How Far Will the Sanders Insurgency Go?

Bernie Sanders says he wants superdelegates to support him as he tries to reform and even weaken their influence within the Democratic electoral system, but how far is he willing to go with this fight?

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Story Transcript

THOMAS HEDGES, TRNN: Over the past few months Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders has crafted a careful message to his party’s superdelegates, who are comprised of the Democratic Party establishment, and whose ostensible role it is to guide the party towards a nominee that leadership can trust.

Last Sunday that message was fully fleshed out, just weeks before the convention, when at a press conference in Washington he suggested to superdelegates that if they voted proportionally to how the states voted, and in accordance with the public, the Democratic convention in July would be a contested one.

BERNIE SANDERS: It is virtually impossible for Secretary Clinton to reach the majority of convention delegates by June 14 with pledged delegates alone. She will need superdelegates to take her over the top at the convention in Philadelphia. In order words, the convention will be a contested contest. Therefore, in my view, it is incumbent upon every superdelegate to take a hard and objective look at which candidate stands the better chance of defeating Donald Trump and other Republican candidates, and in that regard I think the evidence is extremely clear that I would be the stronger candidate to defeat Trump or any other Republican.

HEDGES: Ever since he made this statement last week, supporters as well as opponents, like DNC chair and Hillary Clinton supporter Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who criticized the message.

DEBBIE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: By the way, can I also just point out that there is some irony in him criticizing a process that now he says we wants to use to become the party’s nominee.

BILL CURRY: Sanders’ campaign seems to be arguing that the possibility of winning the support of un-pledged delegates is the rationale for their continuing to move the campaign forward.

HEDGES: Bill Curry, a political columnist for Salon.com and a former White House adviser to Bill Clinton’s administration says that, at this point in the race, Sanders supporters will go to the polls no matter what the media or the Democratic Party says about his campaign.

CURRY: The Sanders votes will continue to show up in mighty numbers because they feel they’re investing in a movement, and this is the first time that the base of the Democratic Party has talked back to the elites. Every major issue there’s a major difference, and finally these differences are being aired. This is the last time to close up shop. This is, the whole point of this campaign is to bring these differences to the convention and to begin to force the Democratic Party to recognize how out of step its elites are with its own base and with the broad middle class.

HEDGES: Curry says that by appealing to the party’s rules Sanders ends up lending legitimacy to a system he’s railing against as the Democratic primaries come to a close.

CURRY: Look, I understand the position Sanders and his campaign feel caught in. The tribal, drumbeat message of tactical thinking, of insider baseball politics has been pressuring him for months. I think that what the Sanders campaign, in a sense, does here, is it kind of takes the bait. It gives the media what it thinks it has to give it just to sort of get them all off its back, to say, well, we may get the superdelegates to come around, and everyone knows it’s the least likely thing in the world, but everybody knows also that it can’t be technically disproven, and so I think they feel in a sense they need this to buy time. They don’t.

HEDGES: But others feel like they do. Bernie Sanders surrogate and author Jonathan Tasini says that by engaging Democratic superdelegates Sanders is sustaining his viability as a nominee for the party, and if were to pursue a path that is too ideological and too critical his voice could be significantly softened.

JONATHAN TASINI: I don’t think [inaud.] walk and chew gum at the same time. I don’t think these are mutually exclusive, to say, you know, down the road you have [inaud.] more people, make it more possible for people to participate in Democratic primaries, and at the same time, in the next two months you try to win the nomination, and that’s just a practical reality. You know, this is just where I come from, which is, I believe in being consistent but I don’t believe in being pure to the point of not trying to win.

HEDGES: Sanders has also hinted at the fact that if he does indeed lose the nomination his campaign could still play an important role, not only in shaping the party’s platform but also in changing election rules with regards to the exclusion of independent voters in some states or the disproportional power superdelegates yield during the nomination and platform-building process.

SANDERS: There should be a role for the superdelegates, but not the kind of role that exists right now. Today they have much too much power, and it makes it very difficult for an insurgent campaign of the people to take on the establishment the way it is constructed right now.

HEDGES: But even influencing the party platform and its rules at the convention will be difficult. DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz has appointed two Hillary Clinton supporters to lead the very two committees Bernie Sanders hopes to reform. Barney Frank, a former congressman and staunch supporter of Clinton, is chairing the rules committee, and Governor Dan Malloy of Connecticut, also a Clinton supporter, is chairing the platform committee.

Curry says that rather than playing by the party’s own rules, which are designed to make him lose, Sanders ought to use his spotlight to expose the corruption that has taken place within the party over the past few decades.

CURRY: I think a better argument to make right now is not that the un-pledged delegates may vote for Bernie Sanders, but rather that the un-pledged delegates have no business voting at all. 454 out of the total 714 un-pledged delegates, 454 are unelected, unaccountable Democratic National Committee members who, in fact, far from being trustees of their party, have allowed rules to be broken all year in order to facilitate the Clinton campaign. They made their commitment to Clinton before the race even started, She had almost all of them locked up before a single actual vote was cast.

HEDGES: Will little chance of winning the Democratic Nomination, and with the deck stacked against him at the convention, Sanders will have a hard time making his mark on the Democratic platform this fall. So the question, now, for Sanders, along with his supporters, is, how far is he willing to take this fight and his insurgent candidacy when the Democratic national convention finally rolls around in July?

For the Real News, Thomas Hedges, Washington.

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