How Much Is the DNC Chair Damaging Her Party?

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

A reader suggests that Debbie Wasserman Schultz is causing most of the turmoil within the Democratic Party right now:

Molly Ball writes, “Many Sanders supporters told me they had once liked Clinton, but over the course of the primary they have come to dislike and distrust her.” This is exactly what is happening for many Bernie supporters, and much of the blame lies on the DNC. Whether you believe the game was “rigged,” you have to admit that having the former campaign chair of one of the candidates heading up the party as DNC chair during the primary creates the appearance of impropriety.

This created an environment where confirmation bias ruled and everything that could be considered tipping the scales for Hillary (limited debates, poorly scheduled debates, superdelegates flocking to a single candidate, DNC/Clinton campaign office sharing, coordinated fundraising etc.) hardened the opposition to Clinton. People who were once lukewarm toward Clinton now have an animus toward her that may not be remedied before the general.

And, of course, Clinton’s refusal to release her transcripts [of her Wall Street speeches] hasn’t helped. As much as Clinton supporters may not care about the transcripts, Bernie supporters see it as proof that she is corrupt. If there really is nothing damaging there, her refusal to release them seems baffling.

However, if Clinton loses the general, the DNC will be to blame.

But Clare, in a post earlier this week, wondered if Bernie’s campaign could be hurting its own cause by speaking out against Wasserman Schultz and backing her primary opponent in her home district (and building his own network of support within the party in general):

Politifact awarded a “false” rating to allegations that the Nevada convention had been tainted by misconduct. [CB note: Here’s a video of DWS responding to those charges on CNN]

And in the past week, the campaign appeared to undercut its own argument that it has not been treated fairly by the Democratic establishment. In December, Weaver told supporters the DNC had put “its thumb on the scales in support of Hillary Clinton’s campaign.” But during the CNN interview in which he accused Wasserman Schultz of “throwing shade,” Weaver suggested the problem was personal, not institutional. “It’s not the DNC. By and large, people in the DNC have been very good to us. Debbie Wasserman Schultz really is the exception,” Weaver said. If the campaign sends mixed messages as it engages in the feud, that could divert the attention of supporters away from its big-picture ambition.  

Do you think Wasserman Schultz should step down as DNC chair? Or is Bernie’s campaign more to blame for the discord in the party right now? Share your thoughts via hello@. Update from a reader, Stephen Sheehy:

Wasserman Schultz certainly deserves criticism for the mess that her party finds itself in. The Dems have been crushed in Senate and House races and even more so at the state level. How about bringing back Howard Dean’s 50-state strategy?

Whatever one thinks of Clinton or Sanders (for whom I caucused, admittedly), it would be hard to find two less electable people in the party. Everyone hates Clinton and Sanders is a socialist! The only reason I have any hope is that Trump is perhaps even more unappealing. A smart DNC head would have told both Sanders and Clinton to forget about it and supported alternatives. Any generic liberal (like O’Malley) would win in a walk.

Here’s another reader, Jill, and I think a lot of her analysis could be applied to Trump and the effect he’s having on the Republican Party:

Sanders is currently sowing deep distrust of the Democratic Party. With each primary loss, he blames the system as undermining him or being unfair, planting the idea that Clinton is not the legitimate winner of the Democratic nomination. What worries me is that by attacking the structure of the primary process he is not just weakening Clinton's eventual candidacy but the party itself. He has pulled in voters who are distrustful of the system and showed them that their biases against the system are correct.

But then Sanders isn’t really a Democrat and he’s not thinking—or caring—about what’s best for the Democrats as a whole. He’s not going to pull a Howard Dean, who became chairman of the party after his primary loss, and he couldn’t accept such a position without charges of selling out by his most ardent supporters.

As for someone pulling an Al Gore and getting Sanders to concede the race, I don’t believe that is possible. It would be seen as a betrayal by many of his young fans who would rather the deep and corrupt party system be utterly obliterated than to ensure a continuation of liberal and progressive policies, but less progressive than they’d like, for at least the next four years. Sander would not only have to tone down his rhetoric but admit that some of his attacks on Clinton were wrong.

In the end the divide is between a group of people who want to see the Democratic party thrive and continue pushing policies that helps Americans, and a group of people that feels that the two-party system is what is hurting America. And I don’t know how you reconcile those two world views.