Now that Russian hackers working for the Trump-Putin ticket have claimed their first Democratic scalp, tens of millions of Americans are asking each other, “Who the hell is Debbie Wasserman Schultz?”
I know I sound glib about the Russian factor, and we’ll discuss that a few paragraphs south. And I don’t mean to shrug off the latest spasms of Democratic disunity, because I remember what the humorist Will Rogers said more than 80 years ago: “I am not a member of any organized political party. I am a Democrat.” But the flap over Debbie Wasserman Schultz and her Democratic National Committee is probably an ephemeral summer squall.
Hillary Clinton’s main task, as the Democrats gather in sweltering Philadelphia, is to turn down the heat on the ever-simmering tensions that mar her relations with the bitter-enders on her left flank. Most of Bernie Sanders’ voters seem poised to vote for Clinton this fall, if only to thwart the ascent of America’s first demagogic fact-free policy-ignorant autocrat, but Clinton still needs to hose down the most noisome dissenters — by reminding them that, however imperfect she may be, she’s our best hope in the most consequential election of our lifetime. And Sanders, who speaks tonight, is crucial in that effort.
Chairwoman Schultz’s sudden resignation yesterday, prompted by the hacked release of DNC emails that showed a committee tilt toward Clinton’s candidacy, was not the best way to launch a convention. The DNC had claimed that it was neutral in the Clinton-Sanders fight, but some of the emails confirmed what we generally suspected anyway, that party headquarters looked more favorably on the candidate who had spent 40 years doing spadework for the party — as opposed to the guy who wasn’t even a member of the party. Shocking.
Yes, it was abhorrent that some staffers suggested making an issue of Sanders’ religion — or lack of religion — in a few southern primaries, but two quick points: (1) the staffers made suggestions that were never acted upon, and (2) these were just DNC staffers, not Clinton campaign staffers. What’s most important to understand is that the DNC has long been a minor entity and Schultz has long been on the cusp of dismissal.
I won’t bore you with the details — which are very inside baseball — but the fact is, the Obama White House has marginalized the DNC for years, in part because it has little faith in Schultz’s stewardship, in part because whichever party controls the White House typically tends to treat its national committee as an unwanted stepchild. During the ’12 re-election campaign, most notably, the Obama team ran its own (highly-successful) voter-turnout operation, largely sidelining the DNC.
Schultz, who has the kind of ego you often find in politics, didn’t care for that treatment, so she often pushed back. Remember the flap last fall when she summarily scheduled a limited number of DNC-sponsored primary debates, often on Saturday nights? Even some of her own deputies were furious about that. One state party leader, the vice chair in Massachusetts, complained about Schultz’s “full-fledged dictatorship.”
Yeah, she was supposed to be a major face of the party this week. But in truth, she was never going to be central player in the Clinton campaign, which has already inherited and tweaked the Obama voter-turnout operation. As a few Democratic delegates told me yesterday morning — and this isn’t spin, this has been confirmed in news reports — the Obama White House has never bothered to replace Schultz, and the Clinton team has never pushed to replace Schultz, because the DNC problem was never deemed important enough to deal with.
So Schultz is out, the boil was lanced before the opening gavel. And I’m betting that her departure will be old, minor news by the time Clinton hoists arms with Tim Kaine.
Let’s talk for a moment about Kaine. I wrote in April that he was the likeliest pick. Some of the reasons: “He’s popular in his home state of Virginia — which went blue in ’08 and ’12, a state that Republicans dearly need to win back. He’s an ex-governor and lieutenant governor. He’s currently in the Senate, a member of the Armed Services and Foreign Relations committees …. He has blue-collar roots (his dad was a welder), and he’s fluent in Spanish, which he learned while working as a missionary in Honduras during a break from law school.”
He’s center-left (he fought the NRA in the NRA’s home state, he’s strong on racial issues, he has a 100 percent senatorial rating from pro-choice groups), and even though some progressives don’t like his free-trade positions (which he’s now modifying, or, if you prefer, flip-flopping), he can stoke an audience (see his Saturday debut), and he’s an adult with the requisite temperament for the top job. Even Senate Republicans who serve with him speak well of him. Plus, he can twist the knife into Trump when necessary, even though he looks like the sitcom neighbor who loans his garden hose.
So Kaine is key to helping Clinton quell the Will Rogers syndrome. I suspect he’ll do quite well, despite some last-ditch Bernie Bro fulminations.
But I’m less confident that the hacking episode is over.
There is strong circumstantial evidence that Vladimir Putin — or, at minimum, Russian players strongly sympathetic to Putin — are trying to screw with our presidential election. I know that sounds a tad … “grassy knoll.” But it has been well documented that the DNC’s hackers were Russian. The Washington Post reported last month: “The depth of the penetration reflects the skill and determination of the United States’ top cyber-adversary as Russia goes after strategic targets, from the White House and State Department to political campaign organizations.”
And by now it’s well-established that Putin favors Trump. Plus, as I wrote recently, Trump campaign guru Paul Manafort has longstanding ties to Putin allies in Ukraine (and the GOP platform authors, at Team Trump’s behest, watered down tough language about helping anti-Putin forces in Ukraine). Plus, the hacked DNC emails were released on the eve of the Democratic convention (pure coincidence no doubt). Plus, most importantly, Trump’s highly-leveraged businesses are in hock to Russian financial interests. It doesn’t require an advanced degree in geopolitics science to connect all these dots.
Manafort, of course, denied yesterday, that Trump’s campaign is closely tied to Putin: “It’s absurd. There’s no basis for it.”
Translation: We Americans need to be very vigilant about this.
Because I’d always assumed that Laurence Harvey was the guy who played The Manchurian Candidate.