Why a Superdelegate Pledge May Not Be So Super

Let me humbly suggest that Nick’s pledge idea has a flaw. Sure, you can try to compel Democratic superdelegates to vote for whichever candidate arrives at the convention with the most delegates. But few will sign such a pledge, whether or not the Obama and Clinton campaign ask them to do so. Why give up a privilege? Especially when–here’s the real issue–outside events might change the landscape.

The last big-state primary (Pennsylvania) occurs on April 22 and the primaries altogether end on June 3. What if in between those dates and the Democratic convention, which opens on August 25, something happens? Maybe Barack Obama is in the lead, and a news report discloses he once sold dope to lobbyists for a health insurance industry. Maybe Hillary Clinton is ahead, and it turns out she did hide legal records during the Whitewater investigation and plotted with her husband to kill their political enemies. In such instances, superdelegates might want to mount a course correction.

Admittedly, these are extreme examples. But there could be other less extreme circumstances in which it would make sense for the superdelegates to reconsider the popular will. As I noted, my hunch is that superdelegates will not willy-nilly vote to hand the nomination to the second-place finisher just out of personal preference. They will be under much scrutiny. And blowing up the party to save a nominee will not be undertaken lightly.

Still, there are other shenanigans that might transpire. Suppose a majority of superdelegates fancy Clinton but she narrowly trails Obama in non-superdelegates. Her supers could join with her regular delegates to vote to seat the delegates from Michigan and Florida, which as of now are not to be counted because each of these two states held its primary early and violated Democratic Party rules. Because Clinton ended up winning those two non-sanctioned primaries, she would pick up a net gain of delegates from these states. Now imagine if that margin is enough to put her ahead of Obama.

More creative minds can cook up other possibilities. But just as we shouldn’t ask politicians to pledge never to raise taxes–what if there’s a war? (oh, nevermind)–perhaps it’s not wise to remove with no exception the discretion of the superdelegates. There’s an old adage: be careful what you wish for, you just might get it. Though in this case, I believe there’s little chance the superdelegates will be willing to give up their super power.


Mother Jones was founded as a nonprofit in 1976 because we knew corporations and the wealthy wouldn't fund the type of hard-hitting journalism we set out to do.

Today, reader support makes up about two-thirds of our budget, allows us to dig deep on stories that matter, and lets us keep our reporting free for everyone. If you value what you get from Mother Jones, please join us with a tax-deductible donation today so we can keep on doing the type of journalism 2019 demands.

  • David Corn

    David Corn is Mother Jones' Washington bureau chief and an on-air analyst for MSNBC. He is the co-author (with Michael Isikoff) of Russian Roulette: The Inside Story of Putin’s War on America and the Election of Donald Trump. He is the author of three New York Times bestsellers, Showdown, Hubris (with Isikoff), and The Lies of George W. Bush, as well as the e-book, 47 Percent: Uncovering the Romney Video that Rocked the 2012 Election. For more of his stories, click here. He's also on Twitter and Facebook.