Turmoil In The Democratic Party

Nov 4, 2017
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NOEL KING, HOST:

It's November, which means election season is here yet again. On Tuesday, voters in Virginia head to the polls to vote in a tight governor's race. That race could tell us something about the state of the Democratic and Republican Parties nationally. On the Democratic side, the party's been in turmoil since last election season, and those wounds are still raw. Earlier this week, the former head of the Democratic National Committee, Donna Brazile, wrote in an excerpt from her new book that Hillary Clinton's campaign effectively took control of the DNC before Clinton had won the nomination in 2016. And then when asked by CNN's Jake Tapper to respond, Senator Elizabeth Warren, one of the Democratic Party leaders, said this.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JAKE TAPPER: Very quickly, Senator, do you agree with the notion that it was rigged?

ELIZABETH WARREN: Yes.

KING: Now, we should say the DNC has pushed back against these claims, but we wanted to know what all of this infighting means. So we're joined now by journalist Susan Glasser. She's been writing for The New Yorker about all of the finger-pointing in the Democratic Party. Susan, thanks for coming in.

SUSAN GLASSER: Oh, thank you so much for having me.

KING: So, Susan, it's been almost a year since the election that sent Donald Trump to the White House. Is it fair to say that the Democratic Party's still trying to figure out how that happened?

GLASSER: Isn't it amazing that it's been a full year? And it feels in many ways that the state of the Democratic debate is pretty much where we left it after maybe the initial shock and, you know, dismay of the first 24 hours in many ways. That's what I'm struck by is that you still have a Democratic Party that is, in some ways, finding it easier to argue over Hillary Clinton than it is to really look in the mirror and say, well, what - are we going to be going forward? And so you have this kind of finger-pointing going on about, you know, did Clinton take over the DNC?

In my piece for The New Yorker, I wrote about the concerns of Stanley Greenberg, the pollster for Bill Clinton, about how the Hillary Clinton campaign was run. But in truth, what interested me was going forward it's unresolved what kind of party it wants to be. How much is being that party of anti-Trump the new identity for the Democratic Party?

KING: Your latest story on the struggle inside of the Democratic Party came out before the book excerpt by Donna Brazile and before the comments by Senator Elizabeth Warren saying that the system was, quote, "rigged." What do those comments tell you about what's going on with the Democrats?

GLASSER: I think a lot of people interpreted Senator Elizabeth Warren as reading the tea leaves and seeing where the Democratic Party is headed. The energy is clearly still with the Bernie Sanders wing of the party even though it was Clinton who won both the primary and, in terms of popular vote, the general election. And I think that's the real divide inside the party today is a concern that an effort to blame Hillary Clinton for last year's electoral defeat, will the party move left in a way that makes it unelectable?

You already see some people writing pieces. For example Doug Sosnik, Bill Clinton's former White House political director, wrote a piece in The Washington Post recently saying Trump could win re-election. And so, you know, in a way, the sort of heated finger-pointing about 2016 and the faults and liabilities of Hillary Clinton as a candidate really distracts from the question about the ideological center of gravity in the Democratic Party.

KING: A very important governor's race in Virginia this week. The governor's race is pretty much in a dead heat depending on which polls you look at. How important is this race in the minds of party leaders nationally?

GLASSER: So I think psychologically, it's a huge deal because it comes right in the middle of this intraparty fight over how to handle Trump's victory of a year ago and the electoral defeat. And it was interesting, a few weeks ago when I spoke with Democratic pollster Stanley Greenberg for my New Yorker piece, he was at that time already ahead of the curve and saying Ralph Northam is running just like Hillary Clinton.

KING: Ralph Northam, the Democratic candidate?

GLASSER: The Democratic nominee. He ceded the economic issue to the Republicans. And if we do that as Democrats, we fail. Now, again, this is a wing of the Democratic Party that goes all the way back to Bill Clinton's victory in 1992. It's the economy, stupid. That was James Carville's mantra. They still hold to it. And they really think that you have a big problem when you're following an incumbent, right?

So Hillary Clinton's problem, in Greenberg's view, was that she couldn't cut loose Obama, that there were a lot of angry and worried people out there in the country who felt this economic dislocation. And yet Hillary Clinton felt bound not to reject Obama. And, you know, she talked about finishing the job. Obama went out there, campaigned for her, talked about finishing the job.

Well, here in Virginia, we have a microcosm of that, right? You have Terry McAuliffe, the Democratic governor, a close ally, of course, and friend of the Clintons over many years. You have someone following him who's saying things are good in Virginia. And that, of course, has left this opening for Republicans to continue a kind of economic populism as part of their message.

GLASSER: So history repeating itself in some interesting ways.

GLASSER: Well, we'll see. Hillary Clinton did win Virginia last year in the presidential race. Obviously, it has an outgoing Democratic governor. I ran into the governor, Terry McAuliffe, at MSNBC's studio yesterday. He said to me, well, I know it's tight. It's tighter than it should be, but I think we're going to win by three points.

KING: (Laughter).

GLASSER: So we'll see (laughter).

KING: Susan Glasser is a contributing writer for The New Yorker and is Politico's chief international affairs columnist. She was nice to come into the studio for us. Thank you, Susan.

GLASSER: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.