The political world thought it had a pretty good idea about how the race for the Democratic nomination was going to wrap up. Six states would hold their nominating contests today; Hillary Clinton would clinch a majority of the pledged delegates; Bernie Sanders would say party elites might yet override the people's choice despite all evidence to the contrary; and the media would, later tonight, declare Clinton the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee.
But about 12 hours ago, we were confronted with a curveball: news organizations, including the Associated Press and NBC News, said Clinton has already crossed the finish line
Clinton surpassed the "magic number" of delegates needed to clinch the Democratic Party's nomination, according to NBC News projections, to become the first woman in America's 240-year history to be selected as the nominee of a major political party. The projection, based on new commitments from super-delegates, came one day before voters in California and five other states were set to push Clinton over the threshold of delegates needed to claim the party's presumptive nomination.
As Rachel explained on the show last night, the delegate math is relatively straightforward: there are a total of 4,765 delegates available, so the first candidate to reach 2,383 delegates earns the nomination
. Take the pledged delegates Clinton has won through primaries and caucuses, add the number of super-delegates who've committed to supporting her, and the arithmetic shows she crossed the threshold yesterday -- no matter what happens in the final round of contests.
This has long been Clinton's goal, of course, but it's not quite the way she hoped to wrap up the process. Indeed, her campaign manager, Robby Mook, issued a statement last night downplaying the media organizations' findings. "This is an important milestone, but there are six states that are voting Tuesday, with millions of people heading to the polls, and Hillary Clinton is working to earn every vote," he said. "We look forward to Tuesday night, when Hillary Clinton will clinch not only a win in the popular vote, but also the majority of pledged delegates."
Around the same time, the Sanders campaign issued a statement of its own, emphasizing the same point it's been stressing for months: super-delegates "do not vote until July 25," so they may yet decide to give Sanders the nomination, even if he finishes in second place. Therefore, it may look like Clinton has clinched the nomination, but as the senator claimed last night, this is merely "an illusion
Whether or not a person buys into Sanders' pitch appears to depend largely on whether or not that person wants Sanders to prevail, but there's an important flaw in the senator's argument: he used to believe the exact opposite of what he's saying now.
Eight years ago this week
, Sanders endorsed then-Sen. Barack Obama's candidacy after the Illinois Democrat clinched a majority thanks to a combination of pledged delegates and commitments from party super-delegates.
It didn't matter, Sanders said at the time, that super-delegates wouldn't literally vote until the convention -- because the outcome was obvious and the results were clear. Obama, Sanders said eight years ago, had won fair and square.
MADDOW: I have to ask you about when you would consider it to be over because in 2008 Senator Sanders stayed out of the race, stayed out of the primary between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama until the very end. He told the Free Press in Burlington in 2008 that he had held off supporting either of the Democratic candidates because he had made it a custom not to support any Democrat for the presidential nomination until the party had chosen its nominee. But then he endorsed Barack Obama when Barack Obama was at the position that Hillary Clinton is right now. Not when he had secured the nomination with pledged delegates alone, not even actually, Senator Sanders didn't wait for Hillary Clinton to get out of the race in 2008. He endorsed Barack Obama saying the race was over between Obama and Clinton once Obama had the right number of delegates with both pledged delegates and super delegates combined. So if that standard ended the race for him fair and square in 2008 why wouldn't that end the race for him fair and square tonight? BRIGGS: Well, it's because, there are differences between then and now, he's led a dramatic revolutionary insurgency in the party and we are trying our darndest to give those people the voice that they have earned and deserved in the Democratic Party process.
It's clearly an awkward defense, and I don't blame Briggs for not being sure how best to handle this. Sanders publicly declared what he considered clinching the nomination -- pledged delegates plus commitments from super-delegates -- and now he doesn't want this standard applied to his own campaign.
Team Sanders will need a better response, though it's unclear what that might be.