The Motivation For Backing Perez Over Ellison Is To Put Sanders Supporters In Their Place

Bernie Sanders’ endorsement of Keith Ellison for Chair of the Democratic National Committee is a golden opportunity for the Democratic establishment in general, and the DNC in particular, to mend fences from the 2016 primary.  With the DNC itself being viewed by half the party as corrupt and hostile to progressivism, the elevation of Bernie Sanders’ most prominent endorser to the top office would go a long way towards giving Sanders supporters, and others disgusted by the behavior of the Committee during the primary, a high degree of confidence that they can trust it going into the next two election cycles. Some major establishment figures such as Chuck Schumer, recognizing the importance of winning back this trust in order to secure progressives’ support for the party, have endorsed Sanders. They know where the future of the Democratic Party lies, and they know that a big, substantive public embrace of the Sanders movement is necessary to secure that future. Unfortunately, there is a sizable faction of the party that have no interest in doing so, or at least, value that interest less than denying the Sanders faction a win.

Many incumbent Democratic elites, (and their wanna-bes on the internet), are actively repelled by the ascendency of the Sanders coalition, and hostile towards them and their grievances about the nomination process. It is from them that the Tom Perez campaign comes. Not just the support for his campaign, but its very existence. Notably, Perez, along with former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm and Vice President Joe Biden, were approached by White House figures and urged to run for DNC Chair. This was not a case of the White House choosing among the candidates in the race, but of getting their guy into the race. Tellingly, they began casting about for a candidate only after Ellison vaulted into the lead on the strength of Sanders’ endorsement.

Why did this happen? What made it so important that Keith Ellison be stopped? The usual answer in this situation is to prevent someone who is considered too liberal from ascending to the office, but that answer makes no sense in this case. Perez’s supporters themselves are quick to insist that there is little-to-no difference between the candidates on policy or ideology – and they are largely correct. Tom Perez is a very progressive leader, one who championed voting rights and fought police abuse while running the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department, then turned the long-moribund Department of Labor into a vigorous defender of workers’ rights in areas like wage theft, union organizing, and workplace conditions. I supported putting Perez on the 2016 ticket instead of Tim Kaine, largely so he could serve as a progressive influence on Hillary Clinton and, who knows, maybe use the office of Vice President to become, arguably, the most progressive POTUS in American history. I fully expect to support him in future races. Some of the commentary about him from Ellison supporters, such as describing him as a “neoliberal” or a “centrist,” has been quite unfair. His record shows him to be, depending on one’s point of view, the most progressive figure in the Obama administration, or the most acceptable progressive to the party establishment.  So, clearly, this motive here is not about ideology. Another possible explanation is that they consider Perez to be better on the organizing and strategizing aspects of the DNC Chair job – but once again, there is very little to choose between them. Ellison is renowned for his organizing skill, having turned his Congressional district from the lowest-turnout in Minnesota to the highest. The two candidates’ statements during the campaign on these matters have been nearly identical. The biggest difference seems to be that Perez opposes a ban on accepting donations from lobbyists, while Ellison supports it but makes clear that he will not push the issue in the Chair role. Again, the Perez supporters themselves laud Ellison as an organizer and strategist, and acknowledge the lack of daylight between them.

But if the differences between the two candidates are so minuscule, why was it so important to the establishment Democrats to get Perez into the race in the first place? Clearly, there is something more going on in the Ellison-Perez contest than the merits of the two men individually. The answer is factional power.  Ellison’s candidacy is a continuation of the Sanders campaign (which itself was the continuation of a longer effort to move the Democratic Party in a progressive direction). This effort has never been limited to policy, but also to make the Democratic Party a more grassroots organization, in which the role of mega donors is reduced, greater participation by ordinary voters is encouraged, insiders are not given unfair advantages in party nominating contests, and outsiders are drawn in and welcomed – in short, to weaken the grip of party insiders and big money. We Berniacs openly acknowledge this. Bernie Sanders acknowledges this, though with enough polite misdirection to avoid serious offense.

There has, however, been a concerted attempt by people who identify with the Old Guard to claim that this is a one-sided fight, and that only Ellison supporters are thinking in terms of the ongoing debate between the establishment and insurgent wings of the party. This assertion is nonsense. At its core, the Perez campaign (initially begun as the “Find Someone To Run Against Keith Ellison Campaign”) is an attempt to resist that reformist movement – if not on ideology and policy, then on matters like how the nominating process works and who the party responds to. In choosing a solid policy-progressive like Perez to be their candidate, the Party establishment has demonstrated an awareness of the importance of progressivism in their political appeal. This is very good, and represents a major win for the progressive wing. Tom Perez is certainly no Tim Kaine or Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (the last two Democratic Party Chairs). But structurally, in the role he plays in this race, Perez is the Clintonite establishment’s pick nonetheless, and while I applaud the move to the policy left, his campaign is still fundamentally about countering and limiting the influence of the Sanders movement.

The Clinton faction wanted to use the Tom Perez candidacy to send a message about who has the upper hand in this party. I’m sure the outcome of Saturday’s vote will do exactly that, but I’m beginning to suspect it won’t be the message they wanted to send. With the recent endorsement of Ellison by former opponent Ray Buckley, the momentum in this race has shifted. Most outlets are now treating Ellison as the frontrunner.

Good. This party needs change we can believe in. I only hope that the promising political future of Tom Perez doesn’t suffer as a result of the establishment’s ill-judged effort to throw its weight around.



  1. I hope you’re right in your prediction. The public whip count, as reported by AP, sounds ominous (, but who knows if it’s accurate.

    …I wandered over to LGM to see how they were discussing it, and my god, the comments are so full of people who are so insistent on not giving *anything* to the Sanders wing because we’re all (1) snowflakes who won’t do any political work, (2) people with dumb and imaginary grievances, and (3) probably misogynistic white men. This matches with many opinions I’ve seen on Twitter.

    Regardless of how this turns out, of course, the only reason it’s a contest is that some of the ‘establishment’ wing (not all, just look at Chuck Schumer) are being petty and turning this into a symbolic put-down of Bernie supporters.


    • I have no idea how to even begin to figure out whose Kremlinology to believe about the state of this race. All I can say is that the coverage has been more optimistic about Ellison recently than it was in January and the first half of February.

      It’s a sad sight at LGM whenever I look there. It’s become a safe space for Hillary Clinton dead-enders to recite their ritualistic put-downs, secure in the knowledge that any dissent will produce a gang-up.


    • This is LGM these days:

      “Abbey Bartlet says:
      February 23, 2017 at 4:14 pm
      ♫ Everyone who didn’t support Hillary Clinton should be taken out and shot ♫

      log in to reply
      Dennis Orphen says:
      February 23, 2017 at 4:15 pm
      I prefer they remain in their misery.”

      That is the only reply in over two hours. Exterminations language towards their political opponents – not even opponents, but merely those who are not their allies – does not warrant any pushback in the community. Nor any moderation from any of the hosts.

      I remember this being said about people who didn’t vote for Bush, and how liberals responded to it. Sites like theirs used to devote entire posts, multiple posts, to denouncing that rhetoric.

      I think of the petty crap that gets called out there, and this is clearly not an instance of an anything-goes online community. Very little “goes” on that site. But fantasying about the mass murder of everyone who didn’t vote for her, including people who just didn’t vote, “goes.”

      This election ruined a lot of formerly good people. They’re not going to come back from what they’ve allowed themselves to become.


      • *sigh* I still comment on LGM, but it’s a lot less fun than it used to be, and I don’t even wade into a lot of threads and subthreads because I know it will ruin my day if I do. I visit less often and mostly comment on non-intra-Dem posts. When I do say something in the nasty intra-Dem threads, I usually don’t go back later to see if anyone responded, because I’m not that much of a masochist and being flamed in a place where I thought I had some genuine connection with people upsets me. I feel like I built up a lot of goodwill there for years, and I should at least try to use that sometimes to make people stop and think. But I don’t know if it will last.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Hi, JL! I hope you’re still fighting the good fight out there – in the real world, I mean.

        I still read some LGM, too, because the writers can very good in their narrow areas of academic expertise, but our belief that their commentary, and the community’s, on contemporary politics was useful and insightful has always been misplaced, and it’s only gotten worse since the election campaign. I bailed from the community last summer, but was hoping maybe the fever would break once Hillary won. So much for that.

        Then, after election day, I hoped that once Trump came into office and political discussion switched from election analysis to his “governance,” they’d move on. But they still can’t even write about the actual content of Trump’s actions from any perspective beyond “But her emails.” As the weeks have gone by since the inauguration, this habit is becoming more pronounced, not fading. Now it’s accelerated to eliminationist “jokes.” The hosts’ and commentariat’s lashing out at anyone outside the Clinton circle has gone from a temporary election-season habit to the glowing coal at the core of their political identities. Except Loomis, who finds himself in the position of having to open any post about once-core topics like class issues, economics, trade dislocation, or economic inequality with “Bernie Bro” shibboleth language or graphics just to have a chance of being heard.

        I sometimes read the threads from a sort of sociological perspective. I don’t know if I’m even going to do that anymore. They are not going to come back from this. They don’t have it in them.


      • There are still some good LGM commenters and some very good posts by the blogrunners. I do appreciate JL’s comments a lot.

        But the way some commenters will jump on ANY excuse to bash people who they saw as insufficiently supportive of HRC (even, as you point out, non-voters–or people who voted but weren’t cheery enough about it) gets very wearying. And is exceedingly unproductive. I get the bitterness, I really do, but there are better channels for our rage and other emotions.


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