WASHINGTON – First, the Democrats got clobbered in the election by the Republicans.
Now they’re squaring off against each other in a civil war.
This political Gettysburg pits the Democratic Party base against the Obama machine called Organizing for Action, or OFA, the community-organizing army left over from the former president’s election campaigns.
How bitter is the battle?
Two Democratic operatives recently called OFA “The Devil.”
When former President Obama issued a call to arms to his OFA troops in order to protect his legacy, particularly Obamacare, Stephen Handwerk, executive director of the Louisiana Democratic Party, wrote in a private email to fellow party leaders, “This is some GRADE A Bulls–t right here.”
He added, “It also to me seems TONE DEAF—we have lost over 1,000 seats in the past 8 years … all because of this crap.”
The email was obtained and then published Friday by the Daily Beast, which reported: “It is difficult to overstate just how enraged state Democratic activists and leaders are with Organizing for Action.”
How powerful is OFA?
Just a week ago, WND’s former Washington bureau chief Paul Sperry portrayed OFA in the New York Post as an army “gearing up for battle, with a growing war chest and more than 250 offices across the country” manned by 32,525 volunteers nationwide, run by old Obama aides and campaign workers armed with his 2012 campaign database.
Sperry called it Obama’s “army of agitators — numbering more than 30,000 — who will fight his Republican successor at every turn of his historic presidency. And Obama will command them from a bunker less than two miles from the White House.”
Sperry warned Obama would be “working behind the scenes to set up what will effectively be a shadow government to not only protect his threatened legacy, but to sabotage the incoming administration,” and that “it’s drawing battle lines on immigration, Obamacare, race relations and climate change.”
Obama may have an army, but who will they follow?
“I love and adore everything about President Obama except for OFA,” said South Carolina Democratic Party chairman Jaime Harrison, according to the Washington Post.
He was just one of numerous Democratic Party leaders who have insisted their beef is with OFA, not Obama.
But OFA is Obama, the way Sperry describes it.
He is their supreme leader. And running OFA is his new job. The former president who would be shadow president.
“Obama will be overseeing it all from a shadow White House located within two miles of Trump,” wrote Sperry. “It features a mansion, which he’s fortifying with construction of a tall brick perimeter, and a nearby taxpayer-funded office with his own chief of staff and press secretary.”
So, what happened? While Obama tools OFA to become a potent threat to Trump, why do Democratic leaders feel threatened by OFA? How did their common desire to go to war with the Trump administration turn into a fratricidal battle royale for control of the party?
It appears to have been a battle long brewing beneath the surface that is now emerging into public view.
“[With] all due respect to President Obama, OFA was created as a shadow party because Obama operatives had no faith in state parties. So I hope the OFA role is none. I hope OFA closes their doors and allows the country and state parties to get to the hard work of rebuilding the party at the local and grass-roots level,” Nebraska Democratic Party Chair Jane Kleeb told Politico.
She further explained why it has not, on the whole, been a winning strategy: “OFA had no faith or confidence in the state parties so they created a whole separate organization, they took money away and centralized it in D.C. They gave us a great president for eight years, but we lost everywhere else.”
“If we were having a conversation about state parties, I would say OFA hurt state parties badly,” Handwerk told The Daily Beast, elaborating on his leaked email. “It certainly had an undercutting effort. And there is a lot of work state parties do that isn’t very sexy… and that becomes incredibly difficult when budgets are cut in half because people are trying to curry favor with the president and his allies.”
Compounding what Politico called “a period in which the party suffered tremendous losses at the state and local levels” since Obama won in 2008, was what it described as a “degree of mistrust — rooted in the idea that OFA was always primarily interested in advancing the president’s political interests, often at the expense of the party.”
And now that OFA wants to take the lead in rebuilding the party, the party is fighting back. Democratic leaders see it as a matter of self-preservation and survival.
“[OFA] created a shadow organization that was recruiting the same volunteers [as the Democratic National Committee], using resources from a very limited number of donors, and therefore, as a result it weakened the DNC and the impact that the DNC and state parties could have on politics during his tenure,” South Carolina Democratic Party Chairman Jaime Harrison told Politico.
He added, “You’ve got five organizations knocking on the same door with five different messages. That’s not conducive. In the age of Trump we need to be a lean, mean, strategic machine.”
Another key problem seemed to be the perception that OFA wasn’t about the party, it was all about Obama.
“We’ve seen over the last eight-plus years a deterioration of permanent state infrastructure,” a Democratic operative anonymously confided to the Daily Beast.
“And,” he explained, “OFA built an alternative infrastructure that was very top-down. OFA’s actions were wasteful, duplicative, and it made no sense… There were these tensions on the ground that we saw that all over the country. Local officials felt tossed aside. A lot of these red states were abandoned. The OFA model was never a 50-state strategy—it was about the president’s agenda.”
That revelation may be clear now to party leaders, but former Rep. Michele Bachmann mused, “I wonder if rank and file democrats understand Obama was about advancing his personal agenda through his OFA community organization?”
That Democratic operative’s reaction to seeing OFA trying to get back in the game?
“It’s like seeing an ex-girlfriend show up.”
On top of the explicit animosity toward OFA, and the implicit resentment of Obama, is a legacy the party must now face.
The former president doesn’t get Democrats elected, he gets them defeated.
Obama’s coattails were strongest before he became president, sweeping into office with majorities in the House and the Senate, allowing him to push through Obamacare without a single Republican vote.
Democrats have been losing power and elections at an astonishing rate, ever since.
Bachmann told WND, “Next to Jimmy Carter, Obama single handedly did more to destroy the Democratic Party than the GOP could have ever hoped or planned.”
Under Obama’s reign, Democrats lost a net total of 1,042 state and federal posts, including congressional and state legislative seats, governorships and, ultimately, the presidency.
By the time the 2014 midterm elections rolled around, as WND reported, Democrats were running away from Obama.
Only one Democratic senator running for reelection wanted Obama to appear with him on the campaign trail in 2014.
And even at that, candidate Gary Peters less-than-enthusiastically observed, “The president will come to Michigan to campaign, and I’m going to stand next to the president.
But, Democrats didn’t just shun Obama on the campaign trail. They actually campaigned against him.
That was illustrated by campaign quotes from desperate Democratic candidates in the key races that caused the party to lose control of the Senate.
Kentucky’s Democratic candidate for Senate, Alison Lundergan Grimes declared in an ad, “I’m not Barack Obama. I disagree with him on guns, coal and the EPA.”
The Democrat refused to say during an interview whether she even voted for Obama in 2012,calling it her “constitutional right” to stay mum.
“Let me tell you, the White House, when they look down the front lawn the last person they want to see coming is me,” warned Democrat Sen. Mark Udall of Colorado during a debate.
Sen. Mark Begich, the Democratic incumbent from Alaska insisted he “took on Obama” to fight for oil drilling in Alaska and would “bang him over the head a few times” on the need to drill.
Democratic incumbent Sen. Mark Pryor of Arkansas paused during his debate before making his closing statement to make sure everyone knew, “I voted against every budget that President Obama has offered.”
Democrat Sen. Mary Landrieu made a point of emphasizing during her debate, “I do not agree with President Obama on his energy policies,” later adding, “I haven’t agreed with President Obama on everything.” She also damned the president with faint praise, giving his job performance a “6-to-7” out of 10.
When asked on MSNBC if she thought the president had “shown strong leadership,” Democrat Sen. Kay Hagan of North Carolina hedged a bit before conceding, “Certainly there are issues I think on … um, no.”
During her debate in New Hampshire, Democrat Sen. Jeanne Shaheen was asked if she approved of Obama’s job performance, “Yes or no?” The incumbent evoked a wave of laughter from the audience when she responded instead, “In some things I approve and in some things I don’t approve.”
The former president’s campaign guru, David Axelrod, told NBC’s “Meet The Press” it was a “mistake” for Obama to claim his policies were on the ballot.
“I think Obama being so unpopular is the biggest factor in this election,” predicted Tom Jensen, a Democratic pollster with the firm Public Policy Polling. “And I think at the end of the day, it may be too much for a lot of the Democratic Senate candidates to overcome.”
He was right.
Now, in the disastrous aftermath, Obama is calling upon Democrats to regroup and unite behind OFA.
But, judging by the initial reaction of party leaders, he may be trying to lead an army of rebels.