He’s a 27-year-old veteran with little experience in DC. Nevertheless, Sam Ronan has become a dark horse candidate in the race for DNC Chair due to his bold, unapologetic progressivism. Thus far, he is the only candidate to openly pledge to get corporate money out of Democratic Party politics and the only one running to acknowledge (and stand by his acknowledgment) the fact that the DNC assisted Hillary Clinton in the primary. One thing is becoming clear: Whatever the result of Saturday’s election, Ronan’s status as a rising star of the left is evidence that, moving forward, the party is going to have to listen to his message.
When he first answers the phone, he sounds distracted. “Sorry,” he explains. “I just got an email related to the debate I’m doing tonight,” referring to the CNN DNC Chair candidate debate. Although he’s about to go on national television, Ronan seems to be in good spirits and calm—understandable given the fact that before he was pursuing politics, he was an enlisted man in the U.S. Air Force.
“You’re kind of dark horse in this race,” I joke.
“No doubt about it,” he laughs.
Ronan began making headlines earlier this month for his frank critique of why the Democratic Party and Hillary Clinton lost in 2016. Where his competitors faltered, he stepped up and openly called the primary “rigged” and an “insider game.”
I ask him about these remarks, and he does not disappoint.
“See, the sad thing is, it’s not an unknown thing, it’s just a very unpopular thing to say when you’re trying to run a national organization,” he admits. “Especially when that national organization is ran by the very people that have caused it to happen.”
There is something disarming about the straightforward, untrained way he delivers his answers; enthusiasm clings to every word. He has a tendency to wander, but it is only because there is so much ground he wants to cover. It’s a familiar habit. I am reminded that just one year separates me from the voice on the other end of the phone, and I cannot help but feel inspired—like I am playing a small part in something great.
I already have an idea of how he’s going to answer, but I cannot resist asking him what steps he would take to fix the primary process. To progressives, certain ideas for reform have become red meat.
“Obviously I’d get rid of superdelegates, open the primaries, this, that, and the other—that goes without saying,” he replies. “But the pushback that I would be receiving from the DNC members themselves…What could I do to combat that?”
Before I can respond, he answers.
“Even if they are unwilling to work with me, if I become the Chairman, I have the clout, I have the authority, I have the face to organize the public outreach…So I can make their lives a living hell just by having people call them and email them all day long.”
This is the kind of leadership Democrats have been lacking for decades—bold progressive leadership reminiscent of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s fireside chats and court packing scheme. Ronan has a vision for the party.
“We call ourselves the party of the people, right?” He asks rhetorically. “Which means we’re supposed to be representing people all across the spectrum. What I’d truly like to see is a resurgence of that—to truly be the party of FDR again; to truly have a new New Deal.”
And there it is. Our commonality on display. Since the 70’s—but not in earnest until the 80’s and 90’s—the Democratic Party has been shying away from the kinds of sweeping “big government” reforms it passed during the New Deal and Civil Rights Eras. The loss of the “Solid South”—FDR’s strongest voting bloc—really threw the party into a crisis of ideology. Out of that came the dominance of corporate-friendly neoliberals.
“When we fail to fight for the little guy—that’s when we fail.”
The conversation then turns to electability. I feel slightly reluctant to broach this topic because I don’t want to dampen the enthusiasm, but as a candidate for a nationally recognized post which is chosen by party insiders, it is necessary.
“The problem is, I literally have zero ability to personally engage with them to change their votes,” he concedes. “They’re insiders—they’re insiders who were voted for by state level insiders who were voted for by county level insiders who were picked and chosen from within the Democratic Party. Either they were the longest person there, or they were the wealthiest donor, et alia.”
One of the biggest problems Ronan has faced is money. While any candidate can theoretically get one-on-one access to the voting DNC members, doing so means booking private rooms in hotels or conference centers, and ordering hor d’oeuvres. This routine is not a problem for candidates like Keith Ellison or Tom Perez, but for a grassroots insurgent, it can prove difficult.
Perhaps sensing the mood shift, Ronan pauses—as if he is remembering why he entered the race in the first place.
“Can I convince them by myself? No,” he states. “Can we as a united force to be reckoned with? Absolutely. If people overwhelmingly reach out to these folks and inundate them with phone calls and emails letting them know who the people’s choice is, they have to listen or they are stupid and purposely signing their own death warrant.”
He’s absolutely right. The groundswell of millennial and progressive activism promises to change the country forever. Rather than a new era, this year’s GOP victory felt more like a fluke—as if the country told Democrats to get their acts together. But now, the stakes are too high, and people are getting active. The left has been awakened.
It is under these circumstances that Ronan’s incredible rise in the race for DNC Chair makes sense. Even if he does not secure a victory—a difficult prospect indeed—he is a glimpse of what is to come in 2018; a part of a brighter future that will only happen when change is forced on the Democratic Party.
As we are ending our conversation, I ask Ronan to oblige me one last time, and directly address my readers.
The following are his words:
If I—with no experience in politics who has been involved in this nonsense for just under two years—If I can make it to the stage on CNN as an equal, so can you. Our power and our fight is far from over. We have the strength to persevere and prevail. It is time for us to step up and to stand out. We do not have to be afraid, and we do not have to be timid.