Hillary Clinton enjoyed an unprecedented degree of support from her party’s elite for a candidate in a contested primary. The advantage she enjoyed in the Democratic primary was comparable to that typically given to incumbent presidents running for re-nomination. I certainly do not buy into the more baroque theories about electoral cheating, but if they show nothing else, the DNC emails demonstrate the degree to which the party apparatus and establishment was on Clinton’s side. Those staffers felt comfortable talking like that on the company email. Everyone who has ever had work email knows what that means about corporate culture, and about the people in management. We can only wonder what they were saying offline.
These were, of course, the same emails that the Russian government used to screw with our general election. They hacked the DNC and released the embarrassing emails. What seems to be lost in most of the recent discussion is that they were genuinely embarrassing. Putin released them because they were actually damaging to Clinton. The portrayal of the DNC as so thoroughly in Clinton’s pocket as to create a sharply-tilted playing field in the primary was particularly detrimental for Clinton. It played into the worst stereotype of her as a corrupt insider.
Which is exactly the point. Clinton’s deep connection to the party establishment, which was such a decisive advantage for her in the party primary, was a crippling burden on her in the general election. While the specific means of exploiting this weakness, Russian state actors pulling a sort of electronic Watergate on the DNC, was unique, the larger dynamic was not. Populist outsider messages against Washington are powerful in American politics. Think of proud Texan George Bush talking about Al Gore’s Washington youth the last time the Democrats nominated a figure who could clear the field and command a nearly-unified party establishment.
This year, the Republicans nominated a non-politician with no connection to the Republican establishment. Of course they were going to try to paint the Democratic nominee as a corrupt party insider. We responded by nominating the most wired-in party insider of them all, someone who can command sufficient partisan loyalty from the D.C. Democrats to…well, to motivate those staffers to write those emails. To produce a DWS chairmanship. To bury Hillary Clinton in documentation of just how closely bound she was to the institutional party elite.
People who dismiss the DNC emails because there is nothing that rises to a scandal within the emails themselves miss the point. They didn’t need to show a scandal; showing that the insiders had her back to that degree was the real problem.