Warren: Bernie didn't think the candidate with the most delegates should automatically be the nominee in 2016, you know

How often do you hear these words: “Elizabeth Warren is right”?

You’re hearing them now. Elizabeth Warren is right about this.

Watch her exchange with a (unusually polite) Berniebro at her CNN town hall last night. Just the first three minutes or so here, then read on.

Is it true that Bernie has flip-flopped on whether the nomination should go to the candidate who leads in delegates? See for yourself:

Other Democrats have also noticed Sanders’s change of heart about the power of a plurality and aren’t hiding their annoyance:

“No, no, I think the rules are set and we ought to follow the rules. Especially when someone says follow the rules who’s not even a Democrat,” said Rep. Juan Vargas (D-Calif.), who has endorsed former NYC mayor Mike Bloomberg. “He just wants us to rubber stamp his election, which we shouldn’t do. I certainly won’t do.”

“That’s not what the rules say,” added Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), who has not endorsed any 2020 hopeful currently running. “Come on, we’ve been dealing with a president who breaks the rules all the time, let’s not drop to that standard.”…

“We got the rules that he said he wanted, and now they want to change it,” [Gregory] Meeks said. “They want to game the system. I’m not for gaming the system.”

There are two types of delegates in the Democratic primary: Pledged delegates, which are awarded to a candidate based on how they finish in a state’s primary, and super delegates, party chieftains who are free to vote for whomever they like at the convention. Super delegates were in the tank for Hillary throughout the 2016 primaries, infuriating Team Bernie and the Berniebros. They demanded a rule change and got one in 2018. Henceforth, super delegates would only be allowed to vote on the second ballot at the convention, in case no candidate has a majority on the first. If a candidate does have a majority of pledged delegates on the first ballot, he or she is the nominee. Super delegates never enter the picture.

Now here we are with Biden resurgent in South Carolina and beyond and suddenly it looks like Sanders might not get to that first-ballot majority after all. So Bernie’s changed his tune. Instead of the super delegates deciding matters, as he wanted them to do in 2016 in his favor when he trailed Clinton in pledged delegates, he wants them to follow the will of the voters this time by nominating the person with the most votes. Four years ago, his pitch that they should opt for him over Clinton on electability grounds, because he was better suited to defeat Trump, seemed ridiculous. After the election, it seemed … less ridiculous. Lots of Bernie-skeptic Democrats will follow his lead this year if he’s the nominee: If he can’t get to a majority of pledged delegates, thus forcing the super delegates to get involved, why should they rubber-stamp the plurality winner instead of settling the stalemate by choosing the candidate who’s most likely to prevail for the party in November? That’s what party chieftains are for! If Democrats wanted the candidate with the most delegates to be the nominee irrespective of whether he or she has a majority, it would have been easy enough to say that when the rules were written. They didn’t.

But here’s the wrinkle. Populist cult leaders like Bernie and Trump will always have a strong argument that they’re the candidate who’s most likely to prevail in the general election. That’s because their supporters are loyal to them personally, not the party. Nominate Bernie and rank-and-file Dems will show up for him in the interest of empowering the party; nominate someone other than Bernie, especially if he’s ahead on pledged delegates, and enough Berniebros will stay home in the general to render the party nominee unelectable. Super delegates would be foolish to cross them. Maybe that dynamic is complicated by the deep misgivings purple-district Democrats have about running with a socialist at the top of the ticket. Maybe the super delegates would make a hard calculation that if they nominate Biden and Berniebros boycott in November, they’re at least likely to retain their House majority instead of losing both the House and the White House with Sanders.

And maybe — maybe — angry Berniebros would decide in the end that they hate Trump just a tiny bit more than they hate Biden and the Democratic establishment and show up to vote for Joe anyway. The odds are low, but not zero.

But even so, I don’t think super delegates could avoid the charge that they stole the nomination from Sanders at the convention unless the delegate gap between him and the second-place finisher was very narrow or there was a clear trend during the primaries themselves away from Bernie and towards the alternative as the race wore on. If Sanders built up a big lead and then Biden won 15 states in a row or whatever to finish slightly behind him, that’s something super delegates might point to as evidence that Joe is growing in strength or whatever and is a better bet against Trump. But the odds of that are low too. Candidates don’t typically bounce out to huge leads and then slowly and inexorably give back most of that lead as primaries wear on.

I think they’ll end up stuck with Bernie. As for Warren, she went on to say at the CNN town hall that she’ll continue to campaign as long as donors want to keep pouring dollars into her campaign’s gas tank. That’s her strategy, I think — get to the convention, hope for a bitter stalemate, then offer herself as a compromise candidate. That would wreck the party even more than nominating Biden over Bernie would, but that’s her play. I suspect she’ll run out of money after Super Tuesday in any case. Here she is last night on Colbert’s show, coming off as likable for one of the first times ever as a candidate. That’s another thing I never thought I’d write about her.

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