We are going to take a long overdue journey through the 2015–16 Democratic presidential primaries. During this journey we will go over just a fraction of how the entire primary process had been rigged before a single vote was ever cast. Let’s start by breaking down exactly what rigging means.
Merriam-Webster’s definition for rig is
1 : to manipulate or control usually by deceptive or dishonest means • rig an election
2 : to fix in advance for a desired result • rig the contest
So why on earth would the Democratic Party rig the primary against a relatively unknown Independent Senator from Vermont who just couldn’t seem to keep a comb around? Why would the single most well-oiled and prepared political machine we have seen in modern history need the party to rig the primary? Let’s go over it and find out.
Months before Secretary Hillary Clinton announced her candidacy for president of the United States on April 12th, 2015. The Democratic National Committee (DNC) had found itself millions in debt and starting to turn on then Chair of the DNC Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz for not handling the crisis well. Even having public disputes with President Obama over her leadership. The DNC had been having a hard time paying the $18.1 million debt that President Obama had left after his 2012 presidential run. Rep. Wasserman Schultz needed to get the debt under control and assert she could run the DNC. This is when it seems she started working again with Secretary Hillary Clinton (she had also worked in 2008 on Secretary Clinton’s presidential campaign as a national co-chair) to help with the mountain of debt and start the framework of Hillary’s presidential run in 2016. Secretary Clinton started fundraising for the organization and got money flowing in from rich donors.
In August of 2015 the DNC signed what is known as a Joint Fundraising Agreement with Hillary Clinton’s campaign in exchange for handling millions of dollars of the debt. This document gave control of the budget, communications, and strategy of the organization to Hillary Clinton’s campaign. Now to be clear, this document is a standard agreement in most presidential campaign years. Though generally it’s signed around the time the nominee has been selected at the national convention or an unchallenged incumbent has the nomination by default. Not long, long before a single vote is cast in primary with five candidates still vying for the nomination and certainly not stating that the candidate will quid pro quo handling debt to get control of key areas of the organization.
A single campaign was now essentially in control of the organization that was running and officiating the primary “contest.” A “contest” where the head of the DNC assured the nation that it was neutral. Obviously now we now know it wasn’t and it seems nobody but the CEO of the DNC Amy Dacey, Chair of the DNC Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Secretary Hillary Clinton, and the Clinton Campaign Manager Robby Mook knew of the full extent of this agreement and what it actually entailed. The effects of it though were seen throughout the entire “contest.” This brings us to the main contender competing for the nomination against Secretary Hillary Clinton.
On April 30th, 2015 Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders announced his bid for president on Capitol Hill. He was not a likely candidate even though he was a 35 year politician. He had a solid civil rights activist record. Even once being arrested in the summer of 1963 while protesting segregation in Chicago schools for their use of trailers dubbed “Willis Wagons” during the often forgotten 1963 Chicago School Boycott. He had been the Chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, where his work had won him the VFW Congressional Award and the American Foreign Legion Patriot Award. His message had been essentially unchanged for over 40 years. Fighting for the marginalized, the down trodden, and the impoverished. He was also known for his 1996 legendary condemnation of a Republican Congressman who had used an anti-LGBTQ slur on the House floor while making a speech. Then Congressman Sanders had even been what amounts to prophetic with his 2002 House floor speech on the unintended consequences of going in to the second Iraq War. Despite all of that, the month he announced his bid polls had him at between 3 and 5%. Those same polls unsurprisingly had Secretary Clinton way out in front with between 62–69%. So it was an uphill battle from the start.
Senator Sanders was going to announce his bid for the Democratic Party’s nomination on MSNBC’s Ed Show with the late Ed Schultz live from Vermont on May 26th, 2015. Only it didn’t happen on MSNBC. It happened on C-SPAN. We found out from Ed Schultz himself of the events that happened that day in 2015. According to Mr Schultz, a one on one interview and nomination announcement had been prearranged with the Sanders camp. He was contacted by the President of MSNBC Phil Griffin just minutes before going live, “You’re not covering this.” Phil Griffin told him. Mr. Schultz said he tried to push going live with this story since he was on already on location covering the event. It didn’t matter to the MSNBC President. Schultz was forced to ignore the announcement on his show. This is the only video I could find of the one on one interview and there is no telling how long until it’s pulled down. Ed Schultz’s show was canceled 2 months later and Ed himself said he believed it was because of his support of Senator Sanders. So it seemed the media wasn’t friendly to Senator Sanders and was not going to cover him in a meaningful way.
Some would say “Bernie isn’t even a Democrat. So why should he be allowed to run as one?” Political affiliation in the U.S. is all about self-identification and state registration. We do not have national party registration, so it’s all about registering in your state. In Vermont specifically, there is no party affiliation registration at all. So he can state he’s a Democrat and that’s it. The parties themselves can’t dictate who is nor isn’t a Democrat in Vermont based on registration that doesn’t exist. So he can just say he’s a Democrat and he is one. With all of that the party still accepted him in to the “contest.” This was not surprising since he had been endorsed by the Democratic Party for the first time in 1996. They even endorsed him over his Democratic opponent and that never changed throughout the years to present. He had the blessing of the party to run because they no doubt figured he had no chance.
The polls at the start of the “contest” showed what the party already knew; his chance of winning was in the single digits. Yet Senator Sanders had a plan to change that. He would endlessly repeat a populist message of ending our wars, massive healthcare reforms, taxing the wealthiest of the 1%, reforming Wall Street regulations, fixing the nation’s crumbling infrastructure, revising current trade deals, pulling out of the TPP negotiations, and a serious focus on the environment. This strategy began to resonate with the American people by the first debate in October 2015. Sanders stayed on message and rarely engaged in attacks, which helped him climb quickly in the polls. From an insignificant 3% to begin with, up to an eye-opening 29% during October. He was showing strength with the younger generations, specifically the Millennials. They would be his base throughout the “contest” and in to the present day. Some of his main problems ended up being his lack of name recognition and perceived positions or lack of positions on policy. He was going to fix this with what was expected to be a lively debate season. Especially since there were 25 debates in the 2008 primary cycle alone.
Debates are one of the key times that candidates can get their name out to the voting public on national TV. As well as distinguish themselves and their policies from the other candidates. The DNC unilaterally decided this primary cycle would have only 6 debates though. In comparison, there were 12 debates on the GOP side of the primaries (which were also drastically reduced from the 21 in 2008 and 20 debates in 2012). This was met with intense criticism from the Democratic candidates, even publically from Secretary Clinton; which ended with an agreement struck between the Sanders and Clinton camps to have an additional 4 debates. Only 9 debates were actually held as the May 2016 debate was canceled.
Also of significant note is that the debates were scheduled at strange times and in direct competition with other popular events like professional and college football games. DNC Chair Wasserman Schultz assured everyone, “We’re very interested in having high ratings for our debates.” The fact checkers disagreed with that assessment based on the actual ratings numbers; but this was already known and the numbers only backed up the claims of burying the debates being made months before. Having drastically reduced debates and low ratings hurt the ability of the relatively unknown candidates to start accumulating name recognition. Something Hillary Clinton already possessed and was in fact a household name. She didn’t need debates to get her name known or her message out. So the debates could only help the other candidates and end up hurting Secretary Clinton. The DNC controlled the debate schedule and the Clinton campaign controlled the DNC.
One other facet to the debates that stuck out in hindsight was revealed with a WikiLeaks disclosure of internal DNC emails on October 11th, 2016. The emails showed then CNN employee and commentator Donna Brazile had given debate questions directly to the Clinton campaign. Ms. Brazile was fired from CNN over her leaking the debate questions to Clinton’s campaign. This was not revealed until long after the primary had ended in July and Secretary Clinton had already received the nomination.
Despite a media blackout, horrible debate schedule, and almost continuous focus on superdelegate counts being completely lopsided to Secretary Clinton since before 2016 even began. Bernie surged in popularity, the polls, and some would argue most importantly starting to break donation records just before 2016 hit. As Secretary Clinton was mired in scandal and avoiding press conferences for hundreds of days straight, Senator Sanders kept on message which meant he was gaining on the “inevitable nominee.” The polls had him climbing to striking distance of the entrenched former Secretary of State at the beginning of 2016. Showing only a single digit lead for Clinton which is a far cry from where the Senator had started at 60+ points down a half year before.
With the polls showing significant lost ground in January and her narrow victory during the first contest of the primary season on February 1st in Iowa (the closest Iowa contest in history up to that point, 49.9% to 49.6%). This showed the signs that it was actually a fight for the nomination and Secretary Clinton was no longer the inevitable nominee the nation had been told. When Senator Sanders took New Hampshire in a massive landslide 60.4% to 38% this sent shock waves through the country. March hit and this is when the media went in to damage control overdrive.
As Senator Sanders was filling stadium, after stadium, after stadium the media essentially ignored the progressive Sanders wave washing over the nation. Instead he received 16 negative articles in 16 hours from the Washington Post and predominately negative press from the print and online media. On March 15th we saw speeches from essentially everyone after the mid-March contests where Secretary Clinton swept every state that night. When it came time to show Senator Sanders’ speech in front of a massive crowd in Phoenix, AZ, all the media showed was Trump’s empty podium for over a half an hour. This was symbolic of a media that gave then candidate Donald Trump over two billion dollars in free airtime while ignoring the actual race shaping up on the Democratic side. This brings us back to the Podesta Email release from WikiLeaks.
An agenda email released with the Podesta Emails had an attached memo about something now called a Pied Piper strategy and who they were proposing to elevate with it. The choices listed were Ted Cruz, Ben Carson, and none other than Donald Trump. The memo stated, “We need to be elevating the Pied Piper candidates so that they are leaders of the pack and tell the press to (take) them seriously.” Particular note should be made of the final part of the last line, “tell the press to (take) them seriously.” This led to more mentions of using Donald Trump for distraction and how easily they thought he could be beaten in the correspondence.
In an email exchange on August 7th, 2015 between a member of the Clinton inner circle Neera Tanden and campaign manager John Podesta. Ms. Tanden makes the comment, “Bush sucked. I’m glad Hillary is obsessed with the one candidate who would be easiest to beat :) Besides Trump, of course.” Showing they thought Donald Trump would still be a viable target to elevate and beat. Oh how wrong they would end up being. Along with the “Pied Piper” email above that mentioned telling the press to take candidates seriously. It might explain why the media was blacking out Senator Sanders and instead elevating Donald Trump by giving his podium around 10 minutes more time than Sanders received for the entirety of 2015. You read that right, Trump’s podium got more coverage in a single night than Bernie did in an entire year.
March ended with Senator Sanders taking 5 states in a row and 2 more during early April. Giving him 7 out of 8 contests and again showing he was a real contender. Now with the New York primary coming up, Senator Sanders has a rally in the middle of New York City where an estimated 27,000+ people showed up on April 13th. Though polls show he was behind Secretary Clinton in NY, he seemed to have massive support on the ground. Including in his birthplace Brooklyn, NY which is ironically where Secretary Clinton had her campaign offices and some of the worst voter purges we’ve seen in a long time would soon happen.
The primary hits on April 19th and massive voter purges were confirmed across the city. In Brooklyn alone, 117,000 voters were found purged. Where the NYC Board of Elections admitted it broke the law and even had to settle a lawsuit on the purges. Along with numerous other massive problems throughout the entire city from polling places being unstaffed yet open or just outright closed without notice to massive long lines, slow machines, slow workers, and forcing people to take provisional ballots because normal Democratic ballots had strangely run out. These were among just some of the problems that plagued one of the biggest primary contests in the nation. It also happens to be a state known for being a bastion of the Democratic Party for decades; where the Party’s almost absolute power reaches all the way from Albany to New York City.
With Senator Sanders taking a crushing blow in New York, it’s announced that a Super PAC Correct The Record would be spending at least $1 million dollars to directly help Hillary Clinton online where Bernie had some of his fiercest supporters. Which essentially meant the Super PAC employed an army of paid online supporters that push only pro-Clinton propaganda and harass other candidate’s supporters. This tactic was used all the way through the general election. When the Podesta Emails were released in October 2016, among them were emails showing direct contact and coordination between the Hillary Clinton campaign and this Super PAC. Even though coordination between Super PAC’s and campaigns was expressly forbidden by the Citizen’s United decision, no action has yet been taken by the FEC. Likely of because partisanship among the FEC commissioners and the fact that both sides engaged in the violations.
Senator Sanders loses 4 more states across New England with only a single win in Rhode Island during the last contests of April 2016. The media begins an onslaught of negative articles. The articles ranged from Sanders threatening a contested convention, to his eligibility being a myth, to the Boston Globe even running a piece questioning Senator Sanders’ grasp on reality. Then on May 4th with Sanders down an average of 7 points in Indiana polls he takes the state in a 52.5% to 47.5% massive upset. He loses Guam on the 7th of May and then on the 10th he takes West Virginia in a 51.4% to 35.8% landslide. Nobody thought the next big event would surround whether a chair had been thrown or not during a process argument at a state party convention. Yet what came next was one the best modern examples of spin and outright falsehoods to smear a candidate by multiple outlets in what appeared to be a coordinated effort.
Secretary Clinton won the Nevada Caucus in February amid concerns the caucus had major inconsistencies like many other states, but the state had yet to have their convention that facilitated the state delegate allocations. This was scheduled to happen on May 14–15th, although it ended up lasting in to the early hours of the 16th. The way the rules in Nevada are written, even though Sanders lost the Caucus itself, he could still win the state’s majority of delegates by a single delegate. This is when the Chairwoman of the Nevada Democratic Party, Nevada superdelegate, and DNC Executive Committee member Roberta Lange called for a floor vote on adopting new rules that would benefit Secretary Clinton’s side. This was a Yea or Nay voice vote. It’s obvious there was no clear winner as the vote is called and that additional steps should be taken which the party had a process in place to remedy. Instead Chairwoman Lange called the vote for the Clinton side and gaveled the meeting amidst roars of protest from the Sanders supporters. There were several videos of this event and it backs the Sanders supporters’ claims that the rules were not followed. This caused the Sanders side to erupt in anger and a person lifted a chair in the air on video. Several other Sanders supporters quickly confronted the man and took the chair away as clearly seen on the video. So no chair was ever thrown.
This didn’t stop the media from erupting on their own with the supposed violence of Senator Sanders’ camp without ever showing a video of a chair being thrown. That prompted Senator Barbra Boxer to claim she feared for her safety on CNN. This was proven false when videos surfaced showing her clearly egging the crowd on from the stage; then finally blowing kisses and flipping off the crowd (yes, it’s the bird regardless of claims it wasn’t) while being escorted by a group of Sheriffs out of the hall. The media pushed that Senator Sanders had violent supporters just like Donald Trump. Candidate Trump at the time was being sued for inciting his supporters at rallies to physically assault people who were protesting.
The media was pushing this narrative of violent Bernie supporters and it prompted DNC Chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz to make the now infamous assurance the DNC was completely neutral during the primary. After assuring the primary was neutral she then started condemning Senator Sanders’s response to the supposed violence as “anything but acceptable.” All of the claims of violence and chair throwing ended up being retracted by essentially every media outlet that had been pushing them with a few exceptions like NBC whom I shared above. Though this didn’t happen until long, long after the events on the 15th and 16th of May had happened. All of this ended up doing immeasurable damage to the Sanders campaign. I personally still see claims of violent Bernie supporters during the Nevada convention to this day. The damage had obviously been done in this massive coordinated smear job.
Even with all of that happening Senator Sanders was showing in polls that he had the most likely chance of beating the now GOP nominee Donald Trump. In most polls Sanders was crushing Trump between 11 to 17 points. These same polls showed Clinton was inside the margin of error between 3 to 5 points advantage over Trump. Throughout May and in to early June, Sanders was proving he was clearly the better candidate to take on Trump. Despite the positive polls against Trump, despite the massive crowds, despite the record smashing simply ludicrous amount of small donations, despite everything that shows a candidate has the best chance of running against the opposition. The candidate had already been chosen long before the “contest” had even started.
Just before the California primary where the Senator was within 1–2 points of Secretary Clinton, multiple calls for him to bow out were made. It couldn’t be clearer that the winner had already been determined by this point. The Democratic Party had even called the entire primary for Secretary Clinton a day before the California Primary. This brought up bad memories of the infamous Al Gore vs George W. Bush Florida early call. The party making this early call for Secretary Clinton may have adversely impacted the final totals to come in the next day’s California primary.
The fact the California Primary on June 7th went almost verbatim like in New York was no surprise to anyone but the poor voters of the state trying to vote. It was described as “chaos” and people complained of massive lines, broken or slow machines, strangely running out of Democratic Primary ballots again, inept poll workers with hardly any training, throwing ballots out, and of course voters being purged from the rolls. Lots of people were then given provisional ballots which are generally counted, but much later on in the process if the voter is confirmed legitimate. Claims were made that votes weren’t counted by a poll inspectors and poll workers alike. There was even a documentary done on the uncounted votes with even more interviews with poll workers. All in the bluest of the blue Democratic bastion state of California. Strange how the two worst states for inconsistencies, purges, ballot shortages, and polling place irregularities happened to also be solid Democratically controlled states.
Calls for Sanders to drop out were immediately ready when the results of the primary were in. Senator Sanders did not drop out even amid all of the calls for him to do so. He met with President Obama on June 9th and his message changed. He went from fighting no matter what through the convention to looking forward to meeting with Secretary Clinton to work together to beat Donald Trump. This was the beginning of the end. There was hope among his supporters that he would contest the convention despite his endorsement of Secretary Clinton on July 12th.
Then there was renewed enthusiasm he would contest the convention after the revelations of the July 22nd WikiLeaks release of DNC internal emails. These emails showed that DNC Chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz and several high level board members of the DNC were not at all neutral in the primary while being in collusion with the Clinton campaign and disparaging Senator Sanders in some simply appalling ways. This was especially bad for Rep. Wasserman Schultz. As head of the DNC, she was shown to be what amounts to an operative of the Clinton Campaign. This prompted Sanders to call for her immediate resignation as the DNC Chair right before the convention. To everyone’s surprise she resigned from her position as head of the Democratic National Committee. She then immediately joined Hillary Clinton’s campaign the very same day (fancy that). Then shortly after Wasserman Schultz resigned, the CEO Amy Dacey, CFO Brad Marshall, and Luis Miranda the communications director who was a conditional hire of the above mentioned Joint Fundraising Agreement all resigned their positions.
The interim replacement for Rep. Wasserman Schultz was Donna Brazile. Yes, the same person from CNN mentioned before who would be found leaking debate questions to the Clinton campaign in upcoming WikiLeaks releases. The DNC then quickly issued this statement in regard to the leaked emails. Here is a portion, “On behalf of everyone at the DNC, we want to offer a deep and sincere apology to Senator Sanders, his supporters, and the entire Democratic party for inexcusable remarks made over email. These comments do not reflect the values of the DNC or our steadfast commitment to neutrality during the nominating process.”
Sanders himself didn’t quell hopes of a contested convention until his speech at the convention in Philadelphia, PA. During this speech he said, “Debbie Wasserman Schultz resigned yesterday (massive roar of applause erupts from the huge crowd) as Chair of the DNC.” A bit later he says “We have got to elect Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine.” This was the very first time I had ever heard Bernie Sanders totally booed and heckled from a whole crowd. This was the end to Senator Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign.
The Senator spent the remaining months fighting to get his supporters on board and campaigning for Secretary Clinton until November. Showing just how he really doesn’t hold grudges. It didn’t faze him in his support of Secretary Clinton when the Podesta Emails were released showing collusion between the Clinton campaign, Super PACS, and the media. Specifically with Donna Brazile who was working at CNN when she gave up debate questions directly to Secretary Clinton’s campaign. Ms. Brazile also made claims in an article for Politico that the Hillary Clinton campaign took over the DNC on and rigged it for herself. Then just a few days later she walked the claims back. During that same time Senator Elizabeth Warren went on CNN and was asked if she thought the primary was rigged. Without losing a beat she gave a single work response, “yes.” Then a week later she also walked her remarks back.
Secretary Clinton ended up losing to Donald Trump despite all that was done to make the “contest” as easy as possible for her. Giving her the pied piper candidate with an awful record of heinous actions her campaign mistakenly thought would be easy to beat. Nobody thought the pied piper could put so many in a trance with his faux-populist message mirroring a lot of what Senator Sanders had spoken. Specifically promising something like universal healthcare, getting out of the trade deals that ravaged the mid-west, withdrawing from the TPP talks, and getting manufacturing jobs back. Most of which have now proven to be lies and bolstering the claims of faux-populism.
The contest ended up coming down to the Electoral College results, which heavily favored Donald Trump. With the rust belt states being where Secretary Clinton fell flat, states she had not even stepped foot in throughout the entire general election. Secretary Clinton actually had 2.1% more votes overall. This happens to ironically be close to the margins of the polls from May and June 2016 that showed Clinton up by 3 against Trump. Something interesting to ponder, these same polls also had Senator Sanders up by landslide double digit numbers on Trump. All of this combined showed that Secretary Clinton was actually the unelectable candidate. Even with this fact being obvious when she lost to an unknown first term Senator from Illinois in 2008. Let alone when another relatively unknown Senator from Vermont gave her the fight of her political life despite everything against him and a stacked deck from the beginning.
We have established above that there was clear collusion with the media and the Clinton Camp, with internal emails showing that there is a real possibility that Trump was elevated as a Pied Piper candidate in collusion with the media. That the Chair of the DNC Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz and major DNC members were clearly biased towards a single campaign. They were forced to resign when their bias was revealed in the confirmed legitimate WikiLeaks DNC and Podesta Email releases. Then there was the Joint Fundraising Agreement made by Rep. Wasserman Schultz and DNC CEO Amy Dacey that gave the Clinton campaign control of key organizational processes including hiring and communications. Which ensured the DNC was staffed by Clinton supporters before the primary had even began. Rep. Wasserman Schultz’s position allowed her to oversee and control almost every facet of the primary process. She was able to use her official position as the head of the DNC to manipulate the actions, policies, and staff to ensure the result of the primary was that Secretary Hillary Clinton secured the Democratic Party nomination no matter what. All of this was decided before the primary even began.
Merriam-Webster’s definition for rig is
1 : to manipulate or control usually by deceptive or dishonest means • rig an election
2 : to fix in advance for a desired result • rig the contest