Aside leaked emails, the DNC has long been a problem


People stand on stage during setup before the 2016 Democratic Convention. Photo / AP

It has been an open secret for some time that one of the weakest
elements of the extended Democratic Party family under President
Barack Obama has been the Democratic National Committee.
It has
been a neglected institution that has become a public embarrassment on
the eve of a national convention designed to highlight party unity.
cascade of internal DNC emails that were released by WikiLeaks at the
weekend underscore what Senator Bernie Sanders and his advisers have
long claimed, that the DNC appeared to have its finger on the scale for
Hillary Clinton through the long nominating contest.
That is not
surprising, because Clinton is the institutional choice of the Democrats
and DNC members are the party’s establishment.
But the national
committee’s role is to maintain strict neutrality during the primaries,
and the emails indicate that didn’t happen.

The emails also paint a picture that confirms what has long
been assumed, that of a DNC more or less isolated from key elements of
the party – including the White House – and left to the devices of its
long-standing chair, Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, of Florida.
was clear last northern autumn that for whatever reason, whether
outright favouritism toward Clinton or something else, the Democratic
debate schedule – limited in number and out of sync with many of the
early primaries and caucuses – was initially more helpful to Clinton
than her challengers.
Wasserman Schultz denied it – those
Saturday night debates, she said correctly, came at the demands of the
major broadcast networks – but Clinton’s rivals weren’t buying.
seeing what was being said about Sanders in some of the emails, the
senator from Vermont and his advisers have concluded that Wasserman
Schultz and others were quietly cheering for Clinton. Sanders now has
every right to feel aggrieved.
But this is more than an issue of whether Sanders
got fair treatment. The problems at the DNC date back years. Obama came
to the presidency without deep ties to the institutions of the party. He
owed few people much and liked it that way.
During the first two
years of his presidency, the DNC was used to develop and test some of
the infrastructure – data collection, analytics and modeling techniques –
that allowed them to jump-start the work of his 2012 reelection
committee. Though it took most of 2011 and much of 2012 to perfect those
tools (though they weren’t always perfected), the re-election team had a
running start because of what was funded through the DNC.
than that, the Obama political operation has been largely separate and
freestanding, through various committees with the initials OFA – Obama
for America, Organising for America, etc. The DNC competed for money
with those Obama-linked organisations. Also, it wasn’t until the
northern summer of 2015 that the Obama committees’ information was fully
shared with the national committee.
In 2010, at a meeting of
Democratic governors, one governor asked an Administration official,
“Will the OFA please join the Democratic Party.”
Obama has helped
raise funds for the DNC, but overall its fundraising has trailed that
of the Republican National Committee. According to data on the campaign
finance watchdog Open Secrets, the DNC had raised US$128 million this
cycle compared with US$181 million for the RNC. The party that holds the
White House should do better than that.
Given her role,
Wasserman Schultz has been one of the most visible faces of the party, a
frequent guest on cable television who has delivered the party’s
talking points about the opposition with robotic discipline. But she has
been a controversial chair, with Democrats privately questioning her
effectiveness as a spokeswoman and a party builder. The email leaks have
turned that into a public conversation.
Today, Sanders called
for her to resign. This is not the first such call for removal.
Wasserman Schultz is no favourite of Democratic congressional leaders,
who earlier this year floated the possibility that she could be moved
aside before the election. It hasn’t happened, in part because it could
easily be done unless she was willing to go.
Today Wasserman Schultz announced abruptly that she would step down at week’s end.
team has long known that Wasserman Schultz is an unpopular chair. But
the feeling inside the Brooklyn campaign headquarters has always been
that her removal wasn’t worth the time, effort or public brouhaha.

As president, she would probably restructure the committee and bring in her own chair to run it

Clinton campaign always had bigger issues to deal with, like winning
the nomination against a stronger-than-expected challenge from Sanders
and now dealing with Donald Trump, an opponent who plays by new rules.
Worrying about the chair of the party through all this seemed like a
small-bore problem, which it was. They were always content to let things
go through the duration of the campaign.
The Washington Post
reported in June that Russian Government hackers had penetrated the
DNC’s computers and stolen opposition research about Trump. Making the
rounds of the talk shows, Robby Mook, Clinton’s campaign manager, said
experts had informed the campaign that the email leak was the work of
Russians trying to help Trump.
The timing of the leak certainly
seems more than coincidental, and that leaves open the possibility that
more material will come in the future.
The release has left
Wasserman Schultz embattled at the start of a convention that she and
the DNC have been planning for many months. She was highly visible on
Sunday at the rally where Clinton unveiled her vice-presidential
running-mate, Senator Timothy Kaine of Virginia.
But she could be
a diminished figure here this week, in contrast to Republican National
Committee Chair Reince Priebus last week in Cleveland. Priebus, who has
had the difficult job of operating as a liaison with Trump, was given a
prominent speaking slot last Friday in Cleveland.
Schultz’s exact role and visibility here this week are relatively small
issues, though cable commentators will be able to chew it on until the
convention opens tomorrow. The larger question is how this affects
efforts to project unity and what happens to the leadership of the DNC
now and later.
Clinton cares more about party-building and party
institutions than Obama. She made it part of her campaign appeal as she
worked to gain support of state party officials and other super
delegates during the primaries. As president, she would probably
restructure the committee and bring in her own chair to run it.
will be pressure now to accelerate that timetable, but there’s no good
short-term solution. For the Democrats, it’s ironic that a long-standing
problem has become visible at exactly the wrong moment.

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