The candidates running for the Democratic nomination not named Hillary Clinton have faced long odds this election cycle.
That’s to be expected, of course, as she was always considered the prohibitive favorite to win the 2016 nomination. However, it’s also been clear that the Democratic Party has gone out of its way to structure the race to favor Clinton. The party has held few debates and seemingly scheduled them to get the least viewership possible, at odd times such as Saturday evenings. That has helped prevent Clinton alternatives from gaining traction through standout debate performances, an opportunity several Republican candidates have had.
Of course, with longtime Clinton ally Debbie Wasserman Schultz running the Democratic National Committee, it’s no surprise that the DNC would try to rig the race in Clinton’s favor. What is surprising is the degree to which the bias toward Clinton is not just manifesting at the DNC, but is trickling down to the individual state Democratic parties as well.
This was thrown into sharp relief here in Maine with recent revelations that the Maine Democratic Party is coordinating with the DNC and Clinton on fundraising efforts. Now, it’s not unusual for large amounts of money to be transferred back and forth between state parties, national party committees, and presidential campaigns: Indeed, it’s fairly standard practice. However, it usually does not begin until after the primary process is over and a nominee is chosen.
By beginning this type of joint fundraising process in the midst of a competitive presidential primary (polls show the race close in both Iowa and New Hampshire), the DNC and the Maine Democratic Party are openly admitting their preference for Clinton. Though this may seem like a given — after all, so far no sitting state legislators in Maine have endorsed anyone other than Clinton — individual preferences are quite different from official support by the party apparatus. Ordinarily, parties remain scrupulously neutral during primaries so that they can work effectively with whomever wins the nomination.
This was certainly the case in 2008, when Obama upset Clinton in the primaries. Though he was seen as an outsider candidate, he earned endorsements from many elected officials and had his own prominent supporters. In 2008, the Democratic establishment was effectively split; in 2016, they’re almost entirely united. Martin O’Malley and Bernie Sanders have received the endorsement of just one U.S. representative each, no sitting governor, and no sitting U.S. senators.
By cooperating so intimately with one campaign, the DNC and the Maine Democratic Party will lead many to question their commitment to a fair primary process. This is especially troublesome for Democrats, who like to portray themselves as the party of fairness and inclusion. Those who support Sanders and O’Malley may begin to question whether they are truly welcome in the Democratic Party with the levels of power within the establishment so firmly arrayed against them.
It is also hypocritical for a party that claims to be for campaign finance reform to take advantage of court decisions that weaken campaign finance regulations. Just as many Republicans choose not to use public money for their campaigns because they oppose it, Democrats should not use campaign finance mechanisms that they claim to oppose. When they do, it’s reasonable to question whether Democrats really support campaign finance reform or whether it’s just a talking point they use to reassure their liberal base. This sort of blatant hypocrisy is exactly the kind of politics as usual that is driving voters to support populist candidates this cycle.