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Tracking the 2024 Presidential Race with Framing Techniques

I spent last week teaching analytic techniques to cyber analysts in Oslo, Norway. One of my presentations focused on the work done by Professor Gary Klein on the power of creating frameworks to help decision makers track events and make informed decisions. I was struck by how his approach could structure recent speculation about the most likely candidates to run in the 2024 US presidential campaign. The objective of this month’s Analytic Insider is to show the power of building frameworks in the context of the upcoming campaign, focusing specifically how this dynamic could play out for the Republican Party.

“The purpose of a frame is to define the elements of a situation, describe the significance of these elements, describe their relationship to each other, filter out irrelevant messages, and highlight relevant messages.”

Gary Klein, et al.
“A Data/Frame Theory of Sensemaking”

Analytic frameworks serve many purposes. The intent of this article is not to make a prediction but to offer an example of how building a conceptual framework early on helps analysts track events, identify critical key drivers, and avoid surprise.
Setting the Stage
The first step is to articulate a set of Key Assumptions. For this analysis, let’s assume that:

  • Former President Donald Trump fades as a presidential candidate as he is forced to redirect his attention to criminal indictments.
  • The base of the Republican Party remains committed to Trump’s core Make America Great Again (MAGA) precepts.
  • Many well-known Republican leaders see an opening and throw their hats into the ring.

Defining the Field
As many as a dozen or more candidates could decide to enter the race. The next step in creating an analytic framework is to organize the candidates into three groups:

  • Trump Loyalists who support the former president and often campaign on policies that are even more confrontational. Candidates for this group would include Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, Texas Governor Greg Abbott, Texas Senator Ted Cruz, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and South Carolina Senator Tim Scott.
  • Hard-Core Conservatives who support many of Trump’s core policies but not necessarily everything that he stands for. This group might include former Vice President Michael Pence, South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem, former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu, and perhaps even former Congresswoman Liz Cheney.
  • Constructive Conservatives who are firmly in the conservative camp but also believe compromise with Democrats is necessary to move the country forward. Representatives of this group include former Governors Chris Christie of New Jersey, Larry Hogan of Maryland, Governor Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas, and former Governor John Kasich of Ohio.

Stage 1: The Squid Game Comes to Politics
Once the framework for the analysis is established, attention will focus on the process of winnowing down the large number of competitors. In 2016, former presidential candidate Trump demonstrated substantial political knack for performing this task. In 2024, a candidate with the same skill set is unlikely to emerge. Our analytic framework would posit that the prime objective at this stage would be that the candidates in each group are most likely to compete among themselves to determine who becomes the leading representative for their group. The competition would be intense, and political pundits might characterize this stage of the competition as three simultaneous circular firing squads.

Stage 2: Distinguishing a Party from a Movement
Once a leading candidate emerges from each group, the framework would suggest that the next question is: Would Republican voters prefer to maintain their fidelity to the former president and his movement or decide that it was more important to select someone more electable and more likely to prevail against the Democrat nominee?

Stage 3: The Tipping Point
As the campaign enters the final set of the primaries, the framework would posit that the fundamental issue for Republican voters is whether to remain loyal to candidates who build their campaigns on a foundation of fear, anger, and polarizing policies or support candidates who espouse core conservative principles but are willing to engage the opposition in constructive negotiations.

If it is a three-way race, the advantage is more likely to go to the Trump Loyalist candidate. However, if the Hard Core Conservatives and Constructive Candidates agree on a single opponent, then their compromise candidate might get the nomination.

Final Reflections
A fundamental truism in intelligence analysis is to never predict elections; there are so many variables to factor into the analysis that making a point prediction is a futile exercise. The Brexit vote in the UK and the 2016 US elections demonstrated this principle plainly. However, analysts can make a contribution to the “public good” if they can establish a framework for tracking how political processes are likely to play out and generate indicators to monitor whether their model captures the basic dynamics at play.

You can learn more about the value of developing frameworks to guide your thinking in Critical Thinking for Strategic Analysis, 3rd ed. (2021).