After competing for almost seven weeks for the judgment of Pennsylvania’s just over 2.3 million participating Democratic voters, Sen. Hillary Clinton (N.Y.) won a grand victory over Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.), by over 200,000 votes. That Clinton won is not much of a surprise, but that she won by so many votes has dramatically altered the “narrative” of the primary season. Just two days ago, most commentators were saying that there is no way Hillary can overcome Obama’s lead (both in delegates elected and in popular votes). By midnight of election night, with all the vote tallies in, suddenly the commentators were abuzz with the new question, Can she possibly do it, after all?
It always amazes me how swiftly the narrative can change. Seemingly in an instant, serious commentators reverse the direction of their analysis and change their tone of voice, while their excitement level shoots upwards. Monday, it was all: “No matter what happens in Pennsylvania, Obama has the election all locked up.” Wednesday morning, it is “What a great, gutsy victory it is for Hillary. Hillary is really a fighter. She won labor-union households, those over 40 years old, white men and white women, churchgoers, hunters—and most of these by high margins. She won 70 percent of the Catholic vote. These are the groups a Democratic nominee must win against McCain in November.”
Some are even now working out the arithmetic to show that it is possible for her to win the popular vote by the last primary, June 3. Possible, but not likely.
The American Left is the party of procedures, the party of Utopia, the party of Rulemakers. They cannot help themselves—they must manage everything by exact and intricate rules. The rules they made last time for how delegates are to be selected for this year’s election have had unintended consequences (as rules always do), which have tied them in knots.
The Republican-party rules are simpler and more practical, even if not so minutely “fair” to every interest group in the party. In most of the states, the winner of the popular vote takes all the delegates of that state. That’s it. That’s why McCain has already won the nomination, and weeks ago. If Hillary were playing by the Republican rules she, too, would already be the nominee, as John McCain is.
However, as matters stand, Hillary won nearly all the states that have large baskets of delegates. But she did not get all the delegates in those states. Instead, the delegates were divided proportionately. (Actually, they were further divided by arcane, complicated methods that assign special rules for different districts in the states.)
Take Pennsylvania, for example. A colored map of all the counties in Pennsylvania that Hillary won covers nearly the whole state, and her total popular vote was 200,000 higher than Obama’s. In delegates, though, she received only fourteen more than Obama, out of a total of 158. At this rate, she will never be able to gain enough delegates in the nine remaining states to catch up with Obama, who is approximately 125 delegates in the lead. If she had won all of Pennsylvania’s 158 delegates, she would already be ahead of Obama.
Trying to be exquisitely “fair” and managerial, the Democrats forgot one thing. The point of a nomination process is to come out with a clear winner, behind whom everybody in the party can enthusiastically unite, in order to beat the nominee of the other party in November. The Democrats frequently lose sight of their ultimate purpose, by searching pathetically for utopian procedures to get there.
The next big states are Indiana (72 delegates) and North Carolina (115). Hillary is favored in Indiana, Obama in North Carolina. Obama’s coalition, it is plain now, consists mainly of almost all the black votes, a good majority in the university towns, and pockets of urban intellectuals and professionals. That is, blacks, plus what Milovan Djilas called “the New Class,” the present or future managers of the huge administrative state.
Published in National Review Online April 24, 2008