Democrats Lost Because The Democratic Party Is Run By Losers

Or, if you prefer #JeSuisZach (boldface mine):

On Thursday, Democratic Party officials held their first staff meeting since Hillary Clinton’s stunning loss to Donald Trump in the presidential race. It didn’t go well.

Donna Brazile, the interim leader of the Democratic National Committee, was giving what one attendee described as “a rip-roaring speech” to about 150 employees, about the need to have hope for wins going forward, when a staffer identified only as Zach stood up with a question.

Why should we trust you as chair to lead us through this?” he asked, according to two people in the room. “You backed a flawed candidate, and your friend [former DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz] plotted through this to support your own gain and yourself.”

Some DNC staffers started to boo and some told him to sit down. Brazile began to answer, but Zach had more to say.

You are part of the problem,” he continued, blaming Brazile for clearing the path for Trump’s victory by siding with Clinton early on. “You and your friends will die of old age and I’m going to die from climate change. You and your friends let this happen, which is going to cut 40 years off my life expectancy.”

Zach gathered his things and began to walk out. When Brazile called after him, asking where he was going, he told her to go outside and “tell people there” why she should be leading the party.

Two DNC staffers confirmed the exchange….

Neither of the DNC staffers who spoke to HuffPost knew Zach’s last name, or much about him. They noted that he wasn’t alone in his sentiments. Some in the room nodded as he spoke, they said, and after he left, some talked about him being right on some points (perhaps not his claims about imminent death by climate change).

While I think Zach might be wrong on the particulars, he’s dead on target regarding the bigger picture. Hold this thought and let’s move on to something Commandante Atrios wrote about fairness and Clinton’s loss (boldface mine):

Some of the reasons she might not have been were unfair. Like, you know, sexism. Lots of Clinton supporters in 2008 told me privately (and some people here expressed it in the comments if I remember correctly) Obama couldn’t win the general election because he was black. If true, also unfair! It could have been true, though it turns out it wasn’t. Racism and sexism are horrible. We live in a horribly unjust and unfair society. Other largely unfair reasons Clinton had problems as a candidate included 25 years of “scandals” that mostly weren’t and media treatment of the Clintons generally. Unfair!

But you can’t wish unfair away, and you can’t make it go away by screaming “unfair!” at it. If Sanders had been the candidate there would have been a lot of unfair things he would have had to deal with, as Obama, Kerry, and Gore did (that racism and misogyny are things which have to be dealt with makes Obama’s and Clinton’s situations more obscene and depressing, and, yes, more unfair, but no less real). Hell I concede even Mittens dealt with some unfair things. Yes, yes, they would have tried to make Sanders seem like commie-loving Stalinist. Unfair! The man just likes Scandinavia. Still he would have had to deal with that and everybody knew it….

Anyway, you go to an election with the candidate and electorate and the horrible unfairness of everything that you have. The key is to have a strategy for dealing with it. You get no extra points to compensate for the unfairness.

So many of the arguments for why voting patterns in the primary demonstrated that Clinton was the better candidate were transparent bullshit. They were transparent bullshit in part because the exact opposite arguments were made in 2008. I don’t fault them for making those arguments to win the primary, I fault (some of them) for apparently actually believing those arguments. Performance in a partisan primary says almost nothing about how you will do in a general election. Bernie Sanders, Susan Sarandon, and the Berniebro army didn’t lose the election, any more than voters who stayed home or Latinx voters who voted for Trump did. Clinton, the Clinton campaign, and the broader professional Clintonworld did. It was their job to win. They took on that responsibility. That might be horribly unfair, but that’s the way it is.

When the primaries began, I mentioned several times that I got a Martha Coakley vibe from Clinton. Here’s the thing: Martha Coakley, former Democratic attorney general of Massachusetts, was an outstanding attorney general, arguably the most effective I’ve ever seen. Coakley was a far better attorney general than Clinton was either a senator or Secretary of State. But Coakley was a complete disaster both as a senate candidate against Scott Brown and Massachusetts’ Governor Baker. Her modus operandi was to zig when she needed to zag. As a gubernatorial candidate, she was cautious, she didn’t have a clear message other than “It’s my turn.” Yet the entire state Democratic machine lined up behind her, and her primary was a foregone conclusion. Her former loss to Brown was defended as a bizarre outcome of an off-year replacement election. Sound familiar?

And in 2016, at the national level, something familiar happened again (boldface mine):

I think of the lawmakers, the consultants, the operatives, and—yes—the center-left media, and how everything said over the past few years leading up to this night was bullshit.

The midterm losses? That was just a bad cycle, structurally speaking; presidential demographics would make up for it. The party establishment made a grievous mistake rallying around Hillary Clinton. It wasn’t just a lack of recent political seasoning. She was a bad candidate, with no message beyond heckling the opposite sideline. She was a total misfit for both the politics of 2016 and the energy of the Democratic Party as currently constituted. She could not escape her baggage, and she must own that failure herself.

Theoretically smart people in the Democratic Party should have known that. And yet they worked giddily to clear the field for her. Every power-hungry young Democrat fresh out of law school, every rising lawmaker, every old friend of the Clintons wanted a piece of the action. This was their ride up the power chain. The whole edifice was hollow, built atop the same unearned sense of inevitability that surrounded Clinton in 2008, and it collapsed, just as it collapsed in 2008, only a little later in the calendar. The voters of the party got taken for a ride by the people who controlled it, the ones who promised they had everything figured out and sneeringly dismissed anyone who suggested otherwise. They promised that Hillary Clinton had a lock on the Electoral College. These people didn’t know what they were talking about, and too many of us in the media thought they did.

We should blame all those people around the Clintons more than the Clintons themselves, and the Clintons themselves deserve a ridiculous amount of blame. Hillary Clinton was just an ambitious person who wanted to be president. There are a lot of people like that. But she was enabled. The Democratic establishment is a club unwelcoming to outsiders, because outsiders don’t first look out for the club. The Clintons will be gone now. For the sake of the country, let them take the hangers-on with them.

What was the line? Hillary Clinton would do well in a general election, because she’d been “vetted” for 20-some years and there was nothing new Republicans could try? Just writing that, I recognize that it’s the funniest line I’ve ever seen, and yet it was the exact argument Clinton used in two separate campaigns for the Democratic nomination.

The ace ground game, the brilliant ad-makers, the top Hollywood talent, and the best analytics operation ever assembled? This was all a joke. The best analytics team in the world, apparently, couldn’t find in their numbers that it was worth making a single stop to Wisconsin following the convention in a campaign against a Republican whose base appeal was in the Rust Belt. Not that an extra visit would have changed the result.

The few Democratic leaders who remain are going to say that it was just a bad note struck here or there, or the lazy Bernie voters who didn’t show up, or Jim Comey, or unfair media coverage of Clinton’s emails, to blame for this loss. I am already seeing Democrats blaming the Electoral College, which until a few hours ago was hailed as the great protector of Democratic virtue for decades to come, and Republicans were silly for not understanding how to crack the blue “wall.” They will say, just wait for Republicans to overreach. Then we’ll be fine.

Consider this a case study in the Iron Law of Institutionsthe people who control institutions care first and foremost about their power within the institution rather than the power of the institution itself (boldface mine):

She was the Democratic candidate because it was her turn and because a Clinton victory would have moved every Democrat in Washington up a notch. Whether or not she would win was always a secondary matter, something that was taken for granted. Had winning been the party’s number one concern, several more suitable candidates were ready to go. There was Joe Biden, with his powerful plainspoken style, and there was Bernie Sanders, an inspiring and largely scandal-free figure. Each of them would probably have beaten Trump, but neither of them would really have served the interests of the party insiders.

And so Democratic leaders made Hillary their candidate even though they knew about her closeness to the banks, her fondness for war, and her unique vulnerability on the trade issue – each of which Trump exploited to the fullest. They chose Hillary even though they knew about her private email server. They chose her even though some of those who studied the Clinton Foundation suspected it was a sketchy proposition….

The even larger problem is that there is a kind of chronic complacency that has been rotting American liberalism for years, a hubris that tells Democrats they need do nothing different, they need deliver nothing really to anyone – except their friends on the Google jet and those nice people at Goldman. The rest of us are treated as though we have nowhere else to go and no role to play except to vote enthusiastically on the grounds that these Democrats are the “last thing standing” between us and the end of the world. It is a liberalism of the rich, it has failed the middle class, and now it has failed on its own terms of electability.

There were a lot of Clinton operatives who found themselves shut out when Obama came to power, and now it was their time. But that last sentence says it all. For twenty five years, professional Democrats always had an excuse: we need both houses of Congress, we can’t break the filibuster, and so on. They always lose–and even when they win, many of us get scraps. The problem is, despite party insiders telling each other how smart they are, they are almost always bringing Nerf toys to a gunfight. And now, at the end, there is no more room for excuses, nowhere to hide. They simply lost.

The Democratic Party needs new leadership, and needs it now.

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5 Responses to Democrats Lost Because The Democratic Party Is Run By Losers

  1. Net Denizen says:

    I had this same debate back in 2001 when “Nader cost Gore the election”, even though just like 2016 more Democrats voted for the republican than Nader’s entire vote total. But for at least the last 16 years I’ve been told the Democrats were still the party of FDR and LBJ, despite all the legislation they passed coming from CEO and MBA instead. Truly maddening, and yet the most likely outcome is not much is going to change unfortunately….

  2. Obama and the current leadership caused this with their complete lack of party building over the last 8 years. Over a thousand local and state elected officials that went from D to R. A 70 seat loss in the House. 12 seat loss in the Senate. Over a dozen governorships. The three highest profile names in the party will be over 70 come 2020. The two names under 70 are Michelle Obama which does not seem likely and Cory Booker who is the problem. How long can the party expect teachers to show up for them? Booker is the dude that can break that back. Add to this his close ties to Wall St and the Valley its asking for the same results.

    Another huge problem is too many people making excuses right now. They hand wave this problem away because show won the popular vote. So what when that is not the game being played and everyone knew that going in. Or blaming misogyny when A) so what if it was like it or not people can vote for any stupid or even evil reason they like, B) it lets Clinton and the party off the hook and it prevents self examination.

  3. OK, I posted, and it was here, and now it’s gone. Bernie’s been “a real Democrat” for 20-plus years, Mike. That’s why I laughed with all the Clintonistas claiming his wasn’t one.

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