Sunday, April 10, 2016

How Bernie Can Win But Still Lose

This is the most wonkish column I’ve written in the two years I’ve been writing Unfair and Unbalanced.  Please stay with me, though.  I feel it’s important that before too many people jump to the conclusion that Bernie Sanders’ “winning” streak will be the political death of Hillary Clinton, you should clearly understand the rules we’re playing under.  Under the rules of the Democratic Party, it makes it unlikely that Sanders can over-take her in the delegate count.  That’s because under the rules I’ll explain below, you’ll understand how a candidate can win but still lose.

Electing a President in our country is a complicated and confusing matter.  It can even be exasperating and infuriating.  For instance, the big news this week is that Bernie Sanders won the Wyoming caucus with 56% of the vote to Clinton’s 44%.  So he won!  Not so fast.  Wyoming had 14 delegates to the convention to award.  Convention delegates are awarded depending on how well the candidate did in the larger populated congressional districts.  Even though Sanders won the popular vote of the caucus, he was awarded only 7 delegates.  Clinton was awarded 7 delegates.  Now it appears to be a tie!  Nope!   Wyoming has 4 super delegates who are members of the Democratic National Committee who automatically have a seat at the Democratic convention.  They have previously committed to be a Clinton delegate.  Therefore, Sanders received 7 delegates and Clinton received 11.  That’s a win for Clinton by anybody’s math and she didn’t even campaign there. 

You may not like it, but it’s the system of the Democratic National Party (DNC).  The DNC sets the rules for the super delegates and the convention rules.  The individual State Democratic Party decides on whether the State will have a caucus, an open primary, a closed primary, or semi-closed primary.  The State party also decides if it will be a winner-take-all allocation or whether the delegates will be proportionate as to how well a candidate does in each congressional district. 

The Republican GOP has a slightly different system.  They don’t have super delegates but a delegate can run as un-pledged. As a Democrat, it’s not my job to explain Republican election rules.  I defer to Will Davis for that.  I’m just guessing that right now, the GOP is wishing they had the super delegate provision in their rules.  If they did, the establishment of the GOP wouldn’t be having a cat fit about Donald Trump.

The idea of super delegates by the DNC was born to avoid another disaster in their nomination process like happened in 1972.  They wanted to make sure that future nominees represented the values of the Party and avoid the possibility that a cult figure, a flash-in-the pan (so to speak) and a person nominated based on one issue was nominated.   His opposition to the Viet Nam War powered Senator George McGovern’s campaign and a strong grass roots movement of college students and pacifists.  McGovern did not have the support of the party establishment.  Combined with problems faced by other front-runners at that time, McGovern was nominated. (Sound familiar?)   McGovern, as the Democratic nominee, went on to lose in 49 states, a devastating landslide loss.

There is another category of delegates called Pledged Leaders and Elected Officials (PLEO).  PLEO’s are elected by party members after the last primary is held.  For example, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed is one of many that will be seated as a delegate under this provision. 

Super delegates are made up of party elders and party faithful based on their history of supporting the Democratic Party and their candidates.    Since this rule has been instituted, a nominee has not been chosen by the vote of super delegates and PLEO’s.  Keep in mind, just because it’s never been done, does not mean it can’t happen. 

Hillary and Bill Clinton have been Mr. and Mrs. Democrat for two decades.  They have supported the Democratic Party and their candidates with their time and fundraising abilities relentlessly. There are few elected officials that Hillary has not helped through the party.  For this reason, even if Sanders was to rout Hillary in the rest of the primaries, it is doubtful that the super delegates and few of the PLEO’s will abandon her, a die-hard Democrat, for a candidate that has never professed to being a Democrat and is using their organization for his vehicle.  Yes, Bernie Sander’s supporters will scream, “They are stealing the election from Bernie!”  They’ll have to get over it.  That’s our system and that’s how we roll.  Just ask Al Gore when he won the popular vote over-all, but lost the Electoral College vote in the General Election by losing the popular vote by 587 votes in a questionable Florida election.  I hope it doesn’t become necessary for me to write about the Electoral College, our most inexplicable election process.

On a lighter note, Happy Tax Day!  Ha!


  1. In general super delegates will go as the popular vote goes and if Bernie should pull out a pledged delegate win the supers will switch to make that win seem bigger than it is. The exact same thing happened to Clinton in 2008. Her supers started deserting when it was so close at the end. Others deserted to stick it to the Clintons so pretending the elites love the Clintons and are swinging the election to them denies the facts.

    Supers were also created and are maintained because there is always a limited number of delegates that can go to the national convention and those slots would always be taken by elected officials if there was not a mechanism to let them go as a recognition that they work all year round for the party. This opens spots for new people and helps keep the party growing. If the press bothered to "inform the public" these things would not be a big deal.

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