Having proven its electoral mettle in the New Hampshire primary, the Bernie Sanders campaign is apparently now just realizing that the Democratic Party’s nominating process is not entirely, well, democratic.
Of the nearly 4,500 delegates who will cast a vote at next July’s Democratic National Convention, an estimated 713 of them are so-called “superdelegates” — party muckety-mucks who can vote however they please.
And surprise, surprise: a lot of the muckety-mucks are backing Hillary Clinton. Resulting in this seeming contradiction:
Bernie Sanders lost by a hair in Iowa and won by a landslide in New Hampshire. Yet Hillary Clinton has amassed an enormous 350-delegate advantage over the Vermont senator after just two states.
That’s because more than half of the unelected superdelegates have endorsed Clinton — although they are under no legal obligation to vote for her at the convention.
All of which prompts outrage in the Sanders camp. Outrage you might expect me to share.
Well, sorry, but I don’t.
I believe that political parties have legitimate institutional interests. These include: ensuring that high-ranking officeholders and party stalwarts have a voice in the convention, rewarding candidates who are loyal to the party, and maximizing the party’s chances of success in general elections.
On the first point, let’s take Vermont’s superdelegates: the likes of Peter Shumlin, Howard Dean, Pat Leahy, Peter Welch, state party chair Dottie Deans, vice chair (and State Rep.) Tim Jerman, and Democratic national committeewoman Billi Gosh. They have worked long and hard in the political vineyards. They have served their party well. It’s hard to argue that they don’t deserve a seat at the table. It’s equally hard to argue that they shouldn’t be able to make their own decisions about who should carry the Democratic banner.
Point number two. Hillary Clinton has been a loyal Democrat for a very long time. She has, more than any other person in politics, absorbed the slings and arrows of Republican politicos and conservative pundits — going all the way back to the Great Cookie Kerfuffle of 1992. She suffered through the slimy behavior of her hubby and built herself quite a remarkable political career, serving with distinction in the Senate and in President Obama’s cabinet.
Does she deserve credit for that? Undoubtedly. Has she earned the respect of many a superdelegate? Of course.
On to point number three, electability. From the Democratic Party’s point of view, who is more likely to win in November — Hillary or Bernie? That’s an easy one: Hillary. What is the party’s mission? To advance its political principles. How does it do that? By winning elections.
What happened the last time the Democratic Party had a truly small-D democratic nomination process? George McGovern. Who can blame the Democrats for being a little gun-shy about a repeat performance?
Bernie backers will posit their own electability arguments, but they include a heapin’ helpin’ of wishful thinking: Bernie will bring millions of disaffected people back into the system, and boost turnout up and down the ticket. Which would be great, if true. But so far, in Iowa and New Hampshire, the Democratic turnout has lagged far behind 2008, when Clinton faced Barack Obama. That doesn’t disprove the idea that Bernie is building a movement — but the available evidence is entirely against that proposition.
Yes, the playing field is tilted, slightly, in Hillary’s favor. That may not be entirely fair, but the Democratic Party has the right to govern itself as it sees fit. If Bernie is the real insurgent he claims to be, then the “establishment’s” relatively modest deck-stacking shouldn’t be a surprise to him. If he wants to lead a political revolution, why should he expect the “establishment” (which, by his own definition, includes anybody who dares to endorse Hillary Clinton) to bow down and let him saunter through the gates of power?
Don’t forget, this is a guy who’s said plenty of unflattering things about Democrats. For instance, describing the Democratic and Republican Parties as “Tweedledum and Tweedledee.” Shouldn’t he expect some hard feelings? Shouldn’t he expect to have to overcome their doubts? You ask me, the Democrats have been pretty generous in simply allowing him to compete for their nomination, considering that he actively shunned the party label until he got serious about running for president.
Besides all that, if he gets to the convention with a decent majority of elected delegates, do you really think the superdelegates are going to stage a rear-guard action against him? They are free to cast their vote as they choose, and I’m sure a lot of them would prefer to back the winner than force a potentially devastating floor fight. If Bernie enters the convention in the lead, many superdelegates will support him.
So go ahead, Mr. Revolutionary. Prove me wrong. Prove them all wrong. Earn the support of the superdelegates who form the backbone of the Democratic Party, whose banner you seek to carry.