Clyburn: Maybe Perez isn't the right guy to run the DNC

For some reason, the recent debacle at the Iowa caucuses has brought renewed focus on Tom Perez’s leadership at the DNC. One of the people raising questions (though not yet calling for the chairman’s ouster) is Congressman James Clyburn (SC). In addition to the chaos in Iowa, Clyburn also expressed his concerns over the apparent rejection of all the candidates of color from the Democratic primary field, leaving only a small group of white men and one elderly white woman as the frontrunners. He described some “very raw feelings” in the Congressional Black Caucus after Harris and Booker dropped out. (Associated Press)

A top Democrat in Congress said Friday the party’s future under Tom Perez is under scrutiny amid fallout from the Iowa caucuses and the winnowing of the presidential primary field to the exclusion of candidates of color.

Rep. Jim Clyburn of South Carolina, the third-ranking House Democrat, stopped short of saying Perez must go as leader of the Democratic National Committee.

“That’s a decision for him,” he said…

“There are some serious discussions taking place here on Capitol Hill as to what ought to happen at the DNC,” Clyburn said in the interview.

Clyburn goes on to bring up how the debate qualification guidelines were structured as part of the “serious discussions” going on about the DNC in Congress.

It’s a rare day when you’ll find me coming out and defending Tom Perez, but I can’t help feeling like Clyburn is off base here in his criticisms. The problems he’s talking about are all valid points for Democrats to discuss, I suppose, but pinning the blame for all of these things on Perez’s leadership seems off the mark. For example, the Iowa caucuses were, without a doubt, a complete clusterfork once again. But the DNC had been offering to help them all through the process. The Iowa state Democratic Party made the decision to go their own way when setting the rules and using that failure of a phone app. Unless Clyburn is suggesting that the national party should just run roughshod over the state parties to structure the caucuses and primary elections (which is likely both illegal and impossible), there wasn’t much more Perez could have done.

As far as the lack of candidates of color among the remaining frontrunners, Perez only gets one vote in the primary and he has no control over how people respond when the pollsters come calling or who they donate their money to. Most of the candidates who have dropped out thus far just didn’t seem very good at running a campaign (Harris) or simply weren’t making a splash with primary voters (Booker). If James Clyburn is trying to imply that there’s some sort of underlying racism to blame for the lack of support they received, he needs to take a long hard look at his own party. It was Democrats responding to all of those polls and voting in Iowa. If he wants to claim they’re a bunch of racists, so be it. But, again, that’s not under the control of Tom Perez.

I suppose an argument could be made that the debates could have been handled better and that would rest of the DNC chair’s shoulders. But someone will have to explain how they could have been handled better or more “fairly.” As you’ll recall, the early debates included so many people that they had to be split over two nights, with as many as twenty people in total up on the stage. Those qualification requirements weren’t exactly steep for anyone with a bit of name recognition and the ability to put together a competent campaign staff. And that initial field did have plenty of “diversity” in terms of what Clyburn is talking about.

Making the debates even larger would have been a disaster. Some of the candidates barely got to speak for five minutes out of a full hour. Making them smaller would likely have eliminated at least some of the candidates Clyburn is mourning. Harris was the only one that was ever up near the top of the polling stack. And once everyone had a chance to make their pitch, it was the Democrats responding to polling calls who sealed the fate of the bottom tier hopefuls, not Tom Perez.

It seems as if the bar has been lowered quite a ways in terms of how many people can mount a successful primary bid these days. And that’s probably more due to the rise of social media than anything else. In the bad old days, you needed a massive fundraising network and a lot of experience and national exposure to even dip a toe into the pool. But now, with enough clever work on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube, somebody like the mayor of a relatively small city can catch fire and have a chance. That’s gives us larger crowds seeking the nomination and more chaotic debates. But, again, none of this can really be pinned on Tom Perez.