These days, there's a lot of political chatter about the role super delegates might play in both the Democratic and Republican conventions to nominate their standard bearer for the 2016 U.S. presidential elections. For Democrats, the issue is clear but not so for Republicans who will have to contend with fired-up Donald Trump supporters, already jacked up on distrust and suspicion juice fed to them by a demagogue hell-bent on stamping his will on the convention and on America. Then there's the weeping and wailing on the Democratic side about how the system is rigged (against Bernie Sanders no less) and that it's all designed to hand the nomination to Hillary Clinton. They're referring, of course, to the Democratic Party's super delegate system.
Lost in the inane chatter are some essential truth and fundamental facts that need explaining. Let's start from the fact that BOTH organizations -- the Democratic and Republican parties -- are POLITICAL organizations made up of like-minded people. They operate in a deeply flawed democracy of sorts but are not internally bound by any democratic rules or governance save those that members institute and ascribe to them. So, these are political parties -- not democratic organizations.
Hence, some, though not all, of the parties' processes will not be democratic in nature. Moreover, the Republican Party does have super delegates with far less power than their Democratic counterparts (aaahh, bet they wished they had the Democratic Party's super delegate system now to stop Trump!). Still, that does not mean that its internal selection and nomination processes are always fair, transparent and democratic. In both parties there are backroom deals and activities that are not democratic nor open to the general rank and file.
And there is some truth that the Democratic Party's super delegate system, were it in place in the Republican Party would act as a circuit breaker to the extremes of Donald Trump and Ted Cruz. In fact, there are many fail safes and other measures in both parties designed to reign in the majority when that majority is taking the party in a less than welcomed direction. There is the "brokered convention" in the Republican Party but such an event -- if it happened in 2016 -- would splinter and weaken the party and cause irreparable damage to both its image and prestige.
In a country that prides itself in the so-called "rule of the majority," the mere imposition of an unelected and selected group of party elites that have the right to supersede and overrule the will of the majority, as super delegates have in the Democratic Party, is the classic meaning of the word "undemocratic." The other side of this argument is that as an imperfect democracy the United States does have built in the system certain checks and balances. These checks and balances kick in when the process becomes deformed and twisted giving rise to sudden, irrational, and rash decisions out of fear and frenzy. In the case of Donald Trump if he was a member of the Democratic Party his chances of becoming the party's presidential nominee would be zero to nil.
Now let's look at the confusion wrought by lay people thinking that Democratic and Republican primaries are representative of the general population. That's not correct and both primary and caucus voters are members and supporters of either the Democratic or Republican parties. So what they are doing in this 2016 presidential primary and caucus season is participating in their party's electoral events -- nothing more. But voters are notoriously fickle so, at least in the Democratic Party, there is the system of delegates and super delegates to buttress the kind of distortions we're seeing on the Republican side of things.
The Democratic Party believes that it is its job to enact the policies of its supporters that requires electoral success and that the party's electorate differs from that of the general electorate and, as it relates to super delegates, success of the party in party primary elections can and may come at the cost of failure in the general elections. Based on this premise the Democratic Party has designed a contest for the presidential nomination that combines the desire of the party's base to get its policies and programs implemented with the stated goal of the party's nominee being acceptable to the general American electorate. To ensure this the Democratic Party's super delegate structure was put in place in 1972.
Of course, the immediate response is that the dismissal of the "will of the majority" in these cases suggests that the party elites and elders are running things from a top down position and are contemptuous of the party's base and its ability to make a correct selection and decision. That harkens back to the political truism that the majority is not always right. But this begs the question: will recognizing this fact and rejecting the "will of the majority" defeat the very notion and purpose of democracy?
Comparing the two super delegate structures of both the Democratic and Republican parties we find a curious differentiation. On the Democratic side super delegates are not bound by any law that says they must support a particular candidate who won their state in a primary election. Thus, on the convention floor there is no guarantee that even though a candidate won a particular state all the super delegates would vote for him or her. This opens up the issue of bribery and corruption since it's not against the Democratic Party's rules for a candidate running for president to promise "something" to a super delegate(s). This is called euphemistically "political horse trading."
On the Republican side while they do have super delegates they MUST vote in line with how voters of their state voted. So since Trump won Mississippi, for example, all of the super delegates to the party's nominating convention are essentially Trump's delegates.
In the 2016 presidential elections Republican super delegates will have way, way less power and autonomy than the super delegates on the Democratic side. However, the thing to keep in mind about delegates and super delegates is that they were created not by Congress or the Constitution, but the parties themselves. The GOP and the Democratic Party are non-governmental organizations, and so they can basically set whatever rules they like regarding delegates and how they're distributed.
In the Democratic Party you're a super delegate of you're a member of the official party apparatus in your state. That includes all current Democratic governors, members of Congress, former presidents, former vice presidents, state party chairpersons and officials. These delegates comprise about 15 percent of the total delegate roster that determine the nomination. In the Republican Party, the only people who get super delegate status are the three members of each state's national party. This means that in the GOP, super delegates are only about 7 percent of the total number of delegates.
So in conclusion, in the Democratic Party the super delegate structure is the way that the party's elites exert additional influence on the nomination process. If convention voters -- the majority -- move in a direction that the elite and party leaders feel would not bring a general election victory, then these super delegates can step in and tip the scales in favor of another candidate that they believe will win. Of course, this thwarts the will of the majority. But what the heck?
But as I said earlier, the Democratic and Republican parties are NOT governmental or democratic organizations and are bound by a different set of unique and specific rules. The parties can and do make up, change and alter their own rules. Their internal structures and procedures need not be democratic at all since that's not a criteria for being a political party organization in the United States.
At least the Republican Party's super delegates MUST, by internal party rules and law, vote for the candidate who won the primary in their states. There is, for now, no possibility of super delagates overriding the will of their majority.
So you've got a problem with this?