Very Online supporters of Bernie Sanders like Shaun King reacted strongly to the collective sigh of relief of pretty much everyone else after Sanders’ wipeout on Super Tuesday, and they were quick to latch on to the smallest evidence of a “rigged” system.
The question is: Did the Democratic Party’s leadership interfere in the primary process to lock Bernie out and consolidate behind another candidate like Joe Biden?
Josh Lederman, an MSNBC political reporter, did report that top Democrats pressured Mike Bloomberg to get out of the way for Biden. From The Dispatch:
“We’ve been talking to Democratic officials, senior people within the party,” Lederman said. “People who have a lot of influence, who have acknowledged that they have been in touch with the Bloomberg campaign, trying to make the case that now is the time, for the sake of party unity, for him to step aside, particularly as the party really coalesced behind Joe Biden.
Maddow heard this report on the air and in fact commented on it.
“It’s striking to hear Lederman say that the Bloomberg campaign is experiencing intense pressure from multiple sources from inside of the Democratic Party that he needs to quit.”
So Maddow can’t claim total ignorance here. There was pressure, and Bloomberg, along with Warren, Buttigieg, and Klobuchar, stood down. Warren has not thrown her support behind Biden at this point, perhaps angling for a VP slot with Sanders, should he somehow prevail, since she’s really more ideologically aligned with him.
But is pressure considered “interference?”
Not really. That’s politics, especially party politics. Democrats accuse Republicans of rolling-pin smooth paths to nomination. It”s true that in 2012, rules were changed to make it easier for a frontrunner to capture the nomination, which in fact helped Donald Trump.
In 2016, Democrats front-loaded superdelegates who propelled Hillary Clinton past Bernie Sanders. Was this interference? Democrats set their own rules for nomination, as do Republicans. The parties are not beholden to be populist movements, or strictly democratic (small “d”) governed bodies. Parties are political clubs, operating at every level of government. They are not “the government” itself.
As long as parties operate within their own rules, and each state party conducts primaries or caucuses within the laws of the states, they are free to privately, or publicly for that matter, steer themselves to whatever candidate the leadership feels is best for the party.
Republicans have been so hung up on making the process look completely transparent, “will-of-the-people” neutral, that they’ve lost the ability to select candidates and vet them based on values. Hence we got a man who never ran a single race as a Republican and who wrapped the party around himself and his brand like a cheap overcoat.
Democrats have always had more “wait your turn” and “hell, no” moments. Hubert Humphrey completely avoided the primaries in 1968 to fill the void left by Johnson’s decision not to run. The entire convention was a smoke-filled room brokered mess, but they decided on the stable candidate.
Then Democrats received a nasty message from voters in November when Humphrey lost all but 13 states plus DC, despite coming within a half million votes of Nixon. Wallace robbed Democrats of the South.
In 1972, Democrats reformed their delegate system, giving more power to voters, and stripping the old white men of their “boss” power. That led to George McGovern, and a landslide loss to Nixon. By 1976, the process had evolved to allow Jimmy Carter a path to the nomination by casting himself as a humble man of the people. Carter was also a shrewd politician, listening to his Number One man Jody Powell–it’s all about doorknobs and handshakes.
Sometime around Barack Obama’s campaign, Democrats became smug. Obama was so well organized, so on point, from his textbook “O” logo to his soaring oration, that Democrats decided they’d found another Camelot. But lurking in the background, Hillary Clinton was fuming, because it was “her turn.”
Democratic Party leaders have always “interfered” in the candidate selection process. This cycle, they realized how much of a mistake it would be–for their party, for the nation–to nominate a person who isn’t even a party member to represent Democrats in the general election. They decided not to allow a socialist to wrap the Democratic Party around himself.
I say this is fitting and proper. Republican leaders, many of whom were terrified by Trump’s rise, played 2016 right into Trump’s hands. They made it about a “pledge” which gave Trump something to negotiate. Then they spent all their political energy trying to knock down a man who had unmatched name ID, the appearance at least of plenty of money, and a schtick that resonated with voters who felt let down by politics.
Sanders could have captured the nomination if everyone else didn’t get out of the way for Biden. Biden benefitted from Klobuchar and Buttigieg’s last-minute endorsement before Super Tuesday. As in New Hampshire, Super Tuesday voters held their decisions to the last few days. It could easily have gone the other way if the party had not influenced the race.
Sanders supporters might cry “foul” at that, but Democrats did what’s best for their party. Perhaps in the next election, Republicans will learn to do the same.