How the Hell We Got Here: Why the Democratic Party is Splitting

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How the Hell We Got Here: Why the Democratic Party is Splitting

(For part two in this series, on how unity is impossible in time for November, click here.)

Last July I wrote an article titled “The Republican Party is in Shambles” for the Huffington Post. That piece was to be a turning point for me. Up until then I had spent most of my energy writing about the GOP, electoral strategy, realignments, and policy. When Donald Trump became the Republican front-runner I realized that the real race for president was the Democratic primary, and so I shifted focus. In other words, the 2016 presidential election was the Democrats to lose. To my dismay, that is exactly what they’re doing.

Right now, the Democratic Party is on the verge of nominating a candidate who would be the least popular presidential nominee since David Duke if not for her rival on the Republican side. It is about to run a candidate who, despite claims to the contrary, is currently being investigated by the FBI, and who, by all rights, would be at home as a Republican if not for some social issues. In a year of outsider insurgency, Democrats are about to rally behind the candidate who most exemplifies the political establishment, save for the fact that Hillary Clinton is not a white man. They’re about to stake the future on someone most people associate with the word “dishonest,” and who polls show is the weaker candidate; someone who is almost certain to lose her reelection bid in 2020 — a Census year in which down-ballot voting is essential if the Democrats want a chance to retake the House of Representatives before 2031. The establishment of the party has seemingly done all it can to guarantee this outcome.

The primary itself has reached fever pitch, with alleged and not-so-alleged incidents of violence cropping up. The ‘Bernie Or Bust’ Movement has grown so large it threatens Clinton’s victory in a close November race (if she is to be the nominee). The Democratic Party has unwittingly revived an old fault line in left wing politics between social and economic progressives, and is splitting as a result. Disunity could actually put Donald Trump in the White House.

How the hell did we get here?

1. Hillary Clinton

The key to Hillary Clinton’s success in the primary has been her Machiavellian preparation. Clinton is perhaps the most prepared candidate we’ve seen in our history. That does not mean she is the best candidate for the job, but it does mean that she did her homework in the many years she’s been running for president.

Her campaign made careful calculations about registered Democratic voters. The “evolution” narrative was crucial to overcome years of flip-flopping and political expediency. The campaign also figured out how much leeway Clinton’s name recognition and identity politics would allow her — evidently enough to overcome concerns about her paid Wall Street speeches…

Through coordination with various super PACs the campaign and her allies settled on a strategy of hijacking the term “progressive” while characterizing any criticism of Clinton as sexist victimization by her opponents. This move was also stroke of political genius as it excused the candidate’s gaffes, questionable past decisions, and her connections to special interests in the eyes of identity voters and older conservative Democrats. It got people like Rebecca Schoenkopf, Sady Doyle, and Joan Walsh to fight Clinton’s genuinely progressive critics.

Her campaign also went to great lengths to preserve the air of inevitability surrounding the former Secretary of State. Clinton targeted the early states in the south, and these early wins also helped give her the momentum to survive later defeats, and concerns about her declining favorability ratings. Clinton also bolstered that narrative with her party connections and fundraising influence to guarantee a significant superdelegate lead even before the race began.

The Clintons also established financial ties with many individuals in the media including Chris Matthews (indirectly), Stephanie Cutter, Maria Cardona, Sara Fagen, Hari Sevugan, and Lynda Tran. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, who purchased The Washington Post in 2013, made millions as a result of a government contract through the State Department while Clinton was Secretary. Former right wing political hitman David Brock, who runs several pro-Clinton super PACs that coordinate directly with the campaign, purchased Blue Nation Review. CNN too has financial ties to the Clintons. It is owned by Time Warner, one of the former Secretary’s largest career donors. Similarly, Comcast which owns MSNBC, is another big Clinton donor. David Cohen, Comcast’s executive vice president even threw her a fundraiser.

Speaking of financial ties, Clinton solidified crucial alliances during her time as Secretary of State. Many of the groups that had paid her for speeches or donated to the Clinton Foundation found themselves rewarded with government contracts through the State Department. Clinton also used her position to make new alliances which would later pay off in more speaking fees and donations. Take UBS AG, for example, which the former Secretary got out of a serious dilemma with the IRS. UBS would later give Bill Clinton millions in speaking fees, as well as partner with and donate to the Clinton Foundation. It should be mentioned there is only the appearance of impropriety, but no actual evidence.

The final elements of Hillary Clinton’s preparation are her political savvy and careful timing. Key people (allies) were appointed or rose to influential positions within the Democratic Party leadership. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, her co-campaign chair from 2008 who is now DNC Chair, and Sen. Barbara Boxer D-CA, whose daughter had a son with the former Secretary’s brother, is now the Democrats’ Chief Deputy Whip in the Senate. Clinton took advantage of these circumstances. Today, the DNC is has a joint fundraising agreement with the Clinton Campaign and is funneling money into pro-Clinton super PACs like American Bridge 21st Century.

All things considered, is it any wonder Hillary Clinton has been the ‘inevitable’ nominee since 2013?

2. A Broken System

Regardless of the extreme amounts of preparation that went into the Clinton 2016 presidential run, none of it would have been possible without generous assistance from special interests like Wall Street firms, big pharmaceutical companies, and many others. Through super PACs and donations to the Clintons — directly through speaking fees or indirectly through the Clinton Foundation — many are those who have helped the former Secretary on her quest for the presidency.

Of course it is our post-Buckley v. Valeo/post-Citizens United v. FEC/ v. FEC America that has enabled these various special interests to bankroll Hillary and Bill Clinton, and enabled the Clintons to exert undue influence on the Democratic Party in spite of neither of them being current elected officials. If politicians did not have to rely so heavily on financial support to win elections, this influence would be minimized. Additionally, without lax regulation and lack of enforcement of campaign finance laws — a direct result of political pressures and the Supreme Court — Clinton would be disqualified or worse for illegally coordinating with super PACs. As The New York Times recently reported, the FEC is powerless to curb election abuse in 2016.

But there are also problems specific to the Democratic primary process. The first states to vote are those that Democrats no longer win in general elections. The front-loading of the south is a relic of the 1980’s when the party was still trying to stop the realignment. But Reagan and the GOP were successful, and there is no reason to run candidates through an ideology filter that won’t help them in a general election, or the country afterwards. There’s also the matter of “superdelegates.” DNC Chair Schultz admitted that their purpose is to quell grassroots uprisings. Today many of these superdelegates are lobbyists. And then finally there are the messy, disjointed state-specific rules for each primary contest. These problems are secondary to the overall broken campaign finance system in America, but they are no less real, and they cumulatively weighed against Bernie Sanders (though a part of that was due to Clinton’s savvy).

3. Desperation

Still, in spite of all the advantages the Clintons have had since before the start of the primary, and in spite of how much the system favors her breed of politician, Senator Bernie Sanders has made a huge splash. He has forced the wheels of change to begin turning.

The current wisdom is that nobody could have predicted the meteoric rise of the independent senator from Vermont, but that is simply untrue. For years insider, transactional politics have failed to deliver the kinds of changes people have been demanding since 2008, or more accurately 2009 when the economy crashed after the Subprime Mortgage Crisis. The Democratic Party has had a grace period in the eyes of the American people since the crash occurred after eight years of a Republican President — George W. Bush. But that time is over.

Rather than crack down on Wall Street, President Obama bailed out the banks and passed one very limited piece of legislation, Dodd-Frank, before moving on. Just one top Wall Street executive went to jail — most ended up getting huge bonuses. In all that time, the middle class struggled, and shrank. Obama’s stimulus worked, but was far too limited in its scope.

Perhaps worst of all, instead of standing up to the influence of money in politics following the highly publicized Citizens United decision, the Democratic Party largely embraced it — cozying up to special interests (with few exceptions like Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Rep. Alan Grayson of Florida). Long story short, the people are mad because the rich got richer and more influential while everyone else got poorer, and the Democratic Party was seen largely going along with it.

Then Bernie Sanders came forward to challenge the status quo and the ‘inevitable’ candidate. Denouncing Wall Street, special interests, lobbying, and super PACs he reminded Americans of the power they have when they come together. He spoke out genuinely for the desperate and the downtrodden.

The DNC and the media establishment did not react well to Bernie’s candidacy, or his message. To paraphrase from Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight:” everyone who’s wallet stood to get lighter went after him.

DNC Chair Schultz scheduled just six primary debates for dates and times when viewership would be low, and threatened the candidates with exclusion from those if they participated in any that were unsanctioned. All of the sanctioned debates were also scheduled after the deadline to switch voter registration in New York (where Bernie and Hillary have ties). These actions benefited Hillary Clinton who had the advantage of name recognition. The DNC also “rolled back” its rule against accepting money from federal lobbyists, allowing many Clinton allies to influence superdelegates.

The media, from CNN to Politifact, waged a war on Bernie Sanders, giving him significantly less coverage than Trump and perpetuating a narrative that the race was decided for Clinton from the outset. Often the coverage Bernie received compared to his opponent was decidedly more negative. Most major publications endorsed Hillary Clinton, and some went further. The Washington Post took it further and published 16 negative stories on Sanders in just 16 hours. In fairness to WaPo, they did publish the same amount of positive Bernie stories when they got called out, but after that, business went back to anti-Bernie spin. The New York Times stealth edited a pro-Sanders piece in such a way as to change the positive tone of the piece and make it negative. Blue Nation Review happily churns out multiple pro-Clinton and anti-Sanders stories every day.



4. Revolution

But something amazing has happened: The people have taken notice.

Bernie Sanders has become a champion — the only candidate running with consistently positive favorability ratings. Progressives have rallied together and demanded more of the Democratic Party for the first time in decades. A massive number of new voters have filled out the registrations to be a part of this change. Bernie’s progressives have even started running for Congress.

Defensive party leaders in Hillary’s camp like Howard Dean, Barbara Boxer, and Debbie Wasserman Schultz have lashed out at these voters, apparently unable to see the writing on the wall, and Hillary Clinton has chastised and scolded them. The media has also come to the aid of the establishment. However, it was through this backlash, Democrats got a real glimpse of what their party had become — in the same way that through Bernie Sanders they got a glimpse of what it could be.The jig was — is up.

America’s voters have had enough. The whole country is realigning. Supporting Bernie Sanders is the only way forward for the establishment. If the leadership does not take this opportunity now, they will likely be swept out of office by progressives in upcoming years. And as the elected leaders change, so too will the unelected ones. The establishment does not realize it yet, but in the long-term, the future belongs to Bernie — to the people.

But the immediate future looks dim. The party still has a chance to seize victory, but the way things are playing out, the odds are against it are high. Allegations of voting irregularities abound, pockets of violence are springing up, and Hillary Clinton is poised to become the Democratic nominee for president. A split in November seems all but guaranteed. Whether the party or Hillary Clinton’s presidential aspirations survive it is to be seen. One thing is certain though, whatever happens next on the left will determine the future of the United States.

(For part two in this series, on how unity is impossible in time for November, click here.)