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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