Over the weekend, Hillary Clinton won a couple more primary races — in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands — expanding her already substantial lead over Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary contest. But Sanders refuses to give up the ghost, insinuating that he must, on some level, be the real winner and that this fight has to be taken to the convention so he can snatch the prize he clearly believes belongs to him, even as the voters continue disagreeing.
"Mr. Sanders," the New York Times reports, "insists that the convention will be contested because he is still lobbying superdelegates — party officials and state leaders who cast their final votes at the convention — to withdraw support from Mrs. Clinton and back him instead."
"It is extremely unlikely that Secretary Clinton will have the requisite number of pledged delegates to claim victory on Tuesday night," Sanders said during a news conference Saturday. "Now, I have heard reports that Secretary Clinton has said it’s all going to be over on Tuesday night. I have reports that the media, after the New Jersey results come in, are going to declare that it is all over. That simply is not accurate.”
It's a frustrating argument, because Sanders spent most of the campaign portraying superdelegates as some kind of corrupt elites there to deprive the popular winner of the vote. But now that Clinton is the clear winner of the popular vote, suddenly the superdelegates are legitimate again.
Calvinball antics during elections are hardly anything new — remember "hanging chads"? — but even by those standards, this is headache-inducing pretzel logic. It's clear the only principle being employed by the Sanders camp is that the only rules that are legitimate are the ones that lead to his win.
To make it worse, Sanders is using some fuzzy math with his pledged delegates argument. Even if the superdelegate system evaporated tomorrow, Clinton would still win. According to the New York Times primary calendar, there are 4,175 pledged delegates total in the Democratic primary. If we're just counting pledged delegates and not superdelegates, the number Clinton needs to hit to win is 2,088. She only needs to win 281 delegates to hit that number and win the pledged delegate count. In contrast, Sanders needs to win 571 delegates in order to win the pledged delegates.
That is almost impossible for Sanders to pull off, even if he wins California. Which is why he is hedging his bets by arguing that he should win even if he doesn't win, by leaning on the very superdelegates he otherwise denounces as anti-democratic evidence of a supposed elitist conspiracy to deny him victory.
While it's currently hip to sneer at every suggestion that sexism might be playing a role in the stubbornness of the Sanders camp, the contradictory, grasping nature of Sanders' arguments sure makes it harder to pull off the "no sexism to see here" shenanigans.
Not all sexism is overt, after all. Most sexism is subtle and subconscious, with people harboring prejudicial beliefs that women are inherently less deserving and less competent than men. Research shows, for instance, that when people are asked two applications that are identical, except one has a woman's name and one has a man's name, they rate the man as more competent and more deserving of a job and opportunities than the woman. Even though, and this cannot be stressed enough, everything else on the application was identical. Women get demerits just by being female.
In colloquial terms, a woman has to be twice as good to be taken half as seriously. Which is why Sanders'sbehavior in recent weeks is so troubling. Clinton has won, fair and square. She has more votes. She has more pledged delegates. She has more superdelegates. She has more voters. Even if you tweaked the rules, she is the winner. Every "what if" scenario — what if we got rid of the superdelegates? what if the Democrats used Republican rules? what if there were more open primaries? — Clinton still wins. There is no rational reason for Sanders and his supporters to act like he is somehow more deserving of this than Clinton.
And yet, Sanders is carrying on as if it's obvious that he deserves to win, and just a little more pressure will cause everyone to finally see it and give him what he clearly believes is his due. Thus all the chatter about how the system is "rigged."
Whatever is in his heart, Sanders is coasting on male privilege right now, namely the male privilege of being assumed to be more competent and more worthy than a female competitor, even if she has demonstrated her value by all objective measures.
This problem isn't unique to Sanders. On the contrary, it's common as dirt. When a woman or person of color has shown great success, people in the dominant group often argue that they can't have done this on their own, but had to have gotten there by cheating. You see that every time conservatives gripe about "affirmative action," assuming that people of color who get into college somehow are edging out more deserving white people by doing so. You see it with Donald Trump arguing that Clinton is only winning by playing the "woman card," a blatant expression of the belief that women can only win by cheating.
Sanders is not being overtly sexist, to be clear. You'll never hear him say Clinton is playing the "woman card." Such overt sexism is easy to denounce.
Still, Sanders is leaning on a more subtle, ingrained form of sexism, by holding himself out as the clearly superior candidate, despite Clinton's actual, real world victory.
If Clinton was a man, the notion that it's self-evident that Sanders is somehow the "true" winner would be a much harder sell. It would make him a laughingstock, in fact. But the notion that a woman who does so well must be an imposter has a lot of emotional salience in our culture. Whether it's enough to help boost Sanders to a convention fight even after Clinton gains a clean majority of pledged delegates, however, remains to be seen.