The superdelegate system is baffling and stupid, given that it’s composed of unelected randos who are free to support any candidate, and, in so doing, can potentially sway an entire primary election. Nevertheless, a bad way to voice your protest of that system is to threaten and/or harass the superdelegates. Don’t do that.
One superdelegate controversy—whether one should threaten them, like, physically—became an issue on the GOP side of things in early April. That’s when racist, sexist bigot, political operative, and Trump fan Roger Stone threatened to publicize the hotel room numbers of any RNC delegate who switched their support away from Trump. From Politico:
“We’re going to have protests, demonstrations. We will disclose the hotels and the room numbers of those delegates who are directly involved in the steal,” Stone said Monday in a discussion with Stefan Molyneux on Freedomain Radio, as he alleged that Trump’s opponents planned to deny the democratic will of Republican primary voters.
“If you’re from Pennsylvania, we’ll tell you who the culprits are. We urge you to visit their hotel and find them. You have a right to discuss this, if you voted in the Pennsylvania primary, for example, and your votes are being disallowed,” Stone said.
It’s unclear what Roger Stone wanted people to do once they located the superdelegates alone in their hotel rooms. Deliver a cookie basket, presumably.
A similarly-shaped controversy is now brewing among Democrats; as NPR reported over the weekend, a Sanders fan named Spencer Thayer created a website originally titled the Superdelegate Hitlist, to locate and persuade superdelegates nationwide who are either undecided or support Clinton.
In a tweet that has since been deleted, Thayer used the word “harass” to describe the Hitlist’s goal:
On April 1, he also used that word, arguing that Sanders supporters need to “harass the establishment:”
Thayer changed the name of the website on April 6, two days after it was launched, as well as the logo, originally a deer’s head backed by arrows (the deer is now flanked by red telephones). From the site’s FAQ:
WHY HAS THE SITE’S NAME AND LOGO CHANGED?
The branding began to detract from the campaign’s purpose, so it wasn’t a hard decision to make the change once it was clear it wasn’t working.
WHAT WAS YOUR GOAL BEHIND THE “SUPERDELEGATE HIT LIST?”
The superdelegate system is rigged to protect establishment politicians and shut down populism. Superdelegates by their very nature diminish the value of the vote by giving an elite constituency of representatives, party leaders, and even lobbyists extra power. The Superdelegate List exists to help voters challenge this undemocratic system. Contacting our elected representatives and party leaders and holding them to account is an American tradition. This is the only way to keep the voter base from being patronized or ignored.
On the same day, as the Washington Post reports, Superdelegate Bob Mulholland, who’s supporting Clinton, wrote a furious letter to the Sanders campaign, saying that Sanders fans were “bullying” and harassing superdelegates. Mulholland demanded the campaign denounce those tactics. From the letter, which you can read in full here:
Society has been trying to deal with High School bullies and the same Rule should apply to your campaign and your supporters. Us active Democrats enjoy healthy discussions and debates at meetings, Caucuses and Conventions but it is unacceptable for us to get harassing communications from bullies. As a Clinton supporter, I have not received harassing phone calls but it does appear women DNC Members are getting the brunt of the threats. Professionally, campaign staff and representatives should be the ones calling delegates. A 12 year old child answering the phone at home should not be hearing threats.
For his side, Thayer told the Post that the intent isn’t to threaten or harass the superdelegates, but to make them accountable to the people they represent:
“Historically, the superdelegates have been able to disenfranchise voters without being held accountable,” he said. “The Internet has changed power relationships between party leaders and their constituents, and those in power have a tendency to interpret challenges to their authority as harassment.
This is the Bernie Bro phenomenon in a nutshell: a good-enough idea (pointing out the superdelegate system is fundamentally undemocratic) runs into an obnoxious social media tactic, helmed by someone who seems like a bit of a dick.
In theory, contacting superdelegates shouldn’t be controversial. Many of them are politicians, working as state representatives, senators, or in positions within the DNC. For the most part, the list features their professional contact information. Only one address for one superdelegate, the site’s FAQ says, may have been a home address and was removed: “There was one address labeled ‘home’ for an entry. The data came from another large public list submitted to the site that day. A volunteer removed the address once it was discovered.”
And yet: Several superdelegates told NPR that the contacts from Sanders supports were not having their intended effect, because people are being humongous dicks about it. Akilah Ross Ensley with Young Democrats of America said her Facebook page became a mire of harassing comments:
Ensley said she’s been called names, and there have been expletives.
“They said, you know, you should go to hell,” said Ensley, describing another message. “How dare you vote against your own interests as an African-American woman. I expected you would be smarter than that.”
When Clinton-backing super delegate Joyce Elliott heard she was on, what at the time was called the Superdelegate Hit List, she was taken aback.
“That is, that is very interesting,” Elliott said after laughing uncomfortably. “As far as I know, this is probably only the second time I’ve been on a hit list, and the other one was not pleasant.”
Maine DNC member Maggie Allen told the Washington Examiner she received a “drunken” phone call from someone late at night telling her “Hey bitch, switch your vote.”
Calling or emailing a state representative or DNC chair through professional channels does not necessarily constitute harassment. Showing up at someone’s hotel room or phoning them late at night to call them a bitch unquestionably does. On her show Monday night, Samantha Bee called Thayer a “self-righteous Twitter douche,” likening him to Roger Stone and showcasing a 2012 clip of him shouting at a homeless man reading a Bible on the street:
For his part, Thayer seems unmoved by the criticism:
Congrats, Democrats: you’re certainly keeping this primary much more exciting than it should be, and in the wrong ways.
Screenshot via Full Frontal with Sam Bee/TBS