My friend and co-founder Paul Starr and I have agreed and disagreed on a number of issues over the years. Our arguments have usually produced light rather than heat. In that spirit, here is one more:
Paul wrote a provocative piece in late November titled “How Bloomberg and Sanders Could Decide the Democratic Race.” His contention was that candidates who seem unlikely to be nominated themselves are staying in the race in the hope of influencing the final choice of nominee; and that the longer such candidates stay in, the more likely it is that the contest will go all the way to the national convention.
There, if no nominee has a majority on the first ballot, the rules provide the approximately 764 “superdelegates,” mostly party leaders and elected officials, get to vote on the second and other ballots. Paul concludes: “It wouldn’t be the worst thing for the Democrats if the final decision rests with a group that is likely to be interested in one thing above all: who can lead the party to victory over Donald Trump.”
Herewith a dissent. For starters, if the contest goes all the way to the July 13 convention, we will see another seven months of Democrats whacking away at each other while Trump gets a relatively free ride. But if the nominee is effectively decided in primary season, the party has more time to unite.
Second, a convention without a certain nominee could produce horse-trading for delegates and the risk of a bizarre ticket. It worked for John Kennedy, who shocked allies by selecting Lyndon Johnson, to guarantee himself a first-ballot nomination (it took until the roll call reached the letter W, when Wyoming cast its votes). After Kennedy was murdered, liberals were appalled not only at the assassination but at the succession; yet Johnson turned out to be a more effective progressive than Kennedy.
But how do we like, say, Buttigieg-Warren? Or maybe the all-geriatric centrist ticket of Biden-Bloomberg? Depending on the arithmetic, almost anything could happen; and the deck has even more wild cards once the superdelegates get in on the act.
It’s fanciful to assume that the superdelegates are more committed to the goal of beating Trump than other delegates. They are politicians like the others, each with their own loyalties, schemes, interests, and IOUs to collect.
Let’s hope that one of the candidates breaks away, preferably one of the progressives and not one of the billionaires, well before the convention.