Plus, a question about how the Democratic convention works.
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Today’s read: 8 minutes.
How the convention works, what to make of Super Tuesday and a story about the future of Trumpism.
A very funny meme sent into Tangle depicting all the candidates who have dropped out of the presidential race, courtesy of the Reddit thread PresidentialRaceMemes and user AlarmedScholar.
Yesterday, James Lipton, the famed interviewer from Inside the Actor’s Studio, died. It’s not political, but I wanted to acknowledge Lipton because he was one of the first interviewers I ever admired and noticed. Inside the Actor’s Studio was on my television a lot growing up, and Lipton was an incredible navigator of the human soul. His interviews taught me a lot about how to talk to people, and I was heartbroken to learn of his passing. My favorite interview ever was his sit-down with Dave Chappelle.
What D.C. is talking about.
Super Tuesday. Today is the most important day in the Democratic primary race. 14 states vote, as well as Democrats living abroad, accounting for more than a third of all the primary votes in the election: Alabama, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia and American Samoa. Every state except the American Samoa will have normal secret ballot primary votes — the American Samoa caucuses (like Iowa and Nevada). In the Democratic primary, there are 3,979 delegates total. In order to win the primary outright, a nominee needs 1,991 delegates (a majority). Together, the Super Tuesday states account for 1,357 delegates. That’s why today is such a big deal. A “pledged delegate” is a person who represents the vote of the people in each state. Every state is worth a certain number of delegates based on their population — so California has more pledged delegates up for grabs than, say, Vermont. Here’s the count of delegates earned right now after voting in Iowa, Nevada, South Carolina and New Hampshire:
Bernie Sanders: 60
Joe Biden: 54
Pete Buttigieg (dropped out): 26
Elizabeth Warren: 8
Amy Klobuchar (dropped out): 7
In other words, with 1,357 delegates up for grabs today, there’s a lot on the table. Some people think the race could be decided by tomorrow — i.e. Joe Biden or Bernie Sanders mounts an insurmountable lead on the way to 1,991 delegates. Some people think there will be a battle today that leaves even more ambiguity than we had going in. The big prizes are Texas (228 delegates) and California (415 delegates). The big wild card is Mike Bloomberg. He executed a first-of-its-kind campaign strategy by completely skipping Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina. He didn’t campaign there and wasn’t even on the ballot in some cases. Instead, he dumped hundreds of millions of dollars into Super Tuesday states. No candidate has ever tried that before, and today we find out of it pays off.
What the left is saying.
The race changed dramatically yesterday. Amy Klobuchar and Pete Buttigieg took a stand for moderates, both dropped out, then promptly flew to Dallas to endorse Joe Biden. Klobuchar said, “vote for Joe. Vote for decency. Vote for a heart for our country. That is what he will bring to the White House.” Buttigieg implored his supporters to donate to Biden and vote for him. In deeply personal remarks, Biden told the crowd that Pete reminded him of his late son, Beau. Seemingly, the entirety of the Democratic party threw its support behind Biden yesterday, including Beto O’Rourke, the former Texas superstar who came out of the shadows to back Biden:
Supporters of Sanders say they expected this moment. The Democratic establishment, seeing Sanders build momentum, has finally made their move to stop him. And it’s by throwing support behind Biden. Surrogates of Bernie note that Biden hasn’t spent time in California and doesn’t have an organized campaign there. Some speculate as to what Buttigieg, Klobuchar, O’Rourke and others will get in return for their endorsements. Vice President? Secretary of Defense? Buttigieg and O’Rourke spent the last year saying we needed to challenge typical D.C. politics, so now they… throw their support to Joe Biden? Bernie’s supporters are also calling on Elizabeth Warren, who has no viable path to the candidacy, to drop out and throw her support behind Sanders. Right now, the moderates in the race appear to be uniting while the progressives remain divided.
What the right is saying.
They’re stoking the intra-party drama as much as possible. Fox News is covering the “Braking Bernie” movement, and how Dems “scramble to prop up Biden on Super Tuesday.” Biden is also getting a lot of attention for promising that Beto O’Rourke “will be the one who leads” his gun control effort. O’Rourke has famously suggested the government forcibly seize assault rifles from Americans, a policy position that is deeply unpopular amongst conservatives. "Biden hugging Beto going 'You’re going to take care of the gun problem for me!' is a thing you will see in a Republican ad someday,” Benjy Sarlin said. Donald Trump said the race is “rigged against Bernie.” Some on the right even criticized Biden for comparing Buttigieg to his late son, Beau. The comparison drew strong reactions from the media and Democrats who described it as a powerful moment (Beau died of cancer in 2015). But some conservatives noted that Biden made the exact same comparison to Conor Lamb, the blue dog Democrat who won in Pennsylvania in 2018. “What a greaseball politician,” Noah Pollak tweeted of Biden’s comparison. “Nothing is sacred.” The Wall Street Journal ran two positive editorials around Biden, one describing the “Stop Sanders Movement” and how Bernie’s “socialist economics and left-wing foreign policy are more polarizing and extreme than what the party has stood for even at its most leftward moments.” Another, titled “Heed Biden’s Call For Bipartisan Civility,” written by former Louisiana Governor and Republican presidential nominee Bobby Jindal, said Biden “has the right instinct to criticize both sides for delegitimizing each other and labeling those with differing views as morally deficient.”
Is this the Democratic establishment coordinating to stop Bernie’s chances? Of course it is! Sanders has built his entire campaign around railing the Democratic party for abandoning working people and selling out to donors and corporate America. Did you think they’re just going to throw their weight behind the guy who openly loathes them? Of course not. I don’t blame the establishment and I don’t blame Bernie. Obviously, “the establishment” genuinely feels like Sanders is a risky bet to take on Trump and they know the party undergoes dramatic changes if Bernie wins. They also see the polls. Biden does well in states that matter — like Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — and he’s also unlikely to see a major approval rating change. Bernie is going to get closer to the sun than he ever has and a lot of Democrats fear Americans will turn on him when opposition research gets dumped into ads and sprayed across the country. Those fears are legitimate.
As for today, I’m not in the business of making election predictions. Endorsements do matter, as we saw in South Carolina, and Biden just picked up a slew of them. The Biden bump could be real, too. A Change Research poll showed him getting a 20-point bump in Virginia, where he now leads Sanders 45% to 25%. The same poll showed 60% of Buttigieg’s supporters saying they’d go to Biden and just 10% saying they’d go to Bernie. FiveThirtyEight’s famous prediction model now says there is a 2 in 3 chance of “no majority” earned before the convention (I explain what that means below), and an equal 1 in 6 chance for both Biden and Sanders to earn the nomination. It’s also incredible that Bloomberg is still in this thing. He entered this race almost entirely under the belief that Biden wasn’t up for it and there needed to be an alternative. Now Biden is surging and Bloomberg is hanging on. With the money he’s spent, he could legitimately eat into Biden’s “moderate” lane in a more significant way than Warren will eat into Sanders’ progressive coalition.
Today is an absolute crapshoot — and the only way we know what’s going to happen is when the votes start flowing in tonight.
Pete supporter writes in.
One of my readers who writes in the most is Vivek from Pittsburgh, a die-hard Pete Buttigieg supporter. He campaigned for him and would have been a Pennsylvania delegate at the DNC convention for Buttigieg. I wrote to him after Mayor Pete dropped out and asked how he was feeling and who he’d support now — my little focus group of one. He said he was “sad because I truly believe Pete was the best chance to defeat Trump” and he “was screwed by the muddled Iowa results and the late Amy momentum in NH.” He also added this:
“The respect that Pete and Joe have for each other is something to behold. They both espoused an underlying tone of unity and healing during this primary season. To steal Pete's words, I'm not interested in blowing up this party, and I'm not interested in buying out this party, so I'll be supporting Biden. Biden is an actual Democrat, he can galvanize and unify this party (as we saw last night at his TX rally), and he will help in crucial down-ballot races (just look at Mark Kelly's endorsement in AZ). Selfishly, I also believe Pete will have a fairly senior role in a Biden administration, and that's something I'd love to see.”
Your questions, answered.
Reminder: Tangle is all about reader questions. To ask something, all you have to do is reply to this email and write in.
Q: Do you think you could do a Tangle explaining how the Democratic National Convention works with delegates and such? Like what are superdelegates, what is the controversy around them, what is the purpose of this process as opposed to the person with the most votes winning? Does this give too much power to the Democratic establishment? How well are our preferences as voters accounted for?
- Megan, Denver, CO
Tangle: Given how important today is for the election, this feels like a great time to answer these questions. I mentioned this at the top, but the general outline of how this goes is this: the Democratic National Convention will be held July 13-16th, 2020, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Before then, if any Democratic nominee wins the majority of the 3,979 delegates (i.e. 1,991 delegates), they are the nominee. If no candidate does, which is one of the more likely scenarios right now, then it could be a “contested convention.” That means the Democratic party and superdelegates will help decide who becomes the nominee.
Delegates are essentially real, individual people who represent groups of voters. But there are (generally) two kinds of delegates: pledged delegates and superdelegates. There are all kinds of pledged delegates, but all you really need to know is that their vote is dictated by the vote of the people. Generally speaking, if a district votes to support Bernie Sanders, then the pledged delegate from that district — by rule — will support Bernie Sanders at the convention. In the Democratic primary, a candidate only earns the available delegates in a state if they get 15% or more of the vote. Delegates are then awarded proportionally (this is one major difference between Democrats and Republicans — Republican primaries are “winner-take-all”). That’s why candidates dropping out or staying in is so significant. In this race, support for candidates in polls has been relatively split, with a few candidates hovering around 15% in each state. When Buttigieg and Klobuchar dropped out, that increased the chance Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren and Mike Bloomberg would get 15% of the vote in certain states today. Which means they get delegates. Which means Sanders gets fewer delegates. All of this increases the chance Sanders doesn’t hit the 1,991 delegate threshold for the nomination, which is why this was seen as a move to stop him.
At one debate, every candidate was asked how the party should handle it if there is someone who clearly has the most pledged delegates by the convention but hasn’t hit the 1,991 delegate threshold to earn the nomination outright. Everyone on stage said the party should follow the rules of the convention — except Sanders, who said the candidate with the most delegates should be the nominee. Should there be no clear nominee, and nobody reaches the threshold, and the runner-up doesn’t drop out, then we’ll have a contested convention. A contested convention would be a historic, huge deal. It hasn’t happened in either party since 1952. Typically, if someone falls short of the 1,991 delegates, the party will negotiate with the runner-ups behind the scenes to get them to drop out and avoid a fight at the convention. Right now, FiveThirtyEight says the odds of no clear winner is 2 in 3. Based on how the race is going, it’s not hard to imagine Bernie or Biden being in second place and not conceding the nomination.
So what are the party rules if that happens? This is where superdelegates come in, which are quite controversial. At the convention, there will be a series of roll-call votes. In the first round, pledged delegates will announce their vote. If nobody hits the 1,991 threshold during the first roll call, pledged delegates are freed from their obligations to the voter and can change the candidate they’re supporting. In the second round of roll calls, 771 superdelegates join the voting. The threshold for a candidate is moved from 1,991 to 2,375.5 votes, and voting happens again. The big difference between pledged delegates and superdelegates is that pledged delegates are chosen by the people — often local leaders in a district or country. Superdelegates are party leaders (think: members of Congress, Democratic officials, governors, former presidents, and so on). In this sense, it’s very undemocratic: single superdelegates suddenly wield the same power of tens of thousands of voters.
Conventional wisdom says that’s a huge advantage for anyone not named Bernie Sanders, and the fear from Sanders’ supporters is that the party is in the tank for Biden, Warren or Bloomberg and the superdelegates will help get them across the finish line. That would almost certainly create a huge intra-party brawl and leave the Democratic vote completely fractured.
As for why this system exists, whether our votes are represented and if it gives too much power to the Democratic establishment — the answer is mixed. Generally speaking, the system exists to stop a dangerous radical from coming into power. And I don’t mean someone like Hitler. I mean someone like Jimmy Carter or George McGovern, whose victories prompted the superdelegate rules. Party leaders wanted a check and balance to defend against someone that was unelectable. It’s also meant to defend against voter fraud. If a party moved to sabotage the other side, they could theoretically get a large group to switch their party identification and vote in other primaries in order to propel a candidate to victory. Giving power to party officials at the convention is a final backstop to dirty politics like that.
To be honest, I think it’s a pretty rational system. It’s complicated and there are all sorts of problems with it. For instance, caucusing (like in Iowa and Nevada) is a stupid and dated system certain states still use to give out delegates. Also, delegates earned by a candidate who drops out can move to a different candidate in some states but not in other states. There is too much variance and nuance across the country. Recent rule changes have improved the system (in the last election, superdelegates got to vote in the first roll call and could theoretically overcome the will of the people — Bernie Sanders pushed to change that rule and succeeded). But there’s no doubt that history has taught us these kinds of safety nets are good.
Ultimately, I think the will of the people is well-represented. It’s not perfect, and this year could totally expose some flaws in the system, but I’d be pretty surprised if whoever earns the most delegates doesn’t end up being the nominee. Even though superdelegates wield power, there are repercussions for stepping in and pushing back on the popular vote, and that’s why it hasn’t happened yet. It looks like this year is headed towards a contested convention, or at least a place where no candidate has the clear nomination, but we’ll know a lot more around this time tomorrow.
A story that matters.
Yesterday, Charlie Kirk, a 26-year-old conservative campus activist, released his book The MAGA Doctrine. Kirk is one of President Trump’s favorite supporters and he has unending, boundless support for POTUS. Kirk’s book became a #1 Amazon bestseller after Trump tweeted a promotion for it last night. Why does this story “matter”? Because it represents a reality many Democrats refuse to acknowledge: removing Trump will not end Trumpism. An entire generation of conservatives are being raised in the Trump era, and many of them — like Kirk — have become deeply attached to Trump’s populist, and popular, conservative agenda. Kirk represents millions of young conservatives who plan to carry on Trump’s brand of politics well after he’s gone. Personally, I’ve had some not-so-great interactions with Kirk on social media (I’ve seen him share some outright lies, fake statistics and gross generalizations). But I do not believe turning a blind eye to ideas or people you don’t like is productive. You can get Kirk’s book here and you can read a takedown of Kirk’s “grift” from conservative writer Adam Rubenstein here.
- 528,000. The number of people who voted in the South Carolina primary this week.
- 373,000. The number of people who voted in the South Carolina primary during the 2016 primary.
- 33% to 23%. Joe Biden’s margin of victory amongst white voters over Bernie Sanders in South Carolina, according to exit polls.
- 100. The distance, in meters, that around half of the world’s beaches will erode between now and 2100, according to a new report on climate change.
- 415. The number of delegates California is worth, the most of any state on Super Tuesday.
- 13. The number of delegates Americans voting abroad are worth.
- 6. The number of delegates American Samoa is worth, the only territory to vote on Super Tuesday.
- 16. The number of delegates Vermont is worth, least of any state on Super Tuesday.
- 412. The combined delegate worth of Virginia, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Colorado, Tennessee and Vermont, still three delegates short of California.
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After more than 240 days, there are no more active bushfires in New South Wales, Australia. The landmark moment could mean an end to the unthinkable fires that have been ravaging Australia for the better part of a year. The damage has been extensive: 33 people killed, 11 million hectares of land burnt, and some estimates say a billion animals dead. But the international community’s coordinated response helped prevent the fires from being even worse, if that’s possible to imagine, and the break from fires brings some relief to a country desperate for things to stop.