Caucuses aren’t undemocratic, super-delegates are
There have been public calls for Bernie to step aside, for “the good of the party”. The calls are generally coupled with the suggestion that his path to securing a majority of pledged delegates is impossible. I’ve discussed before, how this is plainly untrue, and I will have updated targets later this week. But in one case, the person making a call for Bernie to step aside also said that his victories thus far don’t count for as much since many of his delegates were secured from caucus contests, and caucuses are “undemocratic”. This attempt to delegitimize Bernie’s pledged delegates is what I want to consider first.
We should recall that the Democratic party also held caucuses in 2008. The insurgent candidate, Barack Obama won or tied each and every caucus. These were the results in terms of pledged delegates:
Obama won the caucus contests by a net 128 delegate margin. Since Obama ended ahead by roughly 62 delegates, it’s fair to say the caucus contests (“mostly white” states by the way) handed him the victory. If you want to now claim caucuses are “undemocratic”, you should also have the courage and clarity to admit that Obama was chosen as the nominee in 2008 by an undemocratic process and unless you’re a PUMA, you didn’t really have a problem with it then.
But the fact is, caucuses are not “undemocratic”. At least no more so than any other system of democracy that requires some commitment of time and travel. If the Democratic party had a problem with caucuses, it should have revised its rules in 2009, or later. They didn’t.
I’ll tell you what is “undemocratic” though, superdelegates.
They are undemocratic in the sense that the Senate was undemocratic before the 17th amendment was passed and the popular election of Senators became the norm, in 1913.
They are undemocratic in the sense that the Presidency was undemocratic, before it became the norm to select presidential electors by popular vote. That change in the 1820s is incidentally, tied to the foundation of the Democratic party and the election of Andrew Jackson. The last state to adopt the popular vote was South Carolina, after the Civil War, you can read into that whatever you want.
The superdelegate system is undemocratic in its intent. It is explicitly designed to overturn the will of the people. It is based on the belief that party leaders know better when it comes to selecting a nominee.
And finally, it is undemocratic because it was motivated by fear of the people. Not a fear that the people would choose a demagogue who would then seek to destroy our individual rights. Not a fear that the people would choose someone unprepared for the presidency. Though to be honest, the other party is well on it’s way to doing both with Trump. It was a fear that the party would choose someone unacceptable to the party elite and their view of what the general electorate wanted.
Bernie’s campaign is absolutely on the money with their very public lobbying of superdelegates over the past month. What they are doing is raising the profile of superdelegates among the Democratic primary base. The better people understand how superdelegates work, the better position they’re in to judge their actions at the convention. So having a public discussion about what arguments work and don’t work on superdelegates is a good thing.
We do not have a system of direct democracy in this country, nor would I advocate one. We delegate to our representatives the authority to make policy and write legislation. But the people jealously guard their right to choose the representatives who then subsequently create policy and legislation.
If, at the convention, Democrats reveal that a single DNC member’s vote counts as much as the 15,000 individual citizens who elected each pledged delegate from Hawaii, it will not go over well.
The real goal here is to have Bernie drop out, so that it appears that Hillary has overwhelming support in the pledged delegate count and avoid any sort of real contest on the convention floor. In other words, keep the coronation on track.
All this is of course entirely acceptable. The Democratic party is a private institution which has no defined permanent role in our system of government. Parties have come, and parties have gone. We have seen six different party systems in this country. But if you are a Democrat, and wish to see a future for your party, you will want to ensure the pledged delegate count is the one that matters.
He’s winning because he’s spending so much money
Some commenters here and in the media claim Bernie is only winning because he has spent 2x, 3x or 10x the amount Hillary has in a particular state. I got an e-mail from the Hillary campaign this week saying:
If you think Bernie Sanders isn’t gunning for a comeback, take a harder look at his campaign. They outspent us on the air 27-to-1 in Washington, Hawaii, and Alaska, and after they won those three contests, they turned around and raised ANOTHER $4 million in just 48 hours.
It then asks for money, because Hillary is having a tough time matching Bernie’s fundraising this year. He’s raised 63.5 million in Jan-Feb to her 45m. But another goal is to create the impression that Bernie only wins where he outspends Hillary by huge multiples. Thankfully, OpenSecrets consolidates fundraising data for both Hillary and Bernie’s campaigns. So we can evaluate the claim that he’s spending more than she has:
||$75,500,362 (25,705 people)
||$4,001,068 (1,257 people)
In addition, Hillary has $63m raised by SuperPACs, of which almost $19m has been spent, leaving $44m (mostly in Priorities USA and Ready PAC).
In aggregate, Hillary has spent more than Bernie. Adding the SuperPACs, she has spent $24 million more than Bernie has. That 25% higher spending has resulted in 23% additional delegates. So thus far, they’ve both gotten roughly what they’ve paid for (ignoring external media impact).
What’s caught the establishment flat-footed is that Bernie has managed to raise as much as Hillary has. With most other candidates, the knock would be that they can’t raise enough money, therefore aren’t viable. With Bernie, the knock is that he can raise enough money, but he needs to spend it to win, so he’s unviable.
See how this works?
But aside from the bullshit arguments about who’s competing where and spending what, it’s also worth looking into where the money comes from. The vast majority (73%) of Hillary’s money comes from contributors who give more than $200. The vast majority (67%) of Bernie’s from those who give less. Roughly 47% of all of Hillary’s funds came from people who maxed out their contribution ($75 million). For Sanders, that number is far lower at 3% or $4 million total.
I want to talk about what it means to a campaign to raise funds in each way. To raise money, Hillary has to attend private fundraisers. The people forking over $2,700 to her campaign or twice that per couple aren’t going to join 20,000 other for a rally. No, they expect face-time with the candidate and a passable dinner in a private environment. Plus cocktails so it isn’t all boring politics. Those giving $669,400 expect even more. All that sucks up the candidate’s time. Time that can’t be spent with voters because campaigns have a definite end date. That creates a structural advantage that both campaigns are aware of:
I don't have a super PAC and I don't travel the country begging millionaires to contribute to my campaign. This is a grassroots campaign.
— Mar 14, 2016 @berniesanders
In contrast, Bernie’s fundraising is far more efficient. He spends a couple of minutes in a speech making an appeal for cash, and it comes rolling in. Many people are set to donate to the campaign on a regular schedule.
The end result is that Hillary is spending multiple evenings a week scarfing down shrimp cocktails at the homes of wealthy supporters, while Bernie is out campaigning. And he’s still raising more money than her.
McGovern lost, lefties can’t win in America
Numerous people point to McGovern’s loss in 1972 to Nixon to claim:
- America is not fertile ground for a “liberal” candidate
- McGovern’s primary win was therefore a mistake where voters (who we know are stupid and naive) chose someone too liberal to win
- To avoid this fate, it was essential to create the “superdelegate” fix to protect primary voters from their stupidity and naivete.
I will admit that most senior Democrats aren’t dumb enough to call primary voters stupid and naive in public. They might choose to say “carried away” or get “overexcited by unreasonable and unachievable proposals”. But make no mistake, what they mean is that primary voters are stupid and naive.
The problem is, this three stage argument falls apart when evaluated carefully.
McGovern was almost certainly the most “liberal” Democratic nominee in recent memory. But his loss cannot be ascribed exclusively to his policy positions or ideology. At least equally, and perhaps far more important, were his choice of Eagleton as VP and the subsequent revelation that Eagleton had undergone electro-shock therapy for “depression” (later diagnosed as bi-polar disorder). McGovern’s initially firm “1,000%” backing of Eagleton and later back-tracking hurt him immensely. The failed attempts to recruit Ted Kennedy, Edmund Muskie, Hubert Humphrey, Abraham Ribicoff, Larry O’Brien and Reubin Askew as replacements caused further damage. Many of them had run for the nomination against McGovern. Birch Bayh, Walter Mondale and Hubert Humphrey had refused to join the ticket earlier. All these refusals were a symptom of a broader problem, McGovern was abandoned by the Democratic party, in and outside the South.
Perhaps primary voters weren’t so stupid and naive to choose McGovern. Perhaps they just misjudged the lengths to which the party would go to sabotage a nominee considered too far to the left. Now, I should point out that McGovern won only a quarter of the popular vote, about the same as Humphrey. He did win over 50% of the delegates.
Looking at it this way, the “superdelegate” fix takes on a different meaning. It is not to prevent the party from being tripped by a “too liberal” candidate who is bound to lose in the general. It is there to prevent the primary being won by a candidate the “establishment” doesn’t approve of. Subtle difference, but it clarifies why this has bearing in 2016. The party looks at Bernie’s candidacy as a guerrilla campaign by someone who hasn’t “paid their dues”. Quite apart from the ideological position that Bernie inhabits, the bigger fear is that the party’s ticket will be headed by someone who is not enmeshed in the complex web of favors and collectible chits that would otherwise allow party grandees to exercise control over their agenda.
And we should not mince words here. If Bernie wins the nomination, he will be the first nominee in a number of generations who owes little to the establishment. If you believe this is a drawback, by all means you should oppose Bernie’s nomination.
By the way, at the time the superdelegate system was devised, the fear was not about nominating a “liberal” candidate, but about infighting within the party that would undercut the eventual nominee. The examples in everyone’s minds were McGovern, who had to deal with multiple contenders challenging him, and Ted Kennedy’s primary challenge to Jimmy Carter in 1980.
Bernie is going to be a spoiler, just like Nader
Some people have begun to point to the 2000 race (also a “third-term” run) and raise fears of a similar situation. That Bernie might undertake a “spoiler run” or fail to throw all his support behind Hillary in the unlikely event she wins the pledged delegate count and the nomination.
If Hillary wins the nomination and subsequently loses the election, you can bet your bottom dollar that the Democratic party will find a way to blame it on Bernie or his supporters.
Not that I think Gore’s loss can or should be blamed on Nader, or people who voted for him (or on Bill Bradley). Gore was a bad candidate, Liberman was a bad choice, Bill Clinton was unmentionable during the campaign because Gore didn’t want to be associated with blowjobs in the Oval office. The fact is, the Democratic party should have made better choices or run a better campaign. That they failed to do that cannot be blamed on Nader.
But they will say, whatever you think of Gore-W-Nader, you’ve got to admit it was a disaster, because Iraq.
Perhaps, though the thing is, we’re not talking about Gore or Nader, we’re talking about Hillary. Hillary voted for the war in Iraq. There was no apology in 2008 because it was seen as a political liability. She did not admit it was a mistake till her book was published in 2014.
The point I’m making is that whatever you think about Gore v. W, you can’t use Iraq to argue that Hillary would be better if another Iraq came up. Because she voted for Iraq! Imagine Hillary ran instead of Gore in 2000 and lost. Blaming the war on Nader would be nonsensical because we know today that Hillary voted for it.
In fact this whole line of argument is ridiculous on its face because Al Gore initially supported a confrontation with Iraq. In February 2002, he called for a “final reckoning” with Iraq, saying the country was a “virulent threat in a class by itself” and calling for Saddam Hussein to be ousted. By September 2002, he was arguing against the war, claiming the focus should be on tracking down the culprits behind 9-11. We know he agreed with Bush and co that Iraq/Saddam were a key problem in the Middle-East, that the US needed to remove Saddam. We just don’t know what he would have done if he actually commanded the army. He might have joined the majority of Democratic senators who voted for war (including Hillary).
But blaming Nader is a very convenient way for Democrats to ignore our own faults and avoid making necessary changes. The psychological candy delivered by blaming it all on Nader means people will continue doing it.
I’ve had a couple of discussions about whether attempts have been made or will be made to steal votes in a primary, if Bernie begins to get close.
I don’t really think that is going to happen, nor will it be effective if attempted, for a variety of reasons:
- To steal an election, you have to control the machinery of the elections. You also have to demand and receive, absolutely, unquestioning loyalty. I don’t think the Clintons have any of that.
- The proportional delegate allocation system reduces the rewards from a stolen election, unless you can shift enormous numbers of votes.
- You could try to maneuver to gain additional delegates at the district/state conventions, but the Clinton campaign appears to be completely inept at this. All the upward revisions in delegate counts due to unviability or split delegate thresholds have gone to Bernie.
- Looking at the contests to come, I don’t know which states might be the most vulnerable.
None of this matters if Bernie doesn’t win the pledged delegates. Go out and phonebank, facebank and GoTV.
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