Democratic Party leaders accuse Bernie Sanders and his presidential campaign of inciting “violence” among supporters by promoting allegations that the primary process is rigged in favor of his opponent, Hillary Clinton. Surrogates for Clinton and pundits, who favor Clinton, have ramped up their attacks on Sanders for maintaining a robust campaign, even though the last votes have yet to be cast in the primary.
Much of the pressure to rein in supporters stems from a belief that Sanders no longer has a right to run in the primary, and that he is now a spoiler candidate in the race. The pressure has ramped up in the aftermath of the chaos at the Nevada State Democratic Party’s convention, which was largely provoked by how it was handled by chairwoman Roberta Lange.
For example, The New York Times published a report with the incendiary headline, “Bernie Sanders, Eyeing Convention, Willing to Harm Hillary Clinton in the Homestretch.” It suggests Sanders intends to inflict a “heavy blow” on Clinton in California and “wrest the nomination from her,” despite the reality that she has not clinched the nomination.
Clinton surrogates, pro-Clinton pundits, and cable news television hosts (with the exception of MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough and Mike Brzezinski) contend there is no evidence that the primary is rigged against Sanders. Senator Barbara Boxer said on CNN, “To his supporters who are grousing about the fact that everything is rigged, it’s not rigged. You know, we’ve had elections. Hillary has more votes. And Hillary has more delegates, not even counting superdelegates.” Tamron Hall, an MSNBC host, haplessly mixed sports metaphors and said, “This is the game of football, and now you want to change it to soccer. The rules have been in place,” and, “You’re in the last inning. What about the votes that Hillary Clinton earned?”
Hillary Rosen, a CNN political contributor and Clinton supporter, declared, “Bernie Sanders is losing this race, and instead of taking it like a man, he’s working the ref. He’s encouraging his people to think that the system is rigged. The system he signed up for as an independent to run in a Democratic primary. This constant sort of whining and complaining about the process is just really the most harmful thing, in some ways, he could do because he’s encouraging his supporters to think that the process actually is cheating them, and they’re not. This is a very well-documented process that he signed up for.”
“What will be fatal to Sanders’s future as a mass movement leader—as opposed to the messiah of an angry, heavily white and male cult—is his continued insistence that his enemy now is not so much the corporate overlords, or income inequality, or the big banks, but a corrupt Democratic Party, epitomized by Wall Street flunkie Hillary Clinton, that has ‘rigged’ the election to thwart him,” The Nation’s Joan Walsh argued with dramatic flare. Walsh suggested Sanders wants to turn “the first female presidential nominee into a corrupt caricature of herself, a cross between Carly Fiorina and Marie Antoinette,” which means “Philadelphia will be a disaster,” as if there is a chauvinistic motive behind his continued campaign.
Yet, there are several examples of how the Democratic presidential primary is and has been rigged: hundreds of superdelegates pledged their allegiance to Clinton before votes were cast in Iowa, a limited number of debates were scheduled to ensure voters had the least amount of exposure to Clinton opponents, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and Clinton campaign falsely accused the Sanders campaign of “stealing” voter file data, the Hillary Victory Fund has funneled millions of dollars through state parties to the DNC, and Democratic women supporting Sanders have faced forms of retaliation.
Senator Harry Reid called the president of the Culinary Workers Union in Nevada for the sole purpose of ensuring “tens of thousands of casino workers” would not have to work on the day of the caucuses. The union president did Clinton a favor, let workers off with pay, and workers from six major Las Vegas casinos showed up to help make certain Clinton did not lose.
The Democratic National Committee has stacked the deck against the Sanders campaign by only appointing three of the 45 people he recommended for the Democratic National Convention committees. Critically, former Representative Barney Frank—a Clinton surrogate, who has been vitriolic in his criticism of Sanders—will co-chair the important Rules Committee. The lack of inclusion of Sanders representatives on the committee virtually guarantees a repeat of much of the disorder witnessed in Nevada—not because Sanders supporters are disposed to troublemaking, but because the DNC openly intends to stifle their efforts to influence what unfolds at the convention.
There are 22 closed or semi-closed primaries, which allow the Democratic Party to block independents or citizens who do not want to affiliate with the party from voting. It effectively enables the party establishment to protect the status quo. Sanders has won only six closed or semi-closed primaries. In New York, the state set a deadline for affiliating with the Democratic Party around six months before the scheduled primary. Numerous New York residents believed the race would be over by April 19 and did not take proper steps to be eligible to vote.
Closed primaries are funded by taxpayers and not the party, and should be inclusive. Yet, DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz has openly championed their ability to shut people out. “We should not have independents or Republicans playing games,” Schultz previously stated, which implies anyone who is not a Democrat and supports Sanders is trying to sabotage Clinton. It creates the perception that a Democratic candidate with appeal across the political spectrum should not be able to benefit from that broad support during the primary race.
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Local Democratic Party headquarters have shared space with the Clinton campaign. For example, in Nevada, the Carson City Democratic Party headquarters rented office space to Clinton. VICE journalist Pete Voelker reported, “It was hard to tell where the Democratic Party’s office ended and the Clinton office began.” Sanders was never offered office space for their Nevada operations.
The DNC’s own rules dictate that national officers or staff “maintain impartiality and evenhandedness during the Democratic Party presidential nominating process.” Henry R. Muñoz III, chief of the DNC’s finance operations, organized a fundraiser for Clinton in San Antonio, Texas, during the summer.
Early in the primary, the DNC helped Clinton limit the number of debates to six debates. According to Democratic presidential candidate Martin O’Malley, the rules were, “There shall only be one debate in Iowa and only one debate in New Hampshire, and anybody that goes off script or participates in other debates, other than those sanctioned by the DNC, will be forbidden from attending other debates. It is a very undemocratic way to run the Democratic Party.”
In 2008, the DNC held 20 debates. The DNC did not have an “exclusivity requirement” prohibiting candidates from participating in unsanctioned forums.
The superdelegate system was incorporated for the purpose of shielding establishment candidates like Clinton from candidates like Sanders, who are propelled by grassroots uprisings. There are 712 Democratic insiders—representatives and senators in Congress, governors, party officials, and members of the DNC—who are superdelegates. These superdelegates are expected to ensure a certain outcome, and in fact, since the early days of the primary race, media has shown that 520 superdelegates have pledged support to Clinton and incorporated that into delegate counts shown on television. This has driven a majority of voters to conclude Clinton is the inevitable nominee, which is what the Party desires.
In These Times recently reported on transcripts from discussions by the Hunt Commission, which lasted seven months from August 1981 to February 1982. The members of the commission were troubled by what happened with George McGovern and President Jimmy Carter. They sought to restore the “elites’ superior judgment.” New York Representative Geraldine Ferraro maintained, “No one is better able to represent [the people] at the convention than a member of Congress.”
The DNC chairwoman previously said on CNN, “[Superdelegates] exist really to make sure that party leaders and elected officials don’t have to be in a position where they are running against grassroots activists.”
The system of superdelegates is a fail-safe to protect the Democratic Party establishment from populism—any groundswell of people within and outside the party, who may want to bring about radical change.
No wonder there is excessive focus on how Sanders will help Democrats unify the party. This is what the Clinton campaign and Democratic National Committee want the public to be concerned about, so citizens overlook the extent of their collusion.
But the story is not that Sanders supporters are unruly because Sanders has whipped them into a frenzy over “allegations” of a rigged primary process. It is not that they lack education about the process. Sanders supporters understand very well how the process works and what kind of candidate is supposed to make it to the end. Real and actual evidence of a rigged primary is what fuels such discontent.