As the Democratic presidential primaries have progressed, Bernie Sanders has repeatedly complained about superdelegates. These are delegates to the Democratic National Convention who are mostly party leaders and Democratic officeholders. Superdelegates are not bound by the results of party primaries and can vote for whoever they like for their party’s standard bearer. Every Democratic member of Congress, for example, is a superdelegate. The lack of congressional endorsements is therefore of greater concern to Bernie Sanders than it might, at first, appear.
Going into the convention this summer, Hillary Clinton will have won more pledged delegates and received more votes than her opponent. In fact, she will likely have enough votes to win nomination even without the votes of superdelegates. Sanders only hope—a hope that, at this juncture seems completely irrational—is to prevent Clinton from winning an outright victory by virtue of accumulating pledged delegates and to convince virtually all of the superdelegates to vote for him. His quest for the nomination would be easier if there were no superdelegates, since a contested convention would then result if Clinton failed to garner sufficient pledged delegates.
Does the existence of superdelegates make the primary battle unfair? Does it make it undemocratic? I don’t think so. For one thing, superdelegates are inclined to go along with the will of the people, as expressed in the presidential primaries. This is what happened in 2008, when Barack Obama led Hillary Clinton in primary voting, albeit not by much. Perhaps more importantly, superdelegates provide insurance against Democratic voters selecting a candidate thought unelectable by the professional politicians. (Were Donald Trump running as a Democrat, I have no doubt that superdelegates would be voting for someone else.)
This is not to say that professional politicians have a corner on political wisdom, but they are professionals and, at the very least, are likely to have more informed and sophisticated judgement regarding political races.
Are not superdelegates supremely conservative in their effect? Don’t they make political revolutions impossible? Yes, they do, but this is not a bad thing. Bernie Sanders’ call for a revolutionary change in American politics is a naïve dream. The American ship of state does not turn on a dime; change takes time. Trying to change any other way leads to the French Revolution (or, at the very least, the Democratic Nevada Convention).
Despite what Senator Sanders thinks—and his rhetoric gets progressively angrier as has candidacy approaches definitive failure—superdelegates are not a plot to deny him the nomination. Instead, they provide a safety net for the Republic that, in this age of The Donald, looks like a very good thing.
There is no such safety net in November. If Americans elect Donald Trump, the United States will go over the edge, with unpredictable, though certainly terrible results.