The Democratic Primary was an ugly and divisive affair. There is no way around it. Even though the party seemed to make nice for a good show at the Democratic National Convention, the wounds that were opened during the primary were still there on display, even in that moment of supposed unity. Those wounds remained open because for millions of Bernie Sanders supporters it was undeniable, the primary was stolen from them.
Stolen is a strong word, but that is how a lot of people feel, and if a steady stream of outrageous Wikileaks driven news stories can cost Hillary Clinton an election it seems fair to think a subtle thumb on the scale for Clinton campaign may have cost Bernie Sanders the primary.
Such a view was considered outrageous by many, and depending on how you define “stolen” it might still be. Clinton won more votes, she won the majority of pledged delegates, but she won more votes on a playing field that was designed for her to do so. Months later, allegations of a stolen election surfaced once again when Hillary Clinton supporters claimed Russia “stole” the election. Not to undermine the claim that Russia interfered in the election, because it is pretty clear they did. Russia definitely interfered in the election. But did they really “steal” it?
What if Russia did steal the election? If one believes Russia stole the election by providing Wikileaks with the ammo to create a steady stream of controversy, which it appears that they did, there needs to be some recognition that the DNC can be legitimately blamed for Bernie Sanders primary loss.
The entire argument surrounding the Russian interference argument hinges on the media coverage negatively impacting Hillary Clinton and playing into voters perceptions of corruption. That was a strong narrative to begin with, as evidenced by Donald Trump’s “Crooked Hillary”, Bernie Sanders campaign, and the record unfavorable ratings. Russian hacked emails and Wikileaks were just one piece of that puzzle, albeit a particularly sensational one.
The media definitely ran with Clinton email stories time and time again. And those stories definitely helped Donald Trump unexpectedly topple the Clinton Machine. They were one small piece to the puzzle though and there are hundreds of other things that Hillary Clinton could have changed to outweigh the negativity her emails created.
Even one simple gesture to the to the populist anger in the country would have probably done it. That didn’t happen though. Going to Wisconsin half a dozen times probably would have done it. That didn’t happen though. Going to Michigan half a dozen times probably would have done it. That didn’t happen though. Attacking Trump on policy, not character, probably would have done it.
That didn’t happen though.
That didn’t happen though.
Any one of those things could have outweighed the sensational stories Wikileaks and Russia helped create. They didn’t though and the campaign ended up in a place where negative stories solidified voters apprehensive feelings towards Clinton and she ended up losing because of it. If those Russian stories are believed to be the straw the broke the Clinton campaign’s back, how many hay bales did the DNC place on the Bernie Sanders campaign and how did that impact the outcome?
The number of institutional advantages working in Hillary Clinton’s favor during the primary is hard to overstate. Superdelegates, party fundraising, media coverage, a debate schedule heavily slanted towards Hillary Clinton, all of these factors combined most certainly had an impact on the outcome.
It was pretty clear that Hillary Clinton had her sights on 2016. The Democratic Party knew it and superdelegates went out of their way to endorse her long before the campaign was slated to begin. The intent to create a feeling of inevitability was pretty clear and without Bernie Sanders there probably would not have been a competitor of note, save maybe Joe Biden. When superdelegates like Claire Mccaskill endorse Hillary Clinton a whole two years before she officially launches her campaign, it’s hard to quantify how that impacts the election. How does that make voters who might want to vote for someone else down the line feel? How does that impact media coverage heading into the campaign?
When over 100 superdelegates endorse Hillary Clinton before Bernie Sanders announces his campaign, what does that mean for voters who might be interested in something different? What does that mean for the media coverage? In this case the superdelegate system worked flawlessly. It gave Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party the subtle defense mechanism they needed to prevent an outsider like Bernie Sanders from taking over. If the Republicans had a super delegate system we might not have President Donald J. Trump. That is the purpose of superdelegates and they prevented Bernie Sanders from gaining momentum from day one.
They also prevented Bernie Sanders from gaining momentum later in the process when time and time again he would win a state and walk away with less delegates. Superdelegates were supposed to stop Bernie Sanders and they definitely were one part of a successful effort.
They were not the only thing though.
The Democratic Party itself threw its resources wholeheartedly behind Hillary Clinton from the get-go. State party’s all around the country churned out the party faithful and did what they could to support the party’s candidate. They fund raised for the Clinton campaign. They held dinners and events meant to lift Hillary Clinton at the expense of Bernie Sanders. Given the vast majority of Independents who voted in the primary voted for Bernie Sanders and the majority of Democrats voted Hillary Clinton, their efforts seemed to have worked. Another piece of the Democratic Party’s strategy that almost certainly worked was their media strategy.
Probably not surprisingly, one of the revelations from the Wikileaks documents were the collusion between the press and the Clinton campaign. The Clinton campaign planted stories by finding potentially supportive journalists and waving access to the inevitable president over their heads. More importantly though was the DNC and Clinton campaigns massive media team. Surrogate after surrogate would appear on almost every cable news channel delivering a fine tuned message. The media welcomed these people with open arms and in some cases Clinton campaign talking heads and journalist were indistinguishable. Which eventually led to other revelations like Donna Brazile, while working for CNN, handed Hillary Clinton debate questions at the expense of Bernie Sanders. Which by any fair observer has to be viewed as a game changer given the incredibly limited debate schedule.
The debate schedule itself was perhaps the most glaringly obvious thumb on the scale. From almost day one the Bernie Sanders campaign took issue with the originally scheduled 6 debates. As the underdog the Sanders campaign could obviously use the free messaging power and compared to the 20+ in the 2008 Democratic Party primary it didn’t seem like an unfair demand. Unfortunately the DNC felt otherwise and it wasn’t until Bernie Sanders proved his staying power and popular demand dictated it, that Debbie Wasserman-Schultz scheduled more. Even then the Clinton campaign backed out of the final debate they had promised before the California primary.
Once again pulling up the drawbridge and using their media connections to call the Democratic Primary a done deal before California could even cast a vote. How did all of those factors impact the election? As much as Russian hacking impacted Clinton’s general election chances? More?
The fact is, these are just a few ways the DNC was able to put their thumb on the scale for Hillary Clinton. This doesn’t even touch on open vs. closed primary dynamics. Intentionally early voter registration deadlines, or any of the shady things that can happen on the local level. The case against the DNC could probably be articulated much further than this piece lays out and undoubtedly has been elsewhere.
The DNC did what they could to tip the scales and the party accommodated. That’s not illegal and in a lot of ways most of those advantages were by design. They were features, not bugs. They were meant to lift up a candidate like Hillary Clinton at the expense of an outsider like Bernie Sanders. They worked wonderfully. Unfortunately for millions of people looking for more palpable change, through the Democratic Party, that system stifled them. That’s not an unfair assertion. It’s a fact, the subtle bias and institutional advantage could have definitely pushed Hillary Clinton over the edge. Obviously I would argue it did.
That’s not an outlandish statement, especially if a slow drip of sensational stories given to Wikileaks via Russian hackers can derail an entire presidential campaign.