The relationship between the Clinton campaign and the DNC was more incestuous than we thought. Does it follow that the primaries were rigged and the nomination was stolen?

Thursday, former Democratic National Committee chair Donna Brazile rocked the Democratic Party when an excerpt from her upcoming book was released by Politico. It begins shortly after the 2016 Convention, with Brazile taking the DNC’s acting chairmanship and promising Bernie Sanders that she’ll “get to the bottom of whether Hillary Clinton’s team had rigged the nomination process”. Though the excerpt never again uses the word rigged (and Brazile herself denied Sunday that the primaries were rigged), her strong implication is that the answer is Yes:

By September 7, the day I called Bernie, I had found my proof and it broke my heart.

The basic story she tells is that in 2015 the DNC was deep in debt, the Clinton campaign bailed it out, and in return it got control over many DNC decisions, like who the communications director would be, and veto power over a few other appointments. The memo outlining this agreement has since come out. As Brazile says, it outlines a surprising and ethically questionable degree of incest between the DNC and the Clinton campaign. However, it also includes this paragraph, which Brazile didn’t mention:

Nothing in this agreement shall be construed to violate the DNC’s obligation of impartiality and neutrality through the Nominating process. All activities performed under this agreement will be focused exclusively on preparations for the General Election and not the Democratic Primary.

So the big questions are: In spite of that paragraph, did the DNC violate its obligation of impartiality and neutrality? If so, did it do so in ways that made a material difference? And does this validate the claims Sanders supporters have been making all along, that the nomination was stolen away from Bernie?

How it looked at the time. During the campaign, claims from Sanders supporters that Clinton was rigging the primaries would periodically show up in my social-media feeds, and I’d check them out as well as an ordinary person with access to the internet reasonably could. I never found anything that held up, or that went beyond what I considered normal politics, where candidates are always jockeying for some kind of advantage.

It was clear to me that people at the DNC were rooting for Hillary to win, but I didn’t consider that shocking. If you’re in politics, you have political opinions; nobody is neutral in their hearts. Folks at the RNC were obviously rooting against Trump, too, and would have been much happier nominating Bush or Rubio. (I’m sure if you bugged the umpire’s locker room at a baseball stadium, you’d occasionally hear them talking about players they like and don’t like, because they were all baseball fans before they became umpires.) The question isn’t what DNC officials thought, or even the opinions that they traded with each other in emails they didn’t expect anyone else to see. The question what they did.

Brazile comments on that:

I had tried to search out any other evidence of internal corruption that would show that the DNC was rigging the system to throw the primary to Hillary, but I could not find any in party affairs or among the staff. I had gone department by department, investigating individual conduct for evidence of skewed decisions, and I was happy to see that I had found none.

Most of the theories I kept seeing went far beyond what the DNC would be able to do, even if it was completely suborned. Anything to do with polling places and vote-counting, for example, was way outside their capabilities. State and local election boards run primaries, not party national committees. But any voting irregularity in the Democratic primaries — even if it seemed just as likely to target Clinton voters — became part of the Clinton-is-stealing-Bernie’s-votes lore.

The mainstream press went through the same process I did, which is why only two specific DNC-related actions are getting mentioned in the articles about Brazile’s book:

  • the schedule of Democratic debates seemed tilted toward the candidate who didn’t need debates to get voters’ attention,
  • Hillary’s campaign pushed the legal limits of its DNC  joint-fund-raising agreement, while Bernie’s campaign ignored theirs.

What’s new? Apparently, the Clinton campaign had more control over the DNC’s side of the joint-fund-raising money than we previously knew. That money was supposed to benefit the eventual nominee and the Party’s general-election effort as a whole. For the Clinton campaign to be in control of it was not right, but there are two very different possible levels of not-rightness here.

One possibility, the less toxic one, is that Clinton wanted the general-election machinery (data collection, polling, etc.) set up in a particular way, and didn’t want to wait until September to start doing it. This would be presumptuous, treating the nomination process as a foregone conclusion. But it would not have compromised the primary campaign. If Bernie had won, he would have found general-election machinery in place, ready for his use, but designed according to Hillary’s specifications.

The more toxic possibility is that the DNC’s money got funneled back into Clinton’s primary campaign, and was used against Bernie. If that’s true, that’s a very serious thing and heads should roll. Investigators should start looking for broken laws and start prosecuting people if they find any.

However, there was no evidence at the time that the second possibility was happening, and as far as I know there still isn’t. Brazile does not make that claim, and the documents she points to would seem to ban that, if they were followed. Anyone who wants to investigate that claim should have at it, and I’m willing to be convinced if any actual evidence shows up. But so far I haven’t seen any.

A spark in the gunpowder factory. People who write books often lead with something provocative and maybe a little overstated. It gets people talking about the book and makes it a must-read for anybody who wants to stay on top of the controversy. What Brazile has done in this excerpt, then, is not that unusual. (She does something similar elsewhere, telling a very unlikely story about the possibility of replacing Clinton with Biden after the convention. Throughout, Brazile portrays herself as being uniquely prescient about the coming debacle, despite the times when Clinton had double-digit leads in the polls.)

The problem is that her book isn’t coming out in a vacuum. In addition to debate schedules and other relatively minor things that appear to have actually happened, the pro-Bernie silo on the internet is still passing around charges of pro-Clinton vote-rigging and voter suppression that the evidence just does not support. It is an article of faith in certain circles that Bernie was the true choice of the voters, who had Clinton imposed on them by nefarious means.

It’s worth remembering the official vote totals. In the Democratic primaries as a whole, Clinton got 16.9 million votes, more than 55%. Her margin over Sanders was 3.7 million votes. Claiming that Sanders actually won requires believing in a fraud of the same scale as Trump’s claim that he actually won the popular vote in the general election.

In this environment, using the word rigged tells the conspiracy theorists that they were right all along. The claims Brazile is actually making may be fairly narrow, but the conclusions that people with prior opinions will draw from it are much broader.

The Trump parallel. It’s useful to compare Sanders’ situation on the Democratic side with Trump’s on the Republican side. Both were outsider candidates running against the party establishment, harnessing grass-roots discontent and anger. In each case, the party establishment believed it would be suicidal to nominate the outsider.

Going into the 2016 cycle, I think most observers would have claimed that the Republican establishment had more power than the Democratic. Democrats had a history of previously little-known candidates sweeping in: McGovern, Carter, Dukakis, Obama. On the Republican side, nominations more typically went to the next guy in line. The power brokers of the GOP are more obvious and more powerful. No Democratic donor, for example, plays as large a role as the Koch brothers do on the Republican side.

And yet, Trump got nominated and Sanders didn’t. Trump’s path, I think, shows the overall weakness of party establishments in this era. Nobody at the RNC was able to marginalize Trump, or to force out minor candidates who were splitting the establishment vote. Throughout Trump’s rise, we kept hearing about the theory from The Party Decides, in which “invisible primaries” of insiders pick the nominee, and then insiders signal the voters, who ratify the insiders’ choice in primaries.

In 2016 that theory held on the Democratic side but not on the Republican, for the simple reason, I think, that Trump got the votes and Sanders didn’t. You may or may not like the fact that Democratic voters ratified Clinton as the nominee, but they did.

What should happen? To start with, Hillary Clinton has already told us that she’s not running for anything again, so unless laws were broken — and not even Brazile claims that — there’s really nothing to be done regarding her personally.

Obviously, the DNC will need to be extra transparent in the next cycle, and hopefully beyond. No one enters the 2020 cycle in the same commanding position Clinton had four years ago, though, so it’s hard to see how the same mistakes would be made anyway. But there needs to be some process by which we can all assure ourselves that no candidate is getting an unfair advantage from the Party.

Beyond that, there’s a bigger problem that affects the Republicans as well as the Democrats: Parties are open to being dominated by candidates like Clinton, or bullied by large donors like the Kochs, because they are inherently weak in this era. Bernie Sanders represents a different side of this problem: The Democratic Party isn’t something he belongs to (he doesn’t), it’s just a structure for seeking office.

Democrats suffer for this at the local level more than Republicans, because Republicans are more likely to be funded by state-level power brokers like North Carolina’s Art Pope, or by corporations who understand the power state government has to dole out favors. Democrats are more reliant on the star-power of national candidates like Obama or Clinton or Sanders, and the local parties correspondingly get short-changed.

It could be that we are in a transitional period, and parties will eventually go away, or come to mean something completely different. I wish I had something more to say about the coming structure, and whether it will be better or worse.

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  • Starweaver  On November 6, 2017 at 10:27 am

    Perhaps it is time to create some uniform legal structure for the nomination process, instead of relying on the parties to come up with their own rules and procedures on the fly. At this point, I think most Americans expect that the primaries should be conducted according to the same norms of consistency and adherence to democratic principle as the general election, and they are not.

    • Marvin Fretwell  On November 6, 2017 at 11:00 am

      Agreed! How can elections be democratic if the very process of selecting the candidates (in the primaries) is biased? It has to be “unrigged”. But that will be more difficult in application than in theory. Nonetheless, it is a worthy goal.

      • Larry Benjamin  On November 6, 2017 at 12:36 pm

        Historically, the party leadership selected the candidates, and the voters’ only participation was in the general election.

      • weeklysift  On November 7, 2017 at 8:13 am

        This comes through if you read Theodore White’s The Making of the President: 1960. It was unorthodox for Kennedy to campaign in the handful of primaries that were held that year, but he felt he needed to prove that people would vote for a Catholic. He was running mainly against Humphrey in those races. Other top-level candidates, like Johnson and Stevenson, didn’t bother.

    • ex0du5  On November 6, 2017 at 1:53 pm

      Candidacies through party partitions is itself corrupting. As is the first-past-the-post voting algorithm.

      Fundamentally, the system we have constructed has clear game-theoretic flaws. But because these are often seen as eye-glazingly dry discussions beyond the typical citizen, we continue to discuss solutions that do not tackle the fundamental issues at play in the rot. And this is sad because we have a clear mathematical candidate model that provides solutions to all of these issues: direct representation.

      Direct representation is a direct democracy voting system where laws are voted on by all voting citizens, but where people can give their vote to others if they feel others have better understanding of the issues, have the time to devote, etc. It is like a proportional representation, but instead of at a party-candidacy level, it is per legal edit (law). At this process-point, a bivalent decision is natural (for-or-against adding the edit to the corpus), so there is no real lesser-evil theory against third party or past-the-post, though nothing about direct representation models is against other per-edit vote models if they don’t remove the direct participation on all edits. The point is that everyone participates here at each edit, instead of at a much earlier “candidate election” phase.

      This system resolves all the problems inherent to the candidate representative model. Corporations and monied interest can’t secretly corrupt the process, they can only openly give everyone money, effectively paying into the public fund like a tax.

      It’s time people stop acting like the “horror of direct democracy” – that people can use the power to abuse subsegments of the population and must be protected against by benevolent representatives of higher ethics – is anything more than projection. As minarchist analyses regularly point out, it is a simple mathematical comment to show that having few points of corruption leads to more likely abusive corruption than requiring many points to be corrupted. Power concentration increases likelihood of abuse.

      If we actually, earnestly, want to fix the problems in our current voting system, there is a direction that we know solves the intrinsic, game-theoretic issues in our current model.

      • Larry Benjamin  On November 6, 2017 at 2:11 pm

        I don’t see how the system you propose wouldn’t devolve into political parties. Since most citizens wouldn’t have the time or inclination to review every proposed law, certain citizens would present themselves as representatives willing to devote the necessary time, not just for each instance, but for a specific period for all votes that came up during that time. Like-minded representatives would then join forces and before long you’d have the same party system we have now.

        Also, it’s not feasible to dissolve the current parties and start over. One simple change would be to replace first past the post voting with multivoting. This would allow people to support third-party candidates without fear of “wasting their vote.” For example, in the last election, someone who wanted to vote for Jill Stein might not have because they saw the only viable choice as between Clinton and Trump, so they would have voted for Clinton even though she wasn’t their first choice. WIth multivoting, they would have ranked their choices, Stein first, then Clinton, knowing that if Stein didn’t get enough votes, their vote would shift to their second choice, Clinton. More people would definitely vote for third-party candidates for this reason under multivoting.

      • ex0du5  On November 6, 2017 at 3:36 pm

        Larry, an important dynamical difference is that across separate votes on bills, you do not have any force of commitment. Parties partition the combinatorial explosion of potential positions into well-defined platforms. And you commit across a fixed span of votes to give them edit control, so you are agreeing to give someone control that very often will not match your exact voting desires – you are agreeing to allow a certain level of corruption of your beliefs. This allows corruption generally to grow because of the compromises of election, so it is systemic.

        You don’t have to allow this in representative democracy. There is no “railing at your representatives in futility”. You have that power every vote to revoke representation and take hold. You build your own trust networks.

        Another difference is that when representatives grow large numbers of people transferring their votes to them, it acts more like proportional representation. It’s not 1-to-N but N-to-N in vote power. So a “representatives-as-parties” interpretation is still quite different than an interpretation in the modern US party system with Duverger’s law in place.

      • DMoses  On November 6, 2017 at 4:10 pm

        A FPTP tournament actually produces the Condorcet winner if one exists (and this is trivial to prove). And while primaries aren’t perfect they’re not so bad as people make them out to be.

      • DMoses  On November 6, 2017 at 4:13 pm

        Re: Your reply

        No. Arrow shows that this is impossible. You may not perfectly match results across an n>2 dimensional position. Political parties are not shown to be any worse than any other solution (and there are loads of reasons why political parties form which suggests they might be an ideal solution)

      • ex0du5  On November 6, 2017 at 8:24 pm


        Arrow’s result does not apply to direct representation. Arrow’s Theorem concerns a selection in which there is >2 possible outcomes, which is meaningful when you are looking at candidates or platforms. Direct representation only deals with bivalent questions: Should this edit be accepted or not? Should this law be passed or not?

        In particular, there are no irrelevant alternatives, it is nondictatorship (because it is bivalent majority) and provides a complete (2-element) ranking, the vote function is naturally monovalent (bidirectional linear), the target space is clearly surjective (yay or nay both possible based on majority) and pareto efficient (again, because majority).

        In fact, bivalent voting is the easiest and most obvious way to bypass Arrow and shows a common mistake in it’s interpretation.

        As to primaries – it’s not that they aren’t perfect. It’s that the assignment of power to a person or platform and the attempt to assign preferences on these multidimensional favor functions is fundamentally flawed – as Arrow and other voting dynamics theorems show. We fundamentally need to shift from a choice over N candidates/platforms/parties to direct accept/reject votes on laws, because only the latter has a solid mathematical theory that does not introduce dynamic corruptibility.

      • DMoses  On November 7, 2017 at 5:46 pm

        The crafting of laws is not binary and while theoretically people could vote on every edit to the law its not actually possible due to various constraints like time and money (let alone the other problems with expertise)

  • TRPChicago  On November 6, 2017 at 10:38 am

    Donna Brazile’s self-aggrandizing is Distraction No. 1.

  • Anonymous  On November 6, 2017 at 11:23 am

    there were many many more personal stories I heard at the convention of the process not following its own rules and shutting votes down that were not going for Hillary- and ongoing actions of trying to marginalize Bernie supporters and delegates- it was a culture of certain insiders protecting what they thought was theirs- which continued duirng the week of the convention when up in the TV they talked about being so inclusive-
    for me the basic betrayal is corporate money- the democrats have a veneer of being for the 99% but because they make the deal with the devil and take the corporate money they become the 2nd party of the 1 % and the 99% do not have a party- there is no where to go for real hope- only two choices of varying degrees of despair, and varying degrees of hypocrisy.
    We sorely need a party that actually speake and and acts on a direction that supports humans and life on earth.

  • Maud in STL  On November 6, 2017 at 11:28 am

    The Democratic Party is indeed just a structure for seeking office in this two-party system. Because of its inherent bias toward maintaining its status quo, the DNC will continue to marginalize Progressives in favor of a move away from the economic neoliberalism it has embraced since the 1970s.



    The failure to differentiate itself economically from the Republican Party substantially weakens the Democratic Party, especially now that many voters perceive that the party only gives election-year lip service to social justice/protecting minorities.

    On a road trip just last week, I stopped at a highway rest stop in Indiana and met a woman living out of her car who was begging for assistance; she said she had had a house fire. She must not have had the means for GoFundMe, so begging at a rest stop was her soul-crushing and non-tech-dependent means to survive catastrophe.

    What will the future bring if the Democratic Party continues to maintain its devotion to economic neoliberalism? Could it be that the wealthiest candidate will continue to buy and own the DNC, just as HRC bought and owned it in 2016? If so, personal wealth and/or most successful fundraising will apparently be the sole test of who gets to run for US president as a Democrat. Of course, running under those conditions will have nothing to do with actually winning. And the highway rest stops will undoubtedly fill with beggars.

    • weeklysift  On November 6, 2017 at 12:03 pm

      I find it hard to look at the Republican tax plan and claim that there is no economic difference between the parties.

      • Maud in STL  On November 6, 2017 at 2:45 pm

        I see it as a question of degree. With both parties committed to neoliberalism, both parties are playing in the same economic ballpark. While one is undeniably more extreme, it doesn’t mean that the other is playing by different rules altogether.

        I live in a city where over 30% of the people live below the Federal poverty line, and many of our poorest are POC. Sadly, when I phonebanked in 2016, I learned that the failure of the Democrats to deliver perceived value other than Obamacare to this constituency during the eight years of the Obama Admin meant that we were going to have a low voter turnout in the General Election. Lifelong Democrats, to whom the name Clinton had positive connotations, told me they did not intend to turn out for HRC because, as one gentleman told me, “It don’t matter which one you vote for; don’t none of them do you no good.”

        And why is that? Because the servant has one master, and of course it is the wealthy rather than the poor. So long as the Democratic Party sees the wealthy as the class that must be served, that gentleman was right. Don’t none of them do you no good.

        We won’t see a change in this until Citizens United is reversed, which is highly unlikely so long as both parties serve a wealthy master.

      • Anonymous  On November 8, 2017 at 9:01 pm

        If you’d like to get rid of Citizens United, you should look into Move to Amend (www.movetoamend.org). They are working to pass a constitutional amendment to undo it.

        Other organizations that are addressing the money in politics problem without a constitutional amendment include http://www.issueone.org and represent.us.

    • DMoses  On November 6, 2017 at 4:19 pm

      We tried this with McGovern… and Mondale… (and Clinton) It lost

      Hell this was the most progressive platform Democrats had ever run on. The democrats are not marginalizing the “progressive platform” the progressive platform simply does not win because people do not vote for it. It could not even beat Clinton in the primaries…. which were not rigged.

      Additionally the idea that the “centrist” democrats aren’t progressive is foolish. There is far far more distance between the centrist position and the Republicans than there is between the centrist and the progressive. Rather the primary difference between the “centrist” and “progressive” is that one of tactics. The centrists believe in getting everything they can now. And the progressives believe in holding out.

      Given that we really do believe the same thing you’re shooting yourself in the foot when you fight centrists after they win primaries. But then again, its not a surprise this happens. Guess who primarily funds the fringe left wing parties?

      • weeklysift  On November 7, 2017 at 8:22 am

        I’m waiting to see if progressives manage to do what the Tea Party did in 2010 and later: Beat establishment candidates in primaries and then go on to win general elections (sometimes). If they can, more power to them (literally). But in the absence of actual ballot-box victories, I quickly tire of progressives talking about how popular they are.

        For example, I hear a progressive is going to run against Feinstein in California. That seems like a fair test: Nobody is more establishment than Feinstein, and if a progressive can’t win in California, then where?

      • Maud in STL  On November 7, 2017 at 10:39 am

        By your remarks, I am guessing that you both may live in blue or purple states. I live in Missouri, which used to be purple and is now strongly red with two blue dots that are, frighteningly, diminishing in size. I go four times a year to our state capitol to attend the Missouri State Democratic Party meeting, where I serve on the Affirmative Action Committee.

        Here in Missouri, most incumbent Republicans run unopposed for re-election. Some are former Democrats who changed party affiliation to retain their elected job. Voters who used to vote Democrat are now in the habit of voting Republican.

        The success test for any Missouri Democrat running for office against an incumbent Republican is not necessarily winning, although that would be welcome, but rather to reduce the margin of loss that the district posted in the General. The few Democrats who do run against incumbent Republicans campaign on ideas and do their best to downplay party affiliation because the label Democrat is the kiss of death, thanks to years of influence by AM talk radio. The statewide Listening Posts the Missouri Democratic Party conducted found that small business owners think that many progressive ideas are extremely attractive. Single payer healthcare is particularly attractive to them because it takes such a heavy burden off their shoulders. But the label Democrat makes it anathema to them, not the label Progressive vs. Centrist. Thanks to AM talk radio, a voter cannot be seen to support a Democrat with good ideas. But some will, in the privacy of the voting booth, vote for them, and so the margin of loss is reduced and, most importantly, the habit of always voting Republican is broken.

        Here in a deep red state, it is the Progressives who are generating candidates willing to run against incumbent Republicans for state offices on platforms that include Progressive ideas, and chipping away at margins despite being burdened with the label Democrat. In Missouri, so-called Centrists are elderly yellow dogs who have no energy left to attract and back young candidates to run for office. On the state level, all the energy is in the Progressive Caucus. In the St. Louis metro, all the energy is in St. Charles County rather than in St. Louis County. In St. Louis City we are struggling ward to ward just to get out the vote, having just elected a mayor who is a DINO. But that’s another discussion.

    • Guest  On November 8, 2017 at 2:09 pm

      Thank you, Maud, for your great posts. I applaud your efforts and agree with most everything you’ve said here. What you find yourself bumping up against in the comments is the “centrist democrat” bubble. Inside this bubble we never have to take a hard look at establishment Democratic Party policies because the Republican plan is always worse, so why bother? Inside this bubble we can take the “wait and see if the progressives win an undetermined number of State races” approach before taking them seriously, and pat ourselves on the back for being objectively evidence-based, while simultaneously ignoring both the damage done by neoliberal policies and the string of losses that centrist, corporate, Democratic presidential hopefuls have been handed since the turn of the century. I wish you the best of luck.

      • Maud in STL  On November 8, 2017 at 3:26 pm

        Thank you for your encouragement, Guest. As Tip O’Neill famously said, “All politics is local.” I truly believe that and base my own actions on that belief because I live in the red state of Missouri where we are already living the nightmare of the Republican Vision for America.

        If on the local level we cannot break the habit of despising the label Democrat as toxic, or break the habit of voting Republican, we will continue to see the diminishment and elimination of blue voting blocs and the election of Republican candidates.

        For reasons that have been brought up elsewhere in this discussion, the DNC is no longer able to field a winning presidential candidate. If, despite DJT’s disastrous administration, the DNC fails to field a successful Democratic presidential candidate in 2020, I believe it will finally lead to a split of the Democratic Party and the Democratic Party’s demise.

        As all this plays out, Progressives like me are working hard within state parties like the Missouri Democratic Party. We are earnestly trying to breath life into the party, not only to stanch the wounds to Missourians caused almost weekly by our Republican state legislature but also to help re-animate the structure for seeking office so that we don’t lose precious election cycles on replacing the Democratic Party itself.

      • Guest  On November 8, 2017 at 4:52 pm

        I certainly agree on the importance of rehabilitating the Democrat label/brand and breaking the habit of voting Republican. It’s part of what made Sanders such an ideal general election candidate in 2016 because, as polling data and common sense indicated, he was winning over independents and Republicans who were embarrased by Trump but leery of establishment Democrats as perfectly embodied by Clinton. Perhaps the biggest challenge in breaking the toxic Democrat brand is convincing the “centrist” Democrats that there’s anything toxic to begin with. The comments here are exhibit A. You can literally show them high ranking Clinton campaign officials admitting to laundering back to Clinton’s pocket DNC funds raised in support of whoever won the nomination as well as down-ballot Democrats, but they just can’t see it, God bless them.

        Have to disagree with your assessment of a hypothetical DNC loss in 2020 and the fallout. Democrats faced devastating losses against Bush II, at the time the dumbest and worst President to disgrace the office, and then again against the least liked candidate on record in Trump, and still, if I can borrow the phrase, the DNC persists. What makes you think it’ll be different the next time around?

        In any case, there are reasons to be hopeful. There was the Harvard Harris poll in October that showed Sanders with higher favorability than Clinton among her own voters (admittedly within a margin of error). And the September Zogby Analytics poll showing Sanders far and away the preferred candidate (his distance runner-up was Biden, who I’m guessing is high on the list of the DNC’s preferred candidate). Maybe the times really are a-changing for Democrats.

        Once again, can’t praise your dedication and efforts enough. Maud be praised, the Democratic Party should be so lucky to count you among their reformers.

      • Maud in STL  On November 9, 2017 at 11:04 am

        Guest, I’m not claiming the DNC will change by 2020; it’s apparently a tiger that can’t change its stripes.

        But think about it. If, after four years of a disastrous DJT Admin, the DNC can’t put a Democrat in the White House, what earthly good is the DNC to anybody? In 2020, wouldn’t a presidential failure be seen as dire? Wouldn’t Progressives, with four more years of work behind them, be hard pressed to stay within the existing party structure? Right now there’s the chance that working within the party structure will pay off; it’s less risky than creating a new structure. But if working within the existing structure doesn’t pay off by 2020, then there’s no point in continuing to work within it; at that point and with that track record, the cost of creating a new structure with a relatively toxin-free brand becomes less risky than continuing to prop up a toxic corpse.

        As for taking heart in the positive public perceptions of Bernie Sanders, what else is new? Bernie has always, since 2015, had higher favorabiliity ratings than any Democrat, and progressive ideas always poll well when polled without toxic context. That’s why candidates run on them.

        I have had the good fortune to travel to various Baltic port cities and also to Cuba while it still took a State Department license to go there. And one of the many things that I learned is that a society is far more healthy when its wealth gap is more like the one we had in the US before we embraced unilateral economic neoliberalism in the 1970s. As James Carville used to know, it’s “the economy, stupid!” The DNC apparently doesn’t know this, or doesn’t know what to do about this. But here in red Missouri where there is no longer any outstate manufacturing, people just want good paying jobs again. How is this so hard to understand?

        Thanks again for your kind remarks, but please don’t think I’m special. I’m just a worker bee…one of many…with a somewhat above average tendency to action and confrontation. Anyone who cares can do what I do, and there are many who do, although there should always be more.

  • Ellen  On November 6, 2017 at 11:42 am

    I would also say that the Republican Party isn’t something Trump belongs to, it’s just a structure for seeking office.

    • weeklysift  On November 7, 2017 at 8:23 am

      I agree with that. I think if you hooked Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell up to a lie detector, they’d agree with it too.

  • Ed O  On November 6, 2017 at 3:55 pm

    What exactly is the DNC? Does anyone know if there’s anything that formally establishes the DNC as the owner or mouthpiece of the Democratic Party? E.g., can the DNC determine whether a candidate is allowed to list their party as “Democrat”? Or is the DNC just an independent fundraising group that supports Democrats?

    • DMoses  On November 6, 2017 at 4:32 pm

      Parties aren’t formulated like that in law. The DNC is simply a fundraising organization which funnels money to the state parties. Those state parties than then run their internal elections how they see fit.

      Sometimes they run a state primary. Sometimes they don’t. Sometimes a state primary exists and then the party ignores it and uses the caucus.

      This is what happens in Washington State. There is an open primary in WA and the state party does not like that Republicans can choose the democratic candidate there. They believe that, because Republican’s tend to lose the general in Washington that in the primary Republicans will try to spoil to push the Candidate in their direction. This may or may not be true but regardless the WA party has decided to instead run a caucus.

      Caucus’s are more expensive. Bernie won WA’s caucus 73 to 27 (230,000 participants) but lost the State Primary(which again, is not used, and so simply becomes a meaningless vote) which had 800,000 participants. While this was potentially because of Republicans being excluded the primary reason is that Caucuses prioritize whomever has the enthusiasm rather than who has the broad support.

      i also know that, as a democrat, I did not caucus for Hillary because i knew Bernie was going to win this and also that Clinton was going to win overall and it wasn’t worth my time to get up and then argue with Berniebros for 4 to 6 hours on a Saturday. I suspect that there was a lot more of this kind of support than there was from isle crossers.

      So if there was pushing of state parties by bribing them with money… those that likely got the most money (those running caucuses) skewed heavily for Bernie. Which would then imply that Hillary rigged the primary system against herself.

      • Ed O  On November 6, 2017 at 5:51 pm

        So if the DNC is just an independent group that fundraises for Democrats, there’s no reason they shouldn’t send all their funds to Hillary (and ask the media to hold just a few debates) if the DNC’s leaders thought that would best advance Democratic interests.

        Someone else could freely start another group, say the “Democratic Party Committee,” to raise funds for Democrats and send all of their funds to Bernie (and ask the media to hold lots of debates) if that’s what the DPC’s leaders thought would best advance Democratic interests.

        So maybe the only issue is whether the DNC misled their donors by saying their donations would go to broadly support all Democratic candidates. (Question: are groups legally required to use donated money for what they said the money would be used for? Or is it legal to change their mind and use it for something related but different after it’s donated?) Anyone know exactly what the DNC claimed donations would be used for?

      • DMoses  On November 7, 2017 at 5:59 pm

        Well i mean, you could but it would be wildly pointless.

        Clinton did not give money to the DNC to fund only her campaign. She gave it to fund whomever won the primary and the downticket races.

        The purpose of the fundraising agreement isn’t so that the fundraiser can exert their control over the party but so that the primary fundraiser can leverage their ability to raise funds to produce the largest democratic result in the general elections. And that is how the money was spent. Clinton gave the money to downticket races so that, were she elected, she had democrats to work with.

        WRT: Debates.

        There were a large number of debates held this year in the democratic primary with a record number occurring with only two candidates Clinton and Sanders had twice as many debates and forums to themselves than Clinton and Obama did. Bernie was cowtowed to; he was not excluded. The reason for this is obvious, the “centrist” wing is very unlikely to split and vote R if the progressive wins (E.G. Obama, the upstart, beat Clinton and the centrists voted for him) but the progressive wing is more likely to take their ball and go home, dooming us all.

        Roughly everything the DNC does is to not piss off the irrational left wing who refuses to goddamn vote their interest and yet all they can see is some conspiracy to do the opposite. ‘

        Re: Legality its legal for them to change their minds. In general because things can change between when the donation is given and when the money is spent its impossible to both keep such a “promise” fixed (though the promises are never explicit) and also do proper due diligence with regards to electing democrats.

      • Guest  On November 9, 2017 at 4:39 pm

        “Clinton did not give money to the DNC to fund only her campaign. She gave it to fund whomever won the primary and the downticket races.”

        This is factually incorrect. Please read the article. The Clinton campaign CFO openly admits that money donated to the DNC for whomever won the primary and downticket races was laundered back to the Clinton campaign.

        “WRT: Debates…Bernie was cowtowed to”

        If I didn’t know better, Moses, I’d take this for an obvious troll. But your following observation that when Democrats run as a progressive they win the White House (Obama), and the implied corollary, that when Deomcrats run as centrists (Gore, Kerry, H. Clinton) they lose, seems spot on. Given that observation, what is the argument for not running a progressive campaign for president?

      • Larry Benjamin  On November 9, 2017 at 7:29 pm

        I wouldn’t characterize Obama as a progressive. He ran as a center-left corporatist. He’s only progressive compared to conservatives like McCain and Romney. Also, the establishment choice for DNC chair was Obama’s labor secretary, Tom Perez, who beat out Sanders’ progressive choice, Keith Ellison.

        Progressives can clearly win in affluent, white, liberal areas. Whether they can win nationwide will depend more on the candidate than the platform. Like it or not, the more charismatic candidate tends to win. Obama didn’t win because he’s a progressive – he won because he has immense personal appeal, something Gore, Kerry, and Hillary all lack.

        Find a charismatic Democrat with a progressive platform, who can fool everyone into thinking they’re a centrist, and you’ll have your next president.

      • Guest  On November 10, 2017 at 2:24 pm

        You touched on the one point I was trying to sidestep for the sake of argument with Moses, Larry. I agree that Obama was not actually a progressive. Obama was a center, center-right Democratic corporatist with once-in-a-generation charisma who ran a PR award-winning campaign that sold him as a progressive (reform, hope and change from a relative [to Clinton and McCain] DC outsider, rather than the stay-the-course centrist pitch). If you want to repeat the Obama formula then we’d have to correct your last point and have a centrist (to pacify the big money interests controlling the DNC) that can fool everyone else into thinking they’re a progressive.

        I’m weary of that approach for reasons beyond my preference for progressive policies. One, asking for a centrist to get close to Obama’s charisma level is asking a whole lot. And two, I think it’s harder to fool people into thinking you’re a progressive than it was ten years ago. It seemed like only careful observers on the left (Chomsky comes to mind) saw through the Obama campaign’s progressive veneer, and didn’t bat an eye when he, for example aborted the public option and pushed through a modified republican plan, or structured bailouts for the benefit of banks more than the people, while the rest of us dealt with the disappointment. Today, someone like a Corey Booker can take a stand against importing cheaper drugs from Canada for vulnerable Americans, but social media will be letting you know about it.

  • Melissa Warner  On November 6, 2017 at 4:52 pm

    if you haven’t, please read Mike McCabe’s Blue Jean nation. He is running for WI gov as an independent…and we (personally) wish him luck. melissa Warner Racine, WI.

  • Guest  On November 7, 2017 at 5:11 pm

    Easily the most frustrating and misleading Sift entry in memory, Doug, and the fun starts right at the top with framing the Hillary-DNC takeover as a bailout for which she received decision making power over “who the communications director would be, and veto power over a few other appointments.” What you’ve included in that watered-down summary questionable enough, but the memo actually paints a more drastic situation. In exchange for buying the DNC (let’s drop the bail out euphemism) the Clinton camp got not just power over the communications director appointment, but ALL staff, and not just appointments but all decisions including “budget, expenditures, and general election communications, data, technology, analytics, and research.”

    There’s at least the modesty of admitting the toxic possibility of funneling funds donated to the DNC back to the Clinton primary campaign, but its misleading because it’s not a possibility, it’s (*legal* money laundering) reality.
    Individuals who had maxed out their $2,700 contribution limit to the campaign could write an additional check for $353,400 to the Hillary Victory Fund—that figure represented $10,000 to each of the 32 states’ parties who were part of the Victory Fund agreement—$320,000—and $33,400 to the D.N.C. The money would be deposited in the states first, and transferred to the D.N.C. shortly after that. Money in the battleground states usually stayed in that state, but all the other states funneled that money directly to the D.N.C., which quickly transferred the money to Brooklyn.

    “Wait,” I said. “That victory fund was supposed to be for whoever was the nominee, and the state party races. You’re telling me that Hillary has been controlling it since before she got the nomination?”

    With all that said, and all the stuff we knew at the time, like that egregious debate schedule (with answers conveniently provided to Clinton beforehand), it takes a whole of nerve to put that question mark in the post’s title.

    • Ed O  On November 7, 2017 at 5:36 pm

      What you’re saying is what Brazile’s politico post implied. But in fact, as Doug pointed out, the agreement clearly stated that NONE of that took effect until the primary campaign was over:

      “All activities performed under this agreement will be focused exclusively on preparations for the General Election and not the Democratic Primary.”

      As Doug said, if Bernie had won the primary, the DNC money would have gone to Bernie:

      “[Bernie] would have found general-election machinery in place, ready for his use, but designed according to Hillary’s specifications.”

      Again, the agreement did NOT give Hillary’s campaign control of the DNC during the primary. While it was pretty obvious that the DNC’s leadership were, in fact, biased toward Hillary, that was already true even before Hillary’s campaign ever signed this agreement.

      • Guest  On November 8, 2017 at 10:41 am

        It’s not implied, Ed, it’s explicit. All I can do is point you back to Brazile’s own post. It is stated as a question by Brazile and confirmed by the Clinton campaign CFO himself that Clinton had complete control over personnel, funds, data, you name it, BEFORE she got the nomination. Recall that the memo detailing Clinton’s purchase of the DNC is dated August 2015. If you want me to naively believe the “All activities performed…” fig leaf section of the agreement, and that despite the fact that Clinton had total control of the DNC at least as far back as August 2015 she somehow didn’t use that power to “jockey for advantage” to use Doug’s charitable euphemism, you take me for a dolt, sir.

    • Larry Benjamin  On November 8, 2017 at 8:31 am

      Except you can’t get around the fact that Sanders was finished on Super Tuesday and never managed to catch up. His campaign mainly appealed to older white progressives and young, mostly college kids, and those aren’t the only voters in the party. And even putting aside Clinton’s control of the DNC, she had the superdelegates in the bag from the beginning.

      This was disappointing if you expected the primary to be a free and open competition to select the best candidate for the job. And it didn’t help to have a complete outsider dominate the Republican primaries, one who was thoroughly despised by his own party’s establishment, yet he easily won. The difference is that Trump had the votes and Sanders didn’t. It made no difference that the Republican establishment did all they could to undermine Trump; he was simply too popular. If Sanders had enjoyed the same level of popularity, he would have been the nominee in spite of anything going on at the DNC.

      If you’re going to complain about a “rigged” process, you should include caucuses, which have to be the most exclusionary and biased way of picking a nominee. Caucuses are inherently undemocratic because they exclude working people, the elderly, the disabled, poor people – anyone who doesn’t have the luxury of being able to travel a long distance and caucus for hours. Caucuses favor candidates with a few committed supporters over candidates with many lukewarm supporters. The proof is that Sanders won the caucus in Washington state, but lost the more inclusive primary.

      As a progressive, I’m disappointed that Sanders lost, but realistically, even though many people approve of progressive ideas, when they are pushed by a far-left, actual progressive candidate, they’re going to lose in many places. What we need is someone who can run as a centrist with progressive ideas in their platform.

      • Guest  On November 8, 2017 at 1:49 pm

        Thank you for the thoughtful reply, Larry. Not sure why you put “rigged” in quotes, but yes, I’m happy to include caucuses to the laundry list of undemocratic processes we should be working to ameliorate. Yes, even if it would disadvantage my beloved Bernie. Give me inclusive, informed, and fair democracy every time.

        To your first point, I don’t feel the need to get around the fact that Bernie was finished by Super Tuesday because it’s irrelevant to the point. If anything, it reinforces it. To explain I should address a pair of red herrings that you and Doug seem fond of, namely, that progressives say that Bernie would have certainly won a fair, ethical, democratic primary, and two, that progressives always drone on that progressive candidates are always very popular. I don’t agree with either.

        Despite what you may have heard, we don’t know for fact that Bernie would have won a fair primary. The flip side of that coin that you seem to avoid is that we don’t know that Hillary would have won in that scenario either. All we know is that Sanders decisively lost a contest held, operated, and guided by an organization under the complete control of his opponent, Clinton.

        To the second herring, saying that progressive candidates are always so popular is also absurd. Progressive positions and ideas enjoy majority popularity, this is documented. But progressive candidates as a whole are just as much a mixed bag as another other group of politicians in terms of popularity.

        In any case, this isn’t about sour grapes, it’s about looking forward. The same folks who ran an unethical primary and a disastrous general are still in charge at the DNC, with no signs of remorse, self-reflection, or meaningful change. I vehemently disagree with your last point. A centrist where it matters most but with progressive (or progressive-lite) ideas toward the fringe of the platform is what we had in Clinton and she lost. Not interested in repeating the mistake. Running as a centrist for president has not worked for democrats since the 90s. As we saw with Hillary (and Gore, and Kerry), running as a centrist you alienate the populist vote, the left vote, and a good chunk of the independent vote. It’s cost us important elections. For goodness’ sake, let’s learn from mistakes, not repeat them!

      • DMoses  On November 8, 2017 at 5:22 pm

        Superdelegates are a dodge. They indicate party support but they always end up voting in the same way as the popular vote. They’ve never swung a primary even during the Obama “superdelegate push” they ended up voting with the state level popular results

      • DMoses  On November 8, 2017 at 5:24 pm

        Re: Guest

        Hillary won a fair democratic primary. She won by 3 million votes.

      • Tyrlaan  On November 9, 2017 at 1:06 pm

        “What we need is someone who can run as a centrist with progressive ideas in their platform.”

        I don’t agree with this. What I think we need is a progressive that can sell their ideas in a way that’s meaningful to selfish people. i.e. cost savings.

        The problem is you just won’t get enough votes through the feels.


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