DNC Rigged the Primary, Can Progressives Fix the Party?
Amid the uproar over Donna Brazile’s DNC revelations, Bill Curry, a former aide to President Clinton, says the progressives outside of the Democratic leadership are the ones to save the party from itself
AARON MATÉ: It’s the Real News. I’m Aaron Maté.
The Democratic Party is in uproar over revelations from former DNC Chair, Donna Brazile. Writing for Politico, Brazile details how the DNC gave up control to the Hillary Clinton campaign in exchange for the campaign’s money. Brazile says that arrangement rigged the primary in Clinton’s favor over Bernie Sanders.
Speaking to CNN, Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren says she agrees.
E. WARREN: This is a test for Tom Perez, and either he’s going to succeed by bringing Bernie Sanders and Bernie Sanders’ representatives into this process, and they’re going to say, “It’s fair, it works, we all believe it,” or he’s going to fail. And I very much hope he succeeds. I hope for Democrats everywhere, I hope for Bernie, and for all of Bernie’s supporters, that he’s going to succeed.
JAKE TAPPER: Very quickly, Senator, do you agree with the notion that it was rigged?
E. WARREN: Yes.
AARON MATÉ: I’m joined now by Bill Curry, columnist for Salon.com and the Daily Beast, and also the former White House Counselor to President Clinton.
Bill, welcome. Let me just start by asking you, do you agree with Senator Warren that the primary was rigged?
BILL CURRY: Sure. There’s no doubt about it. Again, whether or not it was effectively rigged, whether or not what the DNC did is what made the difference is a separate question. I think the DNC is so extraordinary incompetent, it could screw up a two-car funeral. I don’t think it has the wherewithal to have a real impact on something as big as an election.
Nevertheless, this was a very close election, and there’s no doubt whatsoever that the party corrupted itself in all of its behavior prior to the nomination of Hillary Clinton. So, I think, as I’ve said throughout, I think there are other problems for progressives to look at, beginning with how much of the progressive base endorsed Clinton when it never should have. I think the supportive Labor and Environmental Women’s groups meant far more than what the DNC did, and is a problem that is within our control, and we can change.
But what the DNC did was disreputable and wrong, and will leaved it shamed for a generation to come.
AARON MATÉ: Can you detail that for us, who you’re referring to when you said, “elements of the progressive base made a very big mistake?”
BILL CURRY: Well, yes. 70% of labor, in almost every case, without consulting their membership, endorsed Hillary Clinton. Labor told the country, and told its members, that its highest priorities were defeating the Trans-Pacific Trade Partnership and obtaining a living wage. Hillary Clinton was on the opposite side of both issues.
In the face of polling data, even the polling data they usually prize too much, they decided to swing all of their support to her. Without teachers in Massachusetts, Bernie would have won. Without the culinary workers working under the table for Clinton in Nevada, Bernie would have won here. He certainly would have won Iowa without AFSCME, and so on. You can just go right across the board.
There a half-dozen states. She’d have lost them all and her campaign probably would have ended, may well have ended. She opened with three defeats to Bernie Sanders. I think she was cooked, and so I do believe that our allies did more to nominate Hillary. They did it through a bad process, an undemocratic process, and I think that …
I don’t know that we can change the DNC. I think the best thing we can do with the DNC is just make sure that no one lets any of their friends give it money. But I think we can change what ought to be the progressive base in this country, and make it more accountable and more democratic.
AARON MATÉ: Let me put you the defense I’ve heard of the Clinton campaign. A.) The party was in dire straits. They needed money. The Clinton campaign was the tangible option for that, they had money to provide. And B.) Clinton beat Bernie Sanders by millions of votes. Sanders failed to reach out to black voters early on, and he also basically gave up on the Southern states. So, even if there was some behind-the-scenes wheeling and dealing, it didn’t have a huge impact, or at least as much as Sanders supporters say it did.
BILL CURRY: You made a lot of points. Some of them have some validity, but let me just start with the first point, and that is that the Democratic National Committee was in dire straits, that’s true, and that they needed Hillary to bail them out. Number one, even if that were true, operating in such a dark and dishonest way was not the way to solve the problem. But secondly, that money never helped. It didn’t go to … It went to the local parties, and then it went to the DNC, and then it went to Hillary. It was being spent on Hillary’s campaign, and the DNC was promoting Hillary’s campaign throughout that.
It’s not just, did Hillary’s big donors help bail out the DNC? It is that the DNC was primarily a pass-through, a phrase very much in the news this week. The DNC was a pass-through. And remember this is for donors who could not legally give her money, and again, the strong Clinton supporters will tell you this was all legal.
And by the way, if it was legal at all, it was only made legal by provisions hidden in a budget act in December of 2012 by the Democrats, of which only Hillary took advantage. And what that did, what that little codicil did, was allow people to give as much as 10 or 20 times more to federal campaigns than they had previously been allowed. This from the party that says it wants to take money out of politics.
Again, I am a Democrat, and I only wish that we meant what we said. And so, we set up a system. We believe so much in big donor money that we set up a system so that scores and scores of Clinton donors would give money to local parties, who got, like, one percent. They got less than –
AARON MATÉ: Now, let me jump in there –
BILL CURRY: And the money went on to Clinton –
AARON MATÉ: Because Donna Brazile, the figure that she gives is $82 million. Donna Brazile says $82 million, that she says is actually half of one percent. But let me just put you the counterargument that I’ve heard from the Clinton camp is that Hillary Clinton couldn’t legally give the money back to the states until she was the candidate, and when she did, that’s when the money, they say, started flowing back to the states.
BILL CURRY: First of all, most of those states who gave money never got any money back. I haven’t seen an accounting of this, but that’s at least half untrue, and probably a good deal more. But to go back to the point about … You can say that the states, by that codicil that I talked about that was passed, could legally give money to the Democratic National Committee, and they could, and the Democratic National Committee, by that provision, could legally give money to her.
But the question here is whether people that has already reached the legal maximum of what they could give to her campaign could knowingly give this money to those local parties, and then to the DNC, knowing that it was all going back into her campaign, and that they were thus being allowed to give money in excess of the legal limit. I’m not sure that is legal, and I’m positive it’s not right.
AARON MATÉ: Bill, so, the Clintons have dominated Democratic politics more than anybody else over the past few decades. Donna Brazile is pretty high up there in the establishment. Aside from wanting to sell her book, from which this article in Politico was excerpted, why do you think she threw them under the bus?
BILL CURRY: Let me say, I don’t know. There’s a little bit of Bob Corker here, where she was in practice, everyone knows, let go from CNN for passing those questions on prior to a debate, to Hillary. She was often very, very sharp-tongued about Bernie when she was doing commentary. There was clearly a tilt in her own strategy in Hillary’s direction. Again, the party is supposed to be neutral until the nominee is chosen. A lot of bad has come to her. I don’t wish her ill. I don’t want to condemn any of these people. I hope this is simply because she’s taken a hard look at what she did and what they did, and decided that she wants to make a change.
I was surprised when she said in her Politico article that all of this was news to her after she became chair of it. I wrote about this during that time. I described the system, the legal changes that had been made, and how the money was being laundered for months before that, and a million people read that. I don’t know why … She should have been one of them.
And if those DNC vice-chairs, if they were all really blind to what was happening, hard for me to swallow, but I do know there is such a thing as denial, and especially willful denial. But if they didn’t know, they should have known, and it’s another argument for even more reform than anyone has yet proposed to the Democratic National Committee.
AARON MATÉ: When you made that argument back then, because it’s true, there have been warnings about this for a while, it was just striking that Brazile came out and confirmed it, especially with that financial document that she cited between the DNC and the Clinton campaign. But back then, what kind of response did you get from party Democrats, people high up? And also, I’m wondering, were you invited to discuss this on the major cable networks?
BILL CURRY: No.
AARON MATÉ: Because it was striking yesterday how, except for Fox news, it was all but ignored.
BILL CURRY: Yeah. I mean, everybody has a reason not to have seen this. CNN and MSNBC, the people who run it, and the people who report on them, are themselves very much a part of the same class and outlook of the Clinton campaign. They are Clinton Democrats, and I think that all their coverage, of the primary in particular, of Trump, of Bernie, of Hillary, they had the same contempt for Bernie that you sometimes felt, by the way, when Donna was speaking during that year, and that you always got from the party itself, that he was somehow interchangeable with Trump, just another dangerous populous. It was a pretty common theme, number one.
Number two, the media has never reported the issue of corruption, has never taken it seriously. Public corruption, political corruption, are at the center of the debate in virtually every other democracy. Governments all over the world are falling because of public outrage at corruption, and the public is outraged here. Donald Trump’s last ad, the “drain the swamp” ad, was the only one he ran in those industrial Northwestern, Midwest industrial states that he shockingly won, and his only message was anti-corruption, which, by the way, was Obama’s only message, and the main message in the last two weeks of his 2008 campaign.
The public cares deeply, and the media cares not at all about the absolute corruption and desecration of our democracy by moneyed interests. They always miss that story.
AARON MATÉ: I don’t remember Obama having a message, I just remember him having a slogan, “yes we can,” and “hope and change,” so that’s interesting.
BILL CURRY: He did, but –
AARON MATÉ: But finally though –
BILL CURRY: It wasn’t enough. But at the end of the race here, he was going to fix Washington, he was going to let the C-SPAN cameras into all the meetings, he was going to end the revolving door that sent people into the industries they were regulating when the left government service, he was going to end the non-competitive with government contracts, he wasn’t going to let any of the lobbyists work in the White House, and certainly not in areas where they had previously worked, with interests they represented, and he broke all of those promises.
He didn’t do a single one of those things in the eight years he was in office, and it wasn’t because the Republicans were with them. This was a case in which it was legitimately executive orders only that were needed in order to implement the program. I think he didn’t understand the degree to which he’d won the election on this issue, but of all the things he promised, there isn’t … You can’t find, I’ve written about this, and I’ve researched it, and again, I don’t want to single Obama out, but this was certainly an instance in which he made an important promise that was the [inaudible 00:13:43] of his stump speech in the final two weeks of that campaign. That’s how much his pollsters and consultants, that’s how important they knew it was. They put it front and center, and never did anything about it. I think it was sort of the original sin of his administration. It cost him much more than he’ll ever know.
AARON MATÉ: Bill, finally, as we wrap, in terms of the prospects for reforming the DNC, this is just the latest revelation about the DNC to stoke outrage amongst the base. Who and what are the main forces standing in the way of meaningful change inside the Democratic party?
BILL CURRY: Well, almost everyone profiting from the current status quo. Far too much of the institution leadership, including people with whom I’ve been allied, and will be proud to be allied in the future, on many issues, but the fix wasn’t just in at the DNC. The one thing that the Clinton defenders say that’s true was that the DNC would have been hard-pressed to have this much influence.
We should begin, as progressives, we should remember that in all the years in which the progressives and the Democratic party had a more arm’s length relationship, it strengthened both. It gave the Democratic party a spine, and somewhat of a vision, and it kept the progressives from being mortgaged to the status quo.
If there’s one thing I can say to progressives, the good thing here is that there are movements that move on and resist, and Our Revolution, and the Democracy for America, the Working Families party, there is a virtual Democratic party taking shape, and the old Democratic party, the Pelosi and Schumer Democratic party, the DCCC and DNC Democratic party, all I can say is, don’t give those people a nickel, and let the forces of change …
There are people coming into this system. Support the candidates, support the causes, and above all, decide not just who you’re for, but what you’re for, and press your own people hard to get them to commit to it. At some point … That system won’t reform itself. It will only change … Every revolution is about personnel, and until you get rid of these people, I don’t think there will be meaningful change. I don’t think they know any better.
AARON MATÉ: Bill Curry, columnist for Salon and the Daily Beast, also the former White House Counselor to President Clinton, thank you.
BILL CURRY: My pleasure.
AARON MATÉ: And thank you for joining us on the Real News.