The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

Can Clinton Win Using Super-Delegates?

Hilary Clinton Secretary of State Portrait

Hilary Clinton Secretary of State Portrait

Democratic party super-delegates are unelected officials, Congressmembers, and DNC members.

They are overwhelmingly in favor of Clinton. There are 712 of them, 2,382 delegates are required to win.

Super-delegates were put in place exactly and precisely to stop a candidate like Sanders, who has little to no institutional support. (Remember, Obama did have plenty of insider support.)

Debbie Wasserman Schultz, head of the DNC, said “Superdelegates exist really to make sure that party leaders and elected officials don’t have to be in a position where they are running against grass-roots activists.”

So, if Sanders wins the majority of elected primary delegates, but Clinton has enough super-delegate support to win, will she do it?

Of course.

(I am fundraising to determine how much I’ll write this year. If you value my writing, and want more of it, please consider donating.)

I have no doubt that Clinton would. She has wanted to be President for so long, and has run her campaign as a coronation. She feels entitled to it, and seems genuinely convinced that she would be a better President–and that people who vote for Sanders are fools.

So the real question is whether superdelegates pledged to Clinton would actually vote for her if it meant overturning the Democratic will of the party.

To do so would be disastrous. I suspect it would cost Clinton and Democrats the election. I’m not American, but if I were, I certainly would not vote for Clinton in such a situation. I think most of the young people who are strongly for Clinton wouldn’t either.

The effects would ripple forwards in time, as well, proving to youngsters that the game is rigged, and that Democrats can’t be trusted.

So many party insiders owe Clinton everything. Those who don’t are mostly aligned with Obama, who has appeared to back Clinton so far. Loyalty means a great deal to these people, it is the liquid coin of insider party politics.

I suspect they would not be so foolish as to throw the primary to Clinton, but it’s not inconceivable. I imagine the plan would be to use Scalia’s empty Supreme Court as blackmail. The Court has always been their go-to “you-have-no-choice but-to-vote-for-us-even-though-we-suck” issue.

I’d guess that super-delegates won’t be an issue in the end. They’ll go where the elected delegates are, or the issue will be made moot by Clinton winning or Bernie crushing her.

But there’s a huge landmine here, and it’s one that could damage the Democratic party for decades.

It’s also ethically despicable, in my opinion, but then that phrase describes everything about Schultz and other insiders who feel they run a political party for their own benefit, and not that of the country.


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Clinton and Trump Win


  1. dfs

    Obama winning by super-dels didn’t destroy the Democratic Party…

  2. Ian Welsh

    Super-delegates did not overturn the democratic result of primaries in Obama’s case.

  3. Hugh

    The Democratic party (the apparatus) is extremely corrupt and as Wasserman-Schultz, its head, baldly states totally anti-democratic. So the question probably isn’t whether they will work a con but rather how they will work it.

    For example, ABC News is projecting that Clinton will win Nevada (contains 0.9% of US population) 52% to Sanders’ 48%. Clinton and Company will portray this as a WIN even though she was originally expected to carry Nevada in a blowout by at least 20 points. What Iowa, New Hampshire, and now Nevada show is that Clinton is a really weak candidate. But I don’t think the Democratic machine really cares. They would rather lose with Clinton (and keep their positions) than win with Sanders (and likely lose them or at least some of their power). So the question again is how much would Sanders need, not just to win but to win by, for these pols to decide that it is more threatening to their power to back Clinton than Sanders?

    One way I see them working this out is that Hillary wins, by hook or by crook (mostly crook), and then she offers the VP slot to Sanders with the expectation that doing so will allow him to sheepdog progressives into voting for her. Otherwise, they steal the convention and portray Clinton as the “sane” candidate against whoever the Republican nominee turns out to be.

  4. Kim Kaufman

    Democrats And The Iron Law Of Institutions

    “…that the Democrats operate according to the Iron Law of Institutions. The Iron Law of Institutions is: the people who control institutions care first and foremost about their power within the institution rather than the power of the institution itself. Thus, they would rather the institution “fail” while they remain in power within the institution than for the institution to “succeed” if that requires them to lose power within the institution.”

    Imo, Bernie will not “crush” Hillary. But he will have significant support throughout the country, which will be ignored by the insiders. Bernie will not be offered, nor would he take, VP. At most, he might get Secretary of Labor, where they park one token lefty in a Dem administration. Bernie will play ball and support Hillary, as he’s said he will.

    Yes, I believe that will cause low turnout – and not just by the youngsters, which I am no longer. It will be even more disappointing to them than Obama’s betrayal of all his promises and the huge OFA operation. I would have a hard time holding my nose that hard just “for SCOTUS.” I suspect Obama will choose a very right of center candidate which will make it harder to vote for Hillary and the SCOTUS excuse.

  5. Greg T

    Agree with Hugh. Bernie Sanders is unacceptable to Democratic elites as the nominee. If one accepts that basic premise, anything goes, including the use of super delegates to reverse an electoral decision. If Hillary is anointed by the Democratic elites in this manner, she will almost certainly lose in November. The party insiders could care less. They would rather be in the minority, out of power, than have a leadership working against their class interests. Besides, after eight years of GOP rule, they reason, the public will be begging for the Democrats to reclaim power. They’ll forget all about the fiasco of 2016.

  6. El Guapo

    The Super-Delegates won’t be a factor. After the result today Clinton is on course to win. Sanders has run a fantastic campaign but overcoming the party establishment and media was always unlikely to happen. Minority voters will be what puts her over the top. An uncharitable person would say they are going to get what they deserve with President Trump – and if Clinton is the nominee that is what the outcome will be.

  7. bob mcmanus

    Hugh: “One way I see them working this out is that Hillary wins, by hook or by crook (mostly crook), and then she offers the VP slot to Sanders”

    That’s all we need, a 70 yr old and 75 yr old between Paul Ryan and the Presidency.

    But Clinton will lose in November. That she can’t get the people under 40 is terrifying. 80-20 under 25s in Nevada.

    Superdelegates ought to switch to Sanders and the kids looking forward to 2018 and 2020. If the party has a future, and I no longer think it does, it will obviously be with the kids.

    Clinton loses to Trump, we get three Alitos, and with luck it will start looking like 68-78. Red Brigades, Red Army Faction, etc.

  8. Ivory Bill Woodpecker

    The consensus opinion on this site seems to be that Clinton is sure to lose the general election, even to the frothing vulgarian Trump or the terrifying extremist Cruz.

    Why would that be the case? Why would either of them succeed where the less offensive and scary McCain and Romney both failed?

  9. bob mcmanus

    Why would either of them succeed where the less offensive and scary McCain and Romney both failed?

    Because eight years of war, bad economy, and partisan hate has generated an angry and insurgent electorate, and we have a radically status-quo-committed Democratic candidate.

    Clinton could probably beat Bush or Christie or Kasich

  10. Ivory Bill Woodpecker

    “Because eight years of war, bad economy, and partisan hate has generated an angry and insurgent electorate…”

    I still think the jury’s out on that being big enough to matter much.

    Angry, passionate people tend to be LOUD, thus tending to dominate the conversation, thus they can create the impression of being more numerous than they are.

  11. Ivory Bill Woodpecker

    Moderates not only tend to be quieter in public situations, but also tend to be less likely to pontificate on Da Intertoobz as well, making it easy to underestimate their numbers.

  12. Ben

    Trump is within the MoE of Clinton in national polls *right now*.

    As the economy continues to nosedive in the six months before the election Clinton’s numbers will go down.

    When Trump starts attacking her, her numbers will go down:

    (there’s also some really good racial analysis in recent posts there applicable to the Black vote being the margin of victory for Clinton in NV)

  13. Can she? — Yes she can, but no she won’t.

    The majority of Super Delegates will go with a clear winner of the primaries/votes cast and earned delegates. For now they are sticking, and will stick with, Hillary.

    Super delegates rely on the democratic base to become, and to stay, “super.” They have generally been quiet so far. Despite giving endorsements, they are, in reality, laying in wait for a clearer picture. This situation is extremely similar to the Hart/Mondale race in 1984. Mondale had a massive chunk of the Supers tallied before Iowa when his juggernaut made him the “inevitable” nominee.

    In ’84, the overwhelming % of the Dem. base wanted anyone but Mondale, and as soon as Hart gained minimal traction in Iowa, the Mondale juggernaut crumbled. Many super delegates were ready to abandon ship toward the end the primary season (5 June). Gary Hart choked in New Jersey days before the 5 June balloting — which effectively threw away the nomination he was on the verge of winning. As a result, Mondale took Jersey w/only 45% of the vote. The Supers breathed a sigh of relieve and stood w/Mondale who had put them in an uncomfortable situation.

    However, had Mondale not squeaked out a couple of last minute primary wins on June 5, the major portion of Super Delegates would have flown the coup and not interfered with the nomination Hart rightfully won. However, Mondale’s 5 June plurality win in New Jersey (& West Virginia) gave the super delegates the cover they needed to stay w/Mondale even though Hart, on that same day, won the primaries in California, Montana, New Mexico & South Dakota. Hart ultimately won 26 primaries to Mondale’s 19.

    Upshot — Mondale entered the convention having won 38% of the primary vote to Hart’s 36%. The 62% of primary voters who did not vote for Mondale were strongly prone to support a candidate other than Mondale. However, Hart’s screw up in New Jersey (referring to a state as full of toxic waste and a generally unattractive destination the week prior to voting) lost him the nomination. It also lost his chance at the super delegates who were generally unwilling to vote against Hart if Hart come to the convention winning more delegates and votes than Mondale.

    Our current 2016 race has many similarities to 1984 — we have an establishment juggernaut with a per-determined winner, i.e., Mondale/Clinton; and a presumptive nominee whom the Democratic base lacked faith in his ability to win in November (Mondale) and, in 2016, as base that thinks/knows Clinton will be a weaker candidate in November.
    Also, in 1984, a clear majority of the base demonstrated an unambiguous preference for a candidate of their choosing rather than the candidate forced on them by the media/money & political establishment. Similarly, in 2016, a large portion, if not majority, of the base is similarly dissatisfied with a candidate they would not otherwise choose. This problem is badly compounded as they, correctly, see Ms. Clinton as the media/money & political establishment’s choice rather than the product of their votes and their primary process.

    Clinton is a better campaigner than Mondale. Bernie is unlikely to pull defeat from the jaws of victory like Hart did, which is a primary break from the ’84 analogy.

    The bottom line: expect the super delegates to respect the candidate who is the clear delegate/vote winner.
    — If it is Clinton, the supers will stay with her.
    — If it is Bernie, they will peel off and not risk their own reputations with their own voters, nor will they risk staying with Clinton who will, if she does not win the primaries outright, will have an even poorer chance of winning in November.

    Clinton and Sanders need to concentrate on winning primaries, votes & delegates. The Supers will fall in line behind the one who brings the most organic delegates to the convention.

  14. Ivory Bill Woodpecker

    “When Trump starts attacking her”

    Uh, this is a woman who has not only survived (counting the Arkanshire years) 38 years of right-wing bullshit attacks, she has prevailed.

    She. Will. Cut. His. Balls. Off.

    And I will laugh my @$$ off. 😆

    Oh, but I’m forgetting. The economy will nosedive. Ben has said so, hence it must be true. 🙄

    It’s a prophecy of doom, so of course it will come true. Prophecies of doom always come true. That’s why we’re all dead and having this conversation in Raspberry Heaven. 😆

  15. Escher

    I doubt Clinton’s chances in the general election because she’s an uninspiring candidate, widely disliked even among Democrats, who’s never won a meaningfully contested election.

    But maybe you’re right, Mr. Woodpecker, and I’m off in bizarro world with the rest of Ian’s commenters and the meaningless polls, and Clinton is indeed a formidable politician who will make short work of anyone in the Republican field. It wouldn’t be the first time I’ve misjudged the American electorate. Looks like we’ll get to find out in November.

  16. Escher

    In any case, for me at least, the most important issue isn’t any one politician or election but control of the Democratic party. And in this the polls give me hope: among the young, Clintonism is already dead.

  17. Ivory Bill Woodpecker

    The important question, of course, is not whether or not Escher mentally dwells in Bizarro World, but whether or not a majority of USAmerican voters mentally dwell there. Maybe bizarre is becoming the new normal, and so I’ve fallen out of sync. If a majority of the voters have mentally moved to the Bizarro World, then indeed we will get President Trump or Cruz.

    Escher is correct that only November will tell.

  18. different clue

    There is a blog I wish I would have known about starting in 2007 called The Confluence by blogger Riverdaughter. I would have been better informed about Convention Campaign 2008 than I turned out to have been. I would suggest going to that blog . . . Riverdaughter The Confluence . . . and reading about the events soon before and up to and including the Convention itself. It is not clear that Clinton was “loosing” or would “lose” the elected delegates. The DemParty leadership also manipulated many rules and refused to count many delegates in order to manufacture the Obama nomination victory. Also, the entire Party Machinery conspired to deny Clinton even the courtesy of an open Convention Floor Delegate Count. So I feel no reason to believe that Clinton “lost” the elected delegate count.

    As to Clinton v. Cruz or Trump…Cruz and Trump are two different people. Cruz is a smarmy oily preacher’s son whose trust-factor will be limited to hard-right hard-ass blue-nose busy-bully evangelical rightists. Clinton “mayyyyy” be able to outcampaign him. If it were Cruz vs. Clinton, I would vote Clinton.

    Trump is more of a shoot-from-the-lip populist with very unCruzlike positions on things.
    He appeals to several constituencies. . . the White Grievance Nationalists, the Burn This Mother Down vote, etc. He is fingering several things that Cruz supports. He and Putin have spoken well of eachother’s leadership and he has said I believe that Assad should be recognized as the legitimate authority in Syria. A President Trump would be more likely to start a war with Latin America but a President Clinton would be more likely to start a war with Russia, based in part on her sympathy with the nazi-nazi Banderazi coup regime in power in Kiev at this point, her exactly counter-factual counter-truth claims that Russia is somehow committing “aggression” against Ukraine, etc., her ongoing support for the jihadi liver-eating rebel scum in Syria as evidenced by her conTINued insistence, EVen NOW . . . on a No Fly Zone against Syria.

    In a Trump v Clinton election, I would be torn. I would have to study their statements very carefully, and get a sense of who their respective pools of advisers were, who their prospective cabinet appointments would be, etc. If Clinton continues taking advice from the same neoconservative, neoliberal, neoWilsonian, and Responsibility To Protect people that the last few Presidents have taken advice from, whereas Trump picks a whole different group, why would I vote for Clinton?

    If Sanders wins the nomination, the Mainstream Democratic Party Leadership will work to elect the Republican Opponent the same way they did when McGovern got nominated. That way they could circle back and say: “look what you stupid kids have done.” Hunter S. Thompson wrote about that in detail in his book Fear And Loathing: On The Campaign Trail 1972. If Sanders got nominated, he would be facing a bi-partisan conspiracy to defeat him in the election. That doesn’t bother me. I will vote for Sanders in my state’s primary anyway. Let the lampreys show their faces in public.

    Ivory Billed Woodpecker: I believe I mentioned this before but I will mention it again. There is a good book called The Ivory Bill Hunters about a professor of ornithology at University of Alabama (Auburn) whose name I forget and his pursuit of very credible I B Woodpecker sightings in/around the Choctawhatchee River area in panhandle Florida. Including very credible evidence of I B Woodpecker-style feeding debris in commercial pine tree plantations just beyond the Choctawhatchee River itself. The I B Woodpecker fed (and maybe still feeds) very differently than the Piliated Woodpecker does. Their bills had and maybe still have rather different structures for rather different styles of insect pursuit.
    Hope is not lost.

  19. The Tragically Flip

    This was a big concern in 2008, and I think what mostly keeps the superdels in line is that enough of them represent districts that went to Obama as elected politicians or D party officials (or might go to Sanders now) and they find it pretty uncomfortable to spurn their own district’s Dem party voters. I think we even had some Superdels who played “My personal vote went to Hillary but as a superdel I will vote my district at the convention…”

    Of course a mass betrayal of the Democratic base’s selected candidate could happen (and I agree Hillary will try for this if it is her only path to victory), but the disincentive is non-trivial.

    On the other hand, Sanders is not just an upstart like Obama was, but a long time outsider. Obama was merely jumping his turn in line as the establishment candidate, he was still acceptable to most superdels, Sanders is something else and even risking the wrath of their own local voters in a primary may not be enough to keep them in line.

    Trump would have a fantastic time reminding the general electorate should Hillary lose the D-prmiary popular vote, but use the Superdels to win the nom.

  20. Greg T

    @ different clue

    The Confluence is a very good blog, and the proprietor listed a number of grievances the Clinton campaign had with the DNC. The most appalling was that Barack Obama never made it on the Michigan primary ballot, so Hillary won the state and its delegates handily. However, the DNC refused to award the delegates to Mrs Clinton to deny her momentum and, to cap it off, insisted that candidate Obama receive a proportional share of the delegates despite not earning them. It was a blatantly corrupt decision, no doubt made under pressure from Wall Street donors who absolutely needed Obama in office. Wall Street was facing an existential threat and it needed a candidate who would bail them out without conditions. Undoubtedly, they got their money’s worth.

    Hillary had legal grounds to challenge the entire nomination. She chose not to fight. Instead, she cut a deal with the DNC that she would cede the nomination to O , in exchange for heading up the State Department and having the field cleared for a presidential run in 2016. No one counted on Bernie Sanders becoming a threat. Sanders is not taken seriously by Democratic Party elites, but you can bet they’re taking him seriously now. This sordid history proves that the DNC will resort to anything to deny him the nomination, no matter how egregious it is.

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