Super Tuesday once was super. Progressives of a certain age will never forget the fun of the first edition in 1988. Conservative Democrats had dreamt up a March day of nine Southern primaries that would guarantee no “unelectable” liberal could win the party’s nomination. The geniuses forgot, though, that most Southern Democrats were not actually white moderates or conservatives. The scheme backfired spectacularly, with the Reverend Jesse Jackson emerging as a viable contender and Michael Dukakis also faring well. Since then, the role of Super Tuesday has been considerably more banal: It almost always clinches the nomination for at least one party’s frontrunner. Bill Clinton, Bob Dole, George W.
The longer he must battle Rick Santorum for the Republican nomination, the less time Mitt Romney will have to edge back toward the political mainstream for the general election. Romney continues to make that repositioning unnecessarily tricky by going farther—much farther—to the right than necessary, apparently in a desperate attempt to persuade the hardcore right that he really is “severely conservative.” That effort is now luring Romney into the land of straight-up demagoguery.
The Nate Silvering of election analysis—the endless and addictive parsing of exit polls and demographics and historical precedents and outliers and predictive models and Intrade odds—has made campaigns increasingly look, to politicos at least, more like science than art. But there is one “predictive model” that matters more than any other—and it’s entirely the province of unmeasurable, flesh-and-blood, gloriously subjective intangibles. It’s also refreshingly simple: In general elections, the best campaigner wins.