John Oliver to Bernie Sanders Supporters: The ‘System Is Broken’ But Hillary Is Winning Anyway
The host of HBO’s ‘Last Week Tonight’ argued that, while Trump and Hillary have earned their nominations—sorry, Bernie—the entire primaries and caucuses system is bollocks.
As the Democratic National Convention approaches, things are getting pretty, pretty nasty on the Dems’ side between #IMWITHHER and #FEELTHEBERN—and sadly, we no longer have SNL’s Kate McKinnon and Larry David to lighten the mood.
Tensions reached a fever pitch a week ago at the Nevada Democratic Party convention, where “Sanders supporters who said Hillary Clinton's backers had subverted party rules shouted down pro-Clinton speakers and sent threatening messages to state party Chairwoman Roberta Lange after posting her phone number and address on social media,” reported CNN.
The “main story” of Oliver’s program Sunday night was on presidential primaries and caucuses—or as he put it, “the electoral foreplay we’ve been engaging in since February which will culminate in the mass balloon ejaculations of this summer’s conventions.”
First, Oliver addressed the recent Nevada ruckus, and explained that “it is not just Nevada that has caused frustration over how delegates are assigned.” He’s right. Throughout this election season, we’ve witnessed reports of, say, Bernie Sanders winning the Wyoming Democratic caucus 56 percent to 44 percent, yet Hillary Clinton walking away with 11 delegates versus Sanders’ 7.
And it’s not just on the Dems’ side. When Trump bested Ted Cruz by 3.6 percentage points in the GOP Louisiana primary, he stood to receive up to 10 less delegates than Cruz. This prompted the outspoken Trump to not just threaten to sue the RNC, but shout, “I end up winning Louisiana, and then when everything is done, I find out I get less delegates than this guy [Cruz] that got his ass kicked, OK? Gimme a break.” “The thing is, I get why he’s annoyed!” exclaimed Oliver. “And there is no clearer piece of evidence that our system is broken, no more thoroughly dead canary in the coal mine, than when Donald Trump is actually making sense. Because when you see results like that, the process does feel counterintuitive.”
Cue history lesson: States used to not have primary races, but that all changed at the 1968 Democratic National Convention, when Hubert Humphrey received the nod despite failing to win a single primary or even be on the ballot prior to the convention. This, of course, resulted in a now-legendary riot at the convention that left CBS newsman Dan Rather roughed up by security guards on the floor. So that leaves us with the primaries and caucuses system—one designed to give party leaders more say.
The problem, said Oliver, is that they left most of the details up to individual state leaders, leaving us with an “erratic clusterfuck every four years” where “almost every part of this process is difficult to defend.”
Examples of how broken the system is abound, but for starters, 13 U.S. states and two U.S. territories use the caucus system, wherein one must show up to a polling place, attend a party meeting, and then vote. This proves incredibly tough on working people and mothers, who have trouble taking the day off to cast their ballot. In 2012, Republican primary turnout was at 19 percent, while the caucuses averaged just 3 percent.
There’s also the issue of how the delegates get divvied up. “Remember,” said Oliver, “you’re not directly voting for a candidate—you’re voting to help determine the delegates who will attend the National Party Convention and vote for a candidate on your behalf.” Oliver then attempted to describe all the failures in the process that led to the Nevada meltdown:
“They had a caucus back in February which Hillary Clinton won, but that caucus only determined 23 out of their 35 regular delegates. As for the remaining 12, those were decided by delegates at the state convention, who were chosen by the delegates at county conventions in April, who were chosen in those February caucuses, which—remember—Hillary won. Now, unfortunately for her, at those county conventions more Bernie supporters showed up, so they had an advantage going into the state conventions, although by that time Hillary supporters had realized what was happening and managed to mobilize their turnout, putting numbers in that room basically even—at which point, both sides began fighting to disqualify one another’s delegates over technicalities such as failing to register as Democrats by May the 1st, a deadline set after it had already passed at the convention by the credential’s committee.”
Phew. “Now for the record,” Oliver added, “Politifact looked into the charges of rigging in Nevada and found ‘no clear evidence the state party hijacked the process,’ and you can disagree with that, as I’m sure Bernie supporters will in the comments’ section below this video—alongside hurtful remarks about my personal appearance like, ‘Oh look, it’s British Millhouse…’ But the larger point Politifact made regarding Nevada, that I think everyone can agree with, is that ‘the arcane party structures don’t reflect how most people assume presidential selection works,’ and that in itself is a huge problem. Any competition should have clear rules. You don’t get to the end of a football game and say, ‘OK, who found the most eggs?’”
If all that weren’t enough, on the Democratic Party side you can also add “superdelegates” into the mix. For those unaware, superdelegates comprise about 15 percent of the 4,763 total delegates, and these superdelegates—elected officials, former party presidents, and party bigwigs— are unpledged, and can vote for whatever delegate they want regardless of who won in their state or district. “So the delegates are ‘super’ in the way that kids on My Super Sweet 16 are ‘super’: they are party-obsessed, widely resented, and untethered from all responsibility,” cracked Oliver.
On the Republican Party side, in many states delegates “are only required to reflect their state’s choice in the first round of convention voting—after that, they become unbound delegates and can vote for whomever they want.” Complicating things even more are states like Pennsylvania, where 54 out of their 71 delegates are completely unbound, and it’s difficult for you to know which delegates support which candidate on the ballot because their allegiances aren’t listed.
“To be fair to both parties, they are basically private clubs—they can set their own rules,” said Oliver. “But if you play by a system of complex, opaque rules that nobody understands and that you could use to your advantage, even if you don’t, you are going to alienate voters. This is a system which clearly needs wholesale reform.”
Fortunately, both parties “got lucky” this year, as their most popular candidates look to receive their respective nominations. Trump has a lead of almost 4 million votes over his closest competitor, while Hillary has a lead of over 3 million over Sanders.
“Sanders supporters might argue that doesn’t include all caucus votes, but when The Washington Post estimated the rest, they found that [Hillary] would still lead by 2.9 million votes, and even if you multiply all those estimated caucus votes by 7 to account for lower turnouts, even if you give Bernie a bonus of 10,000 extra votes in every state that’s voted so far, and even if you tack on an extra 100,000 votes just for shits and giggles, she’s still comfortably ahead.” “And I know, Bernie supporters—I can hear you typing right now that I look like an angry toucan funded by Shillary, but that doesn’t make it any less true,” he added.
So, Oliver proposed a solution: Since there is “no guarantee that the candidate with the most votes will win next time,” when this election is (thankfully) over, we should bug each party chair to fix the broken system.
“Let’s together pick a date early next year to actually write an email to the chair of each party and remind them—politely—to fix this,” said Oliver. “I propose February 2nd. Now, that will be easy to remember because it’s Groundhog Day, which does seem appropriate because, unless this primary process is fixed, we are all destined to live through the same nightmare scenario over and over again until the end of fucking time.”