There is an uncommon amount of interest in an election this weekend whose entire voting body is 447 people. The election is for the chairmanship of the Democratic National Committee, the governing body of the national Democratic Party.
It’s a boring job. The party’s chair is supposed to raise money, oversee the practical nuts-and-bolts of the party’s electoral machinery and help strategize on candidates and expenditures for upcoming races.
And yet CNN hosted a live, 90-minute debate Wednesday night with eight candidates on stage — eight candidates vying for the attentions not of a state’s primary voters or a national electorate but rather 447 professional Democrats for whom what was said on CNN will likely matter very little.
Depressed and clear-thinking Democrats who managed to stay awake through the proceedings — and I congratulate them if they did — surely saw nothing to rouse them from their despair. There was a sitcom element to the proceedings, featuring as they did an overly well-spoken millennial from Ohio, a manic pixie dream girl from Idaho and a clueless older guy lawyer from DC who seemed to have wandered in from the hotel bar.
The two most compelling people on stage have no chance of winning: one a former head of Rock the Vote and the other the mayor of South Bend, Ind. — who’s beloved of mainstream media types because he’s a witty, gay Harvard Rhodes Scholar. (DNC candidates: they’re just like us!)
Conventional wisdom says the race is down to Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota and former Labor Secretary Tom Perez.
But neither was even remotely impressive, even though Barack Obama calls Perez “wicked smart” and Ellison proved himself exceptionally skilled at obfuscating his radical leftist leanings and acting outraged that anyone would dare point out his irrefutable Nation of Islam background.
Both Perez and Ellison threw out crowd-pleasing bait about President Trump’s evil and the Democratic Party’s deep goodness, but they performed so unmemorably, they made one long for the days when the somnolent Martin O’Malley was on stage at the Democratic presidential debates.
The evening focused on large questions about how the party should challenge Trump and whether Hillary Clinton should run again. Those are probably not the questions these candidates need to answer to secure a majority of 224. These party regulars are going to want to know what they’re going to get in the new order — what kinds of resources will be committed to their causes, their hobbyhorses, their ideas about how to rebuild.
The reason Democrats should be dispirited is this: No one dared to speak honestly and directly about the very specific challenges he or she will face as DNC chair in the wake of the slow-motion disaster that overtook the party while no one was watching.
By the time Barack Obama left office, not only did he have to cede the Oval to Trump, but he had presided over the national collapse of his party. During the Obama years, the Democrats lost a net 13 Senate seats, 63 House seats, nine governorships and more than 1,000 state and local elected positions.
Institutionally, Obama has left the national Democratic Party in worse shape than at any point in the past century. Hillary Clinton may have garnered 3 million more votes than Trump nationwide, but she did so while winning only 486 of the country’s 3,113 counties.
Will the people whose hands will be on the levers of the Democratic Party apparatus continue to comfort themselves with Hillary’s victory in the popular vote rather than focus on their mishandling of the Rust Belt states that won Trump the White House?
Will they continue to tell each other sad and sweet stories about how James Comey and Vladimir Putin were the reason the White House was lost — stories that cannot explain the disastrous condition of the party at the Senate, House, gubernatorial, state and local levels?
Or will they roll up their sleeves, look at the country with clear eyes and get to work?