The Candidate’s Dilemma: “I Call on My Opponents To Stop Calling on Me To Drop Out.”

Yves here. A useful discussion of a flawed but widespread take on Dem candidate viability.

By Thomas Neuburger. Originally published at DownWithTyranny!

If you put all of the crowds that flock to watch Warren, Buttigieg, Bloomberg and Biden into this arena, would they fill even half of it?

The “Prisoner’s Dilemma” is a game often analyzed in game theory. In its simplest form, it looks like this:

Two prisoners are accused of a crime. If one confesses and the other does not, the one who confesses will be released immediately and the other will spend 20 years in prison. If neither confesses, each will be held only a few months. If both confess, they will each be jailed 15 years. They cannot communicate with one another.

So what’s a prisoner (player) to do? Self-interest suggests each player will race to confess in order to win the Get Out Of Jail Free card. Yet doing that guarantees both will lose, and a long jail sentence for each. The only way for both to win is for each to stay silent and trust that the other do the same. The problem for both? They have no way to coordinate their responses.

The current Democratic candidates for president may be playing a variation of that game — or not, depending on whether you think Bernie Sanders could today beat each of them in a head-to-head contest.

But if you do buy into the argument that Sanders would lose to most of them if he faced only one of them, the problem can be stated like this:

Bernie Sanders has only 30% of the vote. Biden, Bloomberg, Buttigieg and Klobuchar each have 18%, 14%, 10% and 5% respectively, for a combined total of 47%. If Biden, or Bloomberg, or Buttigieg, or Klobuchar were running alone against Sanders, Sanders would lose since the anti-progressive forces would coalesce. But none of them can win because all of them are running. [Data snapshot here.]

If this correctly analyses the state of the “game,” what’s a player to do?

Obviously, all but one of the players must drop out. But which one should stay in? That’s the Candidate’s Dilemma. They all want to be the one who stays in.

The Candidate’s Dilemma: Why Won’t the Rest of You Let Me Win?

Alexandra Petri has caught this dilemma perfectly in a satirical piece for the Washington Post. Petri imagines herself a candidate (she could be one, after all; the field contains at least one person who has yet to campaign and has amassed no delegates).

Thus “Candidate Petri” writes:

We must stop Bernie Sanders, and I see no path forward but for my opponents to drop out

…Now is the time to act! It is imperative that we concentrate our efforts to stop Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), and that is why I see no path forward for my campaign but for my opponents to drop out of the race.

I am calling on all of my moderate, semi-moderate and wealthy opponents to gracefully exit the nomination contest. They are wrong when they say, ”I am the only one who has a chance against him and everyone else needs to drop out.” I am the only one who has a chance against him, and everyone else needs to drop out. …

I call on them to stop calling on me to drop out on the grounds that I lack some combination of popular support, a staff, pledged delegates, cash on hand or a path forward. In fact, I am the only one with a path, assuming that several of them drop out, in which case I will be the clear front-runner to stop Sanders. The only reason I have not yet demonstrated my ability to beat him is because everyone else is still here.

I don’t know what they think their paths are! I guess they assume I will drop out, and they will get my support, which will never happen! No, never, not while there is breath in my body or dollar in my bank account.

On Petri’s part, this is satire. On the part of non-Sanders Democratic candidates, this is wishful thinking.

Stacking Smaller Players Doesn’t Create a Large One

There probably was a time, back when Biden seemed lucid even when he wasn’t, back before the first votes were cast in the first state to cast them, when Sanders might not have placed first in a narrower field. Would Sanders have gained the momentum he now has if, before Christmas, he had only Biden to face, or any of them?

Maybe not. But today Sanders is soaring, while Biden is fading fast, Buttigieg is more and more seen as an empty suit, and Warren, Buttigieg and Klobuchar all are leaking  or lacking support in minority communities. Each has been reduced to electoral midgets by the last three contests.

Yes, you could stack the midgets one on the other today and dress the result like a single taller candidate, one face representing the rest, but each face alone would not made more pleasing by the sudden disappearance of the rest. Would all of Biden’s black support move to Warren or Bloomberg if Biden were gone? Some would certainly go to Sanders. Would all of Buttigieg’s wine-track support move to Warren or Klobuchar? Some would surely go to Sanders or stay just home.

No one has the stature and appeal that Sanders does today. No one looks like a “winner” like Sanders does today, and winning begets winning.

The Time to Pick Just One Opponent Was Yesterday

The Prisoner’s Dilemma analogy fits today’s situation only in the past. The time for these candidates to unite behind just one of them was yesterday, a day they will never have back, a day when each was flush with ambitious and hope. Which of them would play the “all for one” card then and sacrifice the dream while hope still burned in them?

On a day like today, when none of them has hope, their ambitions crushed like grapes, their campaigns running (all but one) on the fumes of donors past, not one of them standing alone has a chance to win without massive outside intervention.

Yesterday is the wrong day to make a smart decision now. The Prisoner’s Dilemma moment has passed. The game they’re each now playing is “Daddy please save me.”

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  1. vlade

    I disagree with the last headline (and by implication it being a prisoner’s dilema). It’s actually way more complicated, for two reasons.

    Reason one is that even a candidate who’s not a front runner and _knows_ they will not be a selected candidate has an incentive as long as they believe they can get substantial number of delegates. Because at the convention they can horse-trade them for fun and favours. There’s zero incentive to do so early in the game, as then the lever becomes smaller (yes, you did well in the initial states, but then you dropped in our favour. How much votes you’d get is counterfactual. Oh, you didn’t drop, so it’s isn’t?)

    So, if you end up in a situation where BBBK get 48% of candidates, I can assure you that going into DNC conference great horse trading will go behind the scenes, and only one (or two) will emerge post first round – I suspect based on who will be most acceptable to super-candidates.

    But here’s a thing, and the second reason why it’s again more complicated. You can get lots of votes, but not that many candidates (for example the 15% rule). As far as delegate count it doesn’t matter. But where it matters is skewing the proportions. So, if you consistently poll 10% of “moderates”, you’re in effect taking candidates from others. That sounds more like PD, but still isnt’. Again, you want to run this to show the strenght of your hand, and then trade endorsement for fun+favour. The problem here is with timing – do it too early and you get less than you could, do it too late and it’s, well, too late.

    So, it’s actually way more complicated game than PD. As life tends to be, PD is an in-extremis simplification used to illustrate a point. Sort of like the infamous Schrodinger’s cat.

    1. Zamfir

      I don’t know if the prisoner’s dilemma is really useful to understand such situations.

      The core issue of the prisoner’s dilemma, is that the prisoners cannot make credible commitments. In the canonical version, they cannot even communicate. They want to make a deal, but the mechanics of the situation prevent that.

      But compare this situation: I could buy a new car, if I was willing to pay $30,000. The dealer could sell me a new car, if they dropped the price to $10,000. I don’t want to pay 30k, the dealer doesn’t want to drop to 10k, so there is no deal. That is a not prisoner’s dilemma.

      The people involved here are mostly professional politicians (the candidates, but also other power brokers). They know each other well. They make political deals all the time, and have a reputation to uphold. They have other political goals besides becoming president, so there is a currency to make deals in.

      This strikes me as a much simpler situation: there is no deal, because they do not really want a deal (at this moment). No one is offering big enough concessions, no is willing to drop out for small concessions.

    2. Ignacio

      Then we have MB to whom the prisoners dilemma does not apply. He has just made an investment whose results will show up in Super Tuesday. He is not going to abandon the race at least until he checks the results of his investments.

      A linguistic question. In the starting phrase is correct to write “to whom” or should it be just “whom” or any other expression?

      1. Robert Gray

        > A linguistic question …

        Good question. Generally you would think ‘apply … to’, yes. You certainly need a preposition. But in this case maybe ‘for whom’ would be better.

        1. Ignacio

          Thank you! Sometimes I construct the phrase in Spanish and then translate. A source for all kinds of mistakes. For instance “abandon” instead of “quit”.

      2. aletheia33

        “apply to” is the usual construction with “apply”.
        “apply for” is not incorrect, but why go to that length when the usual construction is clear enough.
        “to whom” is correct in this instance, as the pronoun (who, whom) is the indirect object of “apply to”, and “whom” is the correct form of the pronoun for that indirect object.

        correct: ‘the rules in this case do not apply to him (indirect object).’
        incorrect: ‘the rules in this case do not apply to he.’

        your sentence ‘Then we have MB to whom the prisoners dilemma does not apply.’
        is beautifully correct, except that for perfection you’d need a comma after MB (that would be really nitpicking, on a comments thread).
        to explain that one, we’d have to go to the more arcane issue of restrictive versus nonrestrictive clauses. you can look that one up on the internet if you are curious.

        just FYI: it’s a question about ‘grammar’, not ‘linguistics.’

        also FYI, many native speakers, in composing that sentence, would be stumped by the question you have asked and might err where you have not in your sentence or, throwing up their hands (i.e., giving up), might simplify its language thus:
        ‘Then we have MB; the prisoners dilemma does not apply to him.’ i think your sentence is more effective on the whole, but others might disagree.

        good work ignacio! and thank you for all the helpful info and thoughts you have contributed here on the epidemic! we are lucky to have you with us.

        1. Ignacio

          Thanks a lot! Very educative. I should do the exercise of pronouncing the phrases. That could intuitively help with the correct use of commas. “Apply to” repeat 100 times.

        2. drumlin woodchuckles

          Somehow . . . . ” Then we have MB to whom the prisoners’ dilemma does not apply” . . . sounds exactly correct to me.

      3. GramSci

        I’m a little late to the party, Ignacio, but maybe this reply turn up in your feed reader and be helpful. English is a little different from Spanish on these.

        * marks ungrammatical constructions.

        Regular pronouns:

        I give the book to him.
        I give him the book.
        *I give to him the book.

        [Relative clause]/Interrogative pronouns are different:

        The man [to whom I give the book] is crazy.
        The man [whom I give the book to] is crazy.
        *The man [whom I give the book] is crazy.

        To whom is she giving the book?
        Whom is she giving the book to?
        *Whom is she giving the book?

    3. PlutoniumKun

      I would have thought that a significant factor is to be able to jump out of the race onto a moving train while you still have some strength. It must have crossed the minds of some of the runners that if they were to break ranks and be the first ‘moderate’ to endorse Sanders, there could be a very significant political reward if Sanders then wins. And if Sanders were to be denied by superdelagates, that candidate could be perfectly positioned as the ‘compromise’ candidate. Warren I think has blown her chance to do that. I wouldn’t put that sort of calculation past Klobachar or Steyer. Mayor Pete may be thinking that way – he is nothing if not a schemer, but I think he is too personally loathed for it to work. Yang I think made a mistake in dropping out too fast – he seems to be manoevering to be someones VP pick, but I think he mistimed it.

      1. rusti

        It must have crossed the minds of some of the runners that if they were to break ranks and be the first ‘moderate’ to endorse Sanders, there could be a very significant political reward if Sanders then wins.

        I was trying to remember the sequence of how this went in 2016 with Trump. I’m too young to remember other primary contests before I was of voting age. Weren’t Christie and Giuliani two of the first defectors? What did Obama get from Clinton for the Secretary of State position?

        Maybe you’re right about this race, but I bet a lot of his opponents have really internalized the idea that he couldn’t win the general election because he’s not going to get those fabled moderate Republican swing voters so they don’t believe he has anything valuable to offer them.

        In any event, I really hope that he will be able to win the nomination without having to promise cabinet positions or other important posts to toxic party insiders as a result of horse-trading during the primary. It would be a big blow for his politics if he won the General and was sabotaged even from inside his own executive branch.

        1. Tim

          Sanders is good at politics, so I expect him to do well in horse trading. Getting conservative democrats in the cabinet implementing reform might not be so bad.

        2. Phillip Allen

          There is now ample experience in how to subvert a president from within their administration. The Dems normalized all that as part of the ongoing The Resistance™ spectacle. Going forward I think we should expect either wholesale sackings among the bureaucracy every time government changes hands, or administrations characterized by all-consuming back office civil wars as much as anything else.

        3. NotTimothyGeithner

          In regard to Obama and Hilary, she had more votes, and State has lost so much responsibility to other positions such as Defense and Treasury and the President having a phone. Kerry mattered as SoS because Obama cared about what he said, but if he didn’t, the SoS can be ignored.

          As far as the other Republicans, Jeb! sucked up so much time and energy in light of the Mittens loss, and besides a few local candidates out to buy a spot or sheepdog for Jeb such as Graham, Cain and Fiorino had moments in the sun.

          Kerry basically steamrolled in 2004. Dean collapsed, and the others didn’t have money or polling support to stay in. Edwards was buoyed by an SC win for a bit, but won no other state besides NC.

          2012 was a quest for an anti-Romney candidate. The results in Iowa weren’t released until late revealing Santorum actually won, but between local candidates and a few early western states which went for Mittens, it was going to be tough. I would argue 2016 is fairly similar, but the not Mittens vote gave Trump early wins. The Blue Blood GOP doesn’t really trust a Kasich.

          2008 for the GOP was full of odious ghouls. I think the outward religious garbage wasn’t in vogue outside of the South, and McCain’s commanding win in a state he has lived in for 20 years (NH :) ) made everyone who wasn’t pro Mittens fall in line.

          2000 on both sides was a random challenger against Biden if he was 20 years younger. Shrub with his evangelical and black sheep status could unite the religious right and the Blue Bloods. McCain didn’t have a chance.

          1992 was open, and in a way, this might wind up being the closest. Tsongas and Moonbeam kind of had expectations, but they were too right wing and made Clinton look like Lenin. Early on, a few guys like Paul Kirk who were closer to what might be expected didn’t run because of 41’s poll numbers. 1996 came after Newt took a dump all over the furniture, and GOP types weren’t interested leaving a parody field of old white guys who could have been the same guy. Steve Forbes ran. The man has the charisma of Bloomberg but doesn’t lie. I believe he came in 3rd behind Pat Buchanan. Eventually, the oldest thing in the race just sort of won, and like in 1992, Bill’s numbers went down as election time progressed. A GOP corpse just wasn’t enough.

          Before that, my knowledge is pieced together. Outside of Obama and Hillary, I don’t think anyone has really promised anything or had to promise anything. Edwards strong union support and relative black support in 2004 made him a viable running mate to Kerry especially. As to Giuliani, I think Trump likes him, and Trump likes to humiliate Christie.

        4. John k

          Warren has made herself toxic, but she retains an advantage for treasury… being a member of the club, she will be confirmed.

      2. Gregorio

        I believe that a more likely scenario is that Pete and Amy will follow the money and throw in with Mini Mike because even if he loses the general election, they would potentially be able to tap into his money pipeline for future contests. I don’t think any of the other candidates will be endorsing Sanders before the convention.

        1. Bill Carson

          Another interesting factor is that Pete and Amy appear to hate each others’ guts, so neither will want to drop out before the other.

    4. QuarterBack

      I agree with vlade that horse trading is a major factor in this primary cycle. The calculation to be made by the “also ran” candidates is when to cut bait and walk away with their campaign war chests, against when to hold on the capture more delegates for horse trading. The dynamics of this dilemma have changed because the DNC power brokers have made it clear that they are in a near panic over the possibility that Sanders could win the nomination, and especially panicked that he might win on the first delegate count. This panic has affected the flow of campaign funds to potential Sanders spoilers. In another primary cycle, campaign donations would have dried up and those candidates would have decided to cut bait and walk away with what they had. This cycle is different because even the single digit candidates seem to be getting enough money to keep their hooks in the water.

      This is just my theory, but I would predict that the campaign donation data shows a greater percentage of donors contributing to multiple campaigns (or even parties) than previous primaries. My sense is, in these times, there is money to be had by filling the roll of an effective spoiler. We even saw this in the 2016 cycle, when initially, the DNC surmised that it was in their best interest to quietly promote Trump because he was presumably the easiest to beat.

    5. rd

      The DNC has set it up so there is no Prisoners’ Dilemma. Sanders has to stay in because he has to try to win over 50% of delegates on the first ballot.

      The other delegates can stay in as long as they want (and have money) because the more there are, the less likely Sanders is likely to win on the first ballot and then the superdelegates come into play.

      It is unlikely many of the DNC superdelegates will vote for Sanders, so if he doesn’t win on the first ballot then one of the other candidates is likely to win the nomination.

      So it will be lack of money forcing them out. There is no other driver causing them to drop.

      1. False Solace

        Agreed. Warren’s PAC dropped $12mil in ad buys this week. There’s no way any of these candidates would stay in if they were racking up campaign debt. They are being funded to stay in. For all I know Bloomberg is behind some of it. (And billionaires who don’t like Bloomberg are behind the rest.)

        Sanders is the 2nd choice for most voters who are currently backing someone else. As for Klob, she spent the debate railing against M4A, she’s wholly owned by United “Health” and the entire DFL establishment is lined up behind her in her home state. She wont drop out until health insurers decide to stop wasting their money on her.

      2. lyman alpha blob

        I remember some politician or consultant addressing this years ago. They said something to the effect that no politician ever drops out of a race due to low polling numbers – they only drop out once the money dries up.

        If the donor class keeps funding the four “moderates” still in the race and Bloomberg keeps going too, I really don’t see a scenario where this ends well for the DNC – they either get Bernie and lose their gravy train, or they ditch Bernie, lose the election and with it any shred of credibility they may have had left.

        Unless of course the gravy train was all they wanted in the first place, and they just let Bloomberg purchase the DNC and fund it in perpetuity. Then, problem solved no matter who wins!

        1. inode_buddha

          I think they will lose their gravy train either way: after all, if they ditch Sanders and lose the election, why would wealthy donors continue to pump money into an organization with zero influence and no membership?

      3. HotFlash

        So it will be lack of money forcing them out. There is no other driver causing them to drop.

        You know, I think it will be a scholarship situation. If a candidate looks even marginally viable (ie, not dead or actually raving) coming up to the Convention, the DNC will see that the money will be found.

  2. CBBB

    Biden looks like he will have a blow-out in SC and that’s going to change things again. I think the outcome on ST is very unpredictable and I don’t think Bernie is going to do as well as people are expecting.

    1. Jack

      I wouldn’t be so sure about tomorrow’s SC primary being a Biden blowout. Yes, he is polling ahead of Sanders. But…a big factor that is not getting much press is the fact that the Republican party here has been quietly urging Republicans to vote for Sanders. South Carolina is an open primary, so Repubs are allowed to vote for a Dem candidate. There is no Repub primary in SC this year. The Repub party didn’t hold one and put all their chips on Trump (this is a very red state). Whether that will be enough to skew the results we will have to wait and see.

      1. John Steinbach

        If Sanders does well tomorrow (even reasonably well), expect Republican cross voting to be the big story.

        1. John k

          Fabulous… dnc has been searching for years to find somebody that can bring in the moderate reps!
          I expect if this happens they will shift and line up behind sanders.

          1. Dr. John Carpenter

            My Fox news watching, straight ticket Republican father told me in 2016 he would have voted for Bernie had they not screwed him. That’s the first Dem I ever heard him say that about.

        2. Ford Prefect

          The ‘publicans need to be cautious about what they wish for. Once the voting population figures out that Socialism = functioning CDC, Socialism may not look too bad.

    2. flora

      an aside: It’s probably a coincidence that your handle’s spelling, if each letter is alphabetically moved 1 letter to the right, spells ‘DCCC’.

    3. Dan

      South Carolina is going to be a lot closer than the two most recent polls, Clemson and Monmouth, suggest. But Super Tuesday is when things will really begin to shake out. Bernie is going to destroy the field in California and he’s going to beat Warren in her home state of Massachusetts, among other tasty tidbits for the media to chew on and regurgitate. On the whole, he’s going to do very, very well on Tuesday. Wait and see.

  3. voislav

    The issue is not so much vote splitting as the high viability threshold of 15%. Taking the example from the post:

    Bernie Sanders has only 30% of the vote. Biden, Bloomberg, Buttigieg and Klobuchar each have 18%, 14%, 10% and 5% respectively, for a combined total of 47%.

    Here only Bernie and Biden are viable candidates and the delegates are split between them, 63% Bernie, 37% Biden. So it means that with 30% of the vote, Bernie wins almost two thirds of the candidates.

    The reason everyone is staying in the race is DNC. They’ve been making clear noises about denying Bernie the nomination unless he wins it outright, so everyone is hoping to be the “unity” candidate in the second round of the convention. As long as you have delegates, you have a seat at the table.

    So dropping out makes no sense for any of them, as even candidates with a small number of delegates could end up being the Kingmakers or be made the King.

    1. Samuel Conner

      In the caucuses, the 15% viability threshold was applied at precinct level for delegates to the county conventions, and (I think) again at the county level for delegates to the state conventions [and these conventions are still future; the attributed delegates in the news are based on extrapolations of what is likely to happen at these conventions, I think] where the national delegates are selected. Someone at 14% in the state-wide 2nd vote count could, in principle, “earn” national convention delegates by being above the threshold in some places even though below it overall.

      Is there a similar “multi-level” cutoff in the secret ballot primary states or is the threshold applied only to the aggregate state-wide totals? Or does it vary state to state? I have the impression that in 2016 there was a good bit of variety in the rules from state to state. Are things more uniform this time?

      This seems an important detail because if there is a similar prospect for “below threshold statewide, but still able to receive some national delegates,” that would pretty clearly be an incentive for low-polling candidates to stay in longer in hope of accruing more political capital for future trading at a contested convention.

      1. voislav

        In primaries (so not caucuses) delegates are typically awarded in each congressional district, in addition to “delegates-at-large”, which are statewide. Candidates have to reach viability in a congressional district to be awarded those candidates and viability statewide to be awarded “delegates-at-large”.

        So a candidate can be viable in one or two congressional districts and be awarded those delegates while being non-viable statewide.

    2. Darius

      The others’ incentive to stay in is to keep Sanders’s totals low and prevent Sanders from getting to the convention with less than 1991 delegates. In that case, the Democrats will never allow him to be nominated even if he falls one short. The midgets all will get enough funding to continue far beyond their actual viability from the usual sources. Then, one of them will be nominated and destroy the party. They would rather self-immolate than give it to Sanders.

      1. Anarcissie

        That would leave a large open space where the Democratic Party used to be, which might be filled by something which, from the upper-class point of view, was even worse.

        1. inode_buddha

          Indeed, this is what I hope and pray will happen if they screw Sanders again. I hope his entire base and apparatus suddenly decides to rename itself the Socialist Workers Party of America. And then goes on to steamroll everything in 2024, preferably under AOC.

  4. Samuel Conner

    Here’s the deal: our one chance to achieve progressive change is that Klobuchar wins in red states and Biden makes real progress by getting things done in cooperation with the R-dominated Senate. Meanwhile, it is critical that Buttigieg broadens and galvanizes a movement of those who agree with us on critical issues.

    I don’t really think we need Steyer, though his money could come in handy.

    Bloomberg? Lock him up.

    We don’t need to stack the candidates; what we need is a chimera (not us, that ) that combines all of their unique features. It might not have to be a combination that combines all at the same time; perhaps a being that shifts from one to the other as needed.

    Where are the Zygons when you need them?

    1. Darius

      Yeah. Klob and Biden, burning things up with their usual liberal Democrat vision of empty gestures, virtue signaling, and fiscal austerity. Because it’s all about protecting the billionaires, after all. That’s a positive vision that scores of people will get behind.

    2. Samuel Conner

      I do wish I had thought to write “handsy” instead of “handy”.

      Satire is best composed “cold”

    3. Samuel Conner

      There might be a solution to the problem of “combining the useful features of the candidates who cannot win primary vote pluralities on their own.”

      It’s a novel legal theory, but US is no stranger to those:

      nominate for President a Corporation that was incorporated in US prior to 1985-ish (the precise year depends on whether the 35 year age limit applies to the date of the election or the date of inauguration, or some other date)

      Corporations have many of the rights of natural persons. I don’t see why they should be denied the right to run for public office.

      Corporations also have boards of directors and officers appointed by those boards. This is a mechanism by which one could combine the features of the poorly polling establishment candidates.

      No need to resort to BBC sci-fi creatures for tongue-in-cheek amusement.

      All we need now is a Supreme Court test case.

      I don’t see why this Corporate candidate could not be created and slotted into the current primary. Perhaps the courts would allow the DNC to combine the individual candidates’ primary vote totals starting right away.

      In fact, it’s not even clear to me that the DNC needs the permission of a court to do this. It has the legal authority to run the primary any way it wishes.

      The question of whether the courts would allow such a Corporate Chimera Candidate to actually take office next year would need to be resolved with actual litigation.

      But it looks like a sure-fire way to credibly deny Sanders the nomination, and even a plurality of pledged delegates.

  5. antidlc


    Sorry I do not have time to look this info up, so I thought I would ask the group.

    1) Let’s say candidate A gets X number of delegates to a convention. What happens if one (or more) of those delegates votes for a candidate other than candidate A? Is any of this tracked to make sure that the X number of delegates actually vote for candidate A? Can the delegates really vote for any candidate they want once they get to the convention? Are state rules different from state to state? Are rules for the national convention different from state conventions?

    2) What if the vote goes to the second round at the national convention and a candidate drops out and wants to support one of the remaining candidates? Are delegates for that candidate free to vote for any of the remaining candidates on the second vote?

    Would appreciate any info. Thanks.

    1. voislav

      In the first round, delegates are compelled to vote for the candidate they represent, so no choice there. I am not sure if delegates are allowed a vote in the first round, I think they are automatically assigned.

      In the second round delegates are free to vote for any candidate they want, regardless of what candidate they were elected to represent. So who the delegate is matters a lot for second round as they can switch votes at will.

    2. Samuel Conner

      Interpreting your question #1 to refer to the “intra-state” elections process that leads to selection of delegates to the national convention:

      The procedure probably varies a little from state to state, but my understanding is that each campaign recruits a “slate” of delegates who will represent the candidate in the convention that selects delegates to the next higher convention (ultimately terminating at the national convention that selects the nominee).

      It would be important that the campaigns select candidates for these “elections for delegates” whose stated preferences are not feigned. How this is done I have no idea, but I’m guessing that there are a lot of low-level alliances in D party local politics and word filters up about who is reliable and who is flaky.

      I would like to think that the pro-Bernie slates are people who are at least as committed to Bernie as his voters tend to be.

      The thought occurs that there is the possibility of deception on the part of people who volunteer to function as intra-state convention delegates.

      In past there has been, at times, chicanery at the state-level conventions to discourage the delegates of candidates not favored by the state party establishments.

      I have read that things are a bit firmer this time, in terms of “harder to subvert the results of the primary election vote”, but I don’t know the details.

      1. anonymous

        In Iowa, one of this year’s changes was that the national delegates would now be awarded based on caucus night precinct results. In the past, it was important for a candidate to have very committed delegates who would make sure to show up at the next level conventions and stay long enough (which could be all day) to vote.

    3. aletheia33

      it is important that we are aware of the rules as they now stand.
      this will turn out to be especially important if/when the DNC changes them, as they have already shown they can and will do, with impunity, other than the feeble tweeting of a tiny minority (correct me if the outcry was stronger than that).

      (leaving aside the ultimate punishment, “destroying the party”.

      –speaking of which–this is a request to readers like what they call on reddit “explain like i’m five”–i would like to see a breakdown of just how the party will come to breathe its last breath, which various journalists etc. keep mentioning without presenting the play-by-play scenario they project for it.

      after all, massive protests can and will be infiltrated, put down, and downplayed, and a national party, however corrupt [and they’ve all always been corrupt to some extent], consists of a very resilient structure that includes a very large number of committed and relatively decent [and/or owned] people at state and local levels. what is going to make all those people walk away from their party [their jobs] as such? i need to study more history . . .

      we’ve already had a stolen election in 2000, which in a working democracy would be the death knell for the party that perpetrated it. isn’t the dem party, by some definition of democracy, already a zombie?

      i guess this is why the outcome of sanders’s democracy test at the convention is going to be, as lambert might put it, wonderfully clarifying. that being so, though, perhaps we should not underestimate people’s ability to go on hoping for and believing in the continued viability of institutions they are attached to in the face of all clarifying evidence to the contrary.

      what is the actual scenario of the final self-destruction?)

  6. Jockamo

    I think that we are not being cynical enough here. Perhaps the Democrat Party establishment (reasonably) believes that if some of the centrists drop out, even if doing so would boost the last centrist standing (likely Bloomberg), enough of the dropouts’ supporters would shift their support to Sanders that he would have a better shot at clearing the 50% delegate threshold, thereby torpedoing the party’s last, best chance to stop his candidacy. Or put another way, having everyone stay in until the convention might be, in their view, the their best path to having Bernie show up with a plurality but not a majority.

    Sure, this theory assumes the existence of a coordinated Establishment and minimizes the agency of individual candidates. But that’s not the most outlandish assumption given the groundwork that’s being laid for denying Bernie the nomination if he has only a plurality (including by each candidate at the Nevada debate).

    1. Samuel Conner

      I think it must be a painful dilemma for the D establishment, since the optimal “slate” of “hold Bernie down” candidates is not the same in every state, and the extras inevitably boost Sanders’ final share of the national convention delegates at stake in that state, by bleeding support from the more viable “not-Sanders” candidates.

      One thing that having loads of candidates does consistently do, however, is hold down Sanders’ share of the popular vote total; Sanders is the second choice of 10% to 20% of the voters who favor each of the “not Sanders” candidates.

      My guess is that what the D establishment hopes to do is two-fold

      a) keep Sanders below the “majority of pledged delegates” threshold for a 1st ballot convention win

      b) keep Sanders’ popular vote totals in the primary as low as possible

      Having so many candidates persevere in the primaries makes a) harder to achieve, but promotes b)

      If I were less concerned about what I consider to be at stake in this primary, I would feel a small measure of sympathy for the anguish the Party leaders must be feeling.

      Promoting agenda b) by numerous candidates persevering might also have a third consequence,

      c) maximizing the number of states that Sanders wins (though these wins will tend to be plurality rather than majority wins)

      Sanders will surely win pluralities of pledged delegates and pluralities of the states.

      It is going to be sooooo ugly if the national Party denies him the nomination.

  7. John k

    Everybody is likely to stay in if they have at least some delegates.
    Market down another 500… it’s being shot from two directions, virus and sanders. And while economy has propped the market, the reverse is true. Falling market plus virus is almost certain recession, just in time for election.
    So any candidate, socialist or moderate, might be able to beat trump.
    Sanders will eventually point out that with m4a sick people don’t get turned away from lack of insurance… this will convince those with good coverage that it is good for them for all to be covered. So sanders might get enough to win on first ballot… but he might need a small amount. He could promise cab post and it would be known he can deliver.
    Plus, we’re almost at super tue, doesn’t cost much to be in till then, or even thru March.

    1. Samuel Conner

      it’s being shot from three directions: virus, Sanders, and the fact that it was already over-valued by historical P/E standards.

      I imagine that there has been a lot of “shy” money on the sidelines and we will see some “bear market rallies” in coming weeks and months.

      I agree that the specifics of the current crisis are better for Sanders’ policy platform than for any of the other D candidates.

      DJT may be writhing in internal anguish as we write.

  8. Code Name D

    Call it the “reverse spoiler effect.” Normally, the establishment used the spoiler effect to keep progressives out of politics. There may be one or two “golden child” in the campaign; the one who raised the most money during the exploratory committee phase. The doors are then thrown open to let as many progressives enter – inevitably splitting the progressive vote very early one. Combine this with Iowa, which tends to erase “weaker” candidates, and you have the perfect gate keeper that still has the illusion of a functioning democracy.

    Now, they find the shackles are on the other foot. It’s the establishment who has flooded the field, with only one real progressive candidate for the voters to rally behind.

    So, of course they have changed their tune.

    However, the “game theory” argument ignores the whole point of an election. To pick the best candidate that represents the wants and needs of the voters.

    What is your favorite ice cream? A) chocolate, B) strawberry, C) vanilla or D) caramel.

    If chocolate wins, you can’t then argue that strawberry & vanilla & caramel are more popular. It’s a category error.

    1. Samuel Conner

      Agreed about the category error, but one could change the category. This has to be part of the reason for the focus on “electability”.

      Which flavor is more likely to defeat orange sherbet in a 2nd contest? One might question the wisdom of the voters who were expressing their personal preferences for dessert; they were answering the wrong question.

      It least, that is how the ice cream marketers are spinning it.

        1. Tony Wright

          The US voted in a self-licking ice cream cone in 2016. As a non American, and someone who favours a planet inhabitable by humans beyond 2050, I sincerely hope that this result is not repeated in 2020.
          Sanders appears the best option for the planet. Someone needs to hammer this into the collective skulls of the DNC, in other words “do you really want your children and grandchidren to inhabit a totally trashed planet?”

  9. Edward

    Sometimes, I wonder if the DNC is secretly trying to promote Sanders. For example, what if the Iowa debacle were a deliberate attempt by the Dems to cast Sanders as an underdog fighting a corrupt establishment, because they are willing to fall on their own sword to help Sanders defeat Trump? The Iowa mess was pure gravy for mobilizing Sanders’ base. Bloomberg and the anti-Sanders media bias could also be helping to cast Sanders as an underdog. I don’t really believe this is deliberate but what has been happening is so outlandish I sometimes wonder.

    1. Samuel Conner

      This is the Sanders “magic” that Howard Dean (chairman of the board of the DNC, according to a comment a few days ago from someone who looked into a D&B summary of “DNC Services” corporation) is reported to have admired in a recent news item I saw —

      opposition to Sanders tends to strengthen him.

      It’s surely not intentional. And I don’t think that the D party establishment are incompetent or stupid, though it is quite possible that they are, on balance, “self-defeating.” They are, IMO, deeply self-interested, and their perceived self-interests are in conflict with the interests of the great majority of the rest of the people.

      I think that the “Sanders magic” is simply the near-perfect fit between Sanders’ ideas and the needs the majority of the people at this moment in history.

      1. Edward

        I think the public understands the establishment is lying to them. Approval ratings for Congress are even lower then for Trump and so on. If the establishment opposes Sanders, what is supposed to happen…

        If I were a devious person, willing to trick the public, I could see trying a scam like what I described, maybe, just to help defeat Trump. But really, I think the “help” is unintentional. A defining characteristic of the establishment these days is they are delusional, seemingly believing their own propaganda. The “reality-based community” is nowhere to be found in Washington.

  10. Samuel Conner

    Would it be helpful, at least for occasional deep ventilation laughter (which I think can be useful in reducing the risk of the onset of bacterial pneumonia [not sure about viral]; when on bed rest one is advised to use those breathing test devices to insure that one is deeply inflating one’s lungs), to have a neologism to stand in for the “D establishment”, “party power brokers”, or the “super”-delegates?

    Against the possibility that the answer to this question is “yes”, I offer the proposal:


    Perhaps “Demigarchs” would be better.

    Perhaps this is not useful, but I think that while we are “fighting” the D establishment, it could be good for morale to occasionally have opportunities to “laugh” at them, too.

      1. Samuel Conner

        Perhaps “Duopolygarchs”, to emphasize the common class interests of the people who reign in the two Parties.

        1. Edward

          It might work. The problem with naming them, though, is I don’t have a precise idea of who they are. This makes it hard to decide what is right. But I have encountered the problem you describe; how does one refer to this amorphous entity in the Democratic party that is conspiring against Sanders.

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