Thursday, October 15, 2020

Trickle-Up Fundraising And Social Media Savvy Enabled Obama's Takeover Of The Democrat Party

theintercept  |  It didn’t have to be this way. Obama’s campaign operation, Obama for America, took small-dollar giving to never-before-seen heights and opened up the possibility of a transformation of politics. But he quickly decided to marginalize his group after the 2008 election. He renamed it Organizing for America, but ordered it to do very little organizing, worried that if grassroots activists attacked Blue Dog Democrats, they would bolt from the president and lose in 2010. Then-White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel famously told activists such a strategy was “fucking retarded.” (Most lost anyway in 2010, as the tea party wave swept them out.)

OFA became Obama’s primary campaign apparatus, supplanting the DNC, which became an afterthought handed to Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., who later became Clinton’s running mate. After the 2010 wave, Obama put Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz on top of the moribund institution, a clear signal that he was uninterested in it as a central component of the party. Obama’s poor relationship with Wasserman Schultz was widely known and written about, but he left her in the job for six years regardless.

Raising money for a bland outfit like the DNC isn’t easy in the best of times, but with Obama offering little to no help, and clinging to his invaluable email list, Wasserman Schultz was set up to fail, even if she would have done so on her own.

Obama instead reasoned that he could become the party, his dynamic and charismatic personality carrying it at the national level.

Obama was re-elected, but the party itself went on a historic losing spree, ultimately shedding nearly 1,000 seats across the country. Even after Democrats lost the Senate in 2014, and the DNC continued spending money on consultants at an eye-popping rate, Obama decided not to make a leadership change. Instead, he left it saddled with debt — debt the Clinton campaign would later agree to pay off in exchange for control.

Obama finally became interested in the party after the 2016 loss. His final gift to the party apparatus was Tom Perez, his labor secretary, who he recruited to stop Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., from winning the race for DNC chair. Obama and Perez won. DNC funding has been anemic, and it recently had to add to its roughly $3 million in debt.