One of the most mystifying aspects of the 2016 election has been the short-term elevation of Hillary Clinton. She somehow went from being the “most qualified presidential candidate in history” to a spiritual figure, a person with a mystical presence. She walks the woods. She grants or denies absolution. When she speaks, grown women weep.
Or at least they did yesterday. Today, things changed.
Remember Donna Brazile? She’s the former CNN contributor and interim chairman of the Democratic National Committee. She last dominated the headlines in October of 2016, when a leaked email revealed she’d fed CNN debate questions to Hillary’s campaign in March of that year. (She took the job as interim DNC chairwoman, which she’d briefly held in 2011 as well, in July.) CNN forced her to resign as a contributor, but before the election Brazile was anything but apologetic. Here’s her comment on November 7, 2016 — the day before Hillary’s loss:
“My conscience — as an activist, a strategist — is very clear,” the interim chair of the Democratic National Committee said Monday during a satellite radio interview with liberal activist and SiriusXM host Joe Madison. She added that “if I had to do it all over again, I would know a hell of a lot more about cybersecurity.”
In other words, she was mainly upset that she got caught. But that was then, when the Democrats believed they were on the verge of a victory that would prove all their political theories correct. They were the “coalition of the ascendant.” Demography was destiny. The arc of history was bending their way.
Or maybe not. So now, finally, Brazile is taking stock. In March she finally apologized for passing debate questions to the Clinton campaign. Today, she went further. Much further. Writing in Politico, she confesses what Bernie Bros suspected all along: The system was rigged. From the opening salvos of the Democratic presidential primary, the DNC was quite literally in Hillary’s pocket. Brazile writes that the DNC, the Hillary Victory Fund, and Hillary for America had entered into a “Joint Fund-Raising Agreement.” Here were its key terms:
The agreement — signed by Amy Dacey, the former CEO of the DNC, and Robby Mook with a copy to Marc Elias — specified that in exchange for raising money and investing in the DNC, Hillary would control the party’s finances, strategy, and all the money raised. Her campaign had the right of refusal of who would be the party communications director, and it would make final decisions on all the other staff. The DNC also was required to consult with the campaign about all other staffing, budgeting, data, analytics, and mailings.
That sound you hear is the primal scream of millions of Bernie Bros. They were right. The system was rigged. As Brazile notes, it’s not at all uncommon for presidential candidates to assert increasing control over the party after the nominee is chosen, but this agreement was executed in August 2015 — months before the first primary votes were cast.
Brazile calls this arrangement “unethical.” She says it “compromised the party’s integrity.” (That’s virtually the Clintons’ family motto — “compromising Democratic integrity since 1992.”) She’s right, and while Brazile may be the most notable Democratic voice to decisively break with the Clintons, she’s not the only one.
Writing yesterday in The New Yorker, Susan Glasser argues that while Republican divisions have been grabbing headlines, the Democrats’ own civil war “is getting nasty.” She focuses on Democratic strategist Stanley Greenberg, a veteran of Bill Clinton’s presidential campaigns, and his stinging critique:
For months, Greenberg has been stewing over how Clinton conducted her campaign, and he finally unloaded, in The American Prospect, a small-circulation progressive journal founded back on the eve of Bill Clinton’s Presidency. . . . Here was Bill Clinton’s pollster accusing Hillary Clinton’s campaign of strategic errors, mismanagement, and failure to heed the advice of him and others to appeal to the Party’s traditional working-class voters in the Midwest.
His conclusion? “Malpractice and arrogance contributed mightily to the election of Donald Trump.”
If you’re a Democrat, these critiques are good news. They reflect a party that’s starting to look at its own flaws rather than simply decrying the moral defects of a nation that would elect Donald Trump. But it’s incomplete. There’s a last line that most Democrats won’t cross.
Greenberg comes close. In his American Prospect essay, he mentions Hillary’s “trust problem,” but this is the wrong phrase. She had a trust problem because she had a corruption problem. She had a quarter-century record of lies, evasions, half-truths, and manipulations. It wasn’t simply the fault of the “vast right-wing conspiracy” that she was one of the two most disliked and distrusted politicians in America. After all, that same “right-wing conspiracy” had leveled both barrels at Barack Obama, yet he would probably have earned a third term had he run. He probably would’ve buried Donald Trump.
But to cross that last line means dismounting from the moral high horse. It means acknowledging a comprehensive and terrible mistake. The Democratic machine united from the beginning of the campaign — even straining ethics and integrity (Brazile’s words) — to foist a fundamentally corrupt, arrogant, and incompetent politician on the American body politic. Liberal pundits scold the Republican establishment for “not doing enough” to stop Trump. They call out GOP politicians for “cowardice,” and sometimes the critiques are fair. But is cowardice worse than complicity?
Conservatives have been fighting vicious, public battles over everything from character and integrity to political tactics and strategy. The media have been eager to cover this “Republican civil war.” But the Democrats unquestionably need to fight a war of their own. They need to have their own honest debate, and it cannot truly begin until they take off their rose-colored glasses and see clearly for the first time the candidate they presented to America.