/A Hillary ‘shill’ goes all in for Bernie

A Hillary ‘shill’ goes all in for Bernie

“I was a vocal Hillary Clinton supporter and now I’ve moved to a position where I think that the Democratic Party establishment needs to change,” Daou told POLITICO. “Bernie Sanders is the sole candidate advocating for systemic change — democratic socialism, really questioning the capitalist system, questioning the entire establishment.”

Daou, who spent his childhood in Lebanon and made a living in the 1990s as an electronic musician, started his political career in the anti-Iraq War liberal blogosphere. When Clinton first hired Daou in 2006 to boost her image among online progressives, he was described as “one of the most prominent political bloggers in the nation.” He served as director of online rapid response and blog outreach for John Kerry’s 2004 presidential campaign, and Internet director for Clinton’s 2008 bid.

During Clinton’s second run for the White House, Daou didn’t directly work for Clinton but nonetheless defended her honor daily on social media. In the eyes of Sanders’ allies, he was a ruthless mercenary: Daou called the Vermont senator’s fans “belligerent” and “self-righteous,” and said Sanders had “absolutely no business determining the course of the Democratic Party after the harm he did to us.”

Clinton opponents labeled him a “hack,” “shill” and “sell-out” right back, according to Daou.

In the years since President Donald Trump was elected, though, Daou has grown highly skeptical of the Democratic establishment. He said in an interview that he does not believe the party’s elites are equipped to take on the GOP, or have done enough to push for change when in power. He faulted them for allowing Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to “steal” a Supreme Court seat, forfeiting more than 1,000 state- and federal-level positions, and pursuing moderate and even conservative policies during Barack Obama’s presidency.

“Under Obama, Democrats lost ground to the far right. We had the House, the Senate, and the Supreme Court was more balanced than it is today, and yet children were caged at the border,” he said. “We ended up with a Mitt Romney health care system with the Affordable Care Act. I’m not knocking it all. What I’m saying is this was not meaningful change.”

He now believes the most effective way to accomplish real change is through movement politics, which is partly why he praises his former foe: “Sanders is the only candidate who has sparked a true movement.” He is also consulting for three Democratic congressional candidates who are challenging incumbents of their own party.

Daou discussed his transformation last week on an episode of “Hear the Bern” with host Briahna Joy Gray, Sanders’ national press secretary, whom he had brawled with in 2016. “I just took it too far,” he told her of that campaign. “After 2017, 2018, I thought, ‘I need to take responsibility for how toxic things became. I can’t put it on everybody else and just keep blaming others.’”

Sanders typically has not made much of an effort to win over former Clinton voters. But Daou’s appearance on the podcast is one of a handful of recent moves by the Sanders team that appear aimed at expanding his base. Faiz Shakir, Sanders’ campaign manager, told Sanders fans last week in a video that “a movement that wins is a movement that grows.”

Shakir also read excerpts of an op-ed by a Clinton-turned-Sanders supporter, who said that the “nastiness” of some of Sanders’ 2016 voters had turned her away. The woman eventually came around, she said, thanks to a respectful fan. Meanwhile, Sanders himself has called for his supporters to “fight for someone you don’t know” at recent rallies, and the campaign has run an online ad highlighting the same message. Shakir said he hopes “to keep the momentum going.”

Daou’s evolution is also an indication that the Democratic Party’s move leftward is not limited to activists and the presidential campaigns: It’s happening to top aides, too. Another former Clinton staffer, Brian Fallon, recently co-founded the progressive group Demand Justice, which has called out Democratic senators for voting for Trump’s judicial appointments.

As with Fallon, Daou’s anti-establishment streak has irked some of his old friends. Neera Tanden, a former top Clinton adviser and president of the Center for American Progress, blocked Daou on Twitter. “Not because I want uncritical allegiance to anyone but because Peter dunks on Hillary, a person he claimed to admire,” she wrote online.

David Brock, a Clinton ally who worked with Daou on the liberal news website formerly known as Shareblue, said, “I honestly don’t know what to make of it. I haven’t talked to him in three years, and I wouldn’t want to speculate.”

Some progressives have questioned the authenticity of Daou’s about-face online. He said he understands that people are “conditioned to be very cynical of anybody in politics,” but said, “I have the right to change my mind.”

Not everyone from his former life has been critical. Howard Wolfson, a senior adviser to Michael Bloomberg who worked alongside Daou on Clinton’s 2008 campaign, told POLITICO, “I’m a big fan of Peter’s and the work he did” that year.

“He is a sincere and passionate guy who goes all in when he believes in something,” he added.

In many ways, Daou said, he is simply coming back home: He always felt like an outsider in the Beltway — the liberal blogger brought into the Democratic establishment to build bridges between the two worlds — and had looked up to Sanders in his early activist years.

He simply lost perspective in 2016, he said. His advice for Democrats in this primary who want to avoid going down that path: “Focus on the movement, not necessarily the individual candidate.”

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