You have to hand it to the Democratic party leadership: they completely do not understand what happened to them in 2016. They also have practically no idea why most of their own party distrusts them. No one will fight for leadership that only looks after itself.
Consider what they did. First, they secretly betrayed nearly half their party, the so-called Sanders wing, nearly a year before their nominating convention. Second, when Sanders supporters accused party leadership with chicanery, they lied about it. Third, when one party leader, Donna Brazile, presents comprehensive evidence that the accusations are true, party leaders, including Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, say it’s not important. One party leader, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, agrees with Brazile: the Clinton campaign and the DNC rigged the primary process in Clinton’s favor.
I can’t think of any other current party leader, other than Sanders of course, who publicly states the Clinton campaign and DNC acted improperly, or that their behavior matters. No one in the party’s leadership acknowledges that Democrats lost the election in November largely because the Democratic National Committee excluded the Sanders wing from the party’s nomination process. Uncounted Democratic voters stayed home in November because the DNC dumped Bernie before primary voting even started, then claimed they had done nothing wrong. Sanders voters, and independent voters who felt sympathetic to him, felt alienated from the Democratic party and its candidate. In state after close state, they stayed home as a result.
Do you know how many votes separated Clinton and Trump in three large states she needed to win? Have a look:
Michigan – 10,704 votes (0.2% margin)
Pennsylvania – 46,765 votes (0.7% margin)
Wisconsin – 22,177 votes (0.8% margin)
If you increase total Democratic turnout among these three states by less than 80,000 voters, Clinton would have won the election. Overall, 2012 turnout for Barack Obama in areas where Democrats needed votes was well above turnout for Clinton in 2016. Here is one piece of relevant analysis:
‘One big, consistent piece of the problem was that Clinton performed worse than Obama did in blue-collar, predominantly white communities outside of major cities; such as the counties that include Scranton and Erie, Pa.; Youngstown, Ohio; Green Bay, Wis.; and Daytona Beach in Florida. In many such counties, Clinton’s vote was 15 percentage points or more below what Obama received in his reelection.
‘“When I look at those blue-collar areas, I’m still kind of in awe” over how dramatic the change was, said Sean Trende, election analyst for the RealClearPolitics website.’
No one has gone door to door in these areas to ask Democratic voters, “Why did you stay home?” The common factor most analysts cite for low turnout is not bad weather, but low enthusiasm. To say the least, the way party leadership treated Sanders’ candidacy before the party’s convention, and the way they treated his supporters during the general election campaign, did not help. Post-election leadership’s casual attitude to the way they treated Sanders and his supporters throughout 2016, now that Brazile has let some sunshine in, is even more revealing. They say, so what? Here is Rahm Emanuel, speaking at Georgetown University, in response to a question from The Intercept‘s Lee Fang:
“Lee, I love you, but this is really, totally irrelevant,” Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said in response to The Intercept’s question about the fairness of the DNC-Clinton agreement. “Let’s focus on what we got to do to win not only in 2018 and 2020 going forward, and it ain’t looking back in 2016 and thinking about some agreement everybody’s done before.”
Let’s have a closer look at that statement. The agreement “everybody’s done before” is the joint fundraising agreement parties make after the convention, not one-sided agreements concluded before primaries even start. For appearances, the DNC concluded a mock agreement with the Sanders campaign around the same time it agreed to turn its multimillion dollar debt over to Clinton’s campaign committee. In return, Clinton’s campaign received control over all of DNC’s critical operations.
As for Emanuel’s looking ahead to 2018 and 2020, does he believe Democrats’ path to victory in these election years increases if party members learn to “forgive and forget”? I can tell you, forgiveness may be a virtue for individuals who want to polish up for the pearly gates, but to use Emanuel’s verb, it ain’t a virtue you’ll find in politics. Sanders supporters will not forget what Democratic leadership did to them in 2015 – 2016. Even Clinton supporters will not forget how their party’s leadership managed to lose to a candidate like Trump, partly because of the way both the Clinton campaign and DNC took Democratic votes for granted all across the country.
To take Democratic votes for granted in California and New York proved correct. To take them for granted in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania proved disastrous for the party. What’s interesting is that Democratic leaders now, a year after the election, appear to pass off their behavior in 2016 as irrelevant to the party’s future. Emanuel’s remarks make that clear, though you can’t tell what he actually thinks in private. You’ll hear party leaders say things like, “We have a lot to learn,” which tells you they don’t want to talk about the subject anymore. Significantly, no one except Warren has acknowledged that the DNC burned Bernie. Sorry, Sanders supporters. We want your votes in 2018 and 2020, but we won’t crawl for them, and we certainly won’t ask for forgiveness, even in private.
Our two major parties are falling apart. The train wreck over in the Trump rail yards engrosses the public now, as the White House is the Big Show. Resentments, recriminations and disappointment on the Democratic side will take a while to sort out. Those of us who have watched and waited for major changes to the major parties can find some movement at last. One would not have expected the process of change to be quite so dishonest or derogatory. Yet given that dishonesty and derogation created both the need for change in political alignments, and current conditions of distrust and disintegration, we should not be amazed that leaders try to evade the truth when voters direct their ire straight at them.
Party leaders can claim that back in 2015, when they turned the DNC over to Clinton’s campaign committee, they had no idea the Sanders wing of the party would be so strong. Clinton had prepared her run since 2012 at that point. Sanders wasn’t even a Democrat – he was socialist from Vermont! As Trump proved, however, you don’t need to be a party loyalist to place your name on a primary ballot. You just have to say, “I’m a Republican,” or, “I’m a Democrat.”
In any case, that’s the point of the primaries: to find out how much support each candidate has. For Democrats to say they had no idea Sanders would win so many votes, or generate so much enthusiasm, is exactly why you do not conclude one-sided agreements before the party nominates its candidate. Why even go to the trouble of a primary process, if you know the results ahead of time? You do so because you want everyone in the party to have a voice. Democratic party leadership clearly did not want to hear from any voter who favored someone other than Clinton.
The party’s national committee is supposed to be impartial during the primary season, period. To claim retrospectively, “We didn’t know he would receive so many votes,” shows exactly why you have to remain impartial. You don’t make deals before you know. You do not align yourself with your party’s nominee, until after you nominate your candidate. To do so beforehand undermines your party’s integrity. It also shows the party’s leadership was entirely willing to stack the nomination process, and expected to get away with it.