Superdelegates

I don't think I buy the argument that the Democratic Party's superdelegates have some kind of categorical ethical obligation to obey the dictates of the pledged delegate count. Indeed, one of the best things you can say about superdelegates is that it's fairly easy to imagine scenarios in which giving the nomination to the pledged delegates leader would have a perverse result. For example, suppose Candidate A cleans up in early primaries and jumps out to a big lead. But just when the pundits were ready to declare it "essentially impossible" for Candidate B to catch up, he unveils a very appealing new message and sweeps the remainder of the states. Thanks to the proportional allocation rules, though, it's not enough to catch Candidate A, who winds up with 52 percent of pledged delegates. But since many of those delegates came from states that voted months ago, and lots of former Candidate A supporters feel buyer's remorse; national polling shows convincingly that 59 percent of registered Democrats prefer Candidate B, who also has a lead in head-to-head polling matchups with the GOP nominee and a fundraising advantage.

Would it really be so absurd for the superdelegates to overrule the "will of the people" and instead give the people what they tell pollsters they want? I don't think so. The superdelegates have both an opportunity and an obligation to take seriously their obligation to do the best thing for the party and the country.

But part of taking that obligation seriously is recognizing that an extremely drawn-out primary campaign that's ultimately decided by superdelegate wrangling probably doesn't serve the best interests of the party and the country. If, on the morning of March 5, Hillary Clinton did poorly enough the previous day that she's facing a choice between dropping out of the race and pursuing a strategy that involves two months of vicious campaigning and integrally requires her to secure the support of the superdelegates, then I think it would make sense for the superdelegates (probably represented behind-closed-doors by neutral party leaders like Gore, Pelosi, Reid, etc.) to tell her campaign that it's not going to happen, and they're going to endorse Obama and seal the nomination for him.

If he's clearly winning, it would be preferable for the party to just make him the winner, rather than get into endless mucking around about Michigan and superdelegates. But if the delegate count genuinely just stays super-narrow, that's another matter, and I don't see it as intrinsically illegitimate for the SDs to put Clinton over the top if Obama's beating her by a half-dozen pledged delegates or something. On the other hand, there's no real reason to think that the bulk of the currently unpledged superdelegates have a secret preference for Hillary. An early Clinton endorsement was an essentially zero cost move for people to make, so non-endorsers are probably either genuinely undecided or else closet Obama fans.

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Matthew Yglesias is a former writer and editor at The Atlantic.

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