Ironically, this window to a potential brokered convention drew the ire of one candidate who could potentially benefit from it. Yesterday, Bernie Sanders’ campaign objected strenuously to the decision by New York to cancel its presidential primary. The election board decided that to hold a primary would present an unnecessary risk in a pandemic, especially since all of the other candidates had suspended their campaigns or dropped out. Laughably, Team Sanders complained that the decision gave Donald Trump “precedent” to postpone the general election, which is most certainly does not.
However, they did get this much correct:
Delegates do more than that, however, and that matters if other states decide to follow suit. Taking a break from his usual canon-lawyer beat, Catholic News Service’s Ed Condon does the math and works the rules. Those might not add up in the way most thought when New York canceled its primary:
Although Bernie Sanders is officially out of the race, Biden does not yet have an overall majority of convention delegates. As of April 27, the former vice president has 1,305 of the 1,991 delegates needed to clinch a first-round coronation at the party’s convention. New York offered 320 delegates up for grabs, 274 pledged to the primary winner; a prize that would have brought Biden closer to the nomination.
If New York’s decision triggers other states to cancel their own primaries, it is entirely possible that Biden could arrive at the Democratic convention without a guarantee of the nomination.
That might be one outcome, and it might not just be limited to New York’s action. The one unspoken problem for Democrats has been the interruption of the entire delegate selection process. (This applies to Republicans too, but it has no impact this cycle on their nominating process, for obvious reasons.) Even for those states that have conducted a presidential-preference contest, the process of selecting delegates to cast votes at the convention usually starts off at the local precinct level and then proceeds through a series of larger conventions until a final vote at the state convention. The pandemic has forced the cancelation of these caucuses and smaller preliminary conventions, which means that states don’t really have a good way to produce a delegate slate at all.
The likely solution to this would be to have the state parties simply appoint delegates. For those states that have already conducted a preference contest, the delegates would be committed on a first ballot. The rest, however, will end up being free agents without holding a preference contests, and might not be inclined to vote for Biden — especially with a sexual-assault scandal on the horizon.
Condon argues that this would act as an escape hatch for the DNC to conduct a bait-and-switch of sorts:
Assuming the convention begins without a majority of delegates pledged to Biden, the nomination process, during which delegates conduct floor votes, would become a live-fire exercise, rather than a pro forma step in Biden’s coronation as nominee.
If Biden does not secure a majority on the first ballot, delegates could offer another candidate from the floor.
For delegates appointed rather than produced through a vote, the loyalty to a presumptive nominee could be lessened, or perhaps nonexistent if the party establishment decided to go in a different direction. The worse Biden performs, the more pressure to strategize for change that will produce. Condon even identifies the most likely beneficiary of that strategy:
In that event, New York’s own Gov. Andrew Cuomo looks the most likely to benefit from a potentially contested nominating convention. Cuomo has been widely praised for his handling of the coronavirus in New York, so far the state hardest hit by the virus.
As the governor of the state at the pandemic’s frontline, Cuomo also has the campaigning advantage of a daily press platform, perhaps second only to the president’s, at a time when Biden has struggled to remain part of the news cycle.
Indeed. Cuomo is the only Democrat who even competes in the same league as Trump, thanks in part to Biden’s need to stay home and Nancy Pelosi’s desire to stay there rather than allow the House to do its job. Democrats have all but defaulted on national leadership in this crisis as a result. That’s even without considering Biden’s other downsides, which they’ve managed to avoid thanks to a national media that has circled the wagons around the presumptive nominee, previous #MeToo cheerleading be damned.
However, that solution has its own problems. That kind of an establishment move to replace a candidate who got more votes with someone who got fewer — or none at all — will undoubtedly anger significant segments of their voter base. That will get even worse if Sanders isn’t the candidate who benefits from a Biden substitution, and Democrats would rather saw off an arm than put an old Soviet-apologist crank at the top of the ticket. Even if Biden became admittedly unable to carry on, an attempt to appoint anyone but Sanders in his place would create a massive split and potentially send progressives to the Green Party — and maybe Sanders himself this time.
The possibility remains, though, and it will get more and more enticing as Biden continues to flounder from his basement, and as Pelosi shows off her ice-cream stash rather than show up for work. And one has to wonder whether Cuomo would go along for the ride even if drafted, given the disaster the party has created for itself.