A quick explainer today as there is an incredible amount of nonsense and misinformation flying around the internet with the false news that Clinton has “clinched” the Democratic nomination for President.
In short: superdelegates have not voted yet, and should not be included in any media outlet’s delegate tracker. Nonetheless, they still exist and it is valid for either candidate to make the argument that they are the better nominee for the party and to court them.
1. SUPERDELEGATES ARE UNDEMOCRATIC
We explained in full here. The short version is that superdelegates are Democratic party elites who are seated at the Democratic National Convention and can vote for whatever candidate they choose. There is no dispute at this point: superdelegates are undemocratic. They only exist as a safeguard intended to overturn a popular vote at the convention.
2. THEY ONLY EXIST TO BLOCK GRASSROOTS CANDIDATES
In 1982, superdelegates were restored to the Democratic nominating process because their absence created “too much democracy or a badly conceived democracy” and left open the risk that the party may nominate a candidate who lacked broader appeal and/or was not electable. They had been eliminated by the McGovern-Fraser Commission in 1968 as undemocratic.
The DNC admitted in 2008 that superdelegates should be reduced in number and that they should not contravene the will of the voters. However they were only reduced from 19% of the vote to 14.95% of the vote.
The existence of superdelegates is not entirely nefarious. I’m sure that the Republican establishment had wished they had superdelegates a few months ago when they were trying to block Trump. Nonetheless, their purpose and function are clear.
3. SUPERDELEGATES DO NOT VOTE UNTIL THE CONVENTION IN JULY
Superdelegates have never, ever been intended to act as “voters” in the Democratic primary. Not only that, but legally, zero superdelegates have voted at this point. Superdelegates do not “vote” until the Democratic National Convention in late July.
4. THE DNC HAS SPECIFICALLY ASKED THE MEDIA NOT TO COUNT SUPERDELEGATES
On April 28, Luis Miranda, the communications chair for the Democratic National Committee told Jake Tapper on CNN that superdelegates “shouldn’t be included in any count.” (Source: New York Daily News). The truth is, Miranda has been saying this for months, as has Debbie Wasserman-Schultz. (Source: HuffPost).
5. SUPERDELEGATES HAVE UNFAIRLY INFLUENCED THE OUTCOME OF THIS ELECTION
Despite all of the above — the superdelegates were not intended to vote, have not voted, and the DNC has specifically asked that they not be counted — superdelegates have tilted this election in favor of Clinton.
Over 400 superdelegates were pledged to Clinton before a single vote was cast, more than half the total number of superdelegates. Clinton’s camp boasted that they had 20% of the delegates needed to secure the nomination in August 2015. (Source: Bloomberg). And now, the night before the final night of primaries, we are treated to headlines like this:
This is legally wrong, factually wrong, and ethically wrong. And the timing of the announcement — the night before the final primaries — could not be more obviously intended to suppress voter turnout on this final day.
6. SANDERS’S POSITION ON SUPERDELEGATES HAS BEEN CONSISTENT THE ENTIRE CAMPAIGN
On February 14, 2016, on Face the Nation, Bernie Sanders said:
“If we continue to do well around the country and if super delegates – whose main interest in life is to make sure that we do not have a Republican in the White House – if they understand that I am the candidate and I believe that I am who is best suited to defeat the Republican nominee I think they will start coming over to us.”
On the same day, Sanders’s top strategist Tad Devine said:
“We’re going to hear from [superdelegates] in a couple more states and then many states after. And once the sort of verdict begins to come in, from our perspective that’s the time to make our case to the superdelegates.”
On March 27, 2016, Sanders echoed the exact same sentiment:
“[S]uper delegates are going to have make a very difficult decision and that is, if a candidate wins in a state by 40 or 50 points, who are you going to give your vote to? [W]hich candidate is better positioned to defeat Trump or any of the other Republican candidates? I think a lot of the super delegates are going to conclude that it’s Bernie Sanders.”
7. IT IS NOT INCONSISTENT TO THINK SUPERDELEGATES HAVE IMPROPERLY INFLUENCED THE CAMPAIGN BY VOTING *AND ALSO* TO MAKE YOUR CASE TO THEM AS THE STRONGEST CANDIDATE
These are completely separate concepts that only partisan and divisive people have tried to conflate. Superdelegates haven’t been wished out of existence, so we have to work within reality.
Sanders plan has always been to fight the good fight and attempt to overtake Clinton in the pledged delegate lead so that he can make the argument to the superdelegates that they should switch and support him. (Source: NPR). We wrote here in April that if Bernie Sanders “represented the will of the voters, that superdelegates were duty bound to support him.”
When the path to a pledged delegate majority closed, the argument shifted toward something more theoretical: if Sanders was up in the national polls against Clinton and won the majority of the later states, he could make the argument that he represented the will of the voters. Indeed, there was a good period of time when it looked like this might happen.
However when that momentum halted, it became clear that Sanders no longer had a path to the nomination unless something happened to Clinton. The State Department report on the private server was released, and the highly unlikely threat of an FBI indictment exists, yada yada yada.
8. IT IS NOW ON CLINTON TO REACH OUT TO THE TEN MILLION+ WHO HAVE VOTED FOR SANDERS
At this point, although he would never admit it, Sanders was merely hanging around hoping that a strong performance in California would force Clinton to come to the barganing table with him. On May 29th, Sanders said the following on Meet the Press:
“But if Secretary Clinton is the nominee, it is her job to reach out to millions of people and make the case as to why she is going to defend working families and the middle, provide healthcare for all people, take on Wall Street, deal aggressively with climate change. That is the candidate’s job to do.”
People have made this all much more complicated than it needs to be. In reality, this primary has been nothing more than a referendum on the ideas and priorities advanced by both candidates.
Every single vote for Sanders this primary season has been a victory for people who want the soul of the Democratic party to be progressive, to battle income inequality, to fight for minorities and women, and promote peace and prosperity around the globe. The Sanders campaign has always been one about policies and principles — and the fact that he’s gotten this far is a testament to the man and to the voice he has given to the millions of people who believe in those ideas.
At the end of the night on June 7th, no matter who wins each state, Secretary Clinton will have the pledged delegate lead, but over ten million people will have cast a vote for Senator Sanders. Sanders will likely have won 23 states (24, if California goes his way).
There was never anything more than the slightest sliver of a chance that Sanders could defeat Clinton after losing so badly in the Deep South. Nonetheless, his supporters wanted him to press on because this campaign is the only reason that Clinton has move to the left and is the only reason Democrats are talking about income inequality and universal healthcare and the $15 minimum wage and so many other issues as attainable goals rather than impractical dreams.
Sanders has done a service to the nation in advancing these causes, and by doing so without harming Clinton’s chances in the general election. Much to the contrary, he has actually energized a base of supporters who want nothing more than to defeat Donald Trump in November and continue the “political revolution” that has started.
Clinton can be that candidate if she wants to be.