Super Delegate Math or Myth?

As the primary season continues to unfold, the DNC and their affiliated main stream media remains insistent on counting Super Delegates pledged to Hillary Clinton among her actual, earned delegates for the convention in Philadelphia this summer.  And, while the social media networks are abuzz with chatter about how these Super Delegates will actually vote, what is not addressed accurately is just how they are already influencing the primary process. 

DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz is on record, having defined the purpose of the Super Delegates as a means by which the party will not be held accountable to a “grass roots insurgency.”  In other words, the voting block that is the Super Delegates is there to turn the tables on the will of the voters, should that will not reflect in lock step the will of the party elders.  So it is that by the outset of the primary season, the Super Delegates pledged in support of Hillary Clinton gave her the illusion of having far outdistanced her opponents and of having already started the process of running away with the election.  Strategically, this remains a key component of the Clinton campaign.

However, nothing could be further from the truth.   The function of the Super Delegates is twofold.  First, they can serve as a tie breaker in the event that neither candidate arrives at the convention with enough delegates to win the nomination outright, and that after the second ballot and the attendant “horse trading” between the candidates, the balloting is perceived as hopelessly deadlocked.  Second, they can serve the function of adding authority to the delegate totals of a winning nominee who managed to win by less than convincing numbers.  Such was the case in 1984, when the Super Delegates chose Walter Mondale over Gary Hart for the nomination.  Neither of the candidates had arrived with enough delegates to claim the nomination outright, but Mondale had about 500 more than Hart and the addition of the Super Delegates put him over the top and did so in a way that made his victory appear more decisive.

1984 was also the first and last time that the Super Delegates even voted in any meaningful way.  In subsequent elections, the candidate either arrived with enough delegates earned in the primary balloting to claim the nomination or, horse trading after the first ballot was cast broke the deadlock and the nominee emerged.  In the former instance, the Super Delegates served as a cheering section which put their weight behind the nominee, to show support  for the people’s choice.  The latter case was exemplified in 2008 when Hillary Clinton suspended her campaign, allowing Barrack Obama to go through as the nominee.  Trailing Obama in a close race, the Super Delegates could have been used to swing the election to Clinton.  But, had they done so, it would have meant overturning the will of the electorate, and would certainly have had major repercussions in the general election.  Instead, back room negotiations secured the Secretary of State post for Hillary and she agreed to bide her time on the presidency.

Now, in 2016, the looming presence of the Super Delegates is again suggesting that the will of the electorate may be undone at the convention.  As in 2008, this would be disastrous for the Democratic party.  Today, in terms of earned delegates to the convention in Philadelphia, Hillary stands at 1243 and Bernie Sanders at 980.  Only 263 earned delegates separate the two candidates, with seventeen states yet to vote and a cloud hanging over the election in Arizona which may yet rain on Hillary’s parade.  Over two thousand delegates are still available, spread across those seventeen states, and the voting trend recently has significantly favored the Sanders campaign.  There is a very strong likelihood that Senator Sanders will arrive in Philadelphia with more earned delegates than Secretary Clinton.

Will the Super Delegates overturn the will of the people and hand the nomination to Hillary Clinton?  If their concern is genuinely with the general election, they will assuredly not disenfranchise half of their base.  This has been a tight race so far and will quite possibly remain so.  The two candidates could arrive in Philadelphia with a fairly even split of the delegates and a lot of bitterness between their two camps.  But, if the Super Delegates are required to break the deadlock, they would be well advised to side with whomever arrives with the most earned delegates.  If not, and if they choose Hillary as most say they will, Bernie Sanders’ supporters will possibly exit the party en masse. 

To arrive at that conclusion, we have to look at just who his supporters are.  They represent the progressive wing of what was once a progressive party, a group of Democratic lifers who already feel that they have been abandoned by the DNC.  His supporters are also Independents and their voting block will be key to the election.  Independent voters now represent about 40% of the electorate and if they come to the conclusion that their votes were nullified by the DNC, their lack of a  lifelong commitment to the party will manifest itself in a mass exodus.  They will sit on their hands in November and look for another party entirely come 2020.  His voters are also young people, the voting block which will grow and age with the party over time.  If the Democrats lose them now, they may never get them back.

So why is such a fuss being made over the Super Delegates, who have not even voted yet, may never vote at all, and almost certainly would not vote to overturn the will of the electorate?  The truth is that what the Super Delegates do best, is to suppress the vote.  Their function is to convince the grass roots voters that their candidate hasn’t a chance, to give up and just stay home.  If they are successful in doing that, then the grass roots movement dies on the vine and the establishment candidate goes through without the Super Delegates ever needing to cast a deciding vote.  The problem this year is those pesky progressives, independents and young people.  They have had enough of establishment politics, enough of DNC posturing, and enough of Hillary Clinton’s promises of incremental change.  They are staying the course, staying true to Bernie Sanders, and are becoming more entrenched in their own beliefs with each successive instance of election rigging. 

To date, every single instance of that rigging has benefitted Secretary Clinton.  Most recently, the misadventure that was the primary in Arizona combined election fraud which forced voters to stand on line for five and six hours, with an election result which was called with only one percent of the vote in.  When you have created in the mind of the voter the idea that Hillary is already within reach of the nomination due to her backing from the Super Delegates, announce that a given primary has already been decided, and force voters to choose between voting and possibly losing their jobs, it is no wonder that many voters broke from the ranks of the ballot lines and went home. 

While no one can say definitively that Hillary was behind it, she is the one who benefited from it.  That is enough.  And, in what is perhaps the most telling aspect of the election fraud, the scope of it is rising as it becomes more obvious that the electorate is not willing to be  buffaloed by the promises of the Super Delegates.  This has been made abundantly clear by the protests of the voters in Arizona, who refuse to be denied their rights.  They have their candidate, they followed the rules and their votes were not counted.  The blame lies with the DNC and local officials who have clearly conspired to rig the process.  But Sanders’ supporters have remained firm and have taken to the streets.  Rather than staying home, Bernie Sanders’ supporters are essentially drawing a line in the sand and daring the DNC and the Super Delegates to step across it.

The Super Delegates though, remain firm in their vocal support of Hillary, even in instances where the primary results in their own states favored Sanders by over 70%.  Why?  It goes back to whether or not the focus is on winning the general election.  It is possible (though doubtful) that the Democratic party leadership would prefer to lose the election rather than adjust their mode of operation to support a Bernie Sanders presidency.  Remember, campaigns and parties run on the fuel that is money.  Lots of it.  Many of the Super Delegates are themselves elected officials.  They will need to run for re-election, or may have aspirations of moving up the elected office ladder.  This too, will require lots of money.  Hillary represents the establishment, the status quo, and with that, lobbyists and Super Pacs and lots of soft money to fuel campaigns and buy media outlets.  Bernie is committed to removing the influence of big money from electing our representatives to Washington.  Without that big money, without the backing of the main stream media, many incumbents will soon be out of jobs.

In the end, the actions of the Super Delegates will tell us everything we need to know about the Democratic party for at least the next generation.  If Bernie Sanders arrives in Philadelphia with more earned delegates than Hillary Clinton and the Super Delegates rise in support of him, it will validate and welcome the progressives, the independents and the young voters to the fold, solidify the base, and quite likely prove overwhelming to the Republican candidate.  If they decide instead to pull the rug out from under Bernie and his supporters, the backlash will cripple the Democratic party, cost them the general election and, in all likelihood, cement the hold the Republicans have on the House of Representatives.  Imagine what a president like Trump or Cruz might accomplish.

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