It’s the scenario that Republicans dream of and Democrats believe is all but impossible: Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonTrump told leaders 'illegals' cost him popular vote Trump continues to insist voter fraud robbed him of popular vote Xavier Becerra confirmed as California attorney general MORE being forced to drop out of the presidential race due to criminal charges over her email server.
Any bombshell findings in the FBI’s investigation of Clinton could plunge the Democratic race into chaos.
Democrats insist there’s virtually no chance that Clinton will be indicted over her server. The candidate has said repeatedly that no laws were broken, and that classified information was never sent over the server. Asked about an indictment at the last Democratic debate, Clinton responded: “That's not going to happen.”
In the event that Clinton stepped aside after winning the nomination at the convention, the Democratic National Committee could decide on the replacement on its own.
If an indictment came before the convention, the path would be more difficult.
Unlike the Republican Party, which binds most of its delegates to candidates regardless of delegates’ personal preferences, Democratic candidates have input on who represents them on the convention floor.
“There are no Clinton-bound delegates who would prefer voting for Sanders, for example,” delegate expert and University of Georgia professor Josh Putnam, told The Hill.
“Those folks are essentially hand-picked to be loyal. They are unlikely to stray.”
Then there are the superdelegates, the 712 Democratic Party leaders, including members of Congress, who have the freedom to support any candidate at the convention.
The superdelegates are supporting Clinton in droves right now — 95 percent of those who have expressed a preference have chosen Clinton. But they could desert Clinton just as emphatically if her candidacy came to the brink of imploding, some say.
“The superdelegates would flee first because they are politicians,” said one Democratic strategist who has worked on presidential campaigns.
“They are most likely to feel the pressure not to cast their ballots in favor of a nominee under indictment.”
If enough pledged Clinton delegates and superdelegates went to Sanders and delivered him 2,383 delegates, he would win the nomination.
But delegates could also coalesce around a new candidate not in the race. One likely fallback would be Vice President Biden, who came very close to running for president last year.
But denying Sanders the nomination could come with a heavy price, potentially alienating the millions of Democrats who cast ballots for him in the primary process.
“Superdelegates do not necessarily vote as a bloc in a contested situation … there would be superdelegates going any number of ways in this scenario,” Putnam said.
“Politically, though, it would be difficult for them to vote as a bloc against someone like Sanders who has won a significant amount of votes in primaries and caucuses.”
Should the party be forced to leave Clinton, one thing that could work against Sanders is his late arrival to the Democratic Party. He’s spent his entire 30-year career in Congress as an Independent, and recently said he ran for president as a Democrat for media coverage.
“Most of these other politicians and political leaders in the community, they don’t really know Bernie Sanders because he’s never been a national Democrat,” the Democratic strategist said.
“They know Joe [Biden], they know John KerryJohn KerryObama released 1M to Palestinians in final hours Fox News signs ex-Kerry adviser Marie Harf as contributor How Trump can defend the US against information warfare MORE. It’s completely conceivable that they would turn from somebody they know and respect — Hillary — to somebody else they know and respect and bypass Sanders.”
So if the Democratic race ends up with its own contested convention, all bets are off on how it would conclude, since the final decision ultimately rests on the whims of the 4,765 delegates.
“It would be a s--tshow of the first order,” the Democratic strategist said.
“There are no real power brokers here, there are just delegates at the convention who would be free to vote however they wanted.”