Donna Brazile, the interim leader of the Democratic National Committee, was giving what one attendee described as “a rip-roaring speech” to about 150 employees, about the need to have hope for wins going forward, when a staffer identified only as Zach stood up with a question.
“Why should we trust you as chair to lead us through this?” he asked, according to two people in the room. “You backed a flawed candidate, and your friend [former DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz] plotted through this to support your own gain and yourself.”
Some DNC staffers started to boo and some told him to sit down. Brazile began to answer, but Zach had more to say.
“You are part of the problem,” he continued, blaming Brazile for clearing the path for Trump’s victory by siding with Clinton early on. “You and your friends will die of old age and I’m going to die from climate change. You and your friends let this happen, which is going to cut 40 years off my life expectancy.”
Zach gathered his things and began to walk out. When Brazile called after him, asking where he was going, he told her to go outside and “tell people there” why she should be leading the party.
Well, she won’t be leading the party for long, but Zach’s anger is justified. Brazile and people like her were handed a set of circumstances that should have meant a decent year for Democrats, and they royally screwed the pooch.
The loss of the general election — not just the White House, but a potential Senate majority and a lot of crucial state offices as well — could have been prevented, I believe. But all was lost because the Democratic Party apparently was following an elaborate game plan that actually worked. It worked in the sense that all the pieces fell into place; everything that was supposed to happen did happen, just as anticipated.
Until election day.
I think it’s important to understand The Plan, because I sincerely believe that it shows us that the current leadership of the Democratic Party — and not just Donna Brazile — must step aside before another election takes place.
Step One: Put The Plan into place (March 2015)
The game plan apparently was worked out by the spring of 2015, well over a year ago. And this is something I wrote about a lot during the primaries (such as here). By March 2015 Hillary Clinton had won the “invisible primary” and had been chosen by Democratic Party insiders to be the nominee. I’m sure of this date because there were commentaries dated March 2015 declaring this had happened.
See, for example, Jonathan Bernstein at Bloomberg News:
Clinton has (apparently) won the nomination fair and square, through hard work and political talent. That is why she has earned the support of the bulk of Democratic party actors, and gained the acquiescence of other Democrats who aren’t as enthusiastic about her.
So all those perfectly viable other candidates either dropped out or never seriously considered the race. Had Clinton chosen not to run, plenty of the others would have jumped in, and the field would have been comparable to what the Republicans have put together.
See also Ezra Klein at Vox:
Bernstein’s argument is related to the “invisible primary” theory of presidential elections. Hillary Clinton, he says, “has earned the support of the bulk of Democratic party actors, and gained the acquiescence of other Democrats who aren’t as enthusiastic about her.” The result is that the Democratic Party’s “perfectly viable other candidates either dropped out or never seriously considered the race.”
Perhaps a slightly clearer way to put it is this: in the invisible primary, when the contest is as much a draft as it is a campaign, Clinton is “opposed” by essentially every Democrat fit for the presidency. If the party’s powerbrokers didn’t want to support Clinton and instead really wanted Sen. Michael Bennet to run, or Gov. Andrew Cuomo to lead the field, they would be working toward that outcome. Instead, they’re lining up behind Clinton. In this telling, Clinton isn’t winning by default. She’s winning by winning. The absence of competition is the product of Clinton’s strong, successful campaign to win over Democratic Party elites.
Again, both of the above articles were published in March 2015, and these are both respectable sources. So we’ve established that Democratic Party elites were determined to make Hillary Clinton the nominee several months before the primaries started.
How much other Democrats were actively discouraged from running I cannot say, but I assume that was part of The Plan, too. The only other arguably “establishment” Dem who entered the primaries was Martin O’Malley. And this ought to have struck people as odd, because it was an open seat, and it was already certain that the GOP would run a selection of whackjobs and clowns. It must have looked like a winnable election to a lot of people.
Yet other establishment Democrats sat it out. The field was cleared for Clinton. Why that happened is explained in Step Two.
Step Two: Set up the Hillary Victory Fund.
I know people got tired of me going on about the Hillary Victory Fund during the primaries, but there was something about it that just didn’t pass the smell test. Among other things, I complained that the HVF allegedly was raising money for down-ticket candidates, yet the money was all going to the Clinton campaign.
It appears that for the general election the HVF actually did generate a lot of money for the down-ticket candidates, although I haven’t seen a breakdown of actual numbers. Clinton beat Trump in fundraising by a large margin, and I read a few days ago that she was sending money to other candidates. The HVF should have been a brilliant plan to out-raise Republicans and achieve a substantial number of congressional and state election victories.
To recap, the Hillary Victory Fund was a joint fundraising effort set up with the Clinton campaign, the Democratic National Committee and the Democratic parties of 33 states. It’s essentially a PAC. Individual donors could give up to $356,100 per year, and since this was set up in 2015 some gave this maximum for two years, for a total of $712,200. The Hillary Victory Fund was a huge cash cow. Part of the deal is that by passing money through state parties, Clinton could take a portion of PAC money and use it as individual donations, meaning no strings attached.
And it was great for the DNC, also, which was in debt in 2014 and falling way behind the RNC in fund raising. Thanks to the HVF, money flowed into the DNC.
There was nothing illegal about the HVF, as far as I know, but it would have been illegal for earlier campaigns. The McCutcheon v. FEC decision in 2014 changed previous election rules and made the HVF plan possible.
So what was the problem?
The Clinton campaign began courting state parties to join the HVF in August 2015, at the Democratic National Committee summer meeting. Note that this was before the primaries had started. In effect, the HVF tied the fortunes of 33 state Democratic parties and the DNC itself to the Clinton campaign, before she was officially the nominee. If Clinton had lost the nomination, the money spigot would have been cut off, too.
This gave the DNC (not to mention 33 states) a powerful incentive to favor Clinton for the nomination. Past Democratic presidential election campaigns had also formed joint fund-raising committees, but not until after the nomination had been secured.
And, one suspects, the Hillary Victory Fund plan was part of the reason Democratic Party elites green-lighted her nomination back in March 2015, although that’s a piece of the puzzle I cannot document. It all must have seemed a sweet, brilliant plan. Clinton could use her chops for fund-raising among the well-heeled and flood the entire Democratic Party with lots and lots of campaign cash. And it appears she succeeded. Whatever other problems they may have had, the Democrats were not handicapped by being strapped for money this time
However, the significant point here is that Hillary Clinton bought the DNC. She owned it. The DNC depended on her for income. This all but cemented her position as the party nominee.
So, parts one and two of The Plan made sure that Hillary Clinton would be at the top of the ticket, and this was decided before the primaries began. No fair competition was allowed. The fact that a huge part of the Democratic/progressive base made it clear they wanted someone else was dismissed by the DNC as a mere problem to manage. It didn’t signal to them that maybe Hillary Clinton wasn’t the best choice.
Step Three: Hillary Clinton Wins the Nomination
Let me be clear that I am not going to argue that Hillary Clinton stole votes from Bernie Sanders or actively “rigged” the primary election. I have no proof of that, and I’m not going to go there.
But there’s no question the primary fight was slanted in Hillary Clinton’s favor. In July Matt Taibbi in Rolling Stone wrote about Wikileaks:
As is sadly the case with most political stories these days, whether or not you care about the so-called “DNC leak” probably depends on which candidate you supported in the primaries.
If you supported Hillary Clinton, it probably won’t bother you that the Democratic National Committee is revealed in these documents to have essentially acted as an arm of the Clinton campaign during the contested primary season.
Most people guessed at this anyway. But it wasn’t until these documents were dumped last week under mysterious circumstances that the extent to which the party both advocated for Hillary and against her opponent Bernie Sanders was made plain.
And the critical factor in Taibbi’s piece was the Hillary Victory Fund. Eventually reports came out that there was something fishy going on, and the Sanders campaign complained. Taibbi continued:
By evening that day, news outlets were describing this not as an exposé about the DNC and Clinton, but as an inside-baseball fight between the Sanders and Clinton camps.
“Clinton and Sanders spar over joint fundraising efforts,” wrote one CNN headline.
That CNN story even added language that “a Clinton campaign aide refuted some of Politico’s report Monday.” This was despite the fact that the “refuting” amounted to a promise that more money would reach the state parties in upcoming months.
What does it all mean? If you’re a Clinton fan, probably nothing.
To anyone else, it shows that the primary season was very far from a fair fight. The Sanders camp was forced to fund all of its own operations, while the Clinton campaign could essentially use the entire Democratic Party structure as adjunct staff. The DNC not only wasn’t neutral, but helped with oppo research against Sanders and media crisis management.
DNC chief Debbie Wasserman Schultz was forced to resign as a result of this mess, which exposed to Sanders voters the extent to which they were viewed organizationally as annoyances to be managed.
So it was, for example, that even Sanders’s invitation to speak to the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences on an ethical global economy was used against him; the Clintons and DNC turned it into an opportunity to ridicule Sanders because he only briefly met with the Pope (which was never the purpose of the trip), and media mostly went along. Karl Rove himself couldn’t have “managed” that one any better. I believe that may have hurt Sanders in the New York primary, which was a critical one for him to win. And he didn’t.
Do read the entire Taibbi post; he put the pieces together better than anyone else that I saw.
I know there were stories claiming that Clinton was using the HVF to buy superdelegates, but I don’t know that’s exactly true, and anyway that isn’t the big picture. The big picture is that anyone in the upper echelon of the Democratic Party (which would have included the superdelegates) were bound to go along with The Plan, because they all benefited from it directly or indirectly. The entire Democratic Party benefited from it, in theory, except for the poor schmucks who ran against Clinton in the primaries, and who were never given a fair chance to present their case to the American people.
I know Liz Warren caught a lot of grief for not endorsing Sanders and for campaigning for Hillary Clinton, but she was doing it for the Team, And this tells me why Rachel Maddow sold out and enabled a cover-up of HVF activities last May. She was doing it for the Team.
If you understand that the success of the entire Democratic Party (as they saw it) was tied to Hillary Clinton being the nominee, all of that makes sense.
Part Four: Promote Donald Trump as the Republican nominee.
It struck me as extremely weird that Clintonites were evoking the horrible spectre of President Donald Trump long before he actually won the nomination. For example, this widely circulated article from March dismisses Sanders supporters as privileged white people who wouldn’t be hurt by a Trump Administration, and if they weren’t so selfish they’d get behind Clinton, who of course was the only candidate running who might beat Trump. All of the Clinton television ads I saw leading up to the New York primary also promoted Clinton as the only reliable firewall between The People and President Trump.
How’s that one workin’ out for ya, New York?
The Wikileaks emails tell us that the candidate that worried the Clintons most was Marco Rubio. They weren’t worried about The Donald. And part of their strategy was to manipulate media to promote the worst Republican candidates. This is a variation of Sen. Claire McCaskill’s successful Todd Akin strategy that helped her defend her Senate seat in 2012.
An email recently released by the whistleblowing organization WikiLeaks shows how the Clinton campaign and Democratic Party bear direct responsibility for propelling the bigoted billionaire to the White House.
In its self-described “pied piper” strategy, the Clinton campaign proposed intentionally cultivating extreme right-wing presidential candidates, hoping to turn them into the new “mainstream of the Republican Party” in order to try to increase Clinton’s chances of winning.
The Clinton campaign and Democratic National Committee called for using far-right candidates “as a cudgel to move the more established candidates further to the right.” Clinton’s camp insisted that Trump and other extremists should be “elevated” to “leaders of the pack” and media outlets should be told to “take them seriously.”
Thus, the Clinton campaign encouraged media to give Trump lots of free publicity and to take him seriously — to “normalize” him, in other words. But the Wikileaks emails reveal a lot of hand-wringing behind the scenes back when the Trump nomination wasn’t a sure thing..
The correspondence reveals a campaign that has struggled all year to improve a flawed candidate. As far back as March, aides were keenly aware that she was resistant to the media, perhaps out of touch with regular Americans and unable to convey a clear message to voters. …
… “Do we have any sense from her what she believes or wants her core message to be?” asked Clinton adviser Joel Benenson.
Benenson contrasted the simplicity of Bernie Sanders’s anti-Wall Street message with Clinton’s multitiered campaign slogans.
Seven months later and on the cusp of Election Day, the concerns laid out in these emails and others largely remain. Clinton has proven to be a lackluster candidate who has struggled to win over the liberals who gravitated to Sanders during the primary, and who remains ahead in large part due to Trump’s historic weaknesses.
“Right now I am petrified that Hillary is almost totally dependent on Republicans nominating Trump,” Brent Budowsky, a political columnist and former political adviser, wrote in a March 2016 email to Podesta and Roy Spence, an ad maker for the campaign. “She has huge endemic political weaknesses that she would be wise to rectify.”
But Trump did get the nomination. So no worries, right?
Part Five: General Election
Hillary Clinton had a great resume and all the money in the world to spend on staff and advertising and anything else a campaign needed. What could go wrong?
All along, Hillary Clinton marketed herself as the safe choice. As the pragmatic choice. As the one who wouldn’t rock the boat that much. She would be the sensible steward of the Obama legacy who knew how to get things done in incremental baby steps that wouldn’t give anyone indigestion.
Except that across the political spectrum, most of the electorate was screaming for big change as loudly as it could. Clinton and Democratic Party insiders were tone deaf to it.
And now we’ve learned that to lots of folks “drain the swamp” was a more compelling campaign slogan than “eat your spinach.”
The Plan was supposed to give Democrats the White House, the Senate, maybe the House, and maybe some governorships. Instead, not only did Dems lose the White House, but a lot of other good candidates lost because people who might have preferred them just didn’t go to the polls to vote.
In 2012, Obama got 65,915,795 votes, which was a lot less than he got in 2008, but enough. This week, Clinton got 59,814,018 votes. A shitload of people who helped elect Obama just plain didn’t bother to go to the polls and vote for Clinton. I understand that there was a big drop of votes from nonwhite and younger voters especially.
I argue the down-ticket candidacies were held back because Hillary Clinton was at the top of the ticket. As I watched the general election campaign in Missouri, I couldn’t help but notice that Republican campaign ads were citing donations from Hillary Clinton’s campaign as a reason to vote against state Democratic candidates. The HVF money may have hurt them more than helped them.
I don’t know that Bernie Sanders would have won the general election. Big national elections are complicated beasts with infinite moving parts; change one variable and thousands of others will change also. It may be that the GOP would have found some vulnerability in Sanders to exploit that we don’t know about.
(However, there is an argument out there that he would have done better against Trump than Clinton did. And if the Clinton campaign hadn’t encouraged it, perhaps Trump wouldn’t have been the nominee.)
But what if the primary had been genuinely open? What if Joe Biden or Liz Warren or Sherrod Brown had run for the nomination? One of them may have caught fire with the base the way Barack Obama did in 2008, and then we’d have had a very different election with an well-known establishment candidate enjoying the enthusiastic support of a bigger part of the base. We’ll never know.
Trump won in part because he is a master salesman who pitched a product lots of people were ready to buy.
One of the biggest upsets in American political history was built on a coalition of white voters unlike that of any other previous Republican candidate, according to election results and interviews with voters and demographic experts.
Mr. Trump’s coalition comprised not just staunchly conservative Republicans in the South and West. They were joined by millions of voters in the onetime heartlands of 20th-century liberal populism — the Upper and Lower Midwest — where white Americans without a college degree voted decisively to reject the more diverse, educated and cosmopolitan Democratic Party of the 21st century, making Republicans the country’s dominant political party at every level of government. …
… But Mr. Trump also won over millions of voters who had once flocked to President Obama’s promise of hope and change, and who on Tuesday saw in Mr. Trump their best chance to dampen the most painful blows of globalization and trade, to fight special interests, and to be heard and protected. Twelve percent of Mr. Trump’s supporters approved of Mr. Obama, according to the exit polls.
Mrs. Clinton won by a greater margin than Mr. Obama among affluent whites, particularly those living in the Democratic Party’s prosperous coastal strongholds: Washington and Boston, Seattle and New York. In Manhattan, where Mr. Trump lives and works — and where his fellow citizens mocked and jeered him as he voted on Tuesday — Mrs. Clinton won by a record margin, amassing 87 percent of the vote to Mr. Trump’s 10 percent. Around the country, she won a majority of voters over all, harvesting the country’s growing and densely packed big cities and a plurality of the suburbs.
But Mr. Trump won low-income white voters to the Republican ticket, reversing a partisan divide along class lines that is as old as the Democratic and Republican Parties — a replay of the “Brexit” vote in June, when the old bastions of England’s Labor-left voted decisively to leave the European Union. His breakthrough among white working-class voters in the North not only erased the Democratic advantage but reversed it, giving him a victory in the Electoral College while he lost the national popular vote.
Most strikingly, Mr. Trump won his biggest margins among middle-income white voters, according to exit polls, a revolt not only of the white working class but of the country’s vast white middle class. He did better than past Republicans in the sprawling suburbs along Florida’s central coasts, overwhelming Mrs. Clinton’s gains among Hispanic voters. He held down Mrs. Clinton’s margins in the Philadelphia suburbs, defying expectations that Mrs. Clinton would outperform Mr. Obama by a wide margin.
See also “Michigan Democrat slams Hillary Clinton’s terrible campaign strategy: ‘How would any sane person not predict how this one would go?‘” What happened on Tuesday can’t be explained by misogyny alone, no matter how much Amanda Marcotte might fervently wish to believe otherwise.
In many ways it really was a brilliant plan, but it was doomed from the outset because it depended on Hillary Clinton being at the top of the ticket, and it turns out she was too weak a candidate and too out of touch with the mood of the country to carry it off. She was never able to tell all those white folks in states that are being hurt by the global economy why she should be their president. All she did was try to contrast herself as the “safe” choice compared to that awful Donald Trump. Nearly all the Clinton campaign ads I saw in Missouri were anti-Trump ads, and the one exception was a drearily forgettable ad in which Clinton made vague noises about doing nice things. I don’t remember what, exactly.
But Donald Trump wasn’t as scary as she assumed, especially after the press had “normalized” him and taken him seriously. As she had directed them to do.
We might complain for days on end about the unfair smear campaigns that relentlessly follow her, but even an idiot should have known that she would be very, very vulnerable to more smears this year. It’s been going on since at least 1992. Why, of all people, did she have to be the Democratic nominee?
(Yet last spring we were being told by Democratic Party apparatchiks. that Hillary Clinton had already been so thoroughly vetted nobody could touch her, but Bernie Sanders would be killed for being a socialist. Remember that one?)
And no, those third party voters didn’t cost her the election. She lost it herself.
I want to close with more words from Matt Taibbi, from June:
The maddening thing about the Democrats is that they refuse to see how easy they could have it. If the party threw its weight behind a truly populist platform, if it stood behind unions and prosecuted Wall Street criminals and stopped taking giant gobs of cash from every crooked transnational bank and job-exporting manufacturer in the world, they would win every election season in a landslide.
This is especially the case now that the Republican Party has collapsed under the weight of its own nativist lunacy. It’s exactly the moment when the Democrats should feel free to become a real party of ordinary working people.
Instead, because of the gross miscalculations of a lot of smart people utterly out of touch with their own country, the GOP has been regenerated. It owns the federal government now, and most of the states as well.
For a long time the Clintons and people who came up through party ranks with them have dominated the Democratic Party. And while the Clintons pulled off some smart moves in the 1990s, they should have moved on a long time ago. As someone on my Facebook feed said recently, “They’re not nurturing a farm team of young candidates. They’re not working to get working people back in. They’re mitigating progressives with their nervousness and wussy behavior. I’m tired of bringing knives to a gun fight.” And a lot of us are tired of being shut out.
So all you folks who are demonstrating against Trump — I know how you feel. But maybe you should be marching on Democratic Party headquarters instead. It isn’t just Donna Brazile who has to go. It’s everyone who owed their careers to the Clintons who have to go. They all must go, now. Because they are the problem. They have been holding the Democratic Party back for years, and it’s got to stop, now. And as long as they’re still in positions of authority, no one is going to trust the Democrats to not be the party of out-of-touch elitists.
So if you want a swamp to drain, start here.