The Democrats have discovered just how badly they have constructed their college of delegates in this cycle. They have used the superdelegate structure since the mid-1980s, but no one foresaw how that could appear when two candidates split the vote almost equally. Now one the architects of the Democratic delegate structure defends the concept in today’s Washington Post by saying what no one else will — the Establishment is smarter than the electorate:
In presidential election years, Americans see the face of a political party most clearly in the personality, views and character of its presidential candidates. But a national political party is about more than just the president. Its senators and House members pass the nation’s laws and budgets. Its governors lead the states. All must work together for progress in America.
I chaired the 1982 Democratic Party Commission on Presidential Nominations that created certain automatic delegates to the Democratic convention — the “superdelegates.” It was a good idea then, and it is still a good idea. The superdelegates will be crucial to Democrats winning the presidency in November and governing successfully for the next four years.
In creating superdelegates, the Democratic Party recognized the expertise that its top holders of public office have gained by running for office themselves. They are experts at winning. They know the issues. They are in a unique position to evaluate presidential candidates. They have a well-honed instinct for how candidates will be received in their own states and districts. In short, they can help the Democratic Party pick a winner.
But the superdelegates’ value extends beyond the convention. If they play a role in picking the nominee, they will be more likely to campaign actively for the nominee in the general election.
Does everyone understand that? Hunt tries to explain it in small words, so that Democratic primary voters can understand it. The Establishment understands winning better than the voters. Voters gave the Democrats George McGovern and Jimmy Carter. Thankfully, the Establishment produced Walter Mondale and Mike Dukakis.
Hunt has a tough job here. He’s essentially defending the indefensible. If a party wants to offer primaries and state caucuses to produce nominees, then they should structure the race so that the results determine the winner. By reserving 20% of the delegate vote for the Establishment, they have almost guaranteed that any primary with two credible and popular candidates will wind up in an open convention. That means that the Democrats will either have to limit themselves to one attractive candidate per cycle by having big donors and party leaders chase other candidates away, or will need to play kingmaker at the conventions.
The Republicans do not have this problem. Only 5% of their delegates represent the GOP Establishment, which presents few problems for a determinative primary race. They also force pledged delegates to vote for their pledged candidates on the first ballot, which the Democrats apparently do not. Although some complain about the winner-take-all states on the Republican side, the overall result reflects the popular vote — which the Democratic superdelegates can reject at whim, and Hunt argues that they should have that leeway.
It’s ironic that the Democratic Party seems to have the bigger problem with democratic results.