The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion A California win won’t save Sanders’s candidacy. Here’s why.

(Matt McClain/ The Washington Post)


It’s looking likely that news organizations will declare Hillary Clinton the presumptive Democratic nominee tomorrow evening: A sizable win in New Jersey, plus Clinton’s large lead among super-delegates, will lead them to project her the winner even before we know the outcome in California. Bernie Sanders is already contesting this argument, claiming that the nomination will not be official until the super-delegates actually vote at the convention to make her the nominee. And he’s right about that.

But something else is all but certain to happen tomorrow night that could further complicate Sanders’s efforts to sway the final outcome, once the voting ends.

The Fix's Chris Cillizza explains why the June 7 California primary isn't the showdown between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton that it's being portrayed as. (Video: Peter Stevenson/The Washington Post)

It’s this: Clinton will finally clinch a majority of the pledged delegates, i.e., the delegates that are bound by the voting in primaries and caucuses. The upshot of this will be that at that point, the only thing keeping Sanders’s candidacy alive will be the existence of super-delegates and the possibility of flipping them, and Sanders has regularly blasted their very existence as undemocratic. In other words, after tomorrow, in a world where super-delegates didn’t exist, Clinton would be the winner of the nomination.

Here’s the math. There are a total of 4,765 delegates — 4,053 pledged delegates, and 712 super-delegates, who support the candidate of their personal choice. To get the nomination you need a majority of the overall delegates, i.e., 2,383 of them. Clinton will not have this outright majority through pledged delegates alone, and will need super-delegates to put her over the top. That won’t formally happen until the convention, but news orgs will project her the winner, since she is already estimated to have 548 of the super-dels in her corner.

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But after tomorrow, she will have finally won a majority of those pledged delegates for the first time, and the voting will be all but over (except for the D.C. primary next Tuesday). Right now Clinton leads Sanders by 1,809-1,520 among pledged delegates. (If you include super-delegates, the totals are 2,357-1,566, but again, that’s not official.) If Clinton wins only one third of the nearly 700 remaining pledged delegates at stake tomorrow — and she’ll win far more — she will have at least a 2,027 majority of the 4,053 pledged delegates. This will be the case even if Sanders wins California.

Thus, for the first time, Sanders will no longer be able to say that we still have yet to hear the will of all the voters in the Dem nominating contest. And for the first time, he will have to say unequivocally that the super-delegates should override that now-established aggregate will of the voters.

To be clear, Sanders is still within his rights to continue to push for concessions on the platform and the process at the convention. It’s very possible, as Bill Scher suggests, that if he wins California, he’ll try to use that momentum to win more concessions than he otherwise might have. That could get contentious.

But the broader point is that Sanders’s argument that he should be the nominee — and his case that he has a path, via flipping super-delegates — will at that point be increasingly untenable, even if he does win California. At that point, senior Democrats may grow more forceful in calling on Sanders to concede the nomination. His sole supporter in the Senate, Jeff Merkley of Oregon, has already said that he will “absolutely not” support keeping up the fight once Clinton finishes ahead. And over the weekend, Elizabeth Warren (who has remained neutral) said this:

“I’m a super-delegate. And I don’t believe in super-delegates. I don’t think that super-delegates ought to sway the election.”

Any headlines Sanders might get from a California win may well be overshadowed by the news of networks calling the nomination for Clinton, and subsequently, by top Dems (including ones who have great sway on the left, such as Warren) declaring that it’s time for the party to unite.

Sanders argues that it is not inconsistent of him to view the existence of super-delegates as undemocratic while trying to flip them to his side, since if we accept their existence, their role is to make their decisions independent of the voters. That’s legitimate: he’s playing by the rules while hoping to change them. But even so, the point is that, once Clinton has clinched a majority of the pledged delegates, it lays the groundwork for the next step: Sanders will make one last pitch to the super-delegates, and they will refuse to switch to his side. At that point, there are no arguments left, and there will be nothing more to do but actually secure some platform and process concessions in exchange for conceding the nomination.

Clinton, too, is responsible for making this process go smoothly, and for all we know, it won’t. But regardless, after tomorrow, a very important aspect of Sanders’s whole ongoing case will essentially disappear.


* TIGHT IN CALIFORNIA; HILLARY LEADS IN NEW JERSEY: New CBS News polls find that Hillary Clinton holds a slight edge over Bernie Sanders among likely Dem primary voters in, 49-47, while leading by a whopping 61-34 in New Jersey. The polling averages show Clinton up four in California and up 21 in Jersey.

If this is accurate — if they split California’s 475 delegates while Clinton takes a larger chunk of Jersey’s 126 delegates — it’s possible she could expand her pledged delegate lead tomorrow.

 * TRUMP DOUBLES DOWN ON THE CRAZY: Donald Trump, on Face the Nation, was asked whether he’s backing down from his vows of mass deportations and a ban on Muslims entering the U.S. He replied: “No, I’m not backing down. We have to do something. We have a problem in this country.” Trump also said that “it’s possible” that a Muslim judge would not be able to treat him fairly, just as he said about the Mexican-American judge last week.

Meanwhile, the Post reports today that Republican officials are increasingly worried that Trump’s “hostile remarks about minorities and his unorthodox strategy” are already putting him in trouble. Shocking, isn’t it?

* TRUMP UNIVERSITY MESS GETS WORSE: The Post had a deep reporting dive into the Trump University story over the weekend, finding that employees were pressured to get its “students” to dig deep into their pockets. An unsettling nugget:

If a potential customer said he was concerned about going into debt to pay for the classes…staffers were advised to invoke the big boss himself. “Mr. Trump won’t listen to excuses and neither will we,” the instructors were told to say. Former students have said they were instructed to call their credit card companies on the spot and raise their borrowing limit to pay for the program.

And remember, the New York Attorney General has alleged that some of the victims were particularly easy prey due to anxiety over the financial crisis.

* TRUMP’S ENERGY ADVISER WAFFLES ON CLIMATE DEAL: Trump has vowed to scrap the Paris climate accord, but Politico reports today that his “energy czar,” Rep. Kevin Cramer of North Dakota, isn’t so sure:

Cramer, in an interview with me in late May, was notably noncommittal when I asked him if Trump would simply renege on the Paris accord. He noted that Trump has said at a minimum that he’d “renegotiate” it, and he made the point that this is how Trump has approached past business negotiations, starting from an extreme position. “I think you might see him pivot away” from his hard-line stance on scrapping the agreement altogether, Cramer told POLITICO.

As I’ve reported, it might be unexpectedly hard for a GOP president to undo American participation in the global climate deal. Even one as masterfully competent and strong as Trump.

* WHY YOU SHOULD WORRY ABOUT JOBS REPORT: Paul Krugman notes that the disappointing May jobs report hints at a possible economic slowdown, which should lead to jobs-creation measures, but that won’t happen even if Hillary Clinton is elected president:

Unless the coming election delivers Democratic control of the House, which is unlikely, Republicans would almost surely block anything along those lines. Partly, this would reflect ideology: although right-wing economic predictions have been utterly wrong, there’s little indication that anyone in that camp has learned from the experience. It would also reflect an unwillingness to do anything that might help a Democrat in the White House.

A deal might be possible around infrastructure spending, but not much else.

* HILLARY CASTS TRUMP AS LOVER OF DICTATORS: E.J. Dionne gets to the heart of what Clinton’s big speech tells us about the larger argument she’ll be making against Trump:

By going back several times to Trump’s apparent love affair with dictators, Clinton sent a larger message….She is an optimist who believes in our country’s present, its future and its role in the world. He is a pessimist who seems to think that only strongman, Putin-inspired leadership can save us from the abyss….[Republicans] will now be stuck defending an indefensible man even as Hillary Clinton occupies Lincoln’s high ground in proclaiming our country as “the last best hope of Earth.”

Republican primary voters apparently want a “strongman,” but that doesn’t mean general election voters will.

 * AND TRUMP IS DISSEMBLING ABOUT ELIZABETH WARREN: After Senator Warren hammered Trump for apparently relishing a housing crash, he called her a hypocrite because she supposedly made a “killing” on foreclosed homes. Glenn Kessler has all the facts:

Instead, Warren mainly helped family members by purchasing or financing homes that were then held for years. Her family members did appear to profit from some transactions, but only modestly. This is not a portfolio of a savvy real estate investor but fits the profile that has been portrayed by Warren and her aides — a sister helping out her brothers and other relatives, mainly through loans. There’s nothing hypocritical about that. 

Regardless, this has long been an obsession on the right, and actual facts won’t change that.