The media delivered good news Monday night to people who hate democracy: there’s no need to bother voting in the six states that hold primaries on June 7 because Hillary Clinton has already secured the Democratic nomination for president. Sometime Monday evening, the AP came to this conclusion by surveying super delegates, Democratic Party insiders who can vote for the candidate of their choice regardless of how the constituents in their states vote.
Super delegates have been a steady source of criticism in the Democratic race from the earliest days of the party’s primary. In fact, before any voting had taken place, Clinton entered the race with a 350-delegate advantage over Bernie Sanders thanks to her super delegate support. Fewer delegates than that separate the two in the pledged count, which is the only count that’s actually reflective of voter support.
Enough delegates are up for grabs in the June 7 primaries that Sanders could actually overtake Clinton in the pledged delegate count. This is far too remote a possibility for any realistic Sanders supporter to count on. But it’s just as unlikely that Clinton could have secured the Democratic nomination using only pledged delegates, which means that there will be a contested convention. Then and only then, on July 28, will super delegates vote and determine the party’s nominee.
While they’ve criticized the super delegate system, the Sanders campaign has known it can’t win the nomination without them. Neither can Clinton. She does, however, have a larger share of the popular vote and a strong lead in pledged delegate count. She is winning the Democratic primary. In all likelihood she will do well on June 7, and perhaps expand her lead over Sanders. But this makes the media’s premature calling of the race look all the more cynical.
For months, establishment Democrats and pundits have been calling for party unity. These calls are usually directed solely at Sanders supporters. Unification for the establishment is a one-way street – the street Sanders supporters have to walk down in order to fall in line with Clinton and the DNC. Clinton scoffed at the idea that she should make any concessions to the nearly half of her own party who supported Sanders over her.
Frustrated Sanders supporters certainly aren’t going to be any more endeared to Clinton after this. The establishment media has long been seen by them as nakedly blacking out coverage of Sanders and supporting Clinton – a suspicion borne out by the donations she’s received from cable and media giants. And Sanders supporters were already concerned the media would call the race after New Jersey voted but before California polls had closed, deflating voter interest in a state where Sanders has been closing a gap with Clinton.
A strong performance on June 7, and in California in particular, would allow Sanders to go to the Democratic Convention in July with momentum, having won many of the biggest contests in the home stretch of the primary. He could point to current general election polling, which regularly shows Clinton losing to Donald Trump while he maintains his lead. And as Clinton’s candidacy is further compromised by the deepening email scandal, Sanders would have tried to flip super delegates by presenting himself as the stronger candidate.
That strategy has been significantly undercut by a media his supporters already viewed as corrupt and in the Clinton camp. With Democratic leaders claiming they’re desperate to achieve party unity, there couldn’t be a more inappropriate time to call a race before it’s over. Seeming to recognize this, and much to her credit, Clinton tweeted to the AP, “We’re flattered, @AP, but we’ve got primaries to win. CA, MT, NM, ND, NJ, SD, vote tomorrow!”
Imagine the way American media would cover an election in Venezuela if it were called before the voting had taken place. There’d be reports of disenfranchisement, human rights violations and intimidation of voters. Hawkish politicians – perhaps Clinton herself – might call for regime change.
Sanders supporters have put up with a great deal from the mainstream media over the course of this campaign. Their entrenchment in the Washington establishment kept them from ever taking Sanders seriously. Their profit motive kept them focused on the circus of Donald Trump while ignoring Sanders rallies attended by tens of thousands of people. Now they’ve told voters in six states, including the nation’s largest, that their vote doesn’t matter; the contest is over.
If that were true it’d be one thing. Donald Trump, for instance, is now uncontested in the GOP primary, so he will be the GOP nominee. But it isn’t true of the Democrats. It looks bad, but that doesn’t mean it’s over. Clinton is an enormously flawed candidate. Lots of delegates are at stake on June 7. And it’s up to Sanders supporters to power through one more middle finger from the establishment and make the announcement of Clinton’s win another “Dewey Defeats Truman” moment for the mainstream media.