In 1936, the economist John Maynard Keynes invented a beauty contest. In examining why stock prices fluctuate, he suggested the metaphor of a newspaper pageant, where readers select the six prettiest faces from 100 photographs. But only people who picked the most popular choices would win.
“It is not a case of choosing which, to the best of one’s judgment, are really the prettiest, nor even those which average opinion genuinely thinks are the prettiest,” he wrote. “We have reached the third degree where we devote our intelligences to anticipating what average opinion expects the average opinion to be.”
I doubt Keynes was on Jeb Bush’s mind Wednesday, when the former presidential candidate announced his support for Ted Cruz on Facebook. But you’d better believe the beauty pageant was in play. While it’s hard to gauge Bush’s actual feelings for Cruz—it appears he left most of the insults to his brother—he spent only one sentence in his statement praising the Texas senator before moving on. Cruz’s foremost qualification, it appears, was his “ability to appeal to voters and win primary contests.”
And so Bush joins a slew of other prominent conservatives—Mitt Romney, Lindsey Graham, Carly Fiorina—who picked not the prettiest in the pageant, but the presumptive favorite. In doing so, they’ve moved into the realm of pure strategy, where the goal is not the election of Cruz but the defeat of Donald Trump, and by extension, Hillary Clinton.