By Michael Sainato
During the the Democratic National Committee’s meeting in Las Vegas this past weekend that coincided with the DNC Unity Reform Commission, the debate over super delegates embodied the ideological rift within the Democratic Party. The Unity Reform Commission has already given up on efforts to abolish super delegates, opting instead to consider removing at least two-thirds of the super delegates in a compromise with establishment Democrats.
“What the super delegates tell you is what they think of the people running for president, and you have to listen to them for one reason, they actually know them. The voters don’t actually know them, the voters can be fooled,” said Elaine Kamarck, a DNC At-Large member who sits on the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee, in an interview with the Young Turks. “It doesn’t do anyone any good to elect someone who can’t govern.”
Our Revolution Board Member who sits on the DNC Unity Reform Commission Lucy Flores added in an interview with the Young Turks that the language and rules over the compromise are still being worked out before formal recommendations are presented to the Democratic National Committee, but that their entire removal isn’t on the table.
The discussion comes amidst what many see as a purge of more progressive members of the DNC by Tom Perez.
In the 2016 Democratic Primaries, super delegates were a highly contested issue within the party. Former DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz said in a February 2016 interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper, “Unpledged delegates exist really to make sure that party leaders and elected officials don’t have to be in a position where they are running against grassroots activists.” This sentiment is in line with what DNC Attorneys argued in a federal court earlier this year that the Democratic Party is well within their rights to “go into back rooms like they used to and smoke cigars and pick the candidate that way.”
The Democratic Party created the super delegate system in the 1980’s to provide leverage in primaries to elected Democratic Party officials, former officials, or appointed DNC members, at least 60 of whom serve as corporate lobbyists. In 2020, the same issues that arose in the party’s most recent primary and served as proof of the Democratic Party leadership subverting democracy to achieve their own goals are likely to resurface unless the Democratic Party leadership changes course and rescinds the role of super delegates before the next Democratic Presidential Nominee is selected. In 2009, a DNC Commission proposed several changes to the super delegate system, but those changes were never implemented, and it backfired in 2016.
Before a single vote was cast in the 2016 primaries, over half of the party’s super delegates formally supported Clinton. Their votes were included in several mainstream media reports on the overall primary election tallies, framing the narrative that Bernie Sanders was much further behind than he actually was. With every super delegate endorsement came free advertising and media coverage in support of Clinton. In states that Bernie Sanders won, the delegate count often went in Clinton’s favor because of super delegates. That barrier of roughly 15 percent of the delegates in each state was put in place to ensure candidates like Hillary Clinton could fend off challengers.
After the end of the 2016 Primaries, Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), a former DNC Vice Chair, pushed a petition for the party to end super delegates. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) said in June 2016, “I don’t believe in super delegates.” Even Clinton Supporter, former Campaign Manager for Howard Dean, Joe Trippi wrote an op-ed on why the party should abolish super delegates in July 2016. Despite the calls for reform, such proposals were voted down at the 2016 Democratic National Convention, and after the presidential election, the super delegates issue was deferred to the DNC Unity Reform Commission. The commission includes super delegates and party insiders selected by Hillary Clinton and DNC Chair Tom Perez, in addition to members chosen by Bernie Sanders.
If the DNC Unity Commission that is currently ongoing somehow comes to a consensus on scaling back super delegates, the entire DNC and DNC Rules Committee would have to approve them as well. Its unlikely a rule that directly benefits party insiders and establishment Democrats who hold these positions will reform a system that exists to discourage grassroots activism within the party’s nomination process. But in 2020, if the Democratic Party’s super delegates boost the party’s preferred candidate with a swarm of super delegate support, they once again risk disenfranchising and alienating thousands of voters away from the party.