Ask a Bernie Sanders supporter about the Democratic National Committee and you’ll get a tirade.
Ever since WikiLeaks dumped a batch of emails from the Clinton campaign back in the summer of 2016, the general consensus among fans of the Vermont senator’s insurgent campaign is that the DNC “rigged” the primary electoral process in favor of Hillary Clinton.
What exactly the word “rigged” means in this case depends on whom you talk to. The accusations have ranged from limiting Sanders’ exposure with a revised debate schedule to purging voters from the rolls right before state primaries. Until Thursday, current and former DNC officials have mostly denied these charges.
Then Donna Brazile spoke out.
The former DNC chair, who took up the post after the WikiLeaks dump forced Debbie Wasserman Schultz to vacate it, published a tell-all story in Politico — a confirmation that the DNC pulled strings to help the Clinton campaign coast to victory.
While the motivation behind the piece might not be as humble as it seems (Brazile has a book coming out soon), the Brazile story contains an explosive revelation that should be a stark warning for any Democrat who wants to see the party come roaring back to victory in the forthcoming election cycles.
It’s simple yet shocking.
Long before Clinton and Sanders stepped on stage for their first debate, the DNC was in serious financial trouble. As a party mechanism, the DNC exists to craft strategies and funnel resources to Democratic campaigns across the nation. But under President Obama’s watch, the DNC slowly sank into debt, to the point where its viability as an organizing force was in danger. So who came along and made 80 percent of that debt go away? Clinton World.
This act of fiscal deus ex machina -- paid for with big money raised by Hillary For America and the Hillary Victory Fund — came with a catch. In exchange for saving the DNC from insolvency, the Clinton campaign assumed operational control of the DNC. This arrangement outsourced most of the DNC’s strategic and financial decision-making to Clinton’s campaign headquarters in Brooklyn.
We’ll never know who would have won the primary had the helm of the DNC not been virtually sold to Clinton’s team.
What’s unusual and alarming about this arrangement isn’t the idea of one campaign taking over the DNC. That happens in every presidential election cycle. What stinks here is the timing.
In a normal year, the DNC rallies behind a candidate after a primary has concluded and spotlit that candidate as the Democratic nominee for president. Until that confirmation, the DNC is supposed to remain neutral in their support for any particular primary candidate. Why? Because an unbiased primary process allows American voters a better chance to get a good, unvarnished look at all the candidates, and that gives the DNC a more accurate picture of what horse to bet on for the real race. The one with life-or-death consequences for millions.
We’ll never know who would have won the primary had the helm of the DNC not been virtually sold to Clinton’s team. Personally, I suspect Clinton still would have come out on top, albeit by a narrower margin. But what’s beyond dispute here is the conflict of interest posed by a primary campaign making operational decisions for the Democratic Party’s organizing mechanism. This is an inherently biased arrangement. Because the goals of the Clinton campaign — any primary campaign, really — and the DNC have a fundamental difference. The DNC exists to boost the odds of Democratic victories in multiparty races, whereas primary campaigns strive to ensure that their Democratic ideas and their Democratic people are victorious.
In America, there is a widening bipartisan consensus that both major parties are ultimately beholden to the interests of those with lots of money to throw around during election cycles. This not-unfounded belief is especially prevalent among millennial-aged young adults, a demographic that I’ve studied for four years, and a demographic that Democrats cannot afford to lose.
What makes Brazile’s DNC confessional especially damaging is the way it undercuts the Democrats’ brand — the idea that they’re the party of working people, fighting against a Republican Party that is nakedly subservient to dark money from oligarchs like the Koch Brothers and the Mercer family. Hillary Clinton and her campaign team aren’t that wealthy, of course, but they still managed to buy virtual ownership of an institution that should, in theory, be owned by no one but Democratic voters.
Today’s DNC leadership — starting with the current chair, Tom Perez — needs to deal with this scandal quickly, transparently and sincerely. Many of the committee leaders, including Perez himself, were allies to the Clinton campaign last year. Anything less than a full renunciation of that campaign’s organizational incursion — and reform that blocks any future campaign from buying their way into the DNC hierarchy — will carry the stench of ongoing corruption by Democratic officials whom many voters perceive as “the establishment.”
Remember, these are voters whom the Democrats will need very soon.