As this unpredictable presidential campaign has unwound, one certainty seemed to be the delegate count. Until it dawned on voters that it was written in the shifting sand.
The media has contributed to this impression by tallying up delegate totals as if they were keeping score of a basketball game. But the rules governing delegates are arcane and flexible, and delegates are people too — political people.
On the Republican side, primary and caucus voters elect local delegates, not a candidate. The local delegates then select state delegates who then vote for national delegates. These delegates are bound to a specific candidate for the first round of balloting at the party's convention, but if the top candidate comes up short of the delegates needed for the nomination they are freed.
Senator Ted Cruz, running second to Donald Trump in the count, understood this right away, and his campaign team has been lining up delegates to jump to him if/when Mr. Trump falls short on the first ballot. The well-organized Cruz team was doing just that at Colorado's state convention Saturday. According to the Associated Press, the woeful Trump team provided incorrect background information on four of his delegate candidates. Look for Mr. Trump's supposed delegate lead to evaporate at the April 30 Massachusetts caucuses.
On the Democratic side, 16 percent of the delegates are "superdelegates," essentially establishment figures. They were created in 1980 to prevent supposedly unelectable activist candidates like George McGovern from getting nominated. If Bernie Sanders supporters conclude that the superdelegates cost their outsider candidate the nomination at the convention, the party could be fatally split going into the fall.
So you can't tell the delegates without a scorecard. Or with one for that matter.