Why Debbie Wasserman Schultz had to go

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz was at the helm when Democrats suffered big losses in 2014.

Story highlights

  • Errol Louis: DNC chair criticized even before hackers began posting party emails online
  • Louis: She faltered due to party's losses and the view she favored Clinton at Sanders' expense

Errol Louis is the host of "Inside City Hall," a nightly political show on NY1, a New York all-news channel. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN)Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz was in political trouble long before the recent leak of party emails confirmed what everybody knew: Wasserman Schultz used her position as chair of the Democratic National Committee subtly to assist her preferred candidate, Hillary Clinton.

It is true that Wasserman Schultz was caught with her thumb on the scale, tilting the party's activities in favor of Clinton. And her resignation is the kind of fall-on-a-grenade act of self-sacrifice expected of political soldiers. We'll soon see if her quitting will quell the controversy.
But let's be clear: Wasserman Schultz was at the helm when Democrats suffered catastrophic losses in 2014, losing control of the Senate and continuing a streak of losses in statehouses that set up Republicans to control voting rules and dominate the redrawing of political district lines in 2020.
    The party's performance was so poor that the White House was reportedly planning to replace Wasserman Schultz, according to Politico, which said she apparently also ruffled feathers by using the party's travel budget and fundraising appeals to enhance her own political prospects.
    At the same time, Sen. Bernie Sanders has been complaining about DNC decisions that gave a leg up to Clinton, and pointedly endorsed a primary challenger trying to unseat Wasserman Schultz. The newly released emails show he was right to be suspicious of the party chair, although it's worth pointing out her preference for Clinton was already in plain sight.
    You could see the pro-Clinton bias last year in Wasserman Schultz's decision to schedule a limited number of debates, with three of the first four falling on weekends when viewership is low. She insisted the debates were intended to maximize viewership -- a claim that the Politifact fact-checking organization rated false -- and critics concluded the schedule was intended to give Clinton an advantage over the less-well-known Sanders.
      According to the leaked emails, some DNC staffers floated the idea of reminding reporters that Sanders has been fuzzy about the details of his religious faith and could lose support in some states if he were perceived to likely be an atheist -- a political hardball that it was up to Clinton's team, not the party, to either throw or drop. And at least one email quotes an exasperated Wasserman Schultz pointing out to her staff that Sanders "(i)sn't going to be president."
      Given the party's losing streak, don't expect big-name Democrats -- including Clinton and President Barack Obama -- to try to talk Wasserman Schultz out of resigning. Her not-so-subtle skirmishing against Sanders might have been forgivable if the party were doing better. But the current flap only accelerates a process that was already in motion.