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February 24th, 2017

Insight

Dems' gathering goes off its feel-good script, reveals wounds that won't heal by end

Dan Balz

By Dan Balz The Washington Post

Published July 26, 2016

PHILADELPHIA --- This was supposed to be the feel-good convention, a celebration of unity and hopeful visions that would contrast with the displays of disunity at the Republican convention last week in Cleveland. By the end of the week, that might be the case. But the Democrats have started on an unexpectedly discordant note that has disrupted the script of Hillary Clinton's campaign team.

Monday's opening day included the unceremonious removal of Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz from the convention program; an unprecedented apology from the new leadership of the DNC to Sen. Bernie Sanders and his supporters after leaked emails revealed an institution that had clearly strayed from its pledge of neutrality during the nomination battle; and cascades of boos by Sanders' delegates and supporters when they were urged to get behind Clinton in her campaign against Donald Trump.

All that was the prelude to the prime-time program, and it was in those nighttime hours that Clinton's team sought to begin to wipe away the bitterness of a year of conflict and competition with Sanders, and a weekend of embarrassment and hard feelings over the contents of the leaked emails, with a program that included four stars of the Democratic Party.

Collectively, those speakers - Sanders, first lady Michelle Obama, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Mass., and Sen. Cory Booker, N.J., - projected more wattage on the Democrats' opening night than anything seen on the early nights of the GOP convention, even accounting for the impressive performances of Trump's wife and children.

Obama brought the convention to life. She was greeted by a huge chorus of cheers that echoed across Wells Fargo Center, and she delivered a ringing endorsement of Clinton as a parent and a potential president. The first lady did for Hillary Clinton what Bill Clinton did for President Barack Obama at the 2012 convention, making the case for her candidacy in ways Clinton has not been able to make for herself.

Warren had the unenviable task of following Obama. She praised Sanders and then turned to what has become her specialty, a slashing attack on Trump. She said Trump's America would be one of "fear and hate" and in danger of breaking apart.

She described him as a selfish businessman who would reward the wealthy at the expense of everyone else. What kind of man is Trump, she asked, and then delivered her own answer: "A man who should never be president of the United States."

Sanders' advisers said before he took the stage that he was on a mission of unity, not further division, after a day when his supporters seemed unwilling to follow him that far. He won an enormous ovation as he arrived on the stage.

But in Sanders and Warren on the one hand and Obama and Booker on the other, the pairings highlighted tension between two parts of the party that see the world and the issues from differing perspectives and are now being called upon to join forces to stop Trump from becoming president.

And what was happening throughout the day - on the streets, at some delegation meetings, at a raucous rally for Sanders and at times even on the convention floor - was a reminder that the Democratic Party's establishment coexists uneasily with those in the antiestablishment left, who remain wary and resistant to Clinton, however much they despise Trump.

The potential for continued disruptions on the convention floor from Sanders' followers prompted the senator from Vermont to send an email in the late afternoon to all his delegates, pleading with them to show courtesy. "Our credibility as a movement will be damaged by booing, turning of backs, walking out or other similar displays," he wrote. "That's what the corporate media wants. That's what Donald Trump wants."

After Saturday's successful introduction of Sen. Timothy Kaine, Va., as Clinton's vice-presidential running mate, the Clinton team had good reason to expect a smooth-running convention. Their talking points were clear: They would provide something positive to contrast with the GOP gathering in Cleveland, and the delegates, despite a bruising nomination contest, would find Trump so distasteful that they would quickly rally behind their nominee-in-waiting.

But as that Clinton-Kaine rally was taking place, another story was unfolding that would suddenly shift the spotlight to the embarrassing details of internal DNC emails, which were posted on WikiLeaks on Friday but not fully digested until Sunday.

The wall of unity quickly began to crack. Wasserman Schultz's position as party chair became untenable at a convention already divided between the Clinton and Sanders forces. The ensuing uproar forced Wasserman Schultz, a congresswoman from Florida, to announce that she would step down at the end of the convention. When it was clear that wouldn't satisfy the Sanders forces, she was made to give up the right to gavel the convention to order.

The unyielding stance of many of Sanders' supporters produced the same tenor on the convention floor in the early afternoon as that seen on the Republicans' opening day in Cleveland, when the "never Trump" forces were gaveled down as they sought a roll-call vote on the adoption of the rules. Clinton's challenge is to bring as many of those Sanders supporters to her side as she can and motivate them to vote in November.

Polls show that she has the overwhelming support of Democrats. Her advisers are confident that all but a small fraction of the Sanders army will be ready to march for her in November. But the continuing expressions of dissatisfaction with her candidacy are another indication that the establishment - in both parties - has underestimated or failed to appreciate the mood of important parts of the electorate.

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