The DNC chair position looms large — perhaps larger than it should — in the minds of Sanders supporters. Many Sanders supporters believe that former DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman-Schultz helped stack the deck against Sanders — and that this was a key reason Sanders lost the primary.
Few people outside the hard-core Sanders circle think this is true, but to an extent that’s the point: precisely because many Democrats think Sanders supporters overstate the institutional power of the DNC chair, this is a smart concession to make to them. Putting an unassailable Sanders ally at its helm is an easy way to demonstrate that the party is reformed and no longer “rigged” — especially if you don’t believe it was ever rigged in the first place.
The Emergence of Tom Perez Mutes Ideological Conflict
The most obvious alternative to a stalwart progressive like Ellison would have been for Sanders’ critics in the Democratic Party to elevate a standard-bearer of the party’s more moderate wing. Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander, for example, ran far ahead of Hillary Clinton in the red state and would have been a plausible centrist alternative to Ellison.
Instead, Ellison’s strongest opponent looks to be Perez. Four Democratic governors are backing him, he’s received endorsements from a few labor unions, and some Sanders allies, bolstered by reporting from The New York Times, feels the Perez boom is being fueled by Obama’s political team — though the White House denies this.
But Perez doesn’t present much of an ideological break from Ellison. He was an ardent foe of the Iraq War within weeks of it being declared; he has longstanding connections to the labor movement and the “Fight for $15” minimum wage campaign; he’s widely considered Obama’s most liberal Cabinet member; union leaders have loved his work.
Nor are their stated agendas, both geared toward more comprehensive and more granual organizing, particularly different. Perez calls for a DNC strategy in every zip code, while Ellison has called for one in every county…
In many ways what really aggravates Sanders’ allies about the push for Perez is the very absence of any kind of clear strategic or ideological gap between Perez and Ellison. If a big part of the case for Ellison is that installing a well-known Sanders ally at the DNC would help unify the party, then the essence of the case for Perez seems to be a desire to freeze Sanders’ circle out.
Note that I referenced Stein’s article at the time, Keith Ellison and the Difficult Path Forward. I don’t have a problem with Perez as the DNC chair. My point of digging up this quote is simply to show that this would have been an easy token for the establishment wing of the party to make to the liberal wing. But it wasn’t even willing to do that — as I discussed in that article almost two months ago.