Bernie Sanders supporters rode a roller coaster Sunday, first feeling exuberant that their longtime nemesis, Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, was forced to resign after Wikileaks unloaded thousands of e-mails including some that proved top DNC staff plotted to sabotage Sanders’ presidential hopes.
But then Hillary Clinton issued a statement extolling Wasserman Schultz’s tenure and announcing that she would become honorary campaign chair of her presidential campaign.
“There’s simply no one better at taking the fight to the Republicans than Debbie — which is why I am glad that she has agreed to serve as honorary chair of my campaign’s 50-state program to gain ground and elect Democrats in every part of the country, and will continue to serve as a surrogate for my campaign nationally, in Florida, and in other key states,” Clinton said.
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President Obama also issued a statement saying, “For the last eight years, Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz has had my back … she will always be our dear friend.”
The rapid turnaround, first a humiliating resignation and then a lightning rehabilitation, speaks volumes about rewarding loyalty at the top of Democratic Party circles, where, Wasserman Schultz, a Florida congresswoman, was exposed by WikiLeak’s document dump for doing exactly what the Sanders campaign alleged for months — deploying the party as a de facto arm of the Clinton campaign when it publicly said it was neutral.
But there are even more intriguing, though distracting, developments in the stunning spectacle of the chair of a national political party resigning on the eve of its biggest quadrennial event. As the New York Times and others reported Sunday, the Clinton campaign was saying that it may not have been Wikileaks that hacked the DNC’s e-mail but instead were Russian agents motivated by helping Donald Trump’s campaign — especially after Trump has praised Vladimir Putin’s autocratic leadership style.
The Times reported, “Mrs. Clinton’s campaign manager, Robby Mook, argued on ABC’s ‘This Week’ that the emails were leaked ‘by the Russians for the purpose of helping Donald Trump citing ‘experts’ but offering no other evidence. Mr. Mook also suggested that the Russians might have good reason to support Mr. Trump: The Republican nominee indicated in an interview with The New York Times last week that he might not back NATO nations if they came under attack from Russia — unless he was first convinced that the counties had made sufficient contributions to the Atlantic alliance.”
Stepping back, the notion put forth by the Clinton campaign that Russia somehow had a role in Friday’s release of 20,000 e-mails where top DNC officials were caught plotting against Sanders — such as the party spokesman suggesting it might hurt him in southern states if his religious beliefs were questioned — strains the imagination, even as computer experts say it is possible. But is a gigantic bait and switch, nonetheless, diverting scrutiny away from the DNC’s biased behavior and her resurrection as Clinton’s chair.
How this story continues to unfold in coming days is anybody’s guess. When it initially broke on Sunday afternoon, Wasserman Schultz said she would step down after the 2016 Democratic Convention ends on Thursday. Donna Brazile was appointed interim chair.
The resignation broke as thousands of delegates, including 1,900 who backed Sanders, are converging on Philadelphia and on Saturday won concessions to change the way delegates are awarded in future presidential campaigns. The delegates were joined by large crowds of Sanders supporters that flocked to the city Saturday for several protests, rallies and marches throughout the city.
Sanders supporters seemed to be on a roll. While not pushing Clinton to choose a kindred spirit as her vice presidential candidate and running mate, they still seemed to be shaking up a party status quo. Wasserman Schultz’s resignation, the convention rules committee’s pledge to substantially cut back the number of super delegates — party leaders who can back any candidate, and the same panel’s commitment to revise the way state caucuses award presidential delegates, were not insignificant.
Sanders had called on Wasserman Schultz to resign following the latest disclosures and praised her resignation on Sunday. But his complaints about DNC go back to 2015 when the DNC shut down the campaign’s access to the party’s voter file database, which it was using to raise millions of small donations and contact supporters in 2016 primary and caucus states.
When campaign manager Jeff Weaver protested that Wasserman Schultz and other DNC officials were “throwing shade” on their campaign, many in official Washington accused the Sanders team of overreacting. However, Wikileaks showed that the anti-Sanders bias was real and that Wasserman Schultz did not intervene to correct her subordinates.
As a result, Wasserman Schultz had become a poster child for Democratic Party insider bias. Progressives across the country were coalescing behind her 2016 primary opponent, Tom Canova, who raised more than $1 million for an upcoming August primary. In her announcement making Wasserman Schultz, Clinton said that she’d campaign for her re-election in coming weeks.
“I look forward to campaigning with Debbie in Florida and helping her in her re-election bid — because as President, I will need fighters like Debbie in Congress,” Clinton said.
As part of her resignation, Wasserman Schultz will also not be speaking from the main podium in Philadelphia. However, her resignation and rapid rehabilitation is likely to provoke Sanders delegates and supporters.
One wonders how much the Wasserman Schultz eruption will dilute that message.