Mad at the DNC? Watch their debates. At this point, it’s an act of protest.

Progressive and Democratic circles have spent the better part of today debating whether the DNC acted unfairly by shutting off Bernie Sanders’s access to their national voter file amid allegations that his campaign improperly saved Clinton campaign data, including lists of likely voters in early primary states, during a data breach.

And to be honest, the debate has gotten downright silly.

Given what we know, it seems highly likely that the Sanders campaign really did improperly access data that they knew they shouldn’t have, and did so to their advantage. And their case is weakened further by the fact that their original explanation of the issue did not hold up under scrutiny. The DNC’s reaction, given the nature of the violation and the sensitivity of their data, seems fair — even if it’s harsh. So when the Sanders campaign threatens to sue the DNC, arguing that the party organization is actively working to undermine their campaign by taking away their voter file access, it’s hard to avoid pointing out that the DNC is playing this specific case more or less by the book.

This specific case, that is.

Because it’s equally silly for Sanders’s critics to claim that the DNC doesn’t have a preferred horse in this race. When I woke up this morning, I thought we’d be talking about the absolute insanity of the fact that tomorrow night’s Democratic primary debate is, well, tomorrow night! A Saturday! At the same time as a primetime NFL game! The last debate was also on a Saturday night, and another one will be held during an NFL conference championship game! And this would all be only sort-of ridiculous if there were more than six debates overall (as compared to the Republicans’ twelve) but there aren’t.

Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton, screenshot via CNN / YouTube

Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton, screenshot via CNN / YouTube

Supporters of non-Hillary Democratic candidates have been complaining about the DNC’s debate schedule for months, and with good reason. The schedule was rather transparently set in order to expose Hillary Clinton to as few voters, and as few potential criticisms of her platform, as possible before the general election campaign begins. The DNC’s initial acquiescence to Clinton’s request for few debates (she asked for four and “bargained” for six) and subsequent refusal to add more, over widespread dissatisfaction from the party’s rank and file, has been (correctly) construed by Sanders fans as an indication that the deck really is stacked against him — that the Party really is putting its finger on the scales in favor of Clinton.

The debate schedule was so obviously engineered to guarantee as few viewers as possible that Vox wrote a 600-word/two-chart explainer on it.

The strategy of keeping Clinton shielded from the electorate until the general election came off as especially unnecessary and foolish after Clinton performed remarkably well at the first debate. It looks even more stupid in the long term when one considers that the Republican Party has turned their debates into a reality TV series with five hour-long episodes, smashing ratings records. Those of us on the left, who pay reasonably close attention to the issues they’re discussing, know how crazy they sound. John Q. Voter probably doesn’t. If you’re looking for reasons why Republican candidates are performing way better than expected in head-to-head polls against Clinton, the disparate airtime they’re receiving is a good place to start. And that’s a problem over which the Democratic Party has a great deal of control.

All this is to say that while, yes, it really does look like the Sanders campaign made a major error this week — and has made matters worse by first downplaying the incident and then insisting that the low-level staffer data director they fired didn’t actually do anything that was all that bad — the general claim that the DNC has been acting with varying degrees of subtlety to help Clinton at Sanders’s expense isn’t off-base. When Sanders’s defenders attack the DNC today over this data breach, what they’re really attacking the DNC over is a primary process that they (rightly) feel has been unfair from the get-go.

When Sanders’s supporters have argued today that the DNC is being unfair to his campaign, they’re right, but for the wrong reason.

If you’re mad at the DNC about the way they’ve handled the primary process — and there are plenty of reasons outside of this data flap to be mad at them — there are a few things you can do. Obviously, you can tell them to shove off when they ask you for money. You can vote for Bernie Sanders. If you’re feeling especially masochistic, you could even sit out the 2016 election altogether.

But it appears as though, for Democrats who are upset with their organization’s handling of its primary process, the single biggest act of intra-party protest we can engage in right now is going out of our way to watch our own party’s debates.


Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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  • andyou

    Isn’t that her new campaign slogan: Hold your nose and vote for Clinton

  • andyou

    I image the author hasn’t read the original agreement between the Sanders campaign and the DNC. If he had, he’d know that Debbie Wasserman Schultz had zero right to cut off Sanders’ access to his own data. The agreement states:

    “Either party may terminate this Agreement in the event that the other party breaches this Agreement; the non-breaching party sends written notice to the breaching party describing the breach; and the breaching party does not cure the breach to the satisfaction of the non-breaching party within ten (10) calendar days following its receipt of such notice … The Agreement does not permit either Party to suspend its performance of the Agreement prior to terminating the Agreement in accordance with the provision above … The Agreement does not permit either Party to terminate or suspend the Agreement without notice, or without providing the breaching Party with the requisite opportunity to cure … The Agreement requires the DNC to “use security measures, with respect to the Campaign Data, that are consistent with good practices in the data processing industry.”

    Debbie Wasserman Schultz did not give the Sanders campaign a ten day window to remedy the problem. Nor did she inform the Sanders campaign in writing. Only DWS knows her motives for violating the agreement. Perhaps she didn’t read it either.

  • Don Chandler

    Yeah, I don’t get to correct other people’s English often. In fact, I avoid it like the plague. The thing is that Jon’s whole paragraph was actually supportive of voting for Bernie. And it was not supportive of not voting for anyone. But I’m still glad to see people get sensitive about how Bernie is treated. Shows there is some good passionate support for the guy. Would be hard to vote for Sanders if people didn’t speak out like Stephan…don’t want to waste a vote for someone without strong followers.

  • Silver_Witch

    It is however interesting to note that it all stopped with the filing of the lawsui , which to my legal heart speaks volumns about what the DNC did not want seen in court. I suspect Sandersknoiws more than he says about who all saw whose underskirt. Just saying.

  • Silver_Witch

    This this this. May I ask a question you may know the answer to. Will all money Bernie raises go to the DNC if he looses the primary?

  • Silver_Witch

    I love this it did scare me a little though cause I kinda know what it means. Ahhh English love/ hate its complexity.

  • Stephan

    Corrected. But guess what? He still said in that one clause that Voting for Bernie is akin to doing nothing.

  • Stephan

    Take a good look at the complete sentence. He grouped voting for Bernie as being in the same category as being apathetic (masochistic) and staying home. There is no way you could look at this article and say, “Wow! That was impartial!”

    That being said, Yes, I missed copying the last part of the sentence. It has been corrected. STILL doesn’t matter.

  • kladinvt

    Because polls don’t reflect the electorate, since most of these polls rely on “landlines”, which disenfranchises most voters under 30 or even 40.

  • kladinvt

    I’d have to add then, If you can surrender your beliefs and conscience, you could vote for Hillary….just hold your nose.

  • kladinvt

    So why was it even necessary to go public about this incident, instead of handling it internally? Going public, only days before the 3rd debate at best looks suspicious. Why did the DNC do nothing to rectify the situation, when the Sanders campaign first told them about it back in October? Did the DNC investigate Hillary’s & O’Malley’s staffer for similar breaches, since everyone had the same access? Did anyone ask about the propriety of using software from a company that has Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s brother as its VP?
    The whole thing looks like a set-up to tarnish Bernie’s image, especially since Hillary is anything but tarnished.

    Also, will Jon Green, just come out as a Hillary-bot and save us all the trouble of reading this type of one-sided pseudo-propaganda.

  • Don Chandler

    Stephan left out the independent clause!

    “In linguistics, a dependent clause (or a subordinate clause) is a clausethat provides an independent clause with additional information, but which cannot stand alone as a sentence. Dependent clauses either modify the independent clause of a sentence or serve as a component of it.”–google dependent clause. Purposefully misrepresent ;)

  • And I don’t know what the freak-out is. Clinton is 30 points ahead of Sanders in most polls. What are they so afraid of?

  • Yes, I am undecided. I have not decided and don’t need to as I will not vote until March. But then I always was a last-minute shopper.

  • Clinton supporters keep freaking out that her progressive detractors will stay home next November and then go out of their way to insult them making it more attractive to do so. I have serious reservations about all the candidates and none of them nor their supporters do anything about addressing those concerns but instead merely want to insult me for not already being on board. This is NOT the way to build a coalition to win an election.

  • goulo

    The text you’re quoting misrepresents the text I see in the article:

    “You can vote for Bernie Sanders. If you’re feeling especially masochistic, you could even sit out the 2016 election altogether.”

  • Stephan

    “You can vote for Bernie Sanders. If you’re feeling especially masochistic.” Uncalled for Jon Green. Bring back John Aravosis. He wouldn’t sink this low.

  • hauksdottir

    She was co-chair for the Clinton campaign in ’08… when they accessed Obama’s data. So, she is being more than hypocritical. Yes, it has Clinton stink, but the Clintons have always played dirty.

    Wasserman-Schultz is also a dual-citizen of Israel, and rather rabid in her support of their interests over ours.

    One change I would like in our Constitution is that no members of high-level positions in our government be dual-citizens. Cabinet members and Congress-critters ought to hold NO allegiance to any other country. Loyalty divided is no loyalty at all.

  • nicho

    Are there really any “undecided” Democrats. Either you’ve been hoodwinked by the Hillary gang or you haven’t. It’s that simple. It’s also pretty clear that DWS is going to do her best to derail anything that threatens the coronation of Hillary. You have to wonder what she’s been promised. Maybe 10 free weekends in the Lincoln Bedroom. Those things go for $100,000 and up when the Clintons are in power.

  • Ol’ Hippy

    The “show” these days is all that matters, not the content. It seems both sides are more show than substance, you know, sound bites. I’ve yet to see much actual content from either side, if that even matters these days. All we will come to elect is: 1.) more aggression over seas, less domestic aid or 2.) more aggression over seas, more domestic aid. That seems to be the “choice”. No comprehensive plan to reduce federal spending or end high level corruption. What a damn choice, a country that cares more about making war than care for it’s citizens.

  • FLL

    As a consequence, she’s been forced to bring a more populist and progressive message herself.

    This is true. There are those who say that it won’t matter that Hillary is more populist/progressive during the primaries because if she gets the nomination, she would then be free to revert to a more corporatist message if elected president. I disagree with that assessment. I think the effect of Bernie’s campaign will be more far-reaching simply because the U.S. system is not an elected presidential dictatorship. Congress has a huge say in the course of events, and Bernie’s campaign give a lot of helpful steam to innumerable congressional and U.S. Senate campaigns.

    A good showing by the Sanders campaign will benefit progressives in the House, but particularly in the Senate, which the Democrats could easily win next year. Elizabeth Warren, a brilliant Senate leader, would feel far less alone. Bernie’s campaign is doing a world of good regardless of the sincerity or insincerity of Hillary’s populist/progressive rhetoric. I also agree with your point that Democrats need more media exposure. The Republicans are taking slimy advantage of the old adage, “there is no such thing as bad publicity.” Scumbags.

  • 2karmanot

    This has Clinton stink all over it.

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  • I don’t understand the paranoia of Clinton supporters over anything that isn’t a coronation in the primaries. Inevitability doesn’t go over with American voters. Americans hate being told what to do. The worst case scenario in October is “Queen Hillary” running ahead instead of a campaign by a seasoned politician with a lot of experience to offer to the job. Clinton has a lot of pluses going into this campaign. It’s been a LONG time since a presidential candidate had been Secretary of State. (I checked. The last one was Martin Van Buren, but it was rather common in the first few decades of our country.) She would be first president in my lifetime to enter office with first hand foreign policy experience (rather than a lot of naive ideas about how things out to work, which characterizes every president in my lifetime except maybe Bush Sr.). Those are huge pluses. So why the Nixonian paranoia about a campaign polling 30 points behind? Seriously, what is this about?

  • Agreed. Why is this being handled so badly? And why wasn’t Wasserman-Schultz fired from her DNC position over a year ago? I’m sick of how badly the part “leadership” handles things.

  • Buford

    The Sanders campaign knew that they were accessing and saving copies of data that they knew they were not supposed to have. They are certainly not innocent here. The problem is that the DNC went big-n-public against Sanders as opposed to handling the issue in a more restrained manner.

  • Max_1

    But it appears as though, for Democrats who are upset with their organization’s handling of its primary process, the single biggest act of intra-party protest we can engage in right now is going out of our way to watch our own party’s debates.

    You forgot: GIVE DIRECTLY TO THE SANDERS CAMPAIGN THUS AVOIDING ANY MONEY IN THE HANDS OF DWS

  • Max_1

    Finally Jon,
    It will be fun reading Monday about how the Hillary campaign isn’t concerned that the voter rolls for the Hillary campaign were compromise. Just like they were in ’08. The only difference being, no one was punished in ’08. WHY?

  • Max_1

    Jon,
    A hypothetical, if I may…

    1) I hire you to SECURE my confidential information
    2) My competition get’s ahold of my confidential information I hired you to SECURE
    3) So I blame the competition for the data breach you allowed to happen.

    This is the gist of it all…

  • Max_1

    Jon,
    Where’s the article about how NGPVAN failed to comply to their privacy policy?

    https://www.ngpvan.com/content/privacy-policy

  • nicho

    Killary is going to flog this mule for all it’s worth to divert the spotlight from her own sordid record of bad decison making. And you have to wonder whether this mysterious dropping of the firewall wasn’t some Rove-style trick from the Clinton camp, designed to entrap the Sanders people. We know that Killary will stop at nothing to secure the crown.

  • You’re right, it isn’t one person making these decisions. But a whole bunch of people — from the data director to the campaign manager to the comms director to whoever greenlighted this lawsuit — have made various bad decisions throughout the week. At a certain point, that rolls up to the campaign as a whole. Hard to come up with a more precise grouping, and it’s certainly more specific than just “Sanders” or “Clinton,” as campaigns are often written as.

  • First, fair disclosure: I prefer Sanders, but I will vote for whomever the Dems nominate because the GOP opposition isn’t just greater vs lesser evil anymore.

    That said, semantics matter. Jon, you keep referring to “the Sanders campaign” as if it is a monolithic entity that makes unitary decisions. The data breach was committed by one individual or possibly him acting with a few others. The dumb decision to try to downplay it was made by others, as was the decision to try to contain the PR damage by firing the guy. But I feel it is a mistake to characterize the campaign organization as if it is a single person making these decisions.

    BTW, as an excellent in-depth exploration of the various models of analyzing decision-making processes, I cannot more highly recommend “Essence of Decision”, which uses the Cuban missile crisis as an example. Book was written by Graham T. Nelson and I think it’s been re-released a number of times now. The three models are ‘Rational Actor,’ ‘Organizational Process,’ and ‘Government Politics.’ I actually suspect what we’re seeing from the Sanders campaign are the blunders typical of a malfunctioning Organizational Process.

    Back to the matter at hand: The decisions by the DNC’s leadership, including Wasserman-Schultz, seem pretty clearly to be geared towards an attempt at an uncontested and drama-free primary where the outcome has already been decided. Senator Sanders threw a monkey-wrench into the machine when he announced and it turns out his populism is…well, more popular among the Democratic base than Hillary Clinton’s centrist Third-Way triangulation.

    It seems fairly clear the point of few debates is just like the GOPers when they nominate unknowns for appointed office: They don’t want any ammo for the opposition. Unfortunately, this does look like a huge blunder because who has anybody been talking about for the last 6-8 months? Not Clinton or Sanders, but the Killer Klowns from Outer Space known as the GOP candidates. Honestly, turn on the TV or browse the web-news at any given time and it’s like 95% GOP, and mostly about the latest Trump-proposed human atrocity and the Me Too! chorus of the rest of ’em.

    In 2004, John Kerry’s campaign, in a different blunder, went dark for about six weeks at the end of the summer. They never really found their traction again, because it gave the GOPers that much time to do the Swift Boat bullshit campaign against him. Far as I’m concerned, as soon as the GOPer sharks begin settling down from their internecine bloody feeding frenzy, they’ll turn against the Dems–who don’t seem to have anything like enough interest to be seen on TV making their case for leadership.

  • LanceThruster
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