Former party chief Donna Brazile stokes divisions among Democrats


Former Democratic Party leader Donna Brazile has revived old feuds between Sen. Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton loyalists with her tell-all book on backstage maneuverings in the 2016 presidential race.

The memoir, published Tuesday, gives a brutal assessment of the Clinton campaign. Disputes have emerged over some of the most provocative assertions in “Hacks: The Inside Story of the Break-ins and Breakdowns that Put Donald Trump in the White House.”

Whatever the truth, for a big-name Washington insider to write so openly — and caustically — about her time as leader of the Democratic National Committee is, in effect, a “political suicide note,” said Charlie Cook, a longtime nonpartisan election handicapper.


“Clearly the Clinton folks stepped on a lot of toes at the DNC, and specifically Donna’s, because to go off like this — I’ve never seen anything like this,” he said.

As Brazile promotes the book — she’s speaking Thursday in San Francisco — emotions are once again running high among Democrats still fretting over the party’s 2016 wipeout.

What did Brazile say that made people so upset?

Quite a bit, but a good place to start is her revelation that she seriously considered having Joe Biden, then vice president, replace Clinton as the party’s White House nominee, and Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey supplant Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia as the running mate.

Brazile, who portrays Clinton’s campaign as badly mismanaged and out of touch with voters, pondered this drastic step after Clinton collapsed outside a Sept. 11 commemoration ceremony in New York City.

Did Brazile have the power to replace the ticket?


No. As the DNC’s interim chairwoman, Brazile had the authority to start a convoluted process of replacing Clinton and Kaine. Only the full committee, after consultation with the party’s top elected officials, could reject the choice made by voters in Democratic primaries and caucuses.

As a practical matter, the inevitable public uproar would have made such a move all but impossible. Clinton’s failure to disclose her bout of pneumonia just weeks before the election might well have been a mistake, although nothing suggests she would have quietly abandoned the race, nor that supporters would have tolerated her ouster.

Did Brazile tell the Clinton high command about this scenario?

No. More than 100 Clinton aides, including campaign Chairman John Podesta, released an open letter on Saturday saying they were shocked to learn that Brazile considered “overturning the will of the Democratic voters.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton at a Democratic presidential primary debate in Milwaukee on Feb. 11, 2016.
(Tom Lynn / Associated Press )

“It is particularly troubling and puzzling that she would seemingly buy into false Russian-fueled propaganda, spread by both the Russians and our opponent, about our candidate’s health,” they wrote.

How did Brazile rile up Sanders supporters?

When she took the party’s top job in July 2016, Brazile wrote, she searched for evidence that “the DNC was rigging the system to throw the primary to Hillary” and came across a joint fundraising pact between the party and Clinton’s campaign. It included Clinton’s veto power over DNC staff hires, she said.

The pact “was not illegal, but it sure looked unethical,” and it let Clinton exert control over the DNC long before she became its nominee, according to Brazile.

“This was not a criminal act, but as I saw it, it compromised the party’s integrity,” Brazile wrote.

Party protocol is ostensibly to stay neutral until a nominee is inevitable.

For Sanders backers already angry at the DNC for favoring Clinton in the primaries, Brazile’s comments were infuriating. Hacked emails had already confirmed their suspicions last year that Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, then party chairwoman, and others at the DNC were working secretly to deny Sanders the nomination.

That’s precisely why Brazile was called to replace Wasserman Schultz when release of those emails disrupted the party convention in Philadelphia.

“The idea that the DNC was willing to take a position that helped a candidate in the midst of a primary is outrageous,” senior Sanders campaign advisor Mark Longabaugh told the Washington Post.

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, then chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, in March 2016.
(Richard Drew / Associated Press )

Did the party offer a similar fundraising deal to Sanders?

Yes, but the Sanders campaign declined.

Sanders advisors say they were never offered the veto power over DNC staff hires that Brazile alleges the party gave to Clinton long before the nomination was settled.

Wasn’t Brazile also accused of favoring Clinton?

Yes. Hacked emails also showed that when she was a CNN election analyst, Brazile gave the Clinton campaign advance warning of expected questions in Democratic debates.

“We are completely uncomfortable with what we have learned about her interactions with the Clinton campaign while she was a CNN contributor,” a CNN spokeswoman said after Brazile resigned from the cable network in October 2016.

Hasn’t Brazile stirred controversy before?

Yes, frequently. When she worked on the Michael S. Dukakis campaign for president in 1988, Brazile lost her job after telling reporters on a press bus that GOP nominee George H.W. Bush was waging a racist campaign and urging them to investigate unproved allegations of an extramarital affair.

Does it matter that Brazile has rekindled the Sanders-Clinton friction?

Not much. What does matter is how the party navigates tensions between Democrats who support the bold liberal agenda championed by Sanders and the ones who favor the more centrist and cautious path followed by Clinton.

In the Virginia governor’s election Tuesday, the moderate course taken by Democrat Ralph Northam turned out to be a winning formula, not surprising in a state where the party holds only a narrow edge.

What’s unclear, though, is whether that strategy will work in the battle for control of Congress next year and for the White House in 2020. As those elections near, not many people will be talking about the dust-up over Brazile’s book.


Twitter: @finneganLAT


Trump voters disappointed by his presidency threaten the GOP

Democratic surge in suburbs forecasts a potentially rough 2018 for Republicans

Tuesday’s elections brought a slate of diverse candidates into office