Democratic Superdelegates Sadly Exist to Protect Us From Ourselves
I took one of those quizzes that I’m sure many of you all have taken recently to determine which Presidential candidate best supports my positions. The result: 99 percent Hillary, and 99 percent Bernie. Politically speaking, I’d be happy with either candidate. If this were an election between Bernie and Hillary, I’d be overjoyed because no matter who won, my values would be represented in the White House and in the selection of Supreme Court justices.
Unfortunately, this is not an election between Hillary and Bernie. Ultimately, it’s an election between the Democratic candidate and the Republican candidate. No matter who wins the Democratic nomination, it’s going to be an easy vote for me. But the majority of voters in this country do not share my values. I really, really wish that younger, progressive voters with diverse backgrounds made up the majority voting bloc in the United States, but they do not. That’s apparent whenever I hear any man-on-the-street interview on NPR, CNN, or in articles written by the Associated Press. A majority of the people who actually vote in this country are moderate. They’re cool with gay marriage now; abortion makes them uncomfortable but more people think it should be legal than not; and Obamacare is still not popular, except among those who benefit from it.
Outside of this choir to whom we speak every day, it’s a terrifying world. Think about your Thanksgiving dinners with extended family; look around and ask yourself how many people at the dinner table would vote for universal healthcare and how many would vote to erect a wall between the United States and Mexico? It’s a close call, and in every election, it comes down to a few million votes, a 51-to-49 or a 52-to-48 percent margin. Mitt Romney, for instance, was a hugely ineffectual presidential candidate, who talked shit about poor people, and he still gained over 47 percent of the vote.
That’s how divided we are in this country. We are divided enough that Al Gore won the popular vote but lost the election, and Al Gore — at least the 2000 version of him — was very moderate. George W. Bush eked out his victories by playing up his compassionate conservatism. Bill Clinton won because he was moderate — too moderate for many of us — and even Barack Obama did a great job of playing to the center. He didn’t even publicly turn on the Defense of Marriage Act until 2011, three years into his first term, once it had become apparent that a small majority of Americans had come around on gay marriage. You think that’s because he was homophobic? No, it was because he needed to win elections.
You simply cannot win a Presidential election without winning over the centrists. It cannot be done. There are not enough progressives to win an election, just as there aren’t enough evangelicals to win. I wish it weren’t this way, but it’s math. It’s goddamn math.
All of which brings me to these superdelegates, which I’m sure that Bernie fans are furious about. In spite of narrowly losing to Hillary in Iowa, in spite of whipping Hillary in New Hampshire, and in spite of pulling even with Hillary in Nevada, Hillary has more delegates in her camp because more superdelegates — in fact, practically all of them, so far — have pledged their support to Hillary.
That may sound unfair, and maybe it is, but until the 1960s, it was those party leaders who make up the superdelegates that chose the eventual nominee. However, because most of the power was in the hands of party leaders, the Democrats decided to give more control to the voters. That sounds great in theory, but after that change, Democrats lost every election, except one, between 1968 and 1992. We only won in 1976 because Jimmy Carter was running against an unelected President whose predecessor had been impeached.
Why? Because the Democratic voters used their newfound power to nominate men like George McGovern, the “modern American liberal.” McGovern lost 61-percent to 37-percent in the popular vote, and 520 to 17 in the electoral college. It was the second biggest landslide in history. McGovern was a good man. He was an outsider with huge grassroots support from students and anti-war activists who circumvented establishment centers.
Thirty-seven percent voted for McGovern. That’s basically the entire Democratic party. He got creamed. Nixon won the Republican party and practically every single independent voter.
You know why a guy like McGovern loses? Think back to, I dunno, the last five Presidential elections, and try to remember how many times Republican candidates referred to their opponents as “liberals” pejoratively. In Presidential elections, “liberal” is a dirty word used as a weapon, and it works, because independent voters — your uncles and cousins at the Thanksgiving table — don’t want to vote for a “liberal” who is going to change the status quo. Everybody wants change when it comes to a Presidential election, but independents and conservatives don’t want their lives changed.
Bernie is McGovern. I hate that it’s true. I wish that it weren’t true. But Bernie is McGovern. Every single Democrat will probably vote for Bernie, but as soon as Trump or Cruz sic their Karl Roves on him, Bernie is dead in the water. You think “liberal” scares Independents? Try “Socialist Democrat from practically Canada.” I think that sounds great, but here’s what the average Independent voter thinks:
The day that the eventual nominee becomes a mathematical certainty, we’re going to see the candidates from both parties run as fast as they possibly can toward the center. If Trump wins, he’s going to be like, “Pro-life? What? Check my record. I’ve been pro-choice for my entire life. Gay marriage. I LOVE THE GAYS. Obamacare is terrible, but that’s only because I have a better plan that is going to give more people insurance without lining the pockets of lobbyists! Obama! We’re friends! I liked him before I hated him!”
In fact, Trump has already started pivoting toward the center, by throwing the establishment Republicans under the bus. Did you hear him say the other day that Planned Parenthood does a lot of great things for women? The ears of three percent of moderate independents perked. “Tell me more, Donald Trump. I’m starting to see what all the fuss is about.”
Bernie, on the other hand, is fucked. He could sprint as fast as he can toward the center, and if he started running toward the middle in June, he might make it from “socialist” to “liberal” by November. And the thing about Republicans is that they’re really good at sticking labels like “socialist” onto Democrats. You know what that means? Trump 52 percent, Bernie 47 percent. It’s math. It’s goddamn math!
That’s why the superdelegates exists. Because party leaders care more about winning than they care about ideology, and those party leaders are throwing their support behind Hillary because they don’t want another McGovern or Jimmy Carter or Walter Mondale. When Democrats are left to their own devices, we’re going to pick the most progressive candidate, which is great until November when “progressive” becomes a swear word. It’s a shitty system, but in a way, it exists for our own protection.
That’s not to say that those superdelegates won’t switch their allegiances, as they did for Obama in 2008, but they’ll only do that if they believe that Bernie gives them the best chance of winning in the fall. But I don’t think Bernie’s electability changes. The Northeast and California may raise the roof for Bernie, but those voters in Michigan, and Minnesota, and Wisconsin and Pennsylvania are the ones that really matter. They’d sooner vote for a black guy named Barack Hussein Obama than they would a socialist. This election is not about winning the most Democratic voters or Republican voters. As it is in every election, it’s about winning those 5 percent in the middle; that’s who the selfish, win-at-all-cost superdelegates have in mind, because in a primary, “moderate Democrat” sounds terrible, but in a general election, “moderate” is our friend.