On Super Tuesday, candidates were declared winners or losers according to the delegate count. Both Clinton and Trump have won a lion's share of the states, and are poised to expand their lead in the delegate races. Lost in all the excitement is a little known fact. There might be a delegate count—it’s just that there are virtually no actual people chosen yet to serve as delegates and there won’t be very many for a while. In fact, at this point in time, there are mostly phantom delegates. Understanding this is critical to understanding why this wild election year may get wilder still—especially on the Republican side.

Here’s what most reports tell you: after each state’s primaries, its delegates are awarded according to its particular formula. As of today 728 Republican delegates have been awarded to presidential candidates and 1015 Democratic delegates have been awarded to presidential candidates. (This doesn’t count the super delegates or delegates from territories in either party.) But out of those on the Democratic side, only 35 district level delegates in Alabama are real people and only 16 district delegates in New Hampshire are real people. On the Republican side only 29 district delegates in Alabama and 17 district delegates in New Hampshire are real people. That’s because these delegates are elected on the primary ballot along with the presidential candidates....

The following chart illustrates the timeline of selecting actual delegates in both parties.



In an ordinary year, the delegates representing the presidential candidates are party activists who go to their conventions, don stupid elephant or donkey hats, and cheer for the television cameras on cue.

But this is no ordinary year for either party. Bernie Sanders may not end up with enough delegates to prevent Hillary Clinton from a first ballot nomination. But he will probably stay in the race longer than a losing candidate typically would and may have enough delegates to try and force Hillary Clinton farther to the left on platform issues than she’d rather go.

But, of course, the Republican side is really interesting. In the week leading up to Super Tuesday the Republican Party was in a full scale panic. Some of its leaders, such as Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey, bowed to what they felt was inevitable by endorsing Trump. Others such as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told colleagues we will dump Trump “like a hot rock” if he threatens their reelection.

And that’s why the identity of these yet-to-be-selected delegates matters so much. Most of the people who get elected to national conventions are party regulars and party activists. Some are ideologues but most, even the ideologues, have deep ties to the party. If Trump keeps up his venomous attacks on just about everyone all the way until June, and if party leaders at the state and local level worry that Trump at the top of the ticket will take down the rest of the Republican party, there could emerge an “Anybody but Trump” (ABT) movement in Cleveland which could lead to a possible brokered convention.

Then things would get really interesting...