By answering as they did, the candidates told us something important: Nobody expects to overtake Bernie Sanders between now and the convention. That is a startlingly admission that the hour is already late. And further, it is a declaration that the candidates might seek the nomination even if they came into the hall with less than one-third of the party already behind them. Indeed, it’s clear that they may already be seeking the nomination this way. Party elders can be flattered and cajoled even now.
This is clarifying but untenable. Democrats have adopted an exacting standard of democratic legitimacy in recent years. Republicans have a serious “dirt gap” advantage, because they represent the more sparsely populated states. Progressives have noticed this, as well as the increased urbanization of the country, and they have argued for constitutional reform or revolution to make the system more democratic, so that it might be more Democratic as well. The abolition of the Electoral College, the end of the Senate filibuster, the abolition of the Senate itself, the expansion of the number of states, and a drastic expansion of executive power have all been floated by Democrats in recent years as reforms that could make the system more like a winner-take-all, direct democracy.