Why Bernie Sanders Won the New York Primary - And Why He Needs You to Stop

April 21, 2016

Yes, Hillary got more votes and more delegates. She widened her pledged delegate lead in New York by as much as 30, and made it nearly impossible for Sanders to catch her pledged delegate or popular vote totals. But, unfortunately for Hillary, Bernie is playing a different game. And, by the standards of his own game, Bernie is winning.

The Sanders Gambit

After Hillary’s New York victory, Sanders Campaign Manager Jeff Weaver appeared on MSNBC to describe the campaign’s current strategy. When a reporter asked whether they were planning to flip superdelegates based on a polling argument, in contravention of popular and delegate votate totals, Weaver said “absolutely.”

This is in line with other statements from the campaign. In an interview with the Huffington Post, Mark Langabaugh, an aide to Sanders, echoed the idea that “neither candidate will have enough pledged delegates to secure the nomination” and said they would “make the superdelegates vote.”

Campaign ally Robert Reich is a cheerleader for this strategy. In a Facebook post (see image), he repeated the “no one has enough pledged delegates” refrain and added:

“Superdelegates aren’t officially pledged to vote for [Hillary] and if Bernie’s popularity keeps growing…[they] may feel compelled to switch.”

So, assuming that Reich represents many Bernie fans, and that Bernie’s own Campaign Manager means what he says when he goes on MSNBC, let’s take a look at this Sanders gambit, which involves three (or four) steps:

1) Get a Contested Convention. The Sanders camp wants to get to the convention without Hillary having attained the qualifying number of delegates: 2,383. This is their fundamental game, now, and it’s a game they are winning (and not an easy mark to miss, really. More on the numbers below).

2) Argue for Superdelegates. At the convention, the Sanders folks will argue to the superdelegates that Hillary is a weak candidate, owing to poll numbers, finances, and victory margins that don’t measure up to those of Bernie Sanders or those of past Democratic front-runners. (An unfair argument, to be sure, since Hillary is beating Bernie by more than Obama beat Hillary.)

3) Yadda, yadda, yadda. 

4) Superdelegates switch to Sanders in defiance of her commanding lead in popular vote and pledged delegate counts, giving him the necessary 2,383 to win.

This Is Not a Surprising Idea, Given His Perspective...

If you believe, as Sanders does, that moneyed interests control the Democratic Party; and if you believe, as he does, that people don’t give up power unless forced; then you are obliged to get to the Convention with as strong a hand as possible.

The threat of a GOP-style contested Convention and an internecine superdelegate battle royale is just about the strongest card Sanders has left to play. He can use this threat to force his agenda at the Convention in a variety of ways--platform planks, speaking time, cabinet positions, etc.

...But It Goes Against Bernie’s Own Principles...

Early in his campaign, Weaver himself declared the principal by which superdelegates should cast their votes: “the will of the people” as embodied in the popular vote. Once winning the popular vote seemed unlikely, Sanders himself has floated the idea of superdelegates deciding based on their home states' votes. Once that path began to seem unlikely, as well, the campaign started floating the idea that the super delegates should decide based on momentum or general election polling, not based on actual votes.

It's fair to say both camps have pursued superdelegates, asking for early pledges of support. But those pledges are largely symbolic. Until now, no one has ever put forth a public strategy aimed at using superdelegates to overturn the popular vote or pledged delegate leads.

But let’s give Sanders a pass on possible hypocrisy and say he’s “evolved” continuously on this issue. There are still several problems with this gambit.

...Its Math is Disingenuous…

Reich, who once put forth a petition demanding that the superdelegates honor the popular vote outcome, has changed his tune. He now says that, once superdelegates are discounted, it will be nearly impossible for Clinton to attain those 2,383 delegates with pledged delegates alone.

By this measure, Bernie’s defensive strategy is working, because it’s keeping Hillary from getting to that magic number in pledged delegates. She currently stands at 1,426 pledged delegates, meaning she’d need 957 more to reach the magic number. Since there are only 1,400 pledged delegates left, she would need to win 68% of them to get there--not a realistic possibility.

However, 2,383 goalpost is based on fuzzy math and specious reasoning that has never been applied to another Democratic candidate.

2,383 was a number created with superdelegates in mind, and factors them into the average: total superdelegates plus pledged delegates divided by two. To ask Hillary to get the majority of superdelegates plus pledged delegates without the use of superdelegates is to move the goalposts in an unprecedented way. Obama wasn’t required to reach this number. Why must Hillary?

The fact is, if you were to erase superdelegates altogether (and wouldn’t that be nice?), Hillary would only need 1990 pledged delegates to win, a number she could achieve by winning only 40% of the remaining delegates.

...It Probably Won’t Make Him President...

Because Bernie has run as an insurgent highly critical of the Democratic Party, its process, and its elected politicians, it seems unlikely (unless they are particularly susceptible to harassment) that the superdelegates en masse will contravene the voter to make him the nominee. Bernie’s initial lawsuit, early data theft, and debunked allegations regarding down-ballot fundraising have likely served to make the superdelegates downright hostile to his candidacy. They probably won’t switch. They may not even listen.

...And It Is Destructive...

But the true problem with the Sanders gambit lies not in its lack of efficacy, but in its destructive potential.

Over 10 million voters have now turned out to vote for Hillary Clinton, including a great surge of African-American and other minority voters all over the country, and enough to constitute a near-landslide (57%) majority in popular vote.

At its core, the Sanders gambit is a plan to disenfranchise those voters.

...To the Democratic Party…

Can you imagine a Democratic Party where the majority votes of African-Americans in the Deep South are simply cast aside?

Since the 60’s, the Democrats have become the de facto party of choice for most minorities, because the GOP strategy has been to capitalize on white racism, especially in the Deep South.

The modern Democratic party is a coalition of minority voters, white union members and liberals, older Americans dependent on the safety net of Social Security. Of these, African-American voters are the most reliable, most engaged segment.

A Democratic party that would overturn and ignore the votes of historically disenfranchised people is a Democratic party bent on moral and practical self-destruction.

...to Bernie's Legacy...

That self-destruction would extend to Sanders, himself. The mere idea of publicly touting this strategy is profoundly tone-deaf at best, and it certainly justifies the mistrust that some minorities have felt for him.

At worst, this is a strategy that says “my ideas about wealth distribution and corporate corruption are more important than minorities, than voters, than the democratic process, itself.”

Wasn’t there once a “Democratic” in “Democratic Socialist?”

...and to the Revolution.

Imagine a bunch of people working hard to push a boulder over a hill. We’re counting “1...2...3…push,” sweating and grunting and we’re almost to the top when one guy stops pushing and says “No. I demand a 4 count or me and my buddies will walk.”

Sanders has called for a Revolution, and that call has resonated far and wide. But we’re already having one and he should know, since he was there at the start.

In 1963, when Bernie Sanders got arrested protesting a segregated school, he was helping to lay the foundation for a long, slow Revolution that has proceeded--albeit in fits and starts--to this very day: a Civil Rights Revolution.

Between the end of Jim Crow, the movement for Reproductive Freedom, the continuing movement for Immigration Reform, and the rise of LGBT rights, more people can participate more completely in American democracy than ever before, and we owe much of this progress to the coalition we call Democrats pushing that rock up that hill.

U.S. Government was designed for resiliency, not Revolution. The kind of change that we really want--the kind that doesn’t further hurt the most vulnerable among us through aggravated disruption or violence--is slow, methodical, and painstaking, like rolling that boulder.

And the boulder rolls backwards, too. Moneyed interests have attached themselves to the project of racial and gender equality, hoping we don’t notice they’re moving overseas, laying people off, and cheating the tax system. Meanwhile, many white Americans have drifted rightward, especially in the South, alienated by Democrats’ push toward social justice for all.

As a result, the agenda for economic justice has stalled, as Democrat after Democrat has been forced to compromise for money and for votes in the face of the white migration to the GOP. They stood firm against a changing political world just to be able to keep the boulder from falling back to the valley.

But we’re almost there! Demographic shifts are happening and reactionary white America is in the last red-faced moments of its 60-year fit. And Bernie Sanders has stopped pushing just in time to remind us all that real participation in a capitalist Democracy means Economic as well as Social Justice.

Well, point taken. Now keep pushing!

Because the true work of the Revolution will never be achieved if we steal defeat from the jaws of victory by disenfranchising voters and splitting along racial lines.

It is understandable that Bernie and his campaign operatives want to win by any possible means. They poured a lot of passion into their campaign and it's hard not to keep pushing. That's why it’s up to his principled supporters to save Bernie from himself.

By all means, he should stay in the race. Perhaps he should even keep attacking Hillary (though that is debatable). But those of us who really want the Revolution, no matter which candidate we support, must repudiate this new Sanders gambit.

Please stop the flow of money and votes into the Sanders campaign until they have disavowed this destructive strategy. We must prove that we can have economic fairness without sacrificing democracy, minority voters, or the progress we have made toward achieving truly equal opportunity for all Americans.

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