The Democratic National Convention won’t formally get underway in earnest until this evening, but there are already significant signs of discord in Philadelphia.
DNC chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who announced this weekend she would step down at the end of the convention after leaked emails suggested she did indeed put her thumb on the scales to help Hillary Clinton this spring, was greeted by a hearty round of boos at a delegate breakfast on Monday morning. She has since decided she won’t gavel in the convention this evening as planned, but her critics are promising the boo birds will return if she steps on the main stage. And if that weren’t awkward enough for a party eager to present itself as unified after a bruising and protracted primary, a number of Bernie Sanders delegates are now suggesting that they may try to force a roll call vote on Tuesday to formally register their frustrations with Clinton’s selection of Tim Kaine as her running mate.
So, yeah, not the best start! And yet, I caution against reading too much into the current narrative that is coming out of Philadelphia. (A sampling of current headlines from around the web: Politico’s “Democrats in Chaos as Convention Opens”; Reuters’ “Democrats in Disarray”; and Bloomberg’s “Woah Philly!”) Are there significant—and substantive—divides on matters of policy and principle on the left? Yes. Are there very real problems inside the DNC itself? Yes, and they’re not remotely new, either. But I wouldn’t bet on either of those realities hurting Clinton all that much this week.
Let’s flash back in time all the way to July 18, 2016, aka last freaking week. Set aside for a second some of the pure insanity that came next—Melania Trump’s plagiarized speech, the Chris Christie–staged show trial, Ben Carson invoking the anti-Christ, Laura Ingraham’s accidental-though-still-difficult-to-miss Nazi salute—and instead focus on just how obvious the GOP’s own fractures were for anyone watching at home. An incomplete sampling from Cleveland: the too-close-for-comfort voice vote on the rules package; the no-shows from the likes of vulnerable Senate Republicans, past GOP presidents, and host state governor John Kasich; Marco Rubio’s pre-recorded message that looked like a Hunger Games–style hostage video; Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell getting openly booed on stage; and Ted Cruz pointedly refusing to endorse Trump during his own prime-time speech.
Now that was some serious intra-party chaos. And yet either voters didn’t notice or didn’t care. Lo and behold, on Monday, Trump is enjoying a fairly typical post-convention bump in the polls and now actually leads Clinton in several recent national surveys.
Next consider what is likely to unfold this week in Philadelphia. Yes, we can expect some booing on the floor and possibly some angry procedural motions, but Democrats will be able to paper over those fissures with a murderer’s row of party figures who will take the stage in prime time: Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Michelle Obama, Bill Clinton, Joe Biden, and Barack Obama. The closest thing to a wild card there is on the schedule is Sanders, and not only has he already endorsed his former rival, he made it clear on Monday that the leaked emails won’t be enough to convince him to pull a Cruz when he takes the stage Monday night. Bernie, then, will have the chance to put the issue to bed for all but the most diehard of anti-establishment Democrats by the time the opening night is over.
Undecided voters at home may watch the Philadelphia festivities and decide they don’t want to vote for Clinton for any number of reasons, but it’s incredibly hard to believe that they will watch a group of the most well-known (and in many cases, most popular) Democrats in the country and come away thinking the Democratic Party is anything but unified in its quest to put Hillary Clinton in the White House—and keep Donald J. Trump out of it.