THE MORNING PLUM:
There’s a whole lot of hand-wringing among Democrats right now over Bernie Sanders’s vow to keep on trying to flip super-delegates even if he continues to trail badly in the popular vote and pledged delegate count — a quest that, he says, could spill on to the convention floor in Philadelphia in July. Both Sanders himself and his campaign manager Jeff Weaver have rattled this saber.
But now senior Sanders adviser Tad Devine has telegraphed a much more likely endgame — one that would be a whole lot quieter and less contentious. In an interview with Rachel Maddow, Devine was asked whether this strategy is in sync with Sanders’s high-minded campaign, and he answered, in part:
“The key test is succeeding with voters. In 2008 I wrote a piece that they published in the New York Times right after Super Tuesday, and I argued that super-delegates should wait, should look and listen to what the voters do, and follow the will of the voters. And I can tell you, I got a lot of push-back from the Clinton campaign at the time, when I published that piece.
“But I believe that today — that our super-delegates, that our party leaders, should let the voters speak first. And I think if they do, all the way through the end of the voting, that will strengthen our party, and certainly strengthen our hand — if we succeed with voters between now and June.”
Note that “if.” In one sense, Devine is basically calling on Democrats to be patient and allow the voting to continue until the end. (I’ve argued that there are many good reasons for Sanders to keep going until all the votes have been counted.) But Devine is also clearly indicating that the super-delegates should not contradict the will of the voters, once they’ve all had a chance to speak.
It’s true, by the way, that Devine did argue this in a 2008 New York Times piece. It’s right here! Devine wrote that super-delegates should “ratify the results of the primaries and caucuses in all 50 states,” by supporting the “candidate who has proved to be the strongest in the contest that matters,” which will be determined by “listening to the voters.”
Now, it’s true that Devine did qualify his remarks later in the interview with Maddow, by saying that popular vote totals are potentially misleading in the sense that Sanders has won a lot of smaller caucus states, and noting that if Sanders comes very close in pledged delegates, it would be different than trailing among them by a large margin. But he also said this: “let’s see who’s won the states, let’s see who’s won the delegates, let’s see where we are in June, and I think then we’ll know what to do.”
That’s basically a signal that once it’s all over, the Sanders campaign will look at the aggregate will of the voters, as expressed by various metrics, and then re-assess how far to really go in trying to flip super-delegates. Is this in any way consistent with the suggestions from Sanders and Weaver that they will take this all the way to the convention? Maybe. It would be consistent with an endgame in which the Sanders campaign finishes in June trailing in the popular vote and pledged delegate count, makes one last pitch to super-delegates, finds that they are unwilling to switch, and then concedes and enters unity talks in which the two camps perhaps settle on some ways that Sanders can influence the convention proceedings and the party’s agenda in the fall campaign and beyond.
I think that’s the most likely endgame. Of course, if Clinton does finish with sizable popular vote and pledged delegate leads, how this ends up winding down is all up to one person: Bernie Sanders.