Former Labor Secretary Tom Perez startled many in the Democratic Party establishment Tuesday when he admitted that the Democratic National Committee “rigged” the presidential primary in order to help Hillary Clinton win the nomination last year.
“We heard loudly and clearly yesterday from Bernie supporters that the process was rigged and it was,” he said in a meeting with 20 Democratic Party officials in Kansas.
But on Wednesday, Perez, who is a leading candidate to become the next DNC chairman when party officials vote at the end of February, quickly reversed himself with a series of tweets explaining that he “misspoke” and that Clinton “became our nominee fair and square.”
Perez’s reversal comes in the final two weeks of the campaign to become chair of a party that remains divided in the aftermath of Donald Trump’s November victory. Sanders supporters across the country still insist that he could have beaten Trump, and blame the DNC for stacking the deck in favor of a deeply flawed candidate. Emails released by WikiLeaks last summer showed Democratic Party officials deriding Sanders and brainstorming stories to plant in the media about Sanders’ campaign being a “mess.” Former DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz resigned last summer in the aftermath of both those disclosures and blowback from scheduling Democratic primary debates on days and at times when few people were likely to be watching.
Though these tensions have not abated among rank-and-file Democrats, all seven major candidates for DNC Chair have attempted to sidestep the issues revolving around the contentious Democratic primary. Over the last three months of campaigning in the party’s regional forums, the major candidates have broadly criticized the party’s failures but have avoided the Hillary-Bernie battle.
The fourth and last regional forum with all the candidates will occur Saturday in Baltimore, and it seems that relitigating the primary will not be on the agenda even in the face of Perez’s flip-flop. Even Perez’s main rival, Congressman Keith Ellison, an early and vocal Sanders supporter, did not attack Perez’s decision. His office declined to comment for this story.
Why the silence from the candidates? Perhaps because the DNC chair is elected by about 450 Democratic Committee members — not by the millions of unhappy Sanders voters. If the primary was rigged, it’s likely that many of these party insiders would have been the ones doing the rigging.
Perez’s candidacy is itself a symbol of how tightly controlled the DNC chair race is by the party’s high-ranking members. He entered the race late but almost immediately achieved frontrunner status because he had support from many members of both Clinton’s campaign team and the Obama administration. Former Vice President Joe Biden recently championed Perez’s candidacy, and Obama himself all but endorsed him in December when he called him “one of the best secretaries of labor in our history” and someone who is “tireless” and “wicked smart.”
Such establishment support may be enough to propel Perez to victory in two weeks, but it’s as yet unclear how much support the establishment will have from the base once he gets there. The base of the Democratic Party is currently raging in the streets and organizing themselves — and they’re doing so largely outside the apparatus of the Democratic Party.
“This movement is organic and separate from the battle for the DNC,” said Ezra Levin, co-founder of the Indivisible Group, which has helped organize protests all over the country. “There has been no coordination with them.”