This past weekend, Elizabeth Warren’s presidential campaign announced that Rich McDaniel, the campaign’s National Organizing Director, had been fired for behavior towards fellow staffers that was “inconsistent with the values of the campaign.”
Over the past two weeks, campaign management had received a number of complaints from workers about McDaniel’s behavior and decided to hire outside counsel to conduct an internal investigation.
The results of the investigation led to McDaniel’s firing.
Due to confidentiality policies, no details of McDaniel’s behavior have been released, but one source familiar with the investigation assured Politico that there were no allegations of sexual assault.
McDaniel is a highly experienced political campaigner: he was Hilary Clinton’s 2016 Primary States Regional Director, worked on Doug Jones’ improbable 2017 senatorial campaign in Alabama, and advised Randall Woodfin’s successful 2017 mayoral campaign in Birmingham.
In a statement provided to CNN, McDaniel said that “departing at this time is in the best interest of both parties.”
He claimed that he did not intentionally behave inappropriately, but that he understands “it is important to listen, even when you disagree.”
Rich McDaniel’s departure from the Warren campaign is one of the strongest examples yet of the changes that the #MeToo movement (which began in 2017) has brought to political campaigning.
In the presidential campaigns of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, internal harassment policies consisted of a few basic box-ticking exercises that largely left the problem of rampant sexual misconduct in campaign politics unaddressed.
Things are different in the 2020 race.
Democratic candidates have instituted a variety of internal policies to try to root out the problem: mandatory training sessions, employee surveys, specialized employee handbooks, and multiple reporting mechanisms have all been used.
Bernie Sanders – whose 2020 campaign faced an early hurdle in the fact that his 2016 team mishandled sexual harassment complaints – has even gone so far as to allow union representatives to investigate harassment complaints.
This way, the investigators have the workers’ interests, not the campaign’s, as their core motivator.
The Warren campaign’s move shows that they too are taking misconduct seriously. Beyond being just a matter of proper procedure, McDaniel’s firing could also help Senator Warren in the Democratic primary.
The firing could allow Warren to draw comparisons between her campaign’s ethics and those of her main rival for the Democratic nomination, Joe Biden.
Much like Rich McDaniel, Joe Biden has been accused of inappropriate behavior (usually overly familiar touching of one kind or another) by a number of women. Also like McDaniel, Biden has claimed that he never intended to behave in an inappropriate way. What Biden (and likely McDaniel, too) fails to understand is that his personal motivations or perception of the behavior is not the problem: it is the behavior itself and the way his actions affect others.
While the accusations against Biden’s behavior don’t hold a candle to the accusations against the man currently occupying the White House (who has at least seventeen serious sexual assault allegations against him), they may cause him trouble in the primary. Middle income, white women – who are often all-too familiar with the behavior Biden has been criticized for – are abandoning the Republican Party and becoming a rapidly growing facet of the Democratic base.
The move by the Warren campaign could form part of a powerful narrative.
Warren represents the long-suffering women who are an increasingly important part of both the Democratic and the national electorate, while Biden is just another old white guy who cannot connect with their needs. There are signs of this slide already happening – Warren has long been a favorite with very liberal voters, but her appeal is increasingly breaking through to so-called “moderates,” many of whom are white women moving away from supporting the GOP.
Regardless of whether or not Warren wins the nomination, the firing of Rich McDaniel is an important moment in political history.
That someone in such an important position in a campaign could be dismissed after an investigation into accusations of inappropriate behavior shows that the systems put in place to deal with such behaviors can work, which could lead to a significant change for the better in political workplaces.