Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Fort Sumter Shelled

Democrats are demonstrating an extraordinary passion for converting victory into defeat. In a year when they have the potential to win at least one - if not both - Houses of Congress, and to expand their share of the nation's governorships, they are doing everything possible to throw it away. Democratic divisions are evident on immigration, Iraq, social policy, and a range of other issues, but the fissure expands every day in Joe Lieberman's Senate race.

I've written about this a lot, because I find it fascinating that a long-time incumbent, loyal Democrat, vice-Presidential candidate, would face such an aggressive challenge over essentially one issue. The fact that Ned Lamont's campaign is strongly backed by the brother of the DNC Chair is even more shocking. Has a party chairman EVER tacitly approved a challenge to someone as prominent as Joe Lieberman?

In the last few days, Charlie Schumer - Chair of the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee - has refused to rule out supporting Lieberman if he runs for Senate as an Independent. This is an extraordinary statement, but these are extraordinary circumstances. Lieberman has earned some loyalty - no matter what the DailyKos crowd thinks - and Schumer would be foolish to drive Lieberman - a likely winner as an Independent - to the GOP.

Today, according to Roll Call (subscription required), Howard Dean's brother is calling Schumer out - and putting pressure on him to disavow support for Lieberman should he lose the primary to Lamont:

Dean’s Brother Raps DSCC Over Stance on Lieberman
June 20, 2006
By Nicole Duran,
Roll Call Staff

Sen. Joe Lieberman’s (D-Conn.) refusal to rule out seeking re-election as an Independent should he lose the Aug. 8 Democratic primary has led to a verbal assault by the brother of Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean on Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.).

Democracy for America, the group that grew out of Dean’s unsuccessful presidential bid and is now led by his brother, Jim Dean, is circulating a petition to Schumer calling on him to stand by the winner of the Democratic primary.

Democracy for America is backing Lieberman’s challenger, millionaire cable-executive Ned Lamont.

Schumer “has said that the DSCC will not rule out supporting Lieberman if he runs as an Independent,” a Democracy for America e-mail sent to supporters last week reads. “The DSCC’s mission is to elect Democrats to the Senate. Yet in this case, they would prefer to back an incumbent who leaves the party instead of a principled progressive who’s proud to be a Democrat.”

Schumer has not said what the DSCC would do should Lamont best Lieberman and Lieberman decided to press on as an Independent.

“We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it,” Schumer told reporters last week.

And that is what has Democracy for America — and Howard Dean’s brother — pressing Lieberman and Schumer.

“My reaction to all of this is that there’s a lot of mumbling going on here,” Jim Dean said in an interview. “We would really like Sen. Lieberman just to get clear about this.”

...Dean said national Democrats should call upon Lieberman to rule out an Independent bid.

“I wish the Democratic leadership of this party would take this seriously,” Dean said. “This is the kind of thing that got us in trouble 15 years ago. The question for the DSCC is: ‘do you support Democratic candidates or not?”

DSCC spokesman Phil Singer would not answer the question directly.

“This is much ado about nothing: Joe Lieberman is and will remain a candidate in the Democratic primary,” Singer said.

Should Lieberman lose — the latest polls show him comfortably leading Lamont — and should he continue on as an Independent with the DSCC’s backing, the DSCC would lose credibility with many Democratic activists, Dean said.

“The battle in this party is not an ideological debate right now it’s between the activist community and the culture of supporting incumbents” at all costs, Dean said.

...Schumer and other Democratic leaders are undoubtedly in a tough position as they figure out to handle a potential Lieberman Independent candidacy.

It is not unprecedented for the DSCC to support a like-minded Independent. The committee has made no secret that it is backing Rep. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) as he attempts to win the open Senate seat in the Green Mountain State.

In that case, however, Democrats were able to clear the field for Sanders so that no strong Democrat sought the seat.

Sanders caucuses with Democrats in the House and said he would continue to do so if elected to the Senate.

In light of that, Dean said the DSCC should clarify its position on supporting Independents. Dean said he understands that his actions “will ruffle a few feathers” but that it is necessary to ensure that the party has clear policies in such matters.

If Dean’s petition drive puts Schumer in a bind, it probably puts the DNC chairman in an even more awkward position.

“I don’t really think of that very often because he’s kind of on a different mission,” Jim Dean said of his brother. “He’s not as involved in federal races. He is building the 50-state strategy.”

Dean was also careful to reiterate that he and his brother do not discuss business.

DNC spokeswoman Stacie Paxton would only say: “the DNC doesn’t get involved in Democratic primaries.”

Right now, all the principals are talking in a sane, civilized manner. But what must be going on behind the scenes? If you were Schumer, what would you be thinking of the Dean brothers? Particularly that Howard Dean is running the party into bankruptcy in pursuit of a dubious strategy to win in places like Utah and Mississippi? And what happens to the DSCC's donor base if Lieberman runs as an Independent, and the Dean brothers encourage the committed MoveOn and Kos Left to stop supporting Schumer's candidates?

This may be the biggest threat to Democratic success this year: an incipient Civil War between the crusading Left and the party institutions. Schumer will be hard-pressed to back Lieberman, if the Deans can cut off the money the DSCC gets from small donors.

And Dean's comment that "this is the kind of thing that got us in trouble 15 years ago" is fascinating. What does he mean? That Bill Clinton and the moderates of the Democratic Leadership Council were (and are) the source of the trouble? It's clear that whatever else Clinton may have done, he set a blueprint for Democrats to win majority support in a center-right era. Does Dean have a better plan to do that?

This is FANTASTIC stuff if you are a Republican. And if you're a Democrat, you have a lot to think about.

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