When Republicans lost the majority in 2006 and the White House in 2008, the media focused on the splits in the GOP. When they began to regain control of Congress thanks to the grassroots efforts of the Tea Party, the media continued to focus on the coming Republican war. And when they won the White House last November, a great deal of attention continues to get paid to the divisions within the GOP.
Not nearly as much attention went to the other side of the aisle, not even after the bruising 2016 Democratic primary made those divisions obvious. Politico’s Gabriel DeBenedetti shines a light on the ongoing rift, made worse by the stunning loss of Hillary Clinton. The race for the DNC chair has turned into a proxy fight between these factions, and has also become a way of relitigating the primary and the DNC’s role in undermining the grassroots:
Long after the Democratic presidential nomination was settled, the bruising 2016 primary fight continues to divide the party, hindering Democrats’ ability to unite and prompting national party leaders to tiptoe around the issue in the hopes of avoiding an outbreak of Sanders-Clinton proxy wars. The bitter defeat at the hands of Donald Trump has exacerbated the tensions, leading to the rise of “Bernie would have won” and “Bernie’s challenge helped sink Hillary” camps, even if the battles are rarely framed in such explicit terms. Now, with the chairmanship of the DNC and party nominations in multiple 2017 races at stake, some Democrats are desperately trying to strike a balance and remind rank-and-file activists of the real enemy.
“The old-fashioned way to do this is to purge the party, but that’s not the way things work anymore,” said former Vermont governor and DNC chairman Howard Dean, who himself passed on a second run for the chairmanship in December specifically because he was worried about the prospect of an overly divisive race. “The party can’t win if it’s not inclusive, and the way to be inclusive is not to re-litigate the old battle. And there’s obviously some attempt to do that.”
“There are some people who are itching to have this fight,” Dean, a 2004 presidential candidate and 2016 Clinton backer, added. “I think it’s silly, and I think they’re going to lose.”
At first blush, this appears to be a necessary exercise on two levels. First, Democrats need to lance the boil of the DNC’s corruption by the Clinton machine in 2016. They have been somewhat reluctant to discuss this because of the way the information came out, especially since the party and the Obama administration has seized on Russian hacking as their excuse for losing the election. At some point, however, they will have to deal with the reality exposed by those hacked e-mails, and perhaps even more so because the Clintons’ thumb on the scale was pretty obvious under Debbie Wasserman Schultz’ leadership all along anyway.
More to the point, Democrats have to come to grips with the fact that they stopped speaking for most Americans over the past eight years, and started lecturing at Americans instead. The party got wrapped up in the progressive-academic social-justice agenda to the point that the party made diversity into an obsession at the expense of the real economic issues facing voters outside of the coastal enclaves and college campuses.
Unfortunately for Democrats, they’re still picking between two different flavors of that same progressive-agenda obsession:
The Sanders wing’s preferred candidate, Rep. Keith Ellison, has repeatedly gone out of his way to frame himself as the “unity” candidate against his main opponent, Labor Secretary Tom Perez, a top Clinton surrogate in 2016 who has been flexing his own progressive muscles to appeal to the party’s left wing.
It’s going to be a long winter in the wilderness for the Democrats if all they’re doing is picking which faction gets to lead them on the same agenda that lost them the presidential election in November, four straight Congressional elections, and put them at a century-long low mark in state legislatures.