In mentioning a profound sense of anti-climax, I probably speak for most political gamblers. A brokered Republican convention, given wall-to-wall media coverage, with endless speculation about rule changes and new candidates would have been a dream scenario, producing volatile markets and countless opportunities to bet.
Yet from being rated a near certainty on betting markets less than a month ago, all that talk of Donald Trump failing to reach 1237 delegates is history. We can now look forward to a simple, straight, almost conventional match-up between the Republican and Democrat candidates.
That opens up many more betting opportunities but this premature impasse seems a good time to reflect on this incredible race and update the betting portfolio. First, here’s my profit and loss on the Republican Nominee and Next President markets, including positions intrinsically linked between the two.
As long-term readers will know, no new bets have been added since cashing out a further 50 units profit on Ted Cruz, immediately after what seemed like a breakthrough win in Wisconsin. After that, l felt Trump was overpriced but, having poorly timed my last bet on him at 1.38, I opted against an extra cover bet at around 2.0.
A mistake, for sure, but not my first regarding Trump, as I’ll discuss below. Nevertheless, the upshot is that if as expected, Hillary Clinton becomes president, this part of the portfolio will yield 109 units profit. If Trump wins, I’ll make just 3 units. Of course I could just lock in 78 units by laying back Clinton at 1.42, and some sort of cover will be constantly available until November.
I have no intention of doing so. So long as Clinton remains anything close to double-digits ahead in national polls – the latest CNN numbers project a 13% advantage – her odds cannot get bigger. Or should I say the Democrats in the Winning Party market, lest Clinton is indicted over the e-mail scandal.
Overall, I’m reasonably happy with that position. An occupational hazard of trading is that we can’t help but rethink trades after the event and can almost always see how much more we could have won. Forgetting that, when switching horses on a regular basis, one is never going to always get every move right.
My one serious regret is not backing Trump around the New Year, somewhere between 4.0 and 6.0. My long-term analysis of the race had been that an outsider would win – but that Ted Cruz was the value bet. That Trump would either implode or be outlasted once his poor favourability numbers came into play after the field had winnowed. Either Cruz or Rubio would come through.
Whilst that underestimation of Trump was a common failing amongst pundits and gamblers and not worth dwelling upon, the real mistake was not to have a cover when it was clear he would be one of the top-two contenders in the early primaries.
Nevertheless, on the plus side, I could barely have traded Cruz any better. Backing him high early, selling him low late. Likewise, my early rejection of Jeb Bush when he was hot favourite set everything up. These bets were placed long before the portfolio was conceived, but amount to an extra 60 units profit.
Could the race have gone differently? Of course. Trump was not inevitable, but his opponents played a terrible hand. For six months, he totally monopolised the media narrative as an insane number of rivals shared out miniscule airtime.
An abiding memory of my trips to Iowa and New Hampshire was how little voters previously knew of the candidates beyond Trump, Bush and to a lesser extent, Cruz and Christie. If Rubio was indeed the next Republican star, he wasn’t given the chance to shine until it was too late.
A second turning point was the all-out onslaught against Cruz going into Iowa through until after South Carolina. It seemed for a while that the so-called establishment preferred Trump. The Rubio campaign may have assumed Cruz was a bigger long-term danger.
Cruz was certainly damaged during that period, leading to serious underperformance in South Carolina and most Super Tuesday states. My earlier confidence had been predicated on him dominating these and getting ahead in the delegate count. With hindsight, it’s a relief that he had the resilience to get competitive again.
After South Carolina, everything changed. Trump was suddenly scrutinised and relentless attacked by both Rubio and Cruz in the debates. Nobody won, but now both Trump and Rubio were damaged. The latter fatally so.
Trump begun to lose primaries and seemed stuck around 40%, changing the media narrative about sweeping all before him. Cruz, with limited appeal, a long way behind and damaged, emerged as the sole serious challenger. Winning outright was no longer realistic, and the complicated, dubiously legitimate process of stopping Trump getting to 1237 became the only game in town.
Had Trump been attacked like that, by Rubio and Cruz, last autumn, everything could have been different. Likewise, had Cruz not been damaged in the early primaries, the maths may have been different and that contested convention would have been realistic.
Nonetheless, this is merely one of those ‘What Ifs’ that politicos love so much, and Republican historians will explore countless further twists and turns.
Ultimately, Donald Trump has rewritten the rule book and confounded the commentariat, including gamblers. Regardless of my personal analysis, Trump was clearly underestimated on betting markets until he won New Hampshire, thus proving his poll numbers were for real. Likewise the power of the #NeverTrump movement was doubtless overstated in between Wisconsin and New York.
Only time will tell if I, and the markets, are still right to dismiss Trump’s chance of becoming president. There is a long way to go and a lot more bets to be placed!