U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez chats with trainees at the Siemens training facility on Oct. 28, 2014 in Berlin, Germany.
Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty

Tom Perez takes the reins at the DNC, marking a new era

The race to lead the Democratic National Committee seemed to go on quite a while, but at a party gathering in Atlanta over the weekend, it wrapped up in an interesting way.
After a difficult 2016 campaign that saw them lose the White House, both chambers of Congress and state houses across the country, Democrats elected Tom Perez on Saturday to lead the Democratic National Committee and rebuild the party.

Perez, the former labor secretary in the Obama administration, won in a second round of voting and was considered the heavy favorite of the Democratic establishment. He earned 235 votes from the 447 DNC members – the voting bloc that decides the chairmanship.
Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), the early favorite for the post who enjoyed the support of many of the party’s congressional leaders, was a very competitive second. When Perez was gracious enough to offer the Minnesota Democrat the party’s vice chairmanship, Ellison was equally gracious in accepting.

“We don’t have the luxury, folks, to walk out of this room divided,” Ellison told DNC members. “We don’t have that luxury, and I just want to say to you that it’s my honor to serve this party under Chairman Perez.”

Ellison fans are disappointed, but there’s a clear upside for them with the results: he gets to stay in Congress – Ellison had vowed to step down to focus on the DNC full time as its chair – while simultaneously helping lead the party as its vice chair.

I generally think the significance of the party chairs is overstated. In 2009 and 2010, for example, Republican officials clashed repeatedly with then-RNC Chairman Michael Steele, but the conflicts did nothing to slow the party’s massive gains in 2010. After Republicans’ failures in 2012, then-RNC Chairman Reince Priebus established a roadmap to help the party get back on track. Party officials ignored it, did largely the opposite, and took total control of Washington in 2016. Priebus received a nice promotion soon after.

That said, the fight for the DNC chairmanship did tell us something notable about the state of Democratic politics.

In this case, the leading contender presented DNC members with an impressive background: a Harvard-trained Latino attorney who rebuilt the Justice Department’s civil rights division, Perez has championed voting rights, labor unions, and the needs of consumers. Republicans have long hated him, twice trying (and failing) to derail his nominations, because they perceived him as a far-left crusader. Wall Street hated him even more, largely because he kept suing banks over discriminatory policies.

In the DNC race, however, despite this background, some Ellison backers considered Perez as the corporate-friendly centrist, insufficiently committed to progressive values. That alone reinforces the progressive nature of Democratic politics in 2017.

Donald Trump, eager to divide his opponents, argued without evidence yesterday that the DNC race was “totally rigged” against Bernie Sanders and his preferred candidate. As Trump sees it, this is an opportunity to keep 2016 divisions alive, pitting Sanders and his allies against allies of President Obama and Hillary Clinton.

There is, of course, literally no proof of the process being “rigged” – it’s not entirely clear the president actually knows what the word “rigged” means – and Trump simply wants to drive a wedge between his opponents on the left.

Why any progressive would eagerly play along with Trump’s game remains a mystery.