Hillary Clinton a Victim of the System

Hillary Clinton a Victim of the System Sean Wilentz contends that, “If the system made sense, [Hillary] Clinton would be far ahead” rather than, well, losing.

Unlike the Republicans, the Democrats in primary states choose their nominee on the basis of a convoluted system of proportional distribution of delegates that varies from state to state and that obtains in neither congressional nor presidential elections. It is this eccentric system that has given Obama his lead in the delegate count. If the Democrats heeded the “winner takes all” democracy that prevails in American politics, and that determines the president, Clinton would be comfortably in front. In a popular-vote winner-take-all system, Clinton would now have 1,743 pledged delegates to Obama’s 1,257. If she splits the 10 remaining contests with Obama, as seems plausible, with Clinton taking Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Kentucky, Indiana and Puerto Rico, and Obama winning North Carolina, South Dakota, Montana, Oregon and Guam, she’d pick up another 364 pledged delegates. She’d have 2,107 before a single superdelegate was wooed. You need 2,024 to be the Democratic nominee. Game over.

In related news, if pigs had wings, they could fly; if wishes were fishes, we’d all cast nets in the sea; and if wishes were horses, beggars would ride. And if my aunt had — well, you get the idea.

Like Wilentz, I prefer a winner-take-all system. But it’s not inherently more sensible than a proportional scheme. Indeed, it’s easy to argue that the Democrats’ system (minus the superdelegates) is more inherently fair and democratic than the winner-take-all method used in most Republican primaries and most of our other political contests.

Further, the Democrats have been using this type of system for several election cycles in a row and have, until now, managed to wrap up the nominating process early. Whether the fact that it’s still deadlocked this time means a) that they have two incredibly strong candidates or b) the party faithful aren’t yet sold on either of the two candidates is a matter for debate.

Regardless, these are the rules of the game. Quite frequently, the baseball team with more hits or the football team with more offensive yards nonetheless loses. Or, as we saw in 2000, the candidate with fewer popular votes gets elected president. Clinton chose to concentrate her efforts in the large states while Obama contested all the minor caucuses, picking up easy wins. It turns out that his strategy was better.

Photo: All4Humor via Google

FILED UNDER: 2008 Election, Congress, Democracy, Political Theory, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. SeniorD says:

    ‘Each according to his need from each according to his ability’ – the Democrat Credo

    One wonders if, Obama has/had a better strategy, then why is Clinton considered such an experienced and canny politician?

  2. Dave Schuler says:

    I do wonder if proportional primaries adequately prepare a candidate for a national winner-take-all race.

  3. Geoff Lane says:

    I keep seeing articles that advances the argument that if not for the pesky ‘rules’, Clinton would be ahead. Wishful thinking is at best pointless and at worst misleading.

    Look, the rules are that he (or she) who has the most delegates wins…period. If the super delegates overturn that, as it is their right to do, fine. That, too, is ok under the current rules. But, as Hillary, said when she had the delegate lead (over and over) the only thing that counts in the nominating process is delegates. Popular vote, as wrong as it may be, do not count for squat. Neither does some fantasy about big states.

    Look, I understand about the importance of big states in the general, but if they were the only states that counted, don’t you think Barrack’s strategy would have been radically different. His campaign, once the rules were outlined, ran an effective, clean campaign to have the delegate lead at the end of the primaries. If someone had said the big states will get you the nomination don’t you think he would have outspent Clinton 10-1 (which he could have easily done) and spent LOTS more time campaigning in those states than he has?

    I am saying he lost those states no purpose. Nice job winning them, Senator Clinton, they are important. All I am saying is that to have an insurmountable delegate lead, the Obama campaign did what it had to do, under the rules, to have a delegate lead at the end of the nominating process. No one told his campaign that the Clintons would be allowed to re-write the rules.

    I am not for Obama or Clinton, but lets not take our eyes off the actual rules here. Its good journalism for this to go till doom’s day, but the rules are the rules. Obama has played the game better than Clinton. If the rules had been different, Obama would have played the game differently. Maybe he would be losing just like you say, but that is far from proven.

  4. rodney dill says:

    Lord knows it will never be the fault of Hillary’s own stupidity, greed, or overzealous ambitions.

  5. Andrew says:

    Has anyone also talked about the fact that in the states that Obama won, smaller caucus states, the delegates are disproportionately more powerful than in large states? In smaller states, it takes less people to count for one delegate, therefore the smaller states (which Obama wouldn’t even win in November) are given more individual delegate power than in larger states. It’s also interesting to note that caucuses, which are no matter what you say less “democratic” than a primary, are what has propelled Obama forward. Often when the most people vote, he loses. If all the caucuses were primaries, he may very well have never had some of his big wins, and never have gained the momentum he did. I wonder how differently the race would look…..

  6. attobuoy says:

    The nerve of that Obama, winning by using a strategy that takes advantage of the rulebook!

  7. Pug says:

    Hillary thought it was all over February 5th, and said so.

    She got it wrong. Dead wrong.

  8. KJ says:

    Imagine Obama winning…. and with the rules that HRC tried to cook in her favor.

    I wonder what stories Pres. HRC will tell after one of her famous 3:00 am phone calls?

    Elect HRC and we will get what we deserve.

  9. Maggie Mama says:

    Whether it’s from the Obama or the Hillary side, you’re going to hear complaints with echos from the MSM.

    My complaint: Dems can’t even run a smooth primary, yet they have the audacity to believe that they can run a country.

  10. anjin-san says:

    “From each hard-working taxpayer… straight into a billionairs pocket”… GOP credo

  11. “If the system made sense, [Hillary] Clinton would …”

    … never have been seriously considered as a candidate for president to begin with. The only thing more socially awkward and cringe inducing than watching Hillary Clinton trying to tell a scripted joke to an audience is watching her feel sorry for herself when she doesn’t get what she feels she deserves.

  12. James Joyner says:

    … never have been seriously considered as a candidate for president to begin with.

    There is that. She’s not exactly Lurleen Wallace but the idea that being married to the guy in charge makes you qualified for the job is bizarre.

  13. Sarah says:

    If one more Obama supporter claims Obama is playing by the rules, I will officially have lost hope in this party. He is a politician seeking to embrace whatever favors him; Hillary plays the same card, but isn’t also pushing herself as the transformative candidate who is post-partisan and above politics. GIVE ME A BREAK! Like your candidate, no problem, to plead he is a better person is a laugh! a better politician, maybe!

  14. rodney dill says:

    Like your candidate, no problem, to plead he is a better person is a laugh! a better politician, maybe!

    Uh, Obama’s not my candidate either… I’m just waiting for Hillary to be out of the running before I start ripping Obama a new one.

  15. floyd says:

    I’m up for a good laugh……
    What would you say is the Democrat credo??

  16. graywolf says:

    I LOVE it!!!!!

    For 30 years, the dem cong (and the Clinton’s) dishonestly demagogued and played racial politics every time they opened their corrupt mouths.

    What goes around comes around.

    The screaming infants and the Euro-socialists are ripping each other apart.
    And it’s ironic because they have so much in common – hatred of America and desire to become France.

  17. Jack says:

    Democrats need to grow up. The war needs to be dealt with electing someone who is qualified to do so, a Democrat is not. A Democrat is nothing more than a losing viewpoint with empty and proposterous promises. It might be the case that Republicans are not well liked, but this isn’t high school and another Republican more qualified to lead is better than any Democrat with nothing more than bags of tricks and lies.