As a native of Louisiana, Donna Brazile is surely no stranger to the notion of politics as a blood sport. Even so, Brazile is making headlines by suggesting her shock at the possibility that Hillary Clinton might have engineered her party’s nominating process in her favor.
In a new book attracting national attention, Brazile, the interim chair of the Democratic National Committee during the 2016 presidential election, questions a fundraising agreement between Clinton’s campaign and the national party. The agreement was signed in 2015, long before Clinton cinched the presidential nomination. In essence, Brazile argues that Clinton’s campaign heavily funded the party in exchange for a lot of control over its operations, giving Clinton an unfair advantage over rivals such as Bernie Sanders. It’s like paying for a beauty contest to guarantee that you’ll go home with the tiara.
Brazile, who hails from Kenner, is a curious arbiter of her party’s ethical standards, having been caught in a lapse of her own. Before taking over as party chair, Brazile, then a CNN commentator, leaked to Clinton some inside information about a question that would be posed at the network's candidate forum, a gesture presumably aimed at tipping the scales against Sanders. Clinton was probably already prepared to answer the question about contaminated water in Flint, Michigan. But Brazile’s overture hinted that she hoped to hop on what she thought was a winning band wagon in Clinton’s candidacy.
Donald Trump, the eventual winner in last year’s race to White House, tapped into widespread doubts about the integrity of national institutions. As New York Times columnist David Brooks pointed out last week, Brazile’s latest lament about her own party tends to confirm the idea that America’s ruling elites are morally suspect.
Brazile’s behind-the-scenes maneuver came to light through internal emails released by WikiLeaks, which a wide array of intelligence analysts trace to the Russians. Foreign interference in a presidential election won’t help build confidence in our national institutions, either.
But one way to avoid embarrassment about unethical behavior is to keep your nose clean in the first place. To the degree that Clinton’s campaign for her party’s nomination was more of a coronation than a contest, it didn’t fully prepare her to serve as the Democrat’s standard-bearer. The GOP presidential nomination, sought by 17 party leaders in a freewheeling competition, forced Republican candidates to be resourceful or be run over. Though Machiavellians might doubt it, what works best ethically in politics can work best tactically, too.
Hailing from Louisiana, where political hardball rivals the gridiron as the state pastime, Brazile should have known that already.