The Democratic National Committee hasn’t been having a good year. Save for a spike during March, fundraising, cash on hand, and net money have all dropped since former secretary of labor Tom Perez took over as chair in January. DNC operatives had hoped Trump’s plummeting approval ratings would translate to a boom in fundraising, but the DNC just recorded its worst month since 2009, taking in only $3.8 million.
In the same month, the RNC recorded $10.2 million in donations, and it is reporting strong numbers across the board. Since former Michigan GOP chair Ronna Romney McDaniel succeeded Reince Priebus in January, the RNC has raised $9.5 million or more each month and incurred no debt. In January it had $36.8 million cash on hand; in July, $47.1 million.
So we can safely assume that the reason for the DNC’s donation struggles isn’t bipartisan complacency in the dry season between elections. And it isn’t complacency among Democrats: Donations to candidates from both parties during the same period are nearly identical, $142 million for Democrats against $145.4 million for Republicans. Jon Ossoff, the unsuccessful Democratic candidate in Georgia’s sixth congressional district, recorded the highest amount of donations in the history of House elections. Meanwhile, left-wing PACs and committees are doing fine: The pro-choice EMILY’s List has raised more this year than Trump’s Make America Great Again Committee. The Democratic Congressional and Senate Campaign Committees (DCCC/DSCC), the campaign arms for Democrats in Congress, have raised more than their Republican equivalents, the NRCC and NRSC, in the same period.
Rather, the DNC’s shortcomings point to something rotten in the committee itself. Since the 2016 presidential campaign, grassroots Democrats have been losing trust and faith in the DNC’s leadership. Now, when the party’s survival depends on solidarity, it’s having trouble broadcasting a message that reaches all — or even most — of its supporters. Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s replacement as DNC head was supposed to fix this; if the new chair was a non-establishment grassroots leader, it was thought, he could help unify the party under a progressive banner. Yet when presented with just such a candidate, Minnesota representative Keith Ellison, the party instead selected Perez, the establishment favorite. So fraught was the process that when interim chair Donna Brazile announced Perez’s election, Ellison’s supporters drowned her out with boos, and only Ellison’s appointment to the deputy-chair position, and his request that they trust in Perez, subdued them.
In his acceptance speech, Perez promised to fix the Democratic party by changing its culture: “I am confident that when we lead with our values and our actions, we succeed,” he concluded. But this is easier said than done. A lack of coherent values is what fractured the party in the first place, after all. By pitting Bernie Sanders, who appealed to the progressive youth, against Hillary Clinton, the establishment candidate, in the 2016 election, the DNC showcased its divided values on a national stage. And when news broke that the DNC had actively suppressed Sanders’s presidential bid, the exodus of disaffected Sanders supporters revealed how tense that division was.
In April, Perez embarked on a “Unity Tour” with Sanders, hoping to begin recovering the lost supporters and healing the broken party. But the crowd cheered for Sanders — the opener — and booed Perez — the headliner — on the tour’s first stop. Ten months after the DNC convention and six after Trump defeated Clinton, when the party desperately needs unity to overcome what promises to be a tough midterm election, the faction of distrust still refuses to cooperate.
Ten months after the DNC convention and six after the election, when the party desperately needs unity to face a tough midterm election, the faction of distrust still refuses to cooperate.
Perez faces another problem in his quest to unify the party: Riding a seemingly unstoppable wave of progressive victories under Obama, the DNC began to market itself as a party of “yes,” beholden to the wants of its supporters. By acting like an unregulated Santa Claus, however, the party taught its supporters to resist compromise and demand perfection, which is problematic now that the DNC controls a majority at no level of government.
Fueled by this rage — and the Left’s growing conviction that “resistance” is the answer to all of the country’s problems — Democratic infighting is becoming more commonplace. In the past three months alone, Democratic voters viciously criticized a plan to start funding pro-life candidates; California state-assembly speaker Anthony Rendon, an establishment Democrat, received death threats when he killed a single-payer health-care bill; and Sanders supporters labeled California senator Kamala Harris — a progressive hero on paper and a rising star within the party — an establishment Democrat in bed with Wall Street.
Perez’s pledge to change the party’s culture is a noble recognition of guilt. He seems to understand the gravity of the quagmire in which his predecessors have lodged the DNC: It can’t win on the backs of the vast archipelago of special-interest groups, and it can’t persuade them to compromise on issues to widen the party’s scope. Until Perez finds a way to cut this Gordian knot, however, dropping donations are the least of his worries.