The moment is fast approaching for the Democratic Party to choose its nominee, and it is clear that Hillary Clinton -- barring an indictment from the FBI -- is going to be the Democratic candidate in the general election.
Her rival, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, has spent his campaign cultivating himself as an anti-establishment alternative to Democratic party orthodoxy, particularly on economic issues.
For many months, the central theme of his campaign has been four words: The system is rigged. When Sanders says this, he is referencing his view that much of the U.S. political system is in thrall to a self-interested, money-minded oligarchy which permeates both parties.
In a narrower sense, those four words also referred to the idea, popular earlier in 2016, that Clinton's lead over Sanders was due principally to the existence of "superdelegates," as well as to the electoral improprieties displayed during the Arizona and New York primaries. In this sense, "the system is rigged" refers to the Democratic Party's nomination process.
Now that the race is almost over, the "system is rigged" narrative can be evaluated, and we can say for sure that Sanders simply lost the race. It should not come as too much of a surprise: Sanders was running a vigorously anti-establishment campaign as a democratic socialist against Clinton, a former secretary of state and one of the most powerful players within the Democratic Party.
At the end of the day, it is pledged delegates and the popular vote in which Sanders needed to compete with Clinton for, rather than superdelegates, and he is losing by margins that are mathematically impossible to overcome at this point in time. Nate Cohn of The New York Times highlights the fact that Sanders is down by roughly 14 points in the popular vote and 8 points in pledged delegates -- the difference, ironically, being made up by Sanders' victories in states that held caucuses, a process in which participation is more likely to be lower than in a primary election.
In terms of the popular vote, Clinton's support exceeds Sanders' by 3 million as of early June 2016. Those voters who were "purged" in Brooklyn during New York's primary fiasco as well as those who were not able to vote in Arizona's primary were both Hillary and Bernie supporters -- and there is no evidence that normal, smoothly running primary elections in either state would have led to Sanders' victory this year.
And in an interview with CBS' John Dickerson on May 29, Sanders himself seemed to agree that it would not be correct to call the Democratic nomination process rigged:
What has upset me, and what I think is -- I wouldn’t use the word rigged, because we knew what the words were -- but what is really dumb is that you have closed primaries, like in New York state, where 3 million people who are Democrats or Republicans could not participate, where you have situation where over 400 superdelegates came on board Clinton’s campaign before anybody else was in the race, eight months before the first vote was cast.
That’s not rigged. I think it’s just a dumb process which has certainly disadvantaged our campaign.
In the narrow sense referring to the Democratic nomination process, "the system is rigged" is clearly not correct. Clinton beat Sanders in a popular contest and a larger number of Democratic delegates have pledged to support her as a result.
The 2016 election season in general has shown that there is great latitude on both the left and right for candidates who bemoan the "rigged system" in the larger sense. This is the discontent that bred both the Donald Trump and Sanders campaigns over the past year, a widely shared attitude among Americans on both the left and right of the political spectrum, which is likely to carry over into the next president's term.