villagers) vote to kill one player; if they kill all the werewolves, they win. Every night, with the villagers closing their eyes, the werewolves collude to kill one villager. If the werewolves kill enough villagers to equal their number, they win.
The Trump White House is a social deduction game. No one knows who’s playing what role, and nearly everybody gets eliminated. Look at this graphic.
Dude, Pence is totally the werewolf. There’s one villager left in those two pictures—the completely clueless president—while Sebastian Gorka, Omarosa Manigault Newman, Rob Porter, the Mooch, Corey Lewandowski, Reince Preibus, Steve Bannon, Sean Spicer, and Michael Flynn have all been pineboxed. With only one villager and one werewolf, the werewolf just won.
Now, let’s look at the latest night-time maneuver, this New York Times hit job. Media speculation is focusing on the wrong thing: motive. It doesn’t matter whether Jeff Sessions or Don McGahn has a motive to sideswipe President Trump. It only matters what the president does with this information, because everyone in the chaos den has a reason to eliminate someone else. So by sowing dissent, the president is likely to terminate someone, and that keeps the engine of government running for one more day. If the president is blasting out pink slips over his public image, he’s not bombing North Korea.
When trying to figure out who has done a secret act in one of these games, only one thing truly matters: who you want to die. You may not know that another player is a liberal in Secret Hitler, but you know who falsely accused you of being a fascist, so you work to get them outed as a fascist. If you don’t want to die at the liberals’ hands, don’t accuse anyone of being a fascist. And if you’re Hitler, don’t start acting like Hitler, or everyone will know you’re Hitler. Just be the nicest Hitler imaginable, and you might live to burn the Reichstag.
Now let’s look at CNN’s suspects and how they act. Specifically, we don’t care who has motive. What we care about is: Who sounds like they wrote it? Specifically, who wants Trump to believe who wrote it? Here are a list of candidates, rated by their odds on the Canadian betting site Bovada.
Ivanka Trump (15–1): Oh man, would this be juicy. But it’s not her, because there’s no compassion. Now, I think Ivanka’s as compassionate as a bear trap. But you can’t find any statements like “We came in believing in the president.” There’s no sympathy for a supposedly once-great man. No way she leaves her loyalty to her dad out. It’s all off-brand. It’s not Ivanka Trump.
John Kelly (4–1): While he undoubtedly believes everything in the article—and is an “adult in the room,” as the piece states—Kelly is the one person who doesn’t have to do this. He actually runs the White House, so if he wants something done, it gets done. Fundamentally, everyone knows muzzling Trump is exactly his job; it’s not even news if he does this. It’s not John Kelly.
Kellyanne Conway (50–1): The president’s jester is already in trouble every day for doing exactly this—except that it’s her husband George that does it. The two are miserable over his disapproval of her work. She’s unemployable if Trump crashes and burns. She doesn’t care about conservatism, a bedrock focus of the piece. And it doesn’t try to be nice. It’s not Kellyanne Conway.
James Mattis (4–1): This is an eloquent piece, and the Defense Secretary is quite eloquent. But he’s eloquent in a very different way. This man said to Iraqi commanders, “I come in peace. I didn’t bring artillery. But I’m pleading with you, with tears in my eyes: If you fuck with me, I’ll kill you all.” Anonymity isn’t the “Mad Dog” way. He puts his name on it. It’s not Jim Mattis.
Dan Coats (15–1): Sneaky bastard, this one. The Director of National Intelligence could totally have written an anonymous letter after Trump sided with Putin over his dudes. Because the Director of National Intelligence is in charge of spies, you see. And that’s what makes it ridiculous. Forget the Times; much more duplicitous approaches are available here. It’s not Dan Coats.
Donald Trump (25–1): Did not scream “NO COLLUSION.” It’s not Donald Trump.
Jeff Sessions (5–2): Did you read the piece? OK, now try reading it in the Attorney General’s voice. Did you hear Jefferson Beauregard’s lilting drawl in the words “Anyone who works with him knows he is not moored to any discernible first principles that guide his decision making”? It sounded good, didn’t it? It sounded …vengeful. It could be Jeff Sessions.
Nikki Haley (10–1) & Kirstjen Nielsen (unranked): Despite the Times’s slip-up suggesting the piece was written by a man, I buy both of these nominees. This is a desperately serious piece. Both are world-focused conservatives who desperately want to be taken seriously. They’ve been battered for rolling out Trump’s tirades of fear and hate. It could be Kirstjen Nielsen or Nikki Haley.
Mike Pompeo (unranked): The national security team is about the only thing described in glowing terms in this full-on blast. The writer is capable of writing a campaign speech, and this sure looks like a campaign speech for 2020. The person on the nat-sec team that seems most like a candidate for president is the 54-year-old Secretary of State. It could be Mike Pompeo.
Jared Kushner (15–1): You’ve heard him speak? He has no voice. He’s a pipsqueak, not a freedom fighter. Still, running around his wife’s back is what a pipsqueak would do. Espousing conservative principles he’s held for about thirty seconds is totally a Jared move. Dealing with Ivanka’s rationalizations is his full-time job, and he owned a newspaper. It could be Jared Kushner.
Don McGahn (15–1): If anyone’s ready to pen a “hope you die screaming” letter to Trump, it’s his White House counsel. But as I said, motive’s irrelevant. See what the piece leads with: “It’s not just that the special counsel looms large.” That’s the first thing on this writer’s mind. McGahn’s been laser-focused on keeping Trump (or himself) out of Mueller’s grasp. It could be Don McGahn.
Melania Trump (50–1): The First Lady has trolled her deadbeat husband repeatedly, with her clothing choices and her support of those he hates. This is totally in her style. Admittedly, she doesn’t have the skills to write a piece this nuanced. Yet, here’s the thing: She has no trouble with plagiarism. She doesn’t have to have written it to have submitted it. It could be Melania Trump.
But isn’t any of them. Here’s who it is.
The actual werewolf
Mike Pence (3–1): The vice president believes every word in this editorial. He’s a truth warrior, for a truth most of us find wholly unpalatable. He’s run out of gratefulness to the man who elevated him within one chair of the job he wants, likely turning when he had to rationalize the idiotic “Space Force.” If motive were relevant, he’d be the most motivated of all.
It’s not, though. What is relevant are the words. Many people have focused on the McCain reference’s use of the word “lodestar,” a Pence favorite. There’s a whole lot more, though. There’s the mention of the 25th Amendment, which only Pence can initiate. He must think about that a lot. And also these quotes.
- “The root of the problem is the president’s amorality.”
- “the president’s leadership style… is impetuous, adversarial, petty and ineffective.”
- “his impulsiveness results in half-baked, ill-informed and occasionally reckless decisions that have to be walked back.”
- “We have sunk low with him and allowed our discourse to be stripped of civility.”
The author appears to be a crusader for a bygone America. The rough and tumble of Trumpistan is not for him. Unreliability is the devil’s work. Moderation is our only hope. We need courtesy back, and how better to regain it than the bland certainty of a button-down dad from the 1950s?
How better than Mike Pence? It’s perfect.
In a social deduction game, you want to convince everyone you are not who you are. If you’re sneaky—really sneaky—you can make people think you have a hidden role that you don’t actually have. And you can make others think someone else has the role that you have.
You can make people think Mike Pence—the reliable, ever-useful crusader—wrote this piece. A piece that you wrote. If you’re sneaky. You’d have to be a real rat bastard to try to get your boss to undercut his own vice president. The worst, in fact. Someone who’d be shot into the heart of the sun by President Pence for being so vile that the paint peels when he enters the Oval Office.
Nice work, Stephen Miller. Werewolves of the world, salute your leader.
This is the twenty-first installment of a series on politics and game theory. It has covered impeachment, Russian collusion, white supremacy, abortion, guns, nuclear war, debt, the NFL, sexual harassment, the Mueller probe, taxes, Trump’s first year, the Clinton Foundation, immigration, parades, the Democrats, hope, family separation, trade wars, and Trump’s endgame. These essays are in my book Game Theory in the Age of Chaos, which you can order by clicking the link.