The Democratic party's Unity Reform Commission has effectively neutered the power of superdelegates, in a definite win for Bernie Sanders heading into 2020.
The Democratic National Committee voted Saturday to neutralize the votes of unpledged convention delegates, part of a package of hard-fought reforms designed to prevent a repeat of the bitter 2016 presidential primary as the party looks toward the 2020 election.
“We listened and we acted, and I’m proud that our party is doing everything we can to bring people in and make it easier to vote,” said DNC Chairman Tom Perez after the reforms were unanimously approved.
The new party rules undo decades-old reforms that empowered hundreds of party activists and elected officials, often referred to as “superdelegates,” whose presidential convention votes were not bound to the results of primaries or caucuses. They also affirm the decision of six states to move from caucuses, which have favored insurgent candidates, to primaries, which tend to have higher turnout.
The Democrats’ journey to that decision lasted more than two years, and divided party leaders even as activists who had supported both Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) organized behind them. Anger at the results of that primary campaign, and at Clinton’s defeat, has dogged the DNC under Perez’s leadership; despite a run of election wins, it has raised $116.5 million since the start of the cycle, compared with $227.2 million for the RNC.
To mollify supporters of Sanders, Democrats in July 2016 created a Unity Reform Commission that met four times through 2017. It originally proposed a cut to the total number of superdelegates, a move that was changed when the reform package got to the Rules and Bylaws Committee, which met four more times to debate amendments. The eventual compromise — to prevent all superdelegates from voting unless a convention went to a second ballot — was proposed by Ken Martin, the chairman of Minnesota’s Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party (DFL).
“This is a way for us to heal the wounds of the 2016 election,” Martin said in an interview before the vote. “Minnesota was a 62 percent Bernie state. People cared about this. We were dealing with a perception problem more than a reality problem, but that perception problem mattered. People believed so passionately that this issue cost their candidate the nomination, that we had to fix it.”
I'm not sure how I feel about this. I honestly believe that when Bernie fails to secure the nomination in 2020, they'll find some other conspiracy to blame for his loss besides superdelegates, because given all the 50 states (plus DC and territories) caucuses and primaries, he still lost the nomination in 2016 convincingly. It wasn't close, but blaming superdelegates was the way to go.
Moving six states from caucuses to primaries is a bigger issue and something that will help settle things, but again, this doesn't mean that the fight is over.
Perez and other delegate reform supporters succeeded in weakening the establishment opposition by giving it more time to protest. But the opposition made one final push, picking up on a theme that the Congressional Black Caucus had aired last month — that to take away the votes of black superdelegates was to effectively suppress them. The unofficial leaders of that faction, former party chair Don Fowler and California DNC member Bob Mulholland, are white. But Mulholland, a gruff Vietnam veteran, invoked the legacy of the civil rights movement to argue that his party risked alienating its most loyal voters to appease a faction of elite Sanders fans.
“There’s an awful lot of white males pushing this [reform] idea, and they have no idea of the message this is sending to the Latino community and the African American community,” Mulholland said Friday. “If I was Trump, and the DNC decided it’s not going to let black members of Congress on the floor to vote, I’d exploit the hell out of that. ‘The Democrats just threw out your vote!’ ”
But that message did not unify the DNC’s black members, some of whom pointed out that the 2016 pool of superdelegates skewed whiter than the delegates elected through primaries. While former party chair Donna Brazile gave a 10-minute speech decrying the reform, Nina Turner, president of the Sanders-founded group Our Revolution, whipped votes in favor of it.
“Real voter disenfranchisement is living in a state where you forfeit your rights if you’re a felon,” Turner said. “Real disenfranchisement is officials closing down polling places that disproportionately affect black voters. This is a false equivalency, to talk about something that happens in the DNC and compare it to the hard, bloody fight to secure the franchise in the real world.”
It pisses me off to no end to say this, but Nina Turner is correct here, mainly because being on the opposite side of the CBC is an easy layup. If this was the real battle, and fighting GOP voter disenfranchisement of black and Hispanic voters united the Democrats going forward in 2018 and 2020, we'd be in much better shape.
Sadly, experience tells me that this won't happen. More infighting is ahead, because it's what Democrats do.