Just the other day we talked about the Democratic primary superdelegate situation and how it compares to the Republican Party’s rules. (The GOP scheme isn’t a “pure” representation of the voters’ collective will either, but the Democrats make it look like the residents of ancient Athens putting dark or light stones in an urn.) Yesterday we had the chance to see Jake Tapper ask DNC Chair Debby Wasserman-Schultz how it is that new voters should trust a scheme where Bernie Sanders could beat Hillary Clinton by such a wide margin, yet come away with no more delegates than her. The answer she managed was both hilarious and instructive. Let’s go to the video.
(Jake’s questioning on the superdelegates starts right around the 1:10 mark after her non-answer on a brokered convention if you want to skip ahead to it.)
TAPPER: What do you tell voters who are new to the process who say this makes them feel like it’s all rigged?
WASSERMAN-SCHULTZ: Let me just make sure I can clarify what was available during the primaries in Iowa and New Hampshire. The unpledged delegates are a separate category. The only thing available on the ballot in a primary and a caucus is the pledged delegates, those that are tied to the candidate that they are pledged to support and they receive a proportional number of delegates going into our convention.
Unpledged delegates exist, really, to make sure that party leaders and elected officials don’t have to be in a position where they are running against grassroots activists. We are, as a Democratic Party, really highlight and emphasize inclusiveness and diversity at our convention and we want to give every opportunity to grassroots activists and diverse committed Democrats to be able to participate, attend and be a delegate at the convention and so we separate out those unpledged delegates to make sure that there isn’t competition between them.
TAPPER: I’m not sure that that answer would satisfy an anxious, young voter but let’s move on.
Tapper’s rather droll reply of, I’m not sure that answer would satisfy… seems to professionally but clearly indicate that he wasn’t buying any of the previous, incomprehensible word salad. But if I’d had the chance to script a follow-up question for Jake (or any future reporters who get hold of her) I’d have wanted to see something along these lines:
There were a total of 151,584 votes cast for Bernie Sanders, giving him 15 delegates. That means that 10,105 people had to drag themselves out in the snow for each delegate he received. Why should voters have any faith in a system where one person appointed by the party leadership can cancel out the votes of more than ten thousand people who chose the other candidate?
The DNC Chair’s answer was actually a practiced response, and not a terrible one considering her position. She’s been at this a long time now and has to deal with reporters on a daily basis. Debbie knows that one of the worst things you can do is get caught in one of those deer in the headlights moments, staring in silence or stammering. When you’re asked a question for which you have no plausible answer, you need to fill that potential dead air time with something, so you stock up in advance with a collection of talking points or at least a few buzzwords to carpet over your horrible answer.
But that second paragraph of her answer above might have been plucked out of a word cloud. The first part of her answer, consisting of a dry explanation of the difference between pledged and unpledged delegates, seems like she’s buying some time. You can almost see the thought bubble over her head reading, oh crap. I’d better come up with something here. Then she launches into her stream of consciousness, starting with the idea that party leaders and elected officials shouldn’t wind up running against grassroots activists. What does that even mean? Did she just want to get the word “grassroots” in there to make it sound like she cared what the voters thought? The superdelegates aren’t “running against” anyone. They aren’t running at all. They don’t even need to vote in the election since they get to cast the only votes that really matter at the convention.
Then, after a couple more buzzwords about diversity, she claims that she wants the grassroots activists and diverse committed Democrats to be able to participate, attend and be a delegate at the convention. There are a few hundred people who get to “participate” at the convention and they are all hand selected by the leadership. They could hand out tickets to attend and cheer on the speakers to anyone they liked, but she’s being asked about the people chosen to cast votes equal to ten thousand members of their base with no consideration of how they voted.
Hopefully this question can keep bubbling up over and over again as the season wears on. I don’t expect them to change their rules, but their voters deserve to see just how badly they’re getting ripped off if they don’t toe the party line.