Numbers first. This is it for Rudy – he half-assed it in Iowa and New Hampshire on the firm belief that he could take Florida and then flop a straight on SuperDuper Tuesday. He’s cooked;; the Great Mentioner says he’s coming out for McCain tomorrow. McCain only beat Romney by 3%, but by the rules, gets the whole nut (more on this in a bit). Nevertheless, Romney has enough money and delegates to hang on and see what happens on the 5th. Huckabee is still hanging around, although he has no money and precious little organization, but with Fred Thompson gone, he still has a chance to redneck his way into a nice chunk of delegates on the big day. Which leaves us with:
MCCAIN: Loved by the press in a way that would get a restraining order slapped on them, but largely unacceptable to movement conservatives (Tom DeLay, Rush Limbaugh, etc).
ROMNEY: Derided as “Multiple Choice Mitt” by true believers, unacceptable to holy rollers because he is TEH MORMAN!!!!!, but loaded with cash and clocking enough second-place finishes to stick around for a bit.
HUCKABEE: Still trying to prove that you can win the nomination with nothing but a mildly interesting personal story, a double-handful of good zingers, and Chuck Norris. Unacceptable to the kind of people who want to build a 900-foot fence across the Mexican border, but beloved by holy rollers, and the church angle gives him the potential to coast for a while on less material support than another candidate might need.
PAUL: Is he still living? He might have been better off running a third-party campaign the way he did in 1988, with the Libertarian brand name and plenty of loose cash.
So yeah. First past the post, McCain takes all the Florida delegates with 36% of the votes. And that’s not as many delegates as would normally be there, because the GOP gimped the Florida delegate count to punish them for jumping the gun on SuperDuper Tuesday. The Dems did the same thing only worse; they decertified the primaries for Michigan and Florida and will not award any delegates.
Now, what’s the practical impact of this? Well I’ll tell you:
Not once since the dawn of the primary era has the selection of the Presidential nominee gone down to candidates with less than 50% of the delegate totals hashing it out in the circus of a convention. What happens – over the course of a series of races in Iowa, then New Hampshire, then Super Tuesday, then the other assorted checkpoints over a period of months or (more likely) weeks – is that a gradual sense develops that it’s going to be candidate X. Once the blessed diadem of inevitability is placed on X’s brow, it’s all over with, and there will be a motion at the convention to make it unanimous, and then they’ll play the music and drop the confetti and generally try to pretend that we still have old-style conventions full of pomp and drama and smoke-filled rooms rather than meaningless 4-day infomercials. God, even I don’t care about this anymore.
The point is, Hillary Clinton has a couple of wins in decertified primaries. They mean a whole lot of nothing, because there won’t be any delegates awarded, and Obama is still sitting on more live delegates in hand – but inasmuch as they contribute to the sense that she will be X, they are valuable wins. But they will only contribute to that sense *IF* the results are presented in that matter.
Because right now, Barack has 63, and Hillary has 48. To win, you need…um…TWO THOUSAND TWENTY-FIVE. Yes, that’s right, neither candidate yet has FIVE PERCENT of the delegates they need to clinch the nomination. And the Dems allocate their delegates proportionally, so as long as the Big Two keep finishing 1-2, they can carry this thing an awfully long way.
The Rs don’t generally do proportional representation, but let’s do their numbers: McCain 95, Romney 67, Huckabee 26, Paul 6 (!), Rudy 1 (!!!!). Total needed to win: 1,191. Super front-runner McCain is less than 10% of the way home.
And the fact of the matter is this: our candidates are selected in a series of state elections, all with different rules, and they aren’t even official government functions: they’re private elections conducted by private organizations. And even these private organizations have differences between their state orgs and the national party, or we wouldn’t have this mess in Michigan and Florida. Basically, we have a big cloud of chaos that kinda sorta eventually vomits up a candidate, like Jonah from the bowels of the big fish (the Bible doesn’t actually use the word “whale”), and then we can say “you and him fight.” And if we’re very unlucky, it takes 8 or 9 months.
Seriously, folks – the parliamentary model looks better every day.