There is no question that Bernie Sanders did much better with his campaign than anybody (himself included) thought was possible just a year ago. Although his campaign will inevitably fall short on Tuesday, when Hillary Clinton will officially become the presumptive Democratic nominee, the success he has had is an opportunity that should not be squandered by either him or the Democratic Party. Recent history shows us the possible options that Sanders might have after this election cycle ends. If Sanders wants to maximize his impact he will have to give a little, which doesn’t seem to be his strong suit, since politics is a team sport. There is one option that he might have that rises above the rest, and although it might seem like a strange idea at first Bernie Sanders should be appointed DNC Chair next year by President Hillary Clinton.
There are parts of being DNC Chair that are awful, and no matter how good a job anyone does the DNC Chair will always have at least 25% of the Party mad at him/her at any given time. The job would, however, give Bernie Sanders a platform and some control over the process of permanently bringing his supporters under the Democratic umbrella (which any sane Democrat wants). Current DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Shultz has been in the job longer than anyone else in my lifetime, so my working assumption (based on zero inside information) is that she will not seek another term after her current one ends in January. I know that Sanders has never officially been a Democrat, but both sides are stronger because he ran for president as a Democrat. Sanders can’t achieve his goals without an established organization like the Democratic Party, and Democrats would benefit by growing what is supposed to be the big tent party.
There are two ways that Sanders would need to conform himself with a role such as DNC Chair that he may not like. First, he couldn’t publicly criticize a President Clinton if there was a foreign policy decision she made that he disagreed with. Second, he couldn’t do small and petty things like support the opponent of an outstanding member of Congress like Debbie Wasserman Schultz because of perceived slights. I am not saying that Rep. Wasserman Schultz is perfect because she isn’t, but nobody is. I grew up in, and live in, her home county, so I am as well aware of her imperfections as anyone and I could not stand more steadfastly with her as she runs for re-election. As DNC Chair Sanders would have a platform to help recruit candidates he likes for open seats, but he couldn’t support quixotic campaigns against quality incumbents like Debbie Wasserman Schultz.
Howard Dean is the perfect example of why Sanders would be getting much more than he would be giving up if he took the job of DNC Chair. Dean had the job himself, and instituted new policies like his fifty-state strategy that was a large part of the reason why Democrats dominated the 2006 and 2008 election cycles. I am sure that the DNC can’t wait to get their hands on Sanders’ email list, and Sanders being at the helm of the organization will both give him more control over what happens to the list should he give it to the DNC and make the list that much more powerful because his supporters are much more likely to give to an organization that he heads. Another option for Sanders would be to start an organization like Democracy for America (DFA). While DFA outlasted Dean’s tenure as DNC Chair, and it does good work, there is no question in my mind that the total impact of DFA on the body politic pales in comparison to what Dean accomplished as DNC Chair.
Bernie Sanders would not have gotten where he is today had he not run for president as a Democrat because he wouldn’t have run as a Democrat if he had a better option. This should show him what he could accomplish if he rolls up his sleeves as the next DNC Chair and does the hard work of making the changes that he advocates for. Giving speeches in a campaign is the easy part. Doing the actual work is the hard part, and actually being willing to be in the arena to do the hard work that successful politics requires is one of the many reasons why I have so much respect and admiration for Debbie Wasserman Schultz (As an aside, Wasserman Schultz not giving Bernie Sanders everything his heart desired was not her being biased for Hillary Clinton. It was her refusing to be biased for Bernie Sanders. There is a huge difference!) There are many valid reasons why this probably won’t happen, but this arranged marriage between Sanders and the Democratic Party could turn into a match made in heaven.
(Please feel free to send any comments, suggestions, column ideas, or hate mail to ThePhlipSideFL@gmail.com.)
Sean Phillippi is a Democratic strategist and consultant based in Broward County. He has worked for campaigns on the federal, state, and local levels, including the Florida Democratic Party and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Sean is the Managing Member of TLE Analytics LLC, the political data and consulting firm he founded in 2012.