Bernie Sanders pushed to oust Debbie Wasserman Schultz as chair of the Democratic National Committee after leaked emails appeared to show party insiders conspiring against his campaign. Now the Vermont senator is working to help Wasserman Schultz’s opponent defeat her at the ballot box.
On Tuesday, Sanders tapped into his vast grassroots network to raise money for Tim Canova, Wasserman Schultz’s Florida primary challenger. “This race is very important,” Sanders wrote in an email. “If we can win this tough fight in Florida, it will send a clear message about the power of our grassroots movement.” The message asks supporters to make a donation so that the Canova campaign “can put it to use before the primary against Debbie Wasserman Schultz on August 30th.”
It’s no secret that Sanders isn’t a fan of Wasserman Schultz. The senator endorsed Canova in May and has helped fundraise for him in the past. But Sanders’s latest attempt to unseat Wasserman Schultz is a reminder that even after Sanders urged his supporters to rally around Hillary Clinton at the Democratic National Convention last month, there is still bad blood on the political left. To many Sanders supporters, the former DNC chair represents everything wrong with the Democratic establishment. Hostility intensified after Clinton named Wasserman Schultz an honorary chair of her campaign’s 50-state program in the wake of the email scandal, a move that Sanders supporters took as evidence of the kind of favoritism that corrupted the election. If it wasn’t clear already, it is now: Defeating Wasserman Schultz remains a priority for Sanders.
Sanders’s efforts will be a test run of the former presidential candidate’s post-campaign influence. The fundraising bid also stands to shed light on what kind of appeals are most effective as he uses his newfound fame to help progressive candidates across the country. Sanders explicitly mentions the email leak that led Wasserman Schultz to leave her DNC post in his message, noting that the emails “showed that under Debbie Wasserman Schultz, DNC staff were not exactly fair and even-minded during the presidential primary.” But, the senator adds, “now that Debbie Wasserman Schultz has resigned, we have the opportunity to transform the Democratic Party and open up its doors to working people and young people.” It will be interesting to how successful Sanders is at turning a scandal that might otherwise be wholly demoralizing into one that motivates his supporters to act politically.
There’s a certain irony to all this. During the primary, Clinton was quick to talk up her party loyalty—not so subtly implying that she was more committed to helping Democrats fundraise and win elections than Sanders. In April, Sanders started fundraising for congressional candidates, and later expanded his efforts to help state legislative candidates. His fundraising for Canova is only a part of an ongoing effort to keep the political movement he started alive. But if Wasserman Schultz ever felt anxiety that Sanders wasn’t doing enough to raise money for Democrats, this current scenario could not have been what she would have wanted.
Which raises the question: Will Sanders prove to be more motivated by a desire to see political enemies defeated than by any desire to help the Democratic Party? Working against Wasserman Schultz could end up increasing ill-will within the party, without much to show for it in the end. On the other hand, Sanders’s extraordinary success collecting small-dollar donations during the primary election was partly due to the personal appeals he made to supporters who hung on his every word. The appeal he is making now is certainly personal—Sanders supporters believe that the senator was treated unfairly by the former DNC chair. That is likely to make message more effective, at least in terms of the amount of money Sanders is able to raise. Whether it will be effective at building the kind of Democratic Party that Sanders—or for that matter, rank-and-file Democrats—wants to see in the future is another question altogether.