As the race for the Democratic nod comes closer to an end, and the Hillary vs. Bernie showdown gets more fiery, each candidate is focused on getting the support of that one key demographic. No, not millennials—we’re talking about superdelegates. Though you’ve probably heard the term over and over, how much do you know about these mystical people?
On this week’s episode of her show Full Frontal with Samantha Bee, the host clarified some misconceptions about the power of this overhyped figure, starting with the position’s conception.
After Hubert Humphrey won the Democratic nomination in the 1968 election, against the wishes of most constituents, Bee explains, the party changed its rules “to give power to the people”—starting with reform commissions created to shift away from ‘party bosses‘ and toward primaries and ‘rank and file’ party voters. “The people,” Bee explains, celebrated these new changes in the rules by “dropping a shit-ton of acid with Hunter S. Thompson and nominating George McGovern.” McGovern went on to win only Massachusetts and Washington, DC in the general election.
So “in 1982, the grown-ups said ‘ENOUGH,'” Bee continues:
From now on, Democratic governors, members of Congress, and party movers and shakers get a say in the process. We shall call you ‘ex-officio delegates’—that way, everyone who speaks Latin will know how you got this job. Normal people will call you ‘superdelegates’ and have no idea.
The only job of the superdelegates is to act in the best interest of the party. “That’s why they have never tried to overrule the will of the voters. Not because they care about us—they don’t—but because pissing off the voters is bad for their party, remember?” If Bernie Sanders receives more votes than Hillary Clinton, Bee says, her superdelegates will drop her and switch allegiances, just like they did in the 2008 presidential election.
But if superdelegates won’t act against the wishes of the constituent majority, what purpose do they serve? “Think of them as the driving instructor with her foot hovering over the break,” Bee jokes. “She’ll only use her power if the party is about do a Thelma and Louise.“
So superdelegates are not there to protect the party from candidates like Sanders, Bee says, but to protect the party from candidates like Donald Trump. It’s safe to assume Republicans really wish they could use more of them right about now.