Alternate Reality

Sean Wilentz argues that if we had winner-take-all primaries then Hillary Clinton would be beating Barack Obama handily. This is definitely true if we just hold all the actual voting and campaigning constant, and then reapportion the delegates along Wilentz's hypothetical lines. However, it seems likely that both campaigns would have adopted different strategies if the rules were different from what they actually are.

Meanwhile, the actual race is close enough that I have no doubt that there's some plausible alternative candidate-selection mechanism under which Clinton would win fairly comfortably. Equally, though, one can imagine alternative mechanisms under which Obama would win comfortably (something very much like the current system, say, but in which California holds a caucus instead of a primary). It's just not clear what the significance of this sort of thing is. I definitely regard the current method of candidate selection as flawed and think we should change it moving forward, but the alleged desirability of some change (and the changes Wilentz proposes are not, I think, actually desirable) hardly retroactively invalidates outcomes already achieved.

[For the record, my preference would be for the nomination to be decided through a series of closed primaries that would be scheduled so as to ensure a speedier resolution than what we're seeing this cycle and with some rotation of the states so that no one or two states exercises NH/IA-style disproportionate influence; a system like that would, plausibly, have raised the chances that Clinton would be the nominee in 2008 but I still think it would be systematically preferable over the long haul to the current one]