The Wikileaks drop on Friday has brought up the dreaded words “email,” “rigged” and “Debbie Wasserman Schultz” again right before a week that was supposed to eliminate all of those words from the minds of Democratic National Convention-goers and viewers. Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz will resign from her position at the end of the convention, but the damage has already been done. The Democrats are now facing an internal and external challenge right before their big unifying convention and, worse, might be missing out on the biggest danger revealed by the email leaks.
Let’s begin by unpacking the Wikileaks emails themselves. There is no smoking gun. There’s no smoking at all. Barely the wafting scent of an empty hookah. Bernie Sanders supporters have responded to Wikileaks as if the DNC planned to frame Sanders for murder by leaving a bloody glove holding a $27 donation on his campaign bus. The emails, however, reveal only what anyone with common sense knew all along: The DNC didn’t want Sanders to win because he was not a Democrat.
While Sanders made a deathbed, last-minute conversion to the party before the primaries, Democrats had every reason to want to protect their party from a nominee who wasn’t loyal to the organization. If you just let anybody run up in the club, claiming party membership with no works to prove it, you get Donald Trump—a nasty virus that Republican leaders still can’t shake. If Wasserman Schultz was channeling the spirit of fellow Floridian Kathleen Harris and actively trying to rig an election in favor of an American political dynasty, that would be one thing. She most certainly tried to screw the Sanders campaign over a couple of times, but the same thing happened to Barack Obama when he faced Hillary Clinton, and he still won. Sometimes politics is a dirty game.
As with most scandals, the fallout and the motivation are more important than the scandal itself. This stings Democrats both externally and internally. First, in terms of public perception, no headline that has the word “email” in it is ever good for Clinton, who at this point shouldn’t be trusted with an Instagram account, given her sloppiness with State Department emails. So right off the bat, the DNC is battling back the most persistent (albeit manufactured) scandal plaguing Clinton.
Second, there's the internal party problem. Instead of letting Wasserman Schultz fall on her sword for being biased, not to mention being a lousy DNC chair anyway (the Democrats’ sorry state in Congress and in governors’ mansions since 2011 can be traced back to Schultz), #TeamClinton almost immediately decides to hire her after she resigns as DNC chair. This is an arrogant, foolish move that could only be conceived of as a way to troll Sanders supporters.
Wasserman Schultz should be given the honorable death that so many other politicos have been given: She falls on her sword and disappears into the backbench of Congress. Instead she’s the Walking Deb. She’s come back from political death not only to still get to speak at the DNC on Monday (which will be a debacle) but also to take a prominent role in the Democratic nominee’s presidential campaign. It will take a masterful stroke of glad-handing on Sanders’ part to quell a major walkout of delegates.
To top it all off, in the midst of the perception problem and the internal fights this reveal has caused, no one seems to be paying enough attention to the bigger problem associated with this leak. It isn’t just possible—it's very likely—that the entire Wikileaks release was orchestrated by Donald Trump and his best friends in the Russian oligarchy. If Russian hackers shared stolen DNC emails with Wikileaks to disrupt the American election process, and if Trump had anything to do with it, maybe he’s better at foreign policy than we gave him credit for. It probably wouldn’t be the first time Trump used friendships with a media outlet to discredit an opponent.
Will the Democratic convention go down the same path of ridicule and ruin as the Republican National Convention in Cleveland? Unlikely. Nevertheless, the Democrats will wring out every single last drop of star power and political influence to make this weekend’s reveals go away in time for Hillary Clinton to give her big speech Thursday. In the meantime, for all of our sakes, can Democrats start doing a better job of protecting their email servers?
Jason Johnson, political editor at The Root, is a professor of political science at Morgan State’s School of Global Journalism and Communication and is a frequent guest on MSNBC, CNN, Al-Jazeera International, Fox Business News and SiriusXM Satellite Radio. Follow him on Twitter.