As David Brock attempts to position himself as a leader in rebuilding a demoralized Democratic Party in the age of Trump, many leading Democratic organizers and operatives are wishing the man would simply disappear.
Many in the party—Clinton loyalists, Obama veterans, and Bernie supporters alike—talk about the man not as a sought-after ally in the fight against Trumpism, but as a nuisance and a hanger-on, overseeing a colossal waste of cash. And former employees say that he has hurt the cause.
Brock, founder of the media watchdog Media Matters for America and liberal super PACs American Bridge and Correct the Record, has volunteered himself to lead the reconstruction, vowing to “kick Donald Trump’s ass.”
During Trump’s inauguration weekend, Brock held a conference for activists, politicians, and donors at a resort in South Florida to pitch his grand vision. All but one of the candidates currently running to chair the Democratic National Committee attended, conspicuously missing the Women’s March on Washington on Saturday.
Meanwhile, many Democratic grassroots activists and campaign alums have been giving his proposed plans some stern side-eye.
“His ability to produce wins for Democrats is nonexistent,” Jeff Weaver, former campaign manager for Bernie Sanders’s 2016 presidential run, told The Daily Beast. “He does not have the kind of understanding of what kind of coalition you have to bring together to win national races—that’s his fundamental problem.”
During the 2016 election, Brock and his network positioned themselves as prominent allies to the Clinton campaign, generating opposition research, stunts, and ads against Trump, and supporting Clinton in the primary.
Brock bragged early last year that his team had assembled a mountain of damning oppo that could “knock Trump Tower down to the sub-basement.” But Trump Tower still stands, and Brock’s groups failed to help Clinton to victory.
Brock, for his part, is unfazed by the criticisms.
“People are free to question my motives, but it should be pretty clear by now that the groups that I’ve created are committed to a more progressive America,” Brock told The Daily Beast in a phone interview on Wednesday. “I’m interested in building third-party organizational capacity to resist and oppose Donald Trump. I think that should be everybody’s goal on the left, to destroy Donald Trump, not to destroy each other.”
It’s clear why Brock has acquired a long list of enemies on the more progressive corners of his own party. Brock’s political evolution is well-known: the former anti-Clinton right-winger who starting in the late 1990s transformed into a relentlessly pro-Clinton Democratic operative.
But the friction between Brock and Democrats is not merely limited to its more progressive faction—many alumni of Obama’s campaigns and White House, as well as Hillary Clinton’s failed 2016 run, say they want Brock to stay far away from the Democrats’ future plans.
“I don’t think David Brock has been helpful to the party to date, and I don’t think he will be a big part of its future,” a former senior Clinton campaign official told The Daily Beast. “And it’s surprising that many other people don’t see it that way.”
Another senior 2016 Clinton aide, who asked not to be named because the ex-staffer did “not want to deal with Brock’s bullshit,” described Brock and his organizations in 2016 as “useless—you might as well have thrown those [tens of] millions of dollars down a well, and then set the well on fire.”
Two sources told The Daily Beast that in the last couple of months Brock and his team reached out to former Clinton campaign officials, including ex-national press secretary Brian Fallon, to join Brock’s new anti-Trump “war room.” All, however, declined the offer simply because “no one wants anything to do with him,” one source recalled. (Fallon did not respond to a request for comment.)
Brock and his teams also became staunch allies of the Obama reelection campaign and the Obama White House. Brock would throw lavish parties where Team Obama figures would make appearances and liberally sip the champagne—still, it wasn’t hard to find former White House dwellers who questioned Brock’s usefulness.
“I met with him a couple times—he’s fucking weird,” a former Obama administration official, who also requested anonymity, told The Daily Beast. “I felt like I was meeting Mugatu from Zoolander… I don’t know what the fuck [Brock’s network] did besides raise a ton of money, and I don’t think the after-action report on 2016 says we need more David Brock. Probably the opposite is true.”
Tommy Vietor, a veteran of the 2008 Obama campaign who later served as a National Security Council spokesman, on the other hand took a more generous approach to Brock’s Media Matters, noting that it was “a very smart and well-executed idea,” but conceded that Brock himself “hasn’t proved his expertise in campaigning.”
When confronted with the criticism, Brock points to American Bridge’s track record with helping Priorities USA and Obama allies define and defeat Mitt Romney during the 2012 race, or the group’s work on the Todd Akin “legitimate rape” controversy.
“The organizations I created were supposed to be there for the long haul and outlast a Hillary Clinton presidency,” Brock said. “So it’s not about me and it’s not about her… And I believe American Bridge accomplished its mission 100 percent in defining Trump negatively… [It’s part of the reason] why Trump took office as the most unpopular president in the history of polling… [But] nobody’s perfect, and that includes us.”
When asked why he thinks so many alumni of Team Hillary are furious with him, he responded that he’s “been one of the few Democrats out there who had regular interaction with the Clinton campaign who’s been willing to be critical of it on the record, and I’m sure that has made some people unhappy.”
But outside allies aren’t the only ones voicing concerns over Brock’s approach; the rough sentiments are shared among some of the people who have worked directly for Brock and his liberal network.
“He has a tendency to overstate his level of impact and importance,” a former operative of one of Brock’s organizations said. “There is a sense [in Brock’s own groups] that he cares less about progressive policies and moving the ball forward, and is actually more focused on stroking his ego.”
Another Democratic operative close to the Brock empire told The Daily Beast that the experience working with him only deepened suspicions that Brock cared more about himself than the liberal base or the party at large.
“Somewhere along the way, it became instead of putting the mission of American Bridge [or Media Matters] first, it became about putting him first, growing his power in the party—his popularity,” the operative said. “There’s no question that his groups were the least effective of 2016. If anything they did harm.”
The staffer concluded: “I have never worked somewhere with so much unlimited resources [where] I don’t think they’re used efficiently.”
Several members of the Brock empire painfully recall what they viewed as self-aggrandizing, exuberant episodes involving their boss. One such memory took place at a Christmas party in 2015 at the Comet Ping Pong pizza joint (of “#Pizzagate” infamy) in Washington, D.C. There, staffers recall, Brock at one point climbed atop the restaurant’s bar to deliver a fired-up speech. As Brock approached the finale of his remarks, the DJ started blasting Queen’s stadium-rock anthem, “We Are The Champions.”
As Brock’s acolytes in the crowd looked on and cheered wildly, various staffers began glancing at one another, raising eyebrows and chuckling about yet another moment that read to them as their fearless leader caring only about perceived power and popularity.
Still, Brock is not without his allies on the left, or center-left. James Carville, a longtime friend and ally of the Clintons who has worked for Brock’s operation, is skeptical that anti-Brock operatives know any better.
“Are they calling for purges?” Carville rhetorically asked The Daily Beast. “David has a really good relationship with a lot of donors and people who can help the party. If I were them, I would be thinking of ways I could work with David Brock, as opposed to having a tribunal determining the extent of party purity. I don’t think we need to walk around with ideological chastity belts.”
In the end, Brock says that he and his toughest critics are going to just have to agree to disagree on this one.
“There an old culture around the Democratic Party where you stick your head out and lead, and people try to cut it off,” Brock said. “I came into organizing in progressive politics 14 years ago with a lot of baggage from the right wing and, understandably, there was skepticism. I overcame that over time with hard work and performing well, and earning people’s trust. There’s no other way to do it…I’m going to continue earning the trust as I go.”