Heading into this past weekend, the Democratic Party looked like it was on its way towards a hard-fought if slightly uneasy demonstration of party unity at Hillary Clinton’s nominating convention in Philadelphia – something that could provide a little contrast to the chaotic squabbling of last week’s Republican convention. Then everything kind of went to hell.
First came news on Friday night that Clinton had selected Tim Kaine as her running mate. The Virginia senator has a long history of progressive activism and his record is decently progressive, but he has some noteworthy deviations on trade, energy, banking, and labor issues that are leaving activist groups leery, if not downright cold, towards his nomination. Then came the news Sunday afternoon that Democratic National Committee* chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz is resigning her position following the release of thousands of hacked DNC emails. She’d been under fire within the party for some time over her management of the committee, but the publication of the emails – which showed Wasserman Schultz and other DNC staffers griping about Bernie Sanders’ campaign and spitballing ways to undermine Clinton’s primary challenger – finally provided enough incentive to force her out.
Having the national party committee chair announce her resignation literally on the eve of the nominating convention was bad enough, but then Wasserman Schultz showed up this morning to deliver remarks to the convention’s Florida delegation and was enthusiastically booed and heckled by pro-Sanders demonstrators.
So there’s a bit of hostility bubbling up between a party establishment that very much wants to unite behind Hillary, and the party base that feels cheated by (and alienated from) the process. As David Dayen writes, “the events of the past 72 hours not only reignited simmering frustrations, they also complicated the attempts by the most liberal members of Congress… to sell a more hopeful message to their ideological soulmates about what they’ve accomplished in 2016.”
All of this discord places a lot more importance on Bernie Sanders’ remarks to the convention tonight. As I wrote this morning, Bernie was already facing a difficult task in winning his supporters over to the Clinton cause, given their zeal and relative newness to the political process. The Washington Post reports that while Bernie himself has been doing what he can of late to play nice and foster unity, his followers have been making plans for floor protests and strategizing ways to nominate an alternative VP candidate.
Sanders will likely make the case that the movement he led has scored some real victories, that the best way to see that progress translated into policy outcomes is to support Clinton, and that the worst possible outcome for the left wing of the party would be to see Donald Trump elected president. “I think right now what we have got to focus on as Democrats is defeating perhaps the worst Republican candidate that I have seen in my lifetime,” Sanders said on NBC's “Meet the Press” this past Sunday. The distrust and acrimony that’s been kicked up over the past few days puts Sanders in a pretty tough spot as he tries to (at least temporarily) reconcile the interests of the party establishment its activist base.
*Full disclosure: I very briefly worked for the Democratic National Committee in January 2014.