Watch Samantha Bee Explain Superdelegates In A Way You Haven’t Thought About Before — VIDEO
If you're a Democratic primary voter, or just someone who follows politics for the fun and the importance of it all, you're probably pretty familiar with superdelegates by now. They were front and center in 2008 during the contentious race between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, and they're getting a huge amount of attention again today. But if you're still unclear on anything, here's a resource for you: Samantha Bee explained how superdelegates work on Monday night on her TBS show Full Frontal.
It's a damn good explanation, too, as it goes beyond just detailing who they are to touch on how they're impacting the 2016 race (and how the political climate has impacted some of them, too). On the most basic level, a superdelegate is a political party official who has the power to support anybody they want for their party's presidential nomination, completely unbound from the will of any voters. That's understandably controversial, but Bee highlights some crucial things about the superdelegates to bear in mind — both in terms of why they exist and why they almost surely won't swing the election.
Starting off by noting how ugly things had gotten in the Democratic campaign since her last episode, with Clinton accusing the Sanders campaign of lying about her and Sanders calling Clinton "not qualified" for the presidency, Bee joked that her show's two-week hiatus was needed so she could learn how superdelegates work. The whole thing is only six minutes long, and well worth the time if you have it to spare. But there are two main points to take away from the segment. There's a very important recognition of what parties are, and what's entailed by their nomination process:
First of all, political parties aren't the government. They're semi-private clubs. If they wanted, they could use a sorting hat to pick their nominees.
This sometimes gets lost in all the deeply-held objections to the superdelegate system, but American major party presidential primaries are actually deeply undemocratic. Rather than simply choose nominees by direct popular vote, both parties instead relying on an arcane delegate system which has rules and procedures that can vary from state to state.
And it's entirely within their rights to do that, because the means of picking a given party's nominee is, well, up to that party. It just so happens that a mere two political parties hold so much power and sway in modern American politics that there's effectively no chance for a third-party candidate to gain any traction.
That's not to say you need to agree with how it all works, especially if you believe primaries should really reflect the "will of the people" rather than the desires of a party's higher-ups, but it's central to understanding why something as obviously undemocratic as the superdelegate system is allowed. It's the party's nomination to give, and they get to decide how to give it.
The second thing Bee brings up is that the superdelegates will almost surely not be a decisive factor in the race. This isn't set in stone ― sure, they could theoretically throw their support to Sanders if Clinton maintains her lead in pledged delegates (219 as of April 13), or they could back Clinton if Sanders managed to surge past her, but it would be completely without historical precedent.
That's because since their institution in 1982, the superdelegates have always ended up supporting the candidate who leads in pledged delegates. And it's not as though it hasn't been put to the test recently ― as Bee notes, the superdelegates ditched the establishment-entrenched Clinton to support Obama in 2008, on the strength of his lead in the delegate count:
Think of them as the driving instructor with her foot hovering over the brake. She'll only use her power if the party is about to do a Thelma & Louise. ... They aren't there to protect Democrats from someone like [Bernie Sanders], they're there to protect them from someone like [Donald Trump]. Believe me, Republicans would give their left nut for superdelegates right now.
Even if you disagree completely with the process and wish it were a directly democratic affair, this ought to be comforting. After all, the fact that the superdelegates always back the candidate who wins the most pledged delegates means they're coming as close to upholding the will of the voters as the existing process allows. The effort to convince (or harass) superdelegates to support someone who's trailing in the delegate count (to say nothing of overall votes cast), on the other hand, is something very different.
Images: Full Frontal with Samantha Bee/TBS (2)