Politics & Policy

Democrats’ Disunion

Sanders supporters march in Philadelphia, July 24, 2016. (Dominick Reuter/Reuters)
WikiLeaks blows up the party’s hopes for a smooth convention week.

Remember when political conventions were boring? Last week saw the GOP primary’s runner-up booed off the stage for refusing to endorse its winner. This week, the Democrats begin their convention with the resignation of their national committee chairwoman, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, after nearly 20,000 of the committee’s e-mails were published by WikiLeaks.

Most explosive of all was an e-mail from Brad Marshall, the committee’s chief financial officer, which suggested getting reporters to ask Bernie Sanders about his religious beliefs, convinced they would be a liability in some states.

“It might may [sic] no difference, but for KY and WVA can we get someone to ask his belief [sic]. Does he believe in a God,” Marshall wrote. “He had skated on saying he has a Jewish heritage. I think I read he is an atheist. This could make several points difference with my peeps. My Southern Baptist peeps would draw a big difference between a Jew and an atheist.” There are no e-mails of any of Marshall’s colleagues reacting with shock or disapproval or rebuking him for suggesting such a course.

Some might shrug and say this is typical bare-knuckle politics, except that the DNC isn’t supposed to be sitting around strategizing new ways to kneecap Democratic presidential candidates. And the committee’s private chatter complicates the current Democratic rallying cry against Donald Trump: that he’s unacceptably divisive, willing to exploit fear of a religious minority (Muslims) for his own political gain.

“First of all, I am not an atheist,” Sanders declared on CNN Sunday. “But aside from all of that, I mean, it is an outrage and sad that you would have people in important positions in the DNC trying to undermine my campaign. It goes without saying the function of the DNC is to represent all of the candidates, to be fair and even-minded.”

Sanders speaks to the convention Monday night. He’s already endorsed Hillary Clinton, and will no doubt follow through on that in Philadelphia. But the e-mail revelations create drama where before there was none: Will he address the DNC’s undermining of his campaign? Will he bring up the fact that targeting his religion was considered fair game within the committee?

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At the exact moment that Clinton needed to distance herself from Wasserman Schultz’s management of the DNC, she chose instead to embrace the departing chairwoman, naming her an “honorary chair of my campaign’s 50-state program to gain ground and elect Democrats in every part of the country.” Sanders supporters, who already had every reason to be apoplectic with Wasserman Schultz, now have even more reason to be angry with Clinton, too.

On Sunday, they marched through Philadelphia echoing the “Lock her up” chant from the Republican National Convention floor. Clinton’s team went into damage-control mode, with campaign manager Robby Mook appearing on the Sunday shows to portray the Democrats as victims of the nefarious Russian government.

The e-mail revelations create drama where before there was none.

“The hackers that got into the DNC are very likely by to be working in coordination with Russia,” Mook told Jake Tapper. “And, again, I think it’s — if the Russians in fact had these e-mails, again, I don’t think it’s very coincidental that they are being released at this time to create maximum damage on Hillary Clinton and to help Donald Trump.” 

Who knows, maybe Mook is right. But if cyber-security is suddenly a preeminent issue on voters’ minds, why on God’s green earth would they entrust presidential power to the woman whom FBI director James Comey called “extremely careless in [the] handling of very sensitive, highly classified information”?

Ordinarily, a troubled candidate might turn to her running mate to unite the party. But there isn’t much for Sanders supporters to admire in Kaine; from their hard-left perspective, he’s more of the same: blandly uncontroversial, shifting with the winds, a smiling centrist who never makes too many waves.

“Bernie delegates here and reflecting supporters around the country are so upset about the Kaine pick,” says Norman Solomon, a Sanders delegate from California.

“It’s the one thing that Hillary Clinton cannot go back on later on. She’s locked into her pick. . . . [What] we believe, from what we understand on the ground, coming from all over this country, is that the selection of Kaine will make defeating Donald Trump that much more difficult.”

#related#Solomon is among a small group of Sanders delegates attempting to reject the Kaine nomination on the floor. His effort is unlikely to succeed, but there are lesser ways of punishing Kaine that would still make for some memorable images. Solomon says some delegates have discussed walking out of Kaine’s acceptance speech, remaining completely silent, remaining seated throughout, or turning their backs to him.

The Republicans just enjoyed a surprisingly peaceful convention, with only one major protest and no violent confrontations with police. But in Philadelphia, a bigger city not far from New York and Washington, police expect “much larger and potentially more turbulent demonstrations.”

Temperatures are expected to be in the mid-to-high 90s, so every Democrat in Philadelphia will be feeling the heat this week — literal and metaphorical.

— Jim Geraghty is the senior political correspondent for National Review.

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