If you’ve also been experiencing whiplash trying to keep up with American politics in the last few weeks, I have some bad news. It’s time to have The Talk. No, not that talk. Literally nobody on this earth wants to discuss the sexual proclivities of the two septuagenarians battling to win the Democratic nomination.
The Talk we need to have is about how the Democratic Party’s nomination process has become a convoluted mess. First, there are the delegates, or the people representing the voters at each party’s National Convention. Members of a political party can apply to be a delegate but, unlike a dating show, only the most appropriate people, like party leaders and activists, are chosen. But that’s just not enough because we also have… superdelegates.
Superdelegates. Think of them as the influencers of the political elite; the Kardashians, Hadids, and TikTok eBoys of our government, if you will. In the Democratic Party, superdelegates account for 15 per cent of all delegates (so 771 this election cycle), and are really powerful. Like, “one has the power of 10,000 ordinary peasant voters” powerful. These Democratic übermenschen are current or former elected officials, party leaders, and any president or vice president who isn’t yet decaying in a grave.
Superdelegates are the Democratic elite, but what are normal delegates?
Glad you asked! Normal delegates are the people who pick the nominee at the Democratic National Convention (or DNC) in July. Unlike superdelegates, who can pick their candidate based on their own motives and feelings, the 3,979 normal “pledged delegates” are awarded based on a candidate’s performance in state elections. To win the nomination, a candidate has to win a majority: 1,991 delegates. Because Democrats love to make everything painfully overcomplicated, there are two kinds of delegates: 1,388 state-level pledged delegates and 2,591 district-level pledged delegates.
Are you fucking with me?
Afraid not. The good news is that both district- and state-level delegates play by the same “15 per cent rule”, where a candidate has to win more than 15 per cent of the vote in order to get any delegates. This is how Amy “Salad Comb Tyrant” Klobuchar muscled her way to [only?] one delegate in Iowa – she won in one district despite not getting past 15 per cent statewide.
Speaking of the Klobinator and other candidates who have dropped out, here’s a fun twist: they still have those delegates because they’ve only “suspended” their campaign. Until they officially drop out or until the convention, those delegates are in purgatory with the cast of Lost. At the DNC, these ghost delegates are free to pick a candidate of their choice as long as they’re attached to a candidate whose campaign is still “suspended”. If the candidate officially drops out before a convention, the delegates are awarded to the remaining candidates in the race. Cue the conspiracies that “suspending” a campaign is a slick way for the moderate wing of the party to keep delegates away from a certain Democratic socialist name Bernie Sanders.
Why did this system even get created?
Mayhem! Riots! Seriously. Until 1968, delegates weren’t bound to follow the popular vote and could pick whichever candidate they wanted regardless of who voters in their state picked, which goes against the whole “democracy” thing. At the 1968 Convention, the Democratic Party nominated Hubert Humphrey despite the fact that he literally never won a primary – oh, and it all happened in the midst of massive Vietnam War protests outside. Chaos ensued and rules were changed but this didn’t solve the problem. For years, laughably weak Democratic candidates lost to Republicans in landslides. In 1972, The Democratic nominee George McGovern won only one state against Richard Nixon.
Enter: the 1982 invention of “superdelegates”. In theory, they could change the results of the primary if no candidate wins a majority but, in practice, this has rarely been the case. Only in 1984 did these superdelegates intervene: they gave Walter Mondale the nomination after he failed to secure a majority of delegates in the primary. He still lost the presidential election in a landslide.
So if they rarely intervene, what’s the problem now?
Two words: Bernie Sanders. Until 2016, candidates could win over superdelegates by arguing they were the most electable person in the Democratic primary before the convention to help push them over the magic 1,991 needed to secure the nomination. In the last election, Hillary Clinton leaned hard on her decades as a Democrat and, before the convention began, won over 571 superdelegates to Sanders’ measly 45. This led to claims that the DNC’s embrace of Clinton was more of a coronation than a contest despite her still winning 389 more pledged delegates than him.
After the election, Sanders and his supporters fought hard to change the superdelegate rules and won. Starting this year, superdelegates can only participate in a second round of voting for the nominee if no candidate wins 1,991 regular delegates in the first round. Last month, the odds of neither Biden nor Sanders winning a majority of pledged delegates looking extremely likely, but in politics, as in Heidi Klum’s Project Runway series, “one day you’re in and the next… you’re out”.
The narrative of a long fight to the nomination for Biden and Sanders – and the first time in decades that superdelegates would play a role in nominating a candidate – has crumbled under the weight of this reality: Bernie Sanders’ political revolution is not translating at the voting booth. Of course, Sanders could press on and fight the good fight all the way to the DNC, but with this election cycle, American voters have decided to skip over the anti-establishment candidate and pick a crotchety old establishment fixture with a problematic past like Biden to face off against Trump in November. Looks like he has a clear path to the nomination.