“Super Scapegoats”: Sorry Bernie Supporters, Superdelegates Aren’t The Reason Sanders Is Losing To Hillary Clinton
Bernie Sanders’ supporters seem to be getting their guy confused with Donald Trump.
It’s true that both are anti-establishment candidates and native New Yorkers; but despite what some Bern-ers seem to think, only one of them has a legitimate case to complain about the system potentially robbing them of the nomination or distorting the will of the people. Spoiler alert: It’s not Bernie Sanders.
Trump, the putative GOP front-runner, has been complaining for weeks about the intricate rules of the Republican Party nominating process, mostly because he apparently never gave them much thought and is now distraught to realize Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’s campaign not only did but is using them to maximum advantage. (Trump’s complaint about the unfairness of a rigged system is rich coming from someone who brags about “taking advantage” of bankruptcy laws and worked the system to get 9/11 recovery money intended for small businesses.)
As a result of the Trump campaign’s political malpractice, conventional wisdom for some weeks has held that a contested convention is plausible-to-likely (see Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell describing himself over the weekend as “increasingly optimistic” about the scenario coming to pass), with Trump seen as a dead candidate walking if he can’t secure the nomination on the first ballot. He will almost certainly go into Cleveland as the leader in delegates and (of symbolic importance) votes. So make what you will of Trump’s complaints – whether you think he was robbed or should have known the rules – he’ll have legitimate grounds to complain.
The same can’t be said for Team Sanders: As I noted last week, there’s simply no metric by which he is winning the race for the Democratic nomination. Here’s The Washington Post’s Philip Bump summarizing the state of play:
In fact, by every possible democratic measure, Clinton is winning. She’s winning in states (and territories) won … She’s winning in the popular vote by 2.4 million votes – more than a third more than Sanders has in total. In part that’s because Sanders is winning lower-turnout caucuses, but it’s mostly because he’s winning smaller states. And she’s winning with both types of delegates.
The types of delegates in question are pledged – those won in primaries – and superdelegates, the party’s official free agents who can support whomever they see fit. Setting aside the supers, Clinton holds a roughly 200-delegate lead over Sanders among delegates earned at the ballot box. That means, per NBC News, that Sanders must win 57 percent of the remaining pledged delegates to hold a majority of that group. Keep in mind that to date, he’s won roughly 46 percent of the pledged delegates (and that from only 42 percent of the raw votes), per FiveThirtyEight’s David Wasserman, so in order to pass her in pledged delegates, Sanders would have to start performing dramatically better than he has thus far. It’s true that Sanders has won seven of the last eight contests, but all states are not created equal, and because he’s been running up his win streak in small states he hasn’t been able to meaningfully close the gap in votes or (more important) pledged delegates.
To put it another way, if the Democratic National Committee passed a rule today eliminating superdelegates altogether … Clinton would still be overwhelmingly well-positioned to win the nomination because she’s won substantially more votes and thus more delegates.
And yet some Sanders partisans seem to think that – Trump-like – he is somehow being robbed of the nomination or that superdelegates are distorting the will of the people by handing Clinton the election, unearned.
Case in point is a piece that ran in Salon over the weekend under this rather lengthy headline: “Superdelegates have destroyed the will of the people: As a political activist and hopeful millennial, I won’t support a broken system by voting for Hillary.”
What follows is a bewildering argument asserting that a “broken, corrupt and unjust” system is foisting Clinton over (the barely acceptable despite being not quite liberal enough) Sanders because … well, superdelegates or something. The author cites the Vermont senator having won Wyoming by 12 percentage points but coming out behind Clinton in that contest because, per the allocation rules, they split the 14 pledge delegates and Clinton persuaded the state’s four superdelegates to support her. She goes on to quote MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski bemoaning the unfairness of such an outcome and for good measure throws in a lengthy comment from Trump about the injustice of the superdelegate system.
But if you want to indict “the system,” look at the system – don’t cherry-pick one result. As I noted earlier, Sanders has won 46 percent of pledged delegates while only winning 42 percent of raw votes – so if anything “the system” is overstating how well Sanders is doing. If anyone is positioned to complain about distortion, it’s the Clinton campaign, not the Sanders-ites.
(The Salon piece then starts to read like a parody of an earnestly self-involved millennial, with the author complaining that “voting no longer provides me the indulgence and satisfaction it once did” and analogizing her refusal to participate in the presidential political process to boycotting Walmart; the difference of course is that if enough people refuse to spend their money at Walmart it could hurt and ultimately shutter the store, while if enough progressive activists refuse to vote the system will endure and simply be run by conservatives.)
Here’s a kernel of an idea: MoveOn.org has started promoting a petition arguing that CNN should not include supers in its delegate tallies (why only CNN and not MSNBC, Fox News Channel, The New York Times and so on is unclear), because the practice is misleading since even supers who have declared for a candidate are free to switch their allegiance at any time and thus the tally overstates Clinton’s lead over Sanders. It’s important to note, by the way, the supers’ ability to switch since Sanders’ candidacy is now predicated on their doing just that – the idea being that regardless of whether he catches her in either pledged delegates or raw votes, superdelegates will flock to him on the basis of late-season momentum.
And in fairness, most news organizations do tend to break down the pledged-versus-super totals; but if media organizations discounting superdelegates will help bring greater clarity to the process then by all means they should do so. Because while including Clinton’s supers in her total may exaggerate her lead, Bern-er fixation with them covers up the scope of his pledged delegate deficit.
The bottom line is that Clinton isn’t poised to win the nomination because superdelegates are contravening the will of the voters, but because she’s simply winning more votes. Team Sanders needs to reconcile itself to that reality.
By: Robert Schlesinger, Managing Editor, U. S. News and World Report, April 19, 2016