On Thursday’s Morning Joe, hosts Joe Scarborough and Willie Geist decided to briefly cover former Democratic National Committee Chair Donna Brazile’s recent allegations that the DNC was under the control of Hillary Clinton’s campaign long before the presidential primaries even began. However, in spite of the panel’s recognition that this was an “explosive” story, the hosts did not call for heads to roll within the Democratic establishment. Instead, they devoted the last part of the show to exploring how the Democratic Party could overcome its political “identity crisis” and win the 2018 congressional elections and the 2020 presidential election.
The closing segment of the broadcast started out with the hosts falling back in love with President Obama’s message of “Yes We Can” and comparing Obama’s popularity with that of the Beatles:
SCARBOROUGH: So he’s not on the ballot, but in many ways, Barack Obama still remains the face of the Democratic Party.
[playing clip of rally]
BARACK OBAMA: The question now at a time when our politics just seem so divided and so angry and so nasty is whether we can recapture that spirit, whether we support and embrace somebody who wants to bring people together. Yes we can!
[crowd shouts “Yes we can!”]
OBAMA: We can do that. Look, I've always believed in that kind of politics.
[crowd chants “Yes we can!”]
OBAMA: Yes we can.
SCARBOROUGH: Former president campaigning in Virginia last month with the Democratic nominee for governor and playing to hits, Willie, I mean, going back -- oldies but goldies. Yes we can. It’s like when McCartney does “She Loves You.” You go “yeah, yeah, yeah.” They’re screaming.
GEIST: Guess what, and the crowd loves it every time.
BRZEZINSKI: Every time.
SCARBOROUGH: And they love it every time.
Scarborough then started to set up the rest of the segment by introducing guest Robert Draper, writer for The New York Times Magazine, and his latest piece on how the Democratic Party needs to move on from Obama’s legacy to craft a new one that can help win future elections. However, before immediately going to Draper, Joe directed Geist to briefly summarize Donna Brazile’s accusations:
SCARBOROUGH: Willie, I’m gonna have you [...] ask Robert the first question. But my gosh, this Donna Brazile story that Sam [Stein] has-
SCARBOROUGH: -alerted us to is crazy.
GEIST: Donna Brazile authored a piece for Politico that was posted this morning and it’s essentially a post-mortem of what happened in the 2016 race. She was of course named interim Chair of the DNC after Debbie Wasserman Schultz stepped aside last July. And Donna Brazile this morning destroys Debbie Wasserman Schultz, says she's responsible, and also that the Clinton campaign fully took over the process. She -- the narrative is written around: she promised Bernie Sanders, Donna Brazile did, she'd get to the bottom of whether or not it was rigged against him, the primary process.
SCARBOROUGH: [interjecting] Yeah.
BRZEZINSKI: [interjecting] Wow.
GEIST: And her conclusion effectively was: in a lot of ways, yes it was. And she also goes on to say she would get out in the country. She didn't believe the polls. She saw no enthusiasm for Hillary Clinton.
SCARBOROUGH: [interjecting] Yep.
BRZEZINSKI: [interjecting] Wow!
GEIST: It's a little [bit] of rear end-covering, but it’s an explosive piece.
Credit where credit is due to Scarborough for setting aside at least some time to bring up this story, which Geist did sum up reasonably well. However, one thing that neither of them mentioned which does seem to be worth highlighting is the point that Hillary Clinton not only took over the DNC apparatus, but her campaign apparently did so in August of 2015. If a primary process is to be a free and fair one with multiple candidates genuinely competing to be the party’s nominee, then such a fusion of a candidate’s campaign and their official party infrastructure is not supposed to happen until the candidate clinches the nomination, let alone before primary elections or debates have even happened. As Brazile explained herself:
When I got back from a vacation in Martha’s Vineyard, I at last found the document that described it all: the Joint Fund-Raising Agreement between the DNC, the Hillary Victory Fund, and Hillary for America.
The agreement—signed by Amy Dacey, the former CEO of the DNC, and Robby Mook with a copy to Marc Elias—specified that in exchange for raising money and investing in the DNC, Hillary would control the party’s finances, strategy, and all the money raised. Her campaign had the right of refusal of who would be the party communications director, and it would make final decisions on all the other staff. The DNC also was required to consult with the campaign about all other staffing, budgeting, data, analytics, and mailings.
When the party chooses the nominee, the custom is that the candidate’s team starts to exercise more control over the party. If the party has an incumbent candidate, as was the case with Clinton in 1996 or Obama in 2012, this kind of arrangement is seamless because the party already is under the control of the president. When you have an open contest without an incumbent and competitive primaries, the party comes under the candidate’s control only after the nominee is certain. When I was manager of Al Gore’s campaign in 2000, we started inserting our people into the DNC in June. This victory fund agreement, however, had been signed in August 2015, just four months after Hillary announced her candidacy and nearly a year before she officially had the nomination.
The funding arrangement with HFA and the victory fund agreement was not illegal, but it sure looked unethical. If the fight had been fair, one campaign would not have control of the party before the voters had decided which one they wanted to lead. This was not a criminal act, but as I saw it, it compromised the party’s integrity.
This is pretty strong language coming from a Democrat Party stalwart who has gone to great lengths before to defend her party’s honor. Moreover, she herself broke basic ethical and journalistic standards by sending questions in advance to Hillary Clinton’s team that would be asked of her at an upcoming CNN town hall, so Brazile probably isn't a part of the "vast right-wing conspiracy" to destroy Hillary.
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Given Morning Joe’s daily glee when speculating about all of the potential terrible implications for President Trump as a result of his “collusion” with “the Russians” and the show’s oft-repeated characterization of Trump as a “threat” to American democracy, one would expect that such strong evidence for Clinton colluding with the Democratic Party to subvert the presidential election would be a major cause for hand-wringing among the liberal pundits. Of course, that assumes that they actually do care about preserving the integrity of the American democratic system.
As it turns out, it’s very hard to get their ire up about anything Democrat-related. While Scarborough did confirm that he had heard similar things from Brazile during the campaign about her party’s misdeeds, he did not ask Draper about a crisis of corruption within the DNC, instead preferring to engage in a bit of on-air electioneering consultancy on its behalf:
SCARBOROUGH: By the way, I can tell you, I talked to her three months before the campaign ended and she was saying the same thing off the record. So, where do we go from here?
DRAPER: Well, I mean, none of this is a surprise. I mean, the Democratic Party is undergoing an identity crisis post-Obama in no small measure because they were undergoing an identity crisis during the Obama era. They suffered down the ballot significant losses in the state legislature [sic] and all the governors’ mansions. They have never been able to explain succinctly what they're about in the way the Republicans have. Republicans can say: we’re the party of small government, low taxes, personal responsibility. Democrats believe that government has a role to play in our lives, but they're loathe to say that because government polls poorly. So, what national message they can actually craft for 2018 to regain locomotion, to get traction, remains to be seen, but I’ll bet it won’t be a better [inaudible].
SCARBOROUGH: Isn't all the energy pretty far left?
DRAPER: Yes. Yes, it is. It’s -- but, but to take back the House, for example, you're gonna have to win Republican seats. Do you win them back with far-left messages? I mean, that’s, that really is the internal conundrum faced by the party.
It seems somewhat obvious to point out, but isn’t the core identity crisis of the Democratic Party the tension between the fact the party calls itself “Democratic” but can’t even run a fair election when all of the elements of an electoral process are under its direct control?
Without heed to this fundamental irony, the panel continued to just yak it up about how the Democrats are institutionally organized, what voters they need to attract in the future, and who are being talked about as possible 2020 presidential candidates. Brzezinski did mention in closing that Brazile would be coming on the show next Wednesday, so I suppose we have to wait until then for more coverage of this story. I wouldn’t get too excited about Scarborough and company demanding accountability from the Democrats for unacceptable election interference, but I guess we’ll see.