There have been two equally stunning political upsets during this election season: Donald Trump's domination of the Republican primary and Bernie Sanders' fighting Hillary Clinton to a near tie in the polls and an actual tie in the delegate count.
But some Clinton boosters are arguing that the latter upset isn't so upsetting after all. They cite Clinton's immense lead among so-called superdelegates, the party grandees consisting of approximately 15 percent of the total delegate count. Superdelegates can support whomever they like; some 451 (over half of the 713 total) have already committed to Clinton, while so far Sanders has... 19.
The very existence of superdelegates is an anti-democratic atrocity, as Sally Kohn points out. However, it's important to realize two things about superdelegates: They can change their mind at any time, and they are fairly unlikely to overturn the actual voting public. It's vitally important that Clinton not be allowed to claim a false victory before the actual voting primary is finished.
Here's what Clinton supporters are hoping will happen: Super Tuesday is coming up soon, on March 1. This is a simultaneous slew of primaries, most of them in the South, where over 850 pledged delegates are. If Clinton can maintain her lead with black voters, who make up the bulk of the Democratic primary electorate in those states, then after another few weeks of primaries she could have enough total delegates to put her over the victory threshold of 2,383.
Thus Goldie Taylor writes that Sanders' revolution has an "expiration date." If Clinton does manage to pull off such a trick — a big if — then Sanders is likely to face loud demands that he shut down his campaign in the interest of Democratic Party unity.
Now, if Clinton wins so many crushing victories that she has enough pledged delegates to claim victory on their strength alone, then such a demand would be basically reasonable. Though as Greg Sargent points out, Sanders will likely keep campaigning all the way to the convention regardless, but it would be to keep pushing his message and nothing more.
But claiming victory when she still needs several hundred superdelegates to put her over the finish line would be an injustice to the remaining states. The more hackish Clinton supporters are virtually certain to begin crowing "victory!" the moment there's a slightly-plausible reason for doing so. (Probably some Sanders supporters would try the same trick if they could, but they won't get a chance.) The party owes it to its voters to allow the process to continue until one or the other candidate can claim an actual democratic mandate.
Most of all, Sanders supporters should not be discouraged by the fact that Clinton has a gigantic edge in superdelegates. It is quite likely that if Sanders manages to wrap up an overall victory among primary voters, the superdelegates would shift to supporting him to avoid party disunity. They might break a near-tie in favor of Clinton, but overturning a defeat by more than a couple points would be risking electoral suicide. The party badly needs young people to turn out to elect Democrats, who massively favor Sanders thus far. Millennials very well might refuse to vote for Clinton if party elites throw the primary to her over a clear electoral loss.
What's more, the fact that Clinton will have been unable to best a virtually unknown challenger with her immense head start would disprove her claim that she is more electable against a Republican challenger. As Matt Karp points out, even now she already starts with a fairly sizable favorability deficit, near the bottom of previous presidential victors.
At any rate, the upshot from all this mess is clear: Let the voters decide. Whoever wins the most pledged delegates, be it Sanders or Clinton, let that person carry the party's mantle in November.