In search to describe anarchy of GOP race, a new favorite: 'Calvinball'

The GOP convention could turn into an event that the precocious 6-year-old of 'Calvin and Hobbes' fame would love. 

Andrews McMeel Publishing/PRNewsFoto
Calvin and Hobbes, but Bill Watterson.

Calvinball: A made-up sport from the beloved comic strip “Calvin and Hobbes” in which the rules constantly change as the game goes along – a comparison now applied to the fractious Republican presidential race.

“Calvin and Hobbes,” for those not old enough to remember, was easily the best strip of recent decades and arguably the greatest of all time. It ran from 1985 to 1995 and featured precocious 6-year-old Calvin and his tiger friend Hobbes, who invented Calvinball after Calvin – never one to follow convention – got tired of organized sports. It had only one permanent rule: You can’t play it the same way twice. The ever-changing rules made for, in essence, an absence of any rules.

Political polling expert Nate Silver of invoked the game in comparing the chaotic and highly uncertain Republican Party race to the now far-more-predictable Democratic contest. “If the Republican race is Calvinball, with everyone making up the rules as they go along, the Democratic race is more like — zzzzzzz — golf,” Silver wrote.

But it wasn’t the first time that the sport had come up in a campaign in which pundits continually seek new metaphors for anarchy. Earlier this month, the Huffington Post’s Jason Linkins discussed the various possibilities for a brokered GOP convention. He cited the notion that if convention delegates are “unbound” by a rule change, or after a first ballot in which no candidate wins a majority, the nominating fight could spill over to the convention floor.

“There's been lots of talk about a potential unbinding of the delegates after the first ballot at the convention, but this is the first time I can recall anyone suggesting that the party's rule-makers might select a full ‘Calvinball’ option,” in which delegates are unbound from the jump by an abrupt rule change,” Mr. Linkins wrote.

And in last month’s Washington Post, David Weigel speculated about now-departed Florida Sen. Marco Rubio’s chances of cutting into his colleague Ted Cruz’s vote totals in the Texas primary. “In the Calvinball rules of the expectations game, that might let Rubio declare victory if he takes any delegates in Texas,” he wrote. (His Post colleague Chris Cillizza last fall compared Trump’s entire campaign to Calvinball.)

Calvinball has come up in other contexts across the ideological spectrum. The Wall Street Journal’s James Taranto applied it to a controversy involving a feminist academic, while Salon’s Amanda Marcotte cited it over Senate Republicans’ refusal to consider a successor to replace the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.

Chuck McCutcheon writes his "Speaking Politics" blog exclusively for Politics Voices.

Interested in decoding what candidates are saying? Chuck McCutcheon and David Mark’s latest book, “Doubletalk: The Language, Code, and Jargon of a Presidential Election,” has just been released.





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