By Kent R. Kroeger (Source: NuQum.com, November 30, 2017)
A new Justice League has formed.
No, not the bad CGI-laden movie that failed to break $100 million in box office receipts in its opening week. [Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) was still awesome though].
This new Justice League is real and believes its on a mission to save humanity from a rogue force far more menacing than Steppenwolf or Darkseid.
Their Hall of Justice, at 2446 Belmont Road NW in Washington, D.C., looms just a few blocks from this dangerous cozener’s current quarters, the White House.
Of course, Donald Trump is the existential threat in this picture and the new Justice League is led by our former president Barack Obama.
Joining Obama in the Hall of Justice are his former Attorney General Eric Holder, former campaign manager David Plouffe, senior political advisor David Axelrod, long-time aides Valerie Jarrett and David Simas, DNC chair Tom Perez, former Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, White House speechwriter Jon Favreau and a host of other former cabinet officers, aides and Chicago friends.
Regular meetings are held in the Obama’s D.C. residence, according to a source directly aware of these meetings. So many, in fact, that rumors flew around in March within the right-wing blogs that Valerie Jarrett had moved into the Obama’s new $5.3-million mansion in the Kalorama neighborhood of Washington, D.C.
Though the Jarrett rumor proved wrong, the real story was no less significant. Obama was building a team to retake control of the U.S. government from Donald Trump and the Republicans using the Obama’s house as the operation’s headquarters.
Their mission is a straightforward: Get Democrats in control across all levels of government and restore the Obama legacy that Trump continues to dismantle.
Its not like Obama has been hiding his intentions regarding his post-administration activities.
“I won’t stop. In fact, I will be right there with you, as a citizen, for all my remaining days,” President Obama said in a farewell address to supporters in Chicago.
All the same, on January 21, it wasn’t clear what a relatively young 55-year-old Obama was going to do with himself in retirement, particularly at a time with his party in a ceaseless crisis over the Trump presidency.
Obama can’t just go away and write books like most other former presidents, can he?
Even before Obama left office, the obligatory presidential library was in the works and its parent organization, the Obama Foundation, created in 2014, was already laying the groundwork for the Obama post-presidency.
At its creation, the Obama Foundation’s board of directors included a Clintonesque mix of billionaires (John Doerr), investment bankers (former UBS Global Investment president Robert Wolf, GCM Grosvenor CEO Michael Sacks and Ariel Investments president John Rogers), friends (Vistria Group CEO Martin Nesbitt), political allies (former Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick) and Obama administration holdovers (David Plouffe).
Its this nation’s A-team for neo-liberal corporatists. As one former Obama official told me, “If you don’t control at least a billion dollars, you ain’t gonna accomplish shit in this town.”
Obama Foundation CEO David Simas, a founding member of this new Justice League, describes the Obama Foundation’s purpose as being more grassroots oriented and focused on “identifying, training and connecting the next generation of civic leaders throughout the country first and then around the world.”
Where the Clinton Foundation facilitated opportunities for the world’s financial elites and oligarchs to participate in substantive, public image enhancing humanitarian projects, the Obama Foundation is more concerned about building a political infrastructure parallel to (if not in place of) more traditional political structures such as the Democratic National Committee.
And while the Clinton Foundation will die with Bill and Hillary Clinton’s political relevance, the Obama Foundation is designed to survive well beyond Obama’s lifetime — and, in that effort, Obama has a plan.
Step 1: Take control of the DNC
In February, Obama’s former Secretary of Labor, Tom Perez, was elected chair of the Democratic National Committee (DNC), stunting the attempted takeover of the DNC by the party’s progressive wing, led by Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison.
While Obama never inserted himself into the DNC chair election, his former Attorney General Eric Holder did when he endorsed Perez in early February.
“As we’ve seen since the inauguration, there is much at stake for our nation, and our democracy and our party. We need a DNC chair who is a proven fighter and a proven uniter. Tom Perez is that person,” Holder said in support of Perez.
Holder is a former cabinet officer, close Obama friend, and a direct proxy. By electing Perez, the DNC is now tentatively controlled by the Obama wing of the party.
Since Perez’ ascendancy, the DNC has seen dismal fundraising totals, despite a Republican president at historically low approval levels. In August 2017, the DNC reported raising only $4.4 million dollars, compared to $7.3 million for the Republican National Committee.
Yet, none of the Democratic Party’s senior leadership is suggesting Perez should be replaced. Why? Because Perez wasn’t endorsed for the chairmanship position for his fundraising prowess. Perez takes anti-charisma to thermonuclear levels.
Instead, he is a caretaker selected for his loyalty to Barack Obama and willingness to act in the interest of the 44th president. More importantly, he prevents a Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders loyalist from sitting in the DNC’s command position.
For all intents, constructions, and purposes, Obama now controls the DNC, but to what end?
It is wrong to assume Obama wants to personally select the next Democratic presidential nominee in order to avoid the mistake made in 2016. Obama is too smart and too strategic to think in such a limited way.
Obama understands history. He, more than anybody, respects the importance of the competitive process in selecting a presidential nominee. The legitimacy of the nominee is predicated on the assumption that he or she is the preferred candidate of the majority of Democrats.
In 2008, when Hillary Clinton was the presumptive favorite for the Democratic nomination, it was Obama who emerged from the nomination process as the party’s nominee. As his stock rose among Democrats following his Iowa Caucus victory, Obama’s communications team eagerly juxtaposed Hillary’s establishment candidacy to Obama’s outsider status.
Given his thin resume in 2008, Obama benefited from the Democratic Party’s competitive nomination race. Merely going toe-to-toe with Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden in the early nomination debates lifted Obama’s credibility among voters.
In contrast, Hillary did everything in her power to limit the number of nomination challengers in 2016, thereby solidifying her establishment-candidate status at a time when the public mood was not favorable to such candidates.
Obama certainly understands this dynamic and recognizes a competitive nomination process in 2020 will help the Democrats’ eventual nominee.
That said, Obama has told confidants, according to our sources, that Hillary cannot be allowed to either run or be central to the process in picking the next Democratic nominee. While Obama genuinely believes the Russians interfered in the 2016 election and holds himself partially responsible for not doing more to expose Russia’s interference, he also believes Hillary was ill-equipped to overcome such a challenge.
“Anytime he (Obama) is reminded that Hillary blames him for not doing more to stop the Russians, he gets visibly upset,” says a long-time Obama friend. “He truly believes he would have run the 2016 race by more than 10 points — and thinks Joe (Biden) would have won by a similar margin.”
So, it should not surprise anyone that Obama is actively working to prevent something like Hillary’s covert takeover of the DNC in 2016 to happen in 2020. Obama simply will not allow it.
Step 2: Make the electoral field level again
Yet, for Obama’s Justice League to usher in the next Democratic governing majority, they also need to dismantle the structural barriers that disproportionately prevent Democrats from winning elections. Chief among those barriers, at least for U.S. House races, is gerrymandering.
The Associated Press estimated that Republicans won as many as 22 additional U.S. House seats in 2016 over what would have been expected based on the average vote share in congressional districts across the country.
Knowing this, the Obama team has asked Holder to oversee the Democrats’ National Democratic Redistricting Committee (NDRC) to correct gerrymandering and other structural barriers to fair elections. Partnering with the Obama-aligned progressive group, Organizing For Action (OFA), their plan starts with winning more state-level races.
“Fixing gerrymandering can be the key that unlocks progress on so many issues the American people care about,” says Kelly Ward, the executive director of the NDRC.
In an email, Obama told OFA volunteers they would “provide the grassroots organizing capacity and mobilization that we’ll need to win state-level elections and move other initiatives forward ahead of the 2021 redistricting process, making sure that states are in the best position possible to draw fair maps.”
Their task will not be easy and will not reap benefits any time soon, as the Democrats will need to control far more state legislatures and governorships than they do at present. Furthermore, redrawing congressional districts may not be enough to level the playing field. FiveThirtyEight.com’s David Wasserman contends that the Democrats have a geographic clustering problem that will work against their efforts to redraw electoral maps.
“Even if Democrats were to win every single 2018 House and Senate race for seats representing places that Hillary Clinton won or that Trump won by less than 3 percentage points — a pretty good midterm by historical standards — they could still fall short of the House majority and lose five Senate seats,” says Wasserman.
According to Wasserman this result is attributable to both GOP gerrymandering and Democratic voters’ clustering in urban districts.
“The net result is that the median House seat is well to the right of the nation,” adds Wasserman.
Redistricting is a long-pole project and the Obama team needs to address a more immediate problem: Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.
Step 3: Unify the two wings of the Democratic Party by marginalizing the party’s two biggest names (not named Barack): Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.
The Obama team’s efforts will be for naught if they allow Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders to lead the party going into the 2018 and 2020 elections. Hillary in particular has too many loyalists in key party functions, including fundraising among big donors, to assume she won’t leverage those connections for her own purposes, whether its running for president again or hand-picking the next presidential nominee.
To stop Hillary from injecting herself into the 2020 campaign, the Obama team is engaged in an ongoing and coordinated effort to discredit Hillary (and to a much lesser extent Bernie Sanders). The trick however is to do so without alienating Hillary’s core supporters.
Former DNC interim chair Donna Brazile launched the first attack in November when she released her book — Hacks: The Inside Story of the Break-ins and Breakdowns That Put Donald Trump in the White House — about the 2016 election. Despite some recent backtracking, Brazile’s descriptions of the ham-fisted tactics used by Hillary’s campaign were less than flattering.
“As Hillary’s campaign gained momentum, she resolved the party’s debt and put it on a starvation diet,” Brazile wrote in a November 2nd Politico article. “It (the Democratic National Committee) had become dependent on her campaign for survival, for which she expected to wield control of its operations.”
In practical terms, Hillary Clinton used the Democratic National Commitee’s (DNC) as a fund-raising clearinghouse.
Federal Election Commission law limits direct individual contributions to presidential campaigns at $2,700, but the limits are less restrictive for contributions to state parties and the DNC.
As Brazile notes in her Politico article, “Individuals who had maxed out their $2,700 contribution limit to the campaign could write an additional check for $353,400 to the Hillary Victory Fund—that figure represented $10,000 to each of the 32 states’ parties who were part of the Victory Fund agreement—$320,000—and $33,400 to the DNC. The money would be deposited in the states first, and transferred to the DNC shortly after that. Money in the battleground states usually stayed in that state, but all the other states funneled that money directly to the DNC, which quickly transferred the money to Brooklyn.”
In other words, the Clinton campaign engineered a fundraising system where money meant for the eventual nominee and state-level races was funneled directly to Clinton. Was that legal? Probably. Was it ethical? No.
Brazile’s skill for artful dodginess emerged a few days after her Politico article when she pulled the reins on those who interpreted her sharp criticism of the Clinton campaign to mean Clinton had rigged the nomination.
“I found no evidence, none whatsoever” that the primaries were rigged, Brazile said during a November 4th appearance on ABC’s “This Week.”
Despite Brazile’s tamping down of the ‘election rigging’ charge, the conclusion had already metastasized within the mass media and was impossible to depose.
And for good reason. While presidential nominees typically take control of their party’s administrative apparatus after they’ve secured the party’s nomination, the Clinton campaign, confident in its inevitability, absorbed the DNC months prior to actually winning the nomination.
Is that rigging the election? Given the facts and the timeline, it is a reasonable conclusion.
Bill and Hillary Clinton had no reason to expect Donna Brazile’s loyalty. Hillary had already been burned by Brazile during the 2008 nomination when Brazile, who was on the DNC rules committee, tried to block Hillary’s attempt to seat national convention delegates from Florida and Michigan, the majority of whom were committed to Clinton.
The problem for Hillary’s 2008 campaign was that those two states had violated party rules in scheduling their primaries and, according Brazile at the time, seating those delegates would have changed the rules in the middle of the game and that was tantamount to “cheating.”
Calling Bill or Hillary a cheater is a good way to get your name taken off the Friends of Bill (FOB) or FOH list and Brazile is permanently off that list — if she was ever on it.
And while Brazile attempted in the 2016 election to get back into the good graces of the Clintons by feeding debate questions to Hillary before a 2016 CNN-televised debate, everyone knows the Clintons have long memories.
However, Brazile’s Judas kiss didn’t sting the Clintons nearly as hard as the knee-to-the-crotch move New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand planted on them a couple of weeks after Brazile’s article.
In the midst of allegations that Minnesota Senator Al Franken had given a female performer an unwelcomed tongue-kiss during a 2006 USO tour in Afghanistan, Gillibrand was asked during a New York Times podcast if she thought President Bill Clinton should have resigned during the Monica Lewinsky scandal.
“Yes, I think that is the appropriate response,” responded Gillibrand.
While there is no evidence Gillibrand was acting as an Obama surrogate when she suggested the 42nd president should have resigned, she nonetheless helped the Obama team’s effort to weaken Hillary’s power within the party.
The woman hand-picked by the Clintons for the New York Senate seat vacated by Hillary when she became the U.S. Secretary of State had gone rogue. Cue the Clinton bootlickers.
Philippe Reines, a top adviser to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, rebuked Gillibrand on Twitter:
Reines would have a point if we were just talking about a ‘consensual blowjob’ with an intern. Unfortunately, by the time the U.S. Senate voted to save Clinton’s presidency in 1999, journalists had documented our 42nd president’s lifetime of sexual predatory behavior and a repeated pattern of denials, lies and slut shaming — and the co-pilot through every new bimbo eruption? Hillary Rodham Clinton, the enabler-in-chief.
Even women that should know better defended Bill and Hillary from Gillibrand’s blindside attack.
“I admire her (Gillibrand) for speaking out and for being really honest and blunt and brutal about it, even when it comes to Democrats and even when it comes to President Clinton,” said longtime Democratic strategist Maria Cardona, a former Hillary Clinton aide…”
…here comes the ‘but’…
“…But, Gillibrand’s fight is far from a straightforward one even within the party, added Cardona. “President Clinton is beloved.”
As Cardona is learning, the #MeToo movement has ushered in a new paradigm for how men and women conduct themselves professionally (at least in the news media and entertainment business). Cardona and Reines are two decades behind the public mood and Bill Clinton is now the poster child (along with Harvey Weinstein, John Conyers, and Matt Lauer, and others) for a type of work behavior that is unacceptable going forward (we can hope).
As many of Hillary’s loyalists continue the attempt to put distance between Bill’s creepy history and the former First Lady, the Obama-wing of the Democratic Party has seized on the current zeitgeist to end any hope the Clinton’s had of being significant players in the upcoming 2020 presidential election.
While the Clinton machine easily dismissed Gillibrand’s comments as the calculated move of a potential presidential candidate, the broadside delivered by Obama’s Secretary for Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius, made public a critique of Clintons that had, up to then, only been heard in the fringes of the Democratic Party (i.e., millennials and Bernie supporters).
Unlike Brazile or Gillibrand, Sebelius is still in good standing with the party establishment and her motives cannot be assigned to the strategic calculations of a likely 2020 presidential candidate.
It was during a podcast with former Obama senior strategist David Axelrod, a founding member of the new Justice League, that Sebelius decided to lay some serious wood on Hillary Clinton.
As Axelrod led the conversation into a discussion of the current sexual harassment and assault debate, Sebelius took the topic of Bill’s libertinism to a new level for mainstream Democrats.
“Not only did people look the other way, but they went after the women who came forward and accused him,” said Sebelius. “And so it (the White House) doubled down on not only bad behavior but abusive behavior. And then people attacked the victims.”
The next logical step for Sebelius was to go where no loyal Democrat had ever gone before.
Sebelius told Axelrod it is legitimate for Democrats to criticize the former first lady and Secretary of State for her role in what Sebelius called “a strategy of dismissing and besmirching the women who stepped forward” with allegations against Bill Clinton.
Though the mainstream media had moved on to the newest wave of sexual harassment allegations and the latest Trump tweets, the Democratic establishment heard Sebelius loud and clear: Hillary Clinton cannot be the standard bearer for the Democratic Party going forward — not in these new times. Her inability to effectively leverage the Donald Trump Access Hollywood tape bears some responsibility for the electoral debacle in 2016.
Any other Democratic presidential nominee would have possessed the credibility to hit back hard against Trump. But not Hillary.
And it was no accident that Sebelius made this monumental statement on The Axe Files. Both Axelrod and Sebelius are Obama loyalists. Sebelius’ statement on Hillary was likely crafted at the highest levels of the Obama team.
Clearing a path to the nomination is not ‘rigging’ the election.
As long as Hillary Clinton continues to suck oxygen out of the Democratic’s Party’s air, rising stars like California Senator Kamala Harris (who was one of Obama’s earliest supporters in 2008) and Gillibrand are going to find it difficult to elevate their stature on the national stage.
It doesn’t help them that almost all big Democratic donors still have strong ties to the Clintons and, should Hillary run again, will be compelled to help her again amass a large campaign war chest going into 2020.
The Clintons have been playing this game for years and they are good at it.
The Clintons’ joint plan since Bill left office was a top-down strategy focused on facilitating Hillary’s rise to the presidency. Clinton Foundation fundraising, though ostensibly independent of Hillary’s U.S. Senate and presidential political campaign activities, shared many of the same big money domestic donors (e.g., Harvey Weinstein). This overlap, though legal, played close to the ethical margins and invited charges from Hillary’s political opponents that she was too often less than honest and always a bit dodgy.
The Obama post-presidency, so far, is taking the opposite approach. Where the Clintons’ top-down leadership style kept the power and money under their control, the Obama approach appears, at this early point, to be directed towards building from the bottom up.
The irony here is that, during the Obama presidency, the Democratic Party’s state and national infrastructure was neglected. Perhaps driven by guilt, Obama now recognizes the Democrats will not realize the full extent of their demographic advantages vis-a-vis the Republicans until they regain their electoral footing at the local and state levels.
For almost three decades, since Michael Dukakis’ defeat in 1988, the Democrats have prioritized presidential politics over all other considerations.
It has paid dividends at the presidential level (Bill Clinton and Obama) and left the party needlessly weak and demoralized at other levels.
The Trump presidency has changed the Democrats’ orientation however — though it remains to be seen how the Resistance’s energy can reduce the Democrats’ geographic clustering problem. Unless there is a secret plan in the works to relocate some California Democrats to Montana and Iowa, the Democrats will struggle to win and maintain control of the U.S. House and the Electoral College will always confound their efforts to win back the presidency.
The good news for the Democrats is that Obama and his Justice League team are working all angles of the problem. They want the presidency back as well as control of the U.S. Congress and all other levels of government.
In this project, Obama will never publicly promote one presidential candidate over another until that person has secured the Democratic nomination, but he will never allow the Clinton’s to be significant players in selecting the next Democratic nominee either.
With an assist from the Russians and FBI Director James Comey, Hillary Clinton blew it in 2016 in part due to her inability to credibly exploit Trump’s documented mistreatment of women. Obama and his team have subtly but definitively let Democratic donors know that.
Hillary’s acolytes nonetheless continue to plant seeds of hope that she will run for president in 2020 (Mike Vespa’s plea is a good example) — but that will not happen. The Clinton era is finally over. And say ‘Hello’ to the Democrats’ next presidential nominee, Kamala Harris.
About the author: Kent Kroeger is a writer and statistical consultant with over 30 -years experience measuring and analyzing public opinion for public and private sector clients. He also spent ten years working for the U.S. Department of Defense’s Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness and the Defense Intelligence Agency. He holds a B.S. degree in Journalism/Political Science from The University of Iowa, and an M.A. in Quantitative Methods from Columbia University (New York, NY). He lives in Ewing, New Jersey with his wife and son.