The Hypocrisy of Sanders's Superdelegate Push

Asking Democratic party elites to support him after he garnered fewer votes, won fewer states, and earned fewer pledged delegates cuts against the core spirit of his candidacy.

Lucy Nicholson / Reuters

Eight years ago, I thought that Barack Obama would do a better job than Hillary Clinton as president. This cycle, I felt the same way about Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. I thought that he would be less likely than his hawkish opponent to enmesh the U.S. in dumb wars of choice; less likely to violate civil liberties in the name of counterterrorism; less likely to abrogate the public’s ability to know what its government is doing; and less likely to preserve a status quo where the part of the financial sector that creates no value keeps enriching people through regulatory capture.

Voters disagreed with my judgment. On Tuesday, Democrats in my home state, California, became the latest to deliver a primary victory in a large, populous state to Hillary Clinton. She has won millions more votes than her opponent; more states than her opponent; and more pledged delegates then her opponent.

Many in the press have declared Hillary Clinton the presumptive nominee, because adding the number of pledged delegates she has won to the number of unpledged “superdelegates” who’ve committed to supporting her at the Democratic convention gives her more than enough votes to secure the nomination. But Bernie Sanders correctly notes that the superdelegates can change their minds right up until the convention. His campaign says that their allegiances may still shift. “Superdelegates have a very important decision to make," Sanders told NBC News.

His critics retort that the odds of superdelegates defecting en masse are slim to none.

My objection to his soldiering on is a bit different.

In the event that Hillary Clinton is indicted for a crime, suffers a serious health setback, or is enmeshed in an unexpected scandal between now and July, Democrats may yet be glad that they can still technically go with another candidate.

Sanders should stay present and prepared just in case.

But unless the Sanders campaign expects that sort of development, unless they are anticipating significant new information that the rank-and-file didn’t factor into voting decisions, its apparent effort to secure the nomination with superdelegates—having lost on total votes, states, and pledged delegates—seems antithetical to the whole “people-powered” rhetoric and spirit of the Sanders campaign.

As many Sanders supporters have bitterly noted, superdelegates provide an anti-democratic mechanism for the establishment to stop voters from making a choice they dislike.

If Sanders would have won more votes, more states, and more pledged delegates, but been denied the Democratic nomination by superdelegates, his supporters would have erupted in outrage, denouncing the nomination as stolen and illegitimate.

Those same supporters cannot in good faith support a Sanders push to secure the nomination with superdelegates now that he has won fewer votes, states, and pledged delegates. It would be farcical for a man who says he’s running to inspire a  “political revolution” to ascend to power via party elites subverting the will of voters.

“To all of those Bernie Sanders voters who have been left out in the cold by a rigged system of superdelegates,” Donald Trump said Tuesday during his victory speech, “we welcome you with open arms.” As usual, Trump’s rhetoric was at odds with reality. The superdelegate system didn’t cost Sanders the nomination—in fact, if it didn’t exist, he would have no path to the nomination at all. As hard as it is for his supporters to accept, his victory would be less legitimate than a victory by his opponent.