by Josh Marshall
Last night NBC published the DNC/Clinton campaign memo that Donna Brazile was apparently referring to. It’s not actually the Joint Fundraising Agreement. It’s a side agreement. But that’s just a semantic distinction. Here’s my take on where this new revelation leaves the story.
Reviewing the document, I think it’s a fair read the the Clinton campaign wanted control over things during the general election. That’s fair and normal. But they also wanted control over the building of the what they expected to inherit for the general election once Clinton became the nominee. That’s not unreasonable in itself. But that also meant having a veto power over things that were happening during the primaries, particularly hiring of key staff. So while the document says explicitly that these agreements apply exclusively to the general election, the Clinton campaign was also getting veto rights over organizational decisions during the primaries, even if they weren’t about the primaries.
There are also lines in the agreement about the campaign’s rights to review emails that went out about any primary candidate. That might create more control. But it’s not clear to me what that amounted to in practice. Those parts aren’t entirely clear to me.
The upshot is that this is significantly different from what Donna Brazile claimed in the book excerpt published in Politico. But it also includes levels of control pre-general election that would have have as a surprise to many. It’s a surprise to me. As I wrote in yesterday’s post, there’s nothing here that remotely qualifies as “rigging” the election. That is inflammatory talk and frankly a smear. Just why Brazile went that route I do not know and don’t care to speculate. But she did everyone involved a grave disservice by being willfully misleading, deeply self-serving and inflaming already existing divisions in the party that will be hard to repair as it is.
Indeed, the “rigging” language doesn’t even make sense if you have any real understanding of what the DNC actually does. The primary schedules are set up way in advance of the actual campaign, long before anyone at the DNC had any idea Sanders would mount such a strong campaign. The DNC doesn’t administer the primaries; the states do. Basically the DNC couldn’t “rig” process even if it wanted to.
This agreement isn’t nothing. No candidate should have this kind of say during the primaries even if it’s about things for the general election. But it’s very different from what Brazile describes and it doesn’t remotely mean anything was “rigged”. That’s just a smear intended for political effect.
As I was writing this post, news broke that Brazile also claims in her book that after Clinton’s fainting episode she seriously considered replacing Clinton on the ticket with Joe Biden and Cory Booker because her campaign was “anemic” and had taken on the “odor of failure”. She chose Biden-Booker because she decided they had the best chance to shore up support from working class voters. But Brazile says she “thought of Hillary, and all the women in the country who were so proud of and excited about her. I could not do this to them.”
This adds an important new detail to the story because this is a ridiculous claim. The chair of the DNC has no power to unilaterally replace a candidate on the ticket. The candidate must resign from the ticket or die – I believe there may be a reference to ‘incapacitation’, candidate on life support after a stroke, etc. But none of those three things happened. If one of those things does happen the decision falls to the entire DNC – a few hundred members from across the country – to meet and decide on a replacement. This is a power Brazile quite clearly did not have. So the whole storyline makes no sense and did not happen.
More probable is that when Clinton fainted she started brainstorming who should replace her if she turned out to be seriously ill and resigned from the ticket or died. That makes total sense. She had zero power to replace Clinton unilaterally and the choice wouldn’t have been hers regardless. But as interim chair of the DNC she would have been a major player in the decision-making. So it makes sense that she might have started gaming out possible scenarios. But she seems to have taken this plausible interlude and recast it as a moment of decision in which she could see Clinton was flagging among working class voters in the midwest, considered replacing her with Joe Biden but finally could not break the hearts of the women who supported Clinton.
This is all pure fantasy. She’s married a non-existent power with a highly improbable prescience to create a kind of retrospective, fantasy football version of the nomination in which the momentous and weighty decisions all fell to her. It is highly reminiscent of the agonizing call in which she purportedly informed Bernie Sanders that he’d been right all along and the nomination race had been “rigged”.
This and other claims from Brazile’s book which have come out in the last few hours only confirm me in thinking that her claims are at least self-serving, in other cases highly improbable and in some cases literally impossible.
Of course this should not lead us to think there aren’t problems with the DNC that Democrats should work to change. As one TPM Reader noted yesterday afternoon, the real problem with the DNC is that it has long been captive of whoever was the latest presidential nominee/party leader. As he put it, “Historically the DNC has been too reliant on Presidential candidates for funding and direction. This has resulted in downballot neglect and atrophy of state parties. If this controversy leads to reform it’s worth it. And I say this as someone who supported Hillary and am apoplectic that the primary wars haven’t ended yet.”
I can’t say I think this controversy is worth it because I think it is fundamentally based on falsehoods and ones that resurface all the most toxic battles of 2016. But rethinking the way the DNC works would be a good thing. The DNC is the one committee whose stakeholders should be all Democrats – not the DCCC, which works for House incumbents or the DSCC or the DSCC which works for Senate incumbents. It should never be about one candidate or one election cycle. It is a genuine shame that someone like Donna Brazile, who has worked so hard and so consistently in Democratic politics for decades, has now chosen to make it all about herself.