On Tuesday morning, “CBS This Morning” anchor Norah O’Donnell asked former Democratic National Committee interim chair Donna Brazile whether the 2016 primary between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders was a fair fight.
“I believe it was,” responded Brazile.
Brazile, you might recall, is same person who alleges in her book – “Hacks: The Inside Story of the Break-ins and Breakdowns that Put Donald Trump in the White House” – that the DNC and the Clinton campaign had cut an unfair deal that disadvantaged Sanders. In exchange for Clinton’s help in fundraising, she and her staff were given broad approval and control of the party committee well before she was the formal nominee, Brazile wrote.
Here’s the key passage from Brazile’s piece in Politico last week, which was excerpted from her book that is being released today:
“I had tried to search out any other evidence of internal corruption that would show that the DNC was rigging the system to throw the primary to Hillary, but I could not find any in party affairs or among the staff. I had gone department by department, investigating individual conduct for evidence of skewed decisions, and I was happy to see that I had found none. Then I found this agreement.”
“The funding arrangement with HFA and the victory fund agreement was not illegal, but it sure looked unethical. If the fight had been fair, one campaign would not have control of the party before the voters had decided which one they wanted to lead. This was not a criminal act, but as I saw it, it compromised the party’s integrity.”
In the first paragraph of that excerpt, Brazile says she can’t find any evidence that the “DNC was rigging the system” until she unearths the fundraising agreement. In the second paragraph, she calls the fundraising deal “unethical” and adds: “It compromised the party’s integrity.” She adds that, as a result, the primary wasn’t a fair fight.
Which is the exact opposite – to the word! – of what Brazile told O’Donnell Tuesday morning.
This isn’t the first time – in the less than a week since Brazile’s Politico essay published – that she’s been caught contradicting herself. On Sunday, Brazile was asked on ABC whether the primary was rigged. “I found no evidence, none whatsoever,” she responded.
It’s impossible to square those assertions with what she wrote about the race in her book. Unless, of course, you think things that are “unethical” and provide evidence of a rigged system are somehow also not unfair. Which seems unlikely.
Why is Brazile recanting on the allegations made in her book even before the actual book is widely released?
My educated guess is that she is succumbing to the massive pushback directed at her by Clinton loyalists. On Saturday, a large group of former Clinton staffers – including campaign chairman John Podesta, campaign manager Robby Mook and communications director Jennifer Palmieri – signed an open letter disavowing the claims Brazile made in her book.
“Donna came in to take over the DNC at a very difficult time,” they wrote. “We were grateful to her for doing so. She is a longtime friend and colleague of many of us and has been an important leader in our party. But we do not recognize the campaign she portrays in the book.”
Brazile has been a longtime party hand – prior to taking over at the DNC during the 2016 campaign, she managed Al Gore’s 2000 presidential campaign and has been an active player in internal party politics for decades – and likely is reacting to the huge amounts of negative attention she is receiving from her friends (and former friends) about the book.
The problem for her, however, is that the book is out. And the words that she wrote in it can’t be taken back. Already Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren – in the wake of the allegations made by Brazile – has said she believes the 2016 primary was “rigged.” The forces aligned with Sanders during the primary have seized on Brazile’s assertions as proof positive that their suspicions about the primary system being rigged in Clinton’s favor were right all along.
It seems likely that the idea of a rigged primary – and what it means about the party’s past, present and future – will be at the center of how Democrats choose their nominee in 2020.
In other words, the genie is out of the bottle. And there’s no putting him back in – not even by Brazile, who let him out in the first place.