Greetings from the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia! Or for all my Russian friends reading on email: zdravstvuj!
The news here, of course, is that the Democratic Party chairwoman, the much vilified Debbie Wasserman Schultz, stepped down after hacked emails revealed that she and her senior aides had been secretly entertaining ways to squelch Bernie Sanders’ primary rebellion.
To me, what was shocking about those emails wasn’t that the party was in cahoots against Bernie (this seemed clear enough after he was forced to sue the Democratic National Committee for access to its voter files), but rather how much time the chairwoman and her senior aides seemed to have for reading stories and coming up with pointless schemes.
For instance, during the primaries in West Virginia and Kentucky, DNC officials hatched a plan to expose Sanders as a closet atheist. Because apparently a Jewish socialist with a thick Brooklyn accent is just another guy at the John Deere dealer in Wheeling, but being a secular humanist is a total deal breaker.
Anyway, apparently these emails were exposed by Russian hackers, which prompted Hillary Clinton’s angry campaign manager, Robby Mook, to float a theory that the Russians had entered into a secret alliance with Donald Trump’s campaign.
I guess the deal went like this: “We’ll get you Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s emails, and you pull out of NATO.”
What’s Trump giving the Mexicans to get his wall financed? Texas?
Trump took the opportunity of Wasserman Schultz’s downfall to restate his love for Reince Priebus, her counterpart at the wholly owned Trump subsidiary formerly known as the Republican Party. “Today proves what I have always known,” Trump tweeted Sunday, “that @Reince Priebus is the tough one and the smart one, not Debbie Wasserman Schultz.”
But I spoke to a few longtime Republican operatives in the past few days who had come to the exact opposite conclusion. They viewed the Democratic leaks not with glee, but with palpable envy.
That’s because whatever Wasserman Schultz tried to do for Clinton and the Democratic establishment in her underhanded way is exactly what Priebus completely failed to do as his party was being overrun.
You may recall, if you follow these things closely, that Republicans undertook what they actually called an “autopsy” after their losing 2012 campaign — in an effort, I guess, to diagnose whatever flesh-eating virus had transformed Mitt Romney into the leader of the walking dead.
Among the key findings of the report was that the party couldn’t win if it didn’t broaden its base, attracting more women and Latinos. Among the recommendations was that it should allow fewer primary debates — six to 10, rather than the 13 debates held during the 2012 campaign — and that those debates shouldn’t start before September, in order to shorten the primary season.
The unstated goal was to shore up support for an establishment candidate and lessen the time he would have to spend playing to an activist audience before pivoting toward a general election.
And the party took this recommendation quite seriously — only it was the wrong party. Wasserman Schultz made sure that Clinton didn’t have to debate Sanders and Martin O’Malley until October of last year, and she initially limited the number of debates to eight.
That decision kept Sanders from getting much national exposure and effectively sidelined O’Malley completely. And that was the point.
After having been the guy to commission the autopsy, however, Priebus pretty much buried it with the body. Republicans held their first debate in early August and ended up scheduling a dozen more (although the last one was canceled after Trump decided to skip it).
The early scheduling vastly helped Trump in his bid to dominate news coverage throughout a slow summer, when he was barely claiming the support of 20 percent of Republican voters. And the packed debate schedule enabled him to continue dominating the stage, even as more than 15 other candidates (too many to fit on one stage) vied to be noticed.
And while Wasserman Schultz and her aides sat around looking for ways to derail Sanders’ nettlesome insurgency, Priebus declared himself essentially helpless.
To be fair, it’s hard now to see any clear way in which Priebus might have stopped Trump from taking over. It wasn’t his fault that the rest of the vote was split between all these governors and senators who had enough outside money to soldier on for months. All Priebus could do, it seemed, was to wait for someone solid to emerge from the pack and then try to rally the party around him.
But what the moment really demanded was a more forceful personality — someone more like Wasserman Schultz, with perhaps a touch more likability. You really think Haley Barbour would have sat around watching as some outsider — a New Yorker who mocked the Bush family and praised Planned Parenthood, while driving away Latinos and women with his nativist appeal — tweeted his way to the nomination?
No, had Barbour still been chairman, he would have put a big, sticky thumb on the scale. He would have quietly leaned on the governors, the Senate leadership and the donors to figure out who the guy was going to be and get behind him publicly before it was too late.
Would it have worked? Probably not. Trump had celebrity, and the party had too many delusional candidates.
But what we now know for sure — and always suspected anyway — is that Wasserman Schultz delivered. She had her candidate, however flawed, and she was going to erect as much of a firewall as she could, no matter how loud or resentful the liberal base became.
Wasserman Schultz delivered where Priebus didn’t. Now the Clinton forces have disowned her on this, their most public of stages, and Wasserman Schultz will be lucky if she can hang on to her congressional seat.
It’s a hell of a way to say dasvidaniya.