What the hell just happened in Nevada? Sanders supporters are fed up — and rightfully so

Allocations rules were abruptly changed and Clinton was awarded 7 of the 12 delegates Sanders was hoping to secure

Published May 16, 2016 3:18PM (EDT)

Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders   (Reuters/Brian Snyder/Photo montage by Salon)
Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders (Reuters/Brian Snyder/Photo montage by Salon)

Chaos erupted at the Nevada Democratic convention on Saturday as supporters of Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders clashed over the awarding of the state's 35 pledged delegates. Clinton edged Sanders in the Nevada caucus on Feb. 20th (52.6 percent to 47.3 percent). On April 2, however, the state party held its Clark County convention and Sanders mobilized more delegates than the Clinton campaign (1,613 to 1,298), which swung the delegate count in his favor.

At the state convention this weekend, the final step in the process, Sanders supporters hoped to secure the lion's share of the remaining 12 delegates. Instead, the delegate allocation rules were abruptly changed and Clinton was awarded 7 of the 12 delegates. State party chair, Roberta Lange, told caucus-goers that the “ruling by the Chair is not debatable; we cannot be challenged and I move that...and I announce that the rules have been passed by the body.” Predictably, a chorus of boos followed and the convention was forced to end on a frenzied note.

What happened in Nevada is likely to happen elsewhere. The perception that the DNC has thrown its institutional support behind Clinton has only deepened the internal divide within the party. The Sanders wing is pissed off, and rightfully so.

The establishment support for Clinton was apparent in the superdelegate gap. Superdelegates are a noxious device to begin with, but they're part of the process and, however objectionable Sanders supporters find them, no rules have been broken on that front. In New York, however, where the process wasn't so much rigged as designed to make it uncommonly difficult for non-incumbents or Democratic challengers to compete are problematic at best, particularly in this climate.

Then there's the Hillary Victory Fund, which has become a massive fundraising vehicle for the Clinton campaign. The HVF was created by the DNC and Clinton's super PAC Hillary for America as a means of raising funds both for the Clinton campaign and down-ballot races across the country. Individuals can give over $350,000 to the joint committee if they donate the maximum amount to Clinton, the DNC and the state parties. Federal elections laws, however, do not allow individual donations to specific candidates to exceed $2,700.

The problem, though, as Politico reported two weeks ago, is that Clinton, aided by the DNC, appears to be skirting this rule and funneling large-dollar donations back to her campaign via the HVF. “The victory fund,” the report indicates, “has transferred $3.8 million to the state parties, but almost all of that cash ($3.3 million, or 88 percent) was quickly transferred to the DNC, usually within a day or two, by the Clinton staffer who controls the committee.” At best, this is a violation of the spirit of the elections laws and, more importantly, an affront to Democrats supporting Bernie Sanders.

It's not at all surprising – or wrong, to be fair – that establishment Democrats would support Hillary Clinton. Clinton is a party veteran and a known commodity. She's been at the center of Democratic politics for decades. Sanders, on the other hand, has been an independent for much of his career in the Senate, though he's caucused with the party for years. Sanders is also well to the left of mainstream Democrats, which is part of his appeal with primary voters.

But the Democratic establishment can maintain neutrality in this process without compromising their preferred candidate. The fact is, Clinton has received at least 2.5 million more primary votes than Sanders. She was – and is – likely to win the nomination. There's no need to rig the process or skew the rules in her favor – doing so only adds to the suspicion that the process itself is undemocratic, which is ruinous to the party's long-term viability.

It's still unclear what the hell happened in Nevada. The optics are terrible – that's for sure. Ultimately, the state's few remaining delegates are meaningless and won't alter the dynamics of the race. But the reports are sufficiently murky that both Sanders and Clinton supporters will grow more entrenched as a result of what happened there. That won't hurt the Sanders campaign, but it will undermine the efforts of the DNC and the Clinton campaign to unify the party against the GOP and Donald Trump.

By Sean Illing

Sean Illing is a USAF veteran who previously taught philosophy and politics at Loyola and LSU. He is currently Salon's politics writer. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter. Read his blog here. Email at silling@salon.com.

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