The Party Bosses Can Block Bernie if…
It has become clear that Bernie Sanders is the clear frontrunner for the Democratic nomination. However, it is not yet clear if he will be able to win over 50% of the delegates in such a crowded field of candidates. The stats gurus at Fivethirtyeight.com give him roughly a 30 to 45% chance of hitting the needed number, depending on the day. They also give him a 40 to 50% chance of having at least a clear plurality of the delegates. There has been a lot of chatter lately that the other candidates and the party elites may try to deny him the nomination if that happens. This would be a clear violation of the spirit of the primary and would likely split the party, hand the election to Trump, and possibly bring about the demise of the Democratic Party as a whole.
That said, there are, theoretically, situations in which in might make some sense to try to do this. Let’s take a look at those scenarios.
- If Bernie gets the most delegates, but it is far below 50% and other candidates are close: Imagine a scenario in which Bernie gets 28% of the delegates, Biden gets 25%, Bloomberg gets 20%, Warren gets 20% and the others split the rest. Under such a circumstance, the party might be able to make a reasonable case that no one has clearly won and the convention needs to negotiate a nominee. However, if Bernie were to get around 40% of the delegates and no one else was above 30%, it would be basically impossible for the party to make this case without being accused of highway robbery. The latter of the two seems like the more likely scenario considering that huge windfall Bernie is poised to win on Super Tuesday, the historical pattern in which voters tend to ‘get behind’ the front runner, and the fact that candidates below 15% in a given state get zero delegates. After Super Tuesday, it will be clear that most candidates are not viable; most likely their support will begin to drop below 15% in most states, which will cut them off from collecting delegates.
- Another theoretical scenario in which the party would be able to block Bernie’s nomination would be one in which he is able to win a plurality but his popularity was specifically limited to ONLY those who voted for him. For example, if Bernie got roughly 35 to 45% of the votes in the primary and his favorability was down at 35–45%, a strong argument could be made that Bernie does not have enough support among the base to warrant the nomination despite his plurality. However, this is not the case at all. Bernie is, according to most polls, the candidate with the highest favorability. Most polls show that 70–75% of Democratic voters have a favorable view of him. His unfavorable number is about average for the field. Based on this, there is no argument to be made that Bernie lacks sufficient support. He appears to be set to get the highest number of votes and has the highest favorables. You might not know that if you get your news from corporate media sources. Their reporters, pundits, and guests often give the impression that Bernie is divisive, but they really mean that the party bosses are not supportive of him. Bernie will have no problem consolidating the Democratic voting base behind his candidacy. In fact, he should have the highest ceiling!
3. The only other argument that can be made for blocking Bernie’s nomination if he has a clear plurality would be that he is incapable of defeating Trump. While many media pundits have tried to make this case, there is no data to back up their ‘gut feelings.’ The polling has shown that Bernie performs quite well against Trump in national polling and polling in key swing states. With the exception of Joe Biden, Bernie has been getting the best polling against Trump over the last year. In recent weeks, with Biden’s numbers dropping, Bernie is actually doing the best against Trump. The polling has been very clear on this trend.
The reality is that there is no realistic or likely scenario in which it makes logical or democratic sense for the party to step in and try to block Bernie if he has a plurality. If they choose to do so it will be because they do not want a progressive who is not beholden to them and the donors to run the country and the party. The battle lines are being drawn in preparation for the DNC convention in Milwaukee. It will likely be a convention under siege from grassroots groups demanding that the party support the nomination of the clear frontrunner. Maybe Bernie will hit the needed number of delegates and this will all be moot. Only time will tell.
Ron Widelec is a history teacher in NYC, a progressive activist in Westchester NY, and a delegate candidate for Bernie Sanders in CD 17.