PHILADELPHIA ― This was the best the Democratic Party could do.
Democrats on Monday night fired nearly every progressive bullet they had in the chamber, hoping to kill what remains of the Bernie-or-bust movement that threatens to derail the party’s bid for the White House.
Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders and Al Franken, three of the party’s most progressive, populist and popular senators, all took the stage at the Democratic National Convention to make the full-throated case for Hillary Clinton as president ― or, perhaps more importantly, against Donald Trump as president. They were joined by Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), who had endorsed Sanders and spoke in prime time, and Sanders’ House backers, Raul Grijalva and Keith Ellison, in a night that was ultimately dominated by a blow-the-roof-off speech from Michelle Obama.
We’ll see if it was enough.
Sanders referenced his own disappointment with the outcome, but cast the situation the party now faces in stark terms: “Hillary Clinton must become the next president of the United States. The choice is not even close.”
While acknowledging his significant differences with Clinton, his speech mainly focused on progressive issues they have both elevated in the campaign: college debt, fixing a broken criminal justice system, raising the minimum wage, addressing climate change. And he praised a Democratic Party platform he called “by far the most progressive” in the history of the party.
“Our job now is to see that platform implemented by a Democratic Senate, a Democratic House and a Hillary Clinton presidency ― and I am going to do everything I can to make that happen,” he added.
The appeal for cohesion came after a Monday of rancor, with supporters of Sanders booing and heckling anybody connected to Clinton they could find, and even booing Sanders for backing her.
And in the hall on Monday, chants against the Trans-Pacific Partnership rang out throughout the night, serving as a proxy for the political revolution and doubling as a symbol of the lack of trust many Sanders backers have in Clinton. Clinton has said publicly she opposes TPP in its current form, as has her running mate Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), though both had previously backed it. Sanders delegates, in interviews at the convention, said they are sure Clinton will flip back on the issue as soon as she can.
Jessica Bright, from Charleston, South Carolina, said Sanders won her over early in the contest. Her mother, South Carolina state Sen. Margie Bright Matthews, meanwhile, was with Hillary. The pair, who are African American, symbolized the demographic divide that drove the primary contest: While the media often focused on white support for Sanders and black backing for Clinton, the more profound division was really between young and old voters.
But as the younger Bright watched Donald Trump rise in the polls and begin to dispatch his rivals in the Republican primary, she decided she couldn’t risk a Trump presidency. She didn’t tell her mother of her change of heart until after the election. On Monday, both sat in South Carolina’s section as delegates for Clinton.
Bright, who said she’s still a Sanders supporter at heart, noticed the booing from Sanders fans fading throughout the day, particularly as more and more people of color took the stage. “They had to be heard for a second, but ... once you hear from someone who comes from your struggle,” she said, “it makes you see it differently.”
Nearby, Lakewood, Colorado, delegate Kim Netherton was passionately expressing her frustration at the process. “I still think he could win,” she said. “They keep talking about the nomination in the past tense. It’s not over.”
Ultimately conceding that it was unlikely Sanders would pull out a win at the convention, she said the party was needlessly risking losing to Trump, pointing to Sanders’ higher approval ratings and better head-to-head polling against Trump. “He appeals to independents. She doesn’t,” she said. “The only thing the GOP campaign can unite behind is their hatred of her. She’s the only thing that unites them, and that’s insanely dangerous, because their nominee is a fascist.”
Outside, Sanders supporters chanted, “A vote for Hillary is a vote for Trump.”
Perhaps oddly, that’s an analysis shared by a growing number of Republican operatives, who say their party has collapsed structurally but is being held together only by the intense hatred of Clinton. “If Biden jumped in, he’d win 50 states,” said one former Bush official, slightly exaggerating. “I think Dems misunderstand how much Republicans hate her. If she were off the ticket the GOP would fall apart.”
Warren, Franken and Sanders took different routes to the stage. Warren resisted the call of a grassroots effort to persuade her to run against Clinton, and then resisted pressure to endorse Sanders, staying neutral instead. Franken, meanwhile, threw his weight behind Clinton. (Though even without Franken’s backing, Sanders cruised to victory in the Minnesota caucus.)
Warren remains intensely popular among the progressive base, though a chunk of Sanders supporters still hold her responsible for not joining Bernie’s political revolution when it may have mattered. Sanders lost Massachusetts by less than 20,000 votes.
Warren had to follow Michelle Obama, and delivered an underwhelming speech. “Where was Elizabeth Warren in the primaries?” one Sanders backer called out loudly. Having not endorsed Sanders, her speech on behalf of Clinton was less impressive than it would have been otherwise.
Polls show that the overwhelming number of Sanders supporters have moved over to the Hillary camp, but the scene that greeted Sanders delegates in Philadelphia wasn’t heartening for many. A Politico article on Monday set the scene:
Hordes of industry executives will descend on the city to celebrate Hillary Clinton’s nomination for president and renew close associations that vexed the Democratic standard-bearer throughout her primary battle with Bernie Sanders.
Goldman Sachs, which paid Clinton millions for private speeches, will be well represented in Philadelphia with executives Jake Siewert, a former Bill Clinton press secretary, making the trip along with Steven Barg, Michael Paese, Joyce Brayboy and Jennifer Scully, who was a major fundraiser for Bill Clinton in New York in 1992...
So while the Clinton camp won’t boast about it, given the continuing unpopularity of Wall Street and the populist tilt of the electorate, the City of Brotherly Love will be the City of Banker Love this week.
It wasn’t all love for the Bernie crowd, though. Michelle Obama pointedly praised Clinton for rallying behind Barack Obama in 2008 and even joining his administration rather than cynically sitting it out, a reference to holdout Sanders backers that wasn’t missed: “Hillary knows this is so much bigger than her own desires and disappointments.”
Sarah Silverman, who reminded the crowd she’d previously been feeling the Bern, delivered the speech that, besides those by Michelle Obama and Sanders himself, was met with the greatest enthusiasm. Once it was over, Paul Simon wasn’t yet ready to come on stage, so Silverman and Franken were told to “stretch” to fill the time. So Silverman added: “To the Bernie-or-bust voters: You’re being ridiculous.” The crowd roared.
Sanders finally emerged just before 11 p.m. to a raucous ovation and a sea of teal “Bernie” signs. Some tears flowed, and when he mentioned Hillary Clinton, there were more than a few boos, but fewer each time he referred to her. By his closing remarks, the boos had all but been drowned out. But not completely.