For all his popular support, Bernie Sanders has refused to play ball with the D.N.C. and that may cost him the election. The key to the Democratic nomination is the superdelegates, some 712 hand-picked delegates who are “encouraged” to vote the party line and that line points to Hillary Clinton, not Sanders. As was recently asked by the New Republic,
How is this possible? The answer is superdelegates, the 712 votes doled out to Democratic National Committee officers, elected officials, and other party luminaries. The superdelegates are free to vote for their preferred nominee, unbound by the will of the voters—and if a nominee they think is terrible for the party is close to securing the nomination, they can conceivably throw their weight behind an alternative.
The reason this can and almost certainly will happen is due to the fact that in the early 1980s a handful of powerful Democrats met to decide how to make sure mavericks like George McGovern and Jimmy Carter (who were soundly trounced by Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, respectively) would never again be the party’s nominee. They paved the way for the 712 delegates to be kept in the wings until the nomination is taking place, at which time they will vote for the person they think is the best candidate — presumably the one who will toe the party line — though, as mentioned above, the superdelegates are (theoretically) free to vote their conscience.
How did this come about? For seven months, between August 1981 and February 1982, 70 of the most powerful people in the Democratic party formed what was called the “Hunt Commission” which met in posh hotels in Washington D.C. and came up with the notion of the superdelegates. As has been noted:
The [initial] gathering got off on a light note when Minneapolis Mayor Don Fraser joked that the party could simply announce it wouldn’t nominate anyone selected through the primaries. This, the transcript [of the meetings] notes, elicited “general laughter.”
The very democracy of the primary process [up to that point] appears to have made the commission members nervous. They felt they had to give party elites — elected officials and high-ranking party members — a greater hand in choosing candidates, or as Xandra Kayden, a member of the Center for Democratic Policy (now Center for National Policy), put it, the power to “to regain control of the nomination.”
This was partly couched in a belief in elites’ superior judgment. “They bring to the convention a certain political acumen, a certain political antenna,” explained Connecticut state Sen. Dick Schneier, a liberal member of the party.
‘Thus, no matter how popular Bernie Sanders is with the voters, and even though the polls might say (as they assuredly do) that he has a better chance to beat Donald Trump than does Hillary Clinton, it is all but assured that the superdelegates (all but 39 at present count) will vote for Clinton, the party’s choice to be next president. She currently has 2,293 delegates while Sanders has only 1,533. The shift of the superdelegates at the Democratic Convention will put her well over the 2,383 necessary to win the nomination, regardless of what occurs in the interim — unless there should be a sudden rush to throw the weight of several hundred of these special people behind Sanders.
In the 1970s the Democratic party decided that the people should be the ones to determine their nominee, and they promoted the primaries and encouraged more of the rank and file to participate in the selection process. But the selection by the people of McGovern and Carter (and Sanders??) is not consistent with what the party leaders want. Thus, they changed the game. The result is the absurd concept of the superdelegates who will, in large part, determine who the next Democratic Nominee for president of this country is to be — if not the president himself or herself.
Is it fair? Certainly not. Is it Democracy? It is not. But it is realpolitik in today’s world where the powerful and the wealthy (usually the same people) determine who plays the political game. The rest is simply window dressing: for some reason it is important to keep up the impression that the process is a democratic one, that the people are the ones who choose their president. But that is simply not the case any more — if, indeed, it ever was.