Bernie Just Predicted a Contested Convention Based on a Misleading View of the Rules

A contested convention isn't what he thinks it is...
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A contested convention isn't what he thinks it is...

You've probably seen the video by now. Over the weekend, Bernie Sanders held a press briefing and, in it, the Vermont senator seems to suggest that he plans to take his campaign all the way to an allegedly "contested" convention.

Bernie said:

“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 of the convention in Philadelphia. In other words, the convention will be a contested convention… There are 10 states remaining, where we are going to be vigorously competing.”  

Naturally, it's Bernie's campaign and he's allowed to proceed with whatever goals he sees fit to satisfy. But what he's suggesting here is both confounding and misleading. Bernie seems to be suggesting that there won't be a clear presumptive nominee emerging from the primaries in June -- thus superseding a contested convention -- when, in fact, there will absolutely be a presumptive nominee by that stage in the game.

Here's how this works.

Hillary Clinton, with her 1,662 pledged delegates (not counting superdelegates), is on pace to officially win a majority of pledged delegates by June 7. The threshold for a majority of pledged delegates is 2,025. She needs fewer than 400 more delegates to reach this goal, and she only needs to win around a small fraction of the remaining pledged delegates to get there. Once she arrives at 2,025, she will have all the pledged delegates she'll require to be named the presumptive nominee.

Meanwhile, 520 superdelegates have expressed their support for Hillary, while 39 have done so for Bernie. This puts Hillary, with her 2,165 delegates (supers and pledged combined), just over 200 total delegates away from the 2,383 majority (with supers) she'll need for the nomination. Short of a political miracle, there's virtually no chance for Bernie to win enough pledged delegates to elevate him to the 2,025 majority he'll need in order to, 1) become the presumptive nominee, and 2) to help convince enough superdelegates to switch over to him.

Inexplicably, Bernie isn't telling us that by June 7, it'll only be a matter of running through a ceremonial convention ballot, tallying the pledged and superdelegates in Philadelphia, followed by balloons, etc, in order for Hillary and her running-mate to accept the nomination. 

Contra Bernie, his doesn't signify a "contested" convention at all. It's ultimately a matter of a technicality and a tradition -- one which occurs every four years. A truly contested convention, on the other hand, is one in which the second (or third or fourth) place candidate(s) refuse to concede the nomination until the convention -- a move which prevents the party from healing and which prevents the appearance of a unified and organized party during highly rated national television coverage. The news media, incidentally, will be dying for any excuse whatsoever to paint both parties and both party conventions as equally chaotic, and it sounds as if Bernie is manufacturing a way for such a media narrative to take place.

Put another way, in every single Democratic presidential primary, the superdelegates don't cast their ballots until the convention. It happened in 2008, and it happened in 2012 when Obama was running for re-election. Was he not the presumptive candidate in either of those years before the superdelegates were counted at the convention? Of course he was, and in neither case was the convention considered a contested one. 

But Bernie seems to be saying that even though Hillary will easily win a majority of pledged delegates by June 7, as well as a majority of superdelegates who have announced their votes to her, the verdict is still out because the supers haven't officially been counted and entered into the record -- even though their votes are never officially cast until the convention. At the same time, he's confusing the issue by conflating the 2,383 majority with the 2,025 pledged delegate majority. 

Again, he said, "It is virtually impossible for Secretary Clinton to reach the majority of convention delegates by June 14 with pledged delegates alone." First of all, this patently untrue. Secondly, it's irrelevant since, to repeat, she only needs 2,025 pledged delegates for a majority. Objectively speaking, she'll easily exceed this threshold on or before June 7. Just like in every Democratic presidential primary ever. The fact that Bernie is misrepresenting how the process works only serves to misinform his supporters.

To be clear, by the way, this isn't an indictment of Bernie's positions, which I tend to like, or his broader political revolution. Nor is this an attack on Bernie's supporters. At all. It's merely a clarification on delegate math. 

Sure, Bernie could spend June and most of July lobbying superdelegates to switch their votes, but knowing history, and with Hillary owning a majority of pledged delegates, as well as a popular vote majority, his case would be desperate and unsuccessful. Indeed, never in the history of the Democratic Party has there been a nominee who didn't win a majority of pledged delegates, and it's relatively clear that a candidate who's built a not insignificant part of his platform on criticizing the corruption of the party establishment will not convince a majority of that establishment to support his candidacy.