Ex-President Barack Obama Orchestrated Tom Perez DNC Chair Victory
Former president Barack Obama, whose legacy is being rapidly dismantled by President Donald Trump and a Republican Party dominating all levels of government, was instrumental in the election of Tom Perez as the new head of the Democratic Party. Perez defeated Congressman Keith Ellison of Minnesota, the initial front-runner in the Democratic National Committee Chair race, by a 235-200 vote on Sunday.
Obama, whose presidency oversaw a catastrophic collapse in electoral power for Democrats, and who paved the way for Hillary Clinton as the failed Democratic presidential nominee, has publicly expressed his intent to continue to direct the party now that he is out of office.
Ellison entered the race with backing from influential leaders across the Democratic Party, appearing to unify the interest groups of the party that had been split into the camps supporting Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders during the 2016 Democratic primary. Ellison’s career includes environmental-justice and civil-rights organizing, local and national electoral organizing, and effective public engagement on the national stage—perhaps most notably his warning to the nation to take Donald Trump’s presidential campaign seriously in the summer of 2015, while political pundits were treating Trump as a good-for-ratings joke.
Ellison’s campaign faced concerted public attacks against Ellison’s candidacy from anti-Muslim activists and party funders who accused Ellison of being an anti-Semite despite a long record of alliance with and advocacy for progressive Jewish politics.
In addition, Ellison ran a campaign publicly discouraging engagement by the grassroots members of the party, contradicting his own declared vision of a grassroots-driven party.
Meanwhile, Perez rose in favor among the DNC membership after gaining the public endorsement of key Obama allies, foremost among them former Vice President Joe Biden. That Obama was personally backing Perez was widely understood but never directly confirmed.In the wake of Perez’s victory, Politico’s Edward-Isaac Dovere has reported that Obama himself selected Perez to run and then personally lobbied DNC members on behalf of Perez:
[T]he distaste for [Ellison’] approach and profile . . . helped push former President Barack Obama to urge Perez into the race — and continue the support all the way through. He called DNC members himself, and had aides including confidante Valerie Jarrett, former political director David Simas and his White House director of political engagement Paulette Aniskoff working members by phone through the votes on Saturday afternoon. Former Vice President Joe Biden, who officially endorsed Perez, also worked the phones with members.
Obama and Biden made a four-point pitch, according to a person familiar with the call strategy: Perez’s unimpeachable progressive credentials at the Justice and Labor departments, his ability to bring people together, his management skills and how he was one of the stars of the Obama administration.
Congratulations to my friend Tom Perez on his election to lead the Democratic Party, and on his choice of Keith Ellison to help him lead it. I’m proud of all the candidates who ran, and who make this great party what it is. What unites our party is a belief in opportunity – the idea that however you started out, whatever you look like, or whomever you love, America is the place where you can make it if you try. Over the past eight years, our party continued its track record of delivering on that promise: growing the economy, creating new jobs, keeping our people safe with a tough, smart foreign policy, and expanding the rights of our founding to every American – including the right to quality, affordable health insurance. That’s a legacy the Democratic Party will always carry forward. I know that Tom Perez will unite us under that banner of opportunity, and lay the groundwork for a new generation of Democratic leadership for this big, bold, inclusive, dynamic America we love so much.
Obama’s depiction of the Democratic Party as the party of “opportunity” hearkens back to President Ronald Reagan, who frequently described the Republican Party as the party of “opportunity.” After his victory, Perez told Meet the Press “we are the party of opportunity and inclusion.”
In post-election exit interviews, Obama made clear that he intends to maintain control over the Democratic Party, whose problems he perceives to be rooted in messaging failures, not policy weaknesses. He told Rolling Stone that it would be “incorrect” to conclude that the Obama administration neglected rural or working-class communities; instead the discontent is a result of a “communications” problem to be solved by a new “common story” and then “figuring out how do we attract more eyeballs and make it more interesting and more entertaining and more persuasive.”
If you look at the data from the election, if it were just young people who were voting, Hillary would have gotten 500 electoral votes. So we have helped, I think, shape a generation to think about being inclusive, being fair, caring about the environment. And they will have growing influence year by year, which means that America over time will continue to get better. This is a cultural issue. And a communications issue. It is true that a lot of manufacturing has left or transformed itself because of automation. But during the course of my presidency, we added manufacturing jobs at historic rates… The challenge we had is not that we’ve neglected these communities from a policy perspective. That is, I think, an incorrect interpretation. You start reading folks saying, “Oh, you know, working-class families have been neglected,” or “Working-class white families have not been paid attention to by Democrats.” Actually, they have. What is true, though, is that whatever policy prescriptions that we’ve been proposing don’t reach, are not heard, by the folks in these communities. And what they do hear is Obama or Hillary are trying to take away their guns or they disrespect you. I’ll spend time in my first year out of office writing a book, and I’m gonna be organizing my presidential center, which is gonna be focused on precisely this issue of how do we train and empower the next generation of leadership. How do we rethink our storytelling, the messaging and the use of technology and digital media, so that we can make a persuasive case across the country? And not just in San Francisco or Manhattan but everywhere, about why climate change matters or why issues of economic inequality have to be addressed.
Well, the most important thing that I’m focused on is how we create a common set of facts. That sounds kind of abstract. Another way of saying it is, how do we create a common story about where we are. It’s gonna require those of us who are interested in progressive causes figuring out how do we attract more eyeballs and make it more interesting and more entertaining and more persuasive.
Obama told NPR and David Axelrod that his post-presidency plan is to focus on “developing young Democratic leaders” to continue the same policies as his administration but with a better messaging approach to ex-urban and rural voters.
Now, with his pick as the head of the Democratic Party, a newly re-launched Organizing for Action, and a foundation overseen by Silicon Valley and Wall Street executives, the former president is in a strong position to put his plan to defend his presidency’s reputation through a new generation of Democratic politics into action.