The Democratic Nomination: What’s Likely to Happen Next

We’re entering the final weeks of the primary season. Let’s review how we got to where we are now on the Democratic side, and then project from that what’s likely to happen next.

As I wrote in this post, we know that Hillary Clinton had won the “invisible primary” by about March of 2015, if not sooner. Jonathan Bernstein, writing for Bloomberg News on March 12, 2015, said,

Clinton has (apparently) won the nomination fair and square, through hard work and political talent. That is why she has earned the support of the bulk of Democratic party actors, and gained the acquiescence of other Democrats who aren’t as enthusiastic about her.

So all those perfectly viable other candidates either dropped out or never seriously considered the race. Had Clinton chosen not to run, plenty of the others would have jumped in, and the field would have been comparable to what the Republicans have put together.

If you are sputtering but that was over a year ago, well, yes. As far as the power brokers on the Democratic side were concerned, Hillary Clinton would be the nominee, and they had decided this by March 2015. This is why her only challengers were party outsiders, in one way or another. The other insiders were discouraged from even trying. See also Ezra Klein at Vox.  For more details on how she managed to win the nomination before the primaries even started, see “Hillary Clinton Is the George W. Bush of 2016” (published February 2015).

The next thing that happened was the Hillary Victory Fund.  This joint fundraising instrument essentially makes the DNC and 33 state Democratic parties extensions of the Clinton campaign, which is why such funds usually aren’t set up until the nominee is determined. It says something about the mindset of DNC insiders that it didn’t occur to them to wait.  Clinton already was the nominee, as far as they were concerned; it had been arranged that there would be no serious competition. The HVF was receiving donations by September 2015.

Note that so far the bulk of the money collected has been spent on Clinton’s campaign, and not on down-ticket candidates as promised. The latest excuse I heard is that this was the plan all along, and the money will start flowing to the states for the general elections.

IMO the significance of the HVF cannot be overstated. Alex Seitz-Wald wrote a couple of days ago,

Clinton will have extraordinary leverage to remake the party as she fits, thanks to the $46 million her joint Victory Fund has raised for the DNC and state Democratic parties.

That money, which makes up a significant portion of the DNC’s incoming cash flow each month, has helped keep the cash-strapped party solvent.

If Clinton’s campaign ends, so does the money supply. She has bought the DNC, in other words.

Seitz-Wald writes that Bernie Sanders’s refusal to withdraw from the primary competition is causing major headaches for Clinton and the DNC. The procedure is for the nominee to assume control of the DNC before the convention begins. Sanders says he will not concede before the convention, however. Seitz-Wald continues,

The delay is a nuisance for now, Democrats say. But it would be a catastrophe if they waited until after after the Democratic National Convention, which is the earliest Sanders says he’ll withdraw.

So the DNC and the Clinton campaign will have to execute the merger earlier, with one candidate still in the race and potentially over his fierce objections. But the clock is ticking on the general election, and Democrats are eyeing the day after the California primary as a likely time to end this.

Clinton is not projected to have enough pledged delegates to claim the nomination by the day after the California primary — which would be June 8 — but by then she’s almost certain to have the necessary 2,383 delegates if the superdelegates are counted also. They aren’t supposed to count until the convention, but that’s going to be declared a mere technicality. The DNC will want to make Clinton the official  nominee, somehow, on June 8. News media will go along.

What happens next? If Clinton and her powerbroker supporters are smart, they’ll offer Sanders input into the platform, a prime-time speaking slot, choice Senate committee positions, etc.  Depending on how far he trails behind Clinton at that point, I wouldn’t blame him if he took those offers. I don’t know that he would, of course.

The other possibility is that Clinton, the DNC and her powerbrokers might just steamroller Sanders and proceed to the convention as if he didn’t exist. Considering that Clinton owns the DNC you can be certain she’s going to get the nomination on the first ballot, no matter what.

I see Sanders supporters on social media who hope the convention will work in Sanders’s favor, somehow, and that Clinton delegates will see reason and switch to Sanders. Barring some really incredible event that I can’t even imagine, this is not going to happen.

During a radio interview with John Catsimatidis, Ed Rendell, a former Pennsylvania governor and Democratic National Committee chairman, laid out his vision for how the convention would play out.

“I think it’s gonna be a great convention, but of course the key to it is the Sanders people. Bernie’s gonna have his name placed in nomination; we’re gonna have a roll call; there’s gonna be a demonstration in support of Bernie; he’s gonna lose the roll call,” he said. “His supporters have to behave and not cause trouble. And I think they will, and I think Sen. Sanders will send them a strong message.”

At this point Sanders may not be in it to win it; he’s hanging in as long as he can to demonstrate the nomination was rigged all along. Last week he publicly complained that Debbie Wasserman-Schultz is stacking the rules committees with Clinton operatives.

Under party rules, Wasserman Schultz recommends 25 at-large appointments to the party’s executive committee for each of the three standing committees; rules, platform and credentials. Wasserman Schultz has forwarded only three of 40 names the Sanders campaign recommended for the key committees while installing Clinton loyalists in leading roles. Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy was put in charge of the Platform Committee, for example, and former Rep. Barney Frank of Massachusetts was tapped to head the Rules Committee.

Sanders called Malloy and Frank “aggressive attack surrogates” for Clinton. He doubted that either would “conduct committee proceeding in an even-handed manner” and said the appointments of the two Clinton loyalists “suggests the standing committees are being established in an overtly partisan way meant to exclude the input of the voters who have supported my candidacy.”

The truth is that the Sanders phenomenon was not something Clinton and the DNC had planned for. The primaries were supposed to be just for show; the conclusion had already been determined. Sanders literally crashed the party. And now the bouncers are about to toss him out.

And as much as everybody is going to pretend everything is fine, it’s going to get very messy.