Every history teacher I’ve ever had has told me that we must learn from history because otherwise, it’ll repeat itself. I don’t categorically agree with that statement, but I do think it has its applications. The recent dilemma the Democratic Party has faced concerning “superdelegates” is a great example.
In 2016, before the Republican National Convention (RNC) in mid-July, so-called “Never-Trump” Republicans were scrambling. That March, Trump had 477 pledged delegates out of a possible 1101, good for a commanding lead in a race that originally featured 17 candidates. Just as alarming, however, was the dwindling of candidates from 17 down to just four. As the Trump Train steamrolled toward the convention, plowing through Rubio, Cruz, and Kasich along the way, Never-Trumpers began to plot any kind of RNC revolution they could think of. Faced with the prospect of nominating Trump, these Republicans found themselves in a pickle. Never had they imagined being stuck nominating a man who displayed a blatant disregard for political norms, who didn’t seem to have a chance of winning the general election, and who didn’t even have a history of being a conservative. When that fear finally became reality, they were left with no way to escape Donald Trump.
Meanwhile, for many Americans, the Democratic primary seemed to feature the opposite narrative. Hillary Clinton, proclaimed by many as the presumptive nominee before she even decided to run, faced a challenge from Bernie Sanders that was more formidable than expected. Yet most Democrats, including Clinton, agreed that Sanders’ candidacy brought to light important issues that helped evolve the Party and motivate the liberal base.
However, some in the “Bernie-or-Bust” movement, salty and incensed by the loss of the only candidate who had ever inspired them, decried the nomination process. Some of their complaints were entirely legitimate, but Bernie-or-Busters latched onto less rational criticisms such as the commitment of most superdelegates to Clinton early in the race. Although they could, and did, declare their support for a candidate, these special DNC delegates—representing about 15 percent of votes at the convention—were still not bound to any one candidate by the result of a statewide primary or caucus.
Even disregarding superdelegates’ declarations of support, Sanders would not have come close to matching Clinton’s pledged delegate total. But nonetheless, on August 25, 2018, the DNC caved into the requests of party activists aligned with Sanders (who is no longer a member of the Democratic Party) and vastly limited the power of superdelegates. In the 2020 Democratic presidential primary, superdelegates will be allowed to vote only after the first ballot if all candidates fail to reach a majority of pledged delegates.
Ever since November 9, 2016, the GOP has continued its slow, arduous deterioration while Democrats have enjoyed rising popularity as the main front of the anti-Trump resistance. So why, looking back at the chaotic failure of the 2016 Republican primary, have Democrats chosen to be more like them? What kind of nonsensical foolishness does it take to look at a party that has, for all intents and purposes, been completely replaced by an ineffective, reactionary shell of its former self and say, “Yeah. That looks pretty dope”?
Superdelegates are most relevant when there is no runaway winner and especially when no candidate wins a majority of pledged delegates. The 2020 Democratic field is likely to be even larger than the record-breaking 2016 Republican one, which means that the candidates will split the vote widely among themselves. To make matters worse, the Democratic primary is much more proportional, with fewer delegates awarded in a “winner-take-all” fashion—further reducing the chances that a candidate wins a majority of delegates.
I’d bet my life that if I had walked into a room of Never-Trumpers in June of 2016 and offered them a group of several hundred party loyalists, they’d have been willing to nominate me for my generosity. These Republicans were desperate for some kind of mechanism to stop Donald Trump—something like the Democrats’ superdelegates. What Democrats have done, with Sanders as the figurehead for this abomination, is throw away the only tool at their disposal that would ensure the stability of the Democratic Party as well as the entire American left wing.
Why won’t Sanders and his supporters learn from history, as Ms. Glazer or Mr. Hogan would surely tell them to do? This tendency is not limited to superdelegates. Sanders’ “Our Revolution” organization has insisted on endorsing, all too successfully, “insurgent” Democratic congressional nominees like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Has he never heard of the Tea Party, wherein many Republican incumbents were displaced by far-right insurgents who proceeded to undermine the effectiveness of the GOP majorities in Congress?
I can only conclude that Sanders cares not for the political success of liberal ideas and values, but instead for the advancement of his own agenda and power. It’s up to the rest of us Democrats to stop him.