DNC Chair Candidates Debate: Was the 2016 Democratic Primary Rigged? [Opinion]

At the Democratic Leadership Debate hosted by CNN last night, prospective DNC Chair candidates discussed the 2016 Democratic primary, and they were all asked to answer the question: was the 2016 Democratic primary rigged in Hillary Clinton’s favor?

Before we get to the candidate’s answers, let’s go ahead and take a stroll down memory lane. According to sources including The Hill, Huffington Post, New York Times, Salon, Observer, PBS, and Politico, the 2016 Democratic primary was marred by accusations of manipulation, media blackouts, undemocratic superdelegates, hidden debate schedules, allegations of fraud, closed polling locations, leaked debate questions, purged voter lists, skewed exit polls, strategies intended to benefit Clinton by “elevating” Trump, and fundraising schemes that resembled money laundering.

Additionally, mid-convention resignations of top DNC officials, including DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, rocked the organization following Wikileaks revelations that confirmed the DNC had actively favored Clinton over Sanders. Much to the fury of many Democratic donors, volunteers, and progressives, the email leaks clearly proved that the DNC had routinely favored one candidate over the other despite repeatedly claiming to be neutral. In fact, later leaks would further show the biased behavior of the supposedly neutral DNC officials, with multiple instances where debate questions were leaked to the Clinton campaign by DNC Vice Chair Donna Brazile. The Clinton campaign, for their part, failed to report these ethical violations, and Brazile went on to became the interim DNC Chair after Wasserman Schultz was forced to resign in disgrace.

For her part, Clinton was not disqualified for benefiting from the highly unethical behavior of the DNC during the Democratic primary. Instead, despite the leaked emails that resulted in the ousting of top officials and a public apology to Senator Sanders, the manipulated results of the primary went unchallenged. To the great dismay of the progressive side of the party, Clinton was allowed to become the nominee amidst much public protest.

Basically, to sum up, the 2016 Democratic primary, red flags indicating election manipulation and election fraud were everywhere. Yet nonetheless, centrist Democrats persisted and alienated the left in the process.

Now that we’ve brushed up on the DNC’s alleged wrongdoing, let’s see how two of the DNC Chair candidates answered when questioned about the rigged primary during last night’s debate. The initial question was directed at Former Labor Secretary Tom Perez, who recently made headlines after claiming the Democratic primary was indeed rigged. In that instance, Perez quickly back peddled, explaining several hours later that he had simply misspoken. When debate moderator Chris Cuomo asked Perez to clarify his stance last night, Perez danced around the issue, refused to say definitively either way and instead spoke about a “crisis of trust” caused by an “absence of transparency in the Democratic primary.”

CUOMO: Secretary Perez, recently you said that the primary was rigged against Bernie Sanders. Later the same day you said you misspoke when you made those comments. Which is it?

PEREZ: Well, you know, here are the facts. Hillary Clinton won the Democratic primary. Hillary Clinton also won the popular vote. At the same time because of the absence of transparency in the Democratic primary, there was a crisis of trust that ensued. And what we need in the chair of the Democratic Party is to make sure that in fact and in perception, every single day, you are fair and neutral. That’s why when you asked question before about primaries, you have to let that primary process go. If I were the chair — if I have the privilege of winning, for instance, one of the things I would recommend would be that we set the primary debate schedule long in advance of when we know who the candidates are. We have to do everything to make sure we’re fair and transparent. And it’s not only in how we set the primary process, the DNC is black hole. And we have a crisis of confidence because it is. And that’s why the leader of the DNC needs to make sure —

CUOMO: Hold on a second. Secretary, 10 seconds, was it rigged or not?

PEREZ: Again, the process, because of the absence of transparency, it created that crisis of relevance and it created the distrust that people didn’t trust the outcome.

Luckily for the Democratic party, however, one candidate in attendance was brave enough to acknowledge the truth with a straightforward answer. Cuomo, after getting nowhere with Perez, then posed the question to U.S. Air Force Veteran Sam Ronan, who spoke up and confidently stated the obvious.

CUOMO: All right. Mr. Ronan, was it rigged or not?

RONAN: Thank you. I was going to interrupt anyway. The point is — not only was the primary rigged but also rigged across the country because the DNC has never allowed outsiders or brand new people to rise through the ranks. And it’s always been insider game and it has been that way for a very, very long time. That is where the lack of trust has come into play because not only was Bernie Sanders snubbed, not only did it look like Hillary Clinton had bought or muscled her way into it, then those supporters were denied the chance to speak at convention, and that was final straw. If people don’t have a voice, an equitable voice like alluded to earlier, then people are not going to trust the system and they are going to go out of their way to break it.

CUOMO: Secretary Perez, is Mr. Ronan wrong?

PEREZ: Well, again, you know, we meet every single day as leader of the Labor Department, leader of the Civil Rights Division and I hope to be leader of the Democratic Party, we have to do everything in transparent fashion and when you do that, you earn trust. Trust isn’t something you’re given. It’s something you earn.

RONAN: I would like to say that, I think that’s a long way of saying no.

ban rigged democratic primary elections

If the Democrats wish to remain a relevant party in the future, they must learn to speak honestly like Sam Ronan instead of dancing around the truth like Tom Perez. The mountain of evidence that suggests the primary was rigged cannot continue to be swept under the rug. Clinton’s loss in November can be partially attributed to the fact that progressive concerns over election rigging were repeatedly dismissed and ignored. As it turns out, the strategy of mocking, ridiculing, and threatening voters while only paying lip service to democracy doesn’t exactly inspire high voter turn out or confidence. As a result, we now have President Trump.

In the future, the Democratic party must stop relying on evasion, insults, and fear mongering, and instead learn to be inclusive, inspiring, and most importantly, honest. Otherwise, we risk a repeat of 2016 in 2020.

[Featured Image by David Carillet/Shutterstock]