Tom Perez, the former U.S. secretary of labor under the Obama administration, was elected as the new chair to the Democratic National Committee (DNC) on Feb. 25. He won with 235 votes to Keith Ellison’s 200 votes. The DNC hasn’t exactly been standing on sturdy legs the last year, and not just because of the loss of the presidential election.
DNC leadership has been in a bind since mid-2016, when they removed former Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz after WikiLeaks published internal emails that were likely stolen and provided to WikiLeaks by Russian hackers, which showed that DNC leadership had tried to undermine Bernie Sanders’s candidacy. Perez is the first chair since the scandal as well as the first Latino chair of the committee. In the wake of a weakened party, Perez immediately suspended typical DNC rules to name his opponent Ellison deputy chair of the DNC.
Ellison, a black Muslim who has attracted more support from the liberal, grassroots activists in the Democratic party, set his platform on promoting an “innovation hub” in Silicon Valley, focusing on the working class and labor community and examining cybersecurity and polling performance. It doesn’t come as a shock that Perez’s platform closely resembled Ellison’s platform, who promised to refocus on small donors, online fundraising, and the promotion of DNC fellowships to “encourage developers, programmers, data scientists, and engineers.”
The real difference lies not in the content of the platforms of the two candidates, but in the split between the Democratic Party itself. After the election, the Democratic Party has been strongly split between its grassroots and establishment members.
Scott Detrow of NPR speaks on behalf of many others when he wrote, “much of the [Democratic] Party’s establishment wing is backing Perez.” Although former President Barack Obama did not personally endorse either candidate, his colleagues former Vice President Joe Biden and former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder did. Ellison was endorsed by Sanders early on in the race. Although Sanders took to Twitter to congratulate Perez at first, he followed with a warning tweet: “It’s imperative Tom understands that the same-old, same-old isn’t working and that we must bring in working and young people in a new way.” Sanders thinks that the Democratic Party needs to be more open, and it needs to fight harder for social, economic, racial, and environmental justice.
Although the DNC may appear to have a united front in opposition to the Trump administration, they should be careful about shaping their identity too much around a rebellion to his administration. Instead, they should think about how they are going to re-construct their agenda in order to achieve the revolution they want. Perez, along with the committee as a whole, should embrace the internal culture of the party to form a message of inclusion and opportunity. Perez recognizes that the DNC needs to make changes in the way that they communicate publicly, considering that their response to Trump’s outrageous claims has essentially been “vote for us because he’s crazy.”
Instead of basing a platform on countering the claims of another party, Perez will be successful if he can lead the party in offering something different. If the DNC is going to continue to be dominated by the party’s “establishment wing,” then it is paramount that it connects with progressive groups, unions, and popular movements that are growing around the country.