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Progressives Warn Democratic Establishment Against Brokered Convention Shenanigans

"While we can see why they'd want to exploit existing processes however they can, there's no reason we should let them. Besides, if a candidate did win through a brokered convention, it would be a disaster for the Democrats in November."

Democratic elites bandying about the idea of stealing the nomination from Sanders in a brokered convention should think twice, say progressives.

Democratic elites bandying about the idea of stealing the nomination from Sanders in a brokered convention should think twice, say progressives. (Photo: Preston Ehrler/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Sen. Bernie Sanders at a CNN town hall event Monday night reiterated his belief that the candidate for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination with the the most delegates should be the party's standard bearer in the general election, a view shared by progressives who worry establishment leaders could use a brokered convention to find a more conservative nominee.

"If I or anybody else goes into the Democratic convention with a substantial plurality, I believe that individual, me or anybody else, should be the candidate of the Democratic Party," said Sanders. 

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The chance that no candidate enters the Milwaukee convention, set for July 13–16, 2020, without a majority of delegates remains high. Eight Democrats are still vying for the nomination: Sanders, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) and Amy Klobuchar (Minn.), Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii), former Vice President Joe. Biden, former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg, former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, and billionaire Tom Steyer. 

With South Carolina casting ballots February 29 and 14 states voting in the Super Tuesday contests on March 3, it's likely the field will shrink in the coming weeks.

Sanders has a delegate lead after winning contests in Iowa, New Hampshire, and Nevada and is the first candidate in a contested primary to ever win the popular vote in the first three states to vote. But that lead, thus far, has not translated into a clear majority, despite February 22's overwhelming victory in the Nevada caucuses. A strong showing across the country and in big states like California and Texas on March 3 could bolster his convincing lead while not delivering a technical majority.

A brokered convention would involve party elites—super delegates—putting their thumbs on the scale to determine the nominee. Super delegates cannot vote in the first round, due to Sanders-coalition pressure from 2016, but if no candidate has a majority of delegates at first, when state delegates are "bound," or required to support who the voters chose, in subsequent rounds both unbound state delegates and super delegates can vote for whom they wish.

In Jacobin on February 21, Sam Lewis and Beth Huang made the case for progressives to use grassroots organizing to pressure party insiders to do the right thing:

Sanders supporters should be preparing now for mass mobilizations to demand that superdelegates respect the will of the voters, and should articulate an explicit strategy to remove those who don't concede to that demand. We can have the most impact by keeping our focus on the slight majority of superdelegates who are national, state, or local elected officials who the Sanders base can hold accountable through primary elections, and the dozens who are labor leaders elected by their own members to represent their interests.

Both Bloomberg and Warren surrogates have made little secret about their candidates' path to the nomination going through a brokered convention. 

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Politico reported on February 20 that Bloomberg's campaign was already working to snag delegates from other candidates to stop Sanders on the convention floor.

On Monday, Vanity Fair published an interview with Bloomberg campaign manager Kevin Sheekey in which Sheekey dismissed any blowback from Sanders supporters over Bloomberg taking the nomination in a brokered convention over the Vermont senator. 

"When it comes to Bernie followers, I don't really give a shit," said Sheekey. 

Sheekey added that the campaign hopes the party will "be in a position where the convention wants to look elsewhere for someone who is stronger" and then choose a candidate with less delegates and support than Sanders. 

In an MSNBC segment Monday, Sanders campaign manager Jeff Weaver fired back, calling the argument by Bloomberg an indication the former mayor is "unfit to serve." The argument would be the same no matter who is ahead in delegates, said Weaver.

"If any of those other folks walk in with the plurality the voters have spoken, and the voters should be heeded," Weaver told MSNBC.

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Progressives have already began pushing back on suggestions that the nomination would be taken from a Sanders campaign with a plurality, but not majority, of delegates. A petition on Action Network calling on the party to respect the will of the voters has circulated in left-leaning circles. 

"The nominee must be chosen by the people—not unelected superdelegates in a brokered convention," tweeted Jacobin writer Meagan Day of the petition. "Most petitions are a waste of time, but a well-timed one can impress upon its intended audience that their actions will have consequences. Sign!"

The Democratic establishment is scared, Nathan J. Robinson wrote for the Guardian Tuesday, but that doesn't mean the party should commit suicide by stealing the nomination.

"While we can see why they'd want to exploit existing processes however they can, there's no reason we should let them," wrote Robinson. "Besides, if a candidate did win through a brokered convention, it would be a disaster for the Democrats in November."

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