The Democratic Party is continuing to at least make token reforms after its 2016 Hillary Clinton debacle. The Democratic National Committee decided over the weekend that the party would jettison its longtime system of superdelegate votes in primaries.
In the Democratic primary, 712 superdelegates to the convention are free to vote for whichever candidate they want, regardless of how their state votes. The superdelegates, who are typically members of the party establishment, make up about 15 percent of delegates to the Democratic convention and could swing a close primary.
Last Saturday, the DNC voted to eliminate the role of superdelegates in the first round of balloting at the convention. If no candidate is selected on the first ballot, then superdelegates would be allowed to vote on subsequent ballots.
The change was pushed through on a voice vote by DNC Chairman Tom Perez. The measure was largely popular with DNC members, but a vocal minority argued that it would disenfranchise party elites.
The Democrats have used superdelegates since the early 1980s as a way to balance the party’s populist and establishment sides. Prior to 1970, party bosses picked the party nominee. In These Times noted that Hubert Humphrey won that year despite not competing in a single primary. This outraged supporters of the antiwar Eugene McCarthy and threatened to split the party. The solution was to rewrite party rules in favor of primary elections.
After George McGovern and Jimmy Carter lost two of the next three elections in landslides, Democrats went back to the drawing board. The creation of superdelegates, which were first used in 1984, was intended to temper the Democratic voters’ preferences for radicals and unknowns by giving some control back to party elites.
Fast forward to 2016 when more than 92 percent of superdelegates supported Hillary Clinton over the populist sensation, Bernie Sanders. The superdelegate system performed exactly as intended in preventing a grassroots insurgent from defeating an establishment favorite, but the contest left the party divided. Contrary to popular belief, Clinton would have won even without the superdelegates, but the one-sided nature of the battle for the superdelegates made the system seem, well, undemocratic. There is also the deep-seated belief among many Democrats that Bernie Sanders, who did not carry Hillary Clinton’s massive amounts of baggage, could have beaten Donald Trump.
Sanders expressed approval for the change in a statement quoted in The Hill. “Today's decision by the DNC is an important step forward in making the Democratic Party more open, democratic and responsive to the input of ordinary Americans,” Sanders said.
That could be translated to mean that the change could help Democrats nominate an even more transparently radical leftist. The party has become more radical and accepting of socialists since 2016 so the new rules could lead to the nomination of the most radically left candidate that American politics has ever seen in a mainstream party.
Before Republicans prematurely celebrate the nomination of an “unelectable” candidate, they should remember that the last two presidents were both considered unelectable until they were, in fact, elected. The American electorate has whipsawed between extremes in past elections and, given Donald Trump’s persistent unpopularity, it is within the realm of possibility that, if the Democrats nominated a socialist like Bernie Sanders, America could elect its first socialist president.
For better or worse, the change remakes the political landscape for the 2020 Democratic presidential primary. The election of 2020 is shaping up to be an interesting one to watch, even if the candidates may be the most unpopular and uninspiring nominees since… 2016.
[photo credit: Mark Nozell/Flickr]