When Democrats Rigged an Election for Bernie Sanders

There have been various accusations that the Democratic National Committee somehow “rigged” the presidential primaries in order for Hillary Clinton to gain the nomination. The evidence to support this is debatable and largely circumstantial, and deserves its own column.

Nevertheless, Sanders supporters claiming the primary was rigged should remember one thing: a decade ago, the Democratic Party rigged their primary to help elect Bernie Sanders.

Sanders, then Vermont’s at-large congressman, announced in 2005 he would run as a Socialist for the senate seat being vacated by the retiring Jim Jeffords. Given the high likelihood that Sanders would win, and his frequent work with Democrats and shared values, Democrats felt it was not worth it to put up their own candidate.

Not long after Sanders’s announcement, DNC chair Howard Dean was already suggesting that the Democratic Party would support him. Speaking to Tim Russert on Meet the Press, Dean pointed out the merits of backing Bernie:

RUSSERT: In your home state of Vermont, there’s a vacancy for the United States Senate about to occur. Bernie Sanders, the congressman from Vermont, wants to run for that seat. He is a self-described avowed socialist.

[ … ]

DEAN: Well, a Democratic socialist – all right, we’re talking about words here. And Bernie can call himself anything he wants. He is basically a liberal Democrat, and he is a Democrat that – he runs as an Independent because he doesn’t like the structure and the money that gets involved. And he actually has, I think, some good points about campaign finance reform. The bottom line is that Bernie Sanders votes with the Democrats 98 percent of the time. And that is a candidate that we think-

RUSSERT: So you’d support him?

DEAN: We may very well end up supporting him…a Bernie Sanders in the United States Senate is going to be a whole lot better than somebody who will vote to confirm rightwing judges, somebody who will vote to undo minority rights, somebody who will vote to kill Social Security…And Bernie Sanders will be a strong candidate.

And indeed, the Democratic Party did stack the deck in favor of Sanders. In January 2006, the state committee of the Vermont Democratic Party voted unanimously to endorse Sanders – a move they defended by pointing out Sanders was the only person to ask the party for support. During petitioning season for the senate primary, the party gathered signatures to put Sanders on their primary ballot, knowing he would win, even though Sanders said he would not accept the party’s nomination. As a result, the party deliberately set itself up to have no candidate in the general senate race, prohibiting any awkwardness of having to support a Democratic candidate with no hope of winning. Or, even worse, a Democratic candidate that might end up being a spoiler that ends up electing a Republican.

“Bernie Sanders has by far the best chance of winning, and would work closely with and would respect Democratic leadership in Washington,” said Vermont Democratic Party chairman Ian Carleton, speaking to the Boston Globe. “Anyone who takes a practical look at Vermont politics will say that this is the best thing to do for the greater good here.”

Not everyone was enamored with the tack. Among those was Peter Moss, a retired chemical engineer who was seeking the Democratic Party nomination. Moss slammed the maneuvering as “highly unethical.”

He added, “If you’re not a longstanding member of the clique, you’re not only out, but they’ll keep you out.”

While Moss may have had a point, nevertheless his Democratic credentials were tenuous at best: he had run for the Republican senate primary only two years earlier, and acknowledged he was only seeking the Democratic nomination because it would be easier than competing in the Republican primary, where wealthy self-funded candidate Jim Tarrant was seeking the nomination.

The other candidates seeking the Democratic nomination had similar backgrounds: there was Larry Drown, a retired plumber who had sought office before on other party lines; and Craig Hill, an electronics marketer who previously ran for senate on the Green Party line. Rounding out the list was Louis Thabault, a retired postal worker who was running due to his belief that airplane contrails were dangerous and deliberately being used to poison people.

Sanders, of course, handily won the sham primary, and then won the general election for senate with major national support from the Democratic Party.

The degree of “deal-making” between Sanders and the party is not entirely clear.

But what is clear is that Sanders was the recipient of substantial help from the Democratic Party effectively rigging its own primary.