Don't do it, Bernie!: If Hillary wins the delegates race, a contested election is political suicide

Despite last night's win, the path to victory is narrow. Why is his campaign manager talking contested conventions?

Published April 6, 2016 3:54PM (EDT)

Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. speaks during a town hall on the campus of Carthage College, Wednesday, March 30, 2016, in Kenosha, Wis. (AP Photo/) (AP/Charles Rex Arbogast)
Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. speaks during a town hall on the campus of Carthage College, Wednesday, March 30, 2016, in Kenosha, Wis. (AP Photo/) (AP/Charles Rex Arbogast)

There are certain unavoidable realities in politics.

For example: The 270 electoral vote threshold; frustrating gaffes; ridiculously long primary seasons; the suffix "-gate" tacked onto every single political scandal; and the reality that brokered conventions tend to weaken the emerging nominee before the other side ever fires a shot in anger. The Republicans in particular are staring down the very real possibility of testing that last rule in Cleveland this July, and any member of the party who isn't terrified about the prospects of a contested convention probably doesn't mind losing the general election in an electoral vote landslide.

As you've probably heard over and over again by now, it looks increasingly possible that Republicans will be able to hold off a first-ballot win for Donald Trump at this July's nominating convention, forcing him to either win the nomination after numerous contested ballots, or else be ousted in favor of a less volatile choice. It's a recipe for disaster no matter how it plays out, enraging as it would millions of Trump supporters and almost certainly triggering a run as a third-party challenger. And even if Trump breezes to the nomination and the convention is uncontested, the GOP will further lapse into disarray.

Every Democrat, meanwhile, ought to be observing the GOP's slow motion suicide with both excitement and relief, accompanied by the recurring thought, "Good thing the Dems aren't that self-destructive." Not only are the Republicans reaping what they've sown by encouraging and embracing the ignorant rage of the Tea Party, but the Democratic nominee already enjoys a built-in advantage as long as the Democrats can maintain an even-keeled, adult posture between now and November.

Along these lines, here's another political reality: "Never interfere with the enemy when he's in the process of destroying himself."

Unfortunately, it looks like Bernie Sanders could end up spreading the mayhem around by taking his campaign all the way to a contested Democratic convention in Philadelphia, even if he continues to lag far behind in pledged and super-delegates.

During an interview with CNN's Chris Cuomo yesterday, Bernie's campaign manager, Jeff Weaver, predicted such an outcome.

"I think what this campaign is looking for and what the senator is looking for is going into the convention and coming out with the nomination," Jeff Weaver told host Chris Cuomo.

“When we arrive at the convention, it will be an open convention, likely with neither candidate having a majority of pledged delegates," Weaver added.

Of course, Bernie and company are well within their rights to not concede, even if Hillary Clinton surpasses the 2,383 delegate threshold for the nomination. There's no DNC rule prohibiting Bernie from continuing on and perhaps siphoning pledged and super-delegates from Clinton. We'll circle back to the rules presently, but Bernie needs another thousand delegates (as of April 1) in order to secure the nomination in the traditional sense. And, as Nate Silver wrote last week, there's very little chance of that actually taking place. Likewise, there's a very strong possibility that Hillary will surpass 2,383 before the last of the primary votes are counted.

So, short of actually winning the required number of delegates, and lagging far behind in overall popular votes, Bernie would be searching for a way to snatch up the nomination in defiance of the will of millions of Democratic voters.

Granted, Weaver didn't outright pledge that Bernie will try to contest the nomination at the convention if Hillary surpasses the required threshold, but the very threat of a contested convention is a terrifying idea in the face of a calamitous GOP fracas, especially knowing that the Democratic convention will take place after the Republican event this year, giving the Dems a serious opportunity to outshine their opponents. A contested Democratic convention, however, will only drag Hillary and Bernie down to the level of the mud-flinging GOP lunatics in Cleveland, offering little contrast and fueling the false equivalence that both parties are equally self-destructive, thus mitigating the chaos on the GOP side.

Simply floating the idea is is bad enough. Weaver has single-handedly legitimized this unrealistic and ludicrous scheme in the minds of supporters, and with this knowledge in hand, Bernie diehards will proceed through the next several months pushing for it as if this is a reasonable or feasible option, only to have their hopes dashed in the end, further disillusioning young people to the process and fueling an alleged conspiracy by Hillary and the DNC to thwart Bernie. Sure, we all get the idea of a revolution and how the establishment needs to be upended in the process, but it won't help anyone if Democrats are irreparably split and a not insignificant number of voters stay home in November, bolstering the GOP's chances in the general.

Adding irony to chaos, it's more than a little confusing to hear Bernie and his supporters playing politics within the establishment after having spent so much time and energy accusing Hillary and DNC chairwoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz of playing politics and exploiting the establishment from the outset. Couple this with Bernie's plan to "hijack" superdelegates even though his supporters on social media and elsewhere have vocally complained about the unfairness and, in fact, the undemocratic illegitimacy of the superdelegate system. Superdelegates are evil, it seems, except when they're useful to the revolution.

Suddenly, as Bernie's mathematical window for victory rapidly closes and he continues to underperform in relation to the margins he'll need for the nomination, he appears to be looking at a slash-and-burn effort to overtake Hillary by exploiting the very same establishment he claims to rebelling against. Circling back to political reality, Bernie's campaign has simply failed to accumulate enough support and therefore enough votes to win. When the post-mortems are written, the prime suspect for Bernie's loss will have to be Bernie himself for not convincing enough voters that he's the guy. And the sooner his supporters come to terms with why Bernie won't be the nominee, the sooner they'll back away from the catastrophic plan to disrupt the convention. It's ultimately Bernie's responsibility to calibrate his supporters' expectations so as to not sour them to politics or to drive them away from activating against the GOP in the general. Not only will it help the Republicans, but sowing the seeds of disillusionment and apathy will only undermine Bernie's longer-term revolution as more people extricate themselves from the overall process.

Similarly, at some point before this is all over, the onus will be on Bernie, and, to a certain though lesser extent, Hillary, to unite the party. This means that Hillary has to stop condescending to first-timer Bernie supporters, and Bernie supporters have to stop feeding the GOP's anti-Hillary narratives regarding emails and so forth. But mostly, Bernie will need to do the honorable and realistic thing. Like Hillary did with Barack Obama in June 2008, Bernie will have to step onto a stage with Hillary and endorse her candidacy, calling for unity and healing. Then they'll have to both clasp hands and raise them in the air in an unmistakable display of solidarity. The alternative is to foment more contentiousness that will only increase the chances of a nightmarish Republican presidency in which 20 million mostly working-class Americans will lose their health insurance and the Supreme Court will be stacked with paleo-conservatives who will further destroy reproductive rights, voting rights and campaign finance reform, the latter of which being one of Bernie's tentpole issues -- decimated.

From the outset, Bernie chose to embrace the reality that running as a Democrat would be his only viable path to the White House, and so, as an albeit temporary Democrat, he needs to play by both party rules as well as traditions. Fabricating an end-around maneuver in defiance of political reality, will only backfire -- even if he finagles his way to the nomination and runs as a weakened, controversial nominee against a subsequently empowered GOP ticket.

By Bob Cesca

Bob Cesca is a regular contributor to Salon. He's also the host of "The Bob Cesca Show" podcast, and a weekly guest on both the "Stephanie Miller Show" and "Tell Me Everything with John Fugelsang." Follow him on Facebook and Twitter. Contribute through LaterPay to support Bob's Salon articles -- all money donated goes directly to the writer.


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Bernie Sanders Dem Primary Elections 2016 Hillary Clinton