Coming on the heels of the 2016 election debacle, which saw the resignation of its chairman and an unthinkable loss to a remarkably unpresidential and unqualified man, the Democratic National Committee clearly needed a renewed focus and image makeover in 2017. While there were some large victories (electoral wins in Virginia and Alabama come to mind), there were some major failures, too. Here are PatriotNotPartisan.com’s 10 Biggest DNC Fails of 2017.
- Nearly Losing to an Accused Pedophile in Alabama
While the Doug Jones victory marks an important Senate pickup in a very red state, the fact remains that it was a skin-of-the-teeth election where voters very nearly decided that an accused pedophile and sexual predator who had been twice removed from his job as Chief Justice of the State Supreme Court was preferable to a Democrat. If the Democrats are going to have a serious chance of retaking both houses of Congress in 2018, the DNC will need to lead the charge in finding a progressive message that will still resonate with and inspire Southern voters. We posit that running middle-of-the-road white men, when women of color were the driving force behind Doug Jones’ victory, may not be the winning strategy they need.
It is impossible to overstate this: the RNC crushed the DNC in fundraising in 2017. At the end of October, leading into high-profile elections, the RNC had raised $113 Million in 2017 with $42 Million cash-on-hand. By contrast, the DNC raised just $55 Million in the same time period, with a paltry $5 Million on hand. This cash crisis could cripple the Democratic Party’s chances to take control of one or both houses of congress come November.
- Failure to Lead in the #MeToo Movement
DNC Chairman Tom Perez was late to the #MeToo party, waiting to see how elected officials would react to accusations against Al Franken and John Conyers before issuing statements. The milquetoast waiting to see how the winds were blowing before taking a strong stand on a contentious issue is a long-standing image problem for Democratic politicians, and the DNC’s failure to lead the way on an important social issue driven by its most important voting bloc (women) was an embarrassment to the party.
- The Donna Brazile Fiasco
In the days leading up to the November elections, former DNC chair Donna Brazile released a book which was highly critical of the Hillary Clinton campaign, providing ammunition to Republicans and a very public black eye to the party. She then took that message on the road, keeping herself – and the perceived failures of the Clinton campaign – at the top of the news cycle for days. The DNC’s failure to constrain or at least delay this harmful messaging at a dangerous time, and their weak and ineffective response was a critical error when the party could not afford to make any mistakes.
- The Perez-Sanders “Unity” Tour
No mater which side of the Clinton/Sanders party rift on which one resides, it is indisputable that the party was seriously divided between their respective supporters during and following the 2016 elections. Among other things, Sanders supporters felt the party was too far to the right and too tied to big business while Clinton supporters felt that a naïve and Johnny-come-lately candidate who joined the party simply to use its weight refused to concede when defeated. Both parties accused the other of dirty campaign tactics, and deep personal animosity lived within the party. When the DNC elected a strong Clintonite as its chair in Tom Perez, he and Bernie Sanders hit the road to attempt to seal this rift. The tour failed to gain much media traction, though, and remained unconvincing to those on each side of the divide. Heading into 2018, and just a year away from the early campaigning for the 2020 election, this rift could cost the party the White House if not closed.
- Failure to Develop a Unifying Message
For many Americans, “Not Trump” will be enough to get them to the polls. For many more, though, negative messaging will keep them home – and right now, the Democrats have a message built entirely of opposition. They are against Trump. Against Ryan. Against McConnell. Ask the average American, and you’ll get the Republican message of what the Democratic Party is for: higher taxes and illegal immigration. If the Democrats can not turn this around into a unified and inspiring message of economic equality, social justice, and human rights for all, they will have failed to learn the lessons of 2016.
- The “Great Purge”
Continuing in the theme of failing to learn the lessons of 2016, Tom Perez largely purged the DNC of at-large members who supported now DNC Vice-Chair Keith Ellison in his bid against Perez for DNC Chair, or who supported Senator Bernie Sanders in the primary elections. While the DNC defends this action by accurately stating the new appointments added diversity to its at-large members, it notably neglects to state that it could have done so without the purge of longtime progressive members of the party. The DNC also neglected to mention in its statement that it added longtime Clinton loyalists, lobbyists, and those with ties to huge businesses-including those in the petroleum industry-to the at-large slate. This tone-deaf leadership failure on the part of Perez bodes poorly for the 2018 elections.
- The Old White Man Problem
While up-and comers who are not old white men (Kamala Harris, Kristen Gillibrand, and newly-elected Atlanta mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, among others) are revitalizing the party from the ground-up, the most-often mentioned Presidential candidates are again old, white, and mostly male. Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden, California Governor and 1992 Presidential candidate Jerry Brown, and before his resignation, Al Franken have all been mentioned as likely nominees. The party, however, is predominately female and has a large minority base. The old cliché about the definition of insanity is once again prescient.
- Failure to Address Electoral Inequality
This century, 40% of presidents were installed by an Electoral College who voted against the will of the people. The primary and caucus system heavily favors the votes of richer, whiter, and older voters. Congressional districts around the country are so gerrymandered that many votes simply don’t count. And the DNC has done virtually nothing to combat these deep social injustices. It continues to support a staggered primary system leading off with Iowa and New Hampshire – two of the whitest states we have. It has done nothing to abolish the Electoral College. And it has had no coordinated messaging, visible or coherent legal strategy, or visible action to combat the gerrymandered congressional districts. Until it does so, it will continue to disenfranchise its most important voters.
- Electing Tom Perez as DNC Chair
At a time when the party was as divided and broken as it has ever been, the DNC chose a longtime supporter of a divisive leader. It needed to elect someone without strong ties to either Senator Sanders or Secretary Clinton, with progressive bona fides and a real-world pragmatism, if it was going to have any chance of healing the rift in the party. It would have been just as big a failure to elect a Sanders surrogate, for sure – either way, a large portion of the Party would have been enraged. But it did elect a Clinton surrogate. The nine failures which precede this one stem directly from the failure to elect someone new and inspirational – a Barack Obama for our day – to lead the party into the 2020 elections and beyond.
What other failures do you think deserve mention in the top ten? Let us know in the comments section below!
Contributing Editor: Ben Jackson
Ben Jackson is a writer and father of a chronically ill teenager who somehow still likes him. His non-fiction and opinion pieces have appeared in Patch Media, WBUR's Cognoscenti, and the Penmen Review. His fiction and poetry has been published in New Millennium Writings, The Legendary, 50 Word Stories, and anywhere else he can con an editor into buying his work. He lives in Natick, Massachusetts with his daughter.