Indiana Aftermath: Democratic Party Edition

It’s unlikely Hillary Clinton gives the runner-up speech at this year’s convention. What is Bernie Sanders looking to do? Qqqqqq at en.wikipedia [CC BY-SA 3.0 ( or GFDL (, via Wikimedia Commons

Donald Trump has officially secured the Republican Party’s nomination now that John Kasich, last man standing by a day, has suspended his campaign. Weirdly, that means it’s the Democratic Party’s nomination that is still up in the air, with Bernie Sanders claiming he will contest the nomination if Hillary Clinton needs superdelegates to get her over the top. Unfortunately for Clinton, it looks like she will in fact need superdelegates for a majority.

However, this requires some context. Just the word “superdelegates” riles people up and makes rational conversation difficult, so let’s try to clarify the situation before we look into the future. First, I’ve written before that the superdelegate system needs to be abolished and I stand by that. In addition, I explained the superdelegate math. Here’s the relevant passage:

The superdelegate system, which allows 712 Democratic Party insiders to vote for whomever they want at the convention, accounts for 15% of the 4,763 total delegates. Since a candidate needs 2,382 delegates to win an outright majority, superdelegates could provide as much as 30% of the votes needed to push a preferred candidate over the top.

While it’s unlikely that superdelegates are willing to risk breaking the Democratic Party in two in order to get their preferred candidate on the ballot, their votes would be required to form a majority if a candidate finishes with less than 58.8% of elected delegates. Nate Silver at FiveThirtyEight wrote a great piece about this in February. Flipping things around, there’s 41.2% – that’s the percentage of elected delegates a candidate could win the nomination with if 100% of superdelegates voted for him or her.

Silver reminded us that superdelegates, wary of going against the will of the voters, are likely to see which way the wind is blowing and support the candidate with a majority of elected delegates. This is exactly what happened in 2008, when Clinton again started the nomination process with a large superdelegate lead only to see that shrink and vanish as Obama won more and more elected delegates.

Superdelegates are part of the game and everyone who’s playing wants to win. Sanders supporters were outraged by the superdelegate system before voting began, and as I’ll explain, now the Sanders campaign is banking on superdelegates to save his candidacy. This might reek of hypocrisy, but I don’t remember Clinton and her campaign disavowing the system back when she had huge support from superdelegates before a single commoner had cast a vote. Now, the Clinton campaign is aghast that the Sanders campaign would try to win the nomination through manipulation of superdelegates. So, yeah, plenty of apparent hypocrisy for everyone.

The only fair way to resolve this issue is for both camps to agree that democratic legitimacy depends on winning a majority of pledged delegates. Every state and territory sends pledged delegates for candidates to the convention based proportionally on their primary or caucus results. Therefore, pledged delegate count is a reasonable proxy for the popular will. Superdelegates, in the imperfect world in which they still exist, should basically be honorary convention attendees, at least when it comes to voting on the nomination. Ideally, and as they did in 2008, superdelegates simply ratify the choice of the public.

At the moment, the Sanders campaign does not agree to these ground rules. Why not? Well, the simple answer is that Sanders is losing pledged delegates by a big and nearly insurmountable margin, so if he wants to win the game, he needs the superdelegates to be seen as a legitimate part of it and then he needs them to back him overwhelmingly. The hypocrisy is distasteful, but hey, you play to win the game.

How is the Sanders campaign rationalizing this about-face? There seem to be two key arguments: 1) contests that Sanders wins are worth more when they come in a row or later in the election season, so superdelegates should reflect those different weights, and 2) Sanders matches up better against Trump in general election polling so superdelegates should get behind the candidate with the best chance of winning in November.

The first argument is stupid and delegitimizing of Clinton voters. Before we hear protests that only Sanders fanatics are saying this, no actually, Sanders’s top strategist, Tad Devine, is making this case. If we really want to get into weighing the different contests based on their perceived legitimacy, well, Sanders has racked up pledged delegates in caucuses, the least democratic process for selecting delegates. Caucuses result in abysmal voter turnout and tend to privilege wealthier people with the ability to spend time at a caucus. This is a cake that the Sanders campaign can’t have and eat, too.

Leaving aside the toxicity of the first argument for the moment, the second argument is the one that deserves serious consideration and is why the superdelegate system exists in the first place. No Democrat wants to lose a winnable election, which 2016 most certainly is even if the Republican opponent weren’t Trump. Both Clinton and Sanders beat Trump in head-to-head polls, but Sanders leads by significantly larger margins. The Sanders camp would argue that Clinton has negative favorability ratings and therefore is the riskier candidate. The Clinton camp would argue that Clinton is a known quantity and she still beats Trump, most voters don’t really know who Sanders is and wait til Trump calls him a communist, and anyway general election polls this far out historically don’t correlate very well with November results.

That superdelegates exist to guide the Democratic Party to its most viable nominee is a compelling argument. If we accept it, then we are putting a close contest in the hands of 712 unelected party insiders who are free to assess each candidate’s case and vote according to their conscience. Though it’s self-serving for the Sanders campaign to now embrace this argument, again it’s part of the game. I maintain that superdelegates should simply ratify the will of the majority, and after they do that this year, the Democratic Party should eliminate the superdelegate system.

That brings us to the state of the race after Indiana. If you take my position and agree that the 4,051 pledged delegates should determine the nomination, it looks like this:

  • Hillary Clinton has 1,701 pledged delegates, which is 325 shy of the minimum 2,026 needed for a majority.
  • Bernie Sanders has 1,417, which is 609 shy of the majority threshold.

With 933 pledged delegates still remaining, Clinton needs to win 34.8% to reach a majority and Sanders needs to win 65.2%. Clinton has won 54.6% of pledged delegates awarded so far, while Sanders has won 45.4%.

For the sake of argument, say they maintain the same pace, which is somewhat reasonable since Clinton is expected to do well in California and New Jersey and Sanders is expected to do well in the smaller states such as West Virginia and Oregon. That means Clinton wins 509 more delegates, giving her a total of 2,210, and Sanders wins 424, giving him a total of 1,841. Contest over.

Now, let’s entertain the Sanders campaign contention that the 712 superdelegates should have the final say. A candidate needs 2,382 total delegates for a majority. Clinton would need 172 superdelegates (24%) to put her over the top, while Sanders would need 541 (76%). Are 76% of superdelegates going to find Sanders’s electability argument persuasive? And this isn’t a vacuum; remember, many Democratic Party members are wary of Sanders’s tenuous links with the Party, both rhetorically and financially.

Like in Michigan before, Sanders just pulled off a surprising victory in Indiana. Maybe more surprising victories await, but it’s hard to see him winning substantial majorities in California and New Jersey, which look and behave a lot more like New York where Clinton won big, than they do Washington state, where Sanders won big.

The takeaway? Superdelegates are not going to entertain Sanders’s electability argument unless he wins a majority of pledged delegates. Many are already ambivalent towards him. Also, there’s the precedent of 2008 when superdelegates supported Clinton by a wide margin but many switched to Barack Obama when it became clear he would win the majority of pledged delegates. That contest was even closer than this one and the candidate behind was the one many of the superdelegates preferred, yet they still refused to put her over the top. No way they do that for Sanders. If his campaign wants to win, it’s going to have to do something it hasn’t managed to do yet, which is carry large diverse states with more than 65% of the vote.

This makes one wonder what exactly Sanders is after, and calls back to mind the first argument we identified that his campaign is using to woo superdelegates. Sanders wants to win, of course, and I respect that and am genuinely happy about the good influence he’s already had on Clinton’s campaign. But what exactly does he gain by suggesting that primary votes in the South don’t really count because they happened early and those states never go for the Democrat, when he’s relying on states like Idaho and Kansas that held contests over a month ago and never vote for the Democratic Party’s presidential candidate either? Or what good does it do when his strategist says that contests count more when a candidate wins a lot of them in a row or they come later in the process, like Clinton didn’t just win five out of six primaries in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast?

Do Sanders and his campaign staff actually believe this stuff? Are they just undisciplined? Or are they actually trying to tear the Democratic Party apart? These aren’t rhetorical questions.



Super Tuesday III: What’s At Stake in the Mid-Atlantic

Mid-Atlantic (plus Rhode Island), come on down! You’re the next Super Tuesday! By Grayshi, Roke (Own work, also File:BlankMap-USA-states.PNG) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (

This coming Tuesday, April 26th, is the third time during this presidential nomination cycle that a bunch of states rich in delegates will vote on the same Tuesday. There will be one more “super” Tuesday on June 7th, when the big prizes of California and New Jersey (don’t snicker) are up for grabs for both parties’ candidates. What happens in two days will influence the shapes of both races going forward, so let’s go ahead and see what’s likely to happen and what it all means.

First, the region that votes on April 26th is the Mid-Atlantic (Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, with Connecticut included depending on who you ask, plus Rhode Island). This region has structural, geographic, and demographic features that favor both parties’ front-runners. Structurally, both parties in all five states are holding primaries. So far, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have done very well in primary elections compared to their performances in caucuses. On the Democratic side, the fact that these are closed primaries – meaning only registered party members can vote – leans even more heavily in Clinton’s favor. Clinton has been dominating with people who tend to be registered Democrats, which kind of belies the “no enthusiasm for Clinton” trope, at least among the Party’s base, but that’s a subject for a different post.

Geographically, the region favors Trump because of its ties to New York City and the dread “New York values” so reviled by Texan Ted Cruz. Republican evangelical voters in these states may give Cruz some support, but overall his brand is toxic in the Mid-Atlantic. Cruz’s doubling down on support for North Carolina’s discriminatory LGBT law and past arguments that sellers and users of sex toys are criminals are unlikely to make his brand less toxic there. Increasingly desperate #NeverTrumpers may strategically vote for Cruz or with their conscience for John Kasich, but with Trump poised to win at least a plurality in each state, let’s predict he wins a majority or better of the delegates at stake, with a “big but” explained in the next paragraph.

One more structural note on the Republican side. Amazingly, most delegates Pennsylvanians send to the convention will be directly elected, but without voters knowing which nominee those delegates prefer. This is nuts and favors the much more organized Cruz campaign. Trump is guaranteed 17 delegates if he’s the overall winner, but 54 delegates will not be bound to any nominee. If Trump and his supporters think the process is rigged now, wait until they get a load of Pennsylvania. With such an undemocratic process that is by no means guaranteed to correlate with actual Pennsylvanians’ preferences, Trump may not get as big of a delegate haul as he deserves.

On the Democratic side, Clinton enjoys a big demographic advantage in addition to her structural ones in the region. Bernie Sanders has not done well in states with denser and/or more diverse populations. His most recent victory was in Wisconsin, which is 86% white. This Tuesday’s whitest state, Pennsylvania, is 82% white; meanwhile Maryland, the most diverse of the five states, is 58% white. Maybe the demographics don’t doom Sanders in all five states, but given Clinton’s polling leads and the cultural affinities with New York where she just won big, let’s predict Clinton goes five-for-five.

Now, the math behind the delegate counts is what ultimately gives these analyses and predictions any meaning. Let’s start with the Republican contest (thanks FiveThirtyEight), where a candidate needs to reach 1,237 delegates for a majority. So far, 1,712 of the total 2,472 delegates have been awarded to specific candidates. It’s estimated that almost 200 of the delegates could officially be “unbound” for the first ballot at the convention, which confuses the analysis and is going to be a subject of ongoing intrigue. For our purposes, let’s take FiveThirtyEight‘s numbers at face value and run the numbers:

  • Donald Trump has won 846 delegates, which is 47.1% of the total so far. He needs 391 more delegates for a majority, which is 58% of remaining delegates up for grabs, 172 of which are at stake on Tuesday.
  • Ted Cruz has won 544 delegates, which is 30% of the total so far. He needs 693 more delegates for a majority, which is 102.8% of remaining delegates.
  • John Kasich has won 149 delegates so far, which remarkably is both still behind Marco “Not Even in the Race Anymore” Rubio’s delegate count and means if he won every single delegate remaining (674), he’d still be behind Trump!

The last time we did this analysis, Trump needed a 59% pace to win an outright majority on the first ballot. He’s more or less in the same position he was a month ago, but with less margin for error now with fewer delegates remaining. Cruz joins the Kasich Club in being mathematically eliminated from winning an outright majority on the first ballot at the convention. That’s unless he convinces most of the unbound delegates to commit to him AND he does much better in the remaining races than he’s done to date, neither of which are likely. I’d say Trump is likely to get 58% or better of the delegates on Tuesday, but again, Pennsylvania’s rules really confuse the situation.

Cruz may be more competitive in Indiana with its 57 delegates at stake on May 3rd, but he’s drawing dead. The best he can hope to do is deny Trump a pre-convention majority while convincing unbound delegates to withhold the boost Trump would need to get to 1,237. Trump appears very likely to be within striking distance of 1,237 with the help of unbound delegates should he fall short of a majority.

If we take it as a given that legitimacy is important for whomever becomes the Republican nominee, I don’t see how the Republican Establishment denies Trump the nomination if it happens he’s the clear delegate winner but just shy of a majority. During the modern nomination era, it’s a singular occurrence that two candidates who are ALREADY non-viable in terms of reaching a majority are even still in the race. Usually, once candidates reach this loser milestone (if not before), they drop out and rally behind their preferred remaining candidate, or in the case of only one left standing, they throw their support behind that person for the sake of party unity. The situation really shows the notable degree to which a large proportion of the Republican Party loathes Trump. Tuesday’s contests should only exacerbate this problem.

Relying on FiveThirtyEight again, how do things look on the Democratic side? Like last time, let’s ignore the superdelegates since it’s unlikely they will go against the candidate who wins a majority of elected delegates. Please refer to that previous piece if you want to know my stance on superdelegates; long story short, get rid of them. Without superdelegates, there are 4,051 elected delegates, which means a candidate needs to win 2,026 in order to claim democratic legitimacy.

  • Hillary Clinton has won 1,443 elected delegates, which is 54.4% of delegates awarded so far. She needs to win 583 more for a majority, which is 41.6% of  the remaining 1,400 delegates.
  • Bernie Sanders has won 1,208 elected delegates, which is 45.6% of delegates awarded so far. He needs to win 818 more for a majority, which is 58.4% of the remaining delegates.

Sanders, in spite of his string of victories in the seven contests before he lost big in New York, has gained no ground on Clinton over the past month. That doesn’t mean he should drop out. In fact, he’s much more viable at the moment than any of his Republican counterparts. The problem for Sanders is the math and the likely outcomes in remaining states. Let’s look at the following scenario.

Let’s be generous and suppose that Sanders takes half of the 384 delegates at stake on Tuesday (Clinton is likely to do better than 50%, but for the sake of argument). If he does, that increases his delegate count to 1,400, but reduces remaining delegates from 1,400 to 1,016. Sanders would need 626 of the remaining delegates to reach a majority, which then would be 61.6% of remaining delegates. Even under this rosy scenario where Sanders ties in the Mid-Atlantic, he goes from needing 58.4% of remaining delegates beforehand to needing 61.6% in future contests.

This problem for Sanders is nicely illustrated by the updates in FiveThrityEight‘s delegate targets for each state for each candidate. Based on state profiles, the targets are numbers for each remaining state that the candidates have to hit in order to get on track for a majority of elected delegates, given they hit their targets in all other future contests. They’re reasonable numbers based on the current state of the race; for example, Sanders could have used a landslide in New York where his FiveThirtyEight target was 125, or 50.6%, of the total 247 delegates at stake. With no polling indicating a Sanders landslide in New York, they arrived at the more modest majority target. Sanders ended up only getting 108 delegates in New York, or 43.7%, which now means his targets in upcoming states have to go up. With polls showing consistent Clinton leads in California, do we really think he’s going to hit the target of 239 (50.3%) out of 475 delegates? And that assumes he gets 189 (49.2%) of 384 delegates on Tuesday. I’d say 173, or 45%, is the most he’s going to get in the Mid-Atlantic.

This is why a contest that so far has been 54% Clinton to 46% Sanders is pretty much out of reach for Sanders. That 8% difference doesn’t seem like a lot, but when you factor in how states are likely to vote and the delegates remaining, it’s nearly impossible for Sanders to make it up.  He’s not finished and I hope he keeps going, but if I were in his campaign, I’d get to work on a strategy for influence within a Hillary Clinton general election campaign and presidency, based on delivering votes for the Democratic Party in November.

Wisconsin Primaries Recap

Remember when this guy was thought to be a formidable candidate for president and then he found himself responding to Trump by wondering if we need to build a wall between the U.S. and Canada? Well, he got his revenge yesterday. By Michael Vadon (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

The results from yesterday’s primary elections in Wisconsin for both parties are clear, but their ramifications not so much. Ted Cruz won the Republican contest, coming just shy of a majority of the vote. The Wisconsin conservative movement mustered a nearly unified front against Donald Trump on behalf of Cruz, and it worked.

New Yorkers vote in two weeks and Trump looks strong in his home state. He’ll have to clean up there to get back within reaching distance of the pace he needs in order to win an outright majority of delegates.

Conventional wisdom about the race has shifted; savvy election watchers now give the combination of Cruz and the field better odds of emerging victorious at the convention than they give Trump. I agree with Talking Points Memo‘s Josh Marshall that using Cruz to deny Trump the nomination, and then turning around and denying Cruz the nomination, is unlikely to work out well for the Republican establishment. How does the Republican Party snub 70%-plus of its electorate, and if they manage it, how do they mobilize a winning coalition for the general election?

There is a scenario that, while unlikely, worries me a great deal since I prefer the Democratic Party. It goes something like this: the Republican Party nominates Cruz, or even better for the GOP establishment someone like John Kasich, Paul Ryan or Mitt Romney. While this would burn the 45% or more of the electorate that had voted for Trump, the Party goes to the country at large and makes this argument: the Republican Party showed it is now a responsible governing party by vetoing the nomination of a man that alienates an overwhelming majority of Americans and would put World War III on the table through his sheer ignorance of history and foreign affairs. By November, Trump voters reconcile themselves to holding their noses and voting against Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders. The fresh face of CruzKasichRyanRomney leads enough moderate and independent voters to say hey, Republicans aren’t so bad anymore, and we don’t trust Clinton and Sanders is a communist so let’s roll the dice because we have no memory of George W. Bush. Republicans come to power with unified control of the government and proceed to govern in exactly the way modern Republicans govern, which a majority of voters actually disagrees with but has difficulty recognizing this reality. When it comes to policy, Kasich and would-be presidents Ryan and Romney share nearly all of Trump’s agenda, and Cruz is even worse! They are simply moderate fronts for a reactionary conservative agenda.

Now, I think it’s more likely the Republican Party melts down this election year than it is the above scenario comes to fruition, but I wouldn’t bet the rent money on it.

On the Democratic side, Sanders notched a solid victory but Clinton remains the overwhelming favorite. As FiveThirtyEight‘s analysts explain, Sanders overperformed compared to the polls but still didn’t achieve the margin he needs to get on pace for a majority of elected delegates. While Wyoming Democrats caucus on April 9th and this is likely friendly terrain for Sanders, the real test arrives on April 19th when New York’s 247 delegates are at stake. Since this is Clinton’s adopted home and has demographic features that lean in her favor, Clinton could spring back into prohibitive favorite position by doing well there.

By that time, Clinton may have lost seven out of the eight previous contests, and she’ll need to combat the narrative that her campaign is reeling. On April 26th, a bunch of mid-Atlantic states that also have friendly Clinton electorates vote, and if she ties or better overall in those contests after winning in New York the math becomes all but impossible for Sanders.

However, Sanders does have momentum, and if that means anything and he can capitalize on it maybe he continues to surprise. I definitely don’t count him out at this point. Now, we’ll have to wait and see what polling of the upcoming states shows. Maybe the ground is shifting, and Clinton really is in trouble. It’s doubtful, but most of us doubted Sanders would even be within striking distance at this point.

Election Numbers Crunching: Democratic Edition

Sometimes it’s hard to say whether the Democratic Party is run by actual donkeys or not. Though to be fair to donkeys, they probably wouldn’t defend the superdelegate system. By Raul654 (Own work) [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

Yesterday we saw that Donald Trump is the only Republican candidate left with a realistic chance of achieving a majority of delegates before the convention. As complicated as figuring that out was, the Democratic Party’s nomination contest is even more of a mess. Let’s deal with the most confusing aspect right at the top: superdelegates.

First, let’s be clear that superdelegates are an abomination and an affront to democracy. The Democratic Party should be embarrassed that this undemocratic relic still exists. The Democratic National Committee should have disposed of the superdelegate system after 2008, when the Barack Obama – Hillary Clinton contest involved way too much time and energy arguing over what was the proper role of superdelegates. There’s a simple way to end this nonsense and that’s just get rid of it. It is not a good look for a political party claiming to be against plutocracy to be giving plutocrats an opportunity to override the will of the voters. I swear, it seems like DNC officials sit around trying to think of ways to lose elections sometimes.

The superdelegate system, which allows 712 Democratic Party insiders to vote for whomever they want at the convention, accounts for 15% of the 4,763 total delegates. Since a candidate needs 2,382 delegates to win an outright majority, superdelegates could provide as much as 30% of the votes needed to push a preferred candidate over the top.

While it’s unlikely that superdelegates are willing to risk breaking the Democratic Party in two in order to get their preferred candidate on the ballot, their votes would be required to form a majority if a candidate finishes with less than 58.8% of elected delegates. Nate Silver at FiveThirtyEight wrote a great piece about this in February. Flipping things around, there’s 41.2% – that’s the percentage of elected delegates a candidate could win the nomination with if 100% of superdelegates voted for him or her.

Silver reminded us that superdelegates, wary of going against the will of the voters, are likely to see which way the wind is blowing and support the candidate with a majority of elected delegates. This is exactly what happened in 2008, when Clinton again started the nomination process with a large superdelegate lead only to see that shrink and vanish as Obama won more and more elected delegates.

The nightmare scenario is something like this: Clinton wins 49.9% of elected delegates, Bernie Sanders wins 50.1%, and superdelegates hand the nomination to Clinton. If we thought trying to convince staunch Sanders supporters that the Democratic Party is their natural home was difficult before, wait until the Party Establishment steals the nomination from him!

This all stinks. Now we’re treated to the spectacle of Sanders suggesting he may try to overtake Clinton through superdelegates if he can’t do it with elected delegates. Of course, it was Sanders and his supporters complaining about the superdelegates back in the fall of 2015 when Clinton enjoyed a huge superdelegate lead before a single vote had been cast. Now they may try to use superdelegates to steal the nomination from Clinton! A system that encourages your members to look like a bunch of hypocrites is really not an ideal system.

All that said, it is unlikely that superdelegates will go against the majority of elected delegates. Though it’s clear they overwhelmingly support Clinton, it looks like voters are going to save them from having to boost her from behind Sanders. The race is definitely not over, but Clinton is in good position to achieve a substantial majority of elected delegates. Here’s the math (thanks to FiveThirtyEight):

  • Hillary Clinton has won 1,233 elected delegates, which is 57% of delegates awarded so far. That leaves her 793 shy of a majority of elected delegates and 1,149 shy of a majority of all delegates (elected and superdelegates). To win a majority of elected delegates and claim the will of the Party’s electorate she needs to win 42% of the remaining elected delegates. To win a majority of all delegates without needing a single superdelegate, she needs to win 61% of remaining elected delegates.
  • Bernie Sanders has won 929 elected delegates, which is 43% of delegates awarded so far. That leaves him 1,097 shy of a majority of elected delegates and 1,453 shy of a majority of all delegates. To win a majority of elected delegates and claim the will of the Party’s electorate he needs to win 58% of the remaining elected delegates. To win a majority of all delegates without needing a single superdelegate, he needs to win 77% of remaining elected delegates.

Clinton is not far off the pace she needs to take the superdelegate question off the table entirely, and she is in a commanding position to win a majority of elected delegates. Sanders is way off the pace needed to win the nomination without substantial help from superdelegates, and he’s in a tough but not impossible spot with respect to a majority of elected delegates.

Sanders could still overtake Clinton in elected delegates, but it will be a difficult task. Since the Democratic Party’s nomination process awards delegates proportionally, he’ll have to win 58% of remaining delegates to reach a majority of elected delegates. Clinton has big polling leads in delegate-rich states like New York, California, and Pennsylvania. Even ties in those states would hurt Sanders. Blowing Clinton out like he did in Utah and Idaho helps, but he needs to be more competitive than he’s been so far in populous, diverse states.

Who knows? It could happen, like when Sanders surprised everyone by winning in Michigan. There’s time now for people in the remaining states to digest information and think more critically about how the candidates might match up against a probable Trump candidacy. At the very least, Sanders supporters are making sure he will stay in the race and be in position to demand concessions at the convention in July.

An Open Letter to Sanders Supporters

I’d be super happy to vote for this guy, but he’s probably not going to be the nominee. Nick Solari [CC BY-SA 2.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

Dear Bernie Sanders Supporters,

There are many good reasons to prefer Sanders to Hillary Clinton. He critiques the current system in a way that proves he understands the economic security issues that so frustrate many Americans. A system in which a person can work a forty-hour work week and not get paid anywhere near enough to pay rent (forget about buying a home), buy health insurance, make car and car insurance payments, purchase a cable and internet package for the home, maintain a healthy diet, or save for his or her children’s education without going into perpetual debt is a rotten system indeed. It isn’t fair and it’s terrible and the Democratic nominee for president is almost certainly going to be a person who raked in 10 times the yearly salary of the average person in the bottom 50% of the United States’ income distribution just for delivering a single speech.

The progressive Democrat’s case against Clinton is compelling. She’s never been a trusted friend of labor, her healthcare policy is not nearly as ambitious or as just as Sanders’, same goes for her education policy, and on foreign policy, she still buys into the consensus that brought us the Iraq War and in which Henry f’ing Kissinger is considered a wise elder statesman. She exhibits the same instincts that drove the Left nuts about her husband’s presidency: always looking to appeal to the Reagan Democrat, like she did recently when she inexplicably praised Ronald and Nancy Reagan’s HIV/AIDS epidemic record despite the fact that the Reagan administration’s response to the emerging crisis was to ignore it and make disgusting jokes about gay people. Like going after the vote of some goober in Alabama is her path to the presidency rather than mobilizing the Obama coalition. Let’s not dance around it: Clinton makes it hard sometimes to support and trust her.

The delegate math is what it is; members of the Democratic Party are showing a strong preference for Clinton, although Sanders has made this race much more competitive than most people thought possible just three months ago. Sanders shouldn’t and probably won’t drop out before the convention. He could still win but it’s now extremely unlikely; the fact that he didn’t repeat his Michigan performance in Ohio or Illinois all but closes off his path to the nomination.

Sanders and his supporters should proudly make their voices heard at the convention in Philadelphia this July. Clinton and her supporters cannot ignore the 40% of the Democratic Party’s electorate that prefer the vision of a democratic socialist. And they shouldn’t ignore it. The Clinton campaign needs to combine her message of preserving and strengthening the accomplishments of the Obama era with the more galvanizing appeal for a more just society represented by Sanders. Fairly and sometimes not so fairly, Clinton is viewed as a status quo figure. And in 2016, it’s clear that about half the general electorate is sick and tired of the status quo. Clinton needs the Sanders wing if she wants to transcend the politics-as-usual label.

Make Clinton earn your support, and then vote for her in November. There are huge, fundamental differences between how the Democratic Party would govern and how the Republican Party would govern. If you don’t believe me, take it from Noam Chomsky.

There have been reports that 10% or maybe 30% or who really knows at this point how many Sanders supporters there are who claim they will not support Clinton in the general election under any circumstances. We won’t have a good grasp on this question until if and when Clinton secures the nomination. Some say they want to wage a write-in campaign for Sanders, or sit out the election, or vote for Donald Trump. Any of these options – and especially voting for Trump over the Democratic candidate – is cutting off one’s nose (and ears, and arms, and legs) to spite one’s face.

Many Sanders supporters, and many libertarian types on the Republican side, complain about only having two major parties from which to choose. There is an entire academic literature I’ll get into in a future post about why the American system produces two major parties, with each party comprised of competing but somewhat compatible factions. The short explanation is that we don’t have four or five competitive parties like proportional representation parliamentary systems do because we do not have a proportional representation parliamentary system. Brilliant insight, I know, but it is what it is. This is really the only point over which I lose my patience with Sanders supporters and libertarians. They talk about the need for more competitive parties but they are ignorant of which they speak.

Unfortunately, I’m well aware that “vote for the lesser of two evils” is not an inspiring message. But if you stop for a minute and think about the differences between the Democratic and Republican parties rather than your (justified!) grievances against Clinton, you will see that the choice between them is no choice at all. Maybe there are some voters out there that want to criminalize all abortions but also want strict environmental regulations, or think the federal government should have no role in providing universal education but should maintain Social Security, or think that single-payer healthcare is a good idea but we should have extremely low or no income taxes, or think that LGBT people should have the right to marry whomever they want but we should ban Muslims from entering the country. If these voters exist then they definitely don’t have a party that reflects their positions.

I’ll wager free subscriptions to this blog that Sanders supporters hold all or most of the following positions: equal access to reproductive health services across the country for women and their families, effective environmental regulations that take climate change seriously, universal education, strong Social Security, truly universal healthcare, appropriate income tax levels to maintain the government services demanded, a universal right to marry whomever they want, and a just immigration policy. That would make them Democrats.

As explained previously, I know what I’m talking about here because I was that special voter whose vote was as pure as the driven snow back in 2000. Since I was living in Virginia, my Ralph Nader vote didn’t cost Al Gore the election. But if I’d been living in Florida I would have been one of the 97,488 voters there that essentially handed the election to George W. Bush. I regret that vote to this day, and I guarantee you that if you sit out the election, or write in a candidate not on the ballot, or God forbid, vote for the Republican, and the Republican wins, you will regret your vote, too.


Steve Frediani

Sanders Makes Things Interesting; Broken Record Stays Stuck on “In the General Election, Vote the Party Not the Specific Candidate”

Do you want a socialist to take your money and give it to some selfie-taking hipster so that he can major in “Urban Gardening Aesthetics in the 21st Century” for free? I like Bernie Sanders a lot, but the Republican attack ads write themselves. By Michael Vadon (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

As if the 2016 presidential nominating contests weren’t already interesting enough, candidate for the Democratic Party’s nomination Bernie Sanders went out and pulled off an extremely surprising victory in Michigan on Tuesday. For some perspective, Josh Marshall at TPM compares it with the early contests of the Barack Obama-Hillary Clinton battle in 2008. Harry Enten at FiveThityEight writes that we’ve only seen one upset of this scale before, and that was back in 1984.

Since Clinton won in a landslide in Mississippi on the same night and therefore netted more delegates, both writers agree that Sanders is going to have to repeat this performance elsewhere before we can say the ground has shifted in this race. But the fact that Sanders won a contest he was predicted to lose big is a fact, and last week’s conventional wisdom may not apply anymore. Sanders wouldn’t win states with African American populations above 10%, and then he did. My own archive is full of posts suggesting the inevitability of a Clinton victory, though I’ve usually been careful to mention caveats.

So far I’ve mostly limited my commentary about the Democratic Party’s race to pointing out that whoever wins is going to be far more preferable to whoever wins the Republican contest. That’s because we elect members of political parties to office, and those elected leaders staff the government with members of his or her party to conduct the people’s business. The Democratic Party has proven itself relatively competent to run local, state, and national governments since the early 1990s. The Republican Party has proven itself the opposite of competent. And it’s full of racists.

It’s possible to enthusiastically endorse a party while tepidly supporting certain of its candidates. That’s where I am with Hillary Clinton. I’ve mocked people for saying they don’t want to support Clinton because they just don’t trust her. I’ve reminded readers that electing a president is not some kind of psychodrama in which the players are obligated to make us feel warm and fuzzy. The truth is, I don’t love Clinton either, but the thing about living in a democratic republic is that you don’t have to love your elected officials or the political party they represent. I’ll happily leave the love and loyalty oaths to the reactionary fascists supporting Donald Trump.

Look at this picture, read about what Trump supporters actually believe, and then let’s talk again about how the SNL parody of Trump voters is over the top. ( Joe Raedle/Getty Images/AFP)

Elections, especially presidential elections, have very real consequences. A poor woman who can no longer get her birth control prescription covered; a woman who is forced to bring her rapist’s child to term; a working class family that no longer qualifies for health coverage under Medicaid; workers who deserve much better than the scandalous federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour; members of communities victimized by National Rifle Association-endorsed gun policies; African Americans disproportionately imprisoned for committing the same nonviolent crimes as white people; law-abiding immigrants who pay taxes but do not have legal documentation and would be rounded up and deported, leaving American-citizen children behind – these people don’t care about enthusiasm levels for specific candidates. They care about whether the political party in power is going to actively work to make their lives miserable or make their lives better.

I’ll outsource the basic argument for why a privileged white guy might support Clinton to John Cole at Balloon Juice. Here’s the gist:

In my opinion as a white single male with a degree of financial stability, beyond agita and heartburn, I have very little at stake in this election. I’m not going to be drafted, my insurance won’t be lost if ACA is repealed, I won’t have to worry about losing my ability to get pap smears or mammograms or basic health services if PP is closed down, I won’t have to worry about feeding my children, I won’t have to worry about the right to control my body, I won’t have to worry about getting shot in the street for walking while white or be found dead in a jail cell after failing to signal a lane change. These are not and will not be concerns for me, ever.

For women and minorities, these are things they worry about EVERY. SINGLE. DAY.

Sanders can be trusted to take these concerns just as seriously as Clinton would. The issue for Cole, and for me, is electability. If Sanders wins the nomination I will work to make his political revolution a reality. Perhaps the median voter is ready to put a democratic socialist in the White House, but if Sanders is the general election candidate, his core supporters had better be ready to deal with all of the red-baiting that tends to be very effective in American politics. For guys like Cole and I, Clinton seems the safer bet. Up until Michigan, several crucial bases of support for the Democratic Party – minority groups and women – seemed to overwhelmingly agree.

If Sanders continues to make inroads with those groups as the primary contests move away from the South, and he maintains his lock on younger voters and progressives, he can actually win. Sanders or Clinton, I know what I think about the issues and which political party better represents my values, and that will lead me to support whoever wins the Democratic Party’s nomination. In the meantime, it’s certainly healthy for American democracy that a centrist Democratic insider is facing a strong challenge from a populist outsider.

Weekend Links

The blog’s author asks a Chinese kid what he thinks about Donald Trump. (Ha ha no, actually it’s an action shot of me during a promotional lesson we held at our school yesterday for prospective students.) 

Congratulations to the staff of Ivy Language Academy here in Dali, Yunnan. This month we celebrate our second anniversary. We opened in March 2014 with 18 total students. We’re going to start this semester with at least 65 and probably more! The marketing team really humped it these past few weeks with clear, excellent results to show for it during our promotional classes this weekend. Thanks for all your hard work!

There were some contests of consequence yesterday for both parties. On the Republican side, Ted Cruz gained some ground. Marco Rubio had another dismal showing and Donald Trump called on him to drop out of the race. That’s an interesting move for Trump. While a two-man race would open up a clearer path to an outright majority of delegates for one of the two candidates, Trump would also run the risk of the Republican establishment rallying around Cruz. But, the Republican establishment hates Cruz. Sad!

On the Democratic side, Bernie Sanders had nice showings yet netted fewer delegates than Hillary Clinton. The math still shows Clinton to be the overwhelming favorite. However, Sanders has raised a ton of money, continues to win contests, and for now has no particularly compelling reason to drop out.

Links for the weekend:

  • If you want to understand the support for Trump, you could do much worse than this series of posts by political scientists over at The Washington Post: Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.
  • Here’s the question for the Republican establishment coming out of Saturday’s contests.
  • In the category of blog titles I wish I had written: “Let Us Dispel With the Idea that the Rubiobot Knows What He’s Doing. He Has No Idea What He’s Doing.”
  • Alex Pareene had Rubio and his campaign’s ineptitude pegged in late December.
  • Authors over at Lawyers, Guns & Money deal with the stench of Clinton’s speaking fees. The fact that she remains incalculably more preferable to any Republican candidate shows just how lousy American politics and the elite that take advantage of it can be.
  • To drive the point home about why voting for the Democratic Party’s candidate is the right move: anyone remember George W. Bush? Don’t just take it from me and some other liberal, go read a conservative! The current Republican Party is a mess while the Democratic Party generally has its act together. Bush was what happened the last time we threw out a generally competent party in power just for the hell of it. And this time, the Republican Party is even more bereft of people who know what they’re doing than it was in 2000.
  • Speaking of W, Matt Taibbi draws a straight line from Bush to Trump. But don’t be fooled that any other Republican candidate is better than Trump.

Enjoy your Sunday!