Democrats have learned nothing in defeat

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer made a rash choice for Democratic national chair.
Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer made a rash choice for Democratic national chair. AP

A month ago, I was pondering what the internal fight for the survival of the Republican Party would look like. Amid the ashes of defeat, who would win the soul of the Republican Party — the new Trump populists or the old Republican establishment?

The American people ended that debate and sent the Democratic Party into a writhing, painful self-examination. With no Senate or House to control, the Democrats were left to debate who should be the leader of the national Democratic Party. This has become almost as painful to watch as the election returns.

Hillary Clinton’s political corpse wasn’t even cold yet when Sens. Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders and Minority Leader Charles Schumer decided that Rep. Keith Ellison should be the new national chairman.

What? Who? Have they learned nothing from the last election?

The chairperson of the Democratic National Committee must be a full-time job, and it requires a different skill set then those of a congressman. Their dual responsibilities too often are in conflict. Apparently, these three congressional leaders learned nothing from the debacle surrounding Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz’s forced resignation as DNC chair just last summer.

To be fair, Ellison is respected and well-liked within the party. However five days after the election, he went on the Sunday talk shows to talk about the future of the national party and had such a paucity of ideas that one was left wondering why he appeared on TV to begin with.

And this made no sense at all: It appears that Ellison, a Muslim, praised Louis Farrakhan in the 1990s and has been less than forthcoming about his support of Israel. As I wrote several months ago, Israeli policy is being widely debated among American Jews. But that doesn’t mean a new chairman rebuilding a decimated party should alienate one of the Democrats’ most loyal constituencies, one that provides a disproportionate amount of fundraising support.

So why did Schumer, the Jewish Senate minority leader, throw his support to Ellison? The thought is that it allowed Schumer, a moderate, to throw a sop to Sanders and Warren, the titular leaders of the party’s left wing. This gives you an idea of how much some officeholders really care about growing the party. They are similar to the greedy corporate leaders we like to rail about — “What is in it for me now!”

Fortunately, President Obama and Hillary Clinton put the brakes on this steamroller from the party’s left. Still, I thought we were done hearing from Clinton.

One problem with Obama is that he has ignored the party during his presidency. Right after the 2008 election, Allan Katz, an early supporter, begged the president’s people to engage in party building. Instead, they started a group called Organizing for America. OFA was to organize Obama’s activists around the president’s agenda. So instead of institutionalizing into the Democratic Party his new cohort of brilliant, idealistic activists, the president directed them to OFA.

Imagine if their energy and talent was integrated into the local, state and national Democratic parties. When Obama leaves office on Jan. 20, who will care about OFA?

Meantime in Florida, Steve Bittel of Miami, a long-time and committed Democratic Party fundraiser, is being recruited to run for state party chairperson of Florida. If Bittel can rally the support of committee members from all parts of the state, he will be an excellent choice. Otherwise, who is the answer for the national party? There is a wide selection of talented people who are willing to do the job full time.

One thing is for sure — the state and local Democratic leadership should be part of the decision-making process for the future national chair to be a success.

Mike Abrams is former chairman of the Dade Democratic Party in Miami, a former Florida state legislator and currently a policy adviser to Ballard Partners.