Is a civil war between the Democratic establishment and the stridently progressive wing inevitable? It may be if Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) doesn’t decisively settle the matter in primary voting before the party’s nominating convention. The New York Times interviewed 93 Democrat superdelegates “who could have a say on the nominee at the convention,” and revealed an “overwhelming opposition” to green lighting the democratic socialist and current 2020 frontrunner.
Conclaves Sure Beat Elections
These are not obscure, faceless party apparatchiks whispering behind a veil of secrecy. Sitting congressmen and major Democrat officials are on record, brazenly mulling how to use a brokered convention to thwart the nomination of a candidate who may very well be the clear leader of the pack after primary voting is concluded.
“We’re way, way, way past the day where party leaders can determine an outcome here, but I think there’s a vibrant conversation about whether there is anything that can be done,” Rep. Jim Himes (D-CT), a superdelegate, told the Times, hardly hiding his cards. Jay Jacobs, another superdelegate, is chairman of the New York State Democratic Party. He was equally blunt: “Bernie wants to redefine the rules and just say he just needs a plurality,” Jacobs said. “I don’t think we buy that. I don’t think the mainstream of the Democratic Party buys that. If he doesn’t have a majority, it stands to reason that he may not become the nominee.”
Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN) is openly fantasizing about party officials anointing an amenable candidate if Sanders doesn’t lock up a majority of delegates on the first ballot. “If you could get to a convention and pick [Sen.] Sherrod Brown [D-OH], that would be wonderful, but that’s more like a novel,” Cohen unabashedly told the Times. “Donald Trump’s presidency is like a horror story, so if you can have a horror story you might as well have a novel.” It does not seem to matter one whit to Cohen whether or not Democrat voters even want Brown as their 2020 standard-bearer.
Blue Shades of 2016
It’s interesting to see establishment Democrats contemplating the ordination of a milquetoast Ohioan as the nominee, oblivious to the will of the party’s voters. Republican establishment figures were daydreaming along the very same lines in 2016: pining for a brokered convention in which not only frontrunner Donald Trump but second-place challenger Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) would fail to gain a majority, thus allowing them to tab former Buckeye State governor John Kasich as the nominee. It mattered not that Kasich was squashed in state after state throughout the primary season.
An NPR article dated April 21, 2016 eerily echoes the Times’ piece on Democrats today. “The first ballot is going to be Trump’s chance to be the Republican nominee,” noted Swamp scion Henry Barbour, nephew of longtime GOP bigwig Haley Barbour and a member of the 2016 RNC Rules Committee. “If Donald Trump doesn’t get it on the first ballot, I think he is probably going to not do as good a job on the delegate-selection process, where Cruz is doing well.”
Remarkably, Barbour declared as late as April that Trump, who had dominated the primary process up to that point, would be denied the nomination if he didn’t bring an absolute majority of delegates with him to the convention. And if Cruz, who was far less popular than Trump in voting, failed to seize control on a second ballot, Barbour saw the door then being opened for the selection of a man chosen by the party machinery. “If, at the convention, Trump or Cruz don’t win on the first two ballots, then I think the rules likely would get changed to open it up,” Barbour told NPR. For many of these schemers, their white knight was Kasich.
As Trump has repeatedly said, of late, the only thing that prevented this scenario from very possibly playing out was his decisive victory in primary voting. Trump did gain his absolute majority, and the would-be manipulators were left without a convention to broker. This may not be the case with Sanders. If he does not officially wrap things up heading into the lair of the party wonks, his establishment opponents are relishing the opportunity to slap the nomination out of his hands – even if he brings a strong plurality into Milwaukee with him in July.
“If Bernie gets a plurality and nobody else is even close and the superdelegates weigh in and say, ‘We know better than the voters,’ I think that will be a big problem,” Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) said of the roiling drama that, for the moment, is still bubbling beneath the surface. Jayapal is co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and a Sanders supporter.
The Republican establishment was saved from itself by Trump’s dominating win in the 2016 primaries. The ugliness of an attempted coup against a runaway frontrunner who still fell short of obtaining a majority of delegates was averted. It’s shocking even to imagine that party officials seriously pondered so publicly dismissing the will of its own voters. Yet here we are, four years later, and the Democratic Party brass is thinking the same, sinister thoughts.
“This election is about saving the American experiment as a republic. It’s also about saving the world. This is not an ordinary election,” DNC member William Owen told the Times. His very words suggest that Democrat voters choosing a candidate he does not approve of is an existential threat to the future of the nation. The language is, of course, precisely similar to that used by Republican elites against Trump in 2016. Isn’t it odd that in both Democrat and Republican official circles, “saving the American experiment” just so happens to coincide with allowing the old familiar politics of the Swamp to continue unabated, with or without the consent of the governed?
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