Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently remarked that “nobody likes” Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., but a sizable chunk of Democratic caucusgoers in Iowa apparently felt differently. Unofficial caucus results as of Wednesday showed Sanders won the popular vote and barely trailed former South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg in the delegate race.
Sanders describes himself as a democratic socialist who supports government-paid healthcare and free college for all. Clinton easily defeated Sanders for the Democratic nomination for president in 2016, but she placed some of the blame for her loss in the general election on him. Clinton said Sanders’ supporters hurt her chances by refusing to back her once she won the nomination.
“All the way up until the end, a lot of people highly identified with his campaign were urging people to vote third party, urging people not to vote,” Clinton said on the Your Primary Playlist podcast Friday. “It had an impact.”
Sanders’ supporters remain intensely loyal. This time around, they are fighting the Democratic National Committee, who they say has it out for their candidate. The DNC recently changed the rules of qualifying for debates by removing the criteria of grassroots support. To make it to the stage on Feb. 19 in Las Vegas, candidates do not have to receive donations from thousands of individuals but can instead pay their own way. The rule change makes it easier for a candidate like Michael Bloomberg to qualify.
“To now change the rules in the middle of the game to accommodate Mike Bloomberg, who is trying to buy his way into the Democratic nomination, is wrong,” Sanders senior adviser Jeff Weaver said. “That’s the definition of a rigged system.”
The comments echo those of another candidate in 2016: Donald Trump, who accused the Republican National Committee of creating a system “stacked against” him after Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, won Colorado’s delegates.
“The rules are no good when you have to play dirty tricks to pick up delegates,” Trump said.
RNC Chairman Reince Priebus tweeted in response, “Give us all a break.”
On the Democratic side, delegates known as “superdelegates” are not required to vote for the candidate who won their state’s primary. The practice gives the party leaders who serve as superdelegates a greater say in who gets the nomination. In 2016, the vast majority of superdelegates supported Clinton, even in states where Sanders overwhelmingly won the primary, like in New Hampshire.
A leak of DNC emails in 2016 showed that some senior party officials seemed to favor Clinton over Sanders. Debbie Wasserman Schultz resigned as DNC chairwoman over the scandal, and the DNC issued an apology to Sanders. Interim Chairwoman Donna Brazile wrote a book alleging that Clinton’s team had “rigged the nomination process” because of a joint fundraising agreement between her campaign and the DNC. Brazile later walked back her remarks.
The Democratic Party changed the convention rules in 2018 to ensure that superdelegates have to wait until the second ballot to weigh in if the convention is still contested after the first ballot.
Now there are rumors that as Sanders surged in the polls and raised a whopping $25 million in January, a small group of DNC members floated a plan to weaken his campaign. About a half-dozen members discussed the idea of empowering superdelegates to vote on the first ballot at the convention.
Politico reported that one DNC member said in a text, “We should re-open the rules. I hear it from others as well.” Others, however, pushed back and said it would be an uphill battle to change the rules again.
In commenting on the report, former Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein warned on Twitter against the DNC making changes to “stop Sanders” at risk of people leaving the party.
A DNC spokesman nixed the idea, saying that DNC Chairman Tom Perez “fought tooth and nail to ensure our nominee would be chosen by pledged delegates.”
Meanwhile, some Republicans are rejoicing at early signs of Democratic Party turmoil. Jesse Watters, a conservative Fox News Channel commentator, said Wednesday that establishment Democrats should be very concerned about Sanders because he cannot win against President Donald Trump due to his radical liberal policies.
“He’s only going to cause chaos,” Watters said. “It’s not going to be a good thing for Bernie or the Democrats, and that’s why I want Bernie to win [the nomination].”