Instead of coming to grips with the overwhelming evidence that Democratic primary voters prefer Hillary Clinton be the party’s 2016 presidential nominee, Bernie Sanders continues to create his own political reality — devising new and creative excuses to explain why he’s losing to her and why he should be the party’s standard-bearer in November.
First there was the complaint that Southern, conservative states have their primaries early, which “distorts reality,” because these states won’t support a Democrat in November. This is certainly a compelling assertion from a candidate who has won such red-state stalwarts as Utah, Alaska, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Kansas, Idaho, and Wyoming.
Next the Sanders camp argued that the primary system is unfair because places like New York have a closed primary that doesn’t allow independents to vote. By this logic, it is undemocratic not to allow voters not registered as Democrats to vote in a Democratic primary tasked with choosing the Democratic nominee for president. If independents could vote, claims Sanders, it would be a different race (even though Clinton has actually won more open primaries than Sanders).
For Sanders, it seems, the only fair and equitable manner for choosing a Democratic nominee is one that favors him.
This brings us to the Sanders campaign’s latest “the dog ate my homework” excuse. In what was a bizarre press conference Sunday at the National Press Club in Washington, Sanders took aim at a new target — superdelegates.
Sanders made three arguments, none of which are remotely consistent. First, he said that this summer’s Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia will be “contested” because Clinton will not have enough pledged delegates to win on the first ballot.
Clinton needs to get 2,383 out of 4,766 delegates to win the nomination. However, by Sanders’ argument, she should not count superdelegates toward that total (even though Sanders is still including the 715 superdelegates in that 4,766 number). I realize that math is tricky, but if you subtract 715 from 4,766 and divide it in half, Clinton would actually need 2,026 pledged delegates for a majority — a fairly achievable goal for her.
It should also be noted that under the rules of the Democratic nominating system (rules that were readily available on the Internet when Sanders announced his candidacy), a candidate can assemble a coalition of both pledged delegates and superdelegates to get the 2,383 delegates needed to win the nomination.
Second, Sanders thinks superdelegates are apportioned unfairly. He argued Sunday that they should follow the popular vote of the state they represent rather than exercising free will. It doesn’t seem fair to Sanders that, for example, even though he won 70 percent of the vote in the Washington state caucus, he doesn’t get all the superdelegates from that state.
Putting aside the fact that caucuses are not exactly a bastion of fair and democratic representation, the biggest problem with this argument is that even if they all voted the way that Sanders wants, Clinton would still have a 363-to-147 advantage in superdelegates. Overall that adds up to a more than 500-delegate lead, which makes sense, since Clinton has won the most states and the most votes.
Sanders’ third argument, however, is the real doozy, because to buy it you basically have to ignore everything else he has said about the unfairness of the primary system. According to Sanders, superdelegates shouldn’t actually be guided by the will of the people. They should be guided by who can win in November. Surprisingly enough, Sanders thinks that he would be that person.
Superdelegates should ask themselves, he said, “do they want the second strongest candidate running against Trump, or the strongest candidate?”
If your head is spinning, it’s with good reason.
The same candidate who has been railing against independent voters being disenfranchised, who has called the primary system undemocratic, and who has complained about superdelegates, in general, is now calling on those same superdelegates to vote against Clinton (that would apparently include delegates from the states Clinton has won), even though she will almost certainly have the most pledged delegates and the most votes. In head-to-head general election polls, Clinton trounces Trump, but since Sanders trounces him by a bit more, he argues that he should be the nominee.
In the realm of illogical, self-serving, hypocritical, intellectually dishonest political arguments, this is practically the gold standard. But with six weeks to go until the last primary, I have great confidence that the Sanders campaign will find some way to top it.
Michael A. Cohen’s column appears regularly in the Globe. Follow him on Twitter @speechboy71.