Common Dreams reports, with dismay, that “Sanders Alone on Debate Stage to Say That the Candidate with the Most Votes Should Get Nomination at Convention,” observing in support that “’Out of all the candidates, Bernie is the only one to advocate for the democratic will of the people — he wants your vote to count more than a superdelegate’s,” tweeted progressive group Democratic Socialists of America.’” This Tweet is merely the tip of the iceberg of the outrage I have seen expressed by Sanders supporters on my own Facebook feed.
I know that DSA is not a party (though it surely wishes it could be), but I wonder if the organizational rules would allow its leadership and platform to be decided by a simple plurality of the votes in open primaries throughout the country in which in most places anyone who wants to can vote — whether they are a party member, activist, or local leader, or not involved at all, whether they are a socialist or a libertarian or even a reactionary following Trump’s call for his followers to do everything they can to confuse his opponents. Would that represent “the democratic will of the people” in any sense, whether we define “the people” as “democratic socialists” (presumably the constituency that DSA purports to promote and represent AS an organization) much less “the American people?”
Did DSA conduct a national referendum on whether Sanders ought to be their endorsed candidate? Did they consult “the will of the people?” Can any serious political organization in a contentious political environment subscribe to such procedures for the determination of their most important decisions? (I wonder what Gramsci would say. Or Debs. Or Norman Thomas.)
The very loud assertions by Sanders and his supporters that the 2018 rules changes are invalid, and that it is “undemocratic” to require a majority, are demagogic.
The candidate selected to be the Democratic presidential nominee should win the nomination according to the rules of the process. If any candidate accumulates a majority of pledged delegates, then according to the rules that candidate has won the nomination, straight out. If no candidate accumulates a majority, then the presumptive nominee should be the candidate with a preponderance of the votes. But according to the rules, this candidate needs to do the political work of transforming his or her plurality into a majority. It is true that on a second ballot 771 “superdelegates” — party activists, including many elected officials who did not run as delegates– will have votes according to the rules. It is also true that all of the delegates pledged to the other candidates are put into play. In such a scenario, this would be a majority of the elected delegates, who do not simply become “owned” by the vote leader because he and his supporters say so.
There are a total of 3979 elected/pledged delegates (everything below is drawn from the rules as reported by Ballotpedia). If Sanders were to win even 45% of them — a generous assumption — that would be 1791 delegates. This would mean that 2188 delegates — a majority — do not support Sanders.
On a second ballot, there would be the 3979 elected delegates, plus an additional 771 “superdelegates,” for a total of 4750. On a second ballot, Sanders or any other candidate would have to win 2376 delegate votes. This would require Sanders to hold all his pledged delegates and win 585 additional delegate votes out of the 2959 delegates not pledged to him. 585 out of 2959.
You think it is unfair “undemocratic” to require this of a presidential candidate? Really? [by the way, for Sanders to fail, it would require some other much weaker candidate to do an amazing job of logrolling to accumulate the 2376 delegate votes on the second round, a rather herculean task.]
This is a complicated process, but it is the prescribed process, one that limited the role of “superdelegates” in response to the demands of Sanders supporters (the change was celebrated by Sanders and his key spokesman). More importantly, it is a process that a strong candidate with a strong plurality who has political savvy and is able to negotiate and compromise should be able to master. And it is hard to see how a candidate with a strong plurality who cannot master such a process can be said to represent either a strong consensus candidate of the Democratic party or a strong contender for the presidency.
It is much simpler to support “whoever gets the most delegates” — which, by the way, does not mean the same thing is the most primary votes, because there are 15% thresholds in many places which undercount weaker candidate support.
But it is strange to claim that this is “the democratic will of the people” if that candidate lacks the support of the majority of delegates.
It is not a bad thing for all of the presidential candidates to have to work hard to extend their support beyond their base. That’s kind of what politics is.
And especially at this moment, when defeating Trump is such an urgent imperative, it does not seem unreasonable to expect the Democratic presidential nominee to be able to win the support of at least a bare majority of his or her own convention delegates.
Indeed, I think the defense and extension of democracy requires at least this much.
Jeffrey C. Issac is James H. Rudy Professor of Political Science at Indiana University, Bloomington.