The litany of Wasserman Schultz’s offenses during the primary was familiar to supporters of Sanders and other Clinton rivals: scheduling debates at odd times, shutting Sanders out of the party’s data file, stacking convention committees with Clinton supporters. But her tenure was rocky long before that—in fact, within a month of her being named in 2011 to finish the term of Tim Kaine, who had left to run for Senate, Democrats were starting to grumble about her. When her term ended after Obama’s reelection, there was more sniping about her leadership, and Obama’s advisors urged him to bring in someone new, but Wasserman Schultz made it clear she wouldn’t go without a fight, according to reports at the time and my sources inside the DNC. And so the White House chose the path of least resistance and kept her in.
“Good fucking riddance,” one former top DNC staffer during her tenure told me of Wasserman Schultz’s ouster. “But she was convicted for the wrong crime.” Critics charged that Wasserman Schultz treated the committee as a personal promotion vehicle, constantly seeking television appearances and even urging donors to give to her personal fundraising committee. A different former staffer went so far as to compare her personality to Donald Trump’s, describing a “narcissism” that filtered everything through her personal interests.
The larger issue, many Democrats told me, was the White House’s lack of concern with the health of the party, which allowed the DNC to atrophy. “There’s a lot of soul-searching and reckoning to be done going forward about the role of the party,” Smith said. Obama won the nomination by running against the party establishment, and once he got into office converted his campaign into a new organization, Organizing for America. It was technically a part of the DNC, but in reality served as a rival to it that redirected the party’s organizing functions, effectively gutting its field operation. The weakened DNC bears some of the responsibility for the epic down-ballot losses—in Congress, state offices, and legislatures—that have occurred during Obama’s presidency.
“The president doesn’t give a shit about the DNC, and he’s the only one with the leverage to do something about it,” said Jamal Simmons, a Democratic consultant and commentator who has advised the DNC. “Barack Obama made it abundantly clear that he didn’t care about the DNC, so why have that fight?”
When Wasserman Schultz finally surrendered the gavel Monday, the prevailing mood among Democratic insiders was relief that the long-running saga was finally over. “It’s great that she stepped down, because she sensed that she would become a distraction,” Jennifer Granholm, the former governor of Michigan, told me. (Granholm was considered for DNC chair when Wasserman Schultz got the job and has been mentioned as a possible replacement, but she told me she’s not seeking the position now.) “She saw that the convention would be disrupted if she stayed on.”