Donna Brazile, former chair of the Democratic National Committee, appeared at the Miami Book Fair last week to promote her newly published account of the 2016 presidential election.
Brazile took over for South Florida Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz as DNC chair in July of that year. In the book, “Hacks: The Inside Story of the Break-ins and Breakdowns That Put Donald Trump in the White House,” Brazile writes about a Democratic Party in deep debt and under the financial control of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.
We spoke with Brazile about Wasserman Schultz’s role in the DNC’s troubles. Here’s an excerpt of the conversation:
WLRN: You talk in your book about inheriting a financial mess at the DNC. I wonder, how much do you believe that Debbie Wasserman Schultz is responsible for that?
BRAZILE : Well, we all, as officers of the DNC, were all responsible for that debt. What worried me at the time was that Debbie did not alert the full DNC the extent of the debt — the fact that over $23 million of the debt came from the Obama campaign and the loans that we took out to help the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. So by September 2015, the DNC was about to miss payroll and they struck an agreement — a memorandum of understanding — between the DNC and the Clinton staff that, in exchange for taking over three departments or three divisions, they would have control. That's what I call “the cancer.”
You also said that she struggled with fundraising. I wondered if you think that that made her vulnerable to the primary [election] challenge that she faced from Tim Canova.
Well, she was chair of the party and we all had responsibilities to raise money for the party. But it was her chief responsibility to come up with a strategy. As the chair of the party, I had to do the same, and I left the party $10 million in the black. So what I said about Debbie was — and out of respect for Debbie, Debbie is a hardworking person. She traveled all across this country. She carried a heavy load for the Democratic Party. But the party was in heavy debt.
So this book is in some ways a post-mortem of the 2016 election. What happened in Florida?
Well, clearly we didn't spend enough time and resources. We didn't reach the voters that we needed to win. I believe we fell short in Florida simply because, while we had advertisements on the air — you know, Alcee Hastings, another congressman from this area, kept saying: ‘We need more. We need more resources. We need more posters. We need more stuff in the community.’ We needed to have a groundswell of support. … We had … nothing on the ground that would have really motivated people to come out.
Florida is a purple state. It's a swing state. Any kind of change in the voting demographics can have an impact. And we're seeing 140,000 Puerto Ricans come to Florida since Hurricane Maria. What kind of difference do you think that could make going forward? And what should the Democratic Party be doing to be engaging those potential Democratic voters?
Well, first of all, last year, in the I-4 corridor, I went to Orlando to try to not just get more support from the Puerto Rican community but to try to build a kind of leadership. I mean, we don't want people just to come here and say, ‘We need your votes.’ We want people to run for office. We want people to inject those issues. I care about what's happening in Puerto Rico. The crisis there is one that breaks my heart. As a native Louisianian, I know what it takes to recover from a hurricane. … But we need the support of every Floridian, not just those who are … running from the storms, but those who are going to face storms here in the state going into the future. So I want to encourage my Democratic friends to do more to reach out to the Puerto Rican community.
Wasserman Schultz’s office did not return a request for comment about Brazile’s statements.
Watch the full interview here: