Why Does the DNC Keep Fucking Up?

The Democratic National Committee could be leading the resistance against Trump, but it can't get out of its own way.

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Aug 23 2017, 4:00am

Bernie Sanders and Tom Perez | Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

In theory, the Democrats should be in a great position. Donald Trump has a 35 percent approval rating. The president's disdain for his Republican in the House and the Senate is making it difficult for him to pass major legislation and causing a rift within the GO. There are more Democratic candidates preparing to run for House seats than any time in recent memory. And though Democrats have lost some high-profile special elections in 2017, they've done well in lesser known races.

But the Democratic National Committee, the body supposed to be in charge of the party, has been struggling ever since Tom Perez took the chairmanship in a contentious election against Keith Ellison. In those six months, the DNC has had some of its worst fundraising months, and in the words of the Washington Post, it's "hemorrhaging money." While the Republican National Committee raised $75.4 million in the first half of 2017, the DNC has raked in a measly $38.2 million.

There's much debate about why exactly the DNC is unable to bring in that sweet resistance dough—the ideological rift between the Bernie bros and Hillary gals within the party no doubt plays a role, as does the fact that a great deal of fundraising is happening in outside PACs*. But another likely reason the DNC has brought in $12 million less in small-dollar donations than its Republican counterpart in 2017 is because of its bizarre fundraising strategies.

One problem facing millions of Americans right now—a problem highlighted by prominent Democrats like Elizabeth Warren—is being buried under debt. So how does the DNC reach out to them? One method guaranteed not to work is to send out a donation plea disguised as a collection letter:

Beyond fundraising, the DNC's way of communicating with voters is off, as evidenced by a recent email they sent out criticizing Trump for his failure "to deliver his signature promise to build a border wall and have Mexico pay for it." How out-of-touch do you have to be to think the primary issue with Trump's border wall is that it's unrealistic, not that it's a ridiculously stupid and deeply bigoted idea?

Not all Democrats have these problems. During the primaries, Bernie Sanders ran an immensely successful small-dollar fundraising campaign, receiving nearly 7 million donations that averaged $27 each. In a recent essay for Politico, Michael Whitney, who served as Sanders's digital fundraising manager, explained what made Sanders's strategy so effective: "What we found to be most powerful wasn't just hiring the right people or using the right technology. What mattered more was figuring out an empowering message of hope and reaching people with it."

Filling the mailboxes of your potential donors with a fake bill from a collection agency is not "an empowering message of hope." Neither is deriding Trump for not building his racist wall. While we're at it, it doesn't help the DNC's image when stories are written about how the party won't impose "litmus tests" for anti-abortion candidates, or when victorious Democratic campaigns give more credit to grassroots groups than the national committees.

Moving forward, the DNC would likely benefit from taking a note from Sanders's book and present the Democratic base with a clear message it can get behind, and a minimal contribution. As he demonstrated in the primaries, lots of small donations add up. It's the "clear message" the Democrats are struggling with. Simply being anti-Trump is not enough. If the Democrats want to at least match the GOP's fundraising power, they have to stand for something. That's the hard part.

Correction 8/23: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that the DNC does not take donations of over $200. We regret the error.

Follow Eve Peyser on Twitter.

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