By Xan Minan
The past few months have been a tumultuous time to be a Democrat, to say the least. After the unceremonious resignation of Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (D-FL) last July, the embattled race to fill the vacancy of DNC chair came to a close, though not quietly. Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), frontrunner and expected victor during most of the race, lost to former Secretary of Labor Tom Perez. This loss for Ellison came despite having garnered major endorsements from a large portion of the party, namely former Minority Leader Senator Harry Reid (D-NV), his successor Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY), other members of both the establishment and progressive wings of the party – even a fellow candidate for the position, New Hampshire Democratic Party chair Raymond Buckley, who ended his campaign mid-February to publicly endorse Rep. Ellison.
Despite the notable support the Ellison camp gained, his competitor, Secretary Perez, proved difficult to shake. A few weeks ago the Perez campaign announced having secured the 180th DNC member in its support, a tally that sent reverberations throughout the party. According to the Washington Times, Rep. Ellison said to DNC members following the claim: “One of the other great candidates for this race released an unverifiable public whip count earlier this week. You received a voicemail, email and text message trying to make the race sound like it is over. And the goal is clear: to exert pressure on you.” Either Secretary Perez’s claim of voting gains was true and indicative of a changing tide that could not be stopped, or Rep. Ellison’s attempt to dismiss what might not have actually been true put off some of those same voters he hoped to reach.
Rep. Ellison, popular particularly among progressives in the party, has faced criticism for his past ties with the Nation of Islam, an African American political and religious movement which has been accused of black supremacy and anti-Semitism. Though Rep. Ellison has denied claims of close ties with the organization and has publicly denounced its anti-Semitic sentiments, writings from his time in college have been used to link him to defending anti-Semitic figures such as Stokely Carmichael. Carmichael, who later assumed the name Kwame Ture, had come under fire from the president of the University of Minnesota for claiming that Zionist Jews had worked with the Nazis during World War II and calling for their destruction. (Seriously, in his words, their destruction.) Rep. Ellison, attending law school there at the time, wrote for the student newspaper under the name “Keith E. Hakim” and defended Carmichael’s right to question the movement.
Secretary Perez symbolizes to many in the party the mainstream-establishment ideology of the Left that has recently come under fire during the past election cycle, embodied most readily in the public consciousness by Secretary Hillary Clinton. Having won elected office only once before, Perez expected to garner most of the support of the labor movement within the party, which constitutes about a fourth of the DNC membership.
Many see the shadow of the two Democratic 2016 presidential candidates, Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Secretary Clinton, in Rep. Ellison and Secretary Perez respectively. Interestingly though, their roles during the DNC race switched: Perez, the establishment candidate, snatched a slight surprise of a win against the heavily favored (though divisive) progressive candidate, Ellison. Each chair candidate was endorsed by their presidential doppelgangers.
What were formerly only cursory ripples in the Democratic Party – which functioned more or less as a well-oiled machine through much of the Obama administration – have become major cracks within the foundation of the party. The rise of the active and vocal Sanderite Democrats has led to infighting, with many Democrats even going so far as to prefer Donald Trump over Secretary Clinton as president.
Well, now they can have him.
With the win in Chairman Perez’s hands, his first act was to name Rep. Ellison as his deputy, perhaps signifying an end to the bickering between the two wings. The direction of the party as a whole is more important now than ever, and with the contentious race behind them, the Democrats may finally begin to rally more cohesively in response to the Trump administration. With a rocky start during his first month in office, the fledgling president has been under constant fire from the media, politicians on both sides of the aisle, and the public-at-large. If the Democrats can craft a unified strategy to put more pressure on the executive, we may be able to better curtail the rampant disregard he has shown in his policy decisions.
Hopefully, this win will prove to be the one we needed.