WASHINGTON — According to recent polling data compiled by Real Clear Politics for the Democratic 2020 nomination, Bernie Sanders (I-VT) is the clear front-runner among the contenders who have already declared their candidacy. Indeed, among declared candidates, Sanders has a double-digit lead, averaging over 21 percent, while the other most popular, declared candidates, Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Beto O’Rourke, trail behind at 9.9 percent and 8.9 percent respectively.
Though the recent party reforms aimed at Democratic party insiders, often referred to as “superdelegates,” may have given the Sanders camp the impression that they will not be subject to the same dirty tactics that occurred in the 2016 election cycle, the past few months have revealed the strategy of corporate Democrats to keep the “progressive” frontrunner from winning the nomination regardless of whether he wins the popular vote or not.
On Monday, Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA) became the 18th person to seek the Democratic nomination for president. Swalwell’s candidacy has resulted in the largest presidential field of any party in American history, a record previously held by the Republican primary in 2016. With 18 candidates in the race, it seems increasingly likely that at least two, if not more, candidates will be able to stay in the primary through the party’s convention, set to take place next July. This likely scenario has recently been mentioned by several recent reports.
Politics abhors a vacuum
Enter the “superdelegates.” Following the changes made by the Democratic Party last August, if no candidate wins a majority (i.e., 50 percent+) in the first round of voting at the convention, the controversial “superdelegates” will be allowed to vote for their chosen candidate — a candidate, if history is any indication, that will be from the centrist, corporate wing of the party.
Superdelegates were a major source of contention and controversy in the 2016 Democratic nomination battle, where they were accused of having been “weaponized” against Sanders in favor of Hillary Clinton. Superdelegates are elite members of the party and, as journalist Caitlin Johnstone recently wrote, the superdelegate system “was put in place to ensure that Democratic Party insiders would have the ability to keep the riff-raff from nominating an unauthorized candidate.” Even former DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz has admitted as much, telling CNN in 2016, “Unpledged delegates exist really to make sure that party leaders and elected officials don’t have to be in a position where they are running against grassroots activists.”
Notably, when the superdelegate system was altered last August, mainstream news headlines declared that the move had “stripped superdelegates of their power.” Yet, a trickle of reports in the past few months has noted that the crowded field of the 2020 Democratic primaries may end up ensuring that superdelegates not only retain their influence but make “a comeback.”
Last month, Dave Wasserman wrote for the New York Times:
[F]or 2020, Democrats’ jam-packed field is already on track to surpass the Republican 17-way rumble of 2016 and lacks an obvious front-runner. At the dizzying pace small- and large-dollar donors are bankrolling their favorite hopefuls, many Democrats could have the financial wherewithal — and even pressure from their backers — to campaign deep into the primary calendar, dramatically increasing the odds no candidate will capture a majority by the convention.”
Though among declared candidates Sanders is the clear frontrunner, the media — with few exceptions — has largely avoided labeling him as such, given the “prospect” of a Joe Biden candidacy, which seemed inevitable until the recent deluge of “Me Too” testimonials accusing the former vice president of inappropriate behavior towards women and girls.
Wasserman further noted that the decisions of California and Texas to move their primaries to so-called “Super Tuesday” in early March 2020 also presents a problem:
This means 36 percent of Democrats’ 3,768 pledged delegates will be allocated in early March, before the herd has truly been culled, making it even harder for one candidate to build a delegate majority. And if Colorado, Georgia and New York decide to join the Super Tuesday stampede, that share could rise to a whopping 46 percent.”
With the primary now set-up to make it virtually impossible for any one candidate to secure a delegate majority, the outsized role of superdelegates at the next Democratic National Convention seems all but assured. Those “unpledged” delegates comprise around a fifth of all Democratic Party delegates.
This likely explains why centrist, corporate candidates in striking range of Sanders, namely Kamala Harris, made moves early on that alluded to the now clear role that superdelegates will have in the upcoming convention. Indeed, as MintPress noted in January, Harris was quick to hire David Huynh, Hillary Clinton’s director of delegate operations in 2016, to serve as a senior adviser to her campaign. Harris’ hiring of Huynh drew attention at the time owing to his success in essentially weaponizing superdelegates in Clinton’s favor, leading some to suggest that Harris will follow a similar strategy despite the reduced role of superdelegates in the Democratic Party. Yet, now, with the role of superdelegates unlikely to be as “reduced” as previously believed, Harris’ strategy has taken on a new significance.
“At least Trump’s not a ‘progressive’”
As some analysts have pointed out, there are elements in the mainstream media and the Democratic Party that prefer the prospect of a Trump reelection over the prospect of a Sanders presidency, with even “liberal” networks like MSNBC having made that case directly. As Johnstone recently noted:
The extent to which superdelegates will be willing to outrage the party’s progressive base will depend on two related factors: how badly they want to beat Trump, and how badly they want to avoid a President Bernie Sanders. Last time they were willing to risk getting Trump elected in order to keep Sanders out, and that may still be the case; the plutocrats who own the Democratic Party certainly aren’t doing any worse under Trump.”
Indeed, allowing an “unauthorized” candidate that makes powerful party donors on both sides of the aisle uncomfortable to win the nomination may be less attractive to party insiders than letting Trump waltz into another term, particularly if there is concern that a candidate like Sanders is much more likely to upend the status quo.
Yet, even if Trump’s reelection is considered favorable by party elites, there is no denying that the need to defeat Trump at all costs will be the rallying cry used to push Democratic voters to fall in line behind the eventual nominee, regardless of whether the nominee was chosen by voters or by superdelegates.
Top photo | Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks at a convention of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, April 8, 2019, in Las Vegas. John Locher | AP
Whitney Webb is a MintPress News journalist based in Chile. She has contributed to several independent media outlets including Global Research, EcoWatch, the Ron Paul Institute and 21st Century Wire, among others. She has made several radio and television appearances and is the 2019 winner of the Serena Shim Award for Uncompromised Integrity in Journalism.