Donna Brazile probably wasn’t seeking to start a revolution in the Democratic party when she wrote her new book Hacks, whose excerpts published last week in Politico unleashed a bitter controversy about the 2016 presidential election. In telling her story, perhaps she was, like most authors of political memoirs, mostly interested in settling scores and making money. But the blowback from her dishing on the Clintons provides some important lessons for both Democrats and Republicans.
By revealing how the Democratic National Committee sought to steer the nomination toward Hillary Clinton at Bernie Sanders’s expense, Brazile set off a storm of bitter commentary about the 2016 race. Left-wingers such as Senator Elizabeth Warren were ready to accept the notion that the party establishment had cheated liberal insurgents and “rigged” the nomination process. At the same time, President Trump was happy to proclaim Brazile’s book as yet more proof that Hillary was “crooked,” as he has long described her.
As liberal columnist Charles Blow noted in the New York Times, beyond the natural interest in behind-the-scenes gossip about the campaign, the only real significance of Brazile’s exposé is the political damage it could do to the Democrats’ brand. But even those who are most eager to join Brazile in shoveling dirt on the political graves of the Clintons are not interested in wrecking their party. Democrats are as divided as Republicans are about where their party should go, but most have retained some of the political discipline they showed during the Obama presidency, when loyalty to the president overcame any doubts they had about his administration. As Blow explained, Democrats’ only agenda at the moment is resisting Trump; for the foreseeable future, they should ignore anything that distracts from that.
Democrats pooh-poohing the Brazile story are probably right to point out that the cozy relationship between the DNC and the Clinton camp wasn’t illegal. It’s also true that the former secretary of state received 3 million more primary votes than Sanders. But the sleazy management of the party’s finances, the paucity of primary debates and their timing (to attract as few viewers as possible and keep Sanders out of the limelight), Clinton’s stranglehold on the officeholders and party officials who served as unelected superdelegates — all this made the outcome seem a forgone conclusion and taints the legitimacy of Clinton’s triumph.
The kerfuffle thus illustrates a clear difference between the parties. The Democratic base may have as much contempt for Clinton as the Republican grass roots seem to have for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. But unlike the GOP, the Democrats have kept their eye on the main prize. In the GOP, the mutual antipathy between the base and the establishment seems to have eclipsed any animus either used to have about Democrats and the liberal policies they promised to overturn.
For all of the simmering discontent on the left, liberals are firmly focused on attacking Trump rather than one another. Conservatives would love it if liberals were prepared to conduct a systematic effort to oust members of the Democratic establishment in the way that Steve Bannon and the Breitbart crowd want a Leninist purge of the GOP. But those hopes are likely to be disappointed no matter what we learn about Clinton’s tawdry ploys to ensure that her coronation would not be disrupted by a septuagenarian socialist.
Republicans are sabotaging a rare opportunity to govern while controlling both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue.
That ought to be a sobering thought for Republicans: In spending more time opposing one another than they spend opposing the Democrats, they are sabotaging a rare opportunity to govern while controlling both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue.
There is plenty of blame to go around for the GOP civil war. The president has spent little energy trying to unify his party and continues to waste time and tweets attacking party foes instead of concentrating on herding the congressional cats so that they’ll pass legislation. At the same time, Republicans such as Senators Jeff Flake and Bob Corker, George W. Bush, and some die-hard anti-Trump conservative columnists seem to have decided that their repugnance for the president’s “unpresidential” behavior, comments, and tweets is more important than any attempt to pass agenda items on taxes, health care, and energy — the very goals that generally unite conservatives.
Flake and those who have praised him for calling for GOP resistance to Trump (even as he waved the white flag on his reelection efforts) seem to think that distancing themselves from a distasteful figure is more important than working with other Republicans. Meanwhile, Democratic leaders are giving a master’s clinic in party discipline. Conservatives would do well to emulate them.
Whatever Republicans might think of Trump — and there is good reason to disdain his behavior as well as a dysfunctional White House that has often failed basic tests of governance — so long as Democrats regard the Trump “resistance” as their priority, Republicans stand aloof from the president and his agenda at their own peril.
The choice facing Republicans is not between a GOP led by Trump and a more attractive option. It’s between Trump and the Democrats.
The Democrats are heading in only one direction: anti-Trump guerilla warfare until a push for impeachment if they regain control of the House in 2018. Nothing that Brazile or anyone else dishing dirt on Clinton or anything the Democrats did last year will deter them from this agenda. As Blow wrote, the “resistance” is the Democratic party these days. The choice facing Republicans is not between a GOP led by Trump and a more attractive option. It’s between Trump and the Democrats. Any Republican who forgets that, even while defending what he thinks is his party’s honor against the flawed man in the White House, is taking his eye off the ball. The Democrats are much more focused.
— Jonathan S. Tobin is the opinion editor of JNS.org and a contributor to National Review Online.