‘Rigged’? Actually, the rules are keeping Bernie’s candidacy alive

Bernie Sanders speaks during a campaign event in Carson, Calif., on Tuesday. If Democrats used GOP rules, the contest would be over and Sanders could just go home. (Monica Almeida / The New York Times)

Bernie Sanders speaks during a campaign event in Carson, Calif., on Tuesday. If Democrats used GOP rules, the contest would be over and Sanders could just go home. (Monica Almeida / The New York Times)

A running theme in this year’s primaries has been the notion that the contests themselves — and not just the political “system” writ large — is “rigged.” Donald Trump made the claim in complaining he didn’t get enough delegates from the states he’d won, and specifically about the way Colorado allocated its delegates (which was in line with the state GOP’s rules, but whatevs). Bernie Sanders’ supporters have made the claim regarding the party’s superdelegates and closed contests (open only to registered Democrats). The implication is that Trump would have clinched the GOP nomination sooner — he still hasn’t crossed the threshold, although all of his rivals have left the race — and that Sanders might be ahead of Hillary Clinton, or at least close enough to her to contest the national nominating convention in Philadelphia.

As it turns out, both men might be right that their respective parties’ contests are built to produce certain results. They’re just wrong about what those intended results are.

This morning, after Sanders once again beat Clinton in one state (Oregon) and finished virtually tied in another (Kentucky), I took the time to go through each state that’s voted so far and see who would be leading the Democratic race if the party used the GOP’s rules* instead of its own. I didn’t change rules such as how many delegates are allocated to each congressional district, keeping the same number in place for the Democratic contests and merely allocating them as the GOP would have. I did, however, allocate the unbound superdelegates according to the GOP’s rules for statewide delegates.

And now that I’ve completely buried the lede, here’s the result: Under the GOP’s primary rules, Hillary would have clinched the Democratic nomination last night, rather than her real-life dilemma of being unable to sew it up before the final day of voting on June 7.

That’s right: Under GOP rules, Hillary’s split decision in Kentucky would have been enough to push her past the threshold of 2,382 delegates needed to win the nomination. The delegates she would have won in Oregon would have been gravy. Even if my calculations were off by a few delegates here or there — and the complexity of delegate-allocation rules means that may well have happened — her theoretical cushion of 36 extra delegates was large enough that the result probably wouldn’t have been different.

So Sanders is correct that the Democratic rules are “rigged” to produce a certain result, all right. But relative to the GOP’s rules, it appears the result they’re designed to produce is to keep an underdog like him in the contest longer than he deserves.

You might wonder how this is true, given the larger role unbound delegates play in the Democratic contest. Well, it turns out that — this year, at least — the effect of the superdelegates is more than offset by the party’s insistence on awarding bound delegates on a proportional basis. That means Sanders continued to rack up decent numbers of delegates in delegate-rich states like Florida, Ohio and New York — states that, under the GOP’s winner-take-all (or -most) rules, would have gone overwhelmingly into Clinton’s column.

The reverse exercise, re-running the GOP primary under Democratic rules, is much harder to do because I’d have to decide how many unbound delegates to add in each state, as well as calculate congressional-district results for states that didn’t report them on the Republican side because they weren’t necessary. So I can’t say with certainty that Trump would have had a harder time clinching the GOP nomination under the other party’s rules. But I do strongly suspect that’s the case, and not just because he racked large numbers of delegates in states like Florida and New York that would have been awarded more proportionally. It’s also unlikely he would have won the loyalty of superdelegates who represent the party establishment, particularly if more Republican candidates remained viable for a longer time.

Rather than holding front-runner Trump and underdog Sanders back, their respective parties’ rules more likely put each man in a stronger position than he necessarily deserved.

So, Trump and Sanders just might have sold their supporters a bill of goods about their parties’ primary rules being unfavorable to them. Hmmm. Maybe that also applies to some of their other claims that “the system” is rigged more broadly.

* The exception is West Virginia, where the GOP’s direct election of convention delegates simply can’t be replicated on the Democratic side. There, I left the actual Democratic results in place for lack of a better option.

Reader Comments 0

108 comments
stogiefogey
stogiefogey

Article in the Financial Times speculating that Sen. Sanders might launch a third party candidacy raises some intriguing possibilities that could completely change the outcome of the 2016 presidential election.

DaltonbywayofBickley
DaltonbywayofBickley

With two candidates with such high unfavorability ratings and Trump polling ahead of Clinton in at least one survey now. Might in this crazy political year, Libertarian Gary Johnson gain significant votes. Not huge totals, but far more than usual?

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@DaltonbywayofBickley "Not huge totals, but far more than usual" -- I think that's a realistic expectation. Johnson got 0.99% of the popular vote four years ago. Approaching 2% would meet the standard you described.

Malcolm Mandel
Malcolm Mandel

Hillary Clinton: What if she was a man? ©2016 Samuel K theblacksilentmajority SM Hillary Clinton has been a First Lady. She has been a U.S. Senator. She has been a U.S. Secretary of State. Barring a miracle, she will be her party’s nominee for president of the United States in 2016. Given her credentials, if she was a man, the upcoming presidential election would be a no-brainer. She would be an overwhelming favorite in a race against a demagogue/reality TV star. But she’s not a man nor a reality TV star. Hillary Clinton is the real deal. No doubt, there are those who still don’t believe a woman should be president no matter how qualified she might be, and there are those who don’t believe women should hold other positions in society. But man or woman, if the person has the smarts, the skills, the temperament, and compassion that person should be elected to the highest position in the land. Before reality TV made Americans dumb and dumber, Americans never would have considered an egotistical, cartoon character as a serious presidential candidate. Let’s hope the nation still has more sensible people than dumb people. Enter Bernie Sanders. He doesn't have a chance in hell of winning the election. Yet Sanders, who identifies as a socialist; not a Democrat, seems to be more on a wild-eyed, personal ego trip than electing a Democrat with progressive views. His ego trip could very well cause unnecessary division and weaken Clinton's chances of defeating Trump. Should that happen, how will he and his followers feel about that? Sanders has been around for a very long time, but what has he accomplished? His forte is talking about problems; not solving problems. Inasmuch as he thinks he’s right on every issue, he would even have difficulties building coalitions to bring his ideas into fruition. In life there are doers and there are talkers. Sanders is a talker.

Lil_Barry_Bailout
Lil_Barry_Bailout

Funny, funny stuff!

Hillary's incompetence, greed, and dishonesty transcend gender. She only has a chance because she represents the party of free stuff and we've been transformed into a nation of weak, taker pajama-boys.

Eric Scott
Eric Scott

AJC = the 1% Propaganda machine = unfollow check

RafeHollister
RafeHollister

One other thought about the rigging, is the evidence is pretty conclusive that Debbie Wasserperson Schultz is shilling for Hillary in the DNC contest.  I don't think the GOP candidates had to beat the Chairman of the party as well as the other candidates and the super delegates.

Hedley_Lammar
Hedley_Lammar

@RafeHollister Hillary is way ahead without any superdelegates.


She won at the ballot box. 


And this is coming from a Bernie supporter.

Starik
Starik

@RafeHollister @Hedley_Lammar The media seems to rank candidates based on how much money they raise, not voter support.  This year seems to be an outlier.

FIGMO2
FIGMO2

No doubt Bernie's supporters feel bound though delegates are "free".

What was it Biden said about "chaaaaiiiiiiiins". 

RafeHollister
RafeHollister

"So Sanders is correct that the Democratic rules are “rigged” to produce a certain result, all right. But relative to the GOP’s rules, it appears the result they’re designed to produce is to keep an underdog like him in the contest longer than he deserves."


Longer than he deserves?  Kyle, are you being duplicitous?  He has won almost as many states as Hillary, yet you think he should drop out.  You didn't have the same standard with Cruz, you insisted the race was not over until Trump got to 1237, and you "seemed" disappointed when Cruz pulled the plug prematurely.  Hillary is still a 100 delegates short even with the rigged super delegates.


I am encouraged that the GOP race was over quicker.  I thought Romney suffered terribly from being attacked by both Obama and his GOP rivals at the same time.  I think both parties ideally would like their race over as soon as possible in order to concentrate on the general election.  Seems in the past the Dems have been cruising while the Gop battles on.  I think both parties have erred in eliminating much of the winner take all primaries, the Dems seem to have none, and the Reps have fewer this time than in the past.  I think this puts the Dems in an unfavorable position.  


What is the point of a primary, in a two candidate race, where each candidate gets about half the delegates?

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@RafeHollister The point is that his claim that the primary system is hurting him is exactly wrong. The rules are keeping his candidacy aloft by ensuring he always gets some delegates that, under the GOP rules (the only point of comparison), he wouldn't get. That's what I meant by "deserves."

The question of whether he should stay in or drop out, given the actual Democratic rules, isn't what I was addressing. I think Sanders, like Cruz, is entitled to stay in as long as he thinks he can win -- whether before or at the convention.

RafeHollister
RafeHollister

@Kyle_Wingfield @RafeHollister Well, I think he is staying in because he hopes to change the mind of these super delegates, in the event of further disqualifying information appears about Hillary.  We will probably learn the results of the FBI primary, more from Judical Watch, and more from Clinton Cash prior to the convention.  If I were Bernie, I would hang in there too, although I believe they will totally push him aside for Biden in that case.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@RafeHollister "although I believe they will totally push him aside for Biden in that case."

Yes, I tend to agree that if something were to destroy Hillary's campaign, Bernie would not be the nominee. And then the "rigged" complaint would be accurate ...

Starik
Starik

"both men might be right that their respective parties’ contests are built to produce certain results." Yes, rigged.  What was intended is irrelevant.  What happened?  We sent our little Army into Iraq to preserve freedom, overthrow a dictator, make lasting friends in the Middle East and restore stability to the region.  What happened?

Starik
Starik

@JohnnyReb @Starik Somewhat stable? Were there Islamic militants in Iraq before the invasion by W?  Don't confuse what Bush 41 did with what 43 did.  41 built a real coalition with a much bigger military force and did much better.
You're right about Obama.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@Starik You're just going to ignore the evidence that the results are the opposite of what Trump and Sanders claim? OK.

JohnnyReb
JohnnyReb

@Starik You are living too far in the past.

The reality is W turned over a somewhat stable situation and Obama's leadership has given us this.

Regardless of Hillary or Trump, what Obama hands them is much worse than what was handed him.

JohnnyReb
JohnnyReb

@Starik @JohnnyReb I'm not confused.

The old man was wiser and would not invade Iraq even though such action would have been accepted.

W failed with the after invasion handling.

But yes, W handed Obama a somewhat stable situation.

ISIS grew out of Obama's retreat and his and Hillary's handling of the other Mid-East problems.

Need you be reminded that Obama siding with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and his and Hillary's decision on ousting Gadffi were too inexcusable blunders of which the Libya mess still plays a role in today's unrest. 

Starik
Starik

@JohnnyReb @Starik I'm well aware of Obama & Hillary's disasters as well.  Try to imagine what the Middle East would be like if Saddam had retained control of most of Iraq.

Starik
Starik

@Kyle_Wingfield @Starik Unintended consequences have smacked everybody in the face this year.  What do you propose to do about it, repeat in four years if we're still here? Maybe the Founding fathers should have gifted us a parliamentary system?

Starik
Starik

@Kyle_Wingfield Let me add that I'm delighted that this is a non-bathroom connected article.

Lil_Barry_Bailout
Lil_Barry_Bailout

Our Founding Fathers were wise to gift us the Electoral College, with its (mostly) state-winner-take-all awarding of delegates.  Makes for clear winners most of the time.

This proportional stuff and super-delegates is a crazy mess.

Starik
Starik

@Lil_Barry_Bailout The electoral college is in the election.  The primary rules are set by parties and states. They're both a crazy mess. Bush v.Gore?

JohnnyReb
JohnnyReb

@Starik @JohnnyReb @Lil_Barry_Bailout the only people outside the Libs who want to change the EC are those that don't truly understand its wisdom and that changing to the popular vote will give control of the country to the big city populations.

Flyover country would have no say.

Starik
Starik

@Kyle_Wingfield @Starik Kyle Wingfield quotes the New York Times!  What was that tune they played while the British were evacuating into Chesapeake Bay? "The World Turned Upside Down?"  Did you catch "Last Week Tonight With John Oliver" last week - about "studies."

Lil_Barry_Bailout
Lil_Barry_Bailout

When a Real American can quote the NYT in an argument with a leftist, it's over and done. Move on.

JohnnyReb
JohnnyReb

@Lil_Barry_Bailout the Left has been trying to change the Electoral College for decades.

Not because it is unfair, but because it more evenly distributes control through out the United States by not letting mob rule control.

Starik
Starik

@Lil_Barry_Bailout I don't consider myself a leftist, though I'm to the left of you and Mr. Wingfield.  Now I've got you pinned down on the definition of a "Real American."  Kyle Wingfield is a real American just like you.  Maybe he can explain how somebody becomes one.

xxxzzz
xxxzzz

@JohnnyReb @Starik @Lil_Barry_Bailout I stood up and cheered when James Baker went to Florida and told the truth, that Gore was trying to steal the election by changing the rules after the fact and recounting only Democratic counties.