From early June 2015 until mid-September of that year, the Democratic National Committee operated without a communications director.
In normal years, this would have been a problematic, perhaps embarrassing, staffing failure—and nothing more. But the timing of this particular vacancy made it operationally catastrophic. Just as the presidential campaign was heating up, the party’s main political arm was understaffed in a key department.
When the committee finally filled the void, it settled on Luis Miranda.
Miranda had served in the Obama administration’s communications shop and was well liked among his peers. One thing he was not, however, was the first, second, or even third choice of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.
In fact, he hadn’t really been on the campaign’s radar at all. Clinton’s team had sent the DNC several other options for the post, top among them Jess McIntosh, who had been serving at the time as the communications director of Emily's List. But according to half a dozen sources, their requests were ultimately set aside by then Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who was won over by Miranda’s pitch to emphasize her as the election year ramped up.
“Out of the blue they give it to Luis and it is all because he promised her [DWS] more TV time,” said a Democratic source familiar with how the post was filled. “This was September 15th. The number one priority wasn’t taken out the Republicans in Iowa. It was getting the chair more time on TV.”
Wasserman Schultz’s hiring of Miranda underscores the autonomy that she was often afforded inside the walls of the DNC—much to the chagrin of many other Democrats.
Perhaps more importantly, it shows the limits of the Clinton campaign’s power over the party at that particular point in time.
That’s because in her explosive book about the 2016 presidential campaign, former interim DNC Chair Donna Brazile, who ended up replacing Wasserman Schultz, writes that the Clinton campaign had effectively leveraged its fundraising operation to take over control of the party. In particular, Brazile spotlights a joint fundraising agreement that the campaign and the DNC signed in August 2015, a month or so before Miranda was hired.
According to Brazile, that agreement gave Clinton control of “the party’s finances, strategy, and all the money raised” as well as “the right of refusal of who would be the party communications director, and it would make final decisions on all the other staff.” (emphasis ours)
Brazile’s piece sparked a wave of accusations, predominantly from Bernie Sanders supporters but also from Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) that the primary process was rigged.
But it appears that this argument overstate matters. Sanders was given the opportunity to sign a joint fundraising agreement too, as has been previously reported. And though Clinton was technically given staff control under her agreement, as the Miranda hiring underscores, that control was not always evident in the outcome.
In a deliberate understatement, Miranda himself told The Daily Beast last week that he and the Clinton campaign did “not always agree on matters.”
Months after the Miranda hiring, the DNC would bring on Mark Paustenbach as its national press secretary. Once again, operational control was not afforded to the campaign. As three Clinton campaign staffers told The Daily Beast, they found out about the hiring when the news broke in Politico’s Playbook.
“We were given no heads up about that at all,” said one campaign veteran, “which goes to show you how much power we had over the DNC.”
If nothing else, the 2016 campaign has confirmed the old saying that “victory has a hundred fathers and defeat is an orphan.” In the aftermath of Clinton’s loss to Donald Trump, the Democratic Party has engaged in a year-long process of finger-pointing.
Clinton campaign vets have faulted a party infrastructure that was in disrepair when they took over. DNC vets have accused Barack Obama of neglecting the party during his eight years in office. Obama vets have said that Wasserman Schultz grossly mismanaged operations. Wasserman Schultz allies have said that Clinton pillaged the committee of money, only to blow an eminently winnable election.
Brazile’s new book has added an immense amount of fuel to these fiery recriminations. In it, she portrays a party that is organizationally inept, financially insolvent, and utterly leaderless.
But in the process of putting a microscope on her fellow Democrats, she’s also put one on herself. As one former DNC staffer put it: “She goes on to say it was crazy how much Debbie had let the place go, and then 3 [para]graphs later she says as a vice chair of the DNC she was heavily involved. It’s all so crazy.”
According to Washington Post, Brazile said she contemplated replacing Clinton atop the presidential ticket after the nominees infamous fainting episode on the anniversary of 9/11. But as numerous party officials noted, she, as interim chair, did not have unilateral authority to choose who would be the replacement ticket.
Brazile also writes that she grew haunted by the death of DNC staffer, Seth Rich, who police said was murdered in a botched robbery. According to published reports, Brazile feared for her own life, closed her office blinds and installed security cameras at her home. One former Clinton staffer said they were sickened by the likelihood that this would “play into the right-wing conspiracy fever swamp” surrounding Rich’s death.
Brazile has already tried to tamp down some of the controversy that her book has stirred, telling ABC This Week that she found “no evidence, none whatsoever" that the presidential primary was rigged. She declined to speak to The Daily Beast until her book was published.
But the damage may have already been done, not just to the Democratic Party trying to score a win in a critical Virginia gubernatorial election this Tuesday, but to Brazile’s standing within it.
“Donna was a Vice Chair of the Party for the last 15 years or so,” said Hilary Rosen, a longtime Democratic operative. “The idea that she was some outsider coming in to be a truth teller is ludicrous. I find it all just sad and I am done talking about it.”