This is an excellent moment to revel in the complexity of life, and argument, and to appreciate the value of the honest conversation.
A candidate is the presumed nominee when she or he obtains the required number of pledged delegates to be at 50% plus a fraction in the total pledged delegate count. This is because a candidate must have a true majority to win the nomination when the delegates are all counted up at the convention, and the pledged delegates are required to cast their lot with the candidate they are pledged to, assuming that candidate exists at the time of the convention.
Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have not reached that bar. Therefore, neither is the presumed nominee for their party.
But then there are the unpledged delegates. Unpledged delegates can vote for whomever they like at the convention, and therefore, anything can happen. However, it is the practice among unpledged delegates to “endorse” or otherwise show support for a particular candidate. News agencies may use that statement of support to place that unpledged delegate in the column for a particular candidate.
Using this form of math, Trump did not reach a true majority of delegates a couple of weeks ago for two reasons. First, the Republicans have very few truly unpledged delegates. (The Republican and Democratic systems are not parallel or comparable, but the Republicans do have a certain number of delegates who can do what they want when the convention rolls around.) But then, one day, a bunch of unpledged delegates from one of the Dakotas made a statement. They said that they would definitely cast their ballot for Trump in the Convention. This was just enough to put Trump over the top, by adding together the pledged delegates that were pledged to him, and this small number of “unpledged” but now “pledged-ish” delegates.
That is still not clenching the nomination, because even though those Dakota delegates went beyond support or endorsement, to the level of actually promising to vote for Trump, they really still don’t have to vote for him.
But, the press took this as an event, and decided to go with it, and Trump became the actual nominee.
That may seem like a digression in a post about the Democratic primary, but it is relevant because the press has this thing they do where they balance or equalize. Therefore, even though the systems are not truly comparable or parallel, and the event in the Dakotas was actually meaningless, the press did in fact go with the “Trump is the presumed nominee” thing, and therefore, one should expect, even in the absence of a logical underpinning to the argument, the press to do the same in the Democratic party. That is only a small part of the story, but it is part of the story.
I should reiterate that unpledged delegates (in the Democratic party, unofficially called “Super Delegates”) are unpledged even when they pledge. That is a simple fact. But, there are nuances. For example, I know one Super Delegate that on principle will not declare for a candidate until the convention. But I also know that this individual liked Bernie Sanders. I suspect that this means that under some conditions, this delegate would vote for Sanders, but maybe not. I know another Super Delegate who has endorsed Clinton, and another who has endorsed Sanders, publicly. However, I do not assume that either one of them will absolutely vote for that candidate. An endorsement is not a pledge. If Bernie Sanders is found sitting in a hot tub full of fruit jello with the leader of North Korea on a yacht owned by the Koch Brothers, making a deal to trade nuclear warheads, that the delegate that endorsed Sanders will not cast a ballot for Sanders at the convention. But the pledged delegates from the same state will be forced to by the rules. (This is why we have Super Delegates. This is also why we can expect the Republicans to add a higher percentage of unpledged delegates when they rewrite the rules for the next primary season.)
The Dakota delegates, however, did something different. They did not endorse, or show support, but they pledged. However, their pledged is, in fact, legally irrelevant.
And now, we come to 2008. It could be said not too inaccurately that a point in time came during the 2008 nomination battle between now President Obama and Hillary Clinton, when it became apparent that Obama was going to win, the press said so, and Clinton took two days or so off and came back into the ring no longer fighting Obama, but now as part of his tag team.
And, it could be said not too inaccurately that this same moment came in the present election about now. Staring a few days ago, various members of the press began to note that this moment was upon us, and to imply that it would be unfair to Hillary to have given this moment to Obama in 2008, but not give it to Clinton now. I think the belief 48 hours ago might have been that this moment would definitely be on us by the end of the voting process in today’s primaries, but then another thing about the press came into play. The press has to treat everybody and every event like they are all identical blue Smurfs but they also have to do things first, to beat out their rivals, to scoop. In fact, this “moment of clinch” could have been after the Puerto Rico primary, or even earlier. And it was absolutely going to happen after Tuesday. So, AP jumped out of the gate and made it happen Monday, and this is now the True Reality.
So, let us review.
Hillary Clinton is the presumed nominee because she has almost enough pledged delegates plus a gazillion unpledged delegates.
However, part of the impetus for declaring this is that Trump got that courtesy two weeks ago.
But, Trump was the only person running in that race, and Clinton still has an opponent.
Still, numerically, Clinton can’t not get the nomination because she has many hundreds of Super Delegates and Sanders has only a few dozen.
On the other hand, Super Delegates are unpledged. UNpledged. We argue all along that they should not be counted. Then suddenly we count them. Is that fair?
One could say, however, that it is fair. At some point it becomes fair because the numbers become so tilted. If the hundreds of Super Delegates that have endorsed Hillary decided to randomize their preference using a coin biased in favor of Sanders, there would still be more than enough to put Clinton over the top.
It is only fair to Clinton that she gets the same treatment as Obama.
It is only fair to Sanders that she not.
And on and on it goes.
So, is there a good reason that Hillary Clinton is now regarded as the Democratic Party nominee for the office of the President?
A good part of the reason that both answers are valid is because the press has painted themselves into a corner located between a rock and a hard spot and have only a Hobbson’s choice. That is a bad reason. Another reason is fairness. That is a good but not overwhelmingly good reason. There is no reason that the process one year needs to be the same as other years, since presidential election years are so different in so many ways. Another reason is math. While we wish to keep the Super Delegate count separate and let the pledged delegates do their job, at some point the Super Delegates should probably be considered as a factor, if not counted precisely. (See this, “Fixing The Super Delegate Problem,” for an alternative way of doing this whole thing.) That is probably reasonable and fair. If the numbers are big enough. But there is no objective criterion for when the numbers are big enough. So maybe not so fair.
So here is where the honest conversation part comes in. There really is no considered, informed, honest position on this that ignores the complexity and dismisses other opinions out of hand.
I hope you read this post on Tuesday, June 7th, because starting the next day it is not going to matter too much.