— -- According to Democratic former Maryland governor and 2016 presidential candidate Martin O’Malley, former President Obama, the Democratic National Committee and Bill and Hillary Clinton bear responsibility for miscalculations that weakened the Democratic Party in recent elections.
“What is happening now is the party is regenerating itself, almost like after a bad forest fire,” O’Malley tells ABC News' chief White House correspondent Jonathan Karl and political director Rick Klein on the "Powerhouse Politics" podcast.
He says the fire started in 2008. He believes Obama squandered the energy of his candidacy. “Rather than infusing that energy into the veins of the Democratic Party and making the Democratic Party new and more energetic, instead, the president and his people decided to set up a separate organization in Organizing for America."
O’Malley says that Republican donors took advantage of the situation and GOP candidates won state and local races across the country.
During the 2016 presidential race, he says, the Clintons were a “formidable force” and did everything in their power for Hillary Clinton to secure the nomination within the rules.
But it is the DNC that O’Malley says has “a lot of work to do.” He dropped out of the presidential campaign after the Iowa primary, and he blames DNC decision-making surrounding the early debates in 2015 as a significant factor in Donald Trump’s rise beginning that July.
“Every two weeks they were having Republican debates in prime time with the big drum roll,” he says.
He says that while the party thought it would be helpful to Hillary Clinton to hold off until October, “by then, Donald Trump’s fascist appeal was out of the bottle.”
O’Malley’s cross-country push
O’Malley considers himself a foot soldier in down-ballot races around the country as the Democratic Party faces a reckoning.
He recently announced a new political action committee, the Win Back Your State PAC, aimed at funneling cash to Democratic hopefuls. He says he has been campaigning in 21 states for local candidates throughout the past year.
He says, “My wife keeps saying, ‘Why do you keep going out there and campaigning for people?’” He points to Democratic successes in special elections in Delaware, Oklahoma, Washington, New Hampshire, Florida and Iowa as signs that change is on the horizon in traditionally red districts.
O’Malley says that the party’s regeneration isn’t coming from “a memo at the DNC ... It’s much more authentic. It’s much more real. It’s much closer to people than that. All over the country, you see new candidates running for office."
Is all this grass-roots campaigning and touring the country setting the table for a 2020 presidential bid? O'Malley says he has decided “not to make that decision right now.”
He says he expects to decide after the midterm elections.
But he also says a lot can change in the next year, adding this curveball possibility: “It’s also hard to say what it will do to the Democratic field if we’re facing President Pence and a female vice president rather than Donald Trump.”
“The only thing I know for sure is the next good thing for all of us to do is help good people win back their states,” O’Malley says.
Campaigning in the #MeToo era
One thing O’Malley didn’t expect to be talking about this election season: The sweeping allegations of sexual misconduct that have recently rocked both political parties.
He says he has been “a little surprised,” but he calls it a “pivotal and important moment” in the country’s history.
“I think in every generation, we like to think our conduct moves a lot closer to our ideals, in terms of how we treat women,” O’Malley says.
He continues, “I wasn’t raised in a house like that. I remember when Donald Trump had his famous interview exposed with Billy Bush and it was being said it was just locker room talk. I go to the gym fairly often, and I don’t hear people talking like that in the locker room. This is aberrational behavior. It’s unacceptable.”
Asked whether Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., should resign in light of recent sexual misconduct allegations, O’Malley declines to comment, saying he was unfamiliar with the details.