The Democratic Primary: A Look Back in Laughter

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The Democratic race is wrapping up as I write this, with various political tickers bending upward as superdelegate after superdelegate endorses Barack Obama. It's fairly surreal. The numbers are changing as if this is a baseball game and someone keeps knocking balls out of the stadium. But what's actually occurring, across the country, is well-fed Democratic hacks shambling over to telephones and podiums and announcing that, yeah, sure, they support Obama after all.

It's a Fellini-esque conclusion to an idiotic process that Adam Nagourney unpacks here, with great quotes from forehead-slapping Democratic officials.

"The calendar is a disgrace and it has to be changed," said Gov. Ed Rendell of Pennsylvania, a former chairman of the Democratic National Committee. "We can not go through another election cycle like this."

Donald Fowler, a former Democratic National Committee chairman, said: "Our whole system is a mess — I think it requires a complete renovation. I don't think the system added to the closeness of the contest. But the closeness of the contest revealed all the weaknesses of the system."

It's all a bit like the electoral college, another Cujo's breakfast of a voting mechanism that works until it's actually tested in a close election. If you've got a clear frontrunner, who cares if almost 800 people (including total buffoons) have as much individual clout as a few thousand voters? Who cares if a one-vote switch that pushes someone over the line from 62.4 percent of the vote to 62.5 percent in some district adds a net two delegates to his/her total? Who cares if you horsewhip a Michigan or a Florida by "taking away their delegates"? Once there's a nominee, you can add those delegates right back into the winner's column. Unless there is no winner. Then it's Selma by way of Harare unless you count every delegate from those cheating states.

As Tom Edsall points out, Barack Obama is going to be the Democrats' nominee because his staff understood the rules and planned around them for maximum advantage. Hillary Clinton will lose because she thought, as frontrunners usually have the leeway to think, that the rules wouldn't matter. (This even though her aged staff actually helped to write some of these rules.)

In primary states, Clinton won 1,557.5 delegates, 16 more delegates than Obama's 1,521.5. In caucus states, Stewart found, Obama won 366 delegates, or 191 more than Clinton's 175.

In private, a number of Clinton strategists now acknowledge that they made a disastrous, if not fatal, mistake in failing to recognize the profound impact of the caucuses on the delegate count."

We just thought we'd win the primaries, and the caucuses would follow along," one key Clinton strategist said. "It's on the top of the list of things we'd like to do over."

This is why I roll my eyes when Clinton's people whine about "the popular vote," and I roll them even faster when the Republican National Committee gloats that "nearly 18 million voters in the Democrat (sic) Party's nominating process" didn't vote for Obama. Their nominee was basically chosen by better understanding the rules, too, and betting everything he had on the 200,000-odd voters of the New Hampshire GOP primary. It's foolhardy to look for the will of the voters in these contests. Either the parties move to same-day national popular vote primaries or they decide it all in smoke-filled rooms. There's no point whining about the inadequacies of the system they agreed on in order to cover their own asses.

NEXT: Stewart vs. McClellan

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  1. In its first good move since 2004, the Republican Party actually created and implemented a nominating process that was a credit–not a liability–to the party.

    Not only did the GOP nominate their most electable candidate, they used a process that was more-or-less fair and expedited the process.

    If you were trying to convince Joe Voter to pull the Republican rather than Democrat lever in November, you could do a lot worse than pointing to the comparison between the two parties’ nominating processes.

  2. “Their nominee was basically chosen by better understanding the rules, too, and betting everything he had on the 200,000-odd voters of the New Hampshire GOP primary. It’s foolhardy to look for the will of the voters in these contests”

    All good points Dave. Obama won fair and square by the rules set before the election started. But, don’t you find it a bit unseemly that such a process and result could be accepted by a party that has been screaming “we were robbed” and “every vote must count” for the last 8 years?

  3. The Democratic presidential primary process is a farce; it is rigged and undemocratic.

    Obama is seeking to clinch a stolen nomination with the MI delegates he hijacked. His endorsements from superdelegates have no integrity and are irresponsible.

    No doubt Obama will be defeated in November when he will crash and burn and the Democratic Party will be a train wreck.

    I will work for his resounding defeat and vote for McCain in a swing state. Obama, his supporters, and the DNC must be “punished” for not playing fair and square.

    Superdelegates have a responsibility to endorse Sen. Clinton as the best qualified and the strongest presidential candidate to defeat McCain and win the general election in a landslide victory hands down.

  4. Your link to Nagourney’s article goes directly to page 2.

  5. How is winner take all in some states, proportional delegates in others more fair than proportional delegates in all states? Proportional delegates is probably the “most fair” way to do it, but it causes the shit show we had this year. Winner take all has the same problem as the electoral college.

    The Republican system looked better than the Dems system because people that were losing dropped out quickly. If Romney stayed until the end (and Huckabee dropped out earlier), he may have gummed up the works with a late strong showing, like Clinton did.

  6. John,
    After today, every vote will be counted. What’s the contradiction of Obama’s victory and the 200 election?

  7. This is why we should all roll our eyes when Clinton claims to be better leadership material than Obama.

  8. Ding dong, the witch is dead.
    Which old witch?
    The Clinton witch!
    Ding dong, the wicked witch is dead!

  9. Ed, its early to say that. I have a feeling she will be his VP (and actively undermine him underhandedly).

  10. We just thought we’d win the primaries, and the caucuses would follow along,” one key Clinton strategist said. “It’s on the top of the list of things we’d like to do over.”

    That’s not wholly unreasonable. Every other nomination contest in my lifetime has been resolved by one candidate, at one point or another, emerging as the clear victor, and then racking up victory after victory in the rest of the contests. Like McCain did. Like Bush did. Like Bubba did. Like Dole did.

    Obama’s people thought this, too. They just planned on a longer path to reaching this point than did the Clinton people, so they were better-prepared for the long contest.

  11. Wow, crat3, yer kooky. You must be a very special person to believe all that bullshit.

  12. Every vote was counted, John.

    “Our delegation should have THIS arbitary number of seats, and not THAT arbitrary number of seats” isn’t the same thing as “count every vote.”

  13. How is the electoral college broken? The electoral college does exactly what it was designed to do, prevent smaller states from being irrelevant in national elections.

  14. Can’t…tell…whether crat3 is serious or not…must…be…Cesar.

  15. I agree
    Hillary has proven her inability to lead and to take advantage of a having the upper hand. How is she supposed to negotiate when she can’t even win an election that she was polling more than twice her nearest opponent back in November

  16. The media is really pushing to have her as his VP.

  17. The media is really pushing to have her as his VP.

    As dumb as he would have to be to do that, it would be entertaining. And I can sort of see the twisted logic coming from her supporters: “you won’t alienate her supporters if you make her VP, and will heal this division within the party. What knife behind my back are you referring to?”

  18. The media LOVES this soap opera, NNG.

  19. No Joe. The rules that were set up at the begining for how votes were to be counted were followed. That is exactly what happened in 2000; they followed the rules set forth before the election and that produced a Bush win in Florida. The whole Democratic position about Florida was that the rules at the begining were arbitrary. What mattered was not the rules but that “every vote count”. In 2008, it is rules not counting votes that seem to matter.

  20. Either that, or they really love to see Democrats lose. Two blue state liberals, the second which is deeply polarizing with a lose cannon husband.

    This balances the ticket, how?

  21. I love the electoral college. The only reason Democrats bitch about Florida in 2000 was because the Democrats didn’t win. Boo hoo. The reason there was a miniscule disparity between the electoral college and the popular vote was because the population had shifted.

    The real problem with the Florida 2000 vote was the circus over the recounts. There should have been *one* recount, and it should have stuck.

  22. Who cares if a one-vote switch that pushes someone over the line from 62.4 percent of the vote to 62.5 percent in some district adds a net two delegates to his/her total?

    Ah, quantization at work.

    In this case the input and output to the quantizer are both discrete (votes -> delegates).

    Anyways, it’s not surprising that the output (delegates) is less accurate than the input (votes). Threshold jumps triggered by a single vote are inevitable if the system is run enough times.

  23. We had better candidates when it they were decided in smoke-filled rooms.

  24. Hillary is thinking, “ok, I won’t be the first female president. But I could be the first female VP. Not nearly as good, but something!”

  25. No Joe. The rules that were set up at the begining for how votes were to be counted were followed.

    The point you made, since you don’t seem to recall, was about “count every vote.”

    Oh, wait, you do remember that: In 2008, it is rules not counting votes that seem to matter. Every vote was counted; contrary to your assertion, they DID change the rules in order to count every vote.

    I don’t think you realize this, but you just socred an own-goal. You just accused the Democrats of supporting “count every vote” over “follow the rules,” then pointed out that they changed the rules in order to count every vote.

  26. The nomination process for both major parties is an elegantly woven tapestry of shit.

    I believe each party should be free to choose their nominee by throwing darts if they wanted to, but it doesn’t seem to make sense to completely negate the vote of Florida Dems because of the actions of the GOP legislature and governor. (Obviously, if Clinton had a prob with this she should have complained back in December)

    It also doesn’t make sense for the GOP nomination to be decided by independents and Democrats voting in open primaries, I might add.

  27. What mattered was not the rules but that “every vote count”

    John,
    did you even watch the election? The “every vote counts” shit was about uncounted (and to a lesser extent, mispunched) ballots. They were pushing hard for recounts, not a repeal of the electoral college. While some loons were pushing to just go by the popular vote, most just wanted Florida to be fully counted (with their guy as the winner).

    I hate the electoral college, but that’s just because I’ve only lived in a swing state for 2 years of my life (and it was 05-07). The EC doesn’t protect small states, it protects swing states. Alaska and Rhode Island (both “small” states) are also ignored because they’re solid red/blue. Florida (a big state) is not ignored because it’s a big swing state.

    Eliminating the EC (or at least doling out each states’ electors proportionally) would also have the added bonus of eliminating presidential patronage of loyal and swing states at the expense of the other party’s solid states. If CA went solidly for Bush and TX went solidly for Gore, don’t you think Bush would’ve handled the Enron manipulation of their electricity markets differently? If Florida wasn’t a big swing state, but instead doled out about half of its votes to each candidate, do you really think the embargo against Cuba would still be around?

  28. “joe | February 26, 2008, 1:17pm | #

    NoStar,

    That’s also why Obama should pick Hillary.

    1. She’d make a great attack dog, the traditional role for a running mate.

    2. Heaven forbid there is some sort of disaster, she would know her way around the White House the hour she’s sworn in. No learning curve is especially important in such a situation.

    3. It would unite the party after a tough primary, and

    4. The Klan wouldn’t shoot him.”

    So, the question is, is Barack Obama a cold-blodded sonuvabitch, or is he going to be all pissy?

    This isn’t personal; it’s just business.

  29. Joe,

    I didn’t score in my own goal. You just don’t understand what I am saying. And frankly it is too late to try to explain it to you and even if I did you still wouldn’t get it because the facts shall we say don’t fit the narative in your brain.

  30. joe:This isn’t personal; it’s just business.

    That’s some cold-blooded sh*t right there, Mr. Soprano.

  31. Rotating recional primaries is the best proposal I’ve heard.
    I’ll go read y’all’s comments now,

  32. I understand exactly what you’re saying, John.

    In 2000, the Democrats cared more about “counting every vote” than following “the rules.” They insisted that the rules be “changed” (not really, but this is your argument) to make sure that they “counted every vote.”

    This time, you allege, they did the opposite, “In 2008, it is rules not counting votes that seem to matter.”

    Except your argument falls apart, because the Democrats DID “change the rules” in order to “count every vote.”

  33. Rotating regional primaries, preceded by 4-6 single-state, small-state contests, also rotating among the 10 smallest states.

  34. If Hillary is the VP – how will Obama and staff keep Bill in line, out of Whitehouse, wearing pants?

  35. “Their nominee was basically chosen by better understanding the rules, too, and betting everything he had on the 200,000-odd voters of the New Hampshire GOP primary…”

    Yeah, a better understanding of the rules and the fact that he won every primary but one or two. But I understand why this site pooh-poohs the huge majority of votes won by McCain: it doesn’t want to face up to the total laugh riot that was the rEVOlution.

  36. Gawd, no matter what anyone at Reason says about any candidate, there will _always_ be some idiot like B to distort it into a personal insult.

    And by the way, B, I know you don’t want to let facts intrude upon your righteous indignation, but your “one or two” primaries that McCain lost is actually 19, and if the race hadn’t been over so quickly due to the winner-take-all nature of most Republican primaries it would certainly have been more.

    Maybe you should get together with the slack-jawed drones who show up on every Ron Paul thread to whine about how Reason stabbed in him the back. I’m sure you’d be a perfect fit for each other.

  37. B,

    McCain didn’t even get over 40% in a major state until Romney dropped out. And he’s still barely getting 75% even though Ron Paul is the only other candidate running.

  38. Rotating regional primaries, preceded by 4-6 single-state, small-state contests, also rotating among the 10 smallest states.

    I’d go along with that, although I don’t know that the rotating primaries need to be regional, and I don’t know that we need 4-6 warm-up acts.

    Oh, and the whole “count every vote” thing is still a sham. Aside from the caucuses, of course, and the superdelegates, and the FL/MI mess, even in states with actual primary elections, the Dems give more delegates to some districts than to others. “One man, one vote” it ain’t.

  39. Joe you seriously want Hillary to be your party’s VP? After the Bobby Kennedy remark Obama shouldn’t let her get within 500 miles of that job, if nothing else than for his on personal safety.

  40. Quoting Tom Edsall outs you as a pro Huffington source and means you are an Obamabot. you have no legitimacy on this matter.

    Then stating Barack played by the rules becomes so laughably out of order why should I read on?

    http://www.caucuscheating.com
    http://www.Hillary-Wins.com
    http://www.Florida-Michigan.com
    http://www.CaucusConfession.com

  41. Gawd, no matter what anyone at Reason says about any candidate, there will _always_ be some idiot like B to distort it into a personal insult.

    Sigh. Sparky, why do continue to subject us to this constant Dodd-bashing?

    God, you’re such a hack.

    Sparky has really gone downhill since Virginia Postrel left.

    NNG, I think that’s nuts. Hillary Clinton does not own the Democratic Party. She is not guaranteed the nomination. She is not going to sabotage Barack Obama so she can run in 2012. And she is not going to have anybody murdered.

    She’s just a regular politician, like all the rest of ’em.

  42. but it doesn’t seem to make sense to completely negate the vote of Florida Dems because of the actions of the GOP legislature and governor.

    I fucking hate this talking point.

    The legislature vote to move (both) the primaries was something like 107-0. Those who insist on blaming it on the ‘republican controlled legislature’ shouldn’t be anywhere close to power if they have such a juvenille sense of responsibiliy.

  43. If you don’t think Bill’s incessant running off at the mouth won’t hurt him, Joe, you’re wrong. Imagine the Time magazine cover (Who is REALLY in Charge of the Obama Campaign?) with a photo of Hill and Bill. He doesn’t need that.

  44. “Sparky has really gone downhill since Virginia Postrel left.”

    joe, that’s a shameless lie. I’ve gone downhill for completely unrelated reasons that just happened to coincide with Virginia Postrel’s leaving.

  45. “Then stating Barack played by the rules becomes so laughably out of order why should I read on?”

    Indeed, why should you? Bye now, alessandro! We’ll do our best to muddle through without you and your terribly insightful, fair-minded comments and web page spamming!

  46. or they decide it all in smoke-filled rooms.

    Need I remind you this is the Democratic convention process? There are no smoke-filled rooms. That would be illegal, not to mention an unhealthy and a hostile work environment.

  47. She’s just a regular politician, like all the rest of ’em.

    joe, this is precisely why we loathe her.

  48. Rotating regional primaries, preceded by 4-6 single-state, small-state contests, also rotating among the 10 smallest states.

    I could go with that. Yhe system as it stands is nonsenseical.

  49. 4. The Klan wouldn’t shoot him.

    You don’t think that the Klan would like to shoot both him and Hillary? I can think of no better way to get those two ladies in the same place and the same time than to have them as running mates.

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