Some Big Picture Thoughts on the Sanders/DNC Derp War

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December 18, 2015 11:21 p.m.
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For most of today I was preoccupied trying to resolve some management issues at TPM. So I barely had enough time to keep tabs on the Sanders/DNC story through headlines and the barest skimming of articles. The first information I heard led me to think the DNC had wildly botched the situation. This is exactly the sort of situation where the head of the DNC needs to immediately get in touch with the heads of the two campaigns, resolve whatever needs resolving, fire whoever needs firing and get everything settled before anything goes public. Whatever the Sanders campaign did, suspending a campaign from access to its own voter file is a hugely draconian step which threatens to unleash an unpredictable and volatile chain of events.

Then later in the afternoon I got more confused. Because it looked like the Sanders campaign was taking a scorched earth tack when they’d actually got caught red handed trying to access the Clinton campaign’s data. Now, late this evening, I’m seeing new information which suggests those ‘caught red handed’ reports may have been overstated.

As I write this, I’m only just now able to dig back into the story. And I don’t have a clear idea of the facts of the breach, its extent, degree of malice, etc. I’d be grateful if my friends and readers who are programmers, security experts or DNC/campaign insiders who can enlighten me on this would write in and clue me in.

Now, you may be thinking, ‘Josh, if you’re telling us you don’t know what happened yet, why are you writing about this?’

Well, this is one of those rare cases where when you step back you realize that while the facts of the breach are fascinating in journalistic and sleuthing terms, for the Democratic party, they are almost beside the point. I fear the DNC and possibly the Clinton campaign may be stumbling into a wildly shortsighted set of actions.

Let’s be clear on one point: It may not look like it. But the DNC/Clinton campaign actually needs the Sanders Camp much more than the Sanders Camp needs them.

Here’s why.

The overwhelming likelihood is that Hillary Clinton will be the Democratic nominee. That means that 3 or 4 or 6 months from now her campaign and the DNC will need to unify the party. Whatever the data folks at the Sanders campaign did, by suspending their access the DNC will quite likely give a lot of Sanders supporters the idea that if they’d only had access to their data, Sanders might have won. At a minimum, many will be convinced that the game was rigged all along: that the DNC was operating as an arm of the Clinton campaign.

Now, Clinton is the candidate with overwhelming party establishment buy-in. We all know that the DNC and its apparatus is more friendly and inclined toward her campaign. But there is a world of difference before passive support or hopes for her victory and actively tipping the scales in her favor. If Sanders supporters get the idea the DNC and its chair are doing the latter, it introduces a toxic chemical into the bloodstream of the party. That could cause big, big problems down the line for Clinton and for the entire Democratic ticket.

Even if some Sanders whippersnappers totally got caught red-handed, it’s simply not something that the election is going to turn on. It’s just not. So as a reporting matter, I can’t wait to find out more. And I expect our team to be in the thick of it. But I would hope that the folks at the DNC and the Clinton campaign realize that regardless of what anyone in the Sanders campaign did it is in their interest to forgive and forget and make this whole issue go away absolutely as soon as possible. But what if the Sanders people really were trying to hack Clinton’s campaign data? From the point of view of Clinton getting the nomination or any Democrat winning the presidency, does it really matter? No, it does not. To the extent they feel they are genuinely and legitimately punishing campaign misbehavior, it is a pyrrhic victory that they are making for themselves. Even if you assume the worst of the Sanders’ camp (and I assume nothing at this point), sometimes it is better to be wise than just.

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