Underestimating Obama, overestimating the Democratic candidate

In a recent interview, the involuntarily-retired Hillary Clinton widened the circle of culprits in her defeat to include the Democratic National Committee, and DNC data people are not happy. But there’s another issue that’s also interesting: reports of the inevitability of the Democratic future have been greatly overestimated. It appears Barack Obama, not the Democratic Party’s presidential candidate per se, was the irresistible force.

One problem for Clinton as she was beginning her 2016 candidacy was a time warp about the way things were or should have been. Her perspective about the role of the DNC and the Democratic Party apparatus was shaped by experiences from Bill Clinton’s campaigns in 1992 and 1996 and his (and her) approach to the party.

In those days, the DNC was a more robust and battle-ready institution, and Bill Clinton as candidate and president paid attention to it. President Barack Obama did not. Under Obama, the DNC was neglected and left to atrophy.

“The DNC has not played any dynamic role except just on a rare occasion since Obama was president,” said a former party official.

Obama’s two campaigns were built largely separate from the DNC. Data produced by Obama for America and its various other names was proprietary and not readily shared with the party.

I don’t know how common this knowledge was, but I didn’t know it before. I suppose back in 2007 Obama and his campaign team, still outsiders to the Democratic establishment, saw the Democratic National Committee as a Clinton fiefdom and circumvented it as much as possible. The DNC data guy who returned fire said the real problem was the HRC campaign’s mishandling of the data, and I’m sure there’s some truth to that. All accounts I’ve seen show they assumed the victory and refused to update their strategy when local units began to notice cracks. But whatever the reason, the combination of the Democratic Party and the Clinton campaign was simply not optimized for victory. The Obama campaign was optimized for victory. Confounding these entities made the party seem much stronger than it was.

Someday we might find out why Obama didn’t drop the barrier between his 2012 campaign and the DNC. Perhaps he still didn’t trust it? It would be ironic if the Clintons’ legendary skills at politicking and maneuvering got them this close but prevented them from going that last step further.

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