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Democrats can’t beat Trump if they keep fighting among themselves

The race for DNC chair exposes fissures and factions within the party.

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Newly elected Democratic National Committee chairman Tom Perez, right, and Minnesota congressman Keith Ellison - AP PHOTO/BRANDEN CAMP
  • AP Photo/Branden Camp
  • Newly elected Democratic National Committee chairman Tom Perez, right, and Minnesota congressman Keith Ellison

In the months leading up to this past weekend's election for chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Republican commentators were already playing the Farrakhan card on Minnesota congressman Keith Ellison, one of top candidates for the gig.

You could see it in their public remarks, as they reminded people that, years ago, Ellison wrote op-eds praising Minister Louis Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam, implying that by voting for Ellison Democrats would be somehow endorsing Farrakhan and his anti-Semitic views.

It didn't matter that Ellison—a six-term congressman from Minneapolis—had long ago repudiated Farrakhan.

"I have long since distanced myself from and rejected the Nation of Islam, due to its propagation of bigoted and anti-Semitic ideas and statements, as well as other issues," Ellison wrote when he first ran for Congress in 2006.

In fact, Farrakhan had repudiated Ellison for having repudiated him.

But clearly Republicans relished the potential of an Ellison victory, if only because it would give them a chance to exploit a wedge that divides Democrats—in this case, dormant tensions between blacks and Jews—while diverting attention from the anti-Semitism in what I call the Bannon wing of their own party.

Well, Ellison didn't win. The Democrats instead chose former labor secretary Tom Perez, who'd been backed by many of the same party leaders who supported Hillary Clinton in last year's Democratic primary against Bernie Sanders.

So did Republicans hail the Democrats for taking a stand against Farrakhan?

Yeah, right.

No, they forgot all about the Farrakhan connection, at least for the moment, and simply found another wedge issue to exploit—the still unhealed Clinton/Sanders divide. And they got the biggest Republican in the country to exploit it.

"The race for DNC Chairman was, of course, totally 'rigged,'" President Trump tweeted on Sunday. "Bernie's guy, like Bernie himself, never had a chance. Clinton demanded Perez!"

As though Donald Trump really gives a shit about Sanders voters.

I guess there are two ways of looking at Perez's narrow win over Ellison: You can agree with Trump, seeing it as proof of a party rigged by leaders to exclude lefties from positions of power.

Or you can see it the way I do: Given a choice as to which set of internal divisions they'd allow Republicans to exploit, the party chose corporate Dems vs. progressives as opposed to blacks vs. Jews.

Look, people, no one said it was easy to be a Democrat. The party's a thinly papered-over coalition of political tribes that, more often than not, are at each other's throats. No matter who wins, someone's upset.

For the life of me, I can't see a whole lot of difference between Perez and Ellison. It's not like one is a saint and the other is Satan. People, we're basically talking about two people from roughly the same left-of-center faction of the Democratic Party.

Ellison would be a great party leader. He's passionate and smart and speaks from the heart about closing the economic gap that separates the haves from the have-nots.

But, hell, it's not like Perez is a corporate stooge.



The son of immigrants from the Dominican Republic, Perez grew up in Buffalo, graduated from Harvard Law School, and went to work in the Obama Justice Department. For the last four years he served as Obama's labor secretary.

His campaign against Ellison was treated as a replay of Sanders vs. Clinton because Sanders had endorsed Ellison and many Clinton backers had endorsed Perez.

And because Perez jumped into the race in December, when it looked like Ellison was a shoo-in, two weeks after Haim Saban, an American-Israeli businessman and major Clinton donor, smeared Ellison, saying "he is clearly an anti-Semite," overlooking the fact that he'd already repudiated Farrakhan.

In the aftermath, Ellison reporters were quick to smear Perez as a puppet of corporate Democrats.

But two can play this game. New York senator Chuck Schumer endorsed Ellison. He'd also endorsed Hillary against Sanders and has been one of Wall Street's biggest defenders against Obama-proposed regulations.

So if you're guilty by association, then Ellison must also be a tool of Wall Street because he has Schumer's backing.

Hey, man, everyone can play this game.

I realize many Sanders supporters are still bitter over the machinations employed by the Clintons and their backers at the DNC to keep Bernie from winning the nomination. And clearly, Perez was at the very least encouraged to run to appease Saban and temper the nasty fight we're getting anyway. But in many ways this wing of the party is tone deaf. They seem to believe that the only reason rural white people in Michigan and Wisconsin voted for Trump was because of Hillary's ties to Wall Street.

For what's it's worth, I was rooting for Ellison—just as I voted for Sanders in the primary. In general, I'm what you might call a New Deal Democrat, someone who keeps hoping that FDR and Harold Washington will come back to life to lead the party.

So I think we need more progressives like Ellison.

But it's not like I'm going to sulk over Perez's win or bolt to the Green Party. Sometimes you have to lick your wounds and move on. Otherwise you'll wind up like these old lefties I know, still bickering about sectarian battles from 1968.

Meanwhile, your party will be so riddled with divisions that a rapacious wingnut who appeals to white supremacists will seize control of the White House.

Wait—that's already happened. And Democrats are still fighting each other. Oh, brother. No wonder they've lost the House, the Senate, and hundreds of state legislative seats.

Look, I realize that by making this argument I'm coming dangerously close to sounding like Mayor Rahm. God help me. Perhaps I've fallen victim to Stockholm syndrome, having forced myself to repeatedly listen to his recent talk at Stanford's business school.

In that talk, Rahm sneered at the lefties in his party, writing them off as a bunch of losers who'd rather be self-righteous than victorious.

"Winning's everything," he said. "If you don't win, you can't make the public policy. I say that because it is hard for people in our party to accept that principle. Sometimes, you've just got to win, OK? Our party likes to be right, even if they lose."

I hate to say it, but he sort of has a point—though he'd be more convincing if he'd ever taken a tough stance on progressive issues. And if he hadn't closed public schools and mental health clinics and buried the Laquan McDonald tape, and if he weren't so freaking patronizing and . . .

You know, once I start ripping Rahm, it's awfully hard for me to stop.

Sometimes I wish I were a Republican. They're basically the party of white people who hate paying taxes. Compared to the Democrats, they sure have it easy.    v


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