The Ides of March Primaries

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UNITED STATES - JANUARY 16: Senate Budget Committee ranking member Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. holds a news conference on the budget on Friday, Jan. 16, 2015. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

The familiar propagandists have been out again in force, informing progressive voters that Bernie Sanders’ chances, inflated in Michigan, were impaled on the March 15 and 22 returns. Busy coaxing Sanders voters to abandon the corpse and support Clinton in the general election, they act as if the Clinton coronation had already occurred.

Of course the plutocratic mass media and DNC operatives have been playing this same tune for many months. Their persistence should be no surprise. It is the same old fraud to sap morale from Sanders’ supporters. “Don’t invest there. Bernie’s stock is falling. Buy Clinton.” Repetition serves the propagandist’s big lie.

It is useful therefore to again take a reality check at the mid-way point in the primary season to assess exactly what the results are to date in this historic 2016 election. This will help separate reality from both mass media propaganda and also from the DNC’s rigged primary process.

The truth is Bernie is a blue-state victor.

Rigged DNC Scoreboard

First, to describe the real world rather than the rigged one that keeps announcing that Clinton can’t loose, it is necessary to change the DNC scorekeeper who distorts the score to suit the plutocrats who pay the DNC’s tab.

In the real world the states that will elect a Democrat are known. They are called blue states. Which are the blue states? They are that minimal number of reliably Democratic states that, along with a few swing purple states, are needed to win the presidency in the Electoral College. Only blue states voted Democrat in the narrowly divided election of 2000. Those same states also voted Democrat in 2012. The 2012 blue state of New Hampshire was a purple state in 2000. It was New Hampshire that flipped that election to Bush, not Nader.

The 2000 Democratic electoral map, plus New Hampshire, make up the 2000 map of blue states that were then necessary to win the presidency, and still are. But the map changed with the census. Blue states, having lost population, now require that Democrats add some purple states to the 2000 Democratic map in order to win. At the same time several purple states are in various phases of turning blue, due to demographic change. One group of the purple states are essential to victory, the others not so much.

In 2012 Obama won Ohio, Virginia and Florida. They are high electoral vote purple states that were collectively unnecessary for his victory. But Obama did need the purple states of Nevada, Colorado, and Iowa which, located in blue regions, are all turning bluish shades of purple. All of the 2000 blue state map plus some combination of several of those six various shades of purple states that Obama won in 2012, including the purplish-red states of Indiana and North Carolina which voted Democratic only in 2008, make up the meat and potatoes necessary for a Democrat to win the Electoral College. Everything else is gravy.

Red states are everything else. They reliably vote Republican in presidential elections. They are unnecessary and also highly unlikely in any foreseeable future to contribute any electoral votes to a Democratic candidate, except in a landslide election. Since Democrats have not won a landslide since 1964, red states are for all practical purposes irrelevant to any realistic Democratic strategy for a presidential victory. No credible Democratic victory strategy would be designed to win a landslide, and therefore any red state barring special circumstances such as repulsion of Utah from Donald Trump.

Landslides are generally won due to the failure of the opposition not by superior strategy of the victors.

Since red states will predictably contribute no electoral votes to a Democratic victory they should therefore be ignored for the most important element of that strategy, which is determining the candidate who can best represent and hold together the minimal blue and purple state coalition necessary to win a majority of Electoral College votes. Instead, DNC rules assume that every election will be a landslide for Democrats by giving red and blue states proportionately equal weight in selecting the nominee.

Rotten boroughs

By counting red state delegates as if they had some valid role to play in the nomination process, rather than as the non-voting product of interesting straw polls that will play no part in a Democratic election victory, the DNC rules are undemocratic. To count unequals as equal is discrimination. Giving voting powers to red state delegates is not only undemocratic because it dilutes the voting power of blue and purple state delegates in making their collective choice of the candidate who they will need to win, it also provides a playground where plutocratic money can more efficiently harvest delegates than elsewhere so as to deliberately distort and restrict the people’s own choice of an effective candidate.

If red state delegates want to participate in nominating a Democratic presidential candidate. They can work to convert their state’s voters into voting for a Democrat in a general election. Or they can work to have their state legislature enact a proportionate representation law that would give minority voters a share of the states’ electoral votes.

Otherwise, in a fair and democratic system, red state delegates would play no role in the nomination process, other than providing a straw vote for the curious, and participating in national associational and non-electoral matters. These other national party matters, such as writing the party platform, voting on rules changes and Party personnel, are not necessarily bound to the state-based Electoral College that decides the presidential election. The conduct of such nonelectoral matters can accommodate all party members without regard to residence. But representation in the Electoral College is strictly bound to place of residence. Place of residence must therefore determine participation in nominating the candidate who will compete to win in the Electoral College. Anything else is discriminatory.

States, not people, vote in the Electoral College. The nomination process, to be nondiscriminatory and democratic, must be equally state-based. The weight of the delegates’ vote in the nominating convention must therefore be comparable to the expected weight of their state’s vote in the electoral college.

If the states’ expected Democratic vote in the Electoral College is zero – which is the definition of a red state – there is no valid reason why the delegates from that state should have greater than zero influence on the Democratic nomination. In the interest of inclusiveness red state delegates can be non-voting members of the nominating Convention. But it is undemocratic to allow delegates from “rotten boroughs” — those states that are totally devoid of on any Democratic electoral votes — to dilute the votes of other delegates from states that will definitely be contributing to any Democratic victory.

A fair scorekeeper, while thus ignoring the red state straw polls, would keep close track of all the blue states, and also of at least a shifting winning share of the purple states. An alternative approach is suggested by the Republican Party’s Rule 40 (b), which was designed to prevent Ron Paul from being eligible for nomination. It has been changed in order to enable anyone but Trump. It provides: “Each candidate for nomination for President of the United States and Vice President of the United States shall demonstrate the support of the majority of the delegates from each of (8) or more states.” This rule could be adjusted for purposes of minimizing the influence of rotten boroughs on the nomination by requiring that a candidate must win a certain number of blue states, states that actually vote for Democrats most of the time.

If the Sanders revolution is to restore democracy one of its essential goals, alongside change of the Supreme Court, should be reform of the DNC’s rules for counting delegates. Changing this “rotten borough” system and other DNC rules would make the nomination of a candidate democratic rather than rigged to favor the plutocrat candidate, as it is now. Democratizing the DNC delegate rules would likely give Sanders, or a similarly progressive candidate in 2020 when there will be even more Millennial voters, the Democratic nomination.

The Ides

The immediate concern is the interpretation of the March 15 results. This is the scene of the latest money-stream media assassination of Sanders’ chances for the nomination. How then do the Ides of March results look from a democratic perspective rather than the undemocratic perspective of the assassins?

In the midst of all the propaganda exaggerating the importance of the Ides of March results, it needs to be clarified that there was only one blue state in play, Illinois. There, for a third time, Sanders fought to a virtual tie in a major delegate-rich blue state. Sanders lost by just two delegates in Clinton’s home state of Illinois, which is also the home state of her most powerful political backer, Barack Obama. Illinois was otherwise similar to Sanders’ previous virtual tie in blue state Michigan. There he won by seven delegates, making one win, one loss in the rustbelt Midwest region. Both were within a less than 2% margin, for a net gain of five delegates to Sanders. Only in comparison with the miracle of Michigan is the Illinois result disappointing. Together the results in these similar rustbelt states were an historic victory for Sanders in a core blue state region. More on Illinois later.

Sanders also tied in Missouri, a red state which will make no necessary contribution to a Democratic Electoral College victory and so its primary result should be considered as just a straw poll under democratic rules. Its equally divided delegates, like those of neighboring Kansas and Oklahoma which Sanders comfortably won, should be irrelevant to the selection of a Democratic nominee. Delegates who are from red states whose state electors will, to a high degree of certainty based on past experience, vote against a Democratic candidate in the Electoral College should take no part in nominating that candidate.

The other three states in play in the Ides of March primaries were two purple states that were unnecessary for Obama’s 2012 victory, Ohio and Florida (which has a closed primary), and the mostly red state of North Carolina, which voted against Obama in 2012. The delegates from these states should count in the Convention but nowhere near as strongly as the blue state votes count, because they are neither essential, nor likely, for a Democratic 2016 victory. Their delegates’ voting strength should be calculated by a formula based on the electoral votes that, for example, North Carolina has contributed to Democrats in the electoral college during the previous generation. Nothing earlier than that could have much predictive power. A reasonable weighting formula would reduce voting strength based on electoral votes by 50%, 20%, 15%, 10% and 5% for each previous year that the state made no contribution to Democratic electors in the Electoral College.

For example, North Carolina voted Democratic once within the last generation, in 2008. It would be fair if its delegates’ voting strength were weighted at 20% compared to full-strength voting by reliable blue states like Michigan or Minnesota. The latter have voted Democratic for at least the past generation and are virtually certain to do so again in 2016 if the Democrats choose a winning candidate. This 20% weighting would be higher than any reasonable likelihood that North Carolina will decisively contribute to a Democratic victory. Both Ohio and Virginia are more likely to contribute, and even they are unnecessary to victory.

The same discount should apply to the other purple states not essential for victory. Each award of voting strength should reflect a rough estimate of probability that the state will contribute essential electoral votes to a 2016 victory. The calculation would be based on actual past experience, not on a mythical treatment of unequal states as if they will contribute equally to a Democratic victory on the false landslide hypothesis.

The formula could include other predictive factors, such as the “favorite son” effect, or the effect of a strong third party. For example, New Hampshire might acquire full blue state status, notwithstanding its 2000 aberration, due to the influence upon the state expected in the general election by the candidate from its neighbor Vermont. The 1996 election produced some unusual results having limited predictive value, due to the third party Perot effect.

Bernie is a blue state victor, and a purple state competitor

Before Illinois, other than Clinton’s questionable one delegate margin in Massachusetts, discussed below, Clinton had yet to win a single blue state. She had done little better than virtual ties in the three purple states essential for victory. March 15 added three landslides in her purple state column, to her earlier landslide in Virginia. But none of these four states are necessary to a Democratic victory.

Under the fair system of counting delegates described above, not only would March 15 be less significant than the media has treated it, and March 22 of no significance at all, but the red state reliance of Hillary Clinton for her previous delegate strength would, and should, entirely evaporate. In blue states, she has those two extra delegates in Illinois and a questioned one in Massachusetts. That’s it.

In Massachusetts, there was an unexplained 8% exit-poll anomaly in favor of Clinton which argues for a second DNC rule change — in addition to the “rotten borough” rule change suggested above. The DNC should discount the weight of any ballots from states that are not made on paper, and subject to hand re-count, if they are also unconfirmed by reliable exit polls. One analysis of Massachusetts’ returns alleges that they “indicate fraud.” The Massachusetts virtual tie should be contested before the DNC Rules committee by challenging the credentials of Clinton’s Massachusetts’ delegates. Until resolved, this problem takes Massachusetts out of the Clinton win column, leaving the virtual tie in her home state of Illinois as her only blue state victory.
The remainder of the blue state primaries, other than the virtual ties in Michigan and Illinois, were won by Sanders in landslides.
The purple state of Iowa also had alleged irregularities. That should take the Iowa virtual tie out of the Clinton win column as well. Of the two other purple states necessary for a Democratic victory, Sanders and Clinton traded victories in Colorado and Nevada. Sanders won Colorado in a landslide. Clinton won the both early and closed caucus in Nevada by five percent, which under the circumstances was taken as little better than a tie.

Looking Forward

In the essential purple states Sanders is ahead. Sanders’ landslides and ties put him far ahead in blue states. In four inessential purple states Clinton won by wide margins comparable to Sanders’ victories in blue states. But the inessential purple state delegates should not receive nearly the same voting power as blue state delegates if fair rules were applied.

In a fair run-off election conducted under fair DNC rules Sanders is narrowly ahead with good prospects for widening his lead. The March 22d primaries in Western red states, whether Clinton’s lopsided victory in Arizona or Sanders’ in Utah and Idaho, do not change this calculus. They only heighten the pressure on Sanders to initiate his campaign to treat all such red state results like straw polls. The next relevant primary is the blue state Washington caucus on March 26th, where Sanders will likely, again, win by a landslide, and also better define his prospects in the rest of the important Pacific Coast region than Nevada did.

Looking further ahead, all purple state elections – the states where Clinton has proven strongest – have been completed, except for Indiana on May 3d. Indiana and North Carolina, both of which voted Democrat only once in a generation, in 2008, are the most marginal of the purple states. Therefore, only one more relevant landslide, which Clinton has so far won only in marginal purple states, should be expected for Clinton, at best.

Sanders’ six wins and four virtual ties (counting Nevada as a virtual tie) in representative blue and purple states suggest Sanders’ competitive strength going forward in each of five well-defined regions containing blue and essential purple states: the East Coast (represented by landslide victories in Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine and the tie in Massachusetts), Rustbelt Midwest (represented by offsetting virtual ties in Illinois and Michigan, but a landslide loss in purple Ohio), Upper Midwest (represented by a landslide in Minnesota and tie in purple Iowa), Southern Rockies (represented by a landslide in Colorado), and Pacific Coast (roughly represented by a competitive race in purple Nevada and the more accurately in forthcoming Washington). These are the regions that will elect a Democratic president. They augur well for a continued close race leaning to Sanders in the remaining blue states. Though Sanders should win landslides in some of these blue states, it is highly unlikely that Clinton will achieve more than ties.

That this optimistic analysis based on Sanders’ victories where it counts is more than a counterfactual hypothetical is explained below in connection with a proposed DNC rules initiative.

Slow Strategy for Black Women

It is useful first to pause to look at some of these states in the Ides of March primaries from the perspective of analyzing why Sanders did not win there more decisively, as he has in other blue states. While dismissing the propaganda that Sanders is losing, still there is a valuable lesson to be learned from the Ides.

The marginally purple North Carolina was the last primary in Clinton’s sweep of the almost all red deep South. The results were typical for those red states, which are the base of the post-civil rights era Republican Party. Clinton’s margin of victory there was largely accounted for by her support from 81% of black women voters, who constituted 19% of the primary electorate.

In the Ohio primary black women, again, were 13% of the electorate compared to 8% for black men. While white men and women broke 3-2 respectively for Sanders and Clinton, black women voted more than 2-1 for Clinton. Again a good portion of Sanders’ losing margin would have been erased if he had reversed this ratio of black women voters.

In Illinois, if he had recovered only about 10% of his 32% losing margin among black women, who made up 17% of the primary electorate, Sanders would have won.

In Florida where black women were 18% of the primary electorate, Clinton won 79%.

Sanders clearly has a black women problem that he has yet to address.

African American women first soundly defeated Sanders in the early South Carolina primary where this problem hit him in the face, stalling the momentum gained from his solid New Hampshire landslide. Black women were 37% of South Carolina’s primary voters. Clinton won their votes by a margin of 78 points (i.e., 89%-11%), and black men by 64 points. If Sanders had reversed the black women vote he would have won South Carolina. There is no evidence of any effort by the campaign to address the problem, let alone solve it. So Sanders just keeps getting slapped down in one primary after another by a constituency that should be his strongest supporters on the merits of his record.

Sanders’ defining issue is inequality. Black women suffer two sources of entrenched institutional inequality, on top of the generalized inequality increasingly imposed by plutocrats on everyone which tends to aggravate the first two. Black women should be Sanders’ peeps.

That Sanders has overwhelmingly lost black women is not a problem caused by black women themselves, nor by insufficient small campaign contributions from people who trust their money is spent wisely to win, nor is it about insufficient enthusiasm from Millennials and others turning out as volunteers and for massive campaign events and who are depending on Sanders for their future, nor about insufficient support from black intellectuals like the great democrat and Sanders supporter Dr. Cornel West, or Glen Ford and others who are familiar with the Clintons’ record on matters important to black women.

The continued problem is due to nothing else than the apparent strategic incapacity of Sanders’ own campaign to effectively communicate to black women a good reason to vote for him rather than for a Jim Crow candidate who used racial slurs in the 1990’s when helping to foster the current civil rights crisis by advocating the twin prison-industrial-complex growth policies of welfare cuts and tough policing. Perhaps this failure is due to the campaign’s amateurish, “perpetually overwhelmed but refusing to delegate” approach. If so, the campaign needs to begin delegating.

Scalia’s death bequeathed to Sanders’ campaign the timely gift of a ready solution for this problem. Senator Sanders only needed to exercise his constitutional power to advise President Obama publicly to make an historic nomination of the first black woman justice on the Supreme Court. The the Supreme Court caused the problem of plutocracy against which he is running, his opinion on the Court is important. There are many strongly qualified black women who would make excellent progressive Supreme Court justices capable of swinging the Court away from its plutocratic jurisprudence. The first African American woman justice would be Obama’s historic Supreme Court legacy, like Thurgood Marshall was Lyndon Johnson’s.

With its enormous bankroll of $140 million the campaign should have been able to spare funds for the purpose of convening a consultative group of prominent progressive black women jurists who would both recommend the best nominee for the purpose and promote her nomination within their community.

Sanders could have embedded his endorsement of their recommendation in a major speech on civil rights, presented at Howard Law School almost within sight of the Supreme Court. The speech would celebrate the profound contributions to American democracy of black women and women abolitionists, calling for deployment of their considerable skills effectively at the very highest level for solving the current civil rights crisis as an integral part of Sanders’ democratic revolution against plutocracy. Such a speech could have provided the mission statement for such a nominee in reforming the Court, much as FDR’s 1937 fireside chat successfully attacked a very similar plutocratic Supreme Court majority.

This golden opportunity was ignored by the Sanders campaign. Sanders still has neither a cogent Supreme Court policy nor an effective approach to reach black women.

Since the principal means the campaign makes available for communication is the one way transaction of giving it money, perhaps a contribution boycott could wake it up. Or optimists might send messages through berniesanders.com. Otherwise Sanders may lose the election of 2016 for no better reason than an incompetent campaign which was too inflexible to take advantage of an historic moment to communicate effectively its support for its essential constituency of black women voters, who never received the message.

Even now after Obama’s white male plutocratic nominee has been definitively rebuffed by Republicans, instead of having Sanders offer the advice that Obama use the remedy that the Constitution provides for such a deadlock, by making an Easter recess appointment of a progressive black woman who Sanders’ advisers can recommend, the campaign allowed Sanders to inexplicably endorse Merrick Garland, a Circuit Judge who would undermine Sanders’ whole purpose for seeking the presidency. As one of the judges who signed onto the opinion which legalized SuperPACs he violates Sanders’ litmus test on the very face of his record. What was the campaign thinking?

Had the campaign solved this black women problem, the narrow blue and purple state losses or virtual ties would have been converted to clear Sanders victories, and significant purple state losses into ties. The red state wipe outs would become victories and ties. The campaign would have only built accelerating momentum straight out of New Hampshire.

The Sanders campaign is the people’s campaign, funded by the people, energized by the people, and the people are crowding the polls in the only places that should count. The people were unable to also take on the task of communicating Sanders’ solidarity with black women voters on behalf of the campaign, as needed. The people could not propose a black woman progressive nominee on behalf of the campaign, or give a speech explaining its historical importance. At some point the campaign has to do more than shuttle Sanders around the country to shout the same speech. Only the campaign could perform this strategic task by flexibly responding to real-time political opportunities.

It is still not too late to turn this negative factor into a positive for the remainder of the campaign, if Sanders would aggressively campaign for Obama to make a recess appointment of a progressive black woman. This could still help, to some extent, in the remaining half of the primaries. More importantly it might win over some of the Clinton red-state delegates on crucial rules and credentialing contests.

Take Action: DNC Rules Initiative

Due partly to the strategic error described above, the nomination could now depend on the resolution of credentials challenges and adoption of fair rules to resolve them by the DNC.

Perhaps realization of the campaign’s all but fatal, and still ongoing, failure to seize the opportunity to appeal to black women voters will prompt it to up its game in taking on the DNC rules problem. As Frederick Douglass famously said, “If there is no struggle, there is no progress.” In the end, a list of undemocratic rules could easily become the proximate cause of denying Sanders the nomination against the will of the people.

At a minimum the rules should be changed that relate to:

1) the “rotten borough” problem of red states, as described above;

2) conflicts of interest among Superdelegates and among the members of the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee: solve them with robust recusal requirements;

3) credential contests over election machine fraud and other irregularities in counting votes or resolving election law violations, such as in Massachusetts and Iowa; and

4) overvaluing results from especially the early, closed or partially closed, primary states like Iowa, Nevada, and Florida, which by deterring independent participation produce results unrepresentative of the state’s general election electorate.

Just as failure to change these rules could undemocratically determine the outcome of the 2016 nomination which has attracted more democratic energy than most, they can continue to distort primary elections in 2020 and beyond. The rules should be changed by the Sanders campaign in 2016 to facilitate use of the Democratic Party for nominating a candidate through democratic processes, which it currently lacks.

One of the most important outcomes of the previous comparable insurgency within a rigged primary electoral system was in 1968. It resulted in the 1972 DNC rules changes which have allowed Sanders to get as far as he has in 2016. The failed 1968 insurgency resulted in an untenable choice between a candidate picked by the Democratic bosses who was seen as a warmonger and a Republican who was a crook. The victor, Nixon, was eventually run out of office, but not before he had done great damage, especially as a result of his four Supreme Court appointees who legalized Nixonian political corruption in Buckley v. Valeo (1976).

The 1972 rule changes salvaged some democratic gains from the 1968 election debacle caused by the Democrats’ nomination of a candidate who was not supported by voters. The party suffered a decline from which it did not soon recover, if it ever did.

Democrats introduced Superdelegates after the counterproductive 1980 Ted Kennedy primary challenge fiasco. If originally well-intentioned, this reform now represents backsliding from the 1972 reforms. In an era of systemic political corruption they have become another opportunity for legalized bribery, buying of influence and systemic conflicts of interest. But the 1972 rules otherwise remain largely in place as a platform on which to build a more democratic primary process.

Further reform of the rules to finally convert at least one of two parties into a vehicle that can reliably nominate the people’s choice in blue and purple states would be a valuable outcome of 2016, whether or not the Sanders campaign succeeds in mobilizing the the significant majority that supports him.

Like its strategic failure with black women, effective challenge to the undemocratic rules of the DNC can be organized only by the campaign, not by the people supporting the campaign, nor even, without support from the campaign, by the Sanders delegates to the state and national Conventions. The Sanders campaign being waged on behalf of the people and using the people’s money, needs to prepare a strategy to reform the DNC’s rules so that Sanders’ victories given him at the polls by the people can be honored by placing the people’s choice, not the plutocrat’s choice, on the ballot in November.

It is doubtful that the Sanders campaign could withstand strategic failure on both of these potentially fatal issues. By working on the reform of DNC rules, the Sanders campaign can leave an important legacy however the 2016 nomination turns out.

(An original version of this article was published at HuffPost)

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