Politics & Policy

The Democratic Party’s Civil War

Sanders at a campaign rally in Monterey, Calif., June 1, 2016. (Michael Fiala/Reuters)
Bernie Sanders’s struggles with the DNC expose a fissure on the Left.

While the media has intensely scrutinized the ongoing clash between Donald Trump and other members of the Republican party, an interesting story has developed on the other side of the aisle: the widening ideological divide between Democrats, with controversy centering on murky political infighting involving the Democratic National Committee.

Since the beginning of the primary race, the Bernie Sanders campaign has accused the DNC of favoring Hillary Clinton, who — unlike Sanders — has been a Democratic establishment favorite for over 20 years. With his finger largely pointed at DNC chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Sanders has highlighted numerous cases of the party machine’s undermining him at every turn. In December, the DNC barred the Sanders campaign from a crucial voter database as punishment for a Sanders campaign staffer’s accessing Clinton campaign information, which was unprotected because of a software error. The Sanders campaign has also claimed that the scarcity of party debates was an attempt by the DNC to preserve Hillary’s front-runner status and alleged that Wasserman Schultz colluded with Hillary before the race even began to court superdelegates for her.

The DNC, predictably, denied all of these accusations, and held that the primary process was fair to both candidates. “I do not think that Senator Sanders’s concerns are valid or warranted,” said Wasserman Schultz.

Now, thanks to leaked documents obtained through hacking the DNC database, we see that the concerns were warranted.

In May 2015 — one month after Senator Sanders launched his presidential campaign — the DNC sent a memo outlining their strategy for attacking the GOP candidates during the primary season. “Our goals in the coming months will be to frame the Republican field and the eventual nominee early and to provide a contrast between the GOP field and HRC,” the memo reads. One of the main goals of the DNC, it says, must be to “use specific hits to muddy the waters around ethics, transparency and campaign finance attacks on HRC.”

The Republican party apparatus might have sold out to the neighborhood demagogue, but they didn’t actively throw their lot in with him from the beginning.

As party unity becomes more important for the Democratic electoral interests with each passing day, proof that the DNC favored Clinton is likely to further alienate Sanders supporters. The Republican party apparatus might have sold out to the neighborhood demagogue, but they didn’t actively throw their lot in with him from the beginning. And with Wasserman Schultz facing now-vindicated challenges from the left-wing base and hardcore Sanders supporters, it is unlikely that her fall from grace is going to be gentle.

Sanders, who spent much of the primary campaign highlighting what he described as flaws in the Democratic nomination system and now faces a barrage of calls to exit the race, has an uphill battle to upend the party status quo. As the DNC and other members of the top party brass have fallen in line behind Hillary, her campaign officials are starting to assume leadership positions in the DNC, preparing to transition to the general-election phase. So it seems doubtful that Sanders’s call for the reformation of the superdelegate system, registration requirements, and state primary policies is likely to be heeded.

This memo lends credence to what Sanders supporters — and political observers from every ideological background, for that matter — have long claimed: The Democratic National Committee has become an extension of the unprincipled Clinton political machine that Bill and Hillary have created. And in their quest to coronate the nearly deified Hillary — a coronation she has been working towards for over 20 years — the DNC took exactly the type of underhanded no-holds-barred approach that turned young and particularly left-wing voters off of the Clintons in the first place.

But the issue for the DNC here is not just one of principle, it’s also practical. While we are all swept up into discussion about the GOP’s internal divisions, it’s easy to ignore the parallel debate on the other side of the aisle. Just as Trump has polarized the Republicans into separate encampments, Bernie Sanders and the rise of the further-Left movement is giving the Democrats a debate of their own. And if the DNC brass is going to pretend to be impartial in that debate, they — much like their candidate — should do a better job of holding onto classified communications.

Andrew Badinelli — Andrew Badinelli is an intern at National Review and studies economics and government at Harvard University.

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