by J Scott Christianson, Columbia Daily Tribune Columnist
Molly Ivins made famous the old political saying, “You got to dance with them what brung you,” in her 1998 book by the same name, referring to how officeholders often “owe” various interest groups and people who helped them get elected. But the same could be said about the methods that political parties use for picking candidates — all candidates within a political party have to dance to the rhythm set by their party’s selection system. And once the music starts, it’s too late to change songs.
Consider the Republican side, where the candidate with the most votes in a state primary or caucus typically gets all of that state’s delegates. The effect of the “winner takes all” approach is to quickly narrow the field to a couple of candidates and then make a quick decision amongst those who remain.
In a winner-take-all primary, a candidate who gets 40 percent of the popular vote in most states might find that he or she only has a few or no delegates come time for the Republican National Convention. This year, this system has worked as intended for the Republicans, narrowing the field quickly and making John McCain the nominee in waiting, since no other candidate can possibly gain enough delegates to beat him. This should be the end of the nominating process, but unfortunately McCain has one opponent who not only doesn’t believe in evolution but also seems to not believe in math either: former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.
Kidding aside, I imagine Huckabee is well aware of the reality of the situation, including the fact that McCain has only lukewarm support from those who consider themselves “true conservatives” and it is therefore unlikely that McCain will win the White House come November. Rather, I imagine Huckabee remembers how Ronald Reagan hung on to his fight for the 1976 Republican nomination and the positive effect that had on his chances in 1980. In 1976, it was clear to many that Reagan would lose to President Gerald Ford at the Republican convention held in Kansas City. Reagan’s campaign had run out of money and lacked the support of the party establishment. But Reagan pressed on, determined to not let down his supporters by surrendering to the inevitable.
As such, he came very close to winning and was able to deliver a convention speech that for many conservatives overshadowed Ford’s acceptance speech. Reagan built a lasting bond with his supporters in ’76 that he…