Saturday The DNC Finally Picks A New Chair-- Let's Pray It's Not Another Disaster Like Wasserman Schultz
The DNC charter says a new chairman has to be elected before March 1st. Saturday is as close to the deadline as they could have gotten. It's been a long race, primarily between the progressive wing represented by Keith Ellison and the status quo establishment wing represented by Tom Perez. Obama has been quietly making calls on Perez's behalf. The energy of the Resistance in fully behind Ellison.
This week New Hampshire Democratic Chairman Ray Buckley-- also the chairman of the Democratic chairmen organization-- dropped out of the race and, significantly, endorsed Ellison. That's a very big deal that the media largely missed. This is what he told his supporters when he endorsed Keith:
We need to reform the DNC and strengthen our state parties if we are to win back power. After helping win 11 of the last 13 statewide elections in New Hampshire-- and electing the nation's first all-female, all-Democratic congressional delegation-- I wanted to help lead this national effort.Yesterday John Lewis, one of the moral centers of the Democratic Party, once again threw his weight behind Ellison (see video above). And remember, Lewis was not just a supporter of Hillary Clinton's campaign, he went out of his way to disparage Bernie during the primary. His endorsement of Keith is an important step in healing the gap between progressives and a political establishment that blundered and failed and brought us the disaster of Trump and Trumpism.
Many of the 10 of us who were running spoke about these issues. But Keith's track record of winning elections, increasing voter turnout in Minnesota, being an organizer, partnering with the progressive grassroots, and helping to change the national debate in a way that favors Democrats all stood out.
I have 100% confidence that with Keith Ellison as our Chair, the Democratic National Committee is going to become much more accountable and that the grassroots will be the top priority of the DNC. With Keith's leadership, we will start winning again.
...Keith Ellison also knows elections are not won and lost in the DC beltway, but on the ground across the country. We both believe in providing support and investing resources to help every state party succeed, and organizing in every county across this great country.
There are only 447 voting DNC members. As I've talked to the DNC membership, it's clear that nobody has all the votes they need yet. It's also clear Keith has widespread and growing support.
"We need his leadership. We need his vision. We need his commitment and his dedication now more than ever before," said Lewis in his announcement. "Keith wants our party not just to wait until the next election but to organize now for the long haul."
Yesterday many of us got an e-mail from Michael Moore under the subject line: Do These 10 Things, and Trump Will Be Toast. They were all good. #6 is especially relevant to this post though:
TAKE OVER THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY: The old guard of the party has twice in 16 years presided over the majority of Americans electing the Democrat to the White House-- only for us all to see the losing Republican inaugurated as president. How is it that we have won the popular vote in SIX OF THE LAST SEVEN PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS-- the Republicans have only won ONCE since 1988-- and yet, we hold NO power in any branch of government?! That, plus losing 1,000 local seats in this election that the Dems use to hold-- plus watching many Dems in Congress unwilling to stand up to Trump ― PLEASE, the old leadership has to go. God love ‘em for their contributions in the past, but if we don’t enact a radical overhaul right now, we are doomed as far as having a true opposition party during the Trump era. And that, more than anything, will help to usher in the vice-grip of a totalitarian culture.The DNC chairman's race worked to benefit the Resistance. Can you imagine if a universally despised piece of shit like Wasserman Schultz was still chair and attempted to make herself part of the grassroots movement? It would have died an ugly death. Keith is largely seen as a part of the Resistance and can help channel its energy into the 2018 electoral cycle. I doubt many people would be interested in Perez's attempts to do something similar. Yesterday, Bill McKibben addressed concerns about the party and the Resistance in an OpEd for The Guardian. "If Keith Ellison wins," he asserts, "the party might just be able to win back its lost credibility."
You must do two things:
Let the DNC know that THIS SATURDAY, February 25th, the Democratic National Committee MUST elect reform and progressive candidate, Congressman Keith Ellison, as the new DNC chair. Keith is a former community organizer, the first Muslim elected to Congress, and a key backer of Bernie Sanders. He not only has Bernie’s support-- and mine-- but he’s also backed by Chuck Schumer, Harry Reid, Gloria Steinem, John Lewis and many others. Sign his petition of support at www.keithfordnc.org/howyoucanhelp. Let the DNC know how you feel.
And locally, you need to start attending your county Democratic meetings. If possible, organize your friends and others and take over your local Dem organization. More on this at a later date.
The resistance is doing as well as anyone could realistically hope. Deprived by the elections of any institutional power, we’ve marched in record numbers with courage and wit. That’s helped journalists to find their footing, and President Needy’s poll numbers have begun to tumble. But only a crazy person could keep up this plate-spinning pace for long. Since he clearly will, those fighting Trump need to find a fortress to call home-- a place to find shelter in and from which to sally forth.Moments after McKibben's OpEd was published, Steve Phillips' powerful-- and contrarian-- endorsement of Ellison hit the NY Times, urging DNC voters to "choose a leader who will resist the pressure to pursue the wrong white people. Hundreds of articles have been written about the imperative of attracting more support from white working-class voters who supported Barack Obama in 2012 but then bolted to back Donald J. Trump. The far more important-- and largely untold-- story of the election is that more Obama voters defected to third- and fourth-party candidates than the number who supported Mr. Trump. That is the white flight that should most concern the next D.N.C. chairman, because those voters make up a more promising way to reclaim the White House. The way to win them back is by being more progressive, not less. To be clear, all white voters matter. But Democrats must make tough, data-driven decisions about how to prioritize their work. Right now, too many are using bad math and faulty logic to push the party to chase the wrong segment of white voters. For example, Guy Cecil, who spent nearly $200 million as head of the progressive “super PAC” Priorities USA, urged the party to rebuild trust with the “millions of white voters who voted for President Obama and Donald Trump.” The math underlying that conclusion is incorrect (Mr. Trump picked up not “millions,” but only 784,000 white votes in the 10 battleground states he won by single digits). And it misses the bigger-- and more fixable-- problem of white Democratic defections to third- and fourth-party candidates."
One of those fortresses may be the Democratic party, depending on how this weekend’s vote for a new DNC chairman comes out.
There are a number of candidates, but two appear to be in the lead: former Labor Secretary Tom Perez, and Minnesota congressman Keith Ellison. Both, by all accounts, are good guys, and not greatly divided by ideology. But they clearly represent the two wings of the party.
Perez is from the ruling wing, the institutional party. He’s closely identified with Barack Obama, who he worked for, and Hillary Clinton, who he supported. Ellison is from the movement wing. He’s closely identified with Bernie Sanders. Indeed, he was one of the few members of Congress who actively supported his insurgent candidacy.
The choice is actually about the best way to unite the opposition to Trump, at least for the purposes of winning elections.
We don’t need the Democratic party to tell us what to think-- we have vibrant and engaged movements out there that are reshaping public opinion every day, in the airports and on Facebook. Black Lives Matter leads our movement intellectually in a way that the Democratic Party never will. But we may need the Democratic party for the fairly limited purpose of winning elections and hence consolidating power. What would best serve that utilitarian need?
The answer, I think, is pretty clear.
Ellison-- and by extension the movements he represents-- offers the party the items it lacks and needs. Credibility, for one. You could (and this is the argument of Perez and his establishment team) begin in the middle, with as unthreatening and centrist a party as possible, and then reach out to the various movements and try to bring them on board. But I doubt that will work.
The deep-seated anger at the elites, who have compromised serious principle time and time again, is simply too strong. If the polls are to be believed, most Americans don’t trust any of Washington’s power centers, the DNC included. No one looks at Steny Hoyer and thinks ‘what barricade can I die on?’ The last chair of the DNC, Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, was the embodiment of this kind of non-principled power-based thinking, and she did tremendous damage. [Editor's note: She'll still have to be dealt with for the DNC to ever regain any kind of confidence form grassroots progressives.]
And if that’s true of Americans in general, it’s doubly true of young people. In fact, more than doubly: the single most remarkable statistics of the 2016 election season were the four- and five- and six-to-one margins by which Bernie won young voters.
That he was able to overcome that inherent distrust means he may be able to do the party a great service, and deliver it a generation of voters who are not otherwise inclined to affiliate with institutions of any sort. Ellison is the bridge to that world, and it would be political malpractice to draw it up. But he’s also the bridge to the world of movements, which supply the passion and spirit and creativity that the DNC requires at least as badly as it needs credibility.
A typical Ellison supporter is someone like Jane Kleeb, the whirlwind Nebraska organizer who spearheaded much of the fight against the Keystone Pipeline, and is now assembling a coalition of farmers, ranchers, and other unlikely activists across the Midwest to fight fossil fuel infrastructure and demand renewable energy.
Kleeb’s just been elected chair of Nebraska’s Democratic party, giving it a transfusion of organizing energy that had been lacking-- if you want to compete in the heartland, she’s the kind of person you need.
These folks are serious about winning elections-- Ellison himself has been a remarkably successful campaigner in his Minnesota base, expanding his margins year after year and lending effective support to the rest of the ticket. And they know how to raise money, one of the key jobs of a party: Bernie’s 27-bucks-at-a-time model is clearly the future of political fundraising, a welcome change from simply finding plutocrats or shaking down Wall Street.
Ellison is in a very real way the safe choice. If the institutionalists are put in charge, then much of the DNC’s energy in the years to come will be spent trying to deal with people who distrust institutions. But with Bernie’s implicit backing, Ellison can short-circuit that conversation and simply get to work.
Few people will accuse the black Muslim Berniecrat of being an apparatchik. And since he’s simultaneously a modest Midwestern track-and-field coach, he’ll be able to get a message across to the broad middle.
I don’t know whether that will be enough to save the Democratic party. We’re in an era of rapid deinstitutionalization-- our political parties may just become hollow shells that cannot compete against insurgent candidates like Bernie (who was an Independent most of his career).
But there are, unfortunately, strong forces in the Constitution that favor a two-party system. So even if parties are not as important as protest, it’s still worth seeing if they can serve a useful role going forward. Keith Ellison is the best chance of finding out.
Hillary Clinton lost the decisive states of Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan by 77,744 votes; the number of Democratic votes dropped significantly from 2012 levels, and the Republican total increased by about 440,000 votes. The third- and fourth-party surge, however, was larger than the Republican growth, with 503,000 more people choosing the Libertarian or the Green candidate than had done so in 2012. When you look at the white vote in those states, the picture is even more stark.
In Wisconsin, according to the exit poll data, Mrs. Clinton received 193,000 fewer white votes than Mr. Obama received in 2012, but Mr. Trump’s white total increased over Mitt Romney’s by just 9,000 votes. So where did the other 184,000 Wisconsin whites go? A majority went to third and fourth parties, which, together, received 100,000 more white votes than they did in 2012.
In Michigan, where 75 percent of the voters were white, Mrs. Clinton received about 295,000 fewer votes than Mr. Obama did, but the Republican total increased by just 164,000 votes. The ranks of those voting third and fourth party leapt to more than 250,000 last year from about 51,000 in 2012, and Mrs. Clinton fell short by just 10,704 votes.
In Pennsylvania, the Democrats’ problem was not with white voters, but with African-Americans. Mrs. Clinton actually improved on the Democratic 2012 results with whites, but over 130,000 unenthused black voters stayed home, and she lost by about 44,000 votes.
If Democrats had stemmed the defections of white voters to the Libertarian or Green Parties, they would have won Michigan and Wisconsin, and had they also inspired African-Americans in Pennsylvania, Mrs. Clinton would be president.
If progressive whites are defecting because they are uninspired by Democrats, moving further to the right will only deepen their disillusionment. But if the next D.N.C. chairman can win them back, the country’s demographic trends will tilt the field in Democrats’ favor. As Mrs. Clinton’s popular vote margin showed, there is still a new American majority made up of a meaningful minority of whites and an overwhelming majority of minorities. Not only is there little evidence that Democrats can do significantly better with those white working-class voters who are susceptible to messages laced with racism and sexism, but that sector of the electorate will continue to shrink in the coming years. Nearly half of all Democratic votes (46 percent) were not white in 2016, and over the next four years, 10 million more people of color will be added to the population, as compared with just 1.5 million whites.
Keith Ellison, a D.N.C. chairman candidate, has a proven record of engaging core Democratic voters rather than chasing the elusive conservative whites, and the party would be in good hands under his stewardship. (Thomas E. Perez, the former labor secretary, has less electoral history, but his reliance on political superstars such as the strategist Emmy Ruiz, who delivered victories for Democrats in Nevada and Colorado, is encouraging.)
Whoever prevails as chairman must resist the pressure to follow an uninformed and ill-fated quest for winning over conservative white working-class voters in the Midwest. The solution for Democrats is not to chase Trump defectors. The path to victory involves reinspiring those whites who drifted to third-party candidates and then focusing on the ample opportunities in the Southwest and the South.
Mrs. Clinton came closer to winning Texas than she did Iowa. She fared better in Arizona, Georgia and Florida than she did in the traditional battleground state of Ohio. The electoral action for Democrats may have once been in the Rust Belt, but it’s now moving west and south.