DNC Must Heed Warning Bells From 2000

Vice President Al Gore campaigns for the Democratic presidential nomination at Lakewood Park in Sunnyvale, California (Photo
Vice President Al Gore campaigns for the Democratic presidential nomination at Lakewood Park in Sunnyvale, California (Photo by Visions of America/UIG via Getty Images)

Fifteen years ago, the Democrats' heir apparent sought to succeed a termed out president, but was faced with a challenge on the left from a popular senator and persistent net negative approval ratings. Sound familiar? Despite the many similarities between the current race and 2000, it seems neither side has learned any lessons from Vice President Gore's defeat in 2000.

In many respects it is the same election. Then, and now, the election of the heir apparent would usher in what is perceived as a "third Clinton term." Then, and now, the left is distrustful of the frontrunner because of President Clinton's "New Democratic" policies of NAFTA, welfare reform and the repeal of Glass-Steagall. In 2000, a sufficient number on the left defected to other candidates or stayed home to cost Gore the election, with catastrophic consequences including the War in Iraq, an economic collapse, two new conservative Supreme Court Justices and decisions like Citizens United.

The Democratic National Committee (DNC) seems oblivious to this history, as rather than follow a strategy of inclusion to ensure liberal support for the nominee in the fall, the DNC is treating any challenge to Secretary Clinton as something to be stifled. Case in point - after having 15 and 25 primary debates in 2004 and 2008 respectively, the DNC is only sanctioning six this time and penalizing participation in any non-sanctioned debates. Even worse, the debates have been set for ridiculous times designed to minimize their audience with two on a Saturday night and one on a Sunday night during the NFL playoffs.

Rationing valuable airtime makes no sense. It simply yields the floor to Republicans, whose many debates allow them to dominate the news cycle for the days that follow. In case you have not been watching, they are not saying especially nice things about Secretary Clinton or the Democratic Party in these debates. In addition, the Republican debates filter into the Democratic debates as candidates are asked to respond to statements made by Republicans. Why abandon the opportunity to do the same to the Republicans?

Minimizing debates hurts all of the candidates. In the unlikely event that Senator Sanders or Governor O'Malley are able to pull off an epic upset and win the nomination, a more extensive debate schedule would give the upstart nominee a chance to define himself with voters.

Minimizing debates also hurts Secretary Clinton in the long run, since the best way to bring down her disapproval ratings is for the voters to see her unfiltered in a presidential setting rather than through the prism of an often hostile press. Clinton has done a great job in the debates so far and more debates would only to serve make voters more comfortable electing the first woman President.

The Clinton team and the DNC cannot ignore their opponents' base. More debates could benefit Secretary Clinton by giving her more time to woo her opponent's supporters and remind them of her progressive credentials and the many progressive accomplishments of the Clinton administration -- the largest expansion of the earned-income tax credit, higher education assistance and national park land, along with passage of the Family and Medical Leave Act, the Brady Bill and the assault weapons ban -- to name a few.

Most importantly, to the extent the DNC's actions leave Sanders and O'Malley supporters feeling excluded or that they are not being given a fair shot, they are creating the very alienation that proved fatal in 2000.

This is already beginning to happen. I am seeing numerous posts by Sanders supporters threatening to refuse to vote for Clinton should she be the nominee and which often revive the biggest lie from the 2000 campaign that there was no material difference between the two parties' candidates. The tragedy that was the Bush administration has shown how wrong this was in 2000 and it only takes one hour of one of the many Republican debates to see how wrong this is today.

The biggest danger of this approach is that the next president likely will nominate between one and three Supreme Court justices, giving it a solid liberal or conservative majority. Salon's Walker Bragman is willing to lose 82-year old Ruth Bader Ginsburg's seat on the Supreme Court, which would create a 6-3 conservative majority, since an eventual Democratic Senate majority "would give us the ability to further mitigate the problem of a post-Ginsburg court." He would have been on stronger ground had he promised 72 virgins in heaven, since a Republican president is likely to select a stealth nominee that would prevent a serious confirmation challenge. Bragman's master strategy does not mitigate the loss of a women's right to choose but rather guarantees this result.

David Axelrod's statement that the DNC appears to be putting "its finger on the scale" in favor of Clinton and Bragman's Thelma and Louise strategy should be setting off alarm bells at the DNC. If not, we may have to wait for Chelsea to deliver a third Clinton administration.