Draft Jennifer Granholm to save the DNC
© Getty Images

Just off a disastrous defeat by an ex-entertainer, a losing candidate who ran with appeals to a collection of interest groups. A congressional party far to the left of the center of the electorate.

That may sound familiar. But it's not exactly what you think. It was early 1985, when the Democratic National Committee was meeting to select a new chair, just as the DNC is about to do on February 25 in the aftermath of Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonSchiff blasts Trump for making 'false claims' about Russia intel: 'You've betrayed America. Again.' The problem with Trump's Middle East peace plan Trump's Intel moves spark Democratic fury MORE's defeat. Walter Mondale was crushed in 1984, in a campaign in which he appeared to be a tool of feminists, organized labor, and a host of other identity groups. At the time, the center of the electorate, many of them "Reagan Democrats," were the Depression/World War II generation, tough on defense, conservative on social issues, and moderate on fiscal policy.


When out of power, evicted from 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., the chairmanship of the oldest continuing political party organization in history (formed in 1848) is much more important than when it holds The White House. While a national chair can't dictate policy, he or she can interpret policy consensus and help nudge the party toward the center, which is now where the Baby Boom generation is positioned, more socially liberal and less interventionist their parents, most of whom have passed on, and somewhat conservative on economic policy.


The DNC was unusually fortunate in 1985, when it selected Paul G. Kirk, Jr. as its leader. An excellent communicator, an experienced former political operative (for Sen. Edward Kennedy,) someone who understood that a great party needs to be more than a collection of identity group parts, and whose seriousness of purpose exceeded personal ambition.

There is a candidate like that for 2017, but she declined to seek the chairmanship. Former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm is exactly what the DNC needs as its chair. She is a tremendous communicator. She has run a large organization, a state. In fact, a rust belt state the party needs to bring back into the Democratic fold. And she is the mother of three millennials, the demographic that will soon take center stage as the new center of the electorate.

The ten or so candidates who have filed for DNC chair demonstrate basic competence. But none even approaches the set of qualities Granholm embodies.

A DNC chair has to raise money. He or she must help state parties financially, to strengthen them for state and local races, as well as presidential campaigns. It is absolutely essential for a party chair to be an effective spokesperson when the party doesn't hold the presidency, familiar with policy, both foreign and domestic. A chair needs to get along with congressional leaders, with governors, and with the many interests that comprise the base. All should have a chance to be heard. But none should dominate.

In addition, as Paul Kirk understood in 1985-86, the DNC needs to create a "policy commission" to define and redefine an identity for the whole party, to supersede a collection of narrow interest groups.

Time is short for Granholm to file a statement of candidacy by Monday, February 20, for the election on Saturday, February 25.

If she doesn't, the DNC is faced with the prospect of selecting a leader from among several state chairs (the DNC is composed of state parties); a left-liberal Catholic turned Muslim; a Latino who'll be representing organized labor; a small city mayor who happens to be gay; and several others.

Even if Gov. Granholm chooses not to file, the DNC can always suspend its rules. And draft her, at this time of exceptional need.

Terry Michael was press secretary of the DNC during the first three years of Paul Kirk's chairmanship. He was the founder and, for 25 years, the director of the Washington Center for Politics & Journalism

The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill