There may be no second acts in American lives, as F. Scott Fitzgerald once suggested, but that doesn’t keep us from second-guessing politics, politicians, and the art of campaigning.
The 2008 election is no exception: Should Hillary Clinton have paid more attention to those caucuses in February instead of going for a Super Tuesday knockout? Would the Republican contest have turned out any differently had Rudy Giuliani contested Iowa and New Hampshire, or if Mitt Romney had not so steeply immersed himself in conservatism? And where would we be without YouTube, talk radio, Matt Drudge, and the 24-hour news cycle?
With all of that in mind, here are four more “what if?” questions to consider . . .
What If . . . Democrats Had Changed Their Delegate Math.
“If we had the Republican rules, I would already be the nominee,” Hillary Clinton told reporters in the days leading up to the Indiana-North Carolina doubleheader. For good measure, she voiced the same thought the day after splitting the vote.
Whiny though it may sound, Hillary has a legitimate beef. She won the popular vote in every “mega” state save Illinois, but because her party allots delegates proportionally, as opposed to the Republicans’ winner-take-all rules, those wins didn’t translate to an insurmountable delegate lead. This negated a big win on Super Tuesday: though she won handily in California, New Jersey, and her adopted New York, Clinton‘s lead grew by a mere 44 delegate by night’s end on Feb. 5. March and April were no kinder. Hillary scored victories in Ohio, Texas, and Pennsylvania, but due to the Democrats’ quirky rules those three states added up to a net gain of only 14 delegates — an advantage offset alone by Obama’s landslide win in South Carolina, a net pickup of 13 delegates.
Apply the GOP’s delegate rules to the Democratic primary and it’s a different story. Rather than trailing in the delegate count. Hillary would have a plus-400 lead and the nomination would be hers. Twenty years ago, Democrats instituted a new set of rules that turned their party’s delegate selection into the political equivalent of a kids’ soccer game, where everyone goes home a winner.
As Rev. Wright would say, that chicken has come home to roost.
What If . . . Republicans Played by the Democrats’ Rules.
So what if all GOP delegations were chosen proportionally? John McCain doesn’t begin to distance himself from the field after winning the Jan. 29 Florida primary (McCain edges Mitt Romney 36 percent -31 percent, but claims all 57 delegates). A week later, on Super Tuesday and thanks to different rules, McCain doesn’t achieve closure. He wins nine states that day, but six are no longer winner-take-all. The 309 delegates he wins in those states are more like 142. California doesn’t help matters. Instead of capturing 158 of 170 delegates, McCain’s 42-percent performance is worth only 71 delegates, a net loss of 87.
McCain is not the strongest of frontrunners — in his home state of Arizona, he wins on Feb. 5 with only 47 percent of the vote. And he’s strapped for cash. Perhaps this encourages Romney, who has won seven Super Tuesday states, to dig deeper into his personal fortune and prolong the race to March 4 (Ohio, Texas) and beyond. Maybe Air America seizes on the confusion in the Republican ranks and launches its version of Rush Limbaugh’s Operation Chaos. Then again, given Air America’s puny listening audience, would anyone notice?