There is a tendency when you are losing to try to change the rules in the middle of the game. Which makes sense. If the current set of rules isn't working for you, your only option is to insist those rules are somehow invalid.
That's what Bernie Sanders' chief campaign strategist Tad Devine did in a conference call with reporters Monday afternoon. Devine made the case that Sanders – coming off three huge-margin victories in Alaska, Washington state and Hawaii on Saturday – not only is the momentum candidate against Hillary Clinton in the Democratic presidential race but is executing brilliantly on a broader, long-planned strategy.
But it makes roughly zero difference how many states Sanders or Clinton win. The only – and I do mean only – thing that matters as it relates to actually being the Democratic presidential nominee is getting to 2,383 delegates. Pursuing a "state win strategy" is a choice that Sanders can make. But it's not what will make him the Democratic standard-bearer.
Devine also tweeted that Clinton gained a host of pledged delegates from eight states that the Sanders campaign chose not to compete in. That's like saying that if you don't count those 10 baskets you scored when my team was doing badly, the score is actually tied. That's not how it works. You don't get to pick and choose the races that matter. All delegates won in all contests count the same – that's the lesson Clinton learned when she watched then-Sen. Barack Obama wrack up massive delegate margins in a slew of February 2008 caucuses that gave him an insurmountable edge in the delegate chase.
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In fact, Clinton's lead in pledged delegates is considerably larger – even after Sanders' Saturday sweep – than Obama ever held over Clinton.
And, finally, there is Devine's point that neither candidate will get to 2,383 pledged delegates before the Democratic National Convention.
But, but BUT. That's not how the rules work. Superdelegates – the panoply of elected officials and former officials who also get a vote – count the same as delegates won in the various votes across the country. Them's the rules. And when you factor in Clinton's dominance among superdelegates, it's very hard to see her coming up short.
If Clinton and Sanders split every pledged delegate from here on out and she gets no more than her current 468 superdelegates, she has 2,603 delegates – plenty to formally be the party's nominee.
I've written – and believe – that Clinton can't rely on superdelegates alone for her margin over Sanders. If the two candidates are close or tied among pledged delegates, the "well I have more superdelegates" argument won't hold much water.
Clinton has a 250-plus pledged delegate edge. The 440 superdelegate lead is the cherry on the top of that sundae, not the ice cream.
Sanders has succeeded beyond almost everyone's wildest expectations in this race. He has built a movement of young people and liberals who are dissatisfied with the brand of Democratic politics Clinton is selling. He will continue to win states – particularly those with large white populations. No one can or should take what he has built away from him.
But, winning states is not the same thing as winning the nomination. Sanders' delegate math – with or without superdelegates – is very, very tough. And the candidate who gets to 2,383 delegates wins. Those are the rules – whether or not the Sanders team likes them.