PHILADELPHIA -- After Sen. Bernie Sanders’ speech last night during the Democratic National Convention, a progressive friend wondered whether he could be helping Donald Trump by not using the occasion as a more emphatic push for party unity.
And while Republican runner-up Sen. Ted Cruz used his convention perch in Cleveland to urge voters to “vote your conscience” rather than explicitly endorse Trump, the entire scene smelled pre-packaged and in fact the Trump camp seemed to revel in it. Also, Cruz’s speech — with no accompanying audience signage — was confined to one small episode rather than an entire city awash with Bernie paraphernalia. There wasn’t a sea of angry pro-Cruz attendees shouting down Trump, and Cruz didn’t use the occasion, as Sanders did, to tell his delegates, “I look forward to your votes during the roll call.” Though the GOP certainly saw its own fracturing during the primary, currently its party discipline is exceeding the Democrats, and Bernie didn’t seem to help much last night. Republicans booed Cruz, and Democrats booed Clinton. Astonishing
The other difference between Democratic and Republican division is that because the field was already so fractured with 17 candidates to begin with, it was much harder for Republican #NeverTrump organizers to coalesce behind one Trump alternative. This was not the case for a much narrower Democratic field, which winnowed quickly. Cruz also couldn’t muster the almost cultlike loyalty that Sanders has created, and for that reason Sanders’ staying power emboldened his followers toward extraordinary attacks against Clinton, calling for her indictment and jailing.
In an almost surreal, schizophrenic setting, the Wells Fargo Arena was packed with Democrats holding seemingly equal parts Bernie and Hillary signs. Bernie swag filled the house, much of it creatively handmade, even though it was nominally Hillary's convention.
It was a remarkable display of disloyalty to the designated nominee, who won by millions more popular votes than Sanders. Indeed, Sanders’ ongoing gripe seems a sleight of hand by fixating on superdelegates when it was the millions of everyday Democrats who handed Clinton her victory.
The email dump showing party boss favoritism to Clinton rightfully forced the ouster of Debbie Wasserman Schultz as Democratic chairwoman, yet the congresswoman from Florida ultimately has no power inside the voting booth for which lever millions of her party members selected.
Last night, Sanders didn’t endorse Clinton by name until almost 40 percent into his speech (beginning at 737 of 1934 words of his prepared remarks, or 38 percent of his speech delivered before giving her the nod), using the first half to revel his revolution rather than immediately focus on unity.
In fact, his very first reference to Clinton was a rather lukewarm one in passing.
“Let me be as clear as I can be,” Sanders said. “This election is not about, and has never been about, Hillary Clinton, or Donald Trump, or Bernie Sanders or any of the other candidates who sought the presidency.”
Later on from Sanders, “It is no secret that Hillary Clinton and I disagree on a number of issues.” For members of a crowd already so whipped up in anger toward the Clinton Camp, that line can only continue to sting.
Sanders’ language last night suggested that he views his “revolution” as something completely separate from Clinton, and unless he can change his tune quickly, people Feeling the Bern will likely either stay home or possibly swing toward Trump. That is why Trump repeatedly makes overtures toward disgruntled Sanders supporters, particularly blue-collar, rust-belt men who love the Sanders/Trump distrust of international trade and immigration to the United States that drives down wages for U.S. citizens.
After the speech, Rep. Charlie Rangel was quick to dismiss any question of whose convention this really was. Look for Democratic leaders to echo him.
“It never was Bernie’s,” Rangel told me. “It’s not Bernie’s. It’s Hillary’s in the beginning, and it’s Hillary’s now. Thank you, Bernie, for coming.”
However, given the fairly tepid endorsement by Sanders of Clinton, perhaps she regrets the invitation. Sanders can be intensely passionate and persuasive to millions of people when he so chooses. Last night, Sanders clearly showed that endorsing Clinton wasn’t top of the list. The question is whether he can muster the same fire in his belly to push Clinton to victory.