So it looks like Datagate calmed down overnight. In case you haven’t heard, the Democratic National Committee is restoring the Sanders campaign’s access to DNC voter-data files, and in return the Sanders people have agreed to an outside audit to determine whether any of the Clinton campaign’s confidential information was stolen. The Clinton camp issued a statement expressing its satisfaction with the deal.
So that’s that? Maybe so. Still, there are some points worth taking away here. And of course there’s a debate tonight, and the question of how the two candidates ought to handle this on stage.
Point one: The Sanders movement really has seething contempt for the Democratic Party, and the feeling’s pretty mutual. Which stands to reason—Bernie Sanders isn’t a Democrat! So why’d he run as one in the first place? I don’t completely know. I do know that when Sanders was holding his very first meetings with a close circle of folks and deciding whether to run, the question of whether he should run as an independent or Democrat came up, and Sanders instantly said as a Democrat. He probably felt he and his issues would get more coverage this way, and he probably didn’t want to risk going down in history the way Ralph Nader has, peeling off 6 or 8 percent and helping to give the country President Cruz.
It was clearly the right call, for him and for the country. But something like this was inevitable from that moment. The Sanders people have long suspected that the DNC really wants Hillary Clinton to win. And of course they are absolutely correct: The DNC really does want Clinton to win.
I mean, debates on Saturday nights; seriously, people.
Point two: That said, the Sanders team went way overboard with the self-pity. What the DNC proposed was no “death sentence.” The Sanders people, no doubt playing on their supporters’ inherent contempt for and distrust of the DNC, went around Friday kinda-sorta letting confusion grow around the notion that the DNC was banning them from using data for weeks. That was never going to be the case. And it’s my understanding that unless the Sanders campaign is really incompetent, which they’re not, they would have duplicated at least some of those files anyway and still been able to canvass.
But the larger point is this. If this Bloomberg piece is correct, the Sanders campaign stole data: “According to an audit obtained by Bloomberg, Sanders staffers exploited a temporary glitch in the DNC's voter database on Wednesday to save lists created by Hillary Clinton’s campaign.” Save lists? That’s stealing. And okay they fired the one guy, but what about the others? And his guy Jeff Weaver goes out there and acts all wounded and sanctimonious? Please.
And they’re raising money off it? I guess any campaign would do that, but yuck.
Point three: If this situation were reversed, and four Clinton campaign staffers had made 24 “intrusion attempts” into confidential Sanders voter files, the media would make this into a massive scandal. I mean one that could well be fatal to her campaign. And people would be thundering their way across your cable screens today, demanding to know what Clinton herself knew and when she knew it, and so on (demands I don’t see anyone making about Sanders, and reasonably so, because I’d reckon he was busy with other things). But Sanders will likely skate away from any such scrutiny. Clinton Rules in effect.
Point four: Clinton should realize that although she has a very legitimate beef here, she can’t really win this one publicly. She’s the overwhelming favorite to win this primary. People aren’t sympathetic to overdogs. To most people, Clinton’s campaign carrying on about this is probably going to look like Alabama complaining that Temple stole their playbook. Temple happened to be good this season, and maybe the Owls could beat the Tide on a fortuitous day; but my point is that even if Temple was guilty, ’Bama wouldn’t be winning many sympathy points.
Clinton is going to win. Unless there’s some huge scandal, she’s going to be the nominee. She needs to act like the presumptive nominee here—the person who, by next summer, is going to have to unite the party around her, persuade angry Bernie people that they can make their peace with her.
Which brings us to tonight. Clinton should be magnanimous, probably more magnanimous than Sanders deserves. When asked about this she might say something like: “Well, first of all, we shouldn’t be spending too much time on this. The people watching us tonight want to know what we’re going to do about jobs and wages and terrorism and climate change and many other issues, not what we think about voter files. There’s an audit ongoing, so let’s see that play out. But in the meantime, if Senator Sanders, who is my friend and was my colleague in the Senate, can look me in the eye here and now and assure me that his campaign has retained none of those records, that’ll be good enough for me, and we can get back to criticizing the people we ought to be criticizing and talking about the things voters want to hear us talk about.” That’s unimpeachable moral high ground.
Sanders has to keep the violin in its case and avoid the self-pitying tone of Weaver. He ought to apologize and take responsibility. If the facts warrant it, he maybe ought to announce another firing or two. His core supporters are going to want him to do a big fight-the-power routine, and it’s all right if he tosses them a sentence or two along those lines. But if he actually wants to be the nominee and eventually the president, then he needs to act like it too.
It seems reassuring that the insiders have managed to blow off steam and then handle this like grown-ups in the space of 24 hours. Now it’s up to the principals.