Triumph of the arithmecrats.

Gossip, speculation, and scuttlebutt about politics.
Feb. 6 2008 7:03 PM

Triumph of the Arithmecrats

Who says Super Tuesday produced no landslide?

Illustration by Mark Alan Stamaty. Click image to expand.

Super Tuesday was a landslide. Not, I'll grant you, for any Democratic candidate, nor even for John McCain, the Republican front-runner. But among the political reporters and TV talking heads who interpret elections, it wasn't even close. The arithmecrats routed the momentucrats.

Momentucrats interpret primaries and caucuses not by carefully counting accumulated delegates but by reaching consensus with other momentucrats about momentum, a somewhat imprecise concept measured through polls, funds raised, expectations met or unmet, and other ephemera. For the past two decades, momentum was the dominant paradigm for political analysis, and primary candidates routinely were declared putative nominees well before they'd acquired the necessary number of delegates. Here's how Ron Brownstein, political director of Atlantic Media and a former political columnist for the Los Angeles Times, explained it to me just two months ago, when momentucrats still ruled the roost:

We don't nominate presidents anymore by getting to the point where somebody has a majority of the delegates. We nominate someone when we get to the point that there is a communal sense that one of the candidates has effectively won the nomination and the race is over.

Advertisement

That was then. What Brownstein couldn't have known was that the arithmecrats were about to stage a comeback.

Arithmecrats interpret primaries and caucuses the old-fashioned way, i.e., by counting the number of delegates each candidate accumulates during the primary season. For arithmecrats, it ain't over till the fat lady sings—though, being a literal-minded bunch, arithmecrats might bristle even at that familiar metaphor. Arithmecrats were all but extinct until late January, when a disquieting lack of clear direction in primary voting put them back in the game. The arithmecratic paradigm was truer for the Democratic contests than for the Republican, largely because the former tend to distribute delegates proportionally while the latter tend to distribute them on a winner-take-all basis. But on Super Tuesday, neither party produced a decisive trend. Super Tuesday was the momentucrats' Waterloo. They got whupped.

A Wall Street Journal headline says it all: "McCain, Huckabee Take Key States; Clinton and Obama in Close Fight." According to Josh Marshall on Talking Points Memo, last night the New York Times headline was "Clinton and McCain Win Big Victories," or something to that effect. But by this morning, the editors had toned down their paper's description of the Democratic race to "Clinton and Obama Battle." The Washington Post similarly bannered, "Clinton and Obama Trade Victories."

Dan Balz of the Washington Post was until recently an ardent momentucrat. (Headline over Balz's Jan. 8 story: "Little New Hampshire Could Hold Big Significance for Both Parties.") Now, however, Balz is predicting that the primaries won't decide the Democratic nominee:

Unless one of the two candidates starts winning consistently and by substantial margins, it seems unlikely that either can accumulate the 2,025 delegates needed for the nomination by the time Puerto Rico casts the last votes of the primary-caucus season on June 7.

TODAY IN SLATE

History

The Self-Made Man

The story of America’s most pliable, pernicious, irrepressible myth.

Does Your Child Have Sluggish Cognitive Tempo? Or Is That Just a Disorder Made Up to Scare You?

Mitt Romney May Be Weighing a 2016 Run. That Would Be a Big Mistake.

Amazing Photos From Hong Kong’s Umbrella Revolution

Rehtaeh Parsons Was the Most Famous Victim in Canada. Now, Journalists Can’t Even Say Her Name.

Television

See Me

Transparent is the fall’s only great new show.

Doublex

Lena Dunham, the Book

More shtick than honesty in Not That Kind of Girl.

What a Juicy New Book About Diane Sawyer and Katie Couric Fails to Tell Us About the TV News Business

Rehtaeh Parsons Was the Most Famous Victim in Canada. Now, Journalists Can’t Even Say Her Name.

  News & Politics
Damned Spot
Sept. 30 2014 9:00 AM Now Stare. Don’t Stop. The perfect political wife’s loving gaze in campaign ads.
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 30 2014 10:44 AM Bull---- Market America is overlooking a plentiful renewable resource: animal manure.
  Life
Atlas Obscura
Sept. 30 2014 10:10 AM A Lovable Murderer and Heroic Villain: The Story of Australia's Most Iconic Outlaw
  Double X
Doublex
Sept. 29 2014 11:43 PM Lena Dunham, the Book More shtick than honesty in Not That Kind of Girl.
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Sept. 30 2014 10:59 AM “For People, Food Is Heaven” Boer Deng on the story behind her piece “How to Order Chinese Food.”
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 30 2014 10:48 AM One of Last Year’s Best Animated Shorts Is Finally Online for Free
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 30 2014 7:36 AM Almost Humane What sci-fi can teach us about our treatment of prisoners of war.
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 30 2014 7:30 AM What Lurks Beneath the Methane Lakes of Titan?
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 28 2014 8:30 PM NFL Players Die Young. Or Maybe They Live Long Lives. Why it’s so hard to pin down the effects of football on players’ lives.