Superdelegates Under the Desk

05/13/2008 04:35 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Like the rest of America, Rep. Rahm Emanuel knows that Hillary Clinton's quest for the presidency is dying a slow and irreversible death. He has even called Barack Obama "the presumptive nominee." Yet when it comes to the question of how Emanuel will cast his own all-important superdelegate ballot, he couldn't be more cautious. Known in political circles for his killer instinct, Emanuel describes his current position as "hiding under my desk."

What is it about the Clintons that puts the fear of God in these hard-nosed political people? Why are Emanuel and the rest of the undecided superdelegates so fearful of finally ending this thing?

We've known for a long time that this ridiculous system of superdelegates will ultimately decide the nominee. What's clear now is that Obama will end the campaign ahead in the popular vote, pledged delegates, and states won. However you add it up - and the Clinton campaign is advancing new theories of math daily -- Obama has won the primaries.

The superdelegates have two choices: back up the will of the people, or reverse it. This should be a no-brainer, and for most of them, it is. There's no way the Democratic Convention is going to overturn the clear result of the primaries -- you couldn't invent a better way for them to antagonize their own base and increase the odds of losing the general election.

But instead of stepping up to the plate and ending this thing, the majority of undecided superdelegates are waiting for someone else to do it, emerging from under the desk in a trickle instead of a flood. Many of them have admitted that Obama will be the nominee, and even said that Clinton's continual hammering of him will damage his prospects in the general election.

Rep. James Clyburn has called the Clintons' negative campaign tactics "bizarre" and publicly worries that her attacks will damage the party in the fall. But his superdelegate vote? He's still undecided.

Rep. Charles Rangel responded to Hillary's latest race-baiting tactics with the quote: "I can't believe Sen. Clinton would say anything that dumb." She did. And Rangel? Still officially supporting her.

Even Nancy Pelosi has been intimidated into backing away from her comments that superdelegates should support the will of the people -- as if that is a highly controversial statement.

Yes, there are still states left to vote, and ideally it should be the voters who decide the nominee and not the superdelegates. But the reality is, if the superdelegate system was not in place, Obama would have already mathematically wrapped up the nomination. The only chance Clinton has of winning is to convince the superdelegates to overturn the will of the people.

The undecided superdelegates should step up now and say they won't let that happen. It's time to come out from under the desk.

Brendan Spiegel is a former reporter at Congressional Quarterly and the editor of Endless Simmer.