Donna Brazile’s forthcoming memoir triggered renewed recriminations at the highest ranks of the Democratic Party this weekend over the topic that just won’t die: 2016.
The latest bombshell from the book came Saturday in a report that the former interim Democratic National Committee chair seriously considered replacing Hillary Clinton on the ticket with Vice President Joe Biden after Clinton collapsed at a 9/11 memorial service. Brazile also describes the Clinton campaign as badly mismanaged and spiritless, according to a copy of the memoir that The Washington Post acquired early.
That came on the heels of an excerpt published by POLITICO Magazine about how Brazile said she discovered the Clinton campaign had essentially rigged the DNC — if not the primary itself — in Clinton’s favor long before she became the nominee, apparently confirming the worst suspicions of Bernie Sanders’ campaign.
“The timing couldn’t have been worse. It does us no good to hash out all this stuff. At this point, we should be looking to the future — what’s done is done,” said former DNC chairman and Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, pointing to the financial arrangement at the center of Brazile’s account. “There was no crime committed, but it would’ve been easy to avoid. [So] I don’t think it was rigged, I think what the DNC did was just awful.”
“But we should stop talking about it; it’s passed. We can’t adjudicate it now, let’s focus on the elections Tuesday and on going forward,” Rendell added. “There can’t be any positive that comes from it.”
The backbiting commenced again after Brazile’s excerpt described how Clinton’s campaign had secretly formalized its control over the party apparatus during her primary contest with Sanders. That claim was soon muddied by the publication of the fundraising agreements in question — they revealed that many of the provisions Brazile wrote about pertained only to the general election — but the stage was set for another relitigation of the bruising primary.
Seizing the opportunity to inflame Democratic tensions, leading Republicans have jumped on the dispute.
“The real story on Collusion is in Donna B’s new book. Crooked Hillary bought the DNC & then stole the Democratic Primary from Crazy Bernie!,” President Donald Trump tweeted on Friday.
Sanders responded: “We won’t be distracted from your efforts to give billionaires tax cuts, take health care from millions and deny climate change. Do your job.” But a number of his supporters and aides were more upset. Former campaign manager Jeff Weaver, for one, said on MSNBC that the DNC should apologize.
“Donna’s revelations, at least vis-a-vis the DNC and the primary, didn’t tell us anything we didn’t already know,” said Mark Longabaugh, a senior Sanders campaign adviser. “We basically had a party chairwoman resign” because of her preference for Clinton during the primary, he said, referring to Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who was ousted in July 2016.
As Brazile’s excerpt circulated, Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison, the DNC deputy chair, who is closely aligned with Sanders, said “we can’t allow this idea to persist that any candidate has an inside track.”
“Donna Brazile’s account cannot simply be dismissed. We must heed the call for our party to enact real reforms that ensure a fair, open, and impartial nominating process in elections to come,” he added in a statement.
Nina Turner, the former Ohio state senator who now runs Our Revolution, the political group spawned from Sanders’ campaign, also chimed in: “It was rigged all along,” she wrote in a fundraising email to the organization’s supporters.
While Sanders himself has largely stayed out of the conversation about the primary, other leading members of the party have weighed in. Sen. Elizabeth Warren — a prominent progressive who stayed out of the 2016 primary ahead of a possible run of her own in 2020 — answered “Yes” when CNN asked her on Friday whether she believed the contest had been “rigged” for Clinton.
Appearing on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday, Brazile sought to contain her claims of unfair manipulation to the party apparatus, not voting itself. “I found no evidence, none whatsoever” that the primaries were rigged, said Brazile, who managed Al Gore’s campaign in 2000.
On Saturday, DNC Chairman Tom Perez issued a statement that was part apology, part pledge to do better. The uproar comes at a difficult time for the DNC, which has struggled to raise money and which last week abruptly fired its finance director.
“I am more committed than ever before to restoring voters’ faith in our democratic process because even the perception of impartiality or an unfair advantage undermines our ability to win. That is unacceptable,” he wrote on Medium, alluding to the 2016 process run by then-chair Wasserman Schultz.
Pledging to work with the “Unity Reform Commission” set up with Clinton and Sanders’ campaigns last year, Perez also promised “to ensure that no candidate participating in our presidential nominating process gains any unfair advantage — real or perceived — during our primary season. We will decide the debate schedule in advance, instead of negotiating it after all our candidates have entered the race.”
“I totally agree … with the notion that the DNC fell short during critical moments of the primary” in 2016, Perez said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
“Everybody has a right to tell their stories,” DNC associate chairman Jaime Harrison told POLITICO on Sunday. But “there’s a lot of confusion about 2016, and the only thing we can do about it is make sure 2020 isn’t like that.”
Yet it was a note posted by over 100 former Clinton aides Saturday disavowing Brazile’s portrayal of the campaign that sent the biggest shock waves through the party. The letter — signed by a group that included campaign chairman John Podesta, campaign manager Robby Mook, and campaign vice-chair Huma Abedin — was especially noteworthy given that former campaign aides have issued no similar statement about other scathing portrayals of their effort.
“We are pretty tired of people who were not part of our campaign telling the world what it was like to be on the inside of our campaign and how we felt about it. We loved our candidate and each other and it remains our honor to have been part of the effort to make Hillary Clinton the 45th President of the United States,” they wrote in the note that also insisted: “We do not recognize the campaign she portrays in the book.”
The letter also criticized Brazile for “buy[ing] into false Russian-fueled propaganda, spread by both the Russians and our opponent, about our candidate’s health,” referring to her musing about replacing Clinton when she fell ill in September 2016.
Perez echoed the sentiment on Sunday: “The charge that Hillary Clinton was somehow incapacitated is, quite frankly, ludicrous,” he said.
It was the kind of backward-looking argument that has dogged party leaders for months, but which could hardly come at a less opportune time. Democrats appear likely to win the gubernatorial race in New Jersey on Tuesday, but polls are tightening in Virginia’s gubernatorial contest, the most closely watched election this year.
“The timing is obviously not ideal,” said New Hampshire Democratic Party chairman Raymond Buckley, whose state has over 200 local elections on Tuesday. But, he said, he had yet to hear about Brazile’s book from donors or volunteers. “This is a problem in the Beltway, and in certain state parties.”
The Clinton aides’ note ended with an entreaty to “all Democrats,” who, they wrote, “should be doing everything they can — canvassing, phone banking, etc. — to help our candidates for Governor of Virginia and New Jersey and other races around the country next Tuesday.”
Perez and other national party leaders were in the state campaigning for Democratic Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam over the weekend. And while Republicans — including Trump — were eager to use the Brazile fracas against Democrats, officials on the ground insisted voters were not following the storyline.
“Covered 300 miles of campaign trail in VA today,” tweeted Tom Perriello, the former congressman who lost Democrats’ gubernatorial primary and is now backing Northam. “If I got $1 for every voter who asked about Brazile book, my pockets would still be empty.”
Other party officials outside the Beltway were similarly determined to ignore the infighting.
“We made a decision long ago in Michigan to not relitigate the 2016 election; other folks can do that,” said Brandon Dillon, the state Democratic chairman, who spoke as he drove between party events. “We’ll let the circular firing squad go on in D.C.; we’ll keep our firing squad on Republicans.”
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