It’s more than a year now since the presidential election of Nov. 8, 2016. The pundits have had their say. Now the Democratic operatives are coming to terms with the loss of their presumptive winner Hillary Clinton to Donald Trump by writing tell-all magazine feature articles and books.
The latest (and some say the juiciest to date) is by Donna Brazile, the former head of the Al Gore presidential campaign in 2000, Democratic and CNN strategist for the past 16 years and the replacement as chair of the Democratic National Committee when Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (D-Florida) resigned the opening day of the Democratic convention in Philadelphia on July 18, 2016.
Brazile’s just released book is titled “Hacks: The Inside Story of the Break-ins and Breakdowns That Put Donald Trump in the White House.” It’s a double entendre (get it?). The thesis of the book is how hacks of Democratic party campaign data of donors and voters, campaign plans and hundreds of thousands of emails created a chaos that Brazile fears is threatening American democracy and the election system itself. The hacks were done by sophisticated teams of foreign intelligence operatives, most likely Russian according to Brazile’s many sources, including a spook and FBI intelligence officers.
“It was all so much bigger and more invasive than ever I had realized or been told as vice chair of the DNC,” Brazile told a crowd at Politics and Prose on Nov. 21. “The FBI had been calling and calling the DNC in the fall of 2015 to tell them that the Russians were in our system, but they never got anyone to respond. The fear created by the hacking thrust me into a world I’d never had contact with before,” she writes.
But “hacks” also refers to party operatives who were concerned almost exclusively with data and antiseptic micro-analysis of vote counting, a plan that had no room for on-the-ground, general get-out-the-vote campaigning. The Russian hacking threw all that into chaos.
“For Robby Mook, Hillary’s campaign manager, everything had a sense of scale. He had a plan and he was sticking to it. It was so detailed that Mook targeted precincts that needed 8 more voters to win there and 12 more voters to win over there,” Brazile told the packed crowd at Politics and Prose.
“All donations and campaign resources went to those efforts,” Brazile related. The record amounts of money being raised by state Democratic parties mainly were passed on to “Brooklyn” — the designation of the Hillary campaign headquarters — while only the designated “battleground” states got to keep the money they raised.
Brazile speaks and writes with passionate authenticity of the dysfunction within the Democratic party in the last months of the campaign. It also became personal: about age, race, gender and generation, experienced campaigners vs. new data operatives. “The small focus missed the big picture, and it undervalued the emotion that drives people to the polls,” she wrote, from experience. She writes she could “smell an odor of failure” a few months before the election.
The book covers many of the other distractions tearing the party apart, including the appearance of a disruptive mysterious costumed Donald Duck at Trump rallies that turns out was coordinated by the Brooklyn communications team. And the July, 10, 2016, murder — motive as yet unknown — of the young DNC operative Seth Rich when walking to his home not far from DNC headquarters. Brazile refers to him as “one of her kids,” the young staffers for whom she felt personally responsible.
There was also the shock she experienced when she learned about the true financial condition of the DNC when she reluctantly took over as chair: “We were broke and in debt,” she said, “even though we were awash in money.” As an officer of the party, she claims she didn’t know. That led to the financial deal that gave the Hillary campaign control over campaign resource allocation, which greatly favored her candidacy over that of Bernie Sanders, in exchange for bailing out, little-by-little, the Democratic party.
Still, Brazile blames much of the dysfunction, chaos and consequently the loss of the presidency on the hacking of major files by the Russians and their dumping on line by Wikileaks at strategic times just before the opening of the Democratic convention and just before the election itself. “The impact was to split the Democratic Party into warring factions that sought to discredit each other. At the least, it slowed the staff work considerably.”
And Trump took full advantage of the chaos, Brazile recalls. Trump spoke with admiration about Putin and cast doubt on the idea that these leaked emails came from the Russians. He unwittingly or on purpose was part of these active measures.