Just in time for the holidays, Republicans received a huuge gift Friday from an unlikely source—the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and the Hillary Clinton campaign. They unnecessarily alienated millions of Bernie Sanders supporters—supporters Clinton will desperately need if she becomes the Democratic nominee. In hotly-contested swing states, if Sanders supporters stay home or vote for a third-party candidate, those electoral votes could to the Republican nominee. One only needs to look at Florida in 2000 to see how that plays out.
This episode happened on the eve of the Democratic debate Saturday in New Hampshire—the first primary and the only state where Bernie Sanders leads Clinton in the polls. Timing is everything in politics.
On Friday, the DNC learned that the company it hired to manage its voter data files known as VAN, “accidentally” opened the firewall that allowed candidates to see the information of other candidates for 40 minutes. During that brief period, one or more employees of the Sanders campaign viewed some Clinton campaign data. It is not revealed it the Clinton campaign also viewed data of the Sanders campaign, which it could have as well.
Immediately, and with great fanfare, DNC chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz held a news conference condemning the Sanders campaign, calling them “liars”, and totally shutting off its access to all voter data, including their own proprietary information. The Clinton campaign called what Sanders did “illegal” and “a theft” and demanded a full legal investigation. The irony of those statements coming from the campaign of a person under investigation by the FBI for her use of a private email server, did not escape her potential Republican foes.
The Sanders campaign fired the staffer who viewed the information and filed a lawsuit to gain access to their data. Hours later just before the emergency hearing in court, the DNC restored Sanders access after an agreement was reached.
Saturday, the Clinton campaign is still spinning the situation saying it has destroyed the image of Senator Sanders, making him look like a hypocrite. Sometimes, the winner needs to just take their trophy and go home. Unlike football, in a campaign the winner needs the loser’s supporters and behaving in this arrogant manner is not a good way to win them over. It might have been better to wash this dirty laundry in private unless the goal was to take out Sanders.
Clearly the DNC had the right to know what information the Sanders campaign saw or downloaded in that 40 minute period. The DNC could have suspended access until both campaigns complied. Instead, access was shut off to the Sanders campaign and the Clinton campaign was asked to provide no information. “Individual leaders of the DNC can support Hillary Clinton any way they want, but they are not going to sabotage our campaign,” said the Sanders campaign manager Jeff Weaver.
What makes a small matter into one that could give a Republican the keys to the White House is the way the DNC and the Clinton campaign handled the situation. While within its legal rights to take action, it was a dumb political move that only reinforces the belief that Hillary Clinton. One Democratic strategist, Joe Trippi, said “From a political standpoint, they played right into Sanders’s hands
On the PBS News Hour on Friday, both Marks Shields, a Democrat, and David Brooks, a Republican, said that the over-reaction of the Clinton campaign was inappropriate, non-proportional, and would hurt her in the future.” It is not a magnanimous way to re-pay Bernie Sanders for saying “enough of Hillary’s emails” in the first debate.
Both Martin O’Malley and Bernie Sanders are critical of the DNC. It is no secret that the Democratic National Committee chair Rep. Wasserman-Schultz wants Hillary Clinton to be the nominee. She is not happy with the success of Bernie Sanders. The DNC is already under fire for having so few debates, and scheduling two of them on Saturday nights including the Saturday before Christmas where the debate must compete with NFL football and the epic opening of Star Wars. Many feel this was by design—to keep Hillary out of the spot light and avoid giving air time to her Democratic opponents.
It is clear now that this episode will take center stage in Saturday’s debate and beyond. This is great news for Republicans.