The Democrats have a problem: Their party chair talks too much.
It is the ultimate sin for an operative to become the story. The Democratic National Committee is supposed to be a unifying entity. Instead, the actions and attitude of Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s have made the Florida Democrat into a lightning rod and somewhat of a liability for the Democrats. By many accounts, Wasserman Schultz is overly concerned with being in the spotlight and promoting herself — at the expense of her effectiveness. This was highlighted this week by Politico in its story “Democrats turn on Debbie Wasserman Schultz.” It also reported that the Obama administration had very seriously considered replacing her as DNC chair in 2012. Well, it doesn’t get much plainer than that.
As a result, in the past 24 hours, Vice President Biden and Sens. Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) have all had to stop what they are doing and defend Wasserman Schultz. In the case of Reid, his defense was ominous, suggesting she is the White House’s problem.
This year, instead of hunkering down and concentrating on fundraising, the chairwoman has made a number of public gaffes, including outrageous remarks about Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R), for which she had to apologize. I think this kind of behavior is remarkable for the chair of an American political party — and that’s saying something, given that I worked for GOP Chairman Lee Atwater. Wasserman Schultz has turned herself into a pariah in key Democratic races. Add the Democratic Party chair to the list of Democratic leaders who aren’t welcome in actual competitive races — a list that already included President Obama.
The fact is, when your party has the White House, you don’t need more spokespeople. You have plenty of words. What you need from the chair of the party is to be a master operative, campaign mechanic, organizational leader and tireless fundraiser. As the party in power, the DNC should be dominating its rival, the Republican National Committee, in fundraising. But, according to the most recent election reports, the DNC has raised $129 million in the 2014 election cycle and has $10.5 million in cash on hand, while the RNC has raised $140 million and has $14.6 million in cash on hand. Given all the time the president of the United States spends on fundraising, you would think the Democrats would be trouncing the Republicans.
I do worry about the role of the political parties in the era of super PACs. Campaign reforms have only limited what candidates and the parties can do, making it harder for them to raise money and have an impact – the opposite result of what such reform laws were meant to achieve. The two-party system has served us well. We need some “reforms” that will strengthen the parties and diminish the influence of billionaires and outside groups.
So the bad news for the Democrats is that they don’t have a very effective party chair. The good news for them is that it doesn’t usually matter that much. Being chairman of the party is an insider’s role, and it shouldn’t be so hard to stay out of the way. In 2014, perhaps more so than in other election years, there are a number of close races, and every little bit will matter. The Democrats may regret having not shown Wasserman Schultz the door in 2012, when it would have been easy to do so.
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