If you look at a Democratic delegate tracker like this one from The New York Times, you’ll find that Hillary Clinton has a massive 394-44 delegate lead over Bernie Sanders so far, despite having been walloped by Sanders in New Hampshire and only essentially having tied him in Iowa. While Sanders does have a modest 36-32 lead among elected delegates — those that are bound to the candidates based on the results of voting in primaries and caucuses — Clinton leads 362-8 among superdelegates, who are Democratic elected officials and other party insiders allowed to support whichever candidate they like.
If you’re a Sanders supporter, you might think this seems profoundly unfair. And you’d be right: It’s profoundly unfair. Superdelegates were created in part to give Democratic party elites the opportunity to put their finger on the scale and prevent nominations like those of George McGovern in 1972 or Jimmy Carter in 1976, which displeased party insiders.
Here’s the consolation, however. Unlike elected delegates, superdelegates are unbound to any candidate even on the first ballot. They can switch whenever they like, and some of them probably will switch to Sanders if he extends his winning streak into more diverse states and eventually appears to have more of a mandate than Clinton among Democratic voters.
Clinton knows this all too well; it’s exactly what happened to her in 2008 during her loss to Barack Obama.
That this may happen again clearly indicates two things: Hillary Clinton is an awful candidate and the Democrats really have no bench/farm system.
As Silver points out, the superdelegate nonsense is in place to allow the DNC mucky-mucks to override the will of the voters (Democrats disrespectful of the voting process? SAY IT AIN’T SO!). Mrs. Bill is so terrible once she gets in front of the public that even those in the rigged system that should be her safety net abandon her. Again, this is largely because the Hillary Clinton pitch to the electorate is mostly myth. She’s not really a strong feminist. She’s not really even a strong woman. She’s ridden the coattails of two men who embarrassed her publicly to get where she’s at.
And she was still the best the Democrat elites had to offer as their establishment pick the last two times they got to anoint a non-incumbent. They’ve gone to even greater lengths this time around, installing Clinton’s 2008 campaign co-chair at the top of the DNC and keeping her there even though she presided over an electoral shellacking in 2014. They needed Wasserman Schultz in place to rig (there’s that word again!) the debate schedule to minimize Hillary’s exposure to the public, which never works out in her favor.
Sliver also points out, however, the big difference this year:
Back to bad news for Sanders supporters: Clinton begins with a far larger superdelegate lead over Sanders than she ever had over Obama. It’s easy to imagine why they might resist switching, furthermore. Unlike Obama, who was perhaps roughly as “electable” as Clinton, Sanders is a 74-year-old self-described socialist. Unlike Obama, who had the chance to become the first black president, Sanders is another old white guy (although he would be the first Jewish president). Sanders wasn’t even officially a Democrat until last year. I’m not saying these are necessarily great arguments, but they’re the sorts of arguments that Clinton-supporting superdelegates will make to themselves and one another, in part because the superdelegate system was created precisely to help nominate candidates considered more electable by party leaders.
That may change things for Hillary this time around, but the fact that she needs that to come into play after being the overwhelming, inevitable favorite in two elections just reaffirms how weak she is.