Inside the DNC’s plan to defeat Trump

Hundreds of young Democrats will arrive in Atlanta next month to be trained as field organizers in an effort to prepare the party’s next generation of operatives to join the eventual nominee’s presidential campaign in seven battleground states.

The field organizing program is one of several new initiatives the Democratic National Committee (DNC) has implemented under Chairman Tom Perez, whose two-year-long overhaul of the national party has focused on building out the DNC’s campaign infrastructure, data and cybersecurity programs. 

That means the potential for more paid staff on the ground in the states that will determine the outcome of the 2020 election, a revamped “war room” with a focus on President Trump’s first-term record and a cybersecurity system the DNC hopes will withstand Russian hacking efforts.

{mosads}In an interview with The Hill from the Democrats’ national headquarters in Washington, Perez detailed the DNC’s 2020 battle plan and core mission, which he said is twofold: To ensure that primary voters have confidence in the nominating process and to hand the eventual nominee the resources and infrastructure he or she will need to defeat Trump from the moment that person walks off the stage from the convention in Milwaukee.

All of that will have to be accomplished with a budget that is only a fraction of what the Republican National Committee will spend, and Perez acknowledged that taking out an incumbent president “won’t be easy.” 

“I don’t underestimate him for a moment,” Perez said, lighting up with anger as the conversation turned to Trump. “I don’t underestimate their capacity to lie, cheat and steal to get elected. … This is going to be a challenge.”

The DNC has launched an institution called Organizing Corps 2020, which will train 1,000 college-aged students to be the next wave of Democratic operatives and to prepare them to potentially join the 2020 presidential campaign.

Perez will address the first round of 300 participants at a five-day national training seminar next month in Atlanta, where the group will be coached by campaign veterans on field organizing and data analytics.

Attendees are paid $4,000 over the course of the eight-week programs, which will also take place in Charlotte, Detroit, Ft. Lauderdale, Miami, Milwaukee, Orlando, Phoenix, Philadelphia and Tampa.

Seventy-five percent of program entrants are people of color, and 90 percent come from one of seven potential swing states: Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Arizona, North Carolina, Georgia and Florida. After training, the young Democrats will return to their home states ready to join the field team for the eventual nominee, although positions on the campaign are not guaranteed.

The organizing principle behind the training program is that voters will be more receptive to Democratic outreach if it’s coming from locals within the community who intimately know the culture and nuances of their own neighborhoods.

“Hillary Clinton was handed a very substandard infrastructure writ large, including, but not limited to, a lack of organizing infrastructure,” Perez said, relaxing on the brown leather sofa in his office overlooking South Capitol Street.

“In 2008, Barack Obama … had the capacity to build his own organizing and technological infrastructure,” Perez continued. “He had the resources and the human capital to do it. Fast forward to 2020 and in a field that’s as large as we have, there’s nobody in a position to do what Obama did in 2008. That’s why the role of the DNC is so important.”

Perez broke into a smile when he brought up Obama. The DNC chairman was a civil rights attorney in the Obama Justice Department, and there’s a picture in his office of himself and the former president in the Oval Office.

Elsewhere, Perez has repurposed the DNC’s war room to battle Republicans over the narrative of the Trump presidency.

The DNC claims to be in possession of the world’s most comprehensive trove of research on Trump. The war room is staffed by dozens of operatives, many of whom are veterans of Clinton’s 2016 campaign and have been building opposition research files on Trump since he first burst on to the political scene in 2015.

Their files include more than 7,000 lawsuits, volumes of Freedom of Information Act requests and hours of video footage. The DNC claims its war room has placed bombshell stories in the press that have derailed Trump administration nominees and has introduced key themes, such as Trump’s conflicts of interests around his business empire, into the mainstream. 

{mossecondads}In 2020, Perez says the focus will be on holding Trump accountable for the promises he made on the campaign trail in 2016, such as lowering prescription drug prices, making health care more affordable and keeping factories open.

“A lot of Obama-Trump voters saw [Trump] as a change agent,” Perez said. “They saw him as a different kind of politician who was going to bring about change … and what they’re seeing is that yeah, he’s a different kind of politician in the sense that … he is perhaps the most corrupt politician in American history … and now he has a record and a trail of broken promises.”

The DNC has also overhauled its data platform as it seeks to close the gap with the Republican National Committee, which invested heavily in data under former Chairman Reince Priebus.

When Perez took over in early 2017, the national party was using an antiquated system that was four years beyond its shelf life and required users to understand complicated coding language to access voter information files.

The DNC now has access to a state-of-the-art data warehouse and a Google-run cloud-based infrastructure that has added millions of new cellphone numbers in just the last year. 

“If we had 40 people running for president, we’d have the capacity to handle their data and deal with their data and tech needs,” Perez said. “And the data warehouse isn’t simply for the presidential candidates, it’s for every [Democratic] candidate running up and down the ballot.”

That means an enormous investment to safeguard the data and avoid a repeat of the 2016 hacking fiasco, which undermined confidence in the national party and continues to hamper the DNC’s fundraising efforts.

Last year, the DNC hired Bob Lord, a veteran cybersecurity officer at Yahoo and Twitter, to oversee its data security.

Reminders to DNC staff to be mindful of their passwords and potential hacking attempts are everywhere — even in the men’s bathrooms, where signs hang on the walls with the steps workers must take to keep their data safe.

The DNC’s cyber tripwires were triggered at one point last year. It turned out to be a false alarm, but Perez said the dry run was executed seamlessly, giving him confidence that the DNC is ready to deal with an attempted breach in the real world.

The Hill asked Perez if he could guarantee the DNC would not be hacked this cycle.

“Anyone who tells you they’re hermetically cyber secure is fooling you,” he said. “Cybersecurity is an arms war. What we’ve done, I believe, is make it a lot more difficult and expensive for the bad guys to try and infiltrate.”

Tags 2020 election Barack Obama Democratic National Committee Donald Trump Hillary Clinton Reince Priebus Tom Perez
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