Jonathan Tasini: It's time for President Obama to remove DNC chair
Debbie Wasserman Schultz is a failed leader for Democratic Party, Tasini says
Editor’s Note: Jonathan Tasini has been a frequent commentator on CNN and is a Bernie Sanders supporter. He unsuccessfully challenged Hillary Clinton in the Democratic Senate primary in New York in 2006. He is the author of “The Essential Bernie Sanders and His Vision for America,” president of the Economic Future Group and the publisher/editor of Working Life. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own.
The President of the United States has a phone call to make.
He needs to call Debbie Wasserman Schultz and request that for the good of Democratic Party unity and to best Donald Trump in November, she step aside.
It is clear that the Democratic Party is headed for a tumultuous convention, one in which advocates for two very different visions of what the party should stand for will wrestle to try to shape its platform – not to mention nominate our standard bearer. In this process, we will need to look up to the podium to see a leader who can rise above the fray to inspire confidence on both sides. Wasserman Schultz does not meet that standard.
As an individual, Wasserman Schultz has every right to support a candidate. However, the position of Democratic National Committee chair requires resolute neutrality, both in perception and in practice. Yet at major milestones in the primary race, Wasserman Schultz’s actions have been anything but neutral – to the extreme detriment of the party.
Let’s start with the debate schedule. You would think that, given the Republicans’ chaotic scrum of sniping candidates, the DNC chair would gleefully schedule a large number of debates to reach the widest audience with essentially free promotion of a slate of thoughtful candidates. Instead, Wasserman Schultz, without seeking broad input from her vice chairs, limited the number of debates to six. Even though three were later added, by contrast, the party had 15 primary debates in 2004 and 25 debates in 2008.
There was an obvious appetite among voters to hear from the Democratic candidates. Despite being held on the night of a crucial Major League Baseball playoff game, the first debate, on CNN, averaged 15.8 million total viewers, the sixth-biggest nonsports cable telecast in history, with the 25-54 demographic averaging 5 million viewers – the most ever for a Democratic debate.
So why have so few debates? It’s important to note that, when the campaign began, no one had assumed the race would boil down to a head-to-head matchup between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. So, by putting her finger on the scale and scheduling fewer debates, Wasserman Schultz was trying to limit the exposure of anyone opposing Clinton, her favored candidate.
Then, in December, the party’s data files were breached, and a staffer of the Sanders campaign accessed Clinton campaign data files. The Sanders campaign immediately terminated the staffer and reiterated to the DNC that its data vendor’s firewall security was deeply flawed. Rather than bring the two campaigns together for a review of security, Wasserman Schultz immediately blocked the Sanders campaign’s access to its own data, crippling efforts to reach voters at a key moment in the race.
And now, the DNC chair has again poisoned the well. Immediately after the Nevada state convention, Wasserman Schultz went on national television, accusing the Sanders campaign of fomenting “violence” at the event. There was no violence; rather, there was a wild outbreak of people exercising their First Amendment rights by shouting and waving signs. An unbiased chair would have asked for a full report of the convention events – which would have included looking at the core issue of whether 64 of Sanders’ delegates were improperly denied their vote – before making this kind of slanderous statement.
Taken together, these incidents underscore the bottom line that Wasserman Schultz has squandered the most important asset a DNC chair must have: trust. She has abused the trust of the campaigns and is a significant contributor to the feeling among many Sanders supporters – whom we need in November to defeat Trump – that the DNC has not played fair. And because a leader reflects on her colleagues, her behavior has also tarred other very good DNC activists and leaders.
Not to mention: Wasserman Schultz has also been a failure leading Democrats in elections. With the exception of the White House, Democrats are now weaker at every level during her tenure. Republicans control the House of Representatives, with the biggest GOP caucus since 1947 when Harry Truman was President; we’ve lost a dozen U.S. Senate seats, and Republicans now control 67 state legislative chambers, with 24 states under full Republican control.
A number of strong leaders stand ready to replace Wasserman Schultz without disruption. I believe that any of the current vice chairs – R.T. Rybak, Maria Elena Durazo, Donna Brazile or Raymond Buckley – could be steadfastly fair and serve in the interim to chair the convention, alone or as co-chairs. And theirs would be a short service since, by tradition, the party’s nominee can install a DNC chair of his or her choosing.
We can’t wait to make this change. We need a strong and fair DNC leader who will put the party in the best position to defeat Donald Trump and the Republican Party.
Mr. President, make the call.
Jonathan Tasini has been a frequent commentator on CNN and is a Bernie Sanders supporter. He unsuccessfully challenged Hillary Clinton in the Democratic Senate primary in New York in 2006. He is the author of “The Essential Bernie Sanders and His Vision for America,” president of the Economic Future Group and the publisher/editor of Working Life. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own.